Reading Roundup: January Progress

Last week I posted the 5 series I plan to dive into over 2023 and the 2 series I want to finish in 2023. This blog post is to update you on how I am progressing in my reading goals- which, to be fair, this month is minimal. I spent most of the beginning of 2023 ill with covid, and then my husband broke his foot and slashed his hand with a knife, which needed lots of medical care. That’s to say, most of my reading time was swallowed running to urgent care. Here’s to a more productive February. So, what did I actually manage to read?

Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts (Inspector French, 1)

This is a story for those of you that love the hunt. Inspector French ia awoken in the middle of the night to investigate the murder of Mr. Gething the head clerk of Duke & Peabody’s Diamond Merchant. Mr. Gething was found with a gash on his head next to the open and empty diamond safe. After dusting the the room for prints he embarks on getting to know all of Mr. Gething’s aqaintences and friends. Mr. Gething a devoted husband to his invalid wife and two lovely daughters is barely making ends meet, but his household agrees that nothing would induce him to steal the diamonds to enrich his circumstances. Upon further questioning it is revealed to Inspector French that the younger daughter is engaged to the junior partner of the diamond firm and Inspector French begins to wonder if they hatched a plan to secure themselves a nest egg.

While he tries to investigate the diamond buyer for the firm of Duke & Peabody he must travel from London to Amsterdam, to the Swiss Alps Barcelona, until they finally meet in Le Havre where the diamond buy spins a long tale that Inspector French suspects is a wild goose chase to frame him.

After doggedly investigating the murder over several weeks, the ruined Mr. Duke commits suicide on an ocean liner. With Mr. Duke’s family in shambles, Inspector French pressures the young couple to tell the truth, which they finally do to clear their names. In the story, they mention seeing a young woman near the Diamond firm on the night of the murder. Inspector French attempts to track her down and discovers she is a gifted stage actress that mysteriously gave up her stellar career to marry. As Inspector French attempts to apprehend the West End actress, she flees to Portugal with her husband and the diamonds. Inspector French must travel the continent to catch them before they escape and start new lives without consequence.

The plot mixes a puzzle mystery with a police procedural to create a complex and satisfying mystery. Inspector French must travel to Europe and South America, study railway timetables, and shipping manifests, crack a cipher and find a woman who disappeared 10 years before the diamond theft to catch two killers. A long, fascinating read that reminds readers that catching a killer is hard work with lots of leads that end nowhere. I only figured out the identity of the second murderer a few pages before Inspector French. It was so unexpected that I couldn’t quite believe how ingenious the plan was. I highly recommend this intricately plotted book. It’s my first foray into the Inspector French series and I liked it so much that I plan to read more books in the series. My next adventure with Inspector French is Antidote to Murder where snake venom is used to kill an elderly professor to inherit his fortune.

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu, (Crown Colony, 1)

In the Crown Colony of Singapore, the British establishment uneasily ruled during the abdication crisis in 1936. When the Irish nanny looking after the mentally challenged daughter of the acting governor dies under mysterious circumstances, Chief Inspector Thomas Lefroy is called in to investigate.

The same morning of the death Chief Inspector LeFroy visits the Mission School to engage one of its brightest pupils, Su Lin, as a housekeeper. When Chief Inspector LeFroy is informed of the death, he brings Su Lin to the crime scene on the way back to his office. Sun Lin, who desires to be an investigative reporter, not a housekeeper, quickly makes herself useful and notices that the nanny didn’t just fall from the second-story balcony as she has a knife wound. Sun Lin also finds Governor Palin’s daughter dirty and scared and convinces her to return to the house. Upon their return, she looks after the young woman. The Palin’s, to whom Su Lin is already close through the Mission School, ask her to stay on and watch the young woman until a new nanny arrives; Su Lin discusses the idea with Chief Inspector Lefroy, who agrees it would be advantageous to the investigation for her to spy on the household.

Su Lin takes her investigation seriously, entrusting her safety to no one and ingratiating herself with the servants of the governor’s house. She soon learns many secrets. Rumors of romantic affairs abound, and an unhappy marriage is on the verge of ripping apart the household. When Lady Palin, the governor’s wife, is found dead in her room, she re-doubles her efforts to find the killer before she dies.

What I enjoyed about this novel is the discussion on British imperialism and how it impacts every aspect of life. Ultimately the killer will do anything to uphold their power and place in an oppressive regime, even kill a child. It’s a potential piece on the lives of the Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnic groups trying not to break under imperialism.

The teenage Chinese Sleuth of Su Lin is acutely aware of her precarious position. If she fails, she will be trapped in an arranged marriage, which considering her withered leg from childhood polio, is much better off than many others like herself. Educated in a time where education was not given to many young Chinese women, she must take full advantage of her opportunities before they are snatched away by people more powerful than her. As a fellow disabled person, I deeply resonated with Su Lin’s struggle to carve out a good life when the world does not think you could (or should) succeed. Ultimately, Su Lin solves the mystery and kills the murderer in a fight for her life. I can’t wait to go with Su Lin on her future cases, so I’ve already started The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, where Su Lin becomes a private investigator.

I wanted to dive into this month, but hopefully, I’ll get through more of my TBR pile in February. How did your reading progress go in January? What was your favorite book that you discovered this month?


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