30 April 2011

Read & Reviewed in April 2011

Just 11 books this month, but a couple of really long books that took a time to get through.
Lots of reading on my Kindle too.
One Australian author 
My book of the month was A THOUSAND CUTS (aka RUPTURE), Simon Lelic .
  1. 4.0, MURDER AT LOST DOG LAKE, Vicki Delany- Kindle
  2. 4.8, THE LEOPARD, Jo Nesbo - Kindle
  3. 4.4, THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS, Andrew Taylor - audio
  4. 4.3, DEVIL-DEVIL, Graeme Kent 
  5. 5.0, A THOUSAND CUTS, Simon Lelic
  6. 4.1, DEATH AT THE  PRESIDENT'S LODGING, Michael Innes- audio
  7. 4.5, TEN LITTLE NIGGERS, Agatha Christie 
  8. 4.6, RELICS OF THE DEAD, Ariana Franklin- Kindle
  9. 4.8, COLD JUSTICE, Katherine Howell - Australian author
  10. 4.5, A NEW LEASE OF DEATH, Ruth Rendell  - audio
  11. 4.6, THE JANUS STONE, Elly Griffiths  - Kindle
I'm doing pretty well with my reading this year - a total of 59 books so far, which translates to about 180 for the year which will be a new record by a mile.

I'm doing pretty well on my challenges too: some close to completion.

Review: MURDER AT LOST DOG LAKE, Vicki Delany

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 294 KB
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Carrick Publishing (March 4, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought it
Product Description (Amazon)
2004 EPPIE finalist for best mystery.

Leanne Aimes, ex-cop, bitter single mother, private investigator, really needs a vacation. And the wilderness of Algonquin Park seems like just the place where she can relax and forget her troubles. A guided canoe trip is exactly what she needs. But it isn’t long before her companions beginning fighting amongst themselves. When a storm of unprecedented ferocity descends, the group is trapped on a remote island in the center of Lost Dog Lake. And Leanne comes to realize that someone in their small group is a murderer.

My take:
While MURDER AT LOST DOG LAKE is very readable it is not as good as Vicki Delany's latest books. (see my reviews below).
However, as Vicki herself says, it was a previously unpublished title, written earlier in her writing career, which she has now made available as a Kindle e-book at $2.99.

The scenario is basically a locked room mystery as the weather closes in on a group of canoeists in a backwoods areas of Algonquin Park, and one of their number is found dead. One of the party even compares it to the famous Agatha Christie novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.
    We were in a Provincial Park, in the heart of the most populous province in Canada, yet the wilderness that had seemed so benign, so welcoming and friendly only the day-before-yesterday, had turned into a place of hostility and darkness. I contemplated the nature of civilization and wondered how thin was its veneer..
Both Leanne, failed cop and now a PI, and Craig, the group leader, know that they have a murderer in their midst. The story is told from Leanne's point of view.
This is a trip some of the canoeists should never have taken. Here Joe is talking to his wife of 3 months Rachel, to whom he had never revealed the nature of their "holiday".
    “Why couldn’t we have gone to Barbados, like we planned?” Joe’s voice tightened. He was finished wheedling. “Because Richard’s bitch of a wife wanted to come on a wilderness canoe trip, that’s why. And Richard thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know each other better and see how well we work together and all that New Age shit. And you’re here now so tough luck. I need this deal to work, or I’m finished. Do you understand that? I’ve put everything we own into this deal with Richard. If it falls through I’m broke.”
I thought the descriptions of the canoeing trip, the wilderness, and the weather were well done. The story opens on a day that should have been towards the end of the trip, on day 8.  Richard is missing and is then found dead. The story then goes back to a day by day description of the expedition from Day 1 highlighting the various tensions among the group, until we reach day 8. That had a feeling of being on a railway track, although it did provide a useful structure to the novel. Having found out early on when the murder was discovered I was impatient for the intervening days to pass quickly.

I felt at the end that I had missed any clues that the author had given me about the identity of the murderer, but perhaps there weren't any. Any way, a reasonable light read.

My rating: 4.0

Reviews on MiP of other Delany titles:

I'm counting this as part of the e-book challenge, and the Canadian Book Challenge (where I now have one to go)

28 April 2011

Forgotten Book: THE GLASS KEY, Dashiell Hammett

This entry into Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books, being hosted this week by Richard Robinson, comes from my records of 1993.

Publisher's blurb
This comes from Amazon, where you can read a few pages online and buy this 1931 classic in all formats including Kindle.
Paul Madvig was a cheerfully corrupt ward-heeler who aspired to something better: the daughter of Senator Ralph Bancroft Henry, the heiress to a dynasty of political purebreds. Did he want her badly enough to commit murder? And if Madvig was innocent, which of his dozens of enemies was doing an awfully good job of framing him? Dashiell Hammett's tour de force of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness.

A one-time detective and a master of deft understatement, Dashiell Hammett virtually invented the hard-boiled crime novel.  This classic Hammett work of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness.

First published in 1931.
To the right is the first cover (1st edition Alfred A. Knopf)

The Glass Key award (Swedish: Glasnyckeln) is named after the novel and is presented annually for the best crime novel by a Scandinavian author.

Dashiell Hammett's novels (courtesy Wikipedia)
Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse).

27 April 2011

Writing book reviews using my Kindle

I thought some people might appreciate the steps I use in writing book reviews when I have read the book on my Kindle.
  • I highlight/bookmark memorable bits as I'm reading
  • I write comments about passages or ideas that strike me as I'm reading - just highlight some text and then press the space bar to begin making your annotation.
  • Your book marks and annotations are stored in a file called MyClippings. When you attach your Kindle to your computer, it shows up as an extra drive. Look for a file called MyClippings. This is a text file and the annotations etc for the book you are currently reading will be at the end of the file.
  • I copy and paste the relevant parts of the MyClippings file into a new text file and then save it on my computer by the name of the book.
  • Once you've saved the text file you can disconnect the Kindle from your computer and then on the Kindle use MENU>View my notes and highlights to check the passages in the e-book that the notes and highlights are connected to.
  • From the text file you've saved, you can use highlighted passages in your review as quotes, and hopefully the notes you've made will jog your memory about things you wanted to discuss in your review. (You'll find you get better at doing this)
  • Sometimes the e-book also includes information about the author and other titles they have written. I often highlight that information and then use it in an "about author" section at the end of my review.
  • You'll notice from my reviews on MYSTERIES IN PARADISE that I often use the image from the Amazon site, the product description, and the publisher's blurb in my review, but I always have a section where I talk about my impressions of the book.

26 April 2011

Review: THE LEOPARD, Jo Nesbo

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 926 KB
  • Print Length: 624 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846554004
  • Publisher: CCV Digital (January 20, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004FV4XBC
  • Source: I bought it
Hardback: 611 pages (Jan. 2011) Publisher: Harvill Secker
Translated into English by Don Bartlett

#6 of Nesbo's books to become available in English
Previously reviewed here:

Publisher's blurb
In the depths of winter, a killer stalks the city streets. His victims are two young women, both found with twenty-four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood. The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch, and the police are running out of options. There is only one man who can help them, and he doesn’t want to be found. Deeply traumatised by The Snowman investigation, which threatened the lives of those he holds most dear, Inspector Harry Hole has lost himself in the squalor of Hong Kong’s opium dens. But with his father seriously ill in hospital, Harry reluctantly agrees to return to Oslo. He has no intention of working on the case, but his instinct takes over when a third victim is found brutally murdered in a city park. The victims appear completely unconnected to one another, but it’s not long before Harry makes a discovery: the women all spent the night in an isolated mountain hostel. And someone is picking off the guests one by one. A heart-stopping thriller from the bestselling author of the The Snowman, The Leopard is an international phenomenon that will grip you until the final page.

My take

I've spent a bit of time worrying about how I can review THE LEOPARD without spoilers, because, although you could read it as your first taste of Nesbo, it is really not a stand-alone. However, if you've got it's fat pages in your hands then don't let me prevent you from reading it. But it will make you want to read earlier novels particularly THE SNOWMAN and REDBREAST.

At the end of THE SNOWMAN, as the blurb says, Harry Hole, deeply traumatised, resigned from the Crime Squad, and took off for Hong Kong where he attempted to lose himself. The only detective in Norway who has any experience in dealing with serial killers is Harry Hole, and that is why Politioverbetjent Gunnar Hagen wants him back. He sends an officer to Hong Kong to find Harry and bring him back. But it is the news that his father is dying that puts Harry on that plane.

But solving this case is more urgent than just stopping a serial killer. A long standing battle has re-surfaced, not just good versus evil. The Minister of Justice is wondering yet again why he is paying for two criminal investigation units.
    It’s all about cuts and rationalisation in the force. About jurisdiction. The old fight, Crime Squad versus Kripos. Whether there are enough resources for two specialist branches with parallel expertise in a small country. The discussion flared up when Kripos got a new second in command, one Mikael Bellman.
It's a battle that Gunnar Hagen wants to win, and finding and stopping a serial killer will do it.

THE LEOPARD is seriously noir, not for the faint-hearted. There are descriptions of torture that will take your breath away. Things that Harry does to himself that will nearly make your heart stop. But you'll keep reading because you'll want to know how it all turns out.

I thought I got a better vision of Harry Hole, saw him in a clearer light in THE LEOPARD. He felt a bit more human too.
    ..... the man who was a living legend not just at Oslo Police HQ but in every police station across Norway, for good or ill. .......He liked Harry Hole, had liked him from the first moment he had clapped eyes on the tall, athletic, but obviously alcoholic Norwegian stepping into Happy Valley to put his last money on the wrong horse. There was something about the aggressive expression, the arrogant bearing, the alert body language that reminded him of himself ..
    A driven man. A junkie. A man who does what he must to have what he wants, who walks over dead bodies if need be.
    He couldn’t care less about personal prestige, he only wants to catch the bad boys. All the bad boys.
The other thing that seems to emerge more for me in THE LEOPARD was Jo Nesbo, through his characters, considering criminological and philiosophical issues.
    What is it, where is it, whatever it is that makes a murderer? Is it innate, is it in a gene, inherited potential that some have and others do not? Or is it shaped by need, developed in a confrontation with the world, a survival strategy, a life-saving sickness, rational insanity? For just as sickness is a fevered bombardment of the body, insanity is a vital retreat to a place where one can entrench oneself anew. For my part, I believe that the ability to kill is fundamental to any healthy person.
and again
    That was what life was: a process of destruction, a disintegration from what at the outset was perfect. The only suspense involved was whether we would be destroyed in one sudden act or slowly.
Perhaps it has always been there in previous novels, but I've just missed seeing it.

A great read, if just a bit long. By the end, I really did want it to finish.
My rating: 4.8

Other reviews to check:
Where I'm "counting" this book:

25 April 2011

It's the price, not the book, that is not available

I thought I'd pass on an information gem/discovery, because particularly if you are an Australian Kindle owner, this may have also mis-led you.

I have an RSS feed from the blog Books on the Knob coming into my reader.
Quite often, it seems, I can get an alert to a book that looks interesting.
Like this one:

So I clicked on the link for The Janissary Tree and got this page
My eye was drawn to the green block on the right This title is not available for customers from Australia
And that, I thought, is that... again
Until I noticed I could see a price for a Kindle version in the middle.
So I clicked on that and arrived here:
So, now, as you can see, the mystery unravels.
The book is available to me, here in Oz, just not at the price Books on the Knob advertised which must be a price for US customers.

24 April 2011

Sunday Salon - Easter Sunday, 24 April 2011

This morning we've combined an Easter brunch with a birthday party for an 8 year-old princess.

For most of the week I've been reading THE LEOPARD by Jo Nesbo. An impressive book in many ways, but I've still got just under a third to go, so it will be a day or two before I write my review.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, this weekend we combine Easter holidays with Anzac Day, so tomorrow we will be attending a dawn service and then the Anzac Day Parade through Adelaide.

Today I've published the April 2011 edition of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival. There are always a dozen or so participants whose contributions make good reading.

The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge is one of those that you can join at any time. You determine how you approach your reading - read the titles in order of publication, or just as you locate them - you decide. See details here.

Other blog posts this week:
News & Headlines
Currently Reading
  • now: THE DARK VINEYARD, Martin Walker
  • next: A GRAVE IN THE COTSWOLDS, Rebecca Tope
  • then - THE FACILITY, Simon Lelic
  • next on Kindle - THE LEOPARD, Jo Nesbo
  • now on audio - THE FOUR LAST THINGS, Andrew Taylor
  • current Agatha Christie - SAD CYPRESS

23 April 2011

Death Arrives at Easter: THE CRUELLEST MONTH, Louise Penny

I haven't read many crime fiction books set at Easter so I hope you'll forgive me if I re-run this review I wrote in 2009, in an attempt to persuade you to seek out one of my favourite authors, Canadian Louise Penny.
(but do read them in order)
1. Still Life (2005)
2. Dead Cold (2006)  aka A Fatal Grace
3. The Cruellest Month (2007)
4. The Murder Stone (2008) aka A Rule Against Murder
5. The Brutal Telling (2009)
6. Bury Your Dead (2010)

Headline, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7553-2895-6, 311 pages

Easter, the time of rebirth, is being celebrated in the small Canadian village of Three Pines in ways that have become part of village tradition. There are dinner parties among friends, and the hiding of Easter eggs for the young to find.
On this Good Friday at the end of April Three Pines smells of fresh earth and the promise of spring. Clara Morrow is finishing an important painting and Hazel Smyth is getting ready for the weekend visit of her daughter Sophie. A witch has come to stay at the B&B and Gabri has invited everyone to a seance. And overlooking the village the Hadley house broods.

When Friday night's seance yields no satisfactory results the witch suggests a seance in the Hadley house on Easter Sunday. As the participants sit in a sacred circle and the witch calls on the house to yield up its wickedness and hatred, death arrives with a scream.

THE CRUELLEST MONTH is the third in Louise Penny's series featuring Chief Inspector Armande Gamache of the Quebec Surete. In his own words he is a prideful, stubborn and arrogant man, with enemies among the highest in the police service. He is known as a whistle blower in a matter that has not yet run its course, and even in his own team there are spies and traitors. Gamache's need to help people often borders on the self-destructive and his inability to abandon a soul in need carries the seeds of his own downfall.

When the death at the seance turns out to be murder Gamache and his team descend once again on Three Pines, renewing acquaintance and friendship with the villagers. But even among friends motives for murder exist, and the investigation is played out against real threats to Gamache's own career, his family and his very existence.

For her first novel STILL LIFE Louise Penny was the recipient of the CWA New Blood Dagger, and the CWC Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel was DEAD COLD aka A FATAL GRACE. Readers new to her novels would probably do best to read them in order, to allow the characters of Gamache and his team, and those of the residents in the village of Three Pines to develop.

The Three Pines series are sometimes labelled cozies, but really there is little that is cozy about this village except perhaps its name originally signifying safety to United Empire Loyalists over 200 years before. Under its calm exterior lie tensions between strong, even quirky, characters.

My rating: 4.8

Louise Penny's website: http://www.louisepenny.com
From the website you can access her blog and its almost daily posts.

My earlier mini-reviews

STILL LIFE: my rating 4.6
Louise Penny's first novel was runner up in the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger Award in 2004, in manuscript form.
In the early morning of Thanksgiving Sunday, 76 year old Jane Neal is found dead in the woods of the small Canadian village of Three Pines. She has been shot through the heart by a hunter's arrow - was it an accident or is it murder? There are many secrets in this village and this case gets a distinguished detective from Surete du Quebec, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Jane had recently entered a revealing village 'portrait' into the village art competition. Her great friend Timmer Hadley had also recently died. Were the events connected? Most enjoyable, but not for the impatient, one-more-title-to-add-to my-list, reader. Be prepared to spend some time sifting the clues.

DEAD COLD: my rating 5.0
#2 in the Armand Gamache series. In the little Canadian village of Three Pines another death has occurred. A female spectator, the hated CC de Poitiers, has been electrocuted while out on the ice watching the annual Boxing Day curling match. This has to be murder but no-one saw anything. Coincidentally the victim has been living in the house that was the centre of the last murder in Three Pines, Gamache's case a year ago, the focus of Penny's debut novel STILL LIFE. Gamache renews old acquaintances in the village and we learn more about him. Do read these books in order if you can.

My other reviews:

22 April 2011

Coincidence of two Celebrations

Here in the land of Oz we have embarked on an unprecedented 5 days off work. (Unprecedented that is unless you count what we do between Christmas Eve and January 2!)

The occasion this time is Easter from today Good Friday (22 April) to Easter Monday (25 April). But because Easter Monday has fallen on Anzac Day, which always happens on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915, we have an extra public holiday on Tuesday April 26.

I was particularly struck by the confusing cultural messages for overseas visitors when I was at a morning tea for international students on Wednesday. It was intended to provide explanations of what the 5 days "off" were for.
Someone talked about the meaning of Easter, because among the gathering were Muslim and Hindu students, and then another person talked about Anzac Day. Yet another talked about Easter signifying the end of Lent.

On the table for the morning tea were hot cross buns, and the organiser of the event wore rabbit's ears and held a basket of Easter eggs. The only thing that was missing were some Anzac biscuits.
We capped everything off with a hunt for small chocolate Easter eggs. Three people found 3 eggs each and so we had a play-off where an extra egg was hidden in public view and these three had to find it.
The prize was a large fluffy toy rabbit.

And then the Indian lad I was standing next to asked me "why an egg-laying rabbit?"
The thought of explaining fertility symbols (for Spring) when we are actually in Autumn almost tipped me over the edge with hysterical laughter.

Talk about mixed messages! What did they learn about Australian culture? That we are all mad?

21 April 2011

Review: THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS, Andrew Taylor - audio

Available from Audible.com
Narrated by Ric Jerrom 
Length: 10 hours 8 mins
Publisher: BBC WW
Originally published: 1998

Publishers blurb:
David Byfield, a widowed parish priest, brings home a new wife. Soon the murders and blasphemies begin. But does the responsibility lie in the present or the past? And can Byfield break through to the truth before the final tragedy destroys what he most cherishes?

My take:
Once I started listening to this, from somewhere the vague knowledge surfaced that it was part of Taylor's Roth trilogy. In fact, I know I had intended to read the trilogy once and here I was listening to #2 in the series.

It is ten years since his first wife died and David Byfield has been celibate all that time, focussing his attention on bringing up his daughter Rosemary, who is now getting ready for her university entrance exams. Rosemary is resentful of her new step-mother Vanessa, and Vanessa has no intention of being simply a vicar's wife. She has a successful career in publishing and has no intention of abandoning it.

Roth Park, the manor house near the vicarage, has recently been bought by Toby Clifford and his sister Joanna. They have hopes of turning it into a classy hotel.

The village of Roth, on the outskirts of London, and being brought closer to the city by a motorway, is about to have the church fete and on night of the fete everything comes to a climax.

THE JUDGEMENT OF OTHERS is a deceptive mixture of saga, village cozy, romance, and crime novel with a slight touch of the paranormal.
Sometimes you feel sorry for David Byfield, at other times you feel like shaking him.

My rating: 4.4

I remember hearing Andrew Taylor talking at a Writers Festival (perhaps Adelaide some years back) talking about the Roth trilogy.
There are 3 books in the trilogy:
1. The Four Last Things (1997)
2. The Judgement of Strangers (1998)
3. The Office of the Dead (2000)
and then they were published as Requiem for an Angel (omnibus) (2002)  aka Fallen Angel
The blurb for the latter gives a clue about the structure of the trilogy:
Beginning, in "The Four Last Things", with the abduction of little Lucy Appleyard and a grisly discovery in a London graveyard, the layers of the past are gradually peeled away through "The Judgement of Strangers" and "The Office of the Dead" to unearth the roots of a very immediate horror.

Well, it has me hooked. I'm going to listen to THE FOUR LAST THINGS next.

Forgotten Book: GRIM PICKINGS, Jennifer Rowe

This week's Friday's Forgotten book for the meme hosted by Patti Abbott on Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books appears in my records for 1993.

GRIM PICKINGS was published in 1987, and became the basis of a TV mini-series in 1989.

Publisher's blurb
The old crowd had gathered at Aunt Alice's once again - to pick apples against a chilly orchard setting. Beneath the surface were the usual boiling jealousies, frustrations and uneasy gaps between the generations and in-laws. Or was there something different about this year?
Very much like a modern Agatha Christie novel; a "locked room" murder case where the only people who could have done it is a member of the family. Every member has something to hide, someone they're really not getting along with

GRIM PICKINGS introduced amateur sleuth Verity Birdwood, a TV researcher.
Grim Pickings (1988)
Murder by the Book (1989)
Death in Store (1991)
The Makeover Murders (1992)
Stranglehold (1993)
Lamb to the Slaughter (1996)

Australian author Jennifer Rowe is better known by the pseudonym Emily Rodda, and  she has had considerable success with children's novels, in particular The Deltora Quest series, and more recently the Rondo series.. As Emily Rodda she has a string of children's fiction awards spanning nearly 25 years.

20 April 2011

ACRC Update - 20 April 2011

My intent in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge is to read her books in order, so that I can get some idea of what she is doing, problems she is attempting to solve, and her development as a writer. If you look at some of my reviews you will see that I have been able to undertake some of this reflection.

Currently I am managing about a book a month, and now I'm back on schedule.
I've read 27 books and 11 collections of short stories.

Read & reviewed so far
    1924, Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)
  7. 1927, THE BIG FOUR
    1929, Partners in Crime (fifteen short stories; featuring Tommy and Tuppence)
    1930, The Mysterious Mr. Quin (twelve short stories; introducing Mr. Harley Quin)
  12. 1932, PERIL AT END HOUSE
    1932 The Thirteen Problems (thirteen short stories; featuring Miss Marple, also known as The Tuesday Club Murders in the US)
    1991, Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991 (Two of them feature Hercule Poirot, two Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Harley Quin, and two Mr Parker Pyne.)
  16. 1935, THREE ACT TRAGEDY (aka MURDER IN THREE ACTS)- Hercule Poirot and Mr Satterthwaite.
    1933, The Hound of Death - 12 short stories, UK only
    1934, Parker Pyne Investigates - 12 stories introducing Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver
    1934, The Listerdale Mystery - 12 short stories, UK only
  17. 1935, DEATH IN THE CLOUDS (aka DEATH IN THE AIR) - Hercule Poirot
  18. 1936, THE A.B.C. MURDERS (aka THE ALPHABET MURDERS) - Hercule Poirot
    1947, The Labours of Hercules - Hercule Poirot - 12 short stories
  19. 1966, THE THIRD GIRL - Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver
    1997, Miss Marple: complete short stories - Miss Marple - 20 short stories
    1997, While the Light Lasts - 9 short stories - incl. 2 Hercule Poirot
  20. 1936, MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA - Hercule Poirot
  21. 1936, CARDS ON THE TABLE - Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, Ariadne Oliver
  24. 1937, DEATH ON THE NILE - Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race
  25. 1938, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH - Hercule Poirot, Colonel Carbury
  26. 1939, MURDER IS EASY (aka EASY TO KILL) - Superintendent Battle

    Reading schedule
  28. 1940, SAD CYPRESS
  30. 1941, EVIL UNDER THE SUN
  31. 1941, N or M?
  35. 1944, TOWARDS ZERO
Check the opening blog post of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.
If you'd like to join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge click here.

I am using the list at Wikipedia of novels and collections of short stories. I will interlace the short story collections into the list where I can, but may have to read them out of order. I have decided on a method for reporting on the short stories. Here is my latest short story update.

Please feel free to join in my challenge, comment on my reviews etc.

I have set up a block over in the right hand column called Agatha Christie Reading Challenge (with the same logo as this post) where I am listing the books I'm currently reading and those I've finished.
The challenge is called ACRC so each review will be preceded by those letters.

If you want to follow my progress through your RSS reader, then the RSS URL is
Just save that in your bookmarks or RSS reader and you will be notified when I have written a new post.
Alternatively you could subscribe to the feed through FeedMyInbox. Just copy the RSS URL, click on the FeedMyInbox link and paste the URL in there.
You will need to confirm your subscription by email.

Contribute your blog postings about any Agatha Christie novels to the monthly carnival. Make an agreement with yourself that whenever you complete reading an Aggie you will write a blog posting about it and then submit the posting to the carnival.
If you are participating in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge then write updates like this one and submit them to the Carnival. Let us know what progress you are making.

19 April 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet - ORIGINAL FACE, Nicholas Jose

This week's letter in the Crime Fiction Alphabet is the letter O. Not an easy letter (but not as hard as some to come like X and Z).

I've decided to bring you a book from my pre-blog reading days, written by an Australian academic, Nicholas Jose,who was at the English Department at Harvard University as Chair of Australian Studies 2009-10. I'm not sure if he is still there. At the time of publication of ORIGINAL FACE he held the Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide from 2005-08.

Publisher's Blurb

"The drama begins with a body dumped in south-western Sydney - skinned, with no face. Lewis Lin, taxi driver, photographer, recent arrival from Beijing, happens to be at the scene. With detectives Ginger Rogers and Shelley Swert in pursuit, Lin finds himself drawn into a deadly immigration racket, with a cast which includes a film-maker just in from LA, a Buddhist monk, a millionaire bachelor artist, a masseuse, a maniacal violinist, and a refugee assassin.

Part thriller, part ethnic noir, dark and comic by turns, Original Face offers a sensuous and highly coloured portrait of the jostling energies that make up life in the contemporary Australian city.

Drawing its title from an ancient Zen koan, the novel traces the complicated manoeuvres by which people mask their identities, and the accidental pathways by which these hidden selves come to light."

"Before your father and mother were born, what was your original face? This ancient riddle is about appearance and identity. Who are we really? We have a presence that can be accounted for by background, and a presence that appears in what we do and how we interact. In a diverse society such as ours people have many ‘faces’. They are known, and know themselves, in many different ways. And there’s always that question, about who someone is, really."

My thoughts
I found the ending of the book a bit soft and the detectives an unlikely pair. An interesting insight into the Chinese immigration trade and the left overs of Tianenmen Square.

Nicholas Jose is not really a crime fiction writer, more an academic whose exploration of a philosophical topic led him into writing crime fiction.

When I read ORIGINAL FACE in 2006 I loved it and gave it a rating of 4.6

18 April 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011 - Letter O - week begins 18 April 2011

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

It is never too late to join in on this meme and you don't have to post each week if reading (or life) gets in the way. And it is so easy!

The books and authors being suggested are a great way of learning about books you haven't read, or authors you haven't yet met.
We have participants from all over the globe too. Do take the time to check the entries towards the end of the week. Like me, you'll find yourself adding "must read" titles to your TBR.

Letters already covered: A B C  D  E F G  H  I  J  K  L  M N  

A note to remember: We'll have a little rest next week beginning April 24. There's a double public holiday here in Australia for Easter Monday and then Anzac Day. But we'll start up again on Monday May 2. 

This week's letter is the letter O:

Here are the rules

By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
[Those who intend to participate regularly have signed up here.]

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, or even maybe cover a crime fiction "topic", so long as it fits the rules somehow.
(It is ok too to skip a week.)

Please link your post for the week back to this page. (a letter image is supplied that you can use in your post as well as the meme icon if you wish).

After your post is published, put a link to your actual blog post in the Mr Linky that appears below.
(leave a comment if Mr Linky has disappeared)

Then come back at the end of the week to check to see who else has posted and visit their blog (and leave a comment if you can).

Please check each Monday for the letter of the week

Letters already covered: A B C  D  E F G  H  I  J  K  L  M N

Thanks for participating.

17 April 2011

Review: DEVIL-DEVIL, Graeme Kent

Published Soho Press 2011
ISBN 978-1-56947-873-8
281 pages
Source: my local library

Publisher's blurb
It's not easy being Ben Kella. As a sergeant in the Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as an aofia, a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people, he is viewed with distrust by both the indigenous islanders and the British colonial authorities.
In the past few days he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising, and failed to find an American anthropologist who had been scouring the mountains for a priceless pornographic icon.
Then, at a mission station, Kella discovers an independent and rebellious young American nun, Sister Conchita, secretly trying to bury a skeleton. The unlikely pair of Kella and Conchita are forced to team up to solve a series of murders that tie into all these other strange goings on.
Set in the 60's in one of the most beautiful and dangerous areas of the South Pacific, Devil-Devil launches an exciting new series.

My take:
Sister Conchita is new to Malaita. In fact, she's relatively new to being a nun, but she's wiry, resourceful, determined, and outspoken. In her training she studied island religions and Solomons culture although she has yet to come to terms with how island customs can live side by side with her Catholicism. On her first day on Malaita she stops an Australian trader from removing protected glory shells from the island. She unwittingly makes an enemy who will try to kill her several times in the future, to make sure she never thwarts him again.

Ben Kella on the other hand was born on Malaita and has a dual leadership role. Since he was eight years old he has been the recognised aofia, the leader of the the Lau people of Malaita Island. In addition he represents the law, for he's a sergeant in the Solomons police force. He stands as bridge between the two cultures but often neither side sees him that way. Ben was brought to adulthood by the Catholic mission on Malaita, and he has an overseas university degree. But he has also rejected the Christian way, deciding he can only follow the "custom" way. He's an imposing figure, black, very big in many ways. The islanders call him a white black.

Kella had some problems prior to this novel, causing the death of a missionary, and was recalled to head office in Honiara for six months. Now he's being sent by his Chief Superintendent back to Malaita to find a missing American anthropologist, and told to focus just on that mission. Two days into his journey and already he is disobeying instructions. A village headman has asked him to assist in discovering what lies behind the unexpected death of an elderly widower. This involves him in participating in a session with a ghost-caller, bringing back the dead. From then we know that life is never simple if Ben Kella is around.

For a relatively short novel, DEVIL-DEVIL is complex. At the beginning I kept feeling that perhaps there had been an earlier novel, but in retrospect I don't think there was. It was just that the author had a certain amount of back-story that needed to be revealed as the plot developed.

Part of the novel's complexity comes from the fact that the author is showing us crimes such as deaths and theft in a Melanesian "custom" setting. There's an interesting but somewhat peculiar relationship developed between the policeman, who must be middle-aged, having fought in the war against Japan in early 1940s, and the young nun, just in her twenties. Adding to the complexity is the network of relationships and obligations that bind the islanders to each other, which outsiders like Sister Conchita and Kella's Chief Superintendent have great difficulty in understanding.

I found the final few pages a bit of a let-down and a bit tedious. It seems to rush the final explanations by telling rather than letting the reader form these conclusions from what they've seen. Nevertheless an interesting novel that holds that attention all the way.

My rating: 4.3

I'm counting DEVIL-DEVIL in the 2011 Global Reading Challenge (admittedly I've modified my Australasian section to read Australasia/Oceania to accommodate it), the British Books Challenge for Graeme Kent is British, and among my new-to-me authors.

Other reviews you might like to check:
International Noir Fiction
Reviewing the Evidence
Joe Barone's Blog

Sunday Salon: 17 April: top crime fiction

This week I've read a book that I gave my top rating of 5.
I haven't given very many of those in the 55 books I've read so far this year but A THOUSAND CUTS by Simon Lelic is a crime fiction title that will make you sit up and take notice.

It looks like you might need a reminder too that over on Fair Dinkum Crime this month we are celebrating Aussie Authors Month  with the Fair Dinkum Baker's Dozen, a series of interviews with Australian authors. We've approached the author interview a little differently, trying to offer the authors (who we thought must get asked a few standard questions fairly frequently) the opportunity to share some of their lesser known secrets. Or not, it's entirely up to them. We provide the authors with 13 beginnings and, like the creative geniuses they are, they turn them into sentences (or paragraphs, or full blown essays should the urge arise).

Our first Fair Dinkum Quiz
To further help celebrate Aussie Authors Month we're offering a selection of slightly loved books (i.e. bought new, read once) from some great Australian authors as prizes for our inaugural quiz. In keeping with our baker's dozen theme there are 13 questions ranging in difficulty from 'googlable' to 'should probably have read a few posts on Fair Dinkum before attempting this quiz' to 'oh heck I hate quizzes'. Find The Fair Dinkum Quiz #1 here. Closing date for entries is midnight on 24 April 2011 (Australian central standard time which is GMT +9.5)

My other posts this week:
 News & Headlines
Currently Reading
  • now: DEVIL-DEVIL, Graeme Kent
  • next: A GRAVE IN THE COTSWOLDS, Rebecca Tope
  • then - THE FACILITY, Simon Lelic
  • next on Kindle - THE LEOPARD, Jo Nesbo
  • now on audio - THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS, Andrew Taylor
  • current Agatha Christie - SAD CYPRESS

16 April 2011

Australian readers get a (kindle) e-book break!

An author whose books I really enjoy is Leighton Gage, whose series features Chief Inspector Mario Silva.
His books are set in Brazil, but often begin with some event of worldwide significance.

Here is the series

I have reviewed (and enjoyed) these two

I do have paperback copies of BURIED STRANGERS and EVERY BITTER THING that I must read.
A couple of weeks ago, Leighton contacted me to say that he was going to ensure that a Kindle copy would be available of VINE IN THE BLOOD ahead of the paper version.

I'm pleased to say that for Australian readers this has happened!

Click on the image to the left and you will be transported to Amazon.

Publishers blurb
It is the eve of the FIFA World Cup, the globe's premier sporting event. The host country is Brazil. A victory for the home team is inextricably linked to the skills of the country's principal striker, Tico "The Artist" Santos, the greatest player in the history of the sport. All the politicians in Brasilia, from the President of the Republic on down, have their seats squared-away for the finale, when they hope to see Argentina, Brazil's bitterest rival, humbled by the Brazilian eleven. But then, just three weeks before the first game, Juraci Santos, Tico's mother, is kidnapped. The star is distraught. The public is appalled. The politicians are outraged. And the pressure is on Chief Inspector Mario Silva to get her back.

Suspects aren't lacking. Among them, are a cabal of Argentineans, suspected of having spirited the lady away to put Tico off his game, the star's gold-digging, top-model girlfriend, whom his mother dislikes and has been trying to get out of his life, his principal rival, who wants to play in the World Cup in Tico's place, and the man whose leg Tico broke during a match, thereby destroying his career. In the end, Silva and his crew discover that the solution to the mystery is less complex - but entirely unexpected.
This book debuts in North America on December 27th, 2011.
It cannot be purchased in print, or by Kindle readers in the United States and Canada, until after that date.

Australian readers with a Kindle will find that the treasure chest of all 5 novels is available to them here on Amazon, at deliciously cheap prices. US and Canadian Kindle readers will have to be content with the first 4 in the series until December.

Leighton Gage's website

15 April 2011

My top crime fiction reads so far for 2011

It would be nice to say this is my "top 10" or "top 15" or top "20", but numbers don't always work out so simply do they?

I do try, as I record my ratings, to put the books in a sort of ranked list but the truth is that these are all good reads, some just a little better than others.
They are, pretty well, all fairly recently published books except for THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE.
But they also include quite a number of translated books and there's a mixture of Canadian, English, American, and Australian authors. There are police procedurals, amateur sleuths, and a couple with historical settings.
What I'm finding don't rate so highly with me at present are the cozies. They do come high in the next batch though. See all I've read this year at 2011 Reviews
There really are few duds amongst the lot.

How many of the list below have you read?

5.0, BURY YOUR DEAD, Louise Penny
5.0, A THOUSAND CUTS, Simon Lelic 
5.0, THE RULE BOOK, Rob Kitchin
4.9, THE BRUTAL TELLING, Louise Penny
4.9, BAD INTENTIONS, Karin Fossum
4.8, COLD JUSTICE, Katherine Howell
4.8, BOUND, Vanda Symon
4.7, DYING GASP, Leighton Gage 
4.7, PRIME CUT, Alan Carter 
4.7, WYATT, Garry Disher 
4.7, THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
4.7, WHERE MEMORIES LIE, Deborah Crombie
4.6, RELICS OF THE DEAD, Ariana Franklin  
4.6, STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, Kate Atkinson 
4.6, THREE SECONDS, Roslund & Hellstrom
4.6, SARAH'S KEY, Tatiana de Rosnay
4.6, THE JANUS STONE, Elly Griffiths

14 April 2011

Forgotten Book: DEATH OF AN ENGLISHMAN, Magdalen Nabb

This week's Friday's Forgotten book for the meme hosted by Patti Abbott on Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books is the first in Magdalen Nabb's Marshal Guarnaccia series. It appears in my records along with 3 later books from the series in 1993.

Publisher's blurb

The debut of Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Carabinieri, a Sicilian, stationed in Florence.

It is just before Christmas and the marshal wants to go South to spend the holiday with his wife and family, but first he must recover from the flu (which has left the Florentine caribinieri short-handed) and also solve a murder. A seemingly respectable retired Englishman, living in a flat on the Via Maggio near the Santa Trinita bridge, was shot in the back during the night. He was well-connected and Scotland Yard has despatched two officers to "assist" the Italians in solving the crime. But it is the marshal, a quiet observer, not an intellectual, who manages to figure out what happened, and why.

There were 14 books in the series written over a period of 27 years. The final title was published after Nabb's death in 2007 at just 60 years of age. VITA NUOVA was also suggested on this blog by Glenn Harper as a "best read" for 2008.

Magdalen Nabb's novels are all set in Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside. They are inspired by the place, its history, current events and by the people. There is an element of crime in all the stories. Florence does not have the high murder rate of, say, an American city like Baltimore but it does have a history of spectacular, sometimes baroque murders. Most of the novels are based on studies of real crimes. In some cases, the research involved is extensive and the collaboration of the Florence carabinieri is essential.

I read 3 others in the series (**) shortly after reading the first, so I must have enjoyed them.

Marshal Guarnaccia series
1. Death of an Englishman (1981)**
2. Death of a Dutchman (1982)
3. Death in Springtime (1983)
4. Death in Autumn (1985)**
5. The Marshal and the Murderer (1987)
6. The Marshal and the Madwoman (1988)
7. The Marshal's Own Case (1990)**
8. The Marshal Makes His Report (1991)**
9. The Marshal at the Villa Torrini (1993)
10. The Monster of Florence (1996)
11. Property of Blood (1999)
12. Some Bitter Taste (2002)
13. The Innocent (2005)
14. Vita Nuova (2008)

Just two of the titles, THE MARSHALL'S OWN CASE, and VITA NUOVA are available for Kindle.
Amazon suggests that if you like Donna Leon you'll like Magdalen Nabb,.

Magdalen Nabb's website is still available.

13 April 2011

Review: A THOUSAND CUTS (RUPTURE), Simon Lelic

This edition, an ARC from VIKING, published as A THOUSAND CUTS in 2010
ISBN 978-0-670-02150-5
294 pages
Source: a friend

Publisher's blurb
In the depths of a sweltering summer, teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into his school assembly and opens fire. He kills three pupils and a colleague before turning the gun on himself.

Lucia May, the young policewoman who is assigned the case, is expected to wrap up things quickly and without fuss. The incident is a tragedy that could not have been predicted and Szajkowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help. Soon, however, Lucia becomes preoccupied with the question no one else seems to want to ask: what drove a mild-mannered, diffident school teacher to commit such a despicable crime?
Piecing together the testimonies of the teachers and children at the school, Lucia discovers an uglier, more complex picture of the months leading up to the shooting. She realises too that she has more in common with Szajkowski than she could have imagined. As the pressure to bury the case builds, she becomes determined to tell the truth about what happened, whatever the consequences . . .

My take:

I came to this with my teacher's hat on, but it could just as easily have been my  parent's hat. For either of those hats this is a horrifying tale. What turns a mild mannered history teacher turn into a lethal killer?

The blurb on the back of the edition I read begins:
    It should be an open-and-shut case. Samuel Szajkowski, a recently hired history teacher, walked into a school assembly with a gun and murdered three students and a colleague before turning the weapon on himelf. It was a tragedy that could not have been predicted. Szajowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help.
From a police point of view, it looks like a case that you can wrap up quickly. Samuel Szajkowski walked into the assembly and opened fire. He is to blame for the deaths of 5 people including himself.  Detective Inspector Lucia May is given the job of interviewing the witnesses and writing up the final report.

But then Lucia begins to ask why? What pushed Samuel Szajowski over the edge? Who is really to blame? And just who is pushing her boss to get the case wrapped up?

Events like this one have happened in "real life" world wide in recent years, and A THOUSAND CUTS leads us to ask whether the investigators really ever get to the point of understanding the "why".

We know right from the beginning that there is something wrong with the culture of this school. The basic structure of the novel is transcripts of interviews by the investigators with witnesses, and the very first one is with a student who should have been at the assembly but was "down by the ponds, pissing about.."
The interview transcripts are really one-sided conversations. The reader is left to deduce the questions being asked from the actual answers. It is a very arresting narrative technique.

Detective Inspector Lucia May unearths a culture of bullying that extends throughout the entire school: student to student, student to teacher, teacher to student, and teacher to teacher. The worst part is that those who should be preventing the existence of this culture, the principal for example, don't see that as their responsibility. But even the parents don't recognise the bullying happening.

Another aspect of the whole investigation is that Lucia May is herself the victim of bullying, in her personal life, and, in particular, her workplace. It makes us ask whether this is an endemic part of the Western society, regardless of the profession.

A very thought-provoking read.

My rating: 5.0

Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2010.
Shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards 2010.
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2010.
Selected for Financial Times Books of the Year 2010.
Selected for New York Times notable crime books 2010.
Selected as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars 2010.
Top 20 Books of 2010 – Lovereading.co.uk.

Blog posts to check:

I'm counting A THOUSAND CUTS for the British Books Challenge and as a "new to me" author.

Simon Lelic's website

12 April 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: N or M?, Agatha Christie

I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to point you to this title by Agatha Christie.

I haven't yet got to it on my quest to read Agatha Christie titles in order of publication, but according to my schedule, I should read it by the end of this year.

However, since choosing this as my focus for this CFA post I have seen that Gautami beat me to it, so I've changed my direction a little to focus some covers.

One of the things I find fascinating about Agatha Christie novels is the way they reflect popular fear about infiltration by outside powers.

You see that in some of her early novels when espionage and Bolshevism come to the surface, and it happens here too.
At the time when N or M? was being written, 1940-41, Britain is facing the very real threat of invasion by Hitler and fear of Nazi infiltrators is strong.

I love the way the cover on the left conveys the idea of the island fortress, and the one on the right (which I think is Dutch but I'm not sure) has the idea of surveillance by blimps. I can't quite work out why the girl is red.

The other one on the left comes from 1960 and changes the focus just a little to the quandary of deciding who the enemy agent is.

I like the other one on the right too which I found at  Mystery*File

It seems to be a seaside town map, but unfortunately I couldn't find a bigger copy of it so we could see the detail more distinctly.

Agatha Christie novels have been published so many times in different editions, it is always fascinating to see what the covers look like. What do you think of these?

 In her post Gautami uses a different cover again.

Check what others have contributed to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet.


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