The problem with mysteries is that they have lousy beginnings.

Obviously, the interesting part of a mystery is the mysterious part, where the detective tries to find out why the deceased was offed, why the purloined object was lifted, or why the fraudulent earnings were reported. But none of that investigation can happen until the offing/lifting/reporting occurs. And none of that can occur until after we've met our cast of suspects characters. Which means that we've got to spend fifty pages mucking about getting a sense of who all these people are, without anything significant happening.

Or so, at least, is the impression I'm getting from my reading of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, another one of which (Ellis Peters' The Raven in the Foregate , specifically) I've just finished. Either that, or Peters just can't write beginnings very well.

Middles and endings, though: those she can do fine. Once the crime is committed, the book moves along nicely to a fine conclusion. The overall feel of things is perhaps a bit too similar to the other Cadfael book I read, but that's just the nature of long series.

A word of advice, though: I read this book second because it was right in the omnibus edition (from the Quality Paperback Club, it appears), but it's actually much later in the series. Normally, I don't do that kind of thing, but I gambled that series order didn't matter here; I was wrong, and it does. Read these in the real order, and you'll avoid much of the confusion that I experienced.

In other book-related news, I read Alan Moore's Top Ten, Book Two last night. The premise here is a super-powered police force in a world where everyone has a super power and wears a costume. I think that perhaps I like it ever-so-slightly better than Tom Strong. It's got a great sense of visual style, lots of little throw-off jokes and neatness in the background (the bit with the mice was truly wonderful), nifty writing and characters, and a fun premise. But like Tom Strong (and, for that matter, like Watchmen), it really works best if you're already familiar with superhero comics.


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