23 February 2018

Review: TALKING TO THE DEAD, Harry Bingham

  • this edition published by Orion Books 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-4091-4086-3
  • 376 pages
Synopsis (publisher)

The first novel in the powerful Fiona Griffiths mystery series - a detective who will break every rule in the book to crack her case..
 
A young girl is found dead. A prostitute is murdered. And the strangest, youngest detective in the South Wales Major Crimes Unit is about to face the fiercest test of her short career.

A woman and her six-year-old daughter are killed with chilling brutality in a dingy flat. The only clue: the platinum bank card of a long-dead tycoon, found amid the squalor.

DC Griffiths has already proved herself dedicated to the job, but there's another side to her she is less keen to reveal. Something to do with a mysterious two-year gap in her CV, her strange inability to cry - and a disconcerting familiarity with corpses.

Fiona is desperate to put the past behind her but as more gruesome killings follow, the case leads her inexorably back into those dark places in her own mind where another dead girl is waiting to be found . . .

My Take

I was a little disconcerted to find, after I had finished reading this book, and thinking that parts of it were  a bit familiar, that I actually read this book just over three years ago. I don't seem to have enjoyed it any more this time than I did last.

Fiona Griffiths has in the past suffered from Cotard's Syndrome, and still does. She doesn't relate to other people particularly well, and is a bit of a loose cannon in any police investigation. Her boss tries to get her to see the difference between doing things the right way, and doing them the wrong way. Inevitably Fi chooses to do things on her own, not to call for backup, and not to involve her boss in her decision making.

There were parts of the novel that really did make me feel uncomfortable.

My rating: 4.3

18 February 2018

Review: BOOKSTORE CATS, Brandon Schultz

  • this edition published by Gliteratzi New York 2017
  • ISBN 9-781943-876525
  • 159 pages
Synopsis (Amazon)

Reading an article about cats who live in bookstores inspired author Brandon Schultz to further investigate the lives of bookstore cats. Cats have strong personalities that enchant and engage, and it turns out there are many of them living in every reader's favorite environment: the bookstore. With personalities and histories as varied as the books they tend, each cat has a story worth telling. Collected here are their tales, along with enchanting photos of the feline employees in their shops.

Most bookstore cats are famous in their local communities, many have been featured and profiled in entertainment outlets, and some even have their own books and social media accounts. Now, for the first time, some of the world's most beloved bookstore cats are collected together in one adorable directory, making the perfect gift for cat lovers, book lovers, shoppers, and the generally curious worldwide. Aside from keeping a bookseller free of mice, these noble creatures become part of the fabric of their environment and, while they chase away the mice, they lure in the world's cat-loving readers. 
My Take
My guess is that you probably have to be a cat lover to really enjoy this book, but there are obviously enough of us around.
Interspersed with photos of cats who "work" in US bookstores and their stories, are fact pages such as lists of cats who are - Owned by British Authors; In Poetry; Owned by Poets; in Comic Books; and so on. 
A delightful book to dabble in, and perhaps a good present for a cat lover.
My Rating: 4.0

Review: THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER, Karen Dionne

  • this edition published by Sphere 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-7515-6738-0
  • 310 pages

Synopsis
The suspense thriller of the year - The Marsh King's Daughter will captivate you from the start and chill you to the bone.
'I was born two years into my mother's captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn't have adored my father.'

When notorious child abductor - known as The Marsh King - escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena's past: they don't know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve - or that her father raised her to be a killer.

And they don't know that The Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone... except, perhaps his own daughter.

My Take

Extracts from the Marsh King's Daughter, a fable by Hans Christian Anderson, appear at the beginning of some sections of the story. They appear to be directing the reader to the conclusion that girl in the fable had dual personality, or perhaps that every one of us is capable of ambivalence.

I kept thinking of how things have changed culturally throughout history, that if Helena's father had committed this abduction, the choosing and taking of a wife, two hundred years earlier, in Indian culture this would have been an acceptable way of doing things.

Helena grows up unaware that her father has done anything wrong although she recognises that he has an angry side to his personality, that he is capable of meting out swift and cruel punishments to her and her mother.

Although Helena adores her father, and despises her mother, she eventually escapes and is responsible for his captures and imprisonment. Her narration in the book swaps between her experiences as child and the life she has built for herself since her escape. Now her father has escaped after 15 years of imprisonment and she knows he is looking for her.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Karen Dionne drew heavily on her experiences during the 1970s in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to write The Marsh King's Daughter, when she and her husband lived in a tent with their six-week-old daughter while they built a tiny cabin. Karen carried water from a stream, made wild apple jelly over a campfire (and defended it against marauding raccoons), sampled wild foods such as cattail heads and milkweed pods, and washed nappies in a bucket (which Karen says is every bit as nasty as it sounds). She enjoys nature photography and lives with her husband in Detroit's northern suburbs.

15 February 2018

Review: THE WORD IS MURDER, Anthony Horowitz

Synopsis (author website)

It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split.

The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot?

Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?

A classic crime for the modern reader, The Word is Murder is a whodunnit to end all whodunnits.

My Take

Somehow I just wasn't prepared for the author himself to be acting as the narrator.  And I never could decide how much was fiction. My best guess is that the author is trying to show how differently he works as an author, when compared to a top-notch detective. The author sets up a murder in a plot, describes the scene for us, and then lays clues about the murderer whose identity he already knows. The detective observes the scene after the fact and then interprets what he sees, and follows the clues. In THE WORD IS MURDER both detective and author are central characters and interact with each other. So even the dialogue between author and detective becomes interesting. Hawthorne, the detective, tries to put the author in his place, demanding that he be see but not heard. The author, Horowitz, refuses to be kept in his box, and often demands to ask his own questions.

It is probably a novel that would benefit from more study and from robust discussion in a book group.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read
4.5, THE HOUSE OF SILK
4.7, MAGPIE MURDERS

12 February 2018

Review: THE STRANGER, Melanie Raabe

  • This edition published by Text Publishing Australia 2016
  • translated from German by Imogen Taylor
  • ISBN 9-781925-498042
  • 346 pages
Synopsis (back cover)

Philip Petersen, a wealthy businessman, disappears without trace on a trip to South America. His wife, Sarah, is left to bring up their son on her own.

Seven years later, out of the blue, Sarah receives news that Philip is still alive. But the man who greets her before a crowd of journalists at the airport is a stranger- and he threatens Sarah. If she exposes him, she will lose everything- her house, her job, her son ... her whole beautiful life.

My Take

Sarah Petersen is convinced that her husband Philip is dead. It is seven years since he disappeared in Colombia and she has been thinking of having him declared dead. When the Foreign Affairs Department tells her he has been found and will be home tomorrow, she really thought she would have more time.

Everybody gets off the plane and she is still waiting for Philip to emerge, and then she realises he must be one of the men already on the tarmac. He is a stranger - she thinks - an imposter. Her son Leo was a baby when his father left and he takes an instant aversion to the stranger. The authorities deliver the stranger to her house despite Sarah's attempts to tell them she does not know him. She takes her son to stay with friends.

An intriguing story as Sarah tries to discover who the cold stranger is and what he wants from her. There are things that only Sarah knows but the stranger seems to know them too. Lots to think about when you have finished reading the book.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read
4.7, THE TRAP

8 February 2018

Review: SLEEP NO MORE, P.D. James

  • this edition published by Faber & Faber 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-571-33087-7
  • 172 pages
  • short stories
Synopsis (publisher)

The acknowledged 'Queen of Crime', P. D. James, was a past master of the short story, weaving together motifs of the Golden Age of crime-writing with deep psychological insight to create gripping, suspenseful tales. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories contained four of these perfectly formed stories, and this companion volume contains a further six, published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

My Take

Here is a handful of very clever short stories, each with a good twist in the tail, which often took me by surprise, revealing a culprit that I hadn't suspected, even though, on looking back all the clues were there.

Mostly the stories were 20-30 pages long, easily conquered in a sitting, and very well crafted. Make no mistake - I think the short story is incredibly difficult to pull off, because everything has to tie in, there must be no loose threads. The ending must be believable and complete.

Highly recommended.
 
My rating: 4.5

I've also read
THE PRIVATE PATIENT
4.5, TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION
4.7, THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN
4.5, DEATH OF AN EXPERT WITNESS
4.3, THE MISTLETOE MURDER

Review: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS, Garry Disher

 Synopsis (Text Publishing 2017)


The young detectives call Alan Auhl a retread, but that doesn’t faze him. He does things his own way—and gets results.

He still lives with his ex-wife, off and on, in a big house full of random boarders and hard-luck stories. And he’s still a cop, even though he retired from Homicide some years ago.

He works cold cases now. Like the death of John Elphick—his daughters still convinced he was murdered, the coroner not so sure. Or the skeleton that’s just been found under a concrete slab. Or the doctor who killed two wives and a girlfriend, and left no evidence at all.

My Take

A very welcome stand-alone from an Australian much-loved crime fiction writer - or is it the beginning of a new series?

Alan Auhl, once a worn-out detective, has been re-employed by the Victoria Police to go through cold case files. This seems to be a world-wide phenomenon- the new tools such as DNA testing of old evidence, computerised case comparisons etc, now make it possible to solve some cases where physical evidence was collected and stored. Each police force has a hideous back log of unsolved cold cases, and presumably all have a small team of detectives working through them to see if modern techniques can be used.

Alan Auhl brings years of experience to the job. Every now and then some of his old interview techniques, not really acceptable by modern standards, surface, and occasionally it seems that suspects are just busting to get a confession off their chest.

So Auhl is busy on a number of cases simultaneously, In addition the author builds up an interesting picture of his personal life.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read
4.7, WYATT
4.8, WHISPERING DEATH
4.7, BLOOD MOON
4.2, THE HEAT
4.5, SIGNAL LOSS
4.7, HER 

4 February 2018

Review: 10 SHORT STORIES YOU MUST READ THIS YEAR, Sandra Yates (edit)

  • first published in 2009 by the Australia Council
  • ISBN 9780731814329
  • 262 pages
  • book was  provided free as part of the 2009 Books Alive Campaign (Australia)
Synopsis (back cover)

Kylie has a close encounter with a self-help guru in a stadium full of people.... Austin North is strangely smitten by a new student from Sudan ... Elizabeth's Christmas letters take on a life of their own ... Tom is on the bus with Tara Finke - Parramatta Road never looked so good.

There is something for everyone in this collection. Funny, poignant, perceptive, these vivid tales by some of our best-known writers capture contemporary Australia in all its variety.

My Take

Another book that has been in my TBR for a long long time.

Each of the short stories is 20-30 pages long and so easily read at a sitting.
Although some of the writers specialise in crime fiction, only a couple of the stories could be labelled crime fiction. Most of the stories challenge the reader to build the background scenario from the clues given.

1. A View of Mount Warning, Robert Drew
2. Hate at First Sight, Kathy Lette
3. Life in a Hotel Room, William McInnes
4. Elizabeth's News. Monica McInerney
5. Ithaca in Mind, Peter Temple
6. Blackberries, Tom Keneally
7. Twelve Minutes, Melina Marchetta
8. Manhattan Dreaming, Anita Heiss
9. You Can Change Your Life, Toni Jordan
10. Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife, Jack Marx.

I loved the irony of  A View of Mount Warning, the comedy of Elizabeth's News and the sadness of
Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife.
 
My rating: 4.4

What I read in January 2018

Pick of the month January 2018
  1. 5.0, FORCE OF NATURE, Jane Harper
  2. 4.4, MIDNIGHT SUN: BLOOD ON THE SNOW 2, Jo Nesbo
  3. 4.6, IN THE DARK, Chris Patchell 
  4. 4.0, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, David Lagercrantz 
  5. 4.5, ACT ONE, SCENE ONE ...MURDER, A.H. Richardson
  6. 4.4, THE MURDER AT SISSINGHAM HALL, Clara Benson 
  7. 4.6, A IS FOR ARSENIC: THE POISONS OF AGATHA CHRISTIE, Kathryn Harkup 
  8. 4.5, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS, Donna Leon
  9. 4.3, BORROWED TIME, Robert Goddard 
  10. 4.3, DADDY'S GIRL, Lisa Scottoline
I enjoyed most of what I read, but I do suspect my ratings are creeping a bit high.

My pick of the month is  FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

See what others have chosen for their pick of the month

Review: MATILDA, Roald Dahl - audio book

 Synopsis (audible.com)


Penguin presents Roald Dahl's Matilda, read by multi-award-winning actress Kate Winslet.
Matilda Wormwood is an extraordinary genius with really stupid parents.

Miss Trunchbull is her terrifying headmistress who thinks all her pupils are rotten little stinkers. But Matilda will show these horrible grown-ups that even though she's only small, she's got some very powerful tricks up her sleeve.... 

My Take

Well, this was intended to entertain the grandkids in the back seat but they haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. The adults in the car found it most entertaining. Kate Winslet is really a fabulous narrator with the ability to change her voice to suit the character she is playing.

It isn't a story that either of us have read, so we had no idea of where the plot was heading.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.7

Review: THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, Roald Dahl - audio book

Synopsis (audible.com)


Stephen Fry reads this enhanced audiobook edition of Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile. The audiobook features original music and 3D sound design by Pinewood film studios.
The Enormous Crocodile is a greedy grumptious brute who loves to guzzle up little girls and boys. But the other animals have a scheme to get the better of this foul fiend, once and for all!

My take

If you are looking for something to entertain the small ones in the car then this is it.
They are guaranteed to demand it be played again and again, journey after journey, until adults, at least, are sick of it.
We follow the enormous crocodile from the river to the jungle in his search for tasty morsels, small children, for lunch.

Stephen Fry's reading is superb.

My rating: 5.0

1 February 2018

Pick of the Month - January 2018

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2018
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 January 2018, 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.


30 January 2018

review: DADDY'S GIRL, Lisa Scottoline

  • this edition published by Pan Macmillan 2007
  • ISBN 978-0-230-01470-1
  • 338 pages
  • author website
Synopsis  (author website)


In Daddy’s Girl, Natalie Greco’s quiet and idyllic, if not predictable, life turns chaotic when a violent riot breaks out while she is teaching a course at the local prison. Nat rushes to give CPR to a grievously injured prison guard. Before he dies, he asks her to deliver a cryptic message with his last words: “Tell my wife, it’s under the floor.” The dying declaration plunges Nat into a nightmare.

Suddenly, the girl who has always followed the rules finds herself suspected of a brutal murder. She encounters threats to her life around every curve, from ruthless killers desperate to keep her from exposing their secret. In the meantime, she gets dangerously close to Angus, a fellow colleague, whose warmth, strength, and ponytail shake her dedication to her boyfriend. With her love life in jeopardy, her career in the balance, and her life on the line, Nat is thrown back on her resources, her intelligence, and her courage. Forced into hiding to stay alive, she sets out to save herself by deciphering the puzzle behind one man’s last words. And learns the secret behind the greatest puzzle of all — herself.

My Take

I could have sworn that I had read at least one book by Lisa Scottoline, but apparently not in the life of this blog. Here again is a book that has been sitting in my TBR for longer than I care to remember.

Natalie Greco is a law professor, the daughter of a wealthy building family, used to getting what it wants. She is asked by another professor to take part in an outreach legal studies programme in a nearby prison. While they are there the prison goes into lockdown, a guard and three inmates are killed and Nat ends up holding the guard as he dies. Then it appears that the prison authorities have decided not to reveal what really happened, and their press release does not jell with what Nat remembers.

When she tries to deliver the dying man's message to his wife it become apparent there are those who are determined to scare her off. More deaths occur and Nat goes into hiding.

I found the plot a bit mind-bending, a little incredible, coupled with the fact that Nat herself is an appalling judge of character. She also seems to me to be a little young for the academic position that she holds.

The author says at the end that the scenario is based on her own experiences in teaching the law.

My rating: 4.3

29 January 2018

review: BORROWED TIME, Robert Goddard

  • this edition published 1995 Corgi Books
  • ISBN 978-0-552-14223-6
  • 447 pages
Synopsis (Penguin UK)

One fateful summer evening, businessman Robin Timariot meets a strikingly beautiful woman while out walking. They exchange only a few words, but those words prove to be unforgettable. A few days later, the newspapers are full of the rape and murder of Lady Louise Paxton - and to his horror, Timariot realises that this was the woman he met just hours before her death.

A man is swiftly charged and convicted of the crime, but a series of bizarre events begin to convince Timariot that all is not what it seems. Against his better judgement, he is soon sucked into the tortuous complexity of the dead woman's life. But the closer Timariot gets to the truth, the more hideous and uncertain it seems to be. And far too late, he realizes that anybody who uncovers it is unlikely to live...

My take

This book has been lurking on my TBR for longer than I care to remember. One thing that has put me off reading it is the small format of the paperback and of the print. I've been spoilt by the adjustability of reading e-books.

Robin Timariot is walking Offa's Dyke while trying to make a decision about the rest of his life. His accidental meeting of Louise Paxton should have had no lasting consequences but her death only a few hours later draws him into her family.

This is one of those plots that twists and turns and seems as if it will never end. Just when you think you have it all sorted out it darts off again. In fact I came to a conclusion early on about who was likely to be responsible for Louise Paxton's death, and, as it turns out, I was right, but not really for the right reasons.

The plot meanders along a bit with elements about the cricket bat company that Robin's family owns, and then strands related to Louise Paxton's family.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read (among others)

NAME TO A FACE
4.5, LONG TIME COMING
4.4, FAULT LINE

Review: DRAWING CONCLUSIONS, Donna Leon - audio book

Synopsis (Audible.com)

When Anna Maria Giusti returns from holiday to find her elderly neighbour Constanza Altavilla dead, with blood on the floor near her head, she immediately alerts the police. Commissario Brunetti is called to the scene and it seems the woman has suffered a fatal heart attack. Patta, the Vice-Questore, is eager to dismiss the case as a death from natural causes, but Brunetti believes that there is more to it.

It soon transpires that there are some faint bruises around her neck and shoulders, indicating she may have been shaken. Could this have caused a heart attack? Was someone threatening her?

Meanwhile, Brunetti meets Signora Altavilla’s son, Niccolini, who tells him that since her retirement she had been helping out at a nearby nursing home. Brunetti visits the home with Ispettore Vianello to try and find any information that might be connected to the case. While they speak to those she spent the most time with, it appears that there is some hostility between the residents, which raises Brunetti’s suspicions. Once again, he enlists the help of Signorina Elettra, who discovers that Signora Altavilla was involved with an organisation that helped women at risk, providing them with a safe house. Could this have something to do with her death?

As the investigation takes an unexpected twist in events, Brunetti needs to find out the truth before it gets buried within a community that seems to be slipping deeper and deeper into deception and lies.

My take

I was a bit doubtful about listening to this audio version, first of all because I had already read the book some time ago, and secondly because this is an abridged version. I generally avoid abridged books because I am never sure about what is actually left out, I was attracted to the book because the narrator is Andrew Sachs (Manuel from Fawlty Towers)

There is always the danger too with an audio book that you can nod off while listening, and while he does an excellent job most of the time, Sachs' voice is a bit soporific at times. Other reviewers commented on how slowly the book moved.

I have read a large number of Donna Leon titles and I think in part my enjoyment must have come from the fact that I have considerable background about the main characters: Brunetti, his colleagues and his family. I enjoy the interaction between them and the finely drawn portraits that lead to great visualisation.

As usual with Leon novels the plot incorporates elements of life in modern Venice. So there is political and administrative corruption, problems of caring for an elderly population, social violence particularly towards women. Behind it all Leon's slightly quirky sense of humour shows itself.

Recommended.

My rating: 4.5
 
I've read and reviewed:
ABOUT FACE
THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
4.4, A QUESTION OF BELIEF
4.5, BEASTLY THINGS
4.4, QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP
3.9, THE JEWELS OF PARADISE
4.8, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS
4.6, DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY
4.7, BY ITS COVER
4.5, THE GOLDEN GOOSE
4.8, THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH
4.5, FALLING IN LOVE
4.8, EARTHLY REMAINS

25 January 2018

Review: A IS FOR ARSENIC: THE POISONS OF AGATHA CHRISTIE, Kathryn Harkup

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 5347 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma; 1 edition (September 10, 2015)
  • Publication Date: September 10, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00WK3FGSQ
Synopsis (Amazon)

Shortlisted for the BMA Book Awards and Macavity Awards 2016

Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's all made-up ...


Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random – the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?

Christie's extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime.

My Take

This is an encyclopaedic work written authoritatively by a scientist who obviously loves her Agatha Christie novels. I have to admit to getting a bit lost in some of the more technical/scientific sections but really enjoyed the analysis in each chapter of whether Agatha Christie got it right.

Each chapter is headed with the name of a poison (Arsenic, Thallium, Veronal etc) attached to the plot of a particular novel. We get the historiography of the poison, how it works on the human body, real-life examples of its use, whether there is an antidote, and then an in depth treatment of the way it is used in the novel. Quite often the sleuth is Hercule Poirot.

Of interest too will be Appendix 1: Christie's Causes of Death, a table listing all of the Agatha Christie novels and short stories in order of publication, and the cause of death in each of them. My Kindle Paper White didn't handle this graphic all that well, but my iPad reader does better.
For the technically minded there is Appendix 2: structures of some of the chemicals in this book.

By no means a quick read, but an interesting one from many points of view.

My rating: 4.6

About the author
Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and author. Kathryn completed a doctorate on her favourite chemicals, phosphines, and went on to further postdoctoral research before realising that talking, writing and demonstrating science appealed a bit more than hours slaving over a hot fume-hood. For six years she ran the outreach in engineering, computing, physics and maths at the University of Surrey, which involved writing talks on science topics that would appeal to bored teenagers (anything disgusting or dangerous was usually the most popular). Kathryn is now a freelance science communicator delivering talks and workshops on the quirky side of science. 

21 January 2018

Review: THE MURDER AT SISSINGHAM HALL, Clara Benson

  • source: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 697 KB
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Mount Street Press (March 16, 2013)
  • Publication Date: March 16, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BVC1SSE
Synopsis (Amazon)

On his return from South Africa, Charles Knox is invited to spend the weekend at the country home of Sir Neville Strickland, whose beautiful wife Rosamund was once Knox's fiancée. But in the dead of night Sir Neville is murdered. Who did it? As suspicion falls on each of the house guests in turn, Knox finds himself faced with deception and betrayal on all sides, and only the enigmatic Angela Marchmont seems to offer a solution to the mystery. This 1920s whodunit will delight all fans of traditional country house murder stories.

My take:

A differently structured novel, written in the first person but not by the sleuth.

Essentially a cozy, sometimes a bit predictable, with the narrator often frustratingly blind-sided by his love for his former fiance, the wife of the victim.

Very readable though with a good balance of mystery and red herrings. It certainly passes muster as a Golden Age novel,

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Clara Benson was born in 1890 and as a young woman wrote several novels featuring Angela Marchmont. She was unpublished in her lifetime, preferring to describe her writing as a hobby, and it was not until many years after her death that her family rediscovered her work and decided to introduce it to a wider audience.

Please note: the above was copied from a note at the end of the Kindle book, but it conflicts with what I found at the author's website:  which suggests an entirely different author background.
In writing the Angela Marchmont novels, my aim was not to produce a work of historical fiction, but rather to reproduce as faithfully as I could the tone and style of those original Golden Age works, since I was sure there must be many mystery fans who wished for more ‘genuine’ Golden Age novels, just as I did. In an attempt to make the experience more immersive for readers (and also, I admit, because, like many writers, I am uncomfortable with public attention), I decided to write ‘in character’ as Clara Benson, an author of the 1920s. It was a sort of challenge to myself, to see whether I could do it convincingly. I had no idea whether my little conceit would pass muster, but since I was certain nobody would buy the book anyway, I didn’t think too hard about it.

There are now 10 published novels all featuring Angela Marchmont available for Kindle and THE MURDER AT SISSINGHAM HALL is available for $0 on Amazon.

16 January 2018

Review: ACT ONE, SCENE ONE... MURDER, A. H. Richardson

  • published by Serano Press, USA 2016
  • #2 in the Hazlitt/Brandon series
  • review copy supplied by the author
  • 270 pages
Synopsis (author website)

Invited for dinner to a rather mysterious medieval mansion, in an obscure English village, are a group of actors, preparing to open in a new play in London.  The boisterous and belligerent playwright Cleland Symeon owns the mansion.

As the curtain rises, on this odd collection of performers, rather than partaking of a sumptuous dinner, a murder takes place in front of their terrified eyes.

The leading man dies… but by whose devilish hand?  More drama and theatrics evolve, as it appears that the killer has not yet finished his … or her work. Trapped in this castle, the actors can only wait it out …wait for another strike …and when it comes, the formidable team of sleuths, Hazlitt and Brandon, are faced with terror, mystery and some confusion.  Can this fearless couple solve the problem?…

My Take:

I thoroughly enjoyed this outing: It has all the characteristics of a classic country house murder.  Hazlitt and Brandon have the advantage of being there when the leading man drops dead and they are not so far from Little Shendon, so they can get their favourite policeman to dance attendance. It comes as no surprise when the verdict is murder, but was the victim the right one, is there unfinished business?

Very readable.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed MURDER IN LITTLE SHENDON

Review: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, David Lagercrantz

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2206 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: MacLehose Press (August 27, 2015)
  • Publication Date: August 27, 2015
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00SJPZCWE
  • #4 in the Millenium Series (Stieg Larsson)
Synopsis  (Amazon)

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO IS BACK.

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time.

Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son's well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story - and it is a terrifying one.

More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder's world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker.

It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters - and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

My Take

I'm not sure now what I felt about this novel. I've had it on my TBR on my Kindle for at least a couple of years and have only just managed to read. I was a fan of the first 3 novels in Millenium series, but I had trouble remembering them through this novel.

The novel felt very heavy, too detailed, with the author determined both to uphold the Stieg Larssen style, and to make sure that the reader has all the information. It felt as if there was a lot of new plot data which had not been part of the original novels. There seemed to be too many details about the main characters that I was not aware of. But maybe that was just my forgettery at work.

However, I don't think I will read another.

Was this Steig Larsson's unfinished manuscript?
From Wikipedia:
The late author's [ Stieg Larsonn] literary estate is fully controlled by his brother and father, who hired Lagercrantz and have supported the latest book in the series. However Larsson's long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson, has voiced criticism against this project. She possesses an unfinished fourth manuscript of the Millennium series, which is not included in the upcoming fourth novel. She referred to Lagercrantz as a "completely idiotic choice" to continue the Millennium series.

Here is what I say elsewhere about "coattails" novels.



My rating: 4.0

About the Author
DAVID LAGERCRANTZ is an acclaimed Swedish journalist and author. He has worked as a crime reporter for Expressen, and has written several novels, including the forthcoming Fall of Man in Wilmslow. He worked with international soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimović on his memoir, I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović, which was short-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and was nominated for the August Prize in Sweden.

My reviews of the Steig Larsson novels
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST

Review: FORCE OF NATURE, Jane Harper

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia 2017)

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.

Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?

My Take

On the surface this crime fiction novel is a stand alone, but in fact it is the second to feature Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk. However I think it functions well as a stand-alone.

Two groups set out on a teamwork exercise - a men's group and a women's group - a bushwalk to cover three nights in the bush, camping along the way. Both groups belong to a corporate company from Melbourne. We learn almost nothing about the male group which completes its walk in time and apparently without problems. However within the women's group there are a number of underlying tensions which almost ensure that the team will fail. If the team does not make the campsite each night then they will have no food provisions as these are stored at each campsite. So the potential consequences for misreading the map provided can be catastrophic. One thing that took me aback was that the group had no means of contacting the organisers in an emergency and the organisers also had no way of monitoring the team and its progress.

Right from the beginning the reader knows that the women's team is late, and when they do emerge from the bush. one of them is missing. The question is whether "foul play" has occurred.

This is an engrossing read. Highly recommended.

The novel has been shortlisted for the 2018 Indie Book Awards, the winner to be announced on 26 March 2018.


My rating: 5.0

I've also read 4.7, THE DRY which won the 2017 CWA Gold Dagger

15 January 2018

Getting organised for 2018 - Challenges

It is just a week since I got back from my travels and it has taken me that long to begin to get back to my blog.

My organisation went out of the window in mid December when I went travelling for 3 weeks and so much of my blogging just didn't get done, and lsist for 2017 were not brought up to date.

However there were some reading challenges that I really abandoned during 2017.
In reality my "challenges" are methods of keeping track of my reading, rather than challenging myself to do something different, so I have cut a couple out this year, but really stuck to the ones that I like. Most of them are personal challenges rather than participating in ones that other bloggers are running online.


I have set my target at 110 books for the year and my challenges as
  • 2018 Good Reads Reading Challenge. I have set my challenge at 110. 
  • Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Completed in 2014, titles read in 2018: 0
  • 2018 Global Reading Challenge 
  • USA Fiction Challenge So far 21/51,
  • 2018 Aussie Author Reading Challenge: aiming for 20:
  • 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge: aiming for 20.
  • British Books Challenge 2018
  • 2018 Ebook Reading Challenge 
  • New to me authors - a personal challenge
  • Not crime fiction - a personal challenge 
  • Nordic reading challenge - a personal challenge,
  • New Zealand reading challenge -again a personal challenge.
  • Translated crime fiction - a personal challenge that will overlap with many of the other reading challenges that I have undertaken
  • Snagged at the Library
  • Audio books: 
  • 2018 Historical Reading Challenge. 
Now to get my book reviews up to date!

5 January 2018

Review: IN THE DARK, Chris Patchell

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1561 KB
  • Print Length: 426 pages
  • Publisher: Kindle Press (August 4, 2015)
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00YNKHFI8
Synopsis (Amazon)

Marissa Rooney stands in her daughter’s empty dorm room, a half-used vial of insulin clutched in her trembling hand. Brooke has been missing for days. Her roommate hasn’t seen her since that night in the bar. And if Marissa has Brooke’s insulin, it means that Brooke does not.

But Marissa isn’t alone in her terror. A phantom from her past is lurking in the shadows, waiting in the night, and holding her family captive…

In the dark.

My Take

This is much better than your average debut novel, and it really has been sitting in my TBR for far too long.

It is filled with strong characters from Marissa Rooney, with 3 ex-husbands, to Seth Crawford police detective, to  Lizzie Holt creator of the Holt Foundation. Marissa’s daughter Brooke, an insulin dependent diabetic, goes missing during a night out with her room mate. The problem is that nobody realises Brooke is missing for at least 36 hours.

At the time Marissa is working for a law firm in Seattle. The moment Brooke’s room mate contacts her Marissa leaves work to contact the police. As a result she loses her job and is offered another with the Holt Foundation, a philanthropic organisation being set up to support parents finding themselves in situations just like this.

Meantime Marissa’s other daughter Kelly is in trouble at school for carrying a knife. It turns out that she is being bullied by other students. The plot shows how much stress Marissa is under.

Some of the plot elements felt a bit fanciful, but in general it was a good read, fast moving with plot threads well resolved.

My rating: 4.6

About the author
When Chris Patchell isn't hiking in the Cascade Mountains or hanging out with family and friends, she is working at her hi-tech job or writing gritty suspense novels. Writing has been a lifelong passion for Chris. She fell in love with storytelling in the third grade when her half-page creative writing assignment turned into a five-page story on vampires. Even back then Chris had a gift for writing intricate plots that were so good her father refused to believe she didn't steal them from comic books.

Years later, Chris spent long afternoons managing her own independent record store and writing romance novels. After closing the record store and going to college, Chris launched a successful career in hi-tech. She married, had kids but amid all the madness, the itch to write never really went away. So she started writing again. Not romance this time - suspense filled with drama, and angst, speckled with a little bit of blood.

Why suspense? Chris blames her obsession with the dark on two things: watching Stephen King movies as a kid and spending ridiculous amounts of time commuting in Seattle traffic. "My stories are based on scenarios I see every day, distorted through the fictional lens. And my stories come with the added bonus of not having to be restrained by socially acceptable behavior."

Recipient of the 2015 Indie Reader Discovery Award for DEADLY LIES

3 January 2018

Review: MIDNIGHT SUN, Blood on the Snow, BooK 2, Jo Nesbo

My Take:

This is the second in the Blood on The Snow series, stories about Norwegian contract killers.
It is a little longer than the first in the series which I reviewed on this blog a couple of years ago.

Jon Hansen is on a bus heading north, as far away from Oslo as he can get.
A small time drug dealer in desperate need of extra money to save the life of his young daughter with leukaemia, he took a job with The Fisherman as a debt collector and fixer. If he can’t collect the debt then The Fisherman expects him to eliminate the person owing the money. But killing things has never been his strong point and he falls at the first hurdle when the victim offers him money in return for letting him disappear. In addition his finger just won’t pull the trigger.

And so now The Fisherman is after him and he is on the run. He gets as far as Kasund on the Finnmark plateau and gets off the bus in the middle of the night, spending the rest of the night on the floor of the local church. Saying he is there for the hunting season he takes a cottage some distance out of the village and waits to see if The Fisherman catches up with him.

In some ways this is a story of redemption, even a love story. Something a little different, with some humour, but still noir.

My Rating: 4.4


1 January 2018

Pick of the Month - December 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 December 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.


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