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George Orwell was annoyed. The author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four said the war was probably to blame, but it seemed like you just couldn’t get a good murder anymore. His 1946 essay lists the ingredients essential to a quality crime—social class, sex, and (preferably) poisoning:

—Cover of Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell, first published February 16, 1946

“The murderer should be a little man of the professional class — a dentist or a solicitor, say — living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Nonconformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man, and should only bring himself to the point of murder after long and terrible wrestles with his conscience. Having decided on murder, he should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and only slip up over some tiny unforeseeable detail. The means chosen should, of course, be poison. In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery. With this kind of background, a crime can have dramatic and even tragic qualities which make it memorable and excite pity for both victim and murderer.”

Despite providing an exact murder mystery template, Orwell the mystery reader was, alas, doomed to disappointment. With the exception of a couple Agatha Christie books, very few of Orwell’s A-list mystery choices followed the above script. But the author had six more pieces of advice for writers (along with hilarious examples of egregiously bad writing) in Politics and the English Language:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Challenge? Write a mystery which follows all six rules:

BEFORE applying Orwell’s rules:

Lady Fenella Jigglebottom-ffynche (of the Upper Nether Wallop ffynches, of course), leader of the County social scene and flower (if now ever-so-slightly seedy) of British womanhood, was ensconced sans her usual lively tête-à-tête—and, indeed, sans any perceptible respiratory evidence of animatedly zoetic processes—face down in the aspidistra. Mr. Dribbles, head steward and general factotum, was soon relieved of his duties upon Miss Knitwell’s prescient recollection of spotting the button now firmly ensconced in Lady F’s not-inconsiderable décolletage, but which had formerly bedecked the retainer’s white gloves and thus clearly denoted his true position as no more than footman.

AFTER applying Orwell’s six rules:

The butler did it.


While too late for poor George Orwell, today’s mystery writers have more than mastered his first five rules and judiciously ignored number six. As verification that the English murder is robustly alive and well, please take a look at the following quick reviews.

REVIEW #1:  MADAM TULIP AND THE BONES OF CHANCE

Blurb:

 

Suspense, mystery, action, a little romance and lots of laughs.

A surprise role in a movie takes actress Derry O’Donnell to a romantic castle in the Scottish Highlands. But romance soon turns to fear and suspicion. Someone means to kill, and Derry, moonlighting as celebrity fortune-teller Madam Tulip, is snared in a net of greed, conspiracy and betrayal.

A millionaire banker, a film producer with a mysterious past, a gun-loving wife, a PA with her eyes on Hollywood, a handsome and charming estate manager—each has a secret to share and a request for Madam Tulip.
As Derry and her friend Bruce race to prevent a murder, she learns to her dismay that the one future Tulip can’t predict is her own.

Madame Tulip is the third in the series of thrilling and hilarious Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant amateur detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

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My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance

I don’t watch TV. I don’t even own a television. But if I did, I imagine waiting for a new episode of my favorite series each week would feel a bit like reading the next Madam Tulip. Certainly all the ingredients are there. You have your (attractive of course) young actress, Derry O’Donnell—permanently broke and scratching for the next job in the Dublin theater scene, consistently dating the wrong flavor-of-the-week, while waiting for The Big Break.

David Ahern grew up in a theatrical family in Ireland but ran away to Scotland to become a research psychologist and sensible person. He earned his doctorate but soon absconded to work in television. He became a writer, director and producer, creating international documentary series and winning numerous awards, none of which got him free into nightclubs.
Madame Tulip wasnít David Ahern’s first novel, but writing it was the most fun heís ever had with a computer. He is now writing the fourth Madam Tulip adventure and enjoys pretending this is actual work.
David Ahern lives in the beautiful West of Ireland with his wife, two cats and a vegetable garden of which he is inordinately proud.

Derry’s supporting cast includes her mother Vanessa—successful American art gallery owner, artist’s agent, and force of nature. Vanessa is divorced from (but still agent to) Derry’s father, Jacko—famous Irish artist whose painting skills are second only to his ability to gamble (and lose) money. Then there are Derry’s acting friends, Bella (black, Belfast-born actress with catch-phrase ‘Say No to Negativity!’), and Bruce (gay ex-Navy Seal, actor, computer expert, and total eye-candy). [note: and in case you didn’t get the gay part, his remarkably prescient parents did, in fact, name him “Bruce”.]

As with favored TV shows, the point is not the actual mystery that needs to be solved each week/book, but the way Derry’s character and those of her friends develop and change over the course of each episode. Each episode begins with Derry trying to avoid a day job that involves the phrase, “And would you like fries with that?” or even worse, working as her mother’s Personal Assistant. (“Life as Vanessa’s P-anything would be like being trapped inside a hall of mirrors with a shopping list written in hieroglyphics.”) Derry’s only marketable skill—some psychic abilities which for the most part are both unreliable and fairly useless—lead to the birth of Madam* Tulip, celebrity psychic and fortune-teller. (*That’s Madam without an “e”, because she’s not married to Monsieur Tulip.) 

But Madam Tulip, in her two previous outings, has shown an unfortunate tendency to stumble over crimes and dead bodies, while pitching Derry into life-threatening situations. So when a figure from one of those narrow escapes offers a no-audition role in a movie (at almost Hollywood rates!) being filmed in the Highlands of Scotland, Derry stuns her acting friends by turning it down. Bruce is particularly overcome.

‘No…?’ he said, but couldn’t utter the actual word. Bruce’s pathological fear of auditions was well known to his friends. Remarkably, a man who thought exiting a submerged submarine while carrying a full load of limpet mines a hoot, was terrified to the point of nervous collapse by the prospect of an audition. Now his face shone like that of a saint glimpsing the promised land. The very idea that auditionless casting existed somewhere in the universe promised to change life’s whole complexion.

When the movie company not only offers to change Madam Tulip’s name, but also to cast Bruce, Derry reluctantly agrees. In barely related subplots, her parents also head to Scotland to open a gallery (Vanessa) and recoup his finances with an exhibition (Jacko). This allows for plenty of snide Irish/Scot comparisons (‘Scotland seemed to consist of countless miles of nothing at all…’), and even more snide American/British comparisons (‘But, being half Irish, Derry knew that when someone laments the fact they would soon be buried under the sod, the statement was to be filed under the general heading of weella, weella, wallya or, alternatively, ochone, ochone, ochone. Such lamentations were mostly about the tune, not the words.’). Of course, there’s plenty of obligatory kilt-ogling, and Derry’s developing attraction to both the local millionaire castle owner, and to the delicious Scottish accents of his estate manager, Rab, especially with his ‘Aye’ of agreement.

Derry breathed out as quietly as she could. A small but distinct and unambiguous tingle had developed at the nape of her neck. Could she try one more time?

‘Did you say an estate manager was called a factor here?’

‘Aye,’ answered Rab, gloriously.

Without adding spoilers, I think it’s fair to say the movie shoot doesn’t go well. Derry manages to get through the scene that gives the book its name, in which her character, a gypsy fortune teller, throws some prop bones and reads portents into their runes. Only…in her hands, the bones take on a sinister life of their own, bringing a vision warning of impending doom. A shaken Derry finds herself under attack from the media, maneuvered into giving a seance at the castle as Madam Tulip, shot at, and in peril.

As with many cozy mysteries, the character development, banter, and growing relationships with supporting characters are far more fun than the actual plot. That’s actually a good thing because the bad guys’ identities are telegraphed early on, but it doesn’t matter. Derry and Bruce stumble from one clue to the next, Madam Tulip’s psychic gifts illuminate the motives, and Derry is once more in the villains’ crosshairs. Meanwhile, Derry continues to choose the wrong guy for romance, her parents continue to battle, and Bruce continues to save everyone (while obsessing over his next scene).

I loved the descriptions of the settings, from Ireland to Scotland, and especially the Highlands (“An island-studded sea sparkled, blue and other-worldly. The water was stunningly transparent, so clear you could see a dark band of weed stretch out under the swell for a hundred yards before the sea bottom dropped away and the colour changed to a deep azure. A heather-covered hillside, golden red, rose steeply inland.”)  Later, Derry rides the train used for the Hogwarts Express, “…sweeping around a curving viaduct thrown casually across a broad heather-covered valley of breathtaking beauty.” She’s right. I’ve ridden that train and the scenery is stunning (although I’ve never seen red heather…).

But my favorite part was the relationship between Derry, her parents, and her friends. As with any good series, this just keeps getting better and better. Without it, this would be a much lesser book, but I don’t hesitate to give five stars and say that I can’t wait for the next book. Maybe poor Derry will have a nice date at last.

**I received this book from the publisher or author to expedite an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**


I reviewed Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Book Title: Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance
Author: David Ahern
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Malin Press (April 12, 2018)
Length: 288 pages

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(pre-order now for upcoming release on 12 April!)


REVIEW #2:  THAT SUMMER AT THE SEAHORSE HOTEL

Blurb:

Mia Flanagan has never been told who her father is and aged ten, stopped asking.

Haunted by this, she remains a dutiful daughter who would never do anything to bring scandal or shame on her beautiful and famously single mother.

So when Archie Fitzgerald, one of Hollywood’s favourite actors, decides to leave Mia his Irish estate, she asks herself – is he her father after all?

That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel is a tale of passion, jealousy and betrayal – and the ghost of a secret love that binds this colourful cast yet still threatens, after all these years, to tear each of them apart.


My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for That Summer At The Seahorse Hotel

On the surface, That Summer At The Seahorse Hotel is straightforward romance-infused women’s fiction: girl’s boyfriend does her wrong, girl leaves for new life somewhere else, although she denies her attraction to the gorgeous enigmatic stranger there. But what sets this story apart are so many other facets and echoes, tropes from other genres subtly whispering their lures, layered relationships with a dark mystery at their core.

Adrienne Vaughan has been making up stories since she could speak; primarily to entertain her sister Reta, who from a very early age never allowed a plot or character to be repeated – tough audience.
As soon as she could pick up a pen, she started writing them down. It was no surprise she became a journalist and having studied at the Dublin College of Journalism, dived headfirst into her career.
Today, she runs a busy PR practice and writes poems, short stories and ideas for books, in her spare time.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a founder member of the indie publishing group The New Romantics Press. Adrienne lives in Leicestershire in the heart of England with her husband, two cocker spaniels and a rescue cat called Agatha Christie.
Her novels are: The Hollow Heart; A Change of Heart and Secrets of the Heart. Each were shortlisted for a reader’s award at the Festival of Romantic Fiction in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Her collection of short stories and poetry, Fur Coat & No Knickers was shortlisted for the Irish Carousel Prize for Anthology in 2017. Her new romantic suspense – The Summer at the Seahorse Hotel – will be launched early 2018!
She’s keeping everything crossed there’s still time to realize her ambition and be a Bond girl!

When we meet Mia Flanagan, she’s in love with and engaged to her boyfriend, and a professional success in charge of wardrobes for a film shooting on location. But in addition to a disturbing series of pranks and vandalism on the set, and an emotionally distant fiancé, her work is disturbed by the news that Archie Fitz, the famous actor many believed to be her father, is dying. Meeting up with her mother Fenella, also an international movie star, Mia journeys back to Galty, Archie’s estate on the east coast of Ireland, where Mia spent much of her childhood.

As Archie’s friends and family gather around the dying actor, Mia also meets the Ross, the man in charge of the glittering five-star hotel being built nearby, along with his niece Pearl, a child who reminds Mia of the little girl she once was. “When had she stopped talking, asking questions, she wondered for the thousandth time?” She knows the answer, of course. It was when she realized the most important question—who was her father—would never be answered.

As events play out, the reader gets to spend time in the memories of most of the main characters. But we start to realize the difference between memory and actual events, and the way the events of a long ago summer shaped each of their lives going forward. As with most mysteries, there is an actual villain. But his role and his effect are, in the end, at best negligible. In fact, we know just about everything we need from a brilliant one-sentence description in which we’re told he was “…one to let things fester, always had been.”

And that’s because the real villainy is done in the name of love by most of the other characters. It’s not until Mia finally discovers the truth that she sees their actions for the destructive assaults they actually were.

All of this—unreliable narrators, love, broken romance, decades-old violence and even murder, would have been enough to keep me turning the pages. But in addition, the gorgeous Irish setting, the beautifully flawed characters frozen in their development even as Mia herself finally grows and moves forward, the quirky child Pearl’s search for a place to belong, and the eccentric supporting cast are beautifully developed.

And then there’s that cat. Just when I’ve decided that the story is a relationship/romance/thriller, the green-eyed cat shows up, slipping into pivotal scenes, observing, affecting, part of each event. There’s no explanation for his presence, even though we know that before Archie’s death no cats were allowed due to his allergies. “She imagined Archie, perched on his chair, eager to hear the gossip; the green-eyed cat sat there instead.”

And, finally, it’s the message of the book itself that lifts this to the level of a genuine five-star read. The real villain, with devastating and life-altering crimes committed in its name, is love—the greatest possible criminal. Oddly enough, it’s also the hero.

‘I’ll never forget that you’ve all lied to me, one way or the other all my life,’ Mia said softly.

‘We never lied…we just couldn’t tell the truth.’

‘A conspiracy of silence, whichever way you look at it.’

‘It wasn’t unkindly meant, we all loved you, will always love you.’

‘I know.’

**I received this book from the publisher or author to expedite an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**


I reviewed That Summer At The Seahorse Hotel for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Book Title: That Summer At The Seahorse Hotel
Author: Adrienne Vaughan
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: The Paris Press (February 8, 2018)
Length: 430 pages

—Buy  & Contact Links:

Amazon | GoodreadsWebsite | Twitter 

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