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by Barbara Cleverly
Soho Crime, August 2013
346 pages
ISBN: 1616952881

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The year is 1933 and the Great War is over but all is not well in Europe. The continent is in the midst of a deepening depression and there the rising military leader in Germany has many feeling uncomfortable. A summit of world leaders is scheduled in London and Scotland Yard has assigned its best to guard the visiting dignitaries. Joe Sandilands is assigned to an American, Senator Cornelius Kingstone. Two things happen almost simultaneously to complicate Sandilands' job. First, the Senator brought an FBI agent along to work with Sandilands. As it happens, Sandilands knows the agent, William Armiger, from the war. It isn't just that the two don't get along, Sandilands has reason to distrust Armiger. And if that wasn't enough, Sandilands' boss asks him to take on the investigation of the body of a young woman a dowsing club found.

A SPIDER IN THE CUP, the eleventh book in the Joe Sandilands series, is a mixed bag for readers. The two things Cleverly does so well with this series are present, but as a whole those are overshadowed by a couple of significant problems.

Cleverly's strength is in her ability to pick readers up and place them in a different time and place through vivid descriptions of everything from the scenery to the sounds and aromas of the place. To some degree, that happens in this book as well. Certainly the opening few pages set the scene perfectly for the dowsers' adventure and the investigation of the body they found. Later, when the action heads out of London to a country estate, this descriptive imagery reappears again. There are other passages in the book as well, but those are the parts that stood out for me. The second way the author pulls in readers is through her marvelously colorful characters. From page one in this book, she completely hooked me with the dowsing club characters-especially Hermione Herbert. I was hoping for much more Hermione that there turned out to be.

What offset these positives, was that unlike the previous books in the series, this one seemed to be bogged down with long passages of rather dry pontifications on various political situations, ranging from the Hitler to the backstreet abortion clinics. This sort of information dumping takes place in the dialogue which caused two problems. First, it made for choppy reading. The plot would be humming along when suddenly a character would go off on a long-winded speech about Fascists, Communism, women's rights, some religious group or another - completely taking the reader out of the story. Because these speeches moved around from events in the past to those in the present, it was a little hard to stay in 1933. Much of this was, quite frankly boring. The second problem is somewhat related to the first. This is a mystery series, yet the mystery in this book was so overshadowed by the political overtones that it was all but lost. The twists and turns, the clues and especially the ending seemed almost as if they had been added after the fact. The way they were sort of dropped in amidst the political conspiracies when a clue was planted or the plot took a turn seemed forced and in some cases, came from out of the blue. Also given that the author writes such well researched historical books makes the obviously flawed ending of this one especially odd.

In spite of its shortcomings, A SPIDER IN THE CUP gives readers a chance to visit Joe Sandilands again. However, fans of the series may leave the visit disappointed. If readers have not yet tried this wonderful series, I would suggest starting with THE KASHMIRI ROSE.

Caryn St.Clair resides in University City, Missouri and is a former elementary school media specialist, President of the Parks Commission and a docent at the St.Louis Zoo.

Reviewed by Caryn St Clair, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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