30 October 2009

Review: MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY by Peter Lovesey

Large Print edition, Chivers Press, 1973, ISBN 0-740-4593-5, 259 pages.
A Sergeant Cribb mystery.

Like many of Peter Lovesey's other books, MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY doesn't seem to get around to the crime fiction bit until about half way through.
This tale is set in 1882 England and the beginning of summer. Albert Moscrop goes to Brighton for a seaside holiday, taking with him his latest acquisitions, a couple of telescopes. Albert is a bit of a voyeur and likes to watch people, and Brighton with its promenading tourist population is the perfect place. Albert arrives at the beginning of the "real season", the accommodation prices have risen, and a better class of tourist has arrived. Albert discovers the attractive face of Zena Prothero, and decides to find out more about her. He follows her, her son, and then contrives to meet her husband. Still no crime. And then Zena seems to disappear. Albert feels compelled to go to the police.

At the same time a severed hand is discovered in the Alligator cavern at the Aquarium on the Brighton promenade pier. The Brighton police feel that this is an investigation outside their capability, and send for London expertise in the form of Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackery from the Criminal Investigation Department. And so the two strands of the novel converge.

There were a couple of elements of this novel that I did a little research for. One was the surname Moscrop. I wondered abut the origins of the name and found that it is actually a Scottish surname of quite long standing, with possible Norse origins. If you are interested in the origin of your surname (or of one in a novel) then the site I found, SurnameDB, might be of use to you.

One of the other things that interested me was the history of the condition of asthma. One of the characters in MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY suffers from asthma, and I wondered whether it was a recognised condition in 1881, the year the novel is set in. Here is part of what I found: "One major study was done by Dr. H. Salter in 1864 to prove that asthma is a pure physical ailment. He discovered that animal dander could trigger asthma and when the subject was in an environment free of animal dander he ceased to experience conditions of this ailment."

Sergeant Cribb applies a mix of careful elimination of possible suspects through judicious questioning, observation of facial reactions, logical deduction, and scientific evidence to finally come up with an interpretation of the facts of the case. Even when the verdict of the Cornoer's Court goes against him, as it does this time, he persists in his investigation until he has solved the case to his own satisfaction.

Peter Lovesey's first novel WOBBLE TO DEATH (1970) introduced the redoubtable Victorian policemen, Cribb and Thackeray. He won the Gold Dagger Award with THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW and in 2000 joined the elite group of people awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award. I have been a Lovesey fan since WOBBLE TO DEATH arrived in South Australia in paperback, and you'll find him among my favourites.

My rating: 4.4

MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY is the 4th in the Cribb series.
1. Wobble to Death (1970)
2. The Detective Wore Silk Drawers (1971)
3. Abracadaver (1972)
4. Mad Hatter's Holiday (1973)
5. The Tick of Death (1974)
aka Invitation to A Dynamite Party
6. A Case of Spirits (1975)
7. Swing, Swing Together (1976)
8. Waxwork (1978)

Waiting for the Book to Come In...

This cartoon from Unshelved hits the spot doesn't it?
I have books on request from the library that the current borrower must have lost.
I'm to be the next borrower, but that's been the case for at least a couple of months.

29 October 2009

Forgotten Books: FALLEN INTO THE PIT, Ellis Peters

This week's contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Many readers will be familiar with the work of Ellis Peters, through her creation, Brother Cadfael.
But it may come as a surprise to some that she created an earlier popular detective series whose central character was Sergeant George Felse. There would eventually be 13 novels in the Felse series, spanning 1951 -1978. The last, RAINBOW'S END, was published just after the appearance of the first in the Cadfael series, A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES. In the Cadfael series Peters (aka Edith Pargeter) was able to combine her interest in local history with her skills in telling a murder mystery.

The first in the Felse series was FALLEN INTO THE PIT.
Description from Fantastic Fiction:
    "Understand me once and for all, fighting is something not to be considered short of a life-and-death matter... It proves nothing. It solves nothing," Chad Wedderburn tells thirteen-year-old Dominic Felse. A classics master who fought with the Resistance, Wedderburn came home to Comerford to teach school. Ironically, when the peace of the little village is shattered by the murder of a former German prisoner of war, it is the peaceful Wedderburn who becomes the primary suspect. Police Sergeant George Felse is deeply disturbed that his son Dominic is the one who discovers the body, and that the boy has begun doggedly pursuing clues in Comerford's isolated countryside. Murder is a deadly business, and the closer young Felse comes to the truth, the more likely he is to become a victim himself. His father knows this all too well, and for the first time in his career his personal life is threatened by his policeman's duties. Now, as George Felse uncovers the skeletons in the closets of Comerford's best citizens, he begins to understand the forces that may drive men or women to desperate acts. But will he deduce enough to forestall another tragedy - or stop a killer with a twisted mind and bloody plans? Rich with the hues of the Shropshire countryside and its vividly drawn character portraits, this irresistibly suspenseful mystery is still further reason to place Ellis Peters alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and P. D. James."
By the 5th book in the series Peters had given Dominic Felse, the son of her original policeman, a share of the action. Dominic had originally featured in FALLEN INTO THE PIT as the discoverer of the body and inquisitive sleuth. From the 5th novel onwards, Dominic and George alternate as the protagonists, the former as an amateur detective, the latter as a policeman.

I've been struggling to think of another crime fiction "series" where this occurs - father and son alternating as protags. Perhaps you know an example.

28 October 2009

Review: BROTHER GRIMM, Craig Russell

This is a book that I originally reviewed back in 2006, and published the review elsewhere.
Random House Australia, Hutchinson, June 2006

BROTHER GRIMM by Craig Russell opens dramatically with the discovery of the body of a teenage girl on a Hamburg beach, kneeling, posed, eyes wide open. It is obvious to Jan Fabel, Kriminalhauptkommissar of the Mordkommission, based at the Polizeiprasidium in Hamburg, that she was not killed there. At the mortuary a note is found concealed in her hand. The note identifies the girl as a 13 year old who went missing on her way home from school 3 years earlier. But it is not the same girl. Fabel has worked this out even before her parents come to identify the body and confirm his suspicions. Then two more bodies turn up, posed at a picnic table in the woods, with notes also concealed in their hands. The notes say "Hansel" and "Gretel", in the same tiny, neat writing.

Jan Fabel is one of the modern breed of homicide squad chiefs. He resents the one way relationship he has with the dead. It is his job to get to know them. He dreads the time when a body becomes a real person, and the case number becomes a name. He runs a close knit team whose members represent different generations and styles of policing. On a previous case two policemen were killed, one from Fabel's team. One of the female officers from his team hovered near death for two weeks after being stabbed. The killer was never caught and in BROTHER GRIMM the young woman, Maria, has just returned to work.

For English-language readers BROTHER GRIMM is basically a police procedural in a different setting. There are a few differences in the police hierarchy and methods but basically I think this is a book that could be set anywhere. Having said that, great pains have been taken to relate to the German audience. The book was released simultaneously in English and as a German translation. The setting of BROTHER GRIMM is very Germanic. I don't think I will ever look at Grimm's fairy tales in quite the same way again. It helps if the reader has a passing knowledge of the best-known of them.

One of the interesting features about this book is that every chapter is headed with date, time, and location so that the reader can work out an exact chronology of events. Not everything is seen through the eyes of the detective, Jan Fabel, so there are some overlapping chronologies. This is a book where a map would have helped the non-German reader. Significance is at times attached to locations and birth places.

And, no, I didn't work out who the killer was. The reader actually does meet the killer quite early on, but there are few clues given to his real identity. When Fabel pulled the threads together for me, then I followed his reasoning eagerly. There is plenty of tension built into this book, although the style is a little ponderous at times.

My rating 4.6
Read an extract.

In his first crime novel, BLOOD EAGLE (2005), Craig Russell introduced detective hero, Jan Fabel - half-Scottish, half-German - a man of conscience and imagination. The novels are set in Hamburg, and have been carefully marketed to both English-language readers and German readers. Extracts of both BLOOD EAGLE and BROTHER GRIMM and information about the author can be read on the author's own website at http://www.craigrussell.com/books.htm.

Reviews & sites to check:

27 October 2009

Mini- Review Roundup #3

This is the third of my mini-review roundups, the result of an offer I made about two weeks ago.
Just 3 mini-reviews this time.

Gavin, who blogs at Page 247, reviewed THE SILENCE OF THE GRAVE by Arnaldur Indridason.

The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder
Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2006
Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2005

Gavin writes
At a birthday party for an eight-year-old boy a medical student discovers a toddler chewing on a human bone. The bone, a rib, was found at a construction site on the edge of the growing city of Reykjavik. With this discovery Detective Inspector Erlender Sveinsson and his colleagues must solve a crime that is decades old.

Erlender has his own problems, his estranged daughter is gravely ill, and his colleagues are not always as helpful as they could be. The detectives dig back into the 1940’s, trying to find out who owned the land and identify a 60-year-old corpse.

Within this well crafted crime drama Indridason draws a devastating portrait of domestic violence. With clarity and compassion he tells of a mother’s loss of self at the hand of her abusive husband, and of her childrens suffering. This is one of the most honest descriptions of an abusive relationship that I have read. Indridason is a master storyteller, weaving different times together in a graceful novel of love and heartbreak.

Greg is a friend who shares my delight in crime fiction and to whom I lend my books. Here is his take on THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE by Paulus Hochgatterer.

Quercus, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84724-389-8, 248 pages, translated from German by Jamie Bulloch.
Originally published in Germany in 2006 as Die Süße des Lebens.

Reminds me of a Samuel Beckett play- not too many characters with endearing qualities. A lot of tortured souls and not just the psych patients. Although there were a few with some humanity.

Good physical description of place and character development. The translation was stilted in parts. Liked the references to Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ which added to the feelings of despair and desolation.

Was a bit of a struggle getting into – suspect too many characterisations early on.

Mid section developed a sense of drama and anticipation and rapidity. But the ending which I think the author tried to craft as ‘very clever’ left me dissatisfied. Partly due to the lack of closure on so many aspects of the book’s characters. Partly it was that I don’t think I understood it!!

My own review is here.

Here is a mini-review from my own records.

THE NAUTICAL CHART by Arturo Perez-Reverte, published in English 2002. Originally written in Spanish 2000.

Coy, a sailor down on his luck meet Tanger Soto, a mysterious scholar who needs him to help search for a shipwreck. He falls for Tanger and ends up involved in a search for the ship and a treasure that may or may not be on board. A romance develops even as Coy learns that Tanger may be using him for his ability to navigate in dangerous waters. This story is set in Spain and contains lots of Spanish history.
Almost a combination of Clive Cussler and Alistair Maclean. There's a lot of detail about navigation and the Jesuits and meridians. Not so much a mystery as a thriller.

Read the first chapter online.

The mini-roundup will be an ongoing feature of this blog, so if you'd like to submit a mini-review to be published at a later date, you can do it through the form I have set up at Google Docs. Leave a comment somewhere on my blog too so I know you've done so.

26 October 2009

Review: ANOTHER THING TO FALL, Laura Lippman

Orion Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7528-8857-6, 325 pages
#10 in the Tess Monaghan series.

Tess Monaghan becomes involved in the protection of a young star of a television series, Mann of Steel, being filmed in Baltimore. Selene Waite, barely twenty, rather self-centred and seemingly vacuous, has already been the prey of a twisted stalker who then committed suicide. But that's not the only cause for concern - small incidents are happening on the set, and it seems that it won't be long before something really serious occurs. Selene is far from co-operative with Tess and even spikes Tess's drink at a nightclub to get away from her.

From the very start the reader knows, even if one stalker is already dead, there is another watching Selene, taking photos, planning havoc. And then there are the protesters, the steelworkers of Baltimore, who say the television series is not treating their industry with any accuracy, and is riding roughshod over the residents. And what about the ageing Johnny Tampa, playing opposite Selene, who definitely believes the script is being manipulated for her benefit?

I found ANOTHER THING TO FALL very hard to get my head around. It seemed to me to lack focus. There were lots of characters and for a large part of the plot I really didn't know where it was going. This is #10 in the Tess Monaghan series, and lovers of the series will probably be aghast at my criticism. I felt that Lippman has not taken sufficiently into account that the reader may have picked the series up for the first time. I was looking for a bit of background about Tess and her background, and yes, I did get some, eventually. I felt much of the characterisation, particularly of Tess herself, assumed that I had met Tess in earlier books. There are some interesting characters - I loved Mrs Blossom for example - but for many the details are thin, and I actually felt there were too many characters for me to assimilate into one story.

My rating 3.6

I was really disappointed that I didn't enjoy ANOTHER THING TO FALL more, because I have enjoyed other Lippman novels. For example I gave WHAT THE DEAD KNOW a rating of 4.7. Back in 2005 I gave BY A SPIDER'S THREAD a rating of 5.

Reviews by others (who don't necessarily agree with me)
Laura Lippman's books: the links will take you to her website.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: DANCE OF DEATH, John Case

This is a novel that I read and reviewed 3 years ago, and until now, the review has been published on another site. This review is also being used for participation in for the Crime Fiction Alphabet Community Meme.- letter D
Released in Australia by Random House, Oct 2006

DANCE OF DEATH (published 2006) by John Case opens dramatically with a helicopter crash in Liberia. Photojournalist Mike Burke is a passenger in the helicopter and although you know he will probably survive, it is hard to see how. Within the subsequent chapters, the main threads of this carefully woven novel are set in motion. We meet Bobojon, recently a guest of the United States prison service; his uncle Hakim, Arab sponsor of terrorists; Jack Wilson, the "Ghost Dancer", would-be terrorist looking for financial backing; and then finally Mike Burke reappears. He turns up alive and well in Ireland some thirty pages (and fourteen months) after the helicopter crash, having not only survived, but been married to and then widowed from the doctor who saved his life.

Jack Wilson, the "Ghost Dancer", is a brilliant mathematician, part American Indian, and out for revenge for injustices to his 'people'. He believes that he knows how to disable the United States through a terrorist act, but he needs backing. His former cell-mate Bobojon lines up a task. Jack must deposit some suitcases in a passenger line in Washington D.C. airport, and walk away from them. He does so, believing that they will explode. His actions are captured on surveillance television and the police officer viewing the tape realises that the case-depositor has been involved in some sort of test. Meanwhile, in Ireland, Mike Burke is now working for his father in law, setting up limited liability corporations with off-shore accounts and paid directors. When "Francisco d'Anconia" meets with Mike the first of the pennies drop in this complex story.

In many senses DANCE OF DEATH is a thriller with global appeal. The central theme is terrorism, a sure seller in current times. The principal characters rove the globe and we meet them in a variety of locations including Ireland, the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Slovenia. This can make the sequence of events confusing at times, particularly as chapters are often subtitled with a location and a date. On the other hand, it heightens the sense of a number of threads marching inexorably towards a final resolution. As the threads converge, the tension mounts, and the reader is left in no doubt about what the possible outcome is. This is a thriller that is hard to put down.

John Case is the pseudonym of Jim and Carolyn Hougan, husband and wife, both published authors in their own right. Jim Hougan is also an award-winning investigative journalist and broadcaster. For me this discovery helps explain what felt, as I read, was a certain patchiness in the story flow. It was as if the author had changed his story-board without attendant revision of what he had already written. See the John Case website.

DANCE OF DEATH has also been released with the alternative title GHOST DANCER. For those who are left wondering how fanciful the terrorism in the novel is, Case has included a final chapter of acknowledgements outlining the research that inspired him.

My rating: 4.5

Also by John Case:

This is the only other John Case title that I have read and it struck a chord with me, as do all books about disappearing children.
Twin six year olds are kidnapped from an amusement park while on an access visit with their father. Every parent's nightmare. Alex Callahan is a television journalist, a foreign correspondent and he can't be sure that the disappearance of his sons at the Renaissance Faire is not connected to something he has be involved in through his work. As the days pass, the police search is scaled down, the original detective is taken off the case, and Alex decides to use his investigative powers to find his children. An engrossing read.

My rating: 4.6

November 2006 review first published on Murder and Mayhem

Crime Fiction Alphabet (D), week beginning 26 October 2009

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

Here are the rules

Each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.

So you see you have lots of choice. You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow.

Please check each Monday for the letter of the week, and then link your post back to the page. Also come back and put the link to your blog post in Mr. Linky below.
Then come and check to see who else has posted and visit their blog.
You have until the end of the week to complete your mission.

This week's letter:

See other letters: A B C

25 October 2009

Review: THE KILL CALL, Stephen Booth

I "read" this as an audio file from Audible.com, nearly 11 hours. Narrator Will Thorpe.
Book details: ISBN: 9780007243464; ISBN10: 0007243464; Imprint: ; On Sale: 1/06/2009. #9 in Stephen Booth's Fry & Cooper series.

The discovery of a body in the vicinity of a fox hunt, and near where animal rights protesters have been seen provides an intriguing puzzle. A phone call reporting the death has been made from a mobile, the caller not identifying himself, and the body supposedly in a building half a mile away from where it has been discovered. And why has the body, one Patrick Rawson, a horse dealer, driven out to this isolated spot? Who was he meeting? And is there a connection to the hunt?

The story doesn't actually begin with this incident but with the reading of a page from a journal from 40 years before. The connection between this journal, with pages popping up occasionally, and the main action, begs for explanation for most of the novel.
    In those days, there were always just the three of us. Three bodies close together, down there in the cold, with the water seeping through the concrete floor, and a chill striking deep into flesh and bone. The three of us, crouching in the gloom, waiting for a signal that would never come.
The hunt for a murderer leads Dianne Fry and Ben Cooper, tension always crackling between them as Cooper tries to help Fry who is facing demons he doesn't understand, on a path from the local fox hunt, to the horse meat trade, to Britain's preparations 40 years before for a nuclear cataclysm. It is a complex path, complicated by the relationships between various characters. I've probably come away knowing a lot more about fox hunting, the horse meat industry, and even the workings of the police force than I really needed to know, but I've come away feeling that I've had a thorough immersion. Make no mistake - it all works together well.

There were many voices for the narrator Will Thorpe to produce, but I need to comment here on what I feel was a mistake. It is not a problem you'll notice if you read a paper copy of the book. However the voice that Thorpe chose to give Dianne Fry is dreadful and sounds as if she is speaking with her epiglottis half closed, and a peg on her nose. If you think it's just my hearing check what others have said.

My rating 4.4

Sample THE KILL CALL before you buy: in text on Stephen Booth's site, the audio on Audible.

I haven't found any other reviews of THE KILL CALL on my usual spots, so if you know of one, leave a link in the comments and I will add it to the post.
I haven't read all the books in the Fry & Cooper series, and have at least one more on my shelves I think.
Here are some min-reviews from my database.

BLIND TO THE BONES (2004), my rating 4.7
It's almost May Day, and on the desolate moors of Dark Peak the villagers of Withens are dying. One has been battered to death and left for the crows to find; another chose the wrong time to call on a neighbour. And one has been dead for two years – though not everyone will believe it.
As far as the parents of missing student Emma Renshaw are concerned, their daughter is alive – which doesn't help DS Diane Fry in her efforts to re-open the case. Will a grim discovery finally allow the Renshaws to return to their normal lives or break their grip on reality?
DC Ben Cooper's attempts to solve the killings come against an equally impenetrable barrier in the shape of the Oxley family. Descendents of tunnel-builders, they stick to their own area like the hefted sheep on the hillsides, passing on secret knowledge through generations and guarding their secrets from the likes of Cooper.
Winning the trust of the Withens folk and establishing a link between the deaths is not the only challenge facing Fry and Cooper. What evidence they have has been preserved in such a way it can never be presented to a judge and jury

ONE LAST BREATH (2004), my rating 5
The vast labyrinth of caverns, passages and subterranean rivers beneath England's Peak District are a major tourist attraction. But this summer not all the darkness is underground, and not all the devils are folk legends.
Mingling with the holidaymakers is a convicted killer, bent on revenge. Fourteen years ago Mansell Quinn was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his lover. Now he' s out under licence, whereabouts unknown, and his ex-wife has been murdered.
As they try to anticipate the fugitive' s next move, detectives Diane Fry and Ben Cooper become increasingly puzzled by the case. Why did Quinn' s two friends refuse to back up his alibi? And why did nobody visit him in prison for the last ten years of his sentence? Nobody, that is, except one of those two friends: ex-soldier Will Thorpe, now living rough somewhere in the Hope Valley.
Overstretched and unable to apprehend a killer who moves around the area with impunity, the police can do little but warn other potential victims to be on their guard.
And as the son of Sergeant Joe Cooper, the officer responsible for putting Quinn behind bars, Ben realizes that his own name could be high on the list…

THE DEAD PLACE (2005), my rating 4.6
Soon there will be a killing. Close your eyes and breathe the aroma. I can smell it right now, can't you? So powerful, so sweet. So irresistible. It's the scent of death… The anonymous caller who taunts the Derbyshire Police with talk of an imminent killing seems to be just another hoaxer. But Detective Sergeant Diane Fry begins to take him seriously when a woman is snatched from a multi-storey car park. This was no opportunist attack but a carefully planned abduction - and it's possible the chilling voice is telling the truth when it hints at earlier murders and bodies waiting to be found in 'the Dead Place'. Detective Constable Ben Cooper, meanwhile, has succeeded in finding a body - or rather, a collection of bones. This comes as a shock to the deceased's family, for Audrey Steele should have left no bones. Eighteen months ago, after dying from natural causes, Audrey was cremated and her ashes scattered in Edendale's memorial gardens. Their investigations lead DS Fry and DC Cooper into the world of those whose lives revolve around death. And finally, in a boarded-up ancestral home that has long been the stuff of legend in the White Park, a crypt full of skulls yields it dark secrets.

SCARED TO LIVE (2006), my rating
#7 in the Ben Cooper & Diane Fry series. A house fire results in the death of a mother and two of her children, and a reclusive woman is shot dead when standing at her bedroom window. DS Fry is called to the house fire, DC Ben Cooper to the shooting. But inevitably the cases they are working on become connected. An excellently stimulating read.
I think there are a couple of things that make this series different
* I am struck by the fact that the language is ""ordinary"" i.e. everyday words particularly in the dialogues
* the nasty cop/nice cop routine comes out strongly too in the partnership of DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper. She is without doubt the nasty one, putting people offside all the time, but also asking the hard questions and pointing out the things that others gloss over. He is the intuitive one. You see that also in Dalziel and Pascoe but I actually think Stephen Booth does it better
* Cooper and Fry often act in ignorance of each other's discoveries but the reader is omniscient, with the opportunity to solve the conundrums before either of the detectives
* and finally there are some open ended questions. Times when the answers are not so readily forthcoming.

Sunday Salon - 25 October 2009

Before I began blogging I had no idea what an interesting world blogland really is. Just the concept of the Sunday Salon, potentially 472 bloggers writing to tell each other what they've been up to is mind boggling.

Be part of my blog this week
  • When is your favourite reading time?
    When and where really. When do you do most like to read? Do you have a favourite place? Leave a comment.
  • Join the Alphabet in Crime Fiction Community Meme. Tomorrow my blog will feature the invitation for the letter D. Today see the contributions for the letter C. Another way to get people to visit your blog, and also to meet some new crime fiction bloggers.
  • This week I'll also be publishing the latest mini-reviews. If you like the idea try your hand at a mini-review: this is a great way to introduce people to your blog. I don't restrict entrants to crime fiction. I collect the reviews via a Google Doc, and then will feature them towards the end of the month.
  • Don't forget I'm constantly collecting material for the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival. Join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge- a bunch of us are working our way through Agatha Christie novels. I'm reading them in publication order, but not everyone is. Learn what the challenge is about, or simply join it.
Last week's posts:
New widget on to check.
Through Jennifer who recently joined the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and commented on my blog , I found a counter at NANoWriMo that gives me a button showing my progress on reading the Agatha Christie books. You can see it running in the right hand column.

Other features to check on my blog. (Widgets you might like to add on yours).
News & Headlines
Fair Dinkum Book Reviews
Currently reading
  • now - ANOTHER THING TO FALL, Laura Lippman.
  • audio (in the car) - THE KILL CALL, Stephen Booth.
  • on line - THE DOG WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, Alexander McCall Smith chapt 26.
Have a great week everyone!

When is your favourite reading time?

Do you have a favourite time and/or favourite place to read?

In my case the day never feels complete without reading right before I put the light out. I'm usually lying on my side in bed with a lamp shining onto the pages. It's probably the best time and place for me .

You may not know there are lots of devices designed to make reading in bed a more comfortable experience.

What about a book-seat, or a book light, or a book holder? Have a look here for some suggestions for your Christmas list. Click on the image below for details about the device it shows (which is what I have).

Crime Fiction Alphabet Summarising Letter C

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme

The letter for the week beginning 19 October was C

Contributions to your Crime Fiction Reading
Thank you to all contributors.
Locate all contributions in this meme

24 October 2009

Don't Always Hit the Mark #4

The general idea behind this regular feature on my blog is that even the best authors, or your favourite ones, don't always achieve the same rating with the reader. Today's featured writer almost proves my observation wrong. Her books nearly always hit the bulls-eye with me.

My general benchmarks are
    5.0 Excellent
    4.0 Very Good
    3.0 Average
    2.0 Poor
    1.0 Did Not Like
    0 Did Not Finish
My featured author today is Karin Fossum, often referred to as the Norwegian Queen of Crime.

There are 3 full length reviews on my blog
There are some mini-reviews here.

My ratings in descending order
  1. CALLING OUT FOR YOU! aka INDIAN BRIDE (2001) my rating 5
  2. DON'T LOOK BACK (2002) my rating 5
  3. BLACK SECONDS (2007) my rating 5
  4. WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS A CANDLE (1998) my rating 4.5
  5. BROKEN (2006) my rating 4.3
You can see from those ratings how often she hits the target for me.
Part of the reason is the engaging Inspector Conrad Sejer who features in her series. The only stand alone in the list above is BROKEN. The other reason why I have enjoyed the Sejer books so much is that I can imagine the central event happening to me.

Not all of Karin Fossum's Sejer series has been translated into English, and just to annoy readers even more, they have actually been translated out of order.
I haven't yet read the most recent one translated: THE WATER'S EDGE.

Here is the order you should read them in
  1. EVE's EYE - not sure this is available in English
  7. THE MURDER OF HARRIET KRONE - not sure this is available in English
All references to Karin Fossum on my blog.

23 October 2009

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival #10 Posted

The ACRC Blog Carnival #10 has been posted today.

This is a treat for Agatha Christie readers - It consists of a mixture of book reviews, progress reports and articles about Agatha Christie, from 9 contributors.

If you read Agatha Christie novels, write reviews or summaries on your blog, then you might like to consider submitting articles to the Carnival, and joining the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

It is never too late to join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
See information about the Challenge here.
Join the Challenge here, and by all means use the Challenge image on your blog with a link back to our Blog Carnival site.

Each month the Carnival closes on the 22nd of the month, and is then published on the 23rd of the month. Your contributions are very welcome.
You can submit a link to any postings you have made that review Agatha Christie books to the Agatha Christie monthly Blog Carnival by going to the Carnival collecting space and putting in the URL, your details, and a comment about the post. We are also interested in any interesting online articles that you come across.

22 October 2009

Forgotten Books: MAIGRET and THE MADWOMAN, Georges Simenon

This week's contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books.

There was a time when Maigret books were part of my staple diet, and I have included a couple before in previous contributions to Friday's Forgotten Books. I guess it was almost my first experience of translated crime fiction, and I read them avidly not realising they were (translated that is).
MAIGRET AND THE MADWOMAN was one of Simenon's later novels published in 1970.

Clicking on the cover image to the right will let you read the first chapter online.

One of the Amazon reviews says
Imagine drinking a glass of Calvados. The title is ambiguous. She was a tiny woman insisting upon seeing Chief Inspector Maigret personally. Madame Antoine, aged, having lived in her apartment for a long time, reported that her things had been moved. There is only the key she keeps in her bag. A niece and her son are her only relatives. She is pefectly aware that a young person might consider her mad. The concierge says she is very much like any other old person living by herself. Her clear gray eyes make an impression on Maigret. Then she is murdered, suffocated, and an investigation ensues. The police search and question, after all this is a police procedural. Maigret discovers that the victim had practiced twenty five years of thrift. A character named Le Grand Marcel is brought into the picture.

The fineness of the writing (translated?) transcends the genre. Picking up a Maigret novel is a matter of dealing in a brand name consumer good. One is never disappointed. The storytelling is simple, classical, felicitous. Simenon used masterful economy in his art. The short bursts of information create an almost Raymond Carverish style. One is transported to Paris in the Spring. Time spent in the company of Maigret and his gifted inspectors Lapointe, Lucas, and Janvier is a pleasure.

Various people have played Maigret, but I thought you might enjoy this opening from the 1992 television series with Michael Gambon.

Furthermore, if you are looking for more information there is an "official" Maigret website. Click on the image below to be taken there.

Interestingly, it is a Chorion company site, the same that owns Agatha Christie, and other "literary estates" such as Enid Blyton.

21 October 2009

Guest Author: Vicki Delany

Earlier this year I attended Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and had the pleasure of catching up with Vicki Delany, a Canadian author whose book VALLEY OF THE LOST I had already read and reviewed.

Vicki contacted me recently to ask if I was going to be at Bouchercon in Indianapolis, which I wasn't, and to let me know that her latest novel, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series, will hit the shops on November 1. It is being published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Vicki tells me that WINTER OF SECRETS is a departure from her usual method of writing: she called this Writing Without a Net.
    Normally, I build a story this way: setting-characters-plot. That is, I decide where to set the book, who’s going to be the main character or characters and then come up with a plot. Now that I’m working on a series, steps one and two are pretty much defined before I even begin. But as for the plot – with Winter of Secrets I did something very different than the way I’ve always worked before.

    For most of my adult life I was a computer programmer and then a systems analyst. I write books like I designed computer systems. I start at the end – I know who did it and why – and then I go to the beginning and create an outline that will, hopefully, chart a course to get me to that end. Like designing computer systems: you really should know what you want to achieve (i.e. is this programme going to credit the client’s account or debit it?) before you begin. I have met some computer programmes that I don’t think were ever intended to achieve anything, but that’s another matter.

    I was spending Christmas 2007 in my favourite place in the world, Nelson, B.C., the inspiration for the fictional town of Trafalgar. It was snowing, quite heavily, but as is the norm in those mountains, there wasn’t any wind and the snow was falling straight down and not drifting. This, I thought, would be a mess if they had winds like we get in Ontario. And the opening scene popped into my head.

    What a great idea, thinks I. I started writing the opening scene and carried on typing frantically away from there. I knew who died, but I didn’t know who killed him, or why, or even if anyone did! It was quite a strange feeling; a pure leap of hope, that I would find some inspiration down the line.

    I was nearing the climax – I knew what I wanted to happen there – but I was still unsure between two possible candidates for the role of villain. Over the course of the writing, I had several people in mind, but as it evolved only two were good prospects. I felt sort of like a real Constable Molly Smith, judging the suspects and juggling clues until, with a burst of inspiration, I solved the crime!

    My second drafts are usually a lot of work, but with this book, it was even more so. Because I didn’t know that X was the guilty party, I had to go back and make X know more than they seemed to and Y know less. The personality of X didn’t change much throughout the book, but it had to be tweaked a bit to make the crime more plausible, and to drop a few clues here and there. And all the clues that pointed to Y had to be toned down.

    It was a fun way to go about it. Will I do that again? No. It worked because I had a very definite idea for the opening of the book and I was prepared to work my way forward from there. But all in all, I prefer to have a good outline before beginning. When I started working on the next book in the series, NEGATIVE IMAGE, I put that net up first!
WINTER OF SECRETS is the third in the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the Interior of British Columbia.
Vicki is also the author of the Klondike Gold Rush series beginning with Gold Digger, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush, and standalone novels of suspense.
Vicki lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she rarely wears a watch. Visit Vicki at http://www.vickidelany.com. She blogs with five other mystery writers at http://typem4murder.blogspot.com and about the writing life, as she lives it, at http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com

Vicki has just begun a rather gruelling schedule of promoting her book, and her full itinerary is here. If you live in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, or Nova Scotia, check the schedule for where you might find Vicki sometime in the next 6 weeks. We wish her well. I seem to remember that last time she went on book signing tour, she broke her arm!

20 October 2009

How do you like your books?

What I'm really thinking about here is format. There are so many reading options - hardcover, paperback, large print, audio. When it comes to paperback I have a real preference for what we in Australia call the trade paperback.

Which format do you find easiest to read? Does the format make a real difference to you?

19 October 2009

Review: GENTLY DOES IT, Alan Hunter

Chivers Press Large Print, 1996, originally published 1955, ISBN 0-7838-1879-3, 287 pages.

When Nicholas Huysmann, Dutch immigrant, and timber merchant in the city of Norchester, is murdered, the immediate suspect is his son Peter. Father and son have been estranged for some time, but currently Peter is in town with the circus for the Easter Fair, and is known to have visited with, and argued with, his father.

Chief Inspector George Gently is in town too, on holiday, and by coincidence has just seen Peter Huysmann perform his Wall of Death act at the circus.

Just as Superintendent Walker of the Norchester City Police is thinking of asking Scotland Yard to send George Gently to assist him, Gently providentially walks into police station. Inspector Hansom, in charge of the investigation, resents Gently's intrusion, and the fact that he has to regard Gently as his superior officer.

There are times when Superintendent Walker regrets involving Gently in the investigation, because Gently believes in thorough investigation, with the case proved without doubt, and many times in this investigation, when both Walker and Hansom believe they are "done", Gently proves they aren't.

I decided to track GENTLY DOES IT down, because of the recent screening of some Gently programmes on Australian television. I wrote about the George Gently novels about 5 weeks ago. There's a YouTube video embedded in that post showing Martin Shaw as Gently.
There's also a list of the 47 Gently titles that Fantastic Fiction know about. They were published over a period of 45 years.

I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed GENTLY DOES IT, gave it a rating of 4.6, and will be looking for another.

A foreword titled A GENTLE REMINDER TO THE READER says
    This is a detective story, but NOT a 'whodunit'. Its aim is to give a picture of a police investigator slowly building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it - both you and he know that at a fairly early stage - but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince the jury.
    I thought it worth while mentioning this. I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.
There's a lot to enjoy about GENTLY DOES IT.
First of all meeting a new detective. In the long run, I thought those who cast Martin Shaw got it pretty right. A man in his senior years, mandarin-like, solid build, quiet observer, with a passion for munching on peppermint creams. The latter does not appear in the television series. In GENTLY DOES IT he smokes a pipe almost incessantly, on the television, cigarettes.

I liked the tension between Hansom and Gently:
    The ash dropped off Hansom's cigar and fell neatly on to the blotter in front of him. He grabbed it away savagely. 'See here,' he snapped, 'I know you're dead against us. I know you'd go to any lengths to get young Huysmann off, even if you're as sure as we are that he did it. Because why? Because you're the Yard, and you think you've got to show us we're a lot of flat-footed yokels. That's why! That's why you're going to upset this - if you can. But you can't, Chief Inspector Gently, it's getting much too one-sided, even for you. By the time we've lined this case up there won't be a jury in the country who'll give it more than ten minutes - if they give it that!'
I loved Gently's response:
    'There is between us, Inspector Hansom, a slight but operative difference in rank... And now, if you will start sending these people in, we'll try to question them as though we were part of one of the acknowledged civilizations.'
I loved Hunter's writing in GENTLY DOES IT.
    Gently smiled into the window. 'There's so much we don't know', he said, 'it's like a picture out of focus...
    It's taking shape a little bit, but it's full of blind spots and blurred outlines.'
When Hansom challenges what Gently is trying to do, Gently responds
    '... I am trying to find out things. I'm trying to find out what happened here yesterday and what led up to it, and how these people fit into it, and why they answered what they did answer this morning.'
    Hansom said: 'We're not so ambitious. We're just knocking up a case of murder so it keeps the daylight out.'
    'So am I....' Gently said, 'only I like walls around mine as well as a roof.'
And one more insight into Gently's mind. Here he is teasing the man he knows is the murderer.
    'There's a time in every case that I've had anything to do with when you suddenly find yourself over the top of the hill... usually, there's no good reason for it. You just keep pushing and pushing, never seeming to get anywhere, and then some time you find you don't have to push any longer... the thing you've been pushing starts to carry you along with it. It's odd, isn't it?'
So off you go, do yourself a favour, look for an Alan Hunter novel!
GENTLY DOES IT is the first in the series, so why not start there?

Crime Fiction Alphabet: CROSS BONES, Kathy Reichs

This post is for the Crime Fiction Alphabet Community Meme.- letter C

Arrow Books, Random House Australia, April 2006

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan is called in as a consultant to the post-mortem of a middle-aged orthodox Jew found shot dead in Montreal. Tempe sees her job as restoring the identity that death has erased. In this case the mutilated body was found in a cupboard with some very hungry cats. Tempe must decide whether it is possible for the man to have committed suicide. At the mortuary a man, who appears to be one of those assigned by the local synagogue to observe the post-mortem, hands Tempe an envelope containing a photograph of an ancient skeleton. He assures her that the photograph holds the key to understanding this death. The mystery that unravels leads Tempe to Israel, to Masada and Jerusalem, and right to the beginnings of the Christian era.

In CROSS BONES it is easy to get caught up in the action of the investigation that Tempe and Ryan carry out in Jerusalem. The reader only sees events through Tempe's eyes, which can be a little frustrating at times as other characters pursue other lines of enquiry. In the long run, I don't think Reichs managed to make the connection between the death in Montreal and the anthropological investigation in Israel as solid as she would have liked to. Nevertheless, the result is fast-paced, very readable, and contains excellent elements of suspense.

CROSS BONES is the ninth in Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan series but is a departure from her usual focus. As Reichs herself says, most Temperance Brennan novels spring from a mixture of her real forensic cases, in her real-life role as a forensic anthropologist working in North Carolina and Quebec. This story began with an opportunity presented to her by Dr. James Tabor who carried out investigative research on Masada and is soon to publish a non-fiction book on the Jesus Dynasty. This story may be also be enjoyed by those whose imagination has been tickled by recent publications related to the search for the Holy Grail. It felt to me as if Reichs wanted to put forward some of her own ideas on the issues that are linked to that debate.

The novel opens with a prologue that provides several pages about the ossaries found in Masada and Jerusalem, implying that information about these finds has not publicly been released, and giving carbon 14 dating as first century AD, and names that seem to link the remains to Jesus and his family. There is no doubt that this novel is very firmly based in research. There is a clever melding of historical and technical detail, and over a year's worth of research by Reichs herself, in this fictional story that features Tempe Brennan and her lover, detective Andrew Ryan.

Kathy Reichs has her own website.

My rating 4.3

This review was first published on Murder and Mayhem, May 2006

Crime Fiction Alphabet (C), week beginning 19 October 2009

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

Here are the rules

Each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.

So you see you have lots of choice. You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow.

Please check each Monday for the letter of the week, and then link your post back to the page. Also come back and put the link to your blog post in Mr. Linky below.
Then come and check to see who else has posted and visit their blog.
You have until the end of the week to complete your mission.

This week's letter:

See other letters: A B

18 October 2009

Sunday Salon - 18 October 2009

Only the 18th day of October and this is my 31st post. Help! This blog is running away with me.
(The cartoon on the right is the work of Andrew Dobbs - check his site and wonderful cartoons).

In just a few hits my blog will reach 75,000 (if the counter can be trusted), and total comments will reach 3,000. During the week I added my 200th book review, and sometime in the next week or so the number of published posts will reach 900. All of those feel pretty significant but really pale to nothingness in the face of the sense of satisfaction that writing the blog gives me, and the wonderful feeling of being part of a huge community of book bloggers.

What you can do on my blog this week:
  • Try your hand at a mini-review: this is a great way to introduce people to your blog. I don't restrict entrants to crime fiction. I collect the reviews via a Google Doc, and then will feature them towards the end of the month.
  • Join the Alphabet in Crime Fiction Community Meme. Tomorrow my blog will feature the invitation for the letter C. Today see the contributions for the letter B. Another way to get people to visit your blog, and also to meet some new crime fiction bloggers.
  • Join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge- a bunch of us are working our way through Agatha Christie novels. I'm reading them in publication order, but not everyone is. Learn what the challenge is about, or simply join it.
  • Find more crime fiction blogs to follow through Crime Fiction Journeys.
  • Become a follower of my blog, follow me through an RSS feed or by email.
  • Listen to a podiocast of my blog post, or simply look for widgets you too can add to your blog.
  • Use my customed Google Search to locate reviews of crime fiction books.
  • Check my reviews, and lists of good crime fiction to read, through Smik's Reviews
  • Have you reviewed an Agatha Christie novel? Or simply know of an excellent site about Agatha Christie? Contribute the URL to the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival. Edition #10 for 2009 will be published on October 23.
New widget to check

In the right hand column I'm trialling a Twitter Feed that feeds in tweets that include my twitter name: smiksa.

This week's posts
News & Headlines
Books I'm Reading
  • now - GENTLY DOES IT, Alan Hunter
  • then - ANOTHER THING TO FALL, Laura Lippman
  • audio (in the car) - THE KILL CALL, Stephen Booth
  • on line - THE DOG WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, Alexander McCall Smith chapt 21
So Sunday Salon friends and others, may you have a wonderful week of reading and reviewing.

Crime Fiction Alphabet, Summarising letter B

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme

The letter for the week beginning 12 October was B

Contributions to your Crime Fiction Reading
Thank you to all contributors.
Locate all contributions in this meme

17 October 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-40: Tools of the Trade

This week's Weekly Geeks task from Bookish Ruth asks us to disclose the tools that we use to make blogging easier.

Ruth is right when she says that maintaining a blog can get pretty complicated, and she asks us to reveal what keep us organised and motivated.

My blog lives at Blogger and I make pretty extensive use of the widgets they provide.
I also do a lot of writing posts and storing them for future publication. Blogger has this beaut facility where you can give a post a publication date and time in the future, so I often have lots of posts lined up. I write them in advance when I have time.
I have a database where I have been storing mini-reviews of books since the end of 2004. I have only been writing my blog on the other hand for 22 months. I consult my database often for records of previous books to supplement what I am writing on my blog.

Software that I use often is a free image manipulation tool called XnView. It lets me take screen grabs of images I come across, and I can edit them then use them on my blog.
I also make quite a bit of use of a digital camera to provide images to give interest to my blog.

Although I go outside book reviews for my content, I'm never really stuck for ideas.
I have developed a number of regular features such as Forgotten Books, Weekly Geeks, Sunday Salon, and just recently the Crime Fiction Alphabet, and Don't Always Hit the Mark.

I'm kept pretty motivated too by taking an interest in lots of other blogs (see Crime Fiction Journeys), and through my contact with other crime fiction bloggers through a Friend Feed room called Crime and Mystery Fiction. I've made some good friends in that room and for me it works a lot better than Twitter, where quite a number of the tweets really consist of personal asides between individuals, and mean little to onlookers.

So yes, blogging is time consuming and demanding, and if it ever gets a burden, then that will be the time to stop. Until then I intend to enjoy the sense of satisfaction and the cathartic effect that blogging brings. I wonder what other Weekly Geekers will say?


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