High Rhymes and Misdemeanors, by Diana Killian

>> Thursday, February 08, 2007

High Rhymes and Misdemeanors, by Diana Killian was recommended to me in one of the Elizabeth Peters yahoo groups I belong to, as part of my neverending quest to find authors who might write like her.

book coverCan a love of dead poets save her from following in their footsteps?

While visiting her favorite poets' old haunts in England's Lake District, Grace Hollister, an American schoolteacher and literary scholar, stumbles upon the body of Peter Fox face down in a stream. Thankfully, the dashing local antiques dealer is not dead -- but after saving his life Grace soon finds herself pursued by two menacing thugs who are after the gewgaws Peter is hiding. Problem is, Peter doesn't have any gewgaws. He doesn't even know what gewgaws are. But he and Grace soon discover they've got something to do with Lord Byron?and someone's willing to kill for them.

As Peter's dark past is gradually revealed, his knowledge of vice coupled with Grace's love of verse lead them straight into the heart of a caper of the highest order -- one that might lead to a spectacular literary discovery and poetic justice for all.
The blurb actually gets it right: HRAM is definitely a caper. I like capers when done right (and when the setting is interesting), and this one was all right. A B-.

American teacher Grace Hollister is having the vacation of her life, touring the English Lake District and visiting the locales which inspired her favourite poets. Or rather, she was having the time of her life until the friend who was accompanying her ran into an old boyfriend and abandoned her. And her vacation goes even more off-course when one evening, while taking a walk around the inn in which she's staying, she finds the body of a man face-down in a stream.

The body in question belongs to Peter Fox, a man also staying at Grace's inn, and it's still alive, though barely. It quickly becomes clear that someone is after him, someone who wants certain Byron-related gewgaws they think Peter has. And through her rescue, Grace becomes involved, too. The problem? Neither Grace nor Peter have any idea about what those gewgaws might be, or where they might be hidden.

Running around picturesque locales in Northern England, old-fashioned English villages, antiques, dead poets and their artifacts, eccentric characters... all the ingredients a caper should have, and most of them were very well done. Killian gives us an excellent sense of place (and I liked that you do get a sense of a modern, multicultural England, though it could have used a bit more of that), and the atmosphere was perfect. I especially loved the Byron connection, and trying to figure out, together with the characters, just what the villains could be after that would be so important.

I also thought the author did very well with the plotting. Sometimes the problem in books like this one is getting the characters involved in something so obviously out of their depths, but without making them look like reckless idiots. I thought Killian succeeded. The characters' actions felt reasonably reasonable (sorry, sorry!), and it felt plausible that they'd react as they did. Some actions at the end were a bit iffy and verging on stupid, but I could overlook it.

But... an interesting plot can only go so far, and I did feel a distinct lack of spark in the characters. Peter had potential, with his colourful past, but he never completely came alive. As for Grace, I'm sorry to say she a was pretty boring character. She's just so... well, average, I'd say. In any case, as the main characters, they didn't have the sizzle and energy necessary to make a book like this really outstanding.

There are two more books in this, the Poetic Death mystery series, and both Verse of the Vampyre and Sonnet of the Sphinx (the latter coming out this April) feature Grace and Peter. Who knows, maybe they'll come into their own in these next installments. I was interested enough in HRAM that I might check them out and find out.

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