Tuesday, 8 August 2017

#CBR9 Book 71: "Greenglass House" by Kate Milford

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Milo Pine lives at the large and sprawling Greenglass House with his adopted parents, Nora and Ben. The house is an inn that tends to cater to smugglers and other people not always on the right side of the law, but during the Christmas season, it's normally empty and quiet and Milo is looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation and quiet with his family. His parents are extremely surprised and Milo rather annoyed when they seem to be absolutely inundated with guests only a few days before Christmas Eve. This is really going to put a damper on Milo's vacation.

Greenglass House has an illustrious history, and once belonged to legendary smuggler Doc Holystone. Somewhat of a local hero, he was eventually cornered by law enforcement and died on the property. As the days pass, it turns out that all the strange guests who have shown up have some sort of connection either to Doc Holystone, Greenglass House or the mystery surrounding him. While the group is snowed in by the inclement weather, it turns out that someone is stealing items from some of the guests. Milo and his new friend Meddy, the housekeeper/cook's youngest daughter decide to investigate and figure out what is going on, and try to locate not just the missing items, but who is responsible for stealing them.

Greenglass House is a middle grade mystery novel with a frame narrative. While there are several mysteries to be solved, the book is also very much about story telling of various kinds. The main story about Milo, his parents and the various strange guests is a frame narrative. There is also the book of local legends and stories that Milo is lent by Georgie, one of the guests, and the many stories that the various guests are persuaded into telling in the evenings, both to entertain and for the various individuals stuck at the house to get to know each other better. Some of the stories obviously turn out to have more of a significance to the plot than others, but even the more throw-away ones are a delight to read.

Milo starts the story as a rather shy and introverted boy, who is forced out of his comfort zone more than once because of the unusual pre-Christmas events he becomes part of. Meddy is a much more outgoing and impetuous individual and she persuades Milo to investigate, while also creating "roles" for them, using the rules of an old role-playing game of sorts. Meddy knows all of the rules and character traits for the various personas, and badgers Milo until together they've created Negret, who is in many ways the direct opposite of the youth. Meddy becomes Sirin, an incorporeal spirit, who will be invisible at all times, so she will be able to observe the various people as Milo has to do most of the active investigating and questioning. As the story proceeds, and Meddy encourages him, he becomes a lot more assertive and brave.

While it's not a major plot point in the story, the fact that Milo is adopted and doesn't look like his parents (he's of Chinese origin) does come up. While he's lived with Ben and Nora since he was a baby and loves them and never feels anything less than absolutely treasured, he does still occasionally wonder about his biological family and what they may be like. He's painfully aware that new guests who arrive at the inn will always instantly see that he's adopted and looks nothing like his parents. While role-playing Negret and solving mysteries with Meddy, he's able to work through some of his identity qualms in a pretty good way.

While this seems to be a contemporary story, there is a lack of much identifiable technology, and some of what is mentioned appears almost Steampunky. There is also a supernatural element, but I don't want to say too much about it, so as to not spoil anything for new readers. The plot with a number of colourful individuals stuck together by circumstance, while a mystery needs to be solved, is also reminiscent of a lot of cozy mysteries, like those by the excellent Agatha Christie. Here the detective is not an eccentric Belgian or a village spinster, but a clever young man instead, which made for a nice change. The book won an Edgar Award in 2015 and has been nominated for a number of other ones.

This is the first Kate Milford book I've read, after having heard so many good things about her. This book was a fascinating read, because of the multiple levels of story telling, the mystery and the wonderful interplay between the characters. I can highly recommend it to anyone looking for something quick and entertaining to pass the time.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is absolutely lovely, giving the reader a very good idea of what the fanciful Greenglass House and its snow-clad surroundings look like. I like the various shades of green that are used, in the title font, the various trees in the woods and the colourful glass of the house. Such excellent cover design.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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