23 May 2016

Review: THE KILLING IN THE CAFE, Simon Brett

  • source: my local library
  • # 17 in the Fethering series
  • first published 2015
  • ISBN 978-1-78029-081-2
  • 185 pages
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The wickedly entertaining new Fethering mystery featuring chalk-and-cheese detective duo Carole and Jude

Polly's Cake Shop has been a feature of the shopping parade for many years, but when its owner announces her retirement, the Fethering residents start to worry about the loss of this popular amenity. Alarmed by rumours that the cafe might become a Starbucks, a group clubs together to form the Save Polly's Cake Shop Action Committee.

The plan is that Polly's should become a community venture, managed and run by volunteers from the village. Roped in to help, Jude finds the committee meetings fraught with petty power struggles, clashing personalities and monstrous egos. Matters take a turn for the worse when she and Carole come across a badly-decomposed body on Fethering beach - and uncover a link to Polly's. Not only do the two neighbours have to find out whodunit, they are also faced with the thorny question: is it possible to run a business on that most volatile of commodities - goodwill?

My Take

I always look forward to the next instalment in this series. They are what I call "gentle" cozies. I love their alliterative titles as well as the way they gently explore the relationship between Carole and Jude.

I think over the development of the series there has been a subtle change. While they remain busybodies who poke their noses into local affairs, Jude and Carol are now unashamedly investigators, unpaid private eyes. It seems to go without saying, without official agreement, that they will investigate any "incident", particularly a murder. They don't hesitate to make phone calls to persons of interest, to follow through threads of suspicion, and to ask awkward questions. In general they don't contact the police of their own volition until they have finally solved the case. So I guess they could be charged by a zealous policeman with withholding evidence but that doesn't seem to happen.

What I like about the stories is the gentle humour, the perceptive descriptions of village life, in particular that of retirees.

I think I have remarked before about the strange way the author brings the novel to an end. There is a sort of crystal ball aspect to it all, a summary of what happens to each of the characters, apart from Jude and Carol, in the future. In THE KILLING IN THE CAFE the summary goes as far as 10 years into the future.

So if you are not a reader of this series consider starting at the beginning - I've included the full list below to get you started. You will have a lot of very enjoyable reading ahead.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read
Fethering (per Fantastic Fiction)
1. The Body on the Beach (2000)
2. Death On the Downs (2001)
3. The Torso In The Town (2002)
4. Murder in the Museum (2003)
5. The Hanging in the Hotel (2004)
6. The Witness at the Wedding (2005)
7. The Stabbing in the Stables (2006)
8. Death Under the Dryer (2007)
9. Blood At the Bookies (2008)
10. The Poisoning in the Pub (2009)
11. The Shooting in the Shop (2010)
12. Bones Under the Beach Hut (2011)
13. Guns in the Gallery (2011)
14. Corpse on the Court (2012)
15. The Strangling on the Stage (2013)
16. The Tomb in Turkey (2014)
17. The Killing in the Cafe (2015)

22 May 2016

Review: CAREER OF EVIL, Robert Galbraith

  • this edition published by Sphere in 2015
  • author also known as J.K Rowling
  • ISBN 9-780751-563580
  • 494 pages
  • source: my local library
  • Also available on Amazon for Kindle
  • Cormoran Strike Book 3
Synopsis (Amazon)

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, Career of Evil is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.

 My Take

Newspaper reports about the arrival of the severed leg have the effect of almost killing Cormoran Strike's detective agency. And then there is the fact that the parcel was in fact addressed to Robin, not to Strike. Strike reports the package to the police and they begin an intensive investigation.

Robin and Strike have just two cases to occupy them, and both require surveillance. Strike is anxious to find out who the severed leg belongs to and who has sent it to him. He has some idea that the cause is embedded in his past in the military police but tracking down the four suspects is not easy. One of them is a man he knows well, his own stepfather, while the other three all have reason to hat Strike.

Simmering in the background is Robin's impending marriage. Her fiancé Matthew is convinced that Robin and Strke have a relationship going and then Robin finds out that Matthew has something to hide. Strike also has a new girlfriend but he is beginning to question where that relationship is headed.

We often see the narration from the point of view of one of the suspects who is not necessarily the serial killer, and it is hard to decide who it is.

I found this book a time consuming read. That is partly because it is long, and partly because it is densely written. There is lot of new background material which fleshes out both Strike's and Robin's characters. A lot of it feels "off topic" but at the same time is giving the central characters a lot more depth. The novel manages to maintain the tension right to the end. I am looking forward to the next in the series.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read

Review: MAN OF TWO TRIBES, Arthur Upfield - audio book

  • Available from Audible.com
  • first published 1956
  • Napoleon Bonaparte series #21
  • Narrated by: Peter Hosking
  • Length: 6 hrs
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

With two camels and a dog, Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte sets off across southern Australia's Nullarbor Plain in search of a missing woman. He finds much more than he bargained for. Set in some of the most mysterious and unforgiving territory in the world - the Australian desert - Man of Two Tribes is vintage Upfield.

From Audible:

Myra Thomas, accused of murdering her philandering husband, is found not guilty by a sympathetic jury. But while travelling from Adelaide to Perth on the Transcontinental Railway express, she mysteriously disappears during the overnight journey across the vast, featureless desert.

Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte takes the case and sets off to search for her over the flat wasteland of the Nullabor Plain. At first it seems that the harsh environment will give him no clues, but Bony soon finds more than he bargained for? landing himself in a bigger mystery, and a fight for survival...

My Take

The Woomera Rocket Range, a collaborative effort between a number of International groups including the British and Australia, began immediately after World War II in 1946, with a joint project running until 1960. It is located in north-west South Australia, about 500 km north west of Adelaide. British nuclear tests at Maralinga, a series of seven nuclear tests were conducted within the Woomera area between 1955 and 1963. More recently, the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, a detention centre,  opened nearby in 1999 and operated until 2003.

The focus in the opening pages of the story is a woman, recently acquitted of murder, who has disappeared without trace from the East-West railway travelling from Adelaide to Western Australia. There is some indication that she may have connections with international espionage and Bony is sent out on an undercover mission to see if he can locate her.

There are various Aboriginal legends associated with the Australian outback but here Upfield tells one about a monster, maybe a version of the Rainbow Snake, supposedly occupying the underground limestone caverns of the Nullarbor Plain which the train line traverses. This has the effect of both deterring aboriginal trackers from looking too closely for the missing woman, and also provides an explanation of any strange noises heard at night.

Bony of course is the "man of two tribes", being a half-caste aborigine, but his Queensland tribe has little in common with the Aboriginal people living on the Nullarbor, apart from the markings on his body that show he is a warrior of some note. At the same time he is a very articulate person, highly qualified with a university degree, and a reputation for never failing to successfully conclude a case.

An interesting story but I did feel that it stretched the bounds of credibility. Basing the story around the Nullarbor Plain and Woomera does show how in touch with current events Upfield was. At the time of publication 1956, 8 years before his death, he was 66 years old and there would be another 8 Bony novels.

My rating: 4.0

I've also read

13 May 2016

Review: DADDY DEAREST, Paul Southern

  • available from Amazon
  • review copy supplied to me by the author
  • File Size: 1806 KB
  • Print Length: 245 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1311840079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1311840073
Synopsis (author)

An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her - with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

'My daughter has always had a thing about lifts. There’s something about the thrill of pressing a button and seeing the lift doors close which excites her imagination. It terrifies me. Every time she walks in, I imagine it’s the last time I’ll see her. What if she hits the button before I get there? What if the lift doors close and I can’t get her out? It drives me nuts. There are eight floors in the Sears building, nine if you count the basement, and the lift is fast: more like a fairground ride, really. It does top to bottom in twelve seconds. I’ve timed it. Taking the stairs, I’ve done it in forty-two. That leaves a gap of thirty seconds. You’d be surprised what can happen in that time. I was.'

My Take

The police investigation into the disappearance of a five year old girl in the Sears building has unexpected consequences for a number of the building's residents, as the police investigate them one by one, floor by floor.

Meanwhile the girl's parents appear on television and people reach out in sympathy. But the days pass and she is not found. The parents are obviously both cracking under the strain.

This is really one of those novels where I can't tell you much more of the plot without spoiling your journey of discovery as you read it for yourself. In many ways it is a very sad novel. At least twice events take a grim turn, and in the long run there is only one way for it to end.

My Rating: 4.3

About the author

Following an induced labour some time in the 1960s (due date: Halloween night), I had my subscription to a normal life revoked by itinerant parents, who moved from city to city. Lived in Liverpool, Belfast, London and Leeds, then escaped to university, where I nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. After an unexpected recovery, formed an underground indie group (Sexus). Met the lead singer through standing on a bee. Made immediate plans to become rich and famous, but ended up in Manchester. Shared a house with mice, cockroaches, and slugs; shared the street with criminals. Five years later, hit the big time with a Warners record deal. Concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Melody Maker front cover, Smash Hits Single of the Week, Radio 1 and EastEnders. Mixed with the really rich and famous. Then mixed with lawyers. Ended up back in Manchester, broke. Got a PhD in English (I am the world's leading authority on Tennyson's stage plays), then wrote my first novel, The Craze, based on my experiences of the Muslim community. Immediately nominated to the Arena X Club (the name Arena magazine gave to a select group of creative, UK-based men responsible for shaping the way their readers lived and enjoyed their lives).

Wrote a second book, Brown Boys in Chocolate, which predicted the London bombings. Fell foul of the censors and subsequently gagged by the press. Got ITV interested in a story on honour killings and inter-racial marriages and was commissioned to write a screenplay (Pariah) based on my life story. ITV balked at the content. Subsequently, trod the Wasteland before finding the grail again: a book deal with children's publisher, Chicken House. Killing Sound, a YA horror set on the London Underground, was published by them in September 2014. The book, originally written for older teens (16+) and adults, was censoriously edited by the publishers to fit a much younger demographic, and inevitably failed to reach either market; the grail proved elusive and I returned to writing something it was impossible to dilute. Daddy Dearest, a dark, psychological thriller, will be released in 2016.

10 May 2016

Review: THE LAKE HOUSE, Kate Morton

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1848 KB
  • Print Length: 606 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (November 1, 2015)
  • Publication Date: October 21, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00X74TJ4Y
Synopsis  (Amazon)

A missing child

June 1933, and the Edevane family's country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she's also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn't have. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather's cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family's past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape.

My take

Where do I begin? I suspect this will remain at the top of my "best for 2016" list for a very long time.

The author cleverly weaves a number of strands of mystery together. It is not just what happened on Midsummer's Eve at the Edevane's country house, Leoanneth in 1933, but what actually happened to Alice Edevane's father in World War One to give him recurrent nightmares and to make him a man who is dangerous to his own children. And then there is what Sadie Sparrow actually did to cause her to be sent on an enforced holiday.

The stories are told so cleverly that you feel there is always something new to learn. The characters are so well drawn but even then some are wrapped in mystery.  There are red herrings galore and just when you think you have it all worked out you realise there is something else to consider.

A terrific read!

My rating: 5.0


7 May 2016

Review: THE BUNGALOW MYSTERY, Annie Haynes

  • format: kindle (Amazon)
  • first published 1923
  • File Size: 905 KB
  • Print Length: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Dean Street Press (March 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: March 1, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01BTYR46I
Synopsis (Amazon)

“He had his tea as usual; when I knocked at the door with the tray (he always had afternoon tea), I found him—like this.”
Dr Roger Lavington is dreading his debut performance with the village amateur dramatic society. But real-world drama takes over when Lavington’s neighbour, a reclusive artist, is found murdered in his own sitting room. Also found on the scene are a lady’s glove, a diamond ring, and a mysterious young woman who begs Lavington for his protection. Her safety will depend on her ability to take a role in the forthcoming village play—but is Lavington sheltering a wronged woman or a clever murderess?

The Bungalow Mystery (1923) was the first of Annie Haynes’s golden age crime novels, and announced a major talent. This new edition, the first in over eighty years, features an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

My Take

I thought this novel showed many of the characteristics of a debut title: the author trying a little too hard to provide red herrings and misdirection. The plot devolved around mistaken identity and incomplete knowledge, a train crash in which the murder suspect is thought to have been killed, a policeman who works on the case long after he has been taken off it, a vindictive wife who wants a killer brought to justice, and a central character who muddies the waters by giving the wrong advice.

There is at least one change of narrative voice and so a number of points of view are presented. The original police investigation misses gathering an eye witness statement which would have tied the whole thing up in a matter of hours.

Nevertheless it is a true forerunner of the Golden Age and the convoluted plot is well worked with a number of almost Gothic elements to it.

My rating: 4.2

About the author
UK (1865 - 1929)

Annie Haynes was born in 1865, the daughter of an ironmonger.

By the first decade of the twentieth century she lived in London and moved in literary and early feminist circles. Her first crime novel, The Bungalow Mystery, appeared in 1923, and another nine mysteries were published before her untimely death in 1929. Sadly there is no known photograph of Annie Haynes still in existence.

Who Killed Charmian Karslake? appeared posthumously, and a further partially-finished work, The Crystal Beads Murder, was completed with the assistance of an unknown fellow writer, and published in 1930.

4 May 2016

Making progress on reading Australian authors

Last year I read 26 Australian novels so I'm pleased with my progress so far this year. - I have read 13.
There is a mixture of new and old titles.
About 25% of my reading is Australian authors.

The Aussie Author Challenge 2016 is being hosted at Booklover Book Reviews

I'm aiming initially at Kangaroo (12 titles) but the reality is that I will read many more than that.

Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 3 genre. 
I can see I may have a problem with the 3 genre aspect as so far all I've read is crime fiction.

Currently: 13

  1. 4.4, KING OF THE ROAD, Nigel Bartlett   M, N
  2. 4.3, GOOD MONEY, J. M. Green FN
  3. 4.3, GHOST GIRLS, Cath Ferla F, N
  4. 3.5, DUCK SEASON DEATH, June Wright F   N
  5. 4.4, OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen F, N
  6. 4.5, MISSING, Melanie Casey, F, N
  7. 4.6, DARKEST PLACE, Jaye Ford F, 
  8. 4.9, ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING, Evie Wyld F N
  9. 4.4, HINDSIGHT, Melanie Casey F
  10. 3.8, OUT OF THE ICE, Ann Turner F
  11. 4.5, PROHIBITED ZONE, Alastair Sarre M N
  12. 4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY, Arthur Upfield M
  13. 4.2, COMFORT ZONE, Lindsay Tanner M N
 If you want to see what I read last year, click here.


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