11 August 2008

Excellence in my book

What these six crime fiction novels have in common is that I used the word "excellent" in my database record, and each one of them scored my maximum of 5.0. Does that sound a bit trivial? Have you read any of them? Do you agree?

ABOVE SUSPICION by Lynda La Plante
#1 In the Anna Travis series. Detective Chief Inspector Langton has the opportunity to had an extra DS to his team investigating a series of murders when one of his team goes sick. He chooses DS Anna Travis a graduate in economics who has experience in number of squads but has never worked on a murder team. Her father was a well respected DCS. Anna gets an instant introduction to murder when the body of a young female student is found on Clapham Common, and she first views the body in situ and then attends the post mortem. At first the murder team incident room treat Anna as an inexperienced rookie, but then her dedication to her work proves her worth to them as she stumbles across a vital connection that identifies the possible killer. An excellent read. I look forward to the next in the series.

CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson
1970s: A young toddler goes missing in a Cambridge summer heat wave. 1980s:A teenage girl is brutally murdered in her father's law office. 1980s: A struggling young mother can't abide her screaming baby anymore and in a temper takes an axe to her husband. Three shocking vignettes. Three grim case histories that begin this compelling and beautiful novel from Kate Atkinson.
The way Atkinson brings all these three case histories together through threads from the present in the investigations of Jackson Brodie is excellent.

THE MINOTAUR by Barbara Vine
An excellent read. Always has you on the edge of your seat with hints about what is to come. It is the 1960s, but the “swinging sixties” revolution hasn't quite reached rural England. In an attempt to be closer to her English boyfriend, Kerstin Kvist accepts a job with the Cosway matriarch; her three unmarried daughters; and her son, John, a sad, self-absorbed figure in his thirties who haunts the grand house of Lydstep Old Hall, deep in the Essex countryside. There is a fourth daughter, too—a widow herself and apparently quite rich—who comes and goes infrequently, with ill-disguised contempt for the others. Then, just as Kerstin is beginning to figure out the odd family, a stranger moves into the village, his very presence setting the Cosways on a path to self-destruction.

MISSING by Karin Alvtegen
For the last fifteen years, Sybilla Forsenstrom has been living as the ultimate outsider. In breaking away from an oppressive girlhood, where her mother quashed thoughts and actions in the most passive-aggressive way possible, Sybilla has found a way to survive by drifting on the streets of Stockholm. Although she gets a monthly stipend--sent to a post office box--she hordes the money, never spending it. What money she does get is obtained by the occasional scam or two. The one that's worked the best of late for Sybilla is to waltz into a hotel restaurant, charm a well-to-do gentleman into buying her dinner and perhaps a night's stay in a hotel room.
When she meets Jorgen Grundberg at the Grand Hotel, the scam goes according to plan. But the next morning, Sybilla awakes to a horrifying nightmare. Grundberg is the victim of a ritual murder, and all the signs and physical evidence points to Sybilla as the killer. But she has no recollection of what happened.
This was the first of Alvtegen's novels to be translated into English.
Excellent, excellent, excellent

SCARED TO LIVE by Stephen Booth
#7 in the Ben Cooper & Diane Fry series. A house fire results in the death of a mother and two of her children, and a reclusive woman is shot dead when standing at her bedroom window. DS Fry is called to the house fire, DC Ben Cooper to the shooting. But inevitably the cases they are working on become connected. An excellently stimulating read.
I think there are a couple of things that make this series different
* I am struck by the fact that the language is "ordinary" i.e. everyday words particularly in the dialogues
* the nasty cop/nice cop routine comes out strongly too in the partnership of DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper. She is without doubt the nasty one, putting people offside all the time, but also asking the hard questions and pointing out the things that others gloss over. He is the intuitive one. You see that also in Dalziel and Pascoe but I actually think Stephen Booth does it better
* Cooper and Fry often act in ignorance of each other's discoveries but the reader is omniscient, with the opportunity to solve the conundrums before either of the detectives.
* and finally there are some open ended questions. Times when the answers are not so readily forthcoming.

THE WOODS by Harlan Coben
Paul Copeland, county prosecutor for Essex in New Jersey, has had an emotional roller coaster of a life. Right now he is the only immediate family his six year old daughter Cara has. Her mother died of cancer 5 years ago. Paul comes from Russian immigrant parents and recently his father died. But Paul's family was shattered twenty years ago when he and his sister Camille were on a holiday camp and Camille disappeared. Camille and three friends went into the woods near the camp at night. Two were found murdered but Camille and one of the boys were never found. Paul remembers that his father used to spend time searching the woods, digging for his sister's body. Now Paul recognises a murder victim as the boy who disappeared. So where is his sister? Is she still alive? An excellent read, that keeps you guessing until the final pages.


Marg said...

I have only read Case Histories of those, and I liked it a lot. I have had the next book on my TBR list for a while, and I am hoping to read it soon.

Bernadette said...

I haven't read a single one of those (although I have read others by some of those authors). However, having built up quite a nice pile of bookmooch points I've just mooched three of your excellent list and put the other three on my wishlist :)

Kerrie said...

Glad to have been helpful

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the two I've read in your list, the Coben and the Atkinson. I don't think I've read this La Plante: I used to read her regularly, but stopped a few years ago when I read a very lazy book in the "Trial and Retribution" series that seemed to have actually been written by someone else using the La Plante "brand name". Maybe I should take her up again on the basis of your review here, as I did like her when she was first writing. Amazingly, I don't think I've read this Vine, which is surprising as I thought I'd read all of her books (and all the Rendells). The Alvtegen has been on my list for ages as I keep hearing great things about it: I'm waiting for a cheap copy to come up on Amazon. I read the first three or four in Booth's Derbyshire series but gave up on them as I found they were getting a bit leaden (eg repetitive angst about the past in each book) and circumlocutory rather than pacy. I also got fed up at the lack of any progress at all in the relationship between the two protags, though maybe things have finall moved on by book 7!
Now you mention it, I see exactly what you mean about the comparisons with Reginald Hill.

Kerrie said...

Good to see you back from holidays Maxine.
I haven't read all the Booth books. The order I read them in doesn't seem to matter much to me, and I think that is probably because the relationship between the 2 protagonists doesn't seem to go anywhere. I think that makes it less important to the reader than the case they are working on.
In Val McDermid's BENEATH THE BLEEDING which I am listening to, there is a lot of introspection from both Carole Jordan and Tony Hill about the fact that their relationship hasn't 'gone anywhere' and I keep thinking "just get on with it!" It is beginning to annoy me a bit.


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