Friday, August 23, 2013

A Spider in the Cup by Barbara Cleverly

First Sentence:  On a neglected reach of the Thames, a woman stood counting the chimes ringing out from Chelsea Old Church behind her.          
The body of a young woman buried in the banks of the Thames is discovered.  What attracted the dowsing rods this amateur group member’s attention, was the priceless gold coin in her mouth.  That she is also missing a toe sends the case to the desk of Assistant Commissioner Joe Sandilands.  Sandilands, however, is also task with protecting an important US Senator who is in London for an historic global economic conference.  Senator Cornelius Kingstone’s own bodyguard from the F.B.I., used to report to Sandilands in the British Army.  Protecting Kingstone, Joe learns there is much, much more at risk than one Senator’s life.

It is always painful to write a negative review for a book by an author whose previous works one has loved.  Sadly, there is just no way around it, in this case. 
Ms. Cleverly has such a wonderful ability to paint verbal pictures.  “The amber glow of the gas mantles was beginning to fade to lemon as a brightening sky quenched them, offering her sensitive eyes a symphony in grey and gold worthy of Whistler.”  I did, however, have a problem remembering when, exactly, the book is set.  Although there is substantial, and interesting, historic information included, if your knowledge of the pre-WWII era isn’t strong, it’s not easy to grasp. 
The characters are interesting and introduced very well although I was sorry to see those at the beginning of the story disappear so quickly, particularly Hermione Herbert, the head of the dowsers.  She was smart, self-assured, quick-witted and observant.  Another delightful character was Joe’s sister, Lydia, who was bright, capable and definitely not a wimp. For those who’ve not read previous books in the series, Cleverly provides details of the recurring characters backgrounds in a way that is informative yet not boring.  

Cleverly does write very good dialogue sprinkled with wry humor… “Joe’s expression of slight boredom was enlivened by a flash of humor.  “Thank God no one put a bomb in the surprise pudding.  The wealth makers of the world would have been splattered all over London!”  “Strawberries, crème de la crème and blue blood sauce,” Bacchus spoke grimly.  “A real Eton Mess we’d have had to clear up!”
One of the things to be appreciated about Ms. Cleverly’s previous books was that they were, at their heart, really good mysteries.  Sadly, that was completely lost in here.  There was a mystery but, by far, the greater focus was on there being an international conspiracy and the book suffered greatly because of it. …“Republicans, Communists, Fascists, Daughters of the Revolution, Seventh Day Adventists…you name it.  Hard to believe but a fully employed population earning a living wage with provision for good health, equal states for coloured folks and immigrants of all races, and equal rights for women come pretty low on the agenda of the wealthy and privileged.”
Although this book had many very good attributes, the overwhelming problem for me was at the end.  I don’t know whether Ms. Cleverly has something going on in her life that prevented her for improving this book; or whether she changed or didn’t use an editor; or whether she or her researcher didn’t check the information but the entire premise on which the motive for the story was based takes the book from fiction to absolute alternative reality.  We’re not talk a small thing that can be excused as creative license.  For anyone who knows anything about the structure of the U.S. Government, we’re talking a major point of unalterable fact so egregious it could not be overlooked. 
The “Spider in the Cup” came close to being a “wallbanger” for me.  The only thing that saved it was that justice was brought home to the killer.  Here is hoping Ms. Cleverly does much, much better with her next book.

A SPIDER IN THE CUP (Hist Mys-Assistant Commissioner Joe Sandilands-England-1933) – Poor
Cleverly, Barbara - 11th in series
Soho Press, 2013

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