22 April 2017

Review: THE WOMAN WHO WALKED IN SUNSHINE, Alexander McCall Smith

  • this edition ISIS Large Print published 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-78541-174-8
  • 278 pages
  • #16 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (from the library)

Mma Ramotswe is reluctantly persuaded by Mr J. L. B. Matekoni to take a holiday from her detective work. 

But she finds it impossible to resist the temptation to interfere with the cases taken on by her co-director - secretly, she intends. This leads her to delve into the past of a famous man whose reputation has been called into question, and to join forces with a new assistant detective, Mr Polopetsi. 

While 'on holiday', Mma Ramotswe also manages to help a young boy in the search for his missing mother; and then of course there is the agency's arch-enemy, Violet Sephotho, scheming to set up a rival secretarial college. In the end, Mma Ramotswe finds that a little trust goes a long way, especially when it comes to having confidence in her dearest friends and colleagues.

My Take

As always I have enjoyed the easy readability of this book.

I had intended to use the description at Fantastic Fiction as my synopsis, but what I found there was so far from what actually happened in the novel that it made me wonder where it had come from - not from someone who had read what I read.

So, I am sorry if what I have used above, which came from my local library, is too revealing. I'm sure it leaves plenty for you to find out.

I particularly liked in this novel the exploration of relationships: that between Precious Ramotswe and her husband Mr J.L.B. Matekone, between her and Mma Makutsi, and the compassionate side of Precious Ramotswe. As it turns out, Precious Ramotswe has taught Grace Makutsi well

Once again there is a basis of home spun philosophy, and a gentle use of quite believable and ordinary stories.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
TEA TIME for the TRADITIONALLY BUILT
THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS

THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB
4.5, THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY
4.5, THE LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTION
4.6, THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON
4.5, CHANCE DEVELOPMENTS
4.5, PRECIOUS AND GRACE 

20 April 2017

Review: PAST CRIMES, Glen Erik Hamilton

  • this edition published by Harper Collins Publishers 2015
  • ISBN 976-0-06-234455-7
  • 324 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (publisher)

The Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Critics award-winning debut from Glen Erik Hamilton

When his estranged grandfather is shot and left for dead, an Army Ranger must plunge into the criminal underworld of his youth to find a murderer and uncover a shocking family secret in this atmospheric and evocative debut thriller.

Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s sure to be the main suspect.

The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.

Edgy and suspenseful, rich with emotional resonance, gritty action, and a deep-rooted sense of place, Past Crimes trumpets the arrival of a powerful talent in the mold of Dennis Lehane, Robert B. Parker, and John D. MacDonald

My Take

For ten years Van Shaw's grandfather had not attempted to contact him, but now the message in Gaelic is not just a request, almost a command, and Van knows that his grandfather would not be asking if he didn't need him urgently.

He arrives at his grandfather's house to find Dono on the floor bleeding from a gunshot to the head. Some one flees the house just as he comes in. He has ten days leave from the army, just ten days to find out who shot Dono and why Dono had asked him to come home.  A lot happens in the next ten days and all the action adds a sense of urgency to the novel, as his grandfather lingers in a coma in hospital.

Van finds that he still has some of the skills that his grandfather had taught him in his teens and the army has given him strength and resilience.

A good read that moves at a breathtaking pace. Apparently the first of a series featuring Van Shaw.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in Burbank, California, with his family, punctuated by frequent visits to his hometown to soak up the rain.

Van Shaw Mystery
1. Past Crimes (2015)
2. Hard Cold Winter (2016)
3. Every Day Above Ground (2017)


Anthony Awards Best First Novel winner (2016)

Barry Awards Best First Novel nominee (2016)

Edgar Awards Best First Book nominee (2016)

Macavity Awards Best First Book winner (2016)

17 April 2017

Review: THE MIDNIGHT PROMISE, Zane Lovitt

  • a detective's story in ten cases
  • published by Text Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 9781921922930
  • 283 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Publisher)

A brilliant Melbourne crime novel, told in ten hardboiled stories.John Dorn is a private investigator. Just like his father used to be. It says ‘private inquiry agent’ in John’s Yellow Pages ad because that’s what his old man called himself, back before his business folded, his wife left him and he drank himself to death. 

But John’s not going to end up like his father. He doesn’t have a wife, or much business. He doesn’t really drink, either. Not yet. 

In each of these ten delicious stories Zane Lovitt presents an intriguing investigation filled with humour and complex, beautifully observed characters. At their centre is John Dorn, solving not so much crimes as funny human puzzles; but the crimes, and the criminals, are forever lurking nearby, taunting him from the city’s cold underworld.

It’s his job to unravel the mystery, or right the wrong, or just do what the client has hired him to do. Somehow, though, there is a misstep at every turn, and John takes another small stumble towards his moment of personal truth. His midnight promise. Perhaps even his redemption.

My take

I remember some discussion when this book was first published about whether it is a novel, as the publisher claims, or a collection of short stories.

The setting is an underbelly of life in Melbourne. While the stories do appear to be in sequential order, the actual timing is not very clear. In addition there are characters and incidents that connect some of the stories. Sometimes John Dorn takes on some seriously unsavoury tasks, at other times he appears to be following a thread that he thinks will earn him some money. He is constantly in need of money. Many of the jobs he  carries out do not yield any income at all. Over the period covered by the stories John Dorn's own life goes into a downward spiral. Mostly the stories are very dark, with an underlying black humour.

So in a sense there is a underlying narrative through which we see Dorn's character fleshed out, the overall story progresses, and various issues are resolved. So does that make it a novel?

This is the second time I have read this novel. See my earlier review here
I suspect that I haven't warmed to the novel any more second time around than I did on first reading, although I recognise that it is cleverly constructed. Probably it just isn't my cup of tea.

My rating:  4.3

14 April 2017

Review: THE ASHES OF LONDON, Andrew Taylor

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 3680 KB
  • Print Length: 497 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (April 7, 2016)
  • Publication Date: April 7, 2016
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B015DLTMXG
Synopsis (Amazon)

From the No.1 bestselling author of The American Boy and The Silent Boy comes a brand new historical thriller set during the time of the Great Fire of London. The first of an exciting new series of novels.

A CITY IN FLAMES
London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.

A WOMAN ON THE RUN
The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman, who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.

A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE
When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…

My Take

It is a while since I have read anything by Andrew Taylor (although there is plenty to choose from)

The Stuart Monarchy was restored in 1660 but things were far from easy for Charles II. There were plenty of opponents to the Restoration. Bubonic plague struck in 1665 and now in 1666 came a devastating fire. The King played a decisive role in fighting the fire, giving instructions to firefighters about blowing up buildings to slow the path of the fire, but there are other things to worry about too.
There is a plot to finish the work begun by the execution of Charles I, to prepare the way for King Jesus.

James Marwood's father, a Regicide himself, and a Fifth Monarchist, took his young son to the Banqueting House to witness the beheading of the king in 1649, and he has never forgotten what he saw. Marwood's father, now suffering dementia and in poor health, has been allowed to live in seclusion but there is always the threat of the past taking its retribution.

The story is told from two points of view: the first person narrative of James Marwood, working for a newspaper publisher, and a third person narrative which follows the story of Cat Lovett, also the child of a Fifth Monarchist.  Her father is thought to be abroad having fled when the new King was crowned. The reader has the advantage of being able to meld the two stories.

The historical detail in the story is entrancing. Both James Marwood and Cat Lovett become connected with Master Hakesby, an elderly draughtsman who is working with Dr Wren, the architect and mathematician whom the King has appointed one of his Commissioners for the rebuilding of London. It is inevitable that their paths will cross.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
THE BARRED WINDOW
4.5, THE FOUR LAST THINGS
4.4, THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS
4.2, THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS
4.5, THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD 

9 April 2017

Review: THE DIGGERS' REST HOTEL, Geoffrey McGeachin - audio book

 Synopsis (Audible)

In 1947, two years after witnessing the death of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin has rejoined the police force a different man. Sent to investigate a spate of robberies in rural Victoria, he soon discovers that World War II has changed even the most ordinary of places and people. When Berlin travels to Albury-Wodonga to track down the gang behind the robberies, he suspects he's a problem cop being set up to fail.

Taking a room at the Diggers Rest Hotel in Wodonga, he sets about solving a case that no one else can - with the help of feisty, ambitious journalist Rebecca Green and rookie constable Rob Roberts, the only cop in town he can trust. Then the decapitated body of a young girl turns up in a back alley, and Berlin's investigations lead him ever further through layers of small-town fears, secrets and despair.The first Charlie Berlin mystery takes us into a world of secret alliances and loyalties - and a society dealing with the effects of a war that changed men forever.

My Take

I first read this novel long enough ago for me to have forgotten the finer plot details. Peter Byrne's narration is solidly done, but it is the author's detailed descriptions that place the reader firmly in post-war rural Victoria. McGeachin takes great pains to mention items and events which put us just after World War II.

In some ways Charlie Berlin is still suffering post-war trauma - events from his experience as a P.O.W. and as a bomber pilot keep sending him reminders. Wodonga is a country town still on war alert even thought the war is long over - a squad of local militia still train "just in case" and there are plenty of reminders of the war, including an army camp or two full of discarded weaponry, tanks, trucks and other vehicles.

But they are not the problem - a bunch of armed Harley Davidson riders is - they conduct raids on banks and other places holding money. The latest is the Wodonga Post office, although this is the first one where someone has been hurt.  Charlie Berlin is sent up from Melbourne to find out what is happening, but no-one expects him to succeed.

An excellent read, whether you tackle the audio book or a printed copy. And the start of an award winning Australian series. See below for the list of titles so far.

My rating: 4.8


Previous reviews
4.8, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL
4.9, BLACKWATTLE CREEK 

4.9, ST KILDA BLUES

6 April 2017

Review: IN FARLEIGH FIELD, Rhys Bowen

  • this edition published by Lake Union Publishing 2017
  • ISBN 978-1477818299
  • 378 pages
  • source: review copy supplied by publicist
  • Author website
Synopsis (source: publicist)

Farleigh Place is removed from the war by more than just miles.
While bombs rain down on London just an hour away, life goes on as usual at this Downton Abbey-like estate in the countryside.
Hampered only by a skeletal wartime staff, a dwindling supply of meat coupons, and an army regiment that's taken up residence at the big house, Farleigh is almost too idyllic to be real—until one night, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the grounds, and the war literally hits home for Lord Westerham and his five daughters.

In Bowen's latest page-turner, her fictional storyline is rooted in historical truth. The pro-German societies referenced in this novel were known to have existed in England in the early days of the war. Some of the most dangerous were composed primarily of aristocrats — and there are plenty of aristocrats in Farleigh. So when the dead parachutist, carrying only a photograph, is presumed to be a German spy sent to deliver a message to someone in the vicinity of Farleigh Field, the neighborhood’s most powerful and wealthy aren’t ruled out as targets of suspicion. Ben Cresswell, an M15 operative and son of the local vicar, is dispatched to find the traitor in their midst. And though this quiet bucolic region may seem like an unlikely place to harbor a sympathizer, the area’s black marketeers, arrogant pragmatists, and foreign refugees also raise concerns.

With the help of his lifelong friend and secret love, Lady Pamela — herself a civil servant who cracks German codes at Bletchley Park — Ben investigates for spies and sympathizers. When he learns of The Ring, a secret society that wants to depose the king and make peace with Germany, he can hardly believe it's real. Can Ben and Pamela infiltrate The Ring? And can Ben find out what the photograph means in time to stop the crisis that could bring Britain to its knees?

My Take

Despite the fact that it is now over 70 years since the end of World War II, "behind-the-scenes" glimpses of what was going on during the war make popular reading, whether fact or fictional.

The setting of IN FARLEIGH FIELD is England, May and June 1941. The war could go either way, and already it has taken a great toll on both sides. Many of those living in England believe that if it ends soon, there will be only one possible winner, so resistance and alertness is the key.  Farleigh Place, Lord Westerham's family seat, has already become the base of the Royal West Kents. Unknown to Lord Westerham two of his daughters are already significantly involved in the war effort.

What I liked about this novel was not only the attempt to get the history and the setting right, but the quite believable story of an attempt to bring England to its knees with one or two catastrophic events. The economic and social dislocation caused by the war is well described, supported by a credible cast of characters. Very good reading, particularly if you enjoy historical crime fiction.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read
A ROYAL PAIN
HER ROYAL SPYNESS

About the author
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Royal Spyness Series, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and Constable Evans. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and has been nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Rhys’s titles have received rave reviews around the globe.
Read more 

2 April 2017

New to me authors read January to March 2017

Nearly half the books I've read so far this year have been by new-to-me authors. They've come to me via a variety of recommendations and sources.
  1.  4.6, A MADRAS MIASMA, Brian Stoddart
  2. 4.3, A VERY PUKKA MURDER, Arjun Gaind 
  3. 4.5, THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN, Mindy Mejia 
  4. 4.2, TROUBLE IN ROOSTER PARADISE, T. W. Emory
  5. 4.2, THE DALAI LAMA'S CAT, David Michie - not crime fiction
  6. 4.3, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND, Sarah Graves 
  7. 4.5, WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Dorothy Fowler
  8. 4.7, THE SILENCE BETWEEN BREATHS, Cath Staincliffe
  9. 4.7. THE NEW MRS CLIFTON, Elizabeth Buchan 
  10. 4.3, MISS CHRISTIE REGRETS, Guy Fraser-Sampson
  11. 4.4, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER, Sally Andrew
  12. 4.8, BLACK WATER LILIES, Michel Bussi  
  13. 4.2, SILVER WATTLE, Belinda Alexandra
  14. 4.1, LOST IN NEW YORK, J.J.Henderson
See what others have discovered.
 

What I read In March 2017

Pick of the month March 2017
A wide variety of reading this last month:
  1. 4.3, MISS CHRISTIE REGRETS, Guy Fraser-Sampson
  2. 4.5, DUMB WITNESS, Agatha Christie
  3. 4.4, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER, Sally Andrew
  4. 4.8, BLACK WATER LILIES, Michel Bussi 
  5. 4.6, LUSTRUM, Robert Harris - audio book 
  6. 4.2, SILVER WATTLE, Belinda Alexandra
  7. 4.5, PRECIOUS AND GRACE, Alexander McCall Smith 
  8. 4.1, LOST IN NEW YORK, J.J. Henderson
  9. 4.4, FRONT RUNNER, Felix Francis  
Without a doubt the one that made me work the hardest was BLACK WATER LILIES by Michel Bussi  and so that is also my pick of the month.

Giverny. During the day, tourists flock to the former home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But when silence returns, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village.

This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet's Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.

Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval's corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumoured painting of Black Water Lilies?


See what others have read. 

1 April 2017

Pick of the Month March 2017

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2017
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 2017, 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 -
e.g.
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.


31 March 2017

Meme- New to Me Authors - January to March 2017

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 in the period of January to March 2017, 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. (if Mr Linky does not appear - leave your URL in a comment and I will add to Mr Linky when it comes back up, or I'll add the link to the post)
Visit the links posted by other participants in the meme to discover even more books to read.

This meme will run again at the end of June 2017
 


Review: FRONT RUNNER, Felix Francis

  • this edition published by Penguin Group Australia 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-7181-7885-7
  • 428 pages
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Things are hotting up in this latest thriller from best-selling author Felix Francis, in his fifth solo novel Front Runner.

Jefferson Hinkley is back. In his role as an undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, Jeff is approached by the multi-time champion jockey, Dave Swinton, to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does Jeff realise that the call would result in an attempt on his life, locked in a sauna with the temperature well above boiling point.

Dave Swinton is then found dead, burnt beyond recognition in his car at a deserted beauty spot. The police think it's a suicide but Jeff is not so sure. He starts to investigate the possible races that Swinton could have intentionally lost but discovers instead that others are out to prevent him from doing so, at any cost.

My Take

I think it is high time that we admitted that Felix Francis isn't just his father's son, that he writes a cracking good novel all on his own. Publishers could take " A Dick Francis novel" byline off the cover.

Jeff Hinkley first appeared in DAMAGE  His work with the BHA involves hunting down gradt and corruption in the British Horseracing industry. The BHA gets a phone call tip that someone is putting on bets for a banned person and in checking this out Hinkley works out that the scheme also involves jockeys deliberately losing races. In the course of a day he is invited to a private room at the race course where he sees two men having an argument. He does not realise the significance of his observation at the time, but takes a photo of them on his phone.  This will eventually have serious consequences.

The characters in this story are well drawn and the plot quite believable, with the action fairly racing along. Certainly if you enjoyed the novels written by Dick Francis you will enjoy this one.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read
4.5, REFUSAL
4.5, DAMAGE

Also by Felix Francis
1. Gamble (2011)
2. Bloodline (2012)
3. Refusal (2013)
4. Damage (2014)
5. Front Runner (2015)
6. Triple Crown (2016)

28 March 2017

Review: LOST IN NEW YORK, J.J. Henderson

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • Series: The Lucy Ripken Mysteries (#5)
  • Paperback: 158 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 16, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1533615373
  • ISBN-13: 978-1533615374
  • source: review copy from the publisher
 Synopsis (Amazon)

No matter how many murders she solves, Lucy Ripken never can seem to crack the case of happily ever after. Her bank account is nearly empty, her on-again off-again DEA boyfriend is off-again, and her estranged alcoholic father and enabling mother seem to exist mostly to prey on her weary conscience. It’s enough to make her feel that even New York itself has turned on her, and she might not be wrong. There’s too much money, and too many things people will do for that money. Her friend Patricia is part of the problem; easily seduced by wealth and fame, she’s always with the wrong guy. But this time is different, this time she thinks she’s found the one, and in a way, she’s right: she found the one who killed her. Sure, the coroner’s report says “drug overdose,” but when Lucy reads it all she sees is “Killed by rich jerk. Go get him, Lucy.”

My Take

Lucy Ripken is a photographer in her mid 30s, living in a loft in New York on the corner of Broome St and Broadway with her dog Claud. When Patricia's phone call comes she is ready for some human contact. Patricia has met a wonderful man, a Gulf War Vet, a self-made millionaire. Patricia is one of New York's beautiful, chasing a glitzy New York life, millionaires in particular. From the moment Lucy meets Patricia's latest, she feels he is not to be trusted. He appears to know all the right people, but all Lucy's instincts are screaming danger. And then when Patricia is killed by a drug overdose, she is sure that he is behind it all.

From the beginning, I felt perhaps this was a "younger person's" book, well, younger than me anyway. But the depiction of New York nightlife was absorbing. Lucy is engaged by a magazine to take photographs of a new night club with Russian connections and overtones.  This assignment eventually helps her track down Patricia's killer.

I noted that this is the 5th in the Lucy Ripken series, so there was obviously some pre-history that would have added to my enjoyment of the book. Lucy's personal life is cleverly advanced by other events, and so her character is not quite the same at the end as it was when the story started.

Other books in the series appear to be
1. MURDER ON NAKED BEACH
2. MEXICAN BOOTY
3. THE X-DAMES
4. LUCY'S MONEY
6. SEX AND DEATH: THE MOVIE
7. UTAH

My Rating: 4.1

About the author
Along with the Lucy Ripken series of mysteries, author J.J. Henderson has written nearly a dozen books on architecture and interior design, and travel guides to the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Oaxaca and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and Los Angeles. A native of southern California, Henderson lived in both New York City and Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico before settling in Seattle, where he currently resides with his wife, photographer Donna Day, his daughter Jade, and Ziggy the Dog.

24 March 2017

Review: PRECIOUS AND GRACE, Alexander McCall Smith

  • this edition published 2016, large print, by Wheeler Publishing
  • source: my local library, 
  • 370 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1-4104-9339-3
  • #17 in the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi help a young woman on a quest to find someone from her past.

Changes are afoot at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, where Mma Makutsi, who has recently been promoted to co-director, has been encouraging Mma Ramotswe to update to more modern office practices. However, an unusual case will require both of them to turn their attention firmly to the past. A young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana requests the agency's help in recovering important pieces of her life there. With only a faded photograph - and, of course, some good old-fashioned detective skills - to guide them, Precious and Grace set out to locate the house that the woman used to live in and the caretaker who looked after her many years ago. But when the journey takes an unexpected turn, they are forced to consider whether some lost things may be better off unfound.

Busy as she is with this challenging investigation, Mma Ramotswe can always be relied on to come to the aid of her friends - who seem to have a special knack for landing in hot water. Mr. Polopetsi, an occasional assistant at the agency, has made an ill-advised business decision that may lead to serious trouble. And next door at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Fanwell, the junior mechanic, has become helplessly attached to a stray dog who proves to be a bigger responsibility than he can handle. With Mma Makutsi by her side, Mma Ramotswe dispenses help and sympathy with the graciousness and warmth for which she is so well known, and everyone is led to surprising insights into the healing power of compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

My take

These books really are the reading equivalent of comfort food. I met someone today who told me that she had "never been able to get on with them." I was surprised because for me it is the opposite: I always expect to enjoy them. They are not deep mysteries but the situations depicted them show an incredible understanding of what makes people tick, and the solutions are dispensed with just a touch of philosophy.

There are reminders always that the setting is not the West, but Botswana, a country struggling to find its place in the 21st century. Technology is changing the world. Even Precious Ramotswe's husband Mr. J.L.B Matekone comments on how much cars have changed, making them so difficult for him to repair.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are now co-directors of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and that situation breeds its own frictions, and I enjoyed their interaction.

So if you haven't ever read these, and would like something light and cozy to read, give this series a try. But I would advise starting at the beginning.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
TEA TIME for the TRADITIONALLY BUILT
THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS

THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB
4.5, THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY
4.5, THE LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTION
4.6, THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON
4.5, CHANCE DEVELOPMENTS

20 March 2017

Review: SILVER WATTLE, Belinda Alexandra

  • this edition published Harper Collins Publishers Australia 2007
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-8134-2
  • 479 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website
Synopsis (author website)

A dazzling novel about two exceptional sisters, set in the Australian film world of the 1920s.

Two sisters, Adéla and Klára, must flee their home in Prague in 1920 after their mother is murdered by their duplicitous stepfather. They seek refuge with their estranged uncle and his Indian wife in Sydney, Australia.

Falling in love with the landscape and unique wildlife of her adopted country, Adéla becomes a film director at a time when the early local industry is starting to feel the competition from Hollywood.
But Hollywood is not Adéla’s only adversary. Separated from her true love by deceit, she must deal with conflicted feelings about marriage to a man she likes but does not love and her sister’s deepening mental illness. Danger from her past returns and ultimately dreams of the silver screen must compete with the bonds of a lifetime …

Weaving fact into inspiring fiction with great flair and imagination, this is a novel as full of hope, glamour and heartbreak as the film industry itself.

My Take

This was really on the border of what I generally read. Some crimes in it, but not really crime fiction, more romance, and family saga.
While the setting was historical, I felt that historical detail didn't play a great part. Perhaps I mean that in a political sense. I was never sure what was happening in the "outside" world, how much time was passing. I think I am right in saying that the time frame does not get beyond the 1920s. At the end of that decade "talkies" became  dominant in the film industry here and in America, and signalled the end of the cheap silent film.
The social picture of Australia is carefully created and the characters are engaging and well drawn.

But just not really my sort of book: not enough mystery, not enough tension, and too much romance.

My rating: 4.2

About the author (author website)
An Australian born writer.
I hear many writers claim that they write to please themselves, but I can’t do that. I’m a born storyteller and I love to entertain people. I picture my readers while I’m writing – as if we were huddled around a campfire together swapping tales. I imagine that the people reading my stories, no matter where they live in the world, are people who love the same things I do – history, drama, family, mystery, romance, nature, animals and triumph over adversity. In that way, I think of my readers as my extended circle of friends.
The setting and historical periods in which I write are very important to me. I research my books almost like an actress preparing to play a part. As well as research about events, characters and the society of the period, I listen to the music, learn as much as I can of the language and culture, read the books that were popular, and pore over the interior design and cookbooks of the time.

19 March 2017

Review: LUSTRUM, Robert Harris - audio book

  • first published 2009
  • this audio book from Audible.com
  • Narrated by: Bill Wallis
  • Length: 15 hrs and 41 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook, released 01-12-15
  • aka CONSPIRATA
Synopsis (Audible.com)

Rome, 63 BC. In a city on the brink of acquiring a vast empire, seven men are struggling for power. Cicero is consul, Caesar his ruthless young rival, Pompey the republic's greatest general, Crassus its richest man, Cato a political fanatic, Catilina a psychopath, Clodius an ambitious playboy.

From the discovery of a child's mutilated body, through judicial execution and a scandalous trial, to the brutal unleashing of the Roman mob, Lustrum is a study in the timeless enticements and horrors of power.

My Take

Once again this was engrossing listening.  Told through the eyes of Cicero's scribe Tiro, a slave, it has such a modern feel to it. Events that occurred in Rome over 2,000 years ago come to life. You need to begin this series at the beginning with IMPERIUM, and I have no doubt that we will continue to the final, DICTATOR.

At the beginning of LUSTRUM Cicero is Consul, truly the father of Rome, but he is also a man of principle, determined to root out corruption. He makes many enemies and from the beginning of his consulship there are those plotting his downfall, even his assassination. By the end of the book his chickens have come home to roost.

In Latin, the word Lustrum is a period of 5 years. The book covers Roman politics, and Cicero's fortunes, for the period roughly 63-58 BC.
Check Cicero's timeline here.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read
5.0, CONCLAVE
4.8, IMPERIUM

14 March 2017

Review: BLACK WATER LILIES, Michel Bussi

  • first published in France as Nymphias Noirs in 2011
  • translated into English by Shaun Whiteside
  • this edition published in Great Britain in 2016
  • ISBN 9-781474-601757
  • 350 pages
Synopsis (Amazon UK)

Giverny. During the day, tourists flock to the former home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But when silence returns, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village.

This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet's Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.

Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval's corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumoured painting of Black Water Lilies?

My Take

I was absolutely gobsmacked by the ending of this book. Nothing had prepared me for the way the author had played with various time frames, and with my mind. Initially I was left feeling that perhaps I hadn't read it carefully enough.  But then as I looked back over the pages I could see how he had done it.

We see most of the book's action through the eyes of an elderly woman, a recluse who lives in the water mill next to stream that runs through Monet's Garden. She lives on the 4th floor, a vantage point that allows her to observe most of what goes on in the small village. Nothing escapes her attention it seems.

We are so taken up with the investigation into the death of Jerome Morval and the possibility of a lost Monet painting that we don't recognise the signs that our path meanders. I wonder if the author has played fair with the reader?  What strikes at the end though is that the novel is itself a tribute to impressionism.

My rating: 4.8

About the author
Michel Bussi (born 29 April 1965 in Louviers, Eure, France) is a French writer of detective novels, and a political analyst and Professor of Geography at the University of Rouen, where he leads a Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishment (French: Unité mixte de recherche, "UMR") in the French National Centre for Scientific Research (French: Centre national de la recherche scientifique, "CNRS"), where he is a specialist in electoral geography.

According to the Le Figaro/GfK list of bestsellers, he was one of the ten bestselling French writers of 2013, selling around 480,000 books.

11 March 2017

Review: RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER, Sally Andrew

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1485 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Text Publishing (September 23, 2015)
  • Publication Date: September 23, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B010KFBP4E
  • #1 in the Tannie Maria series
Synopsis (Amazon)

Tannie Maria used to write a recipe column for the Klein Karoo Gazette. Then Head Office decided they wanted an advice column instead, so now she gives advice. In the form of recipes. Because, as she says, she may not know much about love, but food—that’s her life.

Everything has been going well. A tongue-tied mechanic wins his girl with text messages and Welsh rarebit. A frightened teenager gets some much-needed sex ed with her chocolate-coated bananas.

But then there is a letter from Martine, whose husband beats her, and Tannie Maria feels a pang of recognition and dread. This may be a problem that cooking can’t solve…

Warm, funny, poignant: Sally Andrew’s irresistible heroine brings mystery, romance and amazing cooking together in the most entertaining new series in years. And all Tannie Maria’s mouthwatering recipes are right there in the book!

My Take

An interesting and captivating read which I must admit I began reading as a paperback from my local library but then swapped to an e-version on my Kindle because of the size of the print.

As another reviewer commented, it looks like a cosy, but doesn't shirk from major topics like South African history, and social problems like domestic violence. A murder mystery is interwoven with Afrikaans and local recipes, as a small team from the local paper investigates and members of their team are targetted by the murderer.

Tannie Maria's character is well fleshed out and is a good basis for a second novel, already published, THE SATANIC MECHANIC.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Sally Andrew lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve near Ladismith in the Klein Karoo (South Africa). She has published a number of non-fiction books and educational articles. Recipes for Love and Murder is her first novel

Book vs Film, Agatha Christie's DUMB WITNESS

Having recently reviewed DUMB WITNESS, I decided to watch a TV version to see what changes the dramatisation made to the Christie story.
The one I chose to watch was produced in 1996 with David Suchet playing Poirot and Hugh Fraser playing Captain Hastings.

The first thing that strikes you is the change of setting: from Berkshire to Windermere (Coniston Water).
The second is the change of time frame: Charles Arundell is attempting to set a new water speed record, so the time frame has been changed from the mid 1930s to around 1949/1950. (Donald Campbell is mentioned in passing).

Here are some of the other modifications
  • Hastings and Poirot have come to Coniston Water to watch Arundell's attempt because Hastings is a friend of Arundell's
  • Emily Arundell confides her worries to Hercule Poirot prior to her death, and he persuades her to re write her will.
  • There is no letter from Lady Arundell to Hercule Poirot (in the book posted after her death)
  • after Emily Arundell dies there is a second murder (I won't tell you who)
  • the companion Minnie Lawson is involved romantically with the local Doctor - in the book it is Theresa Arundell.
  • Bob's ball is always kept in his basket, not in the drawer of the hall stand
  • the problem of who becomes the eventual owner of Bob the dog is solved (in the book Poirot has to take him)
  • Poirot's own form of justice (mentioned in my book review) does not eventuate because he never gives the murderer a written version of his understanding of what has happened.
The actual plot/murderer is unchanged, and all is revealed, Poirot-style, in a final denouement when all the characters in the story are assembled. However because of the changes I've listed above, many of the red herrings are either left out or do not work.

Which did I prefer? well, the book actually. I think the suspense was better there and the characters better drawn.

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