Thursday, December 20, 2012

Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart

It's always welcome news to hear about new presses and new imprints. Seventh Street Press, an imprint of Prometheus Books, launched this year with a new line of mysteries and thrillers, including the first of a number of planned reprints by Carolyn Hart: Skulduggery (out now), The Devereaux Legacy (Feb '13), Escape From Paris (June '13) and Brave Hearts (Aug '13).

Skulduggery, originally published in 1984 and reprinted in 2000, is a mystery based around the Peking Man skeleton collection, missing since WWII.

Dr. Ellen Christie is a physical anthropologist in San Francisco. An article about her work identifying remains found at a construction site catches the attention of young Jimmy Lee. Jimmy has recently come across some bones he believes are the lost Peking Man and he wants Ellen to take a look. Based on what she sees, Ellen believes the boy is right, but before she can convince him to turn the bones over for analyzation, they're set upon by two thugs. Jimmy's older brother, Dan, helps defend them but Jimmy escapes. Now Ellen and Dan have teamed up to find the boy and his discovery before he lands in real trouble.

My grandmother was a big fan of Hart's popular Death on Demand series. I was even tasked with tracking down a few in past years for her collection but this is my first time reading her.

I liked Skulduggery. I thought it offered up what I believe is a time capsule look at Chinatown in San Francisco in the early 80s -- not that I've ever experienced Chinatown in San Francisco at any time period.

Hart's attention to detail is wonderful. The sort of people viewing Ellen does as she walks through Chinatown takes this book a bit beyond a typical mystery, really bringing to light some of the struggles of Chinese immigrants in America at the time. Granted it's just a tiny look at that, but it's enough to bring the book places I wasn't expecting it to go.

The pacing and the style were great -- the book appears to be a slim read but it's more meaty than the page extent would lead you to suspect. I did think that the end was a bit dated in terms of style. It's not a real complaint but it is something I also noticed when I read one of my grandmother's old Mary Stewart titles last year. The sort of everything-will-be-alright, happy and neat wrap up ending. Hart's well known for her cozies so it could be that she'd opt for the same kind of ending these days, but I've noticed an overall trend away from that in my current favorite mysteries.

Overall, Skulduggery holds up well and should be a welcome rerelease for mystery fans.

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