Saturday, March 26, 2016

Gower St Detective Series #3, DEATH DESCENDS ON SATURN VILLA, M.R.C. Kasasian

M.R.C. (Martin) Kasasian's Gower St Detective Series is quirky, often confusing, frequently dark, threaded through with vicious humor -- and irresistible in terms of posing puzzles to solve and placing it all in the most graphic sort of Victorian world.

In short, I like these books. A lot. My only problem has been deciding which friends to share them with. It's entirely possible that anyone I give a Gower St book to will think I am as strange as the characters within. Alas!

And they are fiercely memorable characters. For instance, there's the narrator, a young woman named March Middleton -- except she only narrates part of DEATH DESCENDS ON SATURN VILLA. There's her godfather Sidney Grice, most famous and most unpleasant detective in the mean streets of London. (Not to mention his insistence on disgusting vegetarian meals, his abuse of his untutored maid-of-all-work, and his scorn for March Middleton herself.)

The puzzles set before March and Grice in the previous two books, The Mangle Street Murders and The Curse of the House of Foskett, have dragged March into gutters and gruesome crime scenes. Her assistance to Grice is a painful necessity: Stranded in his home, unable to live separately due to the mores of Victorian London (and lack of funds), she's caught up in his investigations for lack of anything else to do. And even though his lessons to her are mean-spirited and stingy, she's learning how to assess a crime scene.

But as DEATH DESCENDS ON SATURN VILLA opens, March is on her own, unexpectedly, when a summons arrives from a relative she never knew existed. Risky though it is to accept such an invitation, she feels compelled: Perhaps this new "uncle" can shed light on the terrible suspicion she's harboring about her godfather's role in the death of her own mother.

What March can't have expected, though, is that Uncle Tolly's home will exert such odd effects on her that she'll soon be convinced she herself has committed murder. Will Sidney Grice exert himself far enough to solve her case? Or will his evidence condemn her in court?

Even as March struggles to gain Grice's assistance, the pair continue to play out a "who's on first" sort of dialogue with the uneducated, blunt-tongued maid, Molly:
"Dear March," Mr G spoke tenderly, "I think you may be telling the truth that you do not know if you did it -- whatever it may be."

Molly came in and put a tea tray on the table. "Cook said I was very rude to say that about your dress the other day, miss."

"It does not matter," I told her.

"I just wanted to make it clear," she continued. "There wasn't not nothing wrong with the dress. Anybody else might have looked pretty in it."

"Thank you, Molly."

"And -- "

"Get out," her employer commanded, "before Miss Middleton attacks you as she allegedly did the last maid who crossed her path."

"Oh miss." Molly put her hand to her mouth. "I never even knew you had a path. I hope I never allegingly cross it."
As you can see, the further you're drawn into DEATH DESCENDS ON SATURN VILLA, the more you are trapped halfway between Alice in Wonderland, and Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with a dash of Jasper Fforde on the top. Is this your kind of book?

I confess it's mine on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays, and crazy though the series is, I can't put the books down, once I start them. Kasasian's plot twists are always unexpected and bizarre, although perfectly reasonable in hindsight (considering the characters involved). The pace is brisk, and the frank depiction of the dirt and dismay of Victorian everyday life is oddly endearing. Most of all, March Middleton is someone worth saving, somehow, so her disappearance in the middle of DEATH DESCENDS presses the book into desperate straits.

I know -- you're going to tell me you are NOT one of the people I should give this book to. Wait -- you've read this far? Maybe ... maybe you like this crazy British humor in detective guise, after all? Go ahead -- get a copy and enjoy snickering and snorting.

Yes, you can read this without reading the other two books first. But I think it's a lot more fun for this series to take one after another. Mute the phone, and keep the tea and crumpets (no cold cabbage stews!) coming.

PS - There's no author website at the moment, as far as I can tell, although Pegasus Crime hosts a launching spot for Kasasian. Look for him on social media instead.

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