30 April 2012

Review: A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES, Ruth Rendell

  • this edition published by Chivers Press in large print 2000
  • originally published 1998
  • ISBN 0-7450-2250-1
  • 436 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Random House Australia)

In traditional fairy tales the handsome prince rescues the beautiful princess from her wicked stepmother, and the couple live happily ever after.But in Ruth Rendell's dark and damaged contemporary universe, innocent dreams can turn into the most terrible nightmares.Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome but autistic young man. Francine Hill, traumatised by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother.Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders.

My take

Although the sequel to this novel THE VAULT is a 2011 addition to the Wexford series, A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES was written as a stand alone, and could so easily have been published as a Barbara Vine title.

I'm sure I have read it before, but had really forgotten most of it, although I knew a large part of the final plot because of reading THE VAULT earlier this year.

It feels quite a long novel as Rendell details the loveless childhood of Teddy Brex and the trauma that surrounds that of Francine Hill. That these two plot strands will converge is not a surprise to the reader but the manner of their coming together may be.

If you haven't yet read THE VAULT I suggest you try to track down a copy of  SIGHT FOR SORE EYES first even if only because THE VAULT contains plot spoilers, and you will get a much better appreciation of what Ruth Rendell has achieved in writing the sequel by reading them "in order". In essence the ending of A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES left room for the sequel but probably none of her followers realised that. I don't know if there is another author who has done anything similar - written a stand-alone story and then followed it up with a sequel written as part of an ongoing, long standing, series.

On its own A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES is a satisfying if somewhat macabre story about damage to children. At the end Rendell serves out a sort of justice.

My rating: 4.5  

I have also made this post my contribution this week to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books

Followers of Rendell will be interested to know that she is publishing another stand-alone later this year. (let me just remind you that she is 82)

Blurb from Fantastic Fiction.
From three-time Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street - and the deadly ways their lives intertwine.

Life in the well-manicured London locale of Hexam Place is not as placid and orderly as it appears. Behind the tranquil gardens and polished entryways, relationships between servants and their employers are set to combust.

Henry, the handsome valet to Lord Studley, is sleeping with both the Lord's wife and his university-age daughter. Montserrate, the Still family's lazy au pair, is helping to hide Mrs. Still's illicit affair with a television actor - for a small fee. June, the haughty housekeeper to a princess of dubious origin, is hard at work forming a 'society' for servants to address complaints about their employers. Meanwhile, a disturbed gardener, Dex, believes a voice in his cellphone is giving him godlike instructions - that could endanger the lives of all who reside in Hexam Place.

A deeply observed and suspenseful update to the upstairs/downstairs genre, The St. Zita Society is Ruth Rendell at her incisive best.

29 April 2012

Review: THE FALLS, Ian Rankin - audio

  • printed version published in 2001
  • Book 12 in the Inspector Rebus series
  • audio version: Orion Audiobooks
  • length: 16 hours 35 mins
  • narrator: Samuel Gillies
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

A student has gone missing in Edinburgh - completely out of character. She's not just any student, though, but the daughter of extremely well to do and influential bankers.
There's almost nothing to go on until Detective Inspector John Rebus gets an unmistakable gut feeling that there's more to this than just another runaway spaced out on unaccustomed freedom.
Two leads emerge: a carved wooden doll in a toy coffin, found in the student's home village, and an Internet role playing game. The ancient and the modern, brought together by uncomfortable circumstance and a curmudgeonly detective happier with long playing records than digital technology.

My take

Nothing is ever simple in an Ian Rankin book, particularly not in a Rebus title. A complexity of inter-tangled plot lines introduce a plethora of interesting characters, romance for Rebus, and some topical issues mixed in with a little local history.

I get the feeling THE FALLS was written specifically to delight Edinburgh residents. The missing student has been playing an online game with complex cryptic clues. The answers are places to be found in or near Edinburgh.

We listened to THE FALLS in weekly episodes of about 2 hours at a time. In that sort of regime, the possibility of forgetting plot elements is fairly high. One of the things I found a bit frustrating is that, as always with an audio book, it is difficult to thumb back and check up on some information you barely remember.

Nevertheless an enthralling story.

My rating: 4.5

Other Rankin titles reviewed on MiP:
4.4, WITCH HUNT - writing as Jack Harvey


THE NAMING OF THE DEAD, my rating 4.8
A reminder that Ian Rankin is not just a good murder mystery writer, he is one of the best. He gives his novels an authenticity by staging them against political backgrounds and events that are part of our world. THE NAMING OF THE DEAD is played out against the meeting of the G8 conference in Edinburgh in 2005. From the ramparts of the Castle, on the night of the conference dinner, a young MP falls to his death in the gardens below. D. I. John Rebus has been excluded from the G8 preparations, although he is at Gleneagles to see George Bush fall off his bicycle, and so he is available for the investigation. Simultaneously a serial killer leaves clues about three deaths at a "clootie well". The usual characters mesh together - Siobhan Clarke's parents are involved in the G8 demonstrations and marches, Big Ger Cafferty as usual has his hooks into everything and then are a host of new people who both assist and impede Rebus' dogged investigation. And underlying all, Rankin the politically aware, social commentator, letting us know that he is not just a good murder mystery writer…

EXIT MUSIC, my rating 5.0
John Rebus is facing his last week in the police force. He will turn 60 in 10 days and is legally required to retire. He has no vision of what he will do in retirement and is determined to work as he's always done, right to the end. Late at night, at the foot of Raeburn Wynd the body of a Russian poet is discovered. So solving this crime will be Rebus' last case. But there is so much more to be resolved. Rebus' biggest unfinished business is with Big Ger Cafferty. He would dearly like to put Cafferty away forever, but is that going to be a legacy he will leave to DS Siobhan Clarke? And Shiv has problems of her own. Will she just move into Rebus' job as Detective Inspector and if she does, who will she choose to be her new partner? In a sense this, their last case together, is an important test for her too, made all the more important when DCI MCCrae decides that DS Clarke will be in charge of the case, with Rebus as a sort of mentor - if a loose cannon can ever be a mentor. Rankin manages to bed this case against the issues of real time Scotland, focussing on Scottish independence, an issue that dominated the Scottish elections of 2006.  Not a short read, but certainly an engrossing one. It left me hoping against hope that this isn't the last we see of Rebus!

If you are new to the Rebus series here is a list of the titles to look for in order of publication.

1. Knots and Crosses
2. Hide and Seek
3. Tooth and Nail  aka Wolfman
4. Strip Jack
5. The Black Book
6. Mortal Causes
7. Let It Bleed
8. Black and Blue
9. The Hanging Garden
10. Dead Souls
11. Set in Darkness
12. The Falls
13. Resurrection Men
14. A Question of Blood
15. Fleshmarket Close  aka Fleshmarket Alley
16. The Naming Of The Dead
17. Exit Music

28 April 2012

Reminder: Crime Fiction Alphabet starts May 21

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

Will begin week beginning Monday 21 May 2012
More details here
including a schedule.

This meme was run first on this blog in 2009-2010 and was re-run in 2011.

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.

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, or even maybe a crime fiction "topic".
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.
(It is ok too to skip a week.)

Sign up below (optional).

26 April 2012

Forgotten Book: RUMPOLE a La Carte, John Mortimer

For many of my contributions this year to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books  I am focussing on the books I read 20 years ago in 1992. By then my reading diet was almost exclusively crime fiction.

This week, 20 years ago, I completed reading RUMPOLE a La Carte by John Mortimer.

A collection of six tales all featuring Horace Rumpole. Characters such as She Who Must Be Obeyed, and the philandering Claude Erskine-Brown are back as Rumpole visits a snooty restaurant, where he enagages in a battle over mashed spuds and takes the unaccustomed role of prosecutor. 

I guess one of the things this choice shows is that I really liked short stories, but I loved the quirky humour of these tales..

Of course, for most of us, Leo McKern became Rumpole-in-the-flesh in the television series, which in its turn gave the Rumpole books a new lease of life. RUMPOLE A La Carte was published in 1990, and incorporated in a television series in 1993.

Coincidentally the embedded YouTube video snippet below comes from the episode in the TV series based on the a la carte story.

25 April 2012

Review: GRAVE STONES, Priscilla Masters - audio

Synopsis (from Audible)

For recently engaged DI Joanna Piercy, a murder is the last thing she wants to deal with. Especially one with as dark a back story as that relating to calculating landowner and farmer Jakob Grimshaw; a man who managed to make enemies of all his neighbours and what little family he still had. One thing is certain; Joanna has a tough job ahead of her...   

My Take

I listened to the preceding title in this series, WINGS OVER THE WATCHER, only last week, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to listen to the next straight away, unusual for me.

Jakob Grimshaw and his run down, noisy, and smelly farm are not well liked by his immediate neighbours whose individually styled town houses are built on land he sold to a developer. So it is not until his body begins to smell that anyone realises that he has been dead for a few days.

There are plenty of suspects: 9 property holders on the estate, and an estranged daughter. The problem is, you can't establish alibis until you know when the murder took place. The best Joanna Piercy is able to do is to establish a range of time.

Joanna has just come back from a lovely holiday in Spain, during which she has become engaged. This part of the story follows on that strand in WINGS OVER THE WATCHER.
Everyone asks her what is going to happen to her career but Joanna is adamant that nothing will change, although her husband-to-be, pathologist Matthew Levin, has other ideas and hopes.

This was a most enjoyable and highly recommendable read. A good police procedural. In particular I enjoyed the development of the professional relationship between DI Piercy and her assistant DS Mike Korpansky.

My rating: 4.5

Review: TAKEN AT THE FLOOD, Agatha Christie

  • this edition, Paul Hamlyn Agatha Christie Collection published 1971
  • originally published 1948
  • pages 157 - 327 ( 170 pages)
  • Source: personal collection

Synopsis (Christie site)

A few weeks after marrying an attractive young widow, Gordon Cloade is tragically killed in the London blitz and overnight the former Mrs Underhay finds herself in sole possession of the Cloade family fortune. Shortly afterwards, Hercule Poirot receives a visit from the dead man's sister-in-law, who claims she has been warned by 'spirits' that Mrs Underhay's first husband is still alive. Yet what mystifies Poirot most is the woman's true motive for approaching him.

First published in 1948 by William Collins Sons & Co. in London, and as There Is A Tide, by Dodd, Mead & Co. in New York.  The title of the novel is taken from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act V, Scene III, in which Brutus tells Cassius: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

My take

The most interesting feature of TAKEN AT THE FLOOD, apart from the central and rather tangled story of the dashed expectations of the Cloade family, is the social commentary on the effects of World War II not only on Britain as a whole, but also on the personal expectations of those who either served in the forces or stayed at home. In my review of THE HOLLOW, the previous novel, I commented that, although there was no specific reference to the war, people don't seem to realise that the old way of life has gone forever, that the days of large houses and servants to run them has gone forever.

In TAKEN AT THE FLOOD Christie explored the changes from a different angle. World War II is a character ever present.
Lyn Marchmont has returned home to live with her elderly mother, who was one of those dependent for her allowance on Gordon Cloade. Lyn realises that the money is not going as far as it used to, but her mother has not as yet seen the need for some economies, for doing some of the housework herself.
Lyn is unemployed and feels that the qualities that war service encouraged and valued are not valued in this post war world.
    Enterprise, initiative, command, those were the commodities offered [by the returnees]. But what was wanted? People who could cook and clean, or write decent shorthand. Plodding people who new a routine and could give good service.
Lyn was engaged six years before, before the war, and now she has come home to marry Rowley, who stayed home and farmed. He is conscious that she has changed and she thinks he hasn't.

And worse, Gordon Cloade's young widow is a stranger and she and her brother have access to the Cloade fortune, which before the war supported the extended family.
    Lyn thought suddenly, 'But that's what's the matter everywhere. I've noticed it ever since I got home. It's the aftermath the war has left. Ill will. Ill feeling. It's everywhere. On the railways and buses and in shops and amongst workers and clerks and even agricultural labourers. And I suppose worse in mines and factories. Ill will. But here it's more than that. Here it's particular. It's meant!'
This theme of nostalgia for the pre-war days, nostalgia for the sense of purpose that imbued the days of war, continues throughout the book.
    'Yes, it's soon forgotten - all of it. Back to safety! Back to tameness! Back to where we were when the whole bloody show started! Creep into our rotten little holes and play safe again...'
For some the war gave opportunity, only to have it snatched away again when the war ended. But the fabric of society had been irrevocably ruptured. In addition the expenses of the war and its destruction had to be paid for.

The views expressed by various characters seem to be Christie's own heartfelt views, the result of her own observations and reflections in the period just after the war, when life can't have been easy.

The storyline of TAKEN AT THE FLOOD has its complications and problems. It explores the concept of Enoch Arden, a narrative poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1864 in which a long missing  sailor returns home to find that his wife has re-married. The character Enoch Arden appears not only in this Christie novel, but also in the short story "While the Light Lasts" and in GIANT'S BREAD, the first Christie's six novels written under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott.

I think the plot itself caused Christie a few problems. Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate, and is himself duped by a man whom he vouched for as a reliable witness. The final explanation of the solution to the puzzle is simultaneously clever and inventive, but also a bit out of left field. There is a time when Christie plays with the readiness of the reader to trust the judgement of Lyn Marchmont.

My rating: 4.6

This is #39 in the novels I have read for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

Anzac Day 2012 - We Will Remember Them

Adelaide War Memorial
Today is the 97th anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing at Anzac Cove in 1915.

Ode: To the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)

23 April 2012

Celebrating World Book Day

Many thanks to Dorothee, who is participating in the 2012 Global Reading Challenge, for the reminder that today is World Book Day.

World Book and Copyright Day (also known as International Day of the Book or World Book Days) is a yearly event on 23 April, organized by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing and copyright. The Day was first celebrated in 1995.
The official theme for World Book Day 2012 is: “Books and Translation”.
The year 2012 also marks the 80th anniversary of the Index Translationum. This international bibliography of translation provides a unique tool for the monitoring of translation flows in the world. UNESCO will celebrate this anniversary by organizing a debate on this instrument. 

Dorothee's own celebratory post is here.

In a sense, in the Global Reading Challenge, we observe World Book Day all year round, as well as reading many books in translation.

This year's GRC challenges readers to expand their reading horizons, choosing a level of the challenge to suit themselves: 7, 14, or 21 books from 6 continents and a theme of their own choice.

39 participants have signed up for the challenge to date, and new reading recommendations are constantly being added.

BTW, here is a book giveaway running on It's a crime (or a mystery)

21 April 2012

Review: PHANTOM, Jo Nesbo

  • Published by Harvill Secker 2012
  • translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
  • ISBN 978-1-846-55521-3
  • 452 pages
  • source: Library book
Synopsis (Random House Australia)

Summer. A boy is lying on the floor of an Oslo apartment. He is bleeding and will soon die. In order to place his life and death in some kind of context he begins to tell his story. Outside, the church bells toll. Autumn.
Former police inspector Harry Hole returns to Oslo after three years abroad. He seeks out his old boss at Police Headquarters to request permission to investigate a homicide. But the case is already closed: the young junkie was in all likelihood shot dead by a fellow addict. Yet, Harry is granted permission to visit the boy's alleged killer in jail. There, he meets himself and his own history.
What follows is the solitary investigation of what appears to be the first impossible case in Harry Hole's career. And while Harry is searching, the murdered boy continues his story. A man walks the dark streets of Oslo. The streets are his and he has always been there. He is a Phantom.

My take

An interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.

Harry Hole is a very changed person physically, with a titanium finger to replace one lost in THE SNOWMAN, and a dreadful scar on one side of his face. He has returned to Oslo because of a newspaper report he read and a suspicion about the identity of the perpetrator of a murder. When he tries to get a job in the police he is told the case he wants is already solved and so he goes it alone, calling in favours, going right to the top, and uncovering a drugs network to top them all.

Inevitably he contacts Rakel, the love of his life, but he also realises there is no going back, there is only the future. But do they really have one? Not in Norway it seems.

I struggled to get into this book and then to bring all the strands together. I'm still not sure that I have the definitive grip on who did what and why. It seemed to me to be bleaker and darker, if that is possible, than earlier novels.

My rating: 4.7

Other reviews of PHANTOM to check
Other reviews on MiP of Jo Nesbo novels

20 April 2012

Forgotten Book: AS THE CROW FLIES by Jeffery Archer

For many of my contributions this year to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books  I am focussing on the books I read 20 years ago in 1992. By then my reading diet was almost exclusively crime fiction.

Jeffrey Archer is one of those who writes a bit cross-genre, not always crime fiction. A former Member of Parliament and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, he was created a Life Peer in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1992.

AS THE CROW FLIES was published in 1991. The novel follows the story of Charlie Trumper's rise from East End costermonger to department store magnate.

From the author's website:
Growing up in the slums of East End London, Charlie Trumper dreams of someday running his grandfather's fruit and vegetable barrow. That day comes suddenly when his grandfather dies leaving him the floundering business. With the help of Becky Salmon, an enterprising young woman, Charlie sets out to make a name for himself as "The Honest Trader". But the brutal onset of World War I takes Charlie far from home and into the path of a dangerous enemy whose legacy of evil follows Charlie and his family for generations. 

Archer is a prolific and popular writer who has been publishing novels since 1976, beginning with NOT A PENNY MORE, NOT A PENNY LESS.
In 2012 he has recently published the second in the 3 title Clifton Chronicles, THE SINS OF THE FATHER.
I haven't read all Archer's work, but I do enjoy his short stories in particular, for example A TWIST IN THE TALE
Follow his blog.

From Fantastic Fiction:
Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years' imprisonment at 12.07pm on Thursday 19th July 2001. Within six hours, Prisoner FF8282, as he is now known, was on suicide watch in the medical wing of Belmarsh top security prison in south London. This, he discovered, is standard procedure for first-time offenders on their first night in jail. By 6.00am the next morning, Archer had resolved to write a daily diary of everything he experienced while incarcerated, because "I have a feeling that being allowed to write in this hellhole may turn out to be the one salvation that will keep me sane". Jeffrey Archer's diary of his first three weeks imprisonment is a raw account of life in a top-security jail in Britain. It is also an indictment of the British penal system. The tales of his fellow inmates - many of whom are in for life - are often moving stories of hopelessness. But there are those, too, who, no matter what their previous histories, attempt to live their prison lives with dignity and integrity. Returning favours, Archer comments, is far more commonplace in prison than outside. The diary should be of interest to anyone concerned with the improvement of our penal system, whether they are concerned citizens, politicians or workers in the prison service.

More biographical details.

19 April 2012

Review: WINGS OVER THE WATCHER, Priscilla Masters - audio

Publisher's Summary (from Audible)

Dedicated to her profession, DI Joanna Piercy has built her imposing reputation on thorough investigative police work. However, the job that once excited and intrigued her has now fallen into a familiar pattern of form filling and snide office banter.

Distracted from her duty by her recent miscarriage and split with her partner, Matthew, Joanna is battling through this painful emotional period alone. She finds solace in her work, yet her focus and coherency are out of sync. She resorts to formulaic solutions to resolve her cases, having seen the same situations time and again. So when Arthur Pennington enters her office in a state of confused distress and reports that his wife, Beatrice, is missing, Joanna does not reciprocate with the same emotion. Convinced that his wife is merely involved in an extra-marital affair, Joanna is dismissive of Arthur's concerns. But when Beatrice's strangled body is discovered recklessly dumped on the Leek moorlands, she is forced to revaluate her stance.

Unbeknown to even her closest family, Beatrice had been harbouring a secret and dangerously obsessive infatuation, which stemmed from her deep-rooted insecurities and low self esteem. And Joanna knows well that unrequited love can not only be hurtful, but fatal!

Continuing the DI Joanna Piercy mystery series, Wings over the Watcher delves deep within the complex puzzle of the female psyche, examining the warped impact marital neglect can have on a woman's mental stability.

My take

This is my first taste of the writing of Priscilla Masters and therefore of the Joanna Piercy police procedurals. Judith Boyd does an excellent job of the narration. I'm so impressed with this one that I'm going to listen to the next, and I may even search out earlier titles to read them.

Beatrice Pennington is an unremarkable woman, and when her husband reports that she is missing, it is easy to think that nothing really serious could have happened to her. Precoccupied with her own personal life, Joanna Piercy listens to Beatrice's husband Arthur report her disappearance. By coincidence Joanna has actually met Beatrice when she recently joined Joanna's cycling group. But it isn't until Beatrice's body is discovered under a hedge that the investigation ramps up.

Predictably Joanna learns that no-one really knows Beatrice, that she had a secret life. One of the problems is that no-one has really taken any notice of Beatrice for years. And when someone finally does, murder is the result.

I found DI Joanna Piercy a bit flawed, somewhat too ready to rely on her own opinions, and perhaps a little jaded in her approach to her job. I suspect this is a "woman's" read, not a book that will appeal to male readers. But perhaps you are familiar with the series, and feel differently?

My rating: 4.6

Joanna Piercy series (list from Fantastic Fiction)
1. Winding Up the Serpent (1995)
2. Catch the Fallen Sparrow (1996)
3. A Wreath For My Sister (1997)
4. And None Shall Sleep (1997)
5. Scaring Crows (1999)
6. Embroidering Shrouds (2001)
7. Endangering Innocents (2003)
8. Wings Over the Watcher (2005)
9. Grave Stones (2009)
10. The Velvet Scream (2011)

16 April 2012

Review: LYING DEAD, Aline Templeton

  • #3 in the DI Marjory Fleming series
  • Published in 2007 by Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN 978-0-340-922226-2
  • 422 pages
  • Source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

On a beautiful, eerily quiet May morning, a girl is found brutally bludgeoned to death. When Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming arrives, the silence of the scene is broken only by the ringing of the girl's cell phone.

The nearby community of Drumbreck is small and close-knit, but the veneer of contented prosperity conceals nasty secrets and daily betrayals. When another corpse is discovered, DI Fleming quickly realizes she must watch her own back while she searches for the link between the murders.

As she uncovers layer upon layer of intrigue and deceit, it becomes apparent that while the dead can't tell lies, the living most certainly can.

My take

LYING DEAD is a carefully layered book, with the murder mystery at the centre, against a background of minor issues such as sheep dog trials, romantic affairs, financial problems and family management.  What the author successfully demonstrates is that police investigations don't happen in a vacuum. Even individual members of the investigating team aren't necessarily singing from the same hymn sheet.

Marjory Fleming's team has someone leaking scoops to the press, as well as detectives who want to be first to the post even at Big Marge's expense, undermining her authority. Marjory's policing takes place in a small community where she often has personal contact with both victims and perpetrators and has to know when to step back from direct involvement in an investigation or interview.

Marjory's father, once a police officer of considerable standing, is succumbing to dementia and this and other family issues are calling for her attention, but for Marjory the job has to come first.  The murder case takes Marjory away for a night in Manchester, and to meet her equivalent down south. Marjory and Manchester's DCI Chris Carter find an unexpected rapport and there is an interesting contrast in what policing is like in Galloway and Manchester.

What I like about this series is the way Marge works through problems to find solutions. She doesn't always make the best choices, but she is always honest and true to form. The supporting cast of characters are well drawn.
I have now read 4 out of 6 in this series and looking forward to catching up with the other 2.

My rating: 4.6

Also reviewed on MiP: 4.5, DEAD IN THE WATER 
includes mini-reviews of
COLD IN THE EARTH (publ.2005) my rating 4.6
THE DARKNESS AND THE DEEP (publ.2006) my rating 4.6

DI Marjory Fleming series (from Fantastic Fiction)
1. Cold in the Earth (2005)
2. The Darkness and the Deep (2006)
3. Lying Dead (2007)
4. Lamb to the Slaughter (2008)
5. Dead in the Water (2009)
6. Cradle to Grave (2011)

13 April 2012

Forgotten Book: WINTERWOOD and Other Hauntings, Keith Roberts

For many of my contributions this year to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books  I am going to focus on the books I read 20 years ago in 1992. By then my reading diet was almost exclusively crime fiction.

But here, first read almost exactly 20 years ago, is a book that shows you that I dabbled elsewhere too. In this case, in tales of the supernatural, in line with my enjoyment of Edgar Allan Poe and others. 

Blurb from Fantastic Fiction

"Keith Roberts has long been one of my favorite SF writers, but I hadn't realized how much really top notch supernatural fiction he'd written as well.
This reprint of the 1989 British collection includes one of my favorites of his, "The Scarlet Lady," a demon car story that rivals Stephen King's Christine for its pure nastiness.
The title story is almost as good, chronicling the strange goings on in an old mansion, as is "Everything in the Garden," in which a woman is tormented by what appears to be a demonic tree.
The other stories include a variety of untraditional ghost stories, but there's nary a bad one in the bunch. There's never been a US edition of this before that I know of, so most of these stories should be brand new to most readers. One of the best titles Wildside has brought back into print." -- Don D'Ammassa, Science Fiction Chronicle

WINTERWOOD is available online at Google Books. It contains 7 longish short stories. Keith Roberts (1935-2000) published 13 novels and 8 short story collections, as well as contributing stories to a number of anthologies.

Read a review of WINTERWOOD on Darkling Tales

11 April 2012

Review: THE CALLER, Karin Fossum

  • first published 2009
  • English translation from Norwegian by K.E. Semmel 2011
  • published in English by Harvill Secker, London
  • ISBN 978-1-846-55393-6
  • 296 pages
  • Source: my local library
  • #8 in the Inspector Sejer series
Synopsis (Amazon)

One mild summer evening Lily and her husband are enjoying a meal while their baby daughter sleeps peacefully in her pram beneath a maple tree. But when Lily steps outside she is paralysed with terror. The child is bathed in blood.

Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully the baby is unharmed, but her parents are deeply shaken. Sejer spends the evening trying to comprehend why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank.

Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell. The corridor is empty, but the caller has left a small grey envelope on the mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure slip across the car park and disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message. Hell begins now.

My take

When you think about it, the main plot line of THE CALLER is simple enough. Someone is playing pranks. The list of pranks that begins with the baby covered in blood grows: a death notice in the paper for someone who is not dead, a prize sheep painted with orange paint, a funeral home requested to collect the body of a seriously ill man who has not yet died, tyres slashed. In themselves the pranks are not life threatening but they are malicious.

The reader learns early on the identity of the person playing the pranks, and I think there is the possibility that at least one other person in the community knows who the "prankster" is. But the pranks are vicious acts, perpetrated by an adolescent in whom real anger boils as the result of a life time of neglect. And despite the fact that he is in his late teens he is incapable of seeing beyond the immediate consequences of his pranks. He can't see the sense of security that his pranks have removed from his victims, and he can't forecast their long term consequences. And then two of the pranks have serious consequences. Someone dies.

This is #8 in Fossum's Inspector Sejer series and a mark of her popularity with English speaking readers that there has been such a small time lapse since the original publication in Norwegian. If you've not read any of the series before, then you could start with this one. It will send you looking for the others. It presents Inspector Konrad Sejer in a kindly light: ageing, a little worried by health issues, and with great empathy for the victims of these crimes. But he even feels drawn to the prankster himself. He and his team look for the thread that binds the pranks together: how does the prankster select his victims?

There's an ambiguity to the ending which seems characteristic of Fossum stories. If what the prankster says is true, there is one prank that was not his doing. And what was Else Meiner doing at the Sparbo Dam?

An excellent read. My rating: 5.0

Other reviews for you to read

Inspector Konrad Sejer, Norway (courtesy Euro Crime) - the first date is the year of publication in English, the number at the end is the series order.
• In the Darkness20121
• Don't Look Back (Se deg ikke tilbake!, 1996)20022
He Who Fears the Wolf (Den som frykter ulven, 1997)20033
When the Devil Holds the Candle (Djevelen holder lyset , 1998)20044
Calling Out for You! (apa The Indian Bride) (Elskede Poona, 2000)20055
Black Seconds (Svarte sekunder, 2002)20076
The Water's Edge20098
Bad Intentions20109
The Caller201110

Other Karin Fossum reviews on MiP
(also contains mini reviews of
BROKEN (a stand-alone)

7 April 2012

Review: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Wendy James

  • first published in 2010 by UWA Publishing
  • 250 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-921401-46-6
  • 250 pages
  • Source: my local library
Synopsis (from author site)

Susan and Ed Middleton are perfectly content with their lives. Two kids, two cars, a solid brick bungalow in a respectable Northern beaches suburb. They’re good people, model citizens. There’s barely a ripple in the surface of their happy existence. But when Susan’s older sister, who vanished as a teenager, reappears to claim an inheritance, everything is set to change…

My take

What would you remember about her if your sister, who is ten years older than you, simply walked out one night and never came back? Would you know her if she reappeared twenty years later? Would you know if the person was an imposter? What if she didn't have any evidence of her old identity? What if she had changed her name? What questions should you ask?

And what if there was more at stake? What if you had to share your mother's estate with her?

Sure, you'd remember the impact her disappearance had. But even that would be seen from a child's point of view. Adults would shield you from the worst knowledge. And she would be dead to you.

Wendy James has taken an interesting scenario and explored it in an engaging way, taking the reader deep into the life that Susan and Ed Middleton have established. There are many variants of this scenario that readers will be familiar with: the abducted child; the mother or father who deserts the family; or daughter or son who simply leaves home. We all know someone or a family that this has happened to. Sometimes the "lost" returns, sometimes never appears again.

I guess the book isn't really crime fiction in a way, but is the prodigal sister really who she says she is, or is a crime being committed as we read? I found the suspense in the novel well done, the characters for the most part well drawn.

Wendy James is certainly an author I'll look for again. I'm not sure why I haven't come across her before, especially as she has now published 4 novels and a short story collection, and won the Ned Kelly Award for best first novel in 2006 with OUT OF THE SILENCE.

Thanks to fellow blogger Bernadette for pointing her out to me with a review of THE MISTAKE.

My rating: 4.8

Other links to explore:
About the Author

Wendy James is an Australian author of crime and psychological thrillers. She currently lives in Armidale, New South Wales with her husband and two children. 

6 April 2012

Forgotten Book: THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3, Colin Dexter

For many of my contributions this year to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books  I am going to focus on the books I read 20 years ago in 1992. By then my reading diet was almost exclusively crime fiction.

I think that by the beginning of 1992 I had already "discovered" the Morse series but looking down the 1992 page I can see 3 in 3 months, indeed for the whole year, an average of one a month.

THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3 is #7 in the Inspector Morse series, published in 1986.

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)
'Morse sought to hide his disappointment. So many people in the Haworth Hotel that fatal evening had been wearing some sort of disguise - a change of dress, a change of make-up, a change of partner, a change of attitude, a change of life almost: and the man who had died had been the most consummate artist of them all...' Chief inspector Morse seldom allowed himself to be caught up in New Year celebrations. So the murder inquiry in the festive hotel had a certain appeal. It was a crime worthy of the season. The corpse was still in fancy dress. And hardly a single guest at the Haworth had registered under a genuine name...

I was surprised to see that there were in fact only 13 in the series, with the last published in 1999.

The creation of the television series with John Thaw as Morse must have had a huge impact on the popularity of the books, and the author Colin Dexter seems to have had considerable input into the series, to the point of cameo appearances in the background in a wheel chair etc.

Inspector Morse (records from Fantastic Fiction)
1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
8. The Wench Is Dead (1989)
9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1989)
10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
12. Death Is Now My Neighbour (1996)
13. The Remorseful Day (1999)

4 April 2012

Best new-to-me authors January to March 2012

I'd read 45 books by the end of March and was surprised to find that nearly a third of them were new-to-me authors, 16 in all.

The best two though were both Australian, and in fact both were debut novels.
A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, Sulari Gentill is set in the early 1930s when Fascism appeared to be on the rise here as in the rest of the European world.

THE BROTHERHOOD, Y.A. Erskine is set in the police force in Tasmania and raises many of the issues that dog modern policing.

You'll notice that with at least 3 of the authors I am doing some catch up of authors I probably should have read long ago.

Here is my list
  1. 5.0,  A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, Sulari Gentill
  2. 5.0, THE BROTHERHOOD, Y.A. Erskine
  3. 4.9, THE NOBODIES ALBUM, Carolyn Parkhurst
  4. 4.8, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, Lena Kaarbol & Agnete Friis  
  5. 4.8, 1222, Anne Holt
  6. 4.5, HAVOC IN ITS THIRD YEAR, Ronan Bennett 
  7. 4.4, INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, Imogen Robertson 
  8. 4.4, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, Eric Ambler 
  9. 4.4, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, S.J. Watson
  10. 4.4, THE RESURRECTION MEN, Sara Fraser
  11. 4.3, THE CASE OF THE POISONED CHOCOLATES, Anthony Berkeley
  12. 4.3, A LILY OF THE FIELD, John Lawton
  13. 4.3, 8 POUNDS, Chris. F. Holm 
  14. 4.3, THE HOT ROCK, Donald E. Westlake
  15. 4.2, STEPS TO HEAVEN, Wendy Cartmell 
  16. 3.8, ANTIQUES ROADKILL, Barbara Allan

Best new-to-me crime fiction authors: a meme

It's easy to join this meme.

Just write a post about the best new-to-you crime fiction authors (or all) you've read so far this year, 2012, put a link to this meme in your post, and even use the logo if you like.
The books don't necessarily need to be newly published.

After writing your post, then come back to this post and add your link to Mr Linky below.
Visit the links posted by other participants in the meme to discover even more books to read.

This meme will run at the end of June, September and December this year.

3 April 2012

Agatha Christie Blog Carnival for March 2012

The third Agatha Christie Blog Carnival for 2012 has adopted a new format which is proving to be very successful.

There are 17 contributions consisting of reviews of
     N or M? 
as well as "discoveries" - other websites of interest.

The monthly blog carnival gives contributors the opportunity to showcase their blogs, as well as reminders of how good some of Agatha Christie's novels were, and what good reading they still are today.

1 April 2012

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month March 2012 - a meme

Crime Fiction 2012
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for March 2012, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.

Check out Pick of the Month contributions for January and February 2012

What I read in March 2012

Crime Fiction 2012
I've read some really good books this month as you'll see from my list below. I read a mixture of recently published (rp), some translated books (tr) and classics.
Only two audio books this month, 7 e-books on my Kindle, 5 hard covers from the local library, one review copy, and regretfully no Australian authors.

Pick of the month was a near thing but my choice went to GONE by Mo Hayder,  a book that had me on the edge of my seat as it raced towards its conclusion. I read GONE on my Kindle. Click on the hyperlink for my review.

  1. 4.6, THE HOLLOW, Agatha Christie - Kindle
  2. 4.8, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, Lena Kaarbol & Agnete Friis - Kindle- rp, tr
  3. 4.3, GIDEON'S NIGHT, John Creasey (aka J.J. Marric)  - audio book
  4. 4.4, NIGHT ROUNDS, Helene Tursten - library book - rp, tr
  5. 4.5, BEASTLY THINGS, Donna Leon -  review copy  - rp
  6. 4.5, THE LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTION, Alexander McCall Smith  - library book - rp
  7. 5.0, GONE, Mo Hayder  - Kindle - rp
  8. 4.3, A LILY OF THE FIELD, John Lawton  - library book
  9. 4.8, 1222, Anne Holt  - Kindle - rp, tr
  10. 4.4, SPARKLING CYANIDE, Agatha Christie  - library book
  11. 4.4, WITCH HUNT, Ian Rankin - audio
  12. 4.6, THE BEST MAN TO DIE, Ruth Rendell
  13. 4.3, 8 POUNDS, Chris. F. Holm  - Kindle
  14. 3.8, ANTIQUES ROADKILL, Barbara Allan- Kindle
  15. 4.9, THE NOBODIES ALBUM, Carolyn Parkhurst - library book - rp
  16. 4.4, INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, Imogen Robertson  - Kindle
So far this year I've read 44 books and so I'm well on target for 166 books and in achieving most of my reading challenges. See my Updates page.

    Review: THE HOLLOW, Agatha Christie

    • This edition: Kindle
    • File Size: 459 KB
    • Print Length: 276 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1579127363
    • Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010)
      Originally published in 1946.
    • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B0046H95OK
    • Source: I bought it
    Synopsis (Amazon)

    Lucy Angkatell invited Hercule Poirot to lunch. To tease the great detective, her guests stage a mock murder beside the swimming pool. Unfortunately, the victim plays the scene for real. As his blood drips into the water, John Christow gasps one final word: ‘Henrietta’. In the confusion, a gun sinks to the bottom of the pool.
    Poirot’s enquiries reveal a complex web of romantic attachments. It seems everyone in the drama is a suspect – and each a victim of love.

    Synopsis from the Christie site (better in my opinion)

    Lady Angkatell, intrigued by the criminal mind, has invited Hercule Poirot to her estate for a weekend house party.
    The Belgian detective's arrival at the Hollow is met with an elaborate tableau staged for his amusement: a doctor lies in a puddle of red paint, his timid wife stands over his body with a gun while the other guests look suitably shocked. But this is no charade. The paint is blood and the corpse real!

    Christie described this novel as the one "I had ruined by the introduction of Poirot."  It was first published in 1946 in London.  In the USA it was published under the title Murder after Hours.  Christie adapted the novel for the stage though with the omission of Hercule Poirot.  It was broadcast in 2004 with David Suchet as Poirot.

    My take

    If you've been reading the Agatha Christie novels in order then you'll remember that you have already met Lady Lucy Angkatell in Baghdad. In the following extract she is talking about the composition of her impending house party. Hercule Poirot is staying in one of the nearby cottages (ironically called Resthaven), which he has bought after pressure from friends, even though he doesn't actually like country life.
      Lady Angkatell stretched out fluttering white hands in a lovely, helpless gesture. ‘All the wrong people coming–the wrong people to be together, I mean–not in themselves. They’re all charming really.’ 
       ‘Who is coming?’
       ‘The ingredients of the pudding are not promising,’ murmured Midge. 
      Lucy smiled at her. ‘Sometimes,’ she said meditatively, ‘things arrange themselves quite simply. I’ve asked the Crime man to lunch on Sunday. It will make a distraction, don’t you think so?’ 
      ‘Crime man?’ 
      ‘Like an egg,’ said Lady Angkatell. ‘He was in Baghdad, solving something, when Henry was High Commissioner. Or perhaps it was afterwards? We had him to lunch with some other Duty people. He had on a white duck suit, I remember, and a pink flower in his buttonhole, and black patent-leather shoes. 
      I don’t remember much about it because I never think it’s very interesting who killed who. I mean, once they are dead it doesn’t seem to matter why, and to make a fuss about it all seems so silly…’
    THE HOLLOW contains an interesting exploration of what binds people together. It seems to me that it would make a very good classroom discussion book.
      But he half-closed his eyes and conjured them up–all of them–seeing them clearly in his mind’s eye. Sir Henry, upright, responsible, trusted administrator of Empire. Lady Angkatell, shadowy, elusive, unexpectedly and bewilderingly charming, with that deadly power of inconsequent suggestion. Henrietta Savernake, who had loved John Christow better than she loved herself. The gentle and negative Edward Angkatell. The dark, positive girl called Midge Hardcastle. The dazed, bewildered face of Gerda Christow clasping a revolver in her hand. The offended adolescent personality of David Angkatell. There they all were, caught and held in the meshes of the law. Bound together for a little while in the relentless aftermath of sudden and violent death.
    There are a number of issues that surface. As after Word War One, Christie appears to be struck by the way the world has changed, not just politically but economically and socially.
    There's no mention of the Second World War but I assumed that THE HOLLOW was set more or less in the "present", that is, immediately after the war. Those with titles and or money don't seem to be aware that their way of life is endangered. The days of servants and large houses are numbered. Girls, like Midge Hardcastle have to work, and they can't always get jobs they like.
      Lucy, Henry, Edward–yes, even Henrietta–they were all divided from her by an impassable gulf–the gulf that separates the leisured from the working. They had no conception of the difficulties of getting a job, and once you had got it, of keeping it! 
      One might say, perhaps, that there was no need, actually, for her to earn her living. Lucy and Henry would gladly give her a home–they would with equal gladness have made her an allowance. Edward would also willingly have done the latter. 
      But something in Midge rebelled against the acceptance of ease offered her by her well-to-do relations. To come on rare occasions and sink into the well-ordered luxury of Lucy’s life was delightful. She could revel in that. But some sturdy independence of spirit held her back from accepting that life as a gift. The same feeling had prevented her from starting a business on her own with money borrowed from relations and friends. She had seen too much of that.
    There's a stage like quality to THE HOLLOW. It is easy to imagine it is a stage set and adapting it as a play would have been relatively easy. The action takes place episodically and indeed Poirot, when he first arrives, believes he has come across a tableau staged for his benefit.
      Hercule Poirot stepped out on to the open space surrounding the swimming pool, and immediately he, too, stiffened, but with annoyance. 
      It was too much–it was really too much! He had not suspected such cheapness of the Angkatells. The long walk by the road, the disappointment at the house–and now this! 
      The misplaced sense of humour of the English! He was annoyed and he was bored–oh, how he was bored. Death was not, to him, amusing. 
      And here they had arranged for him, by way of a joke, a set-piece. For what he was looking at was a highly artificial murder scene. 
      By the side of the pool was the body, artistically arranged with an outflung arm and even some red paint dripping gently over the edge of the concrete into the pool. It was a spectacular body, that of a handsome fair-haired man. Standing over the body, revolver in hand, was a woman, a short, powerfully built, middle-aged woman with a curiously blank expression.
    This sense of something staged, something artificial, crops up again and again, and adds to the mystery. Poirot thinks he is being directed and manipulated but he is not quite sure by whom.

    I could really go on discussing this book ad nauseam, but you really need to read it for yourself!

    My rating 4.6

    Other reviews to check
    The Book Nook

    Question for you: I've forgotten which novel the Angkatells appeared in first. Do you know? Leave a comment.

    My list of Agatha Christie novels I've read, in publication order


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