Devil’s Breath – G.M. Malliet

What a pity. I bought the first book of this series from Audible a while back, and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I was happy to grab this sixth book on Netgalley. And it was a slog.

Over and above almost everything else, the book drove me crazy with constant “accidental” puns. “The kitchen of a high-end restaurant is a pressure cooker—no pun intended.” “[The chef] would throw him in the soup, if you’ll pardon the expression”. “The chef will spill the beans soon enough—sorry, what an appalling play on words.” And so on. And on. I seem to keep using the comparison to salt a lot lately: some is usually good, but more is never better. There is so much more in this book that I wanted to smack someone. It might not have been so bad if, every single time, whoever used the pun didn’t also apologize for it.

Something else that annoyed me, perhaps more than it should have, was the effortless-seeming massive success of the main character’s wife. I seem to remember not being overly fond of Awena, the pagan expert in just about everything who ends up marrying the priest… I think it was largely disbelief in and discomfort with the concept of the pairing; again, I read the first book some time ago, but I vaguely recall some derision or mockery of Christianity from the pagan community, which is apparently more acceptable than derision or mockery of other belief systems in much the same way that it’s okay to make fun of white men and no other group.

So the “opposites attract” situation with the two of them seemed very much off, but what irked me more was that Awena seems to have become England’s Martha Stewart. (Nigella Lawson without the charm?) She has a tv show, for which she dictated all the terms to suit her and her schedule so that she could continue to be the same domestic goddess. The chef at Buckingham Palace is using her recipes. Yay. Towards the end of the book Max thinks complacently that, as usual, Awena had been right about the solution to the case – when in fact she had said something very specific about the killer which was the opposite of true. For a character who didn’t even make a firsthand appearance in the book, she bugged me deeply.

Even apart from these quibbles, I just didn’t enjoy the writing this go-round. There were echoes – the exact same wording used at least a couple of times within a short period. The idea that our priest Max’s police partner was making notes on their cases to do a Watson later was meta, but not in a good way – it brought up the same old question of confidentiality, of propriety, and about the author’s point of view of her own writing when Max muses that their cases would “qualify … only as potboilers”. Hmf. The drug aspect of the case struck me as simply absurd. “And then one night the sous- chef ran out of the icing sugar he needed to decorate his pastries. And unknowingly, he used cocaine powder from the stores in the safe room.” After a certain point my patience had dried up, to the point that a slight to Marilyn Monroe pushed several of my buttons.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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