This is a dual review for both Three Sisters and Showstoppers
“Everything was on the spectrum from brown to cream, and the overall effect was a sepia-toned display that had been put together by someone nostalgic for a time before Britons had learned to cook, but after they had learned to shop at supermarkets.” - Three Sisters
A good mystery should read like a good magic show. Full of flash, curiosity, misdirects and in the end leave you wanting for more. We may learn what we think is the true outcome, the solving of a crime, but we will never know all of what was behind the curtain. It is what makes us pick up the next book in the series. Helen Smith has done this for me with these two novella’s. I want more and more Emily Castle adventures!
I never get tired of a good mystery. A mystery must keep me guessing, be written with a flair for the flamboyant (despite the blandness of colours on the buffet table) and keep me biting my nails till the end. Whatever mystery I am reading must have a unique protagonist combined with a cast of other intriguing characters. It should draw me in and make me part of the sleuthing. Though I have been want to read the new sub-genre of a cozy*, I will forever be a fan of Agatha Christie and Sir Author Conan Doyle. Classical mysteries at their finest.
“The south London sky exploded with a thousand deaths that night“ – Three Sisters
What makes me adore and driven with the need to send threatening e-mails for more more and more Emily Castles Mysteries is the combination of both the classical mystery, the cozy style (because she is an independent female and very smart) and a writing style which is reminiscent of a Hard Boiled Raymond Chandler (several metaphors and allegorical content remind me of The Big Sleep) and sublimeness of David Foster Wallace. The description of the buffet table is just a small example of the beautiful and poetic writing style of the author. I could see the table full of food and feel just as washed out as she was feeling. Each step was a hint, and a hint either leading you towards solving the mystery or down a dead-end.
How she managed to pull this off in under 50 pages with each book is beyond me. It works though, all aspects and conventions of the Mystery genre are not only intact but are more powerful than some of the full length novels I have read. They do not give you time to take a breath, it was non-stop reading with each and the stories kept me hopping. As with their length, Ellen has a shortened period of time to solve this mystery, whether stated or suggested. The surreal evening of Bonfire night (Guy Fawkes night) is a ticking bomb, the party is almost a traveling circus, a side-show pulling up in a covered wagon and pouring out with entertainers that could not possibly all fit inside. Three Sisters is like the wagon, so many distractions it is hard to keep up with what is going on and I felt like I was spinning in circles, despite the title which had me figuring out the main mystery, there were still tons of other blanks I had to fill.
“Sunlight streamed from the tall windows along the corridor and dripped coppery highlights into Victoria’s plaits and Dolly’s liquorice-coloured curly hair; a woman dressed as a child from a story about a tornado induced dream…” Showstopper
Moving onto Showstoppers, Emily is just coming up for air after the Bonfire party. We have several of the characters introduced in Three Sisters who are fleshed out. Emily seems to be coming into her own after the loss of a loved one and her constant temporary state of living. It is another race of the clock, but this time she has to engage with her neighbors, put herself out there more and trust in a few other people as well as own instincts.
These two novella’s, for me a mystery buff at heart (I have my complete Nancy Drew collection to prove it) were the perfect vehicle to drive new fans into a the “bated breath” stage of wait. If you love a good stand alone mystery heroine who has a love for dogs, has not figured out where she fits in life and is a bit too traditional with a setting in a London we do not get to peak at with many other of these types stories.. pick these two stories up and keep tabs on each upcoming books. I hope we will get new adventures soon!