16 May 2008

Female 'tecs - of the British kind

This started out as a post about Aline Templeton's books but then I decided to range a bit further. You'll see I've said "of the British kind". With luck in later postings we'll look at European (although I'm a bit thin there), American, and Australian. These refer to characters I've met in books I've read, so I've included mini-reviews from my database.

So here I introduce you to
  • D. I. Marjorie Fleming of Galloway
  • Janine Lewis, Manchester's first female D. I.
  • Inspector Vera Stanhope of Northumbria
  • Carole and Jude of Fethering
  • Dorothy Martin, American tourist in London
  • S.I.O. Hen Mallen
  • D.S. Karen Meadows
  • Maisie Dobbs
Author: Aline Templeton

COLD IN THE EARTH (2005), rating: 4.6
#1 in Templeton's Marjorie Fleming series: COLD IN THE EARTH is set in Galloway, Scotland, and foot and mouth disease strikes the cattle. All livestock have to be destroyed, including the sheep Marge's husband Bill loves so much. When a burial pit is dug at Kirkluce human remains are found. The Mason family on whose property the remains are found are so committed to raising cattle that they go to Pamplona every year for the running of the bulls, and Jake, the head of the family is nicknamed the Minotaur. An interesting snapshot too of a community torn apart by first of all the BSE and now the foot-and-mouth crisis. Herds and flocks built up over generations have to be destroyed. This is D. I. Marjorie Fleming's first murder investigation too. She is a tall raw-boned Scotswoman who rules her investigation team with sensitivity and purpose. The characterisation and humanity in these books is excellent

THE DARKNESS AND THE DEEP (2006), rating 4.6
The second in the series with protagonist D. I. Marjory Fleming. The wreck of the Knockhaven lifeboat causes the death of all 3 of its crew, and worse, it looks like it is the result of sabotage. This is an excellent read - many red herrings and lots of well drawn characters.

Author: Cath Staincliffe

BLUE MURDER (2004), rating: 4.2
Janine Lewis, newly promoted to Detective Chief Inspector, is 6 months pregnant, already mother of 3, and recently separated from an unfaithful husband. She is Manchester's first female DCI, and now she has been assigned her first case. It is Saturday morning and a school teacher has been grotesquely murdered on his allotment. Her boss is reluctant to give Janine the case, just as he was reluctant to accept her promotion, but there is no-one else. He, derisively known as The Lemon, seriously doubts she has the bottle to solve anything, particularly in view of her personal circumstances. Janine is just as determined to succeed and the murder investigation takes place against the background of the demands of family life.

BITTER BLUE (2003), rating: 4.2
Manchester private investigator Sal Kilkenny is a single mum with a 7 year old daughter, sharing a house with Ray, a single father with a 6 year old son. Sal tries to be selective about the cases she takes on but that doesn't always mean she avoids personal danger. Two or three cases at a time is not unusual: an elegant hotel receptionist has been receiving offensive and threatening hate letters, a couple want a "peace of mind" report about a street where they are considering buying a house, and then, her daughter Maddie complicates things by not wanting to go to school. Cases escalate and Sal finds she has made some serious misjudgements. Sal Kilkenny is a firmly drawn character, and this is #6 in a 7 title series. I'll be looking for another.

Author: Ann Cleeves

CROW TRAP (1999), rating: 4.8
Debut novel in the Vera Stanhope series. In the Northern Pennines there are plans to open a new slate quarry. Three women are employed to conduct an environmental survey. Bella Furness, whose cottage holds right of way to the site of the quarry, commits suicide and shortly afterwards one of the women involved in the survey fails to return home. Vera makes her first appearance at Bella's funeral and then is the investigating officer when the missing woman is found murdered. Ann Cleeves has created an intriguing character in Vera Stanhope. She is the sort of detective who more or less does as she pleases, very hands-on. There are many twists in this, keeping me guessing until the end.

HIDDEN DEPTHS (2007), rating: 4.7
Julie Armstrong has been for a 'night out with the girls' and arrives home, barely sober, to find her son Luke in the bath, apparently drowned, scented water and flowers floating on the surface. Whatever happened, her daughter Laura has slept through it all. Inspector Vera Stanhope of the Northumbrian police, is the investigating officer. Soon there is a second body, this time young student teacher Lily Marsh. She too is found lying in a pool of water strewn with flowers but this time in an fairly inaccessible part fo the coastline. The subsequent investigation which Vera leads works rather like peeling back the layers of the onion, seeking the connections between the two deaths. And are they connected to an earlier drowning where mourners threw flowers onto the river where another young man died? This is #3 in the Vera Stanhope series: in tall, lumpy Vera Cleeves has almost created a female equivalent of Reginald Hill's Andy Dalziel. Perhaps that's being unkind to Vera, but she is every bit as clever, as intuitive.

Author: Simon Brett

The Fethering Series - see my previous posting
Central characters are busybodies - Carole and Jude
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)

Author: Jean M. Dams

American Dorothy Martin broke her ankle shortly after her second marriage. Her British husband is ex-policeman Alan Nesbitt much in demand by police forces around the world as a consultant, and in this book he is only a voice at the other end of the phone. Dorothy has to travel to London by train to see her specialist, and during the journey she talks to the young man in the opposite seat, who is the CEO of a software company. When they arrive at Victoria Station he appears to have fallen asleep, and when Dorothy tries to wake him she finds that he is very dead. The doctor who comes to her assistance on the train says he will take care of matters and do all the necessary reporting, so Dorothy hobbles off ot her appointment. However the death isn't reported and now Dorothy involves herself in the investigation of what was obviously a murder. Just a little to cosy for my liking, and for me Dorothy seems a bit improbable.

Author: Peter Lovesey

THE CIRCLE (2005), rating 5.0
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.

Author: Hillary Bonner

WHEN THE DEAD CRY OUT (2003), rating:4.5
One summer day Clara Marshall vanished without trace. A few days later, her children, six-year-old Lorraine and five-year-old Janine, also disappeared and were never seen again. Richard Marshall, Clara's heartbroken husband, claimed he had discovered his wife was having an affair with an Australian backpacker and that she had run away with him, taking the children with her, destroying the family for ever. That was twenty-seven years ago. John Kelly, veteran journalist, covered the case when he was a trainee reporter and he suspected something far more sinister. Police enquiries discovered no Australian backpacker and the biggest missing persons operation ever mounted in the south of England revealed nothing. Detective Superintendent Karen Meadows has been familiar with case since childhood and she is only too aware that many suspect Marshall of murdering his wife and children. But where are the bodies? And what is the motive?
Then extraordinary events reawaken the case and Kelly and Karen become determined to discover what happened to Clara and her children so long ago, and to seek justice for them.

Author: Jacqueline Winspear

BIRDS OF A FEATHER (2005), rating: 4.6
This novel is set some time after the first in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is now an established detective with rooms of her own and an assistant. It's now the early Spring of 1930. Her friend Detective Inspector Stratton of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad is investigating a murder case in Coulsden, while Maisie has been summoned to Dulwich to find a runaway heiress. The woman is the daughter of Joseph Waite, a wealthy self-made man who has lavished her with privilege but kept her in a gilded cage. His domineering ways have driven her off before, and now she's bolted again. Waite's instructions are to find his daughter and bring her home. When Maisie looks into the disappearance she finds a chilling link to Stratton's murder case, and to the terrible legacy of The Great War.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating, not least (to me) the fine-tuning of your grading. (0.1 point between the two Ann Cleeves you review here, for example).
I have not read these Vera books but have read two Ann Cleves, Raven Black and the sequel White Nights, so I am keen to read the Vera books. Glad to see from your reviews that they are worth it.

Of the authors you feature here, I have read (apart from Cleeves) only Bonner and Winspear. I read the first Maisie Dodds book and I am afraid my reaction was "never again". I really did not like it, and thought I was reading a kids' book. Interesting that in the UK at least the publisher subsequently branded her Young Adult (or Teen).
I have quite enjoyed the several Hillary Bonners I have read, though because they were pre-blogging for me, and because my memory is so poor apart from the stand-out good and the stand-out bad, I can't remember if I have read this one or not. I like her (it is a she, isn't it?) books, but they are not my absolute favourites.

Kerrie said...

The fine gradation is probably easily explained by the fact that I am not grading them all simultaneously - I sometimes think I should just stick to the major grades 5, 4.5, 4 etc

That's the only Bonner I have read but I did make a note to look for more- which I haven't yet done

The Maisie Dobbs appealed to the historian in me

The Vera Stanhope books use a strange technique which Reginald Hill sometimes employs - she makes such a late entrance that you wonder whether you mis-read the blurb, or whether she lost her invitation to participate. In one book she does make quite an early appearance but is mistaken for a bag woman when she attends a funeral. There are some lovely images of her.

Bernadette said...


Looks like some MORE names to add to my 'to read' pile as I do tend to like the female sleuths. At the moment I'm rediscovering Aussie Verity Birdwood (Jennifer Rowe's books from the 90's) but I'm definitely going to add some of these to my wishlist.

Fortunately (because my local library isn't that great and my bank account isn't what it needs to be to fund my habit entirely) I've discovered bookmooch.com which is a book swapping website I've been having fun with.

Kerrie said...

How does bookmooch work if you are in Australia Bernadette?

Bernadette said...

Kerrie there are around 600 members of Book Mooch in Australia so you can swap with them. You can also choose to swap with overseas members too. Obviously the postage is higher but you do get more points for sending books to someone overseas and more points means you can receive more books yourself. i've only been active for a month or so but about half my activity has been with Aussie members. I choose to send small paperbacks overseas but you don't have to do that if you don't want to. I have also requested and received some books from overseas which is cool.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for the info Bernadette. I've joined. Not sure I will use it though

Anonymous said...

Concerning Maisie Dobbs: It seems I can understand both your sentiments. I thought that it is a weak piece of crime fiction and also concluded never more. But I found the description of the great war really good and liked the book for presenting Wilfred Owen.


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