What’s New for the 3rd of March: Mysteries and Murderbot; fiddles Hardanger, nyckleharpa and violin; springy music; rhubarb wine and dark chocolate mousse and a Seabiscuit, and more

I hate misplaced apostrophes.

Detective Sergeant James Hathaway on the Lewis series.


MacKenzie here. One moment while I feed Hamish, our resident hedgehog, his live grubs. I keep trying to convince him to try woodworms, but a hedgehog is really not an innovator. Unfortunately. There, now we can talk…

The number of patrons of our Library always jumps dramatically when the evenings start getting colder. Now, understand that all of the staff here are voracious readers, a fact not at all surprising to me. Mind you, there’s a fair number of dilettantes among the scholars: the Reference shelves aren’t as trafficked as I’d like to see. This lot has its collective head in the clouds and its collective arse on a faerie mound as often as not.

Of course, the overstuffed leather chairs near the well-stoked fireplace in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room invite long sittings on cold nights. And one can learn all one needs to know about what is going on around here, over a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two; there’s no finer room in the place for a bite and a gossip over High Tea than in the Library staff room that overlooks Oberon’s Wood. But I hope the real attraction is the books here. It had better be!

I decided to do all mysteries this time. So do read them, along with the music reviews Gary has rounded up, Jennifer’s creative use of rhubarb, Reynard’s pick of a Dylan’s song performed by a trio of legendary musicians and other reviews Gary found.


So how about a bevy of mysteries to consider reading on these oh soon to be Spring evenings? I’ve selected a few of the myriad ones we’ve done over the years (and one new SF mystery); you’ll find they cover everything from English Manor House mysteries to psychic detectives…

April leads off our reviews with an unusual novel from an SF writer doing his only thriller: ‘Dead Man’s Brother is a delight to read — Roger Zelazny’s language and characters seem right at home in this genre — and regrettably over all too fast at less than 300 pages. If only more such jewels were left to unearth…’

Cat has a review of Rita Mae Brown’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie of which he says that ‘This series grows out of her passions for horses, hounds, and American fox hunting which show up frequently in her fiction and non-fiction works – she has for some time now been a member of a local fox hunt club. Please note that American hunt clubs do not kill the fox as part of their hunt but let it escape. Indeed they care for the foxes on their property by feeding them and making sure they get enough food in harsh winters.’

He also looks at the first novel in a now long running )fourteen books deep so far) mystery series: ‘Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House is the best mystery set during the London Blitz of the early 1940s that I’ve ever read, bar none. It is also the best mystery set within the very peculiar world of the theater that I’ve read.

Craig looks at a noir novel from a beloved author: ‘In 1985, over twenty years since the publication of his last full-length work, 1962’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury reentered the novel-writing world with the release of Death is a Lonely Business, his foray into a genre dominated by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald — the crime novel.’

Elizabeth looked at a unique shared story narrative: ‘The Medieval Murderers (authors actually: Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson and Phillip Gooden), after pooling their talents on The Tainted Relic, have done so again with The Sword of Shame. As in Relic, each author contributes their own murder mystery, written within the time period of their choice and with their own characters, with the only catch being that each story revolves around the same object.’

The latest installment of Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries is of course SF also a mystery of sorts. We have Gary’s review of System Failure. ‘Things are proceeding as they do in a Murderbot story, with our intrepid, shy, sarcastic hero providing security services and advice to a group of humans who seem, to Murderbot, determined to get themselves killed through curiosity or lack of planning or carelessness, or, most often, all three. But wait … there’s something we’re not being told. And we know it’s being kept from us because every so often Murderbot’s report file is interrupted by the word redacted just like that, in italics.’

Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg’s Once Upon a Crime definitely appeals to Grey: ‘Fairy tales had a major impact on shaping the imagination of folks long before they were first written down. And mystery fiction goes back many, many centuries as a genre. The themes that were the basis of the material shaped by such writers as the Brothers Grimm, Victor Hugo, and Hans Christian Anderson are also ideally suited to the mystery genre. The possibilities are endless, with questions such as “What makes you think that a wolf ate your grandmother?” being ripe for treatment as mysteries.’

Joel has a review of China Miéville’s intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’

Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart  gets a loving look by Lenora: ‘Ellis Peters has a gift for titles. This aptly named book is the story of a fierce ballad-singer named Liri, who fell in love with a musician — then saw him cheating on her. It’s the tale of a venerable college of music-lore in danger from scandal. It’s the story of a misunderstood, brilliant young musician carrying a volatile secret. It’s all of these, and none of these, and it’s more than that. This is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and fact combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets looked at by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

From the Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch, Lis has a review of the audiobook of Whispers Under Ground. ‘When Peter Grant’s young cousin, Abigail Kamara, drags him and his colleague and fellow magical apprentice, Leslie May, to a railroad track running under a school playground, they do find the ghost. But the ghost is no threat, and doesn’t seem to be pointing to anything of concern now. So when the first case that lands on his desk on Monday is a man stabbed to death on the track at Baker Street Station, he puts the ghost aside, and sets about finding out why the British Transport Police officer, Sgt. Kumar, thinks there’s something odd about the case in a way that makes it the Folly’s business.

Lory says of another mystery series: ‘Before there was Lyra Belacqua, there was Sally Lockhart. Prior to creating the unforgettable Lyra of The Golden Compass and its blockbuster sequels, Philip Pullman was perhaps best known for his trio of books featuring another kick-ass female: a pistol-packing, checkbook-balancing, mystery-solving Victorian orphan. I adored these books as a teenager (like Sally herself, I was sixteen when the first volume was published), but hadn’t read them in years when the chance came to review them for GMR. Would they still be as compelling as I remembered, half a lifetime later?’

Lory also gives us a mystery set in a Britain that never existed: ‘Jo Walton has a knack for genre fiction with a twist. In the World Fantasy Award-winning Tooth and Claw, she gave us a Victorian family saga — complete with siblings squabbling over an inheritance, the woes of the unwed daughters of the house, and the very important question of What Hat to Wear — with a cast of dragons, literally red in tooth and claw. Now in Farthing, her material is the mid-century British country house murder mystery. The story is told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a reluctant visitor to the family estate of Farthing, and over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests.’

Richard offers us a bit of pulp in Manley Wellman’s The Complete John Thunstone: ‘he’s a familiar character with a few unique twists. A psychic detective in the old-school style, he’s wealthy, well-built, and as quick with his fists or his saint-forged swordcane as he is with his wits. Erudite, charming and nattily attired, he tangles repeatedly with the nefarious, seemingly unkillable sorcerer Rowley Thorne, a nemesis seeming cloned from bits of Aleister Crowley and Professor Moriarty. Where Thorne strives to unleash darkness on the world (and win the affections of the Countess Sharon Montesco by fair means or foul), Thunstone and his allies fight to hold the shadows at bay. As such, he fits comfortably within the psychic detective tradition; it’s Wellman’s skill at characterization that makes him stand out.’

Robert’s review of 9Tail Fox that whittles down the general genre label and gets to the heart of the story. ‘The book cover claims that Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox is ‘A novel of science fiction.’ Considering what science fiction has become over the past generation, that could well be valid — with some qualifications. I’m going to call it ‘slipstream’ in honor of its genre-bending tendencies and let it go at that.’ is it mystery? Read his review to see if it is.


Remember rhubarb? That huge tropical-leafed plant in your grandmother’s garden with red, red stems, and you chew the stems and your mouth goes dry for the next three days? Jennifer reviews Red Ass Rhubarb wine and gives us a recipe for dark chocolate mousse to eat with it.


Grey, in her review of the film Seabiscuit, says her eyes stayed perfectly dry whenever the visual and audio cues said she should be crying. ‘But I teared up every time I saw the horse(s) who play Seabiscuit take the track. It’s beautiful! The way horses run when they’re racing… there’s an emotion in it that isn’t human, but that I find heart-rending all the same.’


April was pleased with Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf’s Welcome to the Jungle, a standalone story connected to a series of novels featuring the exploits of wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. ‘Butcher’s usual snappy dialogue translates quite well into the comic format. Syaf’s art is clean and attractive and he does an excellent job of realizing Butcher’s characters, Harry in particular, right down to his trademark duster, pentacle pendant, blasting rod and staff.’


In new music, Gary reviewed the third album by one of his favorite groups, Nils Økland Band’s Gjenskinn. As with the Hardanger fiddler and his band’s earlier efforts, he says, this one presents Norwegian folk themes viewed through a multifaceted lens that incorporates jazz, classical, minimalism, and more. ‘All of these players are top-tier, in demand musicians in their fields, and all are adept at improvising within the rarified levels at which Økland composes and into which he leads them. The sense of focused joy in their performance is palpable.’

Gary also attended a show billed as Väsen and Hawktail, and figured the two bands would play separately. ‘But it turns out that Hawktail isn’t just some Americana group but in this case is the acoustic supergroup I formerly knew as Haas Kowert Tice, and they’re not opening for Väsen but playing along with them in a sort of super supergroup! It was the best night of music I’ve enjoyed since before the pandemic began four years ago.’

From the archives, Barb reviewed a bunch of Nordic fiddling CDs in her omni review of Alicia Björnsdotter Abrams’ Live at Stallet, Marianne Maans’ Marianne Maans, Majorstuen’s Jorun Jogga, Jan Beitohaugen Granli’s Lite Nemmar, and Kristine Heebøll’s Trio Mio. ‘With this group, the versatility of the violin is evident as we move from solo settings to a sextet and everything in between. Through all of it, the violin is the binding force. The geographical areas represented include Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.’

Christopher gave a mixed review to a couple of albums by Darrell Scott. ‘Live in NC works so much better than Theatre of the Unheard because the songs are given space, both terms of both the arrangements and timing. All of the songs but one go over the five minute mark, being allowed to unravel themselves slowly and powerfully, the rhythm section giving its best and Scott himself proving to be a talented and effective guitarist. His voice, much more relaxed, is fitting and there are times that he even shows potential to be a remarkably good singer.’

Gary liked Jolie Holland’s Springtime Can Kill You, which he said ‘ …is a 12-song cycle about love, its joys and disappointments. It opens with “Crush in the Ghetto,” a lovely and lilting love song with the sighing refrain of “look what you’ve done to me.” Lightly plucked electric guitar and lightly brushed drums accompany her singing, grounded by a low, thrumming bass and the distant soughing of horns and organ.’

Judith reviewed Dark Light from Waterson:Carthy, which at the time was Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, and their daughter, fiddler Eliza Carthy, with accordionist Tim Van Eyken. ‘You would think that after all these albums, the little extended family would get boring, rest on their laurels, but actually Dark Light is quite fresh-sounding, a nice album with subtly interesting interpretations of the old songs.’

It’s not too early to start planning to attend Denmark’s annual Skagen Festival – which fans of Seaside Hotel may be interested in! Lars told us all about it. ‘On the last weekend in June every year Skagen hosts an international music festival with a folky direction. Fairport Convention, the Dubliners and Runrig have played the festival in recent years.’


Reynard found a really interesting song while he  looking at the list of the latest additions to the Infinate Jukebox, our digital media sever. It’s the Dylan song, ’Highway 61 Revisited’ as performed this time by Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. You can hear it thisaway as it was performed on the 17th of November, 2000 at the Shrine Auditorium in Mountain View, California.

Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

More Posts

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.