Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jake Don't Play

I'm just going to jump into this one. I want to take a moment to rejoice on how this omnibus collection of Elizabeth Peters’s Jacqueline Kirby mystery series saved me from the awfulness of Nightshifted, but I figured I would sweat this topic out if I tried. Therefore, moving right along…

Kirby had some nice covers
While this Jacqueline Kirby omnibus contains the first three books in her series (there are four total), I only read the first book, The Seventh Sinner. I’m in the process of digesting this series in extensive bites, much like Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series. Speaking of which, the interesting thing that I felt after reading The Seventh Sinner was that I actually–no shade intended–liked Peters's Jacqueline Kirby slightly more.  Sure she's less popular than her counterpart Amelia, but man did I brightened throughout each of her appearances.  Maybe it's because Jacqueline didn't complain (or rather bitch and moan) as much as Amelia.  Instead of doing so, she just... well... marched into her own assertiveness without making demands or controlling others.  Her attitude was a humorous, quirky blend of sharp intelligence and assumed inculpability.  Simply put, Jacqueline marched to the beat of her own drum and did it well.

So what is The Seventh Sinner about? An American student named Jean Suttman has taken her fellowship studies in Rome.  Over time she has gathered six other friends/students with six different backgrounds, educational aspirations and life philosophies. Their group is known as the Seven Sinners.  They are made up of renaissance, historian, anthropology and religion-oriented individuals. Some within this group of seven get along better with others, and nothing appears more evident of their group dynamics than the slain body of one member, and fellow student, Albert. Nobody within the Seven Sinners likes Albert. Besides their disgust at his appearance, he’s somewhat of a know-it-all who is constantly tagging alongside the group to push his unsolicited input on their conversations.  While the group explores an underground Roman temple, a lone Jean runs across the dying body of Albert.  It appears that someone cut his throat, effectively silencing him.  However, he manages to scratch his final message on the dirt floor in an attempt to led Jean to his killer.  So the question becomes which student risked his or her future to silence Albert? As well as why?  Librarian and thrill-seeker, Jacqueline Kirby, steps forward to apply her practical assessment of the crime, while keeping Jean safe from a stream of “accidents” designed to snuff her out of the equation.

The Seventh Sinner was written and set in the 1970s, and really, it had a small taste of gothic horror from that period that I love.  Maybe that's another notable difference that I liked about Jacqueline, contrasting to Amelia Peabody’s series taking place in late 19th and early 20th century Egypt.  (Which, to be fair, is perfectly perfect.)  Or maybe my burst of fondness lie in Jacqueline's third-person narrative, as opposed to Amelia's first.  The narrative wasn't spent locked in Jacqueline's head, leaving me excited and unsure of her ideas and motives. Nonetheless, both protagonists are eccentric, funny, impulsive, and intuitive in their detection. And where Amelia Peabody is famed for solving murder mysteries in Egypt with her parasol at hand, Jacqueline Kirby totes around a bottom-less white purse filled with knick-knacks necessary in helping her solve murders in Rome.  Even a knitting kit.  Speaking of which, Jacqueline wasn't even the main character in the book.  Jean was.  But naturally, Jacqueline stole the show.

Thankfully, the mystery itself wasn't arduous and difficult to follow.  It drew me along nicely, and gave me plenty to guess with.  Structuring a pleasurable mystery is all about appealing characters with even more absorbing secrets to keep. The Seventh Sinner provided plenty of the two. Toward the end, I was never quite sure which student committed the murder, and even when it’s revealed, the twist relaying how and why was satisfying.

I will have to say that my biggest complaint with the book came from the heavy dose of historical and religious references scattered throughout the text. Unfortunately, I don't know a thing about the Seven Churches of Asia or San Andrea al Quirinale. I've never been to the Roman road called Via Aurelia, and have certainly never stepped foot in the Callixtus catacombs of Rome. Therefore, needless to say, I had to roll with the punches in many areas of the book. Sure, some character dialogue-filled in some informational gaps but, as it pertains to the exposition, some of the settings never really fleshed themselves out in my imagination. And because I was so wrapped up in the story, I hardly gave myself a moment to reach for my smartphone to do a quick image search on some of the areas populated by the cast.

All in all, I have to say that I enjoyed this book immensely. Jacqueline Kirby with her bottomless purse, cigarettes, love of thriller books, and horn-rimmed glasses was so irresistible that I will gladly come back for more.

I give The Seventh Sinner:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews