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Mysteries by Alan Bradley, C.S. Harris are well worth a read

March 11, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
More immediate interaction between author and readers is one of the most interesting things about living in this age of instant communication.

I don't remember ever writing a fan letter to an author when I was a kid, or even knowing how one would go about getting hold of an author. People who did write letters probably waited weeks for a reply. But last week, after I had read the first of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mystery series, I dashed off an e-mail to Bradley telling him how much I'd enjoyed his book about a precocious 11-year-old sleuth living in 1950 post-war England. Bradley replied that night thanking me for the e-mail and happened to mention that he had once lived in Saskatchewan, not too far from Minot, and he hoped our winter was not as cold as he remembered it. I would have found Bradley's series an absolute delight even without knowing something about the author, but that e-mail definitely adds something to the experience. Bradley wrote his first mystery novel relatively late in life, but had previously written children's stories and had a long career in television engineering, including serving as director of television engineering at the media center in the University of Saskatoon, Sask. for 25 years before he took early retirement in 1994.

His series is well worth checking out. Flavia and her eccentric widower father and two odious older sisters live together in genteel poverty on the family estate, where Flavia, who has taught herself organic chemistry from her dead mother's college textbook, experiments with poisons and dabbles in crime-solving. In the first book, her older sisters tie her up and shut her up in a closet and she retaliates by injecting poison ivy into her eldest sister's lipstick. She also clears her father of murder charges and helps (and annoys) the local police force. Though the main character of the series is a child, this is a mystery series for adults. The first book in the series is "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie." Other books include "The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag" and "A Red Herring Without Mustard."

Another series I have been reading lately is C.S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr historical mysteries. The sixth in the series, "Where Shadows Dance," was released last week. St. Cyr is a British nobleman living in 1812 Britain, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and something of a swashbuckler. His best friend Paul Gibson is a doctor and "anatomist" who steals bodies from graveyards to learn more about how the body works. That's how St. Cyr stumbles into the latest murder, when the body his doctor friend has paid for turns out to be that of a murder victim.

St. Cyr's dilemma is how to investigate a murder involving diplomatic relations and the foreign service when he can't let on how he knows the man was murdered. Gibson could end up on a one way trip to a penal colony for stealing bodies or have his house burned down if he reveals that information.

St. Cyr also has a tortured, somewhat soap operaish love life, with a former mistress who is also his secret stepsister and a pregnant bride-to-be who doesn't really want to marry him (they got together when they thought they were dying a couple of books ago and quickly regretted the assignation.) His fiancee Hero Jarvis is the daughter of St. Cyr's worst enemy and is a formidable woman in her own right. About a quarter of the body count in this book can be laid at Hero's doorstep. Since I read more for character than plot, I enjoyed seeing St. Cyr and Hero gradually growing closer as they met at different crime scenes.

Harris, whose real name is Candice Proctor, also has a blog, where she interacts with her readers and explains the ins and outs of the publishing industry and talks about why she made certain writing choices. She is an interesting person in her own right and her explanations make me enjoy her books more. The St. Cyr mysteries are also a good choice for anyone looking for a new mystery series to enjoy.

 
 

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