28 February 2008

February 29 - Leap Year

Over on my work blog today I wrote about Leap Year, which is tomorrow (actually Leap Day), and recalled an incident from childhood when a member of my school class whose birthday was on February 29, had to endure the rest of us enjoying a joke at his expense. When we turned 11, we told him he was only 3. Poor Geoffrey!

Anyway that set me wondering whether any fiction had been based on the idea.
Tonight I found It's My Birthday... Finally! A Leap Year Story (Paperback)
by Michelle Winfrey Whitaker (Author), Joyce M. Turley (Illustrator)
It is currently out of print, but here is the blurb.
On February 29, 1992, Michelle gave birth to a wonderful little "Leapling" (That's a baby born on Leap Day). Michelle and her husband named him Miles. Four years later on February 29, 1966, Miles celebrated his first Leap Year Birthday. Being only one or four - depending upon how you look at it - was not important to Miles, at that time. All he know was that he was having a birthday party. Over the next four years, Miles learned about the calendar and realized that his birthday date did not appear on the calendar each year. Finally, February 29, 2000 was drawing near and Miles was finally going to have a birthday that appeared on the calendar. As a special gift, Michelle wanted to buy him a children's storybook about Leap Year. To her surprise, she could not find one. Making a note of this, Michelle began to outline, "It's My Birthday... Finally! A Leap Year Story." However, it wasn't until two years later that Michelle began to write this story...

And Selina Davenport wrote a book in 1817 called LEAP YEAR; OR WOMAN'S PRIVILEGE. A NOVEL. IN FIVE VOLUMES.

Nadia Wheatley apparently has a title called LUCY IN THE LEAP YEAR.

Peter Cameron has a title called LEAP YEAR, a novel, written in weekly segments for the magazine 7 Days during the leap year of 1988, follows a group of New Yorkers coming to terms with their lives and loves in a vibrantly realized eighties NYC.

Over to you.

26 February 2008

WICKER just won't go away

A few days back I wrote about WICKER by Kevin Guilfoile. I was talking to the friend who lent it to me and also the one that I handed it on to, about what has remained with me about it.

So, if you haven't read it, you may not want to go further here, just in case I spoil it for you.
What I'm going to do here is talk about some of the ideas about it that I have been mulling over.
I'm not going to repeat what I've already written either, so if you do want to read on, you might want to check my earlier "review" first.

First of all I think it is really two books in one. In fact it is divided into 2 distinct parts.

The first part is about cloning from DNA, the ethical issues that arise from that, and what you actually get when you clone a human.
  • is the clone the twin of the earlier person, a duplicate perhaps?
  • Is everything exactly the same? birthmarks, physical things like twitches
  • is the mind/soul cloned too, or is there something outside the body that is the soul of the body? Is it possible therefore for a soul to have 2 bodies?
  • what is the role of environment in shaping the child?
  • is the baby born with "adult" intelligence, and just spends the years waiting for the body to catch up? Would their IQs be the same?
  • Is there any sort of empathetic bond between the original and the clone?
The second part of the book is almost entirely about a virtual world called Shadowland, a game that people play. It is very similar to Second Life in being a 3D world inhabited by avatars.
However it differs from Second Life in the way it is constructed. Second Life is built by its inhabitants and often does emulate the real world, but is also often seen as place where the avatars can attempt things not possible in real life. The creators of Shadowland in WICKER have created a recognisable replica of the real world, and many of its inhabitants are TTLs (True to Lifers)

Here are some of the ideas explored
  • a virtual world can be a release valve for people in the real world who have anti-social tendencies, or who want to understand "what it is like" to kill someone, or steal, or just drive a car extremely fast etc.
  • Virtual worlds may have a beneficial social effect on the real world by keeping the crime rate down, or reducing the murder rate, by allowing players/avatars to commit these things in the virtual world, rather than the real one.
  • A murderer may practice his technique in the virtual world, before he/she murders in the real one
  • restraints that hold us back in the real world have been relaxed in the virtual one
  • People may use the virtual world for establishing relationships in the real one.
  • Life is cheap in the virtual world. Values as we know them don't exist.
There have been some interesting reports of this issue which perhaps Kevin Guilfoile had in mind.
Make you think doesn't it?

25 February 2008

THE SPELLMAN FILES, Lisa Lutz - progress report

The Spellman family reminds me of Fagan's gang, but instead of thievery they use their kids from a very young age to participate in their family run private detective agency. The book is told from the point of view of Izzy, currently 28 years old, who began her professional life as a public records checker, and surveillance agent at about 12 years, but has in fact been investigating everything all her life.
Her younger sister Rae was on her first surveillance outing before she could officially read, at the age of 5.
A very quirky novel full of humorous stories, but now, 100 pages in, building up to a big case.

I've discovered through the website at http://lisalutz.com/ that there is a sequel, CURSE OF THE SPELLMAN'S, to look forward to.
There are some interviews on site with Lisa, in which she reveals that THE SPELLMAN FILES began life as a screen play, and also that a 3rd novel REVENGE OF THE SPELLMANS is on the drawing board.

THE SPELLMAN FILES is one of ten recipients of the 2008 Alex Awards.
It is also a 2008 Dilys Award Nominee

In March 2008 THE CURSE OF THE SPELLMANS was named #1 pick by Book Sense

Lauren Weisberger has suggested that THE SPELLMAN FILES could be regarded as "chick-lit":
I also loved The Spellman Files and, while reading it, kept asking myself whether it was chick lit. I think it does fit the genre to a certain extent - snarky heroine, challenging romantic relationships and even more challenging family members - but I still struggled to decide whether to review it as chick lit or not. Eventually I decided that if Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is chick lit (and I think it is) then so is The Spellman Files.

24 February 2008

Even More Lists - enough to drive you mad!

The UK Daily Telegraph carries an article called 50 crime writers to read before you die
It is compiled by 6 people. They preface it with an apology for giving the list in no real order, but that is just what is so annoying about the list: some sorted order would have been good, either having the authors in alphabetical order or in date order. However they do list each author, together with a brief description of what they write/wrote, with a recommended book and that is probably what makes the list a worthwhile one. You could probably feel ok about about ticking a name on the list if you've read at least one book by them.

The list is an interesting one with 19th century stalwarts particularly those who really defined the genre, Golden Age authors, a number of influential American ones, and some interesting "foreign" inclusions. It includes about 10 authors writing before World War I, and 9 books from the 21st century - you'll have to check the page to see which ones they are!
I wish I had the energy to turn it into a "proper" list.

You might like to visit The Rap Sheet to see the discussion going on over there.

Came across this one on someone else's blog (apologies for not acknowledging, I've lost track of whose it was)
I'm not sure what the point of this tournament is (perhaps someone knows) but the list of books is interesting. Seems almost a sales promotion.
Must confess though I've only heard of a couple, and not sure that I've read any.
What about you?

RUN by Ann Patchett
TREE OF SMOKE by Denis Johnson
THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris
PETROPOLIS by Anya Ulinich
OVENMAN by Jeff Parker
YOU DON'T LOVE ME YET by Jonathan Lethem
NEW ENGLAND WHITE by Stephen L. Carter
REMAINDER by Tom McCarthy
THE SHADOW CATCHER by Marianne Wiggins
WHAT THE DEAD KNOW by Laura Lippman

Interestingly at the bottom of the list I find that Kevin Guilfoile, the author of the recently read WICKER, is listed as ToB Commissioner.

Their 2007 list was

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson
ARTHUR AND GEORGE by Julian Barnes
BROOKLAND by Emily Barton
ENGLISH by August Upamanyu Chatterjee
THE LAY OF THE LAND by Richard Ford
PRIDE OF BAGHDAD by Niko Henrichon & Brian K. Vaughan
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
THE ECHO MAKER by Richard Powers
AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon
FIRMIN by Sam Savage
ABSURDISTAN by Gary Shteyngart
APEX HIDES THE HURT by Colson Whitehead

Amazon UK's Bestsellers in Crime, Thrillers & Mystery

I've discovered that Amazon UK has an RSS feed of their top 25 Bestsellers in Crime, Thrillers & Mystery, that updates hourly.
The link is http://www.amazon.co.uk/rss/bestsellers/books/72/ref=pd_ts_rss_link

or you can just go to http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bestsellers/books/72/ref=pd_ts_b_nav

This morning's top 10 (of the 25) are

1. A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory
2. The Appeal by John Grisham
3. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (No 1 Ladies Detective Agency 8) by Alexander McCall Smith
4. The Woods by Harlan Coben
5. 7th Heaven (Womens Murder Club 7) by James Patterson
6. World Without End by Ken Follett
7. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
8. Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb
9. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
10. Cold in Hand by John Harvey

23 February 2008

WICKER (aka CAST OF SHADOWS), Kevin Guilfoile

How far would you go to look into the face of your daughter's murderer?

Dr. Davis Moore does controversial work at a clinic, providing the childless with children, not through in vitro but by cloning from anonymous DNA. There are strict codes governing the procedure, including that the person from whom the DNA is taken must be dead.

When his teenage daughter is raped and murdered, Davis uses the semen left in her body as the genetic basis of a cloned baby. He hopes that when the baby grows up he will somehow be able to use him to identify his daughter's murderer.

The people who do this work are being targetted by an organisation called the Hand of God, that employs a killer to see that high profile pro-cloners and scientists are killed. Although these pressures, together with the death of his daughter, lead to Moore retiring from active practice, he follows the growth of Justin, the baby cloned from the rapists' semen, with interest, and attempts to track the rapist down.

Not only is this a really creepy idea but the story raises some big issues about cloning - is the cloned baby the absolute identical twin of the person whose DNA it was cloned on? For example, will the murderer whose DNA was used also have the distinctive birthmark the baby has? Conversely, does genetic make up determine how you think, what you become in life? Will the baby grow up to be a murderer? If the baby is cloned from adult DNA will the baby have an adult or a child mind? Will the child feel connected to the adult?

I didn't "see" the ending of this novel coming. There are things revealed in the final 50 pages that you won't predict, so if you find it a bit of a long read like I did, hang in there!

This is another one of those books with a changed name. I think WICKER was probably for the UK market, but I think CAST OF SHADOWS was really a more appropriate and interesting title.

This book has won a couple of awards too - A CHICAGO TRIBUNE and KANSAS CITY STAR BEST BOOK of 2005, and The Best First Novel of 2005 in the Love Is Murder Readers' Choice Poll - and was a finalist in the 2005 Great Lakes Book Awards.

My rating 4.5

Waiting in the Wings

I thought I'd treat you to some of the titles I intend to read - well, I have the books on my shelves but, if my current rate of consumption is any indication, it is going to take me some time.

Books I have from the library

DECEPTION, Denise Mina
ICE MOON, Jan Costin Wagner
OFFICER DOWN, Theresa Schwegel
THE SIMIAN CURVE, Mark Lalbeharry
THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser
WATER LIKE A STONE, Deborah Crombie

About to arrive from the library

Books waiting to be read and reviewed

COLD IN HAND, John Harvey
FAN MAIL, P.D. Martin
ILLEGAL ACTION, Stella Rimington
ISABELLA MOON, Laura Benedict
KENNEDY'S BRAIN, Henning Mankell
NEMESIS , Jo Nesbo
SACRIFICE , S. J. Bolton
THE CLEANER, Brett Battles
WRITTEN IN BONE, Simon Beckett

Still reading WICKER by Kevin Guilfoile
for F2F group next Sunday: THE SPELLMAN FILES by Lisa Lutz

The rest in no particular order
GEISHA, Arthur Golden
TRACE, Patricia Cornwell
BLOODY HAM, Brian Kavanagh
DYING TO SIN, Stephen Booth
COLD LIGHT, John Harvey
THE SINNER, Petra Hammesfahr
HEART SICK, Chelsea Cain
SUCKED IN, Shane Maloney
SKIN AND BONE, Kathryn Fox
DEATH MESSAGE, Mark Billingham
NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, Linwood Barclay
THE THIRTEENTH TALE, Diane Setterfield

22 February 2008

Books to Look For

Every now and again I check Australian online sites for what they are listing in crime fiction and I've found a couple I haven't yet got hold of.

Over at Angus and Robertson Australia, they list the Top 5 Bestsellers for Crime Fiction. Not sure what the time frame for this list is, perhaps the last week ??

The books listed are

TRIPTYCH by Karin Slaughter. When I reviewed TRIPTYCH in 2006 I gave it 4.6

THE HARD WAY by Lee Child. My review of THE HARD WAY was also favourable with a rating of 4.7

BREAK NO BONES by Kathy Reichs. I wasn't as impressed with BREAK NO BONES, but perhaps I was feeling a bit over-Reiched. I gave it 4.3

END IN TEARS by Ruth Rendell
This one didn't make it to being a published review but here is what I said in my database:
In the early hours of the morning George Marshalson is waiting anxiously for his young daughter to come home. His discovery of her body at dawn not far from the house is the beginning of a new case for Reg Wexford and the Kingsmarkham CID team. Neither Reg nor his assistant Mike Burden are getting any younger and both are a bit old-fashioned in their attitudes and their policing methods. In this, the 20th book in the Wexford series that began in 1964, award winning author Ruth Rendell introduces the new face of policing in Britain in the persons of the latest additions to the team, Bal and Hannah. And again Rendell gives this book a contemporary setting by weaving into it a theme that has been of world-wide community concern. The Wexford family interest continues too when daughter Sylvia becomes pregnant by her ex-husband.
My rating: 4.8

I read a blurb about this one but it didn't grab me.

Over at Dymocks Australia, it is not so easy to find a similar list but the author of the month has been Alexander McCall-Smith with the book THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE listed.
I loved this one and gave it 5.0. My database entry:
#8 in the No. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY series. After I read the previous title in this series, I thought perhaps it was coming to an end; that McCall Smith had no more to tell, could do no more with the material. How wrong I was! With THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE the series swings upward to another peak. Maters come to a point between that traditionally built lady Precious Ramotswe and her secretary Mma Makutsi when the latter takes the afternoon off to do some shopping when she is supposed to be minding the office. Mma Makutsi decides to resign and to look for a new job. Meanwhile, when Mma Makutsi was absent, Precious Ramotswe’s husband, Mr. J L. B. Matekoni interviewed a client, and he tells his wife he would like to follow that case through, carrying out the investigation himself. A cousin working in the administration of the public hospital in Mochudi comes to see Precious Ramotswe about some unexplained deaths at the hospital, so once again the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has its hands full. There is something about reading these stories that is rather like meeting up with old friends. But don’t underestimate McCall Smith as a writer. The characters are gently but so graphically drawn, with touches of humour, and situations you can imagine witnessing. And McCall Smith makes use of an urban legend that I’m sure you’ll recognise. There’s no sex, no violence, rarely any blood and gore in these novels. And yet there is murder, mystery and crime, just enough to challenge the reader’s little grey cells.

Dymocks are highlighting THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson which I have heard good things about but still haven't read. (and they've cut $6 off the price of the trade paperback too)
From their site:
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone in her own family - the deeply dysfunctional Vanger clan. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate, but when he links Harriet's disappearance to a string of gruesome murders from forty years ago, he needs a competent assistant and he gets one: computer hacker Lisbeth Salander - a tattooed, truculent, angry girl who rides a motorbike like a Hell's Angel and handles makeshift weapons with the skill born of remorseless rage.This unlikely pair form a fragile bond as they delve into the sinister past of this island-bound, tightly-knit family. But the Vangers are a secretive lot and Mikael and Lisbeth are about to find out just how far they're prepared to go to protect themselves and each other

20 February 2008

WICKER, Kevin Guilfoile - Progress Report

I'd hoped by now that I'd be able to write one of my brief reviews of this book, but I am only about half way through its nearly 600 pages.

The central character is Dr. Davis Moore who works at a cloning clinic.
His teenage daughter is raped and murdered and he uses the semen left in her body to become the genetic basis of a cloned baby. He hopes that when the baby grows up he will somehow be able to use him to identify his daughter's murderer.

Not only a really creepy idea but the story raises some big issues about cloning - is the cloned baby the absolute identical twin of the person whose DNA it was cloned on? For example, will the murderer whose DNA was used also have the distinctive birthmark the baby has? Conversely, does genetic make up determine how you think, what you become in life? Will the baby grow up to be a murderer?

My friend who lent me the book says there are even more surprises in store for me. Something about virtual worlds too.

I've read a crime novel related to DNA before.
It has really no links with WICKER but I thought I'd tell you about it anyway :-)

Reuben Maitland is a respected British forensic pathologist with an invention that, in the right hands, should revolutionise crime detection and crime prevention. His invention uses DNA to predict the physical appearance of perpetrators. But Reuben goes too far when in an unauthorised trial he links these computer generated images with CCTV surveillance cameras on the streets of London. Subsequently dismissal from his position as the head of the prestigious GeneCrime lab means that Reuben has to find other sources to fund his research. He seems less than fussy where the money comes from. Just after his dismissal members of his former GeneCrime team begin to die, murdered after extensive torture. The DNA evidence seems to point to Reuben who is an unlovely character whose marriage has collapsed. He has doubts about the paternity of his own son, rubs amphetamine into his gums, and demonstrates a very blurred set of ethics.
My rating 4.0

The other DNA related novel that occurs to me is JAR CITY (aka TAINTED BLOOD) by Arnaldur Indridason. My rating was 4.9

A man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat, a cryptic note left on his body. Erlendur, Detective Inspector with the Reykjavik police investigates. The investigation of the dead man's past reveals 40 year old accusations of rape and the murder begins to reach out like an octopus into Iceland's past and its present. We learn much about Icelandic society, and about how police investigations are carried out. There are some interesting side plots such as Erlendur's relationship with his drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind, his son Sindri Snaer, and his retired colleague Marion Briem. The investigation moves at a good pace and raises some interesting ethical questions. The jars are Iceland's DNA records.

19 February 2008

Favourite Authors- #4 Simon Brett

Simon Brett emerged as a published author in 1975 with dipsomaniac, often unemployed actor Charles Paris in the first of what was to be a 17 book series, CAST IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE. He was already known as a writer with the BBC. Charles Paris was an interesting character, at one time married to a disapproving girls school headmistress.
I read a number of those, pretty well light and enjoyable reads. 17 titles appeared 1975-1997.

While he was still writing the Charles Paris series, Brett branched out with a new protagonist in the Mrs Pargeter series. A NICE CLASS OF CORPSE was published in 1985 and there followed another 5 books, finishing with MRS PARGETER'S POINT OF HONOUR. Melita Pargeter is a rich and vivacious widow, but I must confess she never struck a chord with me.

Between 1985 and 2006 Simon wrote 11 stand-alone novels, 5 plays, 4 collections, and published 6 Charles Paris omnibuses.

But where he has hit the chord with me is the Fethering series.
Public servant Carole Seddon takes early retirement and goes to live in the small seaside town where one could expect life to be quiet. And it is for a while, until she teams up with neighbour "Jude" and they become involved in all sorts of investigations, sometimes at great personal danger.

These are true cozies, 8 already available and a new one due out in March.
I love the alliterative titles too. I've put my ratings next to the ones that are recorded in my database but I have read them all except the last.

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), 4.5
5. The Hanging in the Hotel (2004), 5.0
6. The Witness at the Wedding (2005), 4.7
7. The Stabbing in the Stables (2006), 4.3
8. Death Under the Dryer (2007), 4.3
9. Blood At the Bookies (2008)

If you ever find an audio book with Simon Brett reading one of these, listen to it. He is an excellent reader.

Check out all the titles at Fantastic Fiction.

18 February 2008

Favourite Authors - #3 Donna Leon

Imagine this scene. Standing in an airport bookshop looking for a murder mystery to read on the next flight. There are a number of authors who suit me in this situation and Donna Leon is one of them.

In my database I have records for 7 of her titles but I know that over the years I have read many more. I have given an average rating of 4.7.

According to Fantastic Fiction THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS, #17 in her very successful Brunetti series, will be out in April this year. Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola feel so normal, and the novels are populated with such believable characters. As Wikipedia says, domestic warmth of the Brunetti family contrasts with corruption and cruelty that Brunetti encounters at work.

It's an impressive record really. #1 DEATH AT LA FENICE was published in 1992, when Donna Leon was already turning 50. Since then there has been more or less a book a year.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES won the UK Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger in 2000.

I love the way Leon can weave the real issues that are facing Venice such as rising waters, pollution of the lagoon, destruction of the glass industry by flooding of the market with cheap imports, the demographic changes being caused by refugee immigration, corruption in high places, into her stories. In many ways she is not just telling us a story, but also giving us a running social commentary. And she has moved with the times. Brunetti's office assistant, Signora Elettra is a wizz on the internet.

Some sites you might check:
Tours of Guido Brunetti's Venice
Places to visit
Her UK Random House site
Italian Mysteries site

My mini-reviews (in publication order)

A male tranvestite suspected of being a prostitute has been found dead out near an abattoirs at Marghera and the Mestre district is short-staffed. Though he is due to go on holidays in the mountains in a few days, Guido Brunetti has been assigned to take charge of the investigation. It gets him away from Vice Questore Patta and out from his supervision, and already I feel Brunetti enjoying this new freedom, being given a status you don't usually feel he has. Signora Elettra makes her first appearance in this book. US Title was DRESSED FOR DEATH.
My rating: 4.6

A lorry crashes on one of the treacherous bends in the Italian Dolomites, spilling a terrible cargo . . .
A prominent international lawyer is found dead in the carriage of an Intercity train at Santa Lucia . . .
Can the two tragedies possibly be connected?
Commissario Guido Brunetti digs deep into the secret lives of the once great and good for the answer. For in a seedy Venetian bar lies the clue to an evil crime network reaching far beyond the laguna. But it will take another violent death in Venice before the forces of justice can even begin to proceed . . .
This is Donna Leon's fourth novel to feature Guido Brunetti.
My rating: 4.6

University lecturer Paola, Commissario Brunetti's wife, is a person of strong convictions. When she throws a rock through the front window of a Venetian travel agency in the middle of the night, not once but twice, because it arranges sex tours to Thailand, she gets not only herself into trouble but Brunetti as well. The owner of the travel agency's premises, who is also the owner of a pharmaceutical company, seems inordinately interested in having the matter hushed up, at the same time as making Paola pay damages. Brunetti's boss Vice-Questore Patta sends Brunetti home on "administrative leave" until the matters are resolved. And then the owner, Mitri, is discovered murdered, garrotted, and Brunetti is summoned back to work. Once again Leon has chosen, in this #8 in her 17 Brunetti titles, to not only provide the reader with a series of puzzles, but to highlight an issue of international concern, placing Venice on an international stage. Brunetti and Paola are wonderful characters as is Signora Elettra, Patta's secretary and computer sleuth.
My rating: 4.6

Commissario Guido Brunetti once again finds himself pursuing a puzzling case his fellow policemen would rather
leave closed. After a wealthy elderly woman is found brutally murdered in her apartment, the authorities suspect her maid. But when the maid meets an untimely end trying to escape from border police, and it appears that the money she carried may not have been stolen, Commissario Guido Brunetti decides—unofficially—to take the case on himself.
My rating: 4.8

On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a street vendor is killed in a scuffle in Campo Santo Stefano. The closest witnesses to the event are the American tourists who had been browsing the man's wares—fake designer handbags—before his death. The dead man had been working as a vu cumpra, one of the many African immigrants peddling goods outside normal shop hours and trading without work permits.
Commissario Brunetti's response is that of everybody involved: Why would anyone kill an illegal immigrant? Because these workers have few social connections and little money, infighting seems to be the answer. And yet the killings have all the markings of a professional operation. Once Brunetti begins to investigate this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake within the secretive society.
While his wife, Paola, struggles to come to terms with their young daughter's prejudices about the immigrants, Brunetti finds that his own police force shares many of the same biases. Warned by Patta, his superior, to desist from further involvement in the case, Brunetti only becomes more determined to unearth the truth. How far will Brunetti be able to penetrate the murky subculture of Venice's illegal community? And how high does the corruption reach into the upper echelons of Brunetti's own world and the world at large?
My rating: 4.8

#15 in the Brunetti series, set in Venice, with the action mainly centred on Murano, the famous Venetian glass making island. Donna Leon's very human Commissario Guido Brunetti, influenced by the onset of spring, begins an unofficial investigation for a colleague. A friend has been arrested while protesting against the chemical pollution of the Venetian lagoon by the factories of Marghera. The investigation reveals threats by a glass factory owner against his own son-in-law, a father who believes his young daughter's intellectual disability has been caused by chemicals, mystery, a murder, and serious questions about the future of Venice. Donna Leon has lived in Venice for a number of years and her love of the city, knowledge of its history, and concern for its future come through very strongly. If you've ever been to Venice, or even if you haven't, you'll wonder why you haven't read any of this series before. And if you are already a Donna Leon friend, then here is another that will not disappoint.
My rating: 4.8

Just on the edge of sleep, in the middle of the night, Commissario Guido Brunetti gets an urgent phone call from Inspector Vianello. Three policemen who broke into the home of a local paediatrician have assaulted him and snatched his eighteen month old son. Even in his sleep-befuddled state Brunetti can hear the urgency in Vianello’s voice. The doctor has possible brain damage, and, in Vianello’s words “We’ve got a mess”.
On his arrival at the hospital Brunetti learns from the Carabinieri captain who led the raid that the invasion of Doctor Pedrolli’s home is part of a nation wide investigation into baby trafficking. The charge against Doctor Pedrolli is the illegal adoption of his son Alfredo even though his birth registration shows Pedrolli as the father.
As always with Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, this story is set mainly in Venice, but this time there is less focus on Venice and more on an issue that has become prominent in the Western world. SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN is a story set against themes of baby trafficking and surrogacy that have emerged recently in books by other authors. Declining fertility in the Western world is contrasted with the apparent fecundity of refugees and immigrants; and the desire of women for children is set against the apparent willingness of some to sell the only thing they can produce – their child. Brunetti’s investigation takes him out of his comfort zone. His own love for his wife and children is a subtle motivator for him to get to the truth.
My rating: 4.8

16 February 2008

DEATH DELIGHTS, Gabrielle Lord

Does history repeat itself? Do patterns recur in families from one generation to the next? For forensic scientist Jack McCain, recently moved from Sydney to Canberra, it certainly seems to.

The disappearance of his daughter Jacinta two years ago after an argument with her mother seems to have a lot in common with the abduction of his little sister Rosie when he was a teenager.

As Jack becomes involved in the investigation of the grisly murders of two elderly paedophiles, the police at Kings Cross, Sydney, take an anonymous call from a woman who knows where Jacinta is. Jack blames ex-wife Genevieve for Jacinta leaving, and she him. A second anonymous call from the same woman claims that Jacinta is working in a brothel. Jack discovers both the murdered paedophiles had been released from gaol early, and yet another is due to be released within days. Will he also be in danger?

As the complexity of this novel escalates, with layer piled upon layer, you can't help wondering if Australian author Gabrielle Lord will manage to bring it all to a satisfactory resolution. I can report that she does, but you'll have to read it for yourself to find out how.

This is the first in the Jack McCain series, and regrettably I read them out of order. It is always a little disconcerting to know what happens in the second book in a series when you are reading the first, so take my advice, read DEATH DELIGHTS before you take on #2 DIRTY WEEKEND. DEATH DELIGHTS won the 2002 Ned Kelly Award for best novel.

My rating 4.7

Adelaide - a good place to live

Adelaide is known by various monikers - driest capital in the driest state in the driest continent, city of churches, city of pubs, Festival state, centre of the Tour Down Under, home of Womadelaide, also of the Clipsal 500, and the prettiest cricket ground in the world: Adelaide Oval. The climate is surprisingly mild, given the fact that today 36 C is promised.

Average Temperature (C)
Summer (Dec/Feb)
Autumn (Mar/May)
Winter (Jun/Aug)
Spring (Sept/Nov)
The above is from http://www.aussie-info.com/places/sa/adelaide/

It is a lovely place to be this time of the year with lots of local events such as Adelaide Writers Week, part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, about to happen. Preceding that is the Fringe Festival, full of quirky shows.

I say local, but they are really the sort of things that happen in most largish cities. It is just that with a population of just over 1 million, including its suburbs, Adelaide is small enough for everything to be within easy reach, and for everything to feel as it is happening right on our door step. We are really just a largish town - despite the fact that we now have some really tall buildings and various megamillion industries, when we travel to other cities like Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and Brisbane, you can't help being struck by their size.

In recent years we have become a bit notorious too with child abduction cases, serial murders, including recently the "body in the barrels" case. I reviewed Debbie Marshall's book KILLING FOR PLEASURE.
In KILLING FOR PLEASURE Australian journalist Debi Marshall tells the stories behind the grisly Snowtown "bodies-in-the barrels" serial killings, carried out over seven years in South Australia by three killers and their accomplices. KILLING FOR PLEASURE took Marshall five years to write, synthesising thousands of hours of interviews with the families of the victims, with neighbours, and with close members of the families of the murderers. What she describes pushes the boundaries of credibility, both in relation to the nature of the murders, and in the slowness of the South Australian police system to begin investigations.

Alan J Whiticker wrote in IN SEARCH OF THE BEAUMONT CHILDREN, about our most notorious child abduction/disappearance case, one which successful Australian author Kathryn Fox says has a big impact on her upbringing.

Adelaide has had a crop of budding crime writers too, some well known, others not.
Adelaide's Wakefield Press has printed a series called Wakefield Crime Classics which reprinted the work of authors such Patricia Carlon (The Whispering Wall), A.E. Martin, and Charlotte Jay.

Other writers to look for
  • Garry Disher was South Australian born and bred although he is now a Victorian (sadly). South Australia gets an occasional reference in the Challis and Destry books. There's a good list of his books and a bit of biography here. And he will be at Adelaide Writers Week.
  • Kirsty Brooks is a successful young writer. Her website is a bit out of date. Her first book was published in 1995. She has a blog but not much reference to her books there. Aust Crime Fiction lists 4 books in the Cassidy Blair series. They are just a bit too chick-lit for me.
  • Nobel prize winner John Coetzee now lives in Adelaide.
  • Nicholas Jose, author of ORIGINAL FACE, is a lecturer at Adelaide University. That seems to be his one journey into crime fiction, although he has written 7 books and been listed for a number of awards.
Other nice links

15 February 2008

Favourite Authors- #2 Karin Fossum

There's a good list of Karin Fossum's novels over at Fantastic Fiction as well as a photo of her in which she looks remarkably like Ruth Rendell.

In the last 3 years I have read 4 of her novels, and given 3 of them a rating of 5. I was probably being a bit mean with the other rating. I've listed them in the order in which they should be read.

The second time I have read this book by the 'Norwegian Queen of Crime' and I liked it even better the second time around. A six-year-old child disappears, terrifying her parents; when she suddenly returns home, a teenager is found murdered on a mountain path, her naked body carefully covered with a jacket. And the teenager’s on-and-off again boyfriend has lived through a childhood so nightmarish that he barely survives, only to find himself a murder suspect.There is comfort in the person of Inspector Sejer, the man charged with solving this murder in the picturesque setting near the Kollen Mountains. With his calm demeanor, the gray-haired inspector pursues anyone who knew the murdered girl, peeling away the façade of this idyllic village. The teenager’s shocking death has unsettled everyone, but there is an appalling paucity of clues for the inspector to work with on this puzzling case.
My rating: 5

is the second title and for some reason I have no record.
This is the blurb from Fantastic Fiction
Superb plotting, fresh style and compassionate, detailed treatment of characters have made the Inspector Sejer Mysteries bestsellers in their native Norway. A twelve-year-old boy runs wildly into his local police station claiming to have seen Halldis Horn's brutally murdered corpse. Errki Johrma, an escaped psychiatric patient and known town misfit, was sighted at the scene disappearing into the woods. The next morning the local bank is robbed at gunpoint. Making his escape the robber takes a hostage and flees and, once again, a suspect takes to the woods.

Translated from the Norwegian and starring her detective creation, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his sidekick, Jacob Skarre, the book tells the tale of two delinquent youths who accidentally kill a child when snatching a purse from a pram. Later that day, a life-changing event occurs between the two friends, Andreas and Zipp, who – in order to erase its memory – choose to rob an elderly woman. Except that Andreas enters her house, but never leaves again. While Zipp ponders where he is and the police close the net around the baby's murderers, Fossum takes you inside the house to witness the grim goings on. She draws the reader into the mind of the old woman, explaining her actions and her perceptions of the young man she has trapped there, even as she recounts the grisly events taking place behind her closed doors. It also touches on the ongoing saga of Sejer, his newfound love for Sara and the hassles that affect his family and friends.

Gunder Jomann, a quiet, middle-aged man from a peaceful Norwegian community, meets Poona on a trip to India and the two agree to marry. Gunder returns home to prepare for her arrival, but the day Poona is due to arrive, he is summoned to the hospital as his sister has been involved in a car crash. The driver sent to collect Poona in Gunder’s place fails to meet her. Then the body of an Indian woman matching Poona’s description is found in a cornfield on the edge of the community and a murder enquiry is set underway. This baffling mystery — for what motive could there be to bludgeon a newly arrived foreigner to death — sends shock waves through the community. Inspector Sejer and Skarre are called in to investigate. Increasing suspicion surrounds people’s mundane daily activities, and even when one man’s confession seems to tie up all the loose ends, there remains the uneasy feeling that all is not as simple as it first appears. published in 2001, not translated until 2005.
My rating: 5

Helga Joner has often thought that her nine year old daughter Ida is too good to be true, too good to last. The disappearance of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. When Ida fails to arrive home from the shop, Helga feels she had been rehearsing the moment for years. First Helga and her sister Ruth scour the streets where they might find Ida, without success, and then they ring the police. Helga feels that somehow she has tempted fate, setting off an inevitable chain of events.
When Inspector Konrad Sejer arrives at her house, Helga feels instinctively that he will find Ida. As time passes Sejer becomes concerned that no trace has been found of Ida or the bright yellow bicycle she rode to the shop. One hundred and fifty volunteers search for Ida without success. Eight days later there are still no clues, the search is to be scaled down, and a chance comment by Helga to Sejer gives them something new to work on.
My rating: 5

A new title due to come out this year
BROKEN - not a Conrad Sejer title though
From the blurb on Fantastic Fiction.
A gripping novel set on the boundary between fact and fiction.
A woman wakes one night to find that a strange man has walked into her bedroom. She lies there in terrified silence unable to move. The woman is an author and the man one of her prospective characters. So desperate is he to have his story told that he has resorted to breaking into her house to make her tell it.
She creates Alvar Eide, forty-two years old, single, who works in an art gallery. He lives a quiet, dutiful life, carefully designed to avoid surprises. One winter's day, all this begins to change when an emaciated young heroin addict walks into the gallery. A kind man, Alvar gives her a cup of coffee to warm her up. She returns some weeks later to his place of work, and then one day appears on his doorstep demanding to be let in.
Interspersed with the chapters of Alvar's story are his encounters with its author — the frantic attempts of a fictional man trying to control his own destiny. Broken is a gripping novel about the boundary between fact and fiction and the perils of good intentions.

13 February 2008

Faces of Miss Marple

Last month Geraldine McEwan announced her retirement from being Miss Marple in the ITV series and the announcement has been made that Julia McKenzie will be her replacement.

I'm not sure whether Julia is old or fluffy enough for the role, but I greatly admire her ability to take on different roles.
Over the years there have been a rather strange procession of Miss Marples haven't there? Seven of them according to the BBC News article.

Julia McKenzie
Geraldine McEwan
Joan Hickson
Helen Hayes
Angela Lansbury
Margaret Rutherford
Gracie Fields were the others.

I have never seen anything with Gracie Fields in it, and Angela Lansbury was about the worst. Margaret Rutherford was very far from my mental image of the old girl, but oh so good at it. Interesting that in her version the producers saw fit to give her a male helper who made her look even better!

It is becoming an iconic role like Dr. Who!

12 February 2008

Favourite Authors- #1 Peter Lovesey

Do you have a favourite crime fiction author - one whose books you pick up knowing you'll probably love it.

Looking at my database (which only goes back just over 3 years) I'd have to say Peter Lovesey comes out tops.

I clearly remember the publication of WOBBLE TO DEATH back in 1970 and I've been hooked ever since.

I have listed 6 of his novels in the last 3 years and only one did not get a rating of 5.
They are listed below in the order in which I read them and the last one is the one that I didn't give a 5 to.
I'm just not sure that I wrote all the descriptions of the early ones (one or two may have come from book blurbs - I stopped doing that about 2 years ago).
But if you are looking for a cracking British author to read - you can't go wrong with Peter Lovesey.

Peter Diamond—the famous stout detective—has come down in the world since he rashly quit the police force. He's living in a London basement flat and bemoaning his fate: that one of the world's best homicide cops is considering a job as a nude artist's model. Then a murderer breaks out of jail, kidnaps a cop's daughter, and makes his ransom demand: he must speak to Peter Diamond at once.
His old bosses beg him to come back to Bath. All Diamond has to do is free the hostage, and he may be able to return to his old job. But the kidnapper, convicted of murdering a beautiful reporter whose mouth was filled with roses, insists he's innocent. Diamond's mission is to find the real killer. Now, with no clues and a cold trail, Diamond is in the rough, risking his future, his reputation, and perhaps his life to crack a nearly impossible case. This is just vintage Lovesey. Such easy reading but lots of good threads and red herrings.

Encouraged by his fourteen-year-old-daughter who recognises his lonely widowhood, Bob Naylor decides to join a writers' circle, believing he might gain some expert help with the poetry which keeps spilling out of his imagination. He discovers a motley collection of wannabe authors who he doubts he has anything in common with, but just as he is deciding not to formally join the group he learns that a publisher who addressed their last meeting has been killed and he stays to see what might develop. The Senior Investigating Officer, Henrietta Mallin, soon has all the members of the group under suspicion and, under pressure from her superiors, arrests their Chairman. Bob, the only writer who had not met the victim, is persuaded by other members of the group to do some investigating of his own. And that is when the trouble really starts, because another death turns the spotlight of suspicion on to him.

Skeletal remains are found in a cellar below Bath's Georgian tearooms. To Peter Diamond's delight they are not all of medieval origin, a radius proves to be only twenty years old and bears the marks of a sharp weapon. While a police team painstakingly sift through the cellar looking for the rest of the body, Diamond is distracted by the search for a missing American tourist, the wife of an English Professor who has been behaving very oddly. What Diamond doesn't know is that the professor believes he is on the point of locating the diaries of Mary Shelley written whilst in Bath finishing the manuscript of FRANKENSTEIN. Suspecting the professor of disposing of his wife but unable to prove anything, Diamond concentrates on trying to identify whose remains have been found in the cellar, and by solid old-fashioned detection he does so with shocking result. But before he can begin to work out who might have been the killer, the owner of the city's largest 'antique' emporium is found brutally murdered and the last person known to have seen her alive is the Professor.

#8 in the Peter Diamond series and one of Lovesey's best. "If you were planning a murder and wanted a place to carry it out, a beach would do nicely"" - so the first chapter begins. It is not until the tide begins to come in late on Sunday afternoon that the few remaining people on Wightview Sands, busily packing up their belongings, realise that the water is lapping the feet of the woman behind the blue beach shelter. So not only is the crime scene unable to be preserved, but no-one knows who the woman is. Trying to find out who she is leads SIO Mallin into collaboration with Peter Diamond, whose reputation precedes him, and they venture together into highly classified material. Don't worry if you haven't read any Lovesey before - this one will get you looking for more.

It is 3 years since Peter Diamond's wife was killed and he is being stalked by a woman who wants to become better acquainted. ACC Georgina Dalley's friend's daughter has gone missing . A woman's body is discovered hanging from a public playground swing, at first sight a suicide, but then it seems she may already have been dead when hung there. The discovery of a second body seems to signal that they have a ""hangman"" on the loose. Very very readable.

If the title in the context of crime fiction makes you think "grim reaper" then you are on the right track.
This is a macabre cosy if there is such a thing. A rompingly entertaining read, but not one of Lovesey's best.
Otis Joy, the rector of St. Bartholomew's in the Wiltshire village of Foxford, a young man in his late 20s, is a dynamic relative newcomer to the village. He seems everything a vicar needs to be, even if he is unmarried. Underneath though he is a very nasty bit of work indeed. Nobody believes lugubrious old Owen Cumberbatch when he says that the Rev. Joy's last parish is without its Sexton/bellringer because he crossed Otis Joy. Snooping old Skidmore simply disappeared.
But we do know from almost the first page of the story that Otis Joy is responsible for the death of the bishop, Marcus Glastonbury, who had found out that he had been embezzling funds at his previous parish (where the Sexton disappeared).
We learn also that he has come to an "arrangement" with his current Parish treasurer, Stanley Burrows, ex-headmaster, to have a private contingency fund which appears nowhere in the church's accounts. And then Stanley says he would like to hand the job over to a younger person, that he is getting too old, and the responsibility of the parish books is too great...
I think Peter Lovesey, one of my favourite authors, had great fun in writing this book. It is almost as if he decided to write a spoof on the village cosy. There are some really sardonic descriptions, almost cruel, of village personalities. One that comes to mind readily is Cynthia Haydenhall, Chair of the Women's Institute - my mental vision of her is of a dark haired strident Penelope Keith - who sees herself as the social hub of the village. And there are others..
This isn't going to exercise your little grey cells too much. But if you enjoy the occasional cosy, then hunt it down. In style it reminds me a bit of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series.

11 February 2008

Set in Australia

Just thought I'd bring some books set in Australia to your attention.

There is of course Adrian Hyland's DIAMOND DOVE, currently raising a storm in the US under the title of MOONLIGHT DOWNS.

Western Australian author Felicity Young has had two books published so far

Senior Sergeant Cam Fraser accepts an appointment to run the police station in a small country town in West Australia to get away from the trauma that he and his 15 year old daughter have experienced in the last 3 years. He was brought up in this town, but his expectations of a quiet life are shattered with the discovery of a charred body after a bushfire in the grounds of a local school. To complicate matters the police at the station are mainly young and inexperienced, apart from Vince against whom there have been many complaints by locals. And what are the school principal and her husband hiding? The story moves at a good pace and the plot is well woven. Young makes good use of the uniqueness of her Australian setting.
My rating 4.5

Somebody is killing young women in Perth, Western Australia, and then, post-mortem, posing their painted bodies carefully in relatively public places. The first body is painted bronze, the second silver ... you get the picture. False clues are left stuck to the bodies, and each has AN EASEFUL DEATH written down one leg. This is the second novel by Felicity Young. It features D.S. Stevie Hooper newly seconded to the Serious Crime Squad in Perth. She is young, un-married with a young daughter, keen to do well, and working with a boss who is also a good friend. In this case Stevie is the liaison with the eminent profiler who is helping the squad with the case. Quotes from publications by the profiler appear as tag lines in each of the chapters (but I must confess, didn't always seem significant to me). The action of the book mainly seems to happen over a one week period and comes thick and fast. There are plenty of candidates offered for the serial killer and I must confess I punted for the wrong one! Felicity says her third book, HARUM SCARUM, also featuring Stevie Hooper, will be published in March 2008
My rating 4.6

One I really enjoyed was THE WHISPERING WALL by Patricia Carlon
60 year old Sarah Oatland has had a stroke and is laid out in her bed 'like a fish on a slab' having lost the ability to speak or move. And then the walls begin to talk. Sarah hears occupants of the house plan a murder and there is nothing she can do to tell anybody about it or to warn the victim. Or is there?… This is an ingenious story, an Australian classic that has weathered the test of time very well. The style is cosy, but there is also nail-biting tension.
My rating 4.8
Patricia carlon wrote her most popular books in the 1960s

Another you could look for is MALICIOUS INTENT by Kathryn Fox
Dr. Anya Crichton has recently struck out to work on her own as a freelance forensic pathologist. Work is a bit hard to find but she is gaining a reputation as a credible courtroom authority. She is not without friendsin the police, the New South Wales State Forensic Institute, and among the criminal barristers. Something about the apparent suicide of Clare Matthews doesn't sit quite right: the fact that, a nun, she disappeared shortly before she was due to take her vows, that she suicided by jumping off the Gap, that she was 6 weeks pregnant, and that she had strange fibres in her lungs. And now another case with similarities crops up: Fatima Deab overdoses on heroine after being missing for some days and her lungs contain the same fibres. Debut publication by Australian author. It is obvious to the reader that Kathryn Fox has a lot to say, lots of issues that she wants to make us aware of, and sometimes this novel takes on a bit of a didactic tone. But the plotting is so good, the tension so well built that by the end I could forgive her anything!
My rating 4.7
Kathryn Fox has 2 more books out now.
Her website is at http://www.kathrynfox.com/

10 February 2008

SHARK MUSIC (aka FIND ME), Carol O'Connell

NYPD detective Kathy Mallory has stopped turning up for work and there is a body on the floor of the front room of her apartment. Even Riker, her partner, knows only that Mallory appears to be on the run, travelling west from New York, somewhere on what used to be Route 66. More alarming than the corpse on the floor is the massive list of telephone numbers on the wall of the den. They have lines through them, as if Mallory has been crossing them off. And then 800 miles away, in Chicago, a second corpse has been found. Heavy rain is destroying the scene of crime, washing the evidence away. The body is laid out with its arm pointing down Route 80, saying "Follow Me". And then Mallory turns up at the scene of the crime.

Mallory appears to be following a moving caravan of vehicles travelling the Mother Road, Main Street USA, variously known as Route 66, Route 80, and the I-55. Leading them is psychiatrist Paul Magritte, almost like a patriarch leading a lost tribe, except that the cars contain parents of missing children. These people have been gathered from Magritte’s therapy patients and from internet groups. At each point where the caravan stops the parents post pictures of the lost children. As the caravan gathers media attention, so it also attracts more parents. FBI agents join it as do state troopers and local policemen. Old burials of tiny skeletons are discovered along the roadside, and some of the parents are murdered. Mallory is following an agenda of her own: a wad of letters written by the father she never knew as he too followed Route 66. The quest to find missing children, to apprehend a serial killer, blurs with Mallory’s own quest to find her father.

I need to confess first up that I have read only a couple of earlier titles in O’Connell’s Mallory series. This is #9, and while I knew some of the background about Kathy Mallory, found when she was 6 years old in New York’s Grand Central Station, and fostered by NYPD’s Lou Markowitz, those who have read the series will have more knowledge about the central characters than I did. Trying to piece the book together was rather like a jigsaw begun at the four corners without a clear picture of what the middle would look like. Possibly a less determined reader would have given up, but with my focus on the holy grail of this review, I journeyed on. Things got better in the second half of the book, there were aha! moments, little questions posed to which we needed answers, and then the resolution arrived.

Standing back now, I can appreciate the complexity of what O’Connell has done in SHARK MUSIC. At times the image of this growing caravan crawling along Main Street, carrying with it so much heartbreak, and so many hopes that would never be realised, was almost surreal. Soemtimes it was evocative of the wagon trains of an earlier era rolling west. Overlaying all is the growing tension of the serial murderer trawling the caravan looking for his next victim. The reader is required to juggle a multitude of threads, sift clues, and even pose their own questions. Don’t expect SHARK MUSIC to be a quick read, it needs time.

9 February 2008

oz_mystery_readers 5 years old today

Back on 9 Feb 2003, when had I tried and tasted a number of online book discussion groups, and not found any that really did what I wanted, which was to discuss murder mystery books available in Australia, I decided to launch out and create one. I had already floated the idea with friends in a face-to-face group here in Adelaide, and so oz_mystery_readers was born.

I advertised the group among friends and email lists and it gradually grew. As happens with such groups, membership changes over time with people subscribing and unsubscribing. Some people get overwhelmed by email as a group grows, go "nomail" and promptly forget the group exists, others get the digest of daily mails, while still others just lurk.
oz_mystery_readers has really grown very slowly, but I'd guess that over time about twice as many have subscribed as are members now.
It helps also to develop a strong core of active members, which I believe we have now, and also for others to take on tasks in the group, whether it be as co-moderators or as discussion leaders.

I thought a lot about the good and bad features of other groups that I'd joined and left, and of those I'd stayed with. I must admit that a much larger US group 4MA that I discovered after I'd created oz_mystery_readers has been a constant source of inspiration and a good model of what a group can be like.

Some statistics:
Currently there are 117 members (but among them are 15 "bouncing" email addresses)
Between us, over 5 years, we have generated 9765 messages
June 2007 was our most "active" month with 418 messages - that is just over 10 a day.
Since beginning regular scheduled book discussions in December 2004 we have discussed 46 books.

We rate all discussion books and our top 10 books, in order, have been
On 5.0 (maximum points)
RAVEN BLACK by Ann Cleeves,
and DIAMOND DOVE by Adrian Hyland
ABOVE SUSPICION by Lynda La Plante (4.75)
Then on 4.7
SLEEPYHEAD by Mark Billingham
FLESH AND BLOOD by John Harvey
RED LEAVES by Thomas H. Harris
THE BROKEN SHORE by Peter Temple
On 4.6
NO TRACE by Barry Maitland

Our discussion books are suggested and voted on by members.
We have selection criteria for the books:
January: General suggestion
February: Non-British, Non-Australian writer
March: 1-10 General suggestion
24-30 Quiz an Author: we ask an author to join us
April: Awards month
1-10 Ned Kelly winner for best crime novel for previous year
21-30 a prize winner - the book must have won a prize
for crime/mystery fiction in the last 5 years.
May: General suggestion
June: British crime - British author or British setting or both
July: General suggestion
August: Classics month - the book should be written by a writer considered a "classic" - e.g. Agatha Christie, Simenon, Arthur Upfield, Dorothy L. Sayers
September: 1-10 General suggestion
24-30 Quiz an Author: we ask an author to join us
October: Australian writer in an Australian setting
November: General suggestion
December: Christmas, set in and around Christmas

As well as the scheduled discussions, we have a number of regular weekly activities such as Friday Recommendation, Telling Title, Peeves, Middle of the Month, Author Chat, and Who Have you Met?
At the end of each month we encourage members to tell others what they've read in the last month, with title, author, short description and rating if they've kept that much detail.
These lists are great sources of suggestions for books to look out for or avoid.

We have an activity called Quiz an Author which takes place approximately every 3 months. Our guest for a week is an Australian author who is asked to answer a mixture of pre-set and spontaneous questions.
So far our guests have been
Brian Kavanagh - author of CAPABLE OF MURDER, THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE, and recently released BLOODY HAM
P. D. Martin - author of BODY COUNT, THE MURDERERS CLUB, and recently released FAN MAIL
Adrian Hyland - author of DIAMOND DOVE (aka MOONLIGHT DOWNS), winner of the Ned Kelly best First Novel award in 2007
Our guest on 17 February will be multiple award winner Gabrielle Lord. Author of 15 books published since 1980. Books to think about: DEATH DELIGHTS, DIRTY WEEKEND and SHATTERED.

Our reading/discussion schedule for the coming months
1-10, EXIT MUSIC by Ian Rankin
April: Awards Month
1-10, 2007 Ned Kelly Award Winner: Best Novel
21-30, 2007 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Award

Despite the fact that this group is an Australian one, and we do promote Australian murder mystery and crime fiction, we don't read/discuss exclusively that as you can see, and our members come from all over the world.
So if you are looking for a group to join, why not oz_mystery_readers?

8 February 2008

SHARK MUSIC by Carol O'Connell - progress report

I've spent most of this week reading SHARK MUSIC (aka FIND ME) by Carol O'Connell
I'm still only about halfway through and I'm not sure why it is taking me so long.
I think it is because I've had to work hard to get a mental picture of what is actually happening.
I keep hoping for an aha! moment, and I have had a few and am not in so much of a fog as I was, but I still need for my ideas to jell.

It is #9 in the Mallory series

Kathy Mallory has stopped turning up for work and there is a body on the floor of the front room of her apartment. Not even Riker, her partner, knows exactly where Mallory is. All he knows is that she is on the run, travelling west from New York, somewhere on what used to be Route 66. More alarming than the corpse on the floor is the massive list of telephone numbers on the wall of the den. And then 800 miles away, in Chicago, a second corpse has been found. Heavy rain is destroying the scene of crime, washing the evidence away. The body is laid out with its arm pointing down Route 80, saying "Follow Me". And then Mallory turns up at the scene of the crime.
Mallory appears to be following a moving caravan of vehicles travelling down the Mother Road, "the main street of USA", variously known as Route 66, Route 80, and the I-55. Leading them is psychiatrist Paul Magritte, almost like a patriarch leading a lost tribe, except that the cars contains parents of missing children.

I'm finding this a particularly creepy and disturbing novel. Has anybody else read it? How is my summary so far?

7 February 2008

Library Lovers Day, 14 Feb

In Australia St. Valentine's Day, February 14, has been adopted by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), and other organisations such as Public Libraries Australia, as a day for supporters to assert their love of their local library, and for libraries to show their appreciation of those who use them.

ALIA says that Australians are definitely library lovers. Some facts and figures: We borrow around 174 million items every year from our 1700 plus public libraries and just over half the population are registered borrowers, while 77,000 Australians use 5,000 internet computers in our public libraries every week.

Last year members of one of the US online groups that I belong to recounted how funding had run out for their local libraries and that they were having to close their doors until the next funding stream occurred. This article recounts the impact as Congress funding for libraries dried up early in 2007. At the time, I thought how I would react if my local council here in Adelaide withdrew their funding for the library network that I belong to. What a catastrophe it would be! And how much more expensive to "feed my reading habit".

See the Great Ideas page for how you can celebrate Library Lovers Day on February 14. They include delivering hampers to powerful people, decorating your library, playing romantic music over the public address system, hosting a morning tea, printing out some bookmarks, and having fun. As a supporter, let your library know that you appreciate and love them!

5 February 2008

Books to Talk About - World Book Day

World Book Day is March 6.
Spread the Word: Books to Talk About is a British/Irish campaign to help people discover books they might not otherwise have considered reading. There were100 books in the original list. 90 of the titles have now been discarded and 10 remain as a shortlist. The original 100 were a very interesting list, but the books were not always categorised in the genre I would have expected to find them in, with a number of crime books categorised under thriller for example.

Anyway, now the short list of 10 has been announced and here are the titles.
I have ** those I would expect to find on crime shelves in a bookshop, although none of them are categorised as crime fiction.

Ishq and Mushq by Priya Basil
Salt & Honey by Candi Miller
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Lint by Steve Aylett
Speaking of Love by Angela Young
** In Cold Daylight by Pauline Rowson
** Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham
Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson

In order to comment or vote on the books you need to register http://www.worldbookday.com/spreadtheword/books/book_top-ten.asp so that is probably something I won't do, but I'll certainly be interested in the results of the voting. Must put World Book Day in my diary too.

4 February 2008

First Tuesday Book Club

Australian readers will be aware of the ABC's First Tuesday book Club

A newsletter arrived today with this information

Live Studio Recording!
If you're in Sydney on Friday the 8th of February we would love for you to join us for the live discussion of The Memory Room and Naked live at club headquarters. The filming will take place at the ABC studios 700 Harris Street Ultimo from 1.45 until 3pm and individuals and groups are most welcome.

This episode will screen at 10pm on Tuesday March 4th and again at 4.30 on Sunday 9th.

Special Episode.
Don't miss Jennifer Byrne Presents: Crime on the 11th of March at 10pm. Jennifer is joined by an all star panel, Dorothy Porter, Justice Ian Callinan, Shane Maloney and Graham Blundell who all get up to their elbows on all the sinister secrets of the crime writing genre.

Other 2008 Recordings are scheduled for:
March 5 – from the Adelaide Writers’ Festival
March 20 – Double Record – regular episode and Jennifer Byrne Presents: Animal Stories.
April 9 – One episode recorded in Sydney
May 9 – Double Record – regular episode and Jennifer Byrne Presents: Sex and Romance.
These events are free to attend, just call or email if you’d like to reserve seats.

Enter the Five Word Review Competition!
Not five pages, five paragraphs or even five sentences… Use five words exactly to critique the read of your choice and be in the running for a selection of books from the First Tuesday library. You can enter by post or on the Discussion Board.

First Tuesday Production Crew
Email: bookclub@your.abc.net.au
Phone: (02) 8333 3644
Write to: First Tuesday Book Club GPO Box 9994 Sydney NSW 2001

On the website I also found a review of NO TIME FOR GOODBYE by Linwood Barclay, which I have bought but am yet to read.
There is also a good page about Ruth Rendell with particular reference to NOT IN THE FLESH which was a featured book in December 2007.

You can also tell them what your favourite book for 2007 was.

By the way currently I'm reading Carol O'Connell's SHARK MUSIC. The alternative US title was FIND ME. The book's imagery is having quite a surreal effect on me, but more of that after I've finished.

3 February 2008


THE RISK OF DARKNESS is #3 in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series, and in many ways a continuation of THE PURE IN HEART. That fact causes problems in writing even a short review, because I don't want to spoil THE PURE IN HEART for those who have still to read it.

THE RISK OF DARKNESS could certainly be read on its own, but I have seen comments where people say it has sent them scurrying back to find the two preceding novels.

One concept that I thought Hill explored really well in this novel was that of the impact on victims of crime - the impact on those whose loved one has been killed or has disappeared, and the impact on relatives of the person who committed the crime.

What also comes over really well is that no detective works in a social vacuum - they too have family, ambitions, and emotional quagmires.

As she did in the two earlier novels, Hill leaves threads and questions, un-resolved, that will probably carry over into the next. New characters come onto the scene, and Hill, seemingly without a qualm, ditches others who have been with us throughout.

The one constant in all novels is Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler, at times a frustratingly flawed character, sometimes blind-sided by his own emotional needs, and often insensitive to how others might feel, but always concerned with active detection.

Simon Serrailler series in order:
THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN (2004), my rating: 4.6
THE PURE IN HEART (2005), my rating: 4.7
THE RISK OF DARKNESS (2006), my rating: 4.7

To be published in 2008

Susan Hill's website: http://www.susan-hill.com/
Her blog: http://blog.susan-hill.com/blog/index.xml

1 February 2008


I thought I'd find more references to skulls in my reading record summaries, but I found only 3, one of which I listed when I talked about bones.

But you can see from my ratings that I enjoyed them all.
Once again a couple of highly recommendable authors in Stephen Booth and Jane Goodall. Jane is an Australian author, so do try to get her books- and read them in order (THE WALKER, THE VISITOR, THE CALLING)

THE DEAD PLACE by Stephen Booth
Soon there will be a killing. Close your eyes and breathe the aroma. I can smell it right now, can't you? So powerful, so sweet. So irresistible. It's the scent of death… The anonymous caller who taunts the Derbyshire Police with talk of an imminent killing seems to be just another hoaxer. But Detective Sergeant Diane Fry begins to take him seriously when a woman is snatched from a multi-storey car park. This was no opportunist attack but a carefully planned abduction - and it's possible the chilling voice is telling the truth when it hints at earlier murders and bodies waiting to be found in 'the Dead Place'. Detective Constable Ben Cooper, meanwhile, has succeeded in finding a body - or rather, a collection of bones. This comes as a shock to the deceased's family, for Audrey Steele should have left no bones. Eighteen months ago, after dying from natural causes, Audrey was cremated and her ashes scattered in Edendale's memorial gardens. Their investigations lead DS Fry and DC Cooper into the world of those whose lives revolve around death. And finally, in a boarded-up ancestral home that has long been the stuff of legend in the White Park, a crypt full of skulls yields it dark secrets.
My rating: 4.6

THE VISITOR by Jane R. Goodall
Following the phenomenal success of Jane R Goodall’s 2004 debut novel THE WALKER comes the second Briony Williams thriller. Twin boys run away from their au pair on a trip to the Oxford countryside. They race into some woods where they see a man chopping. At first they think he is chopping wood, but what he is holding in his hand is not an axe, and the shape on the ground is not a tree. Their au pair, Sylvie, sets off to look for them... Briony Williams has moved to Oxford. The story begins as she speeds across the city to the murder site, where Sylvie Bec has been found dead—killed by a single blow that crushed her skull. The forensic pathologist says he has never seen anything like it.
With a fascination for all things terrifying, Jane Goodall takes readers into the dark, drug-filled world of 1970s Oxford, where we witness serial killings and a murderer with a fascination for ancient artefacts. Not even Detective Williams is safe.
My rating: 4.7

THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerritsen
Maura Isles, Boston medical examiner, tells Julia Hamill that the skeleton she has dug up in her back garden is old, much older than the house that she has recently purchased. The skeleton is that of a female under 35 years, buried perhaps more than 150 ago, and murdered. Julia is recently divorced and had been labouring to convert the barren back yard into a garden when her shovel struck a skull. Now her backyard is an excavation site for the medical examiner’s office.
For most of the book, which jumps, sometimes a little jarringly, backwards and forwards between the 1830s and the present day, we are following an ancestor of the last owner of the house, the person's whose estate Julia bought the house from. We do this both through reading about events as they happen, and through papers and letters hoarded by the previous occupant Hilda Chamblet
My rating: 4.6

Adelaide Writers Week program available online

See 2012 information

The program for Adelaide writers Week 2-7 March 2008 is available online at http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/library/WWTimetable.pdf

You'll need Adobe Acrobat reader 8 to read it - if opening the pdf stalls on your computer then the likely answer is that you need to update your Acrobat Reader.
You can do that easily by going to http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/reader/ and choosing the Download option.

So what do I think of the program?
On the first day, 2 March, Sunday Crimes - a 90 minute session with Thomas Cook, Peter Corris, and Denise Mina looks right up my alley.

But on the next day, 3 March, I have to make a choice between Dorothy Porter and Peter Carey (the latter will probably win)
There's a session called Window on Scotland with James Meek and Denise Mina.
And then a couple of sessions in the afternoon including Peter Corris.

Day 3
A book launch with Peter Carey
But who set Thomas Cook and Denise Mina on at the same time? grrr..........
Not really much more on that day for this little duck.

Day 4
A session with Ian McEwan at the beginning of the day.
And later in the day a session that includes Geraldine Brooks looks good.

Day 5
All looks a bit cultural for me - maybe I'll have a day home just reading

Day 6, last day, 7 March
Meet the author Marshall Browne looks good
But what klutz makes me choose between Gabrielle Lord and Garry Disher??
But then at the end of the day we get all 3 in a panel session, so I guess I'll be happy.

However with 2 timetable clashes of crime genre writers, can't help feeling it could have been done better.

Just need nice weather now - not a lot of hope of rain so we should be ok there. It can be hot in March though.


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