Nosy Parker

So, you’re wondering. What’s all this again?

All this, as you put it, is a short story. It’s related a bigger whole–that is, the novel we’ve been writing, Parker & Winthrop. Since we can’t share a whole novel with you here, though, and since we haven’t quite finished that first draft (we’re very close, though!), we wanted to give you a taste of what we’ve been creating the last few months. Connor wrote this shorty story about our girls, and since today’s her birthday and all (hello, quarter-century!), she wanted to share it with you. Basia wrote one for her birthday, too, which you can find here

We hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think, and stay tuned: you’ll be hearing more from us about Parker & Winthrop and more about W(REC)’D soon. 

 

Imogen Parker preferred to call herself curious.

She was a learner. An observer. A student of human nature and human action. In short, she would tell you, she paid attention. There wasn’t much more to it than that.

She first heard the term “Nosy Parker” when she was five years old and, perhaps fittingly, had been eavesdropping on her teacher discussing her latest misadventures with the school principal.

It was the same story almost every week: Imogen asked too many questions, she turned up in places she shouldn’t be, and—worst of all, in Imogen’s opinion—squirmy, squinty six-year-old Morris kept ratting her out to Mr. Reed. Imogen was not a fan of Morris. The other kids in her class got along with her pretty well, but Morris had it out for her. Before Imogen showed up, he’d been the fastest reader in class. He didn’t like being shown up by a five-year-old girl. That was fair, she supposed.

After all, she didn’t like Morris.

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a beautiful blue death

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The Facts

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
Connor rates it: 3.5/5

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of a fondness for mystery novels must always be in search of another series.

Or at least, that’s the truth I’ve discovered after fifteen or so years in pursuit of, to turn a phrase, novel mysteries. Agatha Christie became one of my favorite authors after my brilliant book club leader decided the group of seventh grade girls she was leading should read Death on the Nile. (I owe a lot to that book club–my love of Jane Austen and The Lord of the Rings included–but I will always be especially grateful to our leader for deciding we needed to appreciate Hercule Poirot.)

The thing is, a girl in her early teens with a mind bent on reading Agatha Christie can accomplish that quite quickly. There are, after all, several Agatha Christie novels and detectives to enjoy, and obtaining them is not particularly difficult: the title of “best selling novelist” isn’t an honorary one. But there comes a time in every mystery lover’s life when she must turn away from the Queen of Crime and pick up the works of other mystery novelists. This was the point where my mother introduced me to what quickly became my next downfall: historical mysteries.

And that is how, after discovering Ellis Peters, Dorothy Sayers, Victoria Thompson, Elizabeth Peters, Peter Tremayne, and, most recently, Charles Todd–it came to pass that I needed a new mystery series.

Or, you know, nine. Ten, even. But at least two or three, and quite probably more.

I did what I always do in moments of literary trouble: I looked my problem dead in the eye, and I tackled it with all the force of a twenty-four year old bookworm with access to the internet. It wavered. It dissolved. It split at the seams. It tumbled into oblivion. It fell down upon the mountainside in ruins. It faded into nothingness. It trembled. It crashed. In short, it crumbled beneath the combined weight of Goodreads, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and my own curiosity, and I emerged with a list of not one, not two, but twelve mystery series to investigate.

One of the books that emerged from this was A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. While not the most technically deft mystery I’ve ever read, I nevertheless enjoyed it quite a bit. The book cover described the novel as something of a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Gosford Park, and P. G. Wodehouse. For once, this was a surprisingly accurate description. I would argue that the Sherlockian tidbits were unnecessary and felt a bit forced, but on the whole the novel does have a Wodehouse/Gosford Park vibe to it.

Which is to say: the prose has an airy, refreshing lightness despite the pages’ content, and the mystery seems less important than the characters involved.

The breezy writing is well anchored in Finch’s main character, Charles Lenox. It is Lenox’s cheery outlook (and occasionally his dour moods) that keep the story moving along, and it is Lenox’s relationships that interested me most: that with his best friend, his brother, and his butler. The butler is Lenox’s most dependable compatriot in any investigation, from ferreting out information to providing background knowledge and an extra set of hands. Lenox’s brother has a much quieter brilliance than Lenox himself, but their clear affection for each other and willingness to help with the other’s difficulties or career is admirable. His best friend, though, is a woman he has known since childhood, the widow Lady Jane Grey.

I have often found that novels professing “life long friendships” leave me wondering how on earth the author expected me to believe these characters were lifelong friends–they never understand each other and, in fact, scarcely seem to care for each other at all. Finch is a pleasant exception to my experience, and A Beautiful Blue Death showcases a quiet, mutual affection between Lady Jane and Lenox that is both believable and lovely to read.

These three relationships–butler, brother, friend–keep Finch’s prose from veering too far into the lightheartedness of Wodehouse while also providing enough counterweight to keep Lenox from veering into despair as he works to solve the case. The murder itself proves a curious one, with enough twists to keep me guessing and a resolution that managed to live up to them, and I look forward to reading Charles Lenox’s next case.

the clockwork scarab

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The Facts

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Cleason
Basia rates it: 3.5/5
Connor rates it: 3.5/5

basia

This book had so much potential. I loved the premise–it is exactly the sort of thing that speaks to my sensibilities. It sounds like it’s going to be so much fun. And it was, to be fair–Evaline and Mina are wonderful, and several other characters became favorites, but my lower-than-expected rating comes down to one thing: Dylan. At best, he’s bothersome. At worst, he’s a nuisance the likes of which you want to squash with the world’s largest flyswatter. I never felt that he was necessary or useful; his subplot is too contrived; it tries too hard to fit into a story that, quite frankly, doesn’t need him. Everything his two-dimensional self was there to do could have been handled in another, less clunky, less annoying manner. That being said, I do plan to pick up the next book. The protagonists’ budding friendship, their grudging respect for one another, is a story I’ll follow to the deepest vampire den–even if it means putting up with Dylan.

connor

I slipped the rating down to 3.5 for the ending, which I found to be rather short and sudden, and for Dylan (who, as Basia mentioned, is both unnecessary and annoying). While I’ll definitely pick up the next one, his was one plot line too many in a convoluted tale. Still, the main narrative was fun and the characters of Mina and Evaline (and a smattering of favorites in cameo) kept matters lively enough to make this steampunk novel a witty enough matter of crime solving to keep me interested. In all honesty, I was biased towards this from the start: not only is mystery my favorite genre of choice, but I’m usually a fan of the steampunk aesthetic as well. The premise–creating a partnership between Bram Stoker’s teenage sister and the teenage niece of Sherlock Holmes–captivated me, and the development of their friendship and a slow, begrudging respect for the other’s talents kept me reading even when Dylan was at his most obnoxious.

murder on the orient express

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The Facts

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Connor rates it: 4.5/5

Anyone who knows me could tell you I read an awful lot of mystery novels. Almost every other book I read is a mystery novel. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Dorothy Sayers, Peter Tremayne, Jacqueline Winspear, Elizabeth Peters, Charles Todd–I always have at least one mystery on hand, and quite often two or three behind it. Today, we’re focusing on one of my most-recommended authors, the Queen of Crime herself: Agatha Christie.

I’ve heard more than one person tell me that while the Americans invented the murder mystery (a… sort of accurate fact? Thank you, Edgar Allan Poe), the Brits perfected it. Agatha Christie remains one of the most popular authors of all time–she’s right up there with Shakespeare in the “two to four billion sales, we aren’t really sure which” category–and this particular novel of hers is my favorite.

Murder on the Orient Express is not the first Agatha Christie novel I read (Death on the Nile, seventh grade book club). It is not the one that gripped me most thoroughly (And Then There Were None, one year later in a single sitting), nor even the one with the most startling ending (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a few months after that). But like I said: it’s my favorite.

In addition to M. Hercule Poirot, that most celebrated of detectives who uses the little grey cells to solve crimes, the audience has an ally in M. Bouc, to whom Poirot often explains (or chooses not to explain) his methods, and the array of murder suspects is numerous and varied enough to amuse even the most persnickety of readers.

While Christie swaps narrative viewpoints like M. Bouc swaps accusations of murder, there’s a reason Murder on the Orient Express remains an iconic crime novel over eighty years after its initial publication. After all, there aren’t many murder mysteries that beg to be re-read; the revelation of the murderer is often half the fun, and a reread means already knowing whodunnit. Murder on the Orient Express is an exception. Christie always keeps her plots and characters interesting and inventive, but in this particular novel–with its peculiar dose of Poirot’s arrogance and misleading clues–she shines.

(And if you insist you don’t have time for this 300 or so paged novel, I’d recommend the audiobook. The most recent version was recorded by Dan Stevens, and his character voices are absolutely phenomenal.)

 

a study in charlotte

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The Facts

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Connor rates it: 4/5

In short: this book is a delight.

Imagine, if you will, your favorite crime solving/crime fighting dynamic duo. It could be Sherlock and Holmes, as we have here in a different light; it could be Mulder and Scully, or maybe early-seasons-Booth and Bones; Batman and Robin, perhaps; Carter and Jarvis, or maybe Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Whichever they are, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are sure to join your list of favorites. They are bright and clever, with curious talents and pursuits just enough their own to make them unique, but also just enough in line with their illustrious ancestors to make them absurdly fun to read.

A Study in Charlotte doesn’t just subvert various Holmes/Watson tropes; it finagles its way around them, over them, through them. There are mysteries, subplots, intrigue, secretive chemistry experiments, a Stradivarius–and, of course, the sort of mutual devotion one expects from a Holmes and a Watson.

If you’re worried this won’t live up to your expectations of a teenage Sherlock Holmes: you’ve got the wrong book. This isn’t a book about Sherlock Holmes. It’s a book related to Sherlock Holmes. It’s about legacy and character, history and the modern age, true friendship and loyalty in an age of loneliness and mystery–and it shines.

I will happily admit that it is not perfect. I will also admit that there were moments where I winced, and there were topics that were not handled quite so delicately or deftly as I might have liked.

But I will also admit, wholeheartedly, that this book was more than I had hoped, and I am decidedly looking forward to the next installment of the trilogy. The delicate movement of Charlotte and Jamie from strangers to friends and partners is carefully chronicled here. It’s not an easy road–there is, as mentioned, murder and mystery, and also intrigue! forgery! secret tunnels! a literal explosion!–but then, it wouldn’t be Holmes and Watson if it were.

update: the watchmaker of filigree street

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The Facts

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
Basia rates it: 3.75/5

I did a write-up for Filigree (as Connor and I have been referring to it when talking about posts) while I was still reading it, but I thought I would circle back around now that I’ve finished and give a more comprehensive review.

This was a strange book, and I came out of reading it much the same way that I did the movie Krampus: it definitely wasn’t bad, and I would also say that it was good, but it also exists in a weird tenuous space between the two.

My struggle with Filigree is that I kept forgetting to read it. Normally, when I’m reading a book, even if it’s a book I don’t feel compelled to devour, I have the urge to finish, because I hate leaving things undone. I’ll make time to curl up in my favorite armchair with the book on my knees for at least a few minutes, just enough to get in a chapter or two while I have my tea. But I found I wasn’t doing that with Filigree.

It is, as I said before, a quiet sort of book, but while that was part of its charm, I feel like it also might have worked against it in some ways. I’d think about reading, would have to think about what I was currently reading, and then I would remember Filigree and that I had yet to finish it. Sometimes I would pick it up, and other times I wouldn’t. I always had to make a conscious effort to remember to read it.

Another reason I think the overall tone might have worked against the book was I was finally at the book’s climax, but I felt no urgency. I am sure I was meant to–the events unfolding were crazy and tumultuous–but I couldn’t muster the appropriate feelings. This is not to say that I didn’t care about the characters, because I did. But I also found I cared more about the secondary characters than the three protagonists; in some ways, I felt that they had a bit more substance to them, like I knew their personalities better.

I didn’t feel relief when I was finished with the book, because the overall story was an interesting one and I truly did want to know what happened, but I also didn’t experience any of the usual things I feel when I finish a book. It was simply over, and I could finally move on to something else.

Filigree was a good book, but a strange one. I am glad I read it, but I can’t see myself ever picking it up for a reread. It is certainly not a book for everyone. But if you’re willing to give it a try, I hope that you, like myself, are at least charmed by the little clockwork octopus that has a penchant for stealing socks and hiding in drawers.

the watchmaker of filigree street

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I found The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley totally by accident, lurking in the mystery section of my local library. I was browsing the stacks, mostly checking what Agatha Christie they had (the selection was pitiful), when I spotted a book tucked into a strange corner between bookshelves. There was a bright green octopus on the spine. Never one to ignore a cephalopod, I squeezed my arm into the space and pulled it out. I’m not sure if this book was meant to be in the mystery section or if it was placed there by another patron. I don’t even know how long it had been sitting there; if I was the only one who had happened to peer into the space between the shelves, it could have been there, undetected, for ages. So I read the back cover, decided it looked interesting, tucked it under my arm, and went to check out.

I let it sit around for a bit but finally got to starting it just recently, and I’m fascinated. Unexpectedly, the book has magic, although I suppose that the use of the adjective “magical” on the back synopsis should have clued me in, but I assumed it was just one of those buzzwords back-jacket writers like to throw around to make the work sound sweeping and grand. But no! There is, in fact, actual magic, which sells me on almost anything. There is also a male protagonist who is charming in his social awkwardness, a female protagonist whom I realized I loved immediately because she reminded me of Lila from V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, a Japanese watchmaker who is perplexing and intriguing and very lovely, and, because it must be said, a clockwork octopus.

I’m only about halfway through, and I’m unwilling to give away too much about a book, particularly one I haven’t yet finished, but I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s a skinny book, by my usual standards, but it’s not a book that I’ve found myself speeding through. Usually this might spell disaster, as a book I find I am unable to read quickly is usually a book that is boring or obtuse, but that’s not the case here. I simply get caught up in all of it–Grace’s scientific experiments, even though I am not very scientifically inclined; Thaniel’s poor attempts at espionage; Keita Mori’s quiet but powerful presence; and Katsu, the clockwork octopus with a personality all his own. I want to know what happens, but in a quiet way. This is a mystery novel, in a sense, but it is not the pulse-pounding, what happens next what happens next I have to know sort of mystery that I’ve grown used to reading. This is a quieter mystery, where the plot takes a backseat to the characters. So if you love character-driven narratives with a little magic, a little mystery, and a little absurdity, this would be a book worth picking up.