29 September 2008


Audio book, 6 hours on 5 CDs, unabridged by BOOKS ON TAPE, read by Donada Peters.

Fellworth Dolphin has reached his mid thirties without realising that his family has a skeleton in its closet. All he knows is that his parents were very miserly, showed little affection for him, and he had a miserable childhood. When his mother suddenly dies Fell is shocked to learn the size of his inheritance. Since his father died some years before Fell has supported his mother working as a waiter in a local hotel. There he has made friends with Maggie, a plain girl a bit younger than himself. When Fell discovers a large cache of money in new notes in a tin in his mother's wardrobe, he and Maggie team up to try to find out where the money could possibly have come from. Both Maggie and Fell give up their jobs in the hotel and Maggie moves into the spare bedroom in Fell's house.

This story is wonderfully read by Donada Peters. It is a real cozy, perhaps even a bit of a spoof on the murder mystery genre. Maggie and Fell become amateur sleuths and in turn stir up a hornet's nest amongst those who had been his father's acquaintances. Here are two very ordinary people who unearth secrets that have lain hidden for nearly 30 years.

I found it an enjoyable accompaniment to my journeys to and from work.
My rating 4.0

28 September 2008

Sunday Salon #27 - 28 September 2008

I've been a bit active in my blogging this week - must be the spring weather.

Things to do on Mysteries in Paradise:
My posts this week:
Breaking News
Currently reading
  • now - SUCKED IN, Shane Maloney
  • next - THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION, Michael Chabon
  • after that - THE SECRET ADVERSARY, Agatha Christie
  • audio book - THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET, M.C. Beaton

Review: COLD IN HAND, John Harvey

William Heinemann, 2008, ISBN 978-0-4340-1695-2, 403 pages

Detective Inspector Lynn Kellogg is on her way home from a hostage negotiation when she sees a crowd of youths, many of them wearing hoodies, gathered in a rough circle that spreads out across the street. After quickly calling into Control to request backup, Lynn runs towards the crowd. She intervenes in a knife fight between two girls, and as she stops the fight, someone from retreating crowd fires two shots. The first shot strikes Lynn in the chest, and the second takes one of the girls in the neck. Because Lynn is still wearing her flak jacket from the earlier incident she is only bruised, but the girl dies.

DI Lynn Kellogg is DI Charlie Resnick's live-in partner. Resnick is close to retirement. Despite a possible conflict of interest, Detective Superintendent Bill Berry chooses Resnick as his "bagman", second in command, in the investigation into the shooting. Feelings in the community are running high, especially as the dead girl's father is saying that Lynn used his daughter as a human shield.

Lynn Kellogg has been heading another investigation: that of the murder of one of the girls in a sauna and massage parlour in one of the older and seedier streets of Nottingham. Most of the female workers and the owner are from Eastern Europe. One of the girls agrees to give evidence, but as the Nottingham police put their case together, it appears there may be connections with international gunrunning and people trafficking. SOCA - the Serious and Organised Crime Agency - takes an interest, and that's when things begin to go wrong.

In retrospect, the thing that strikes you about DEAD IN HAND is how meticulously it is constructed. Although this is the 11th title in the Resnick series, it is the first for ten years. More recently Resnick has made cameo appearances in Harvey's Frank Elder series, mainly as mentor to Frank who has already retired. In the ten years that have elapsed since the publication of LAST RIGHTS (1998), a lot has happened in the life of Charlie Resnick, and so Harvey has almost a blank canvas to deal with. Whatever most of us knew about Charlie Resnick, assuming we followed the first ten books, we have forgotten, and so Harvey builds for us a broad canvas: not just the current cases that Charlie and Lynn are involved in, but the development of their relationship, and how Charlie is feeling about the prospect of retirement. Under the broad brush strokes are detailed scenarios, lending a sense of real authenticity. The interesting thing about Harvey's revival of Resnick is that firstly it is something for which his readers have been clamouring some time, but secondly you don't feel that you should have read the books in order.

COLD IN HAND is divided into two parts, and at the very beginning of Part Two we meet a character whom I hope we see more of in the future: Detective Chief Inspector Karen Shields, six foot tall, unmistakeably of Jamaican background. She is an excellent example of Harvey's ability to show us the new face of policing in Britain, the perfect foil to Resnick who really represents what policing used to be. More than one policeman in COLD IN HAND is worried by what is happening on the city streets. The picture that Harvey creates is gloomy.

John Harvey is a prolific writer. Before crime fiction he wrote both westerns and pulp fiction. Among his pseudonyms: Jon Barton, William S Brady (with Angus Wells), L J Coburn (with Laurence James), J B Dancer (with Angus Wells), John B Harvey, William M James (with Terry Harknett and Laurence James), Terry Lennox, John J McLaglen (with Laurence James), James Mann, Thom Ryder, J D Sandon (with Angus Wells).

In 2004 Harvey won a Silver Dagger for Best Novel for FLESH AND BLOOD and in 2007 a Diamond Dagger 'lifetime achievement' award. In October 2008 he will be International Guest of Honor at Bouchercon 2008.

My rating: 4.7

Weekly Geeks # 19: Top 10 books published in 2008

The challenge in Weekly Geeks #19 is to, before October 25,

1. Compile your list of favorites. Please be sure that books you choose actually were published in 2008, or at the very earliest in the winter holiday season of 2007. Sometimes books that come out then are left out.

2. Come back and sign Mr Linky with the url to your top books of 2008 post.

3. If you happen to see any non-WG bloggers making similar lists, please grab the url and come put it in Mr Linky for them. Let them know you’re doing that, please, in case they have some sort of objection; if they do, they can ask me to remove their link. I’ve already seen a couple favorites of 2008 posts, which is another reason I wanted to get started early.

4. Feel free to make changes to your list if you read something new in the next few weeks. After about October 25, I can’t guarantee your changes will be reflected in the master list. We’ll probably start compiling lists around then.

5. Please consider whether you’d like to help me compile lists.

If you follow my blog, then you'll know that creating such a list is no problem for me.
You can see my ranked list for all the books I have read in 2008 at Smik's Reviews (all my reviews)

Here are my top 10, chosen from books published in 2008

SHATTER, Michael Robotham
CARELESS IN RED, Elizabeth George
VOODOO DOLL, Leah Giarratano
NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, Linwood Barclay

There don't seem to be all that many crime fiction readers amongst my fellow weekly geekers, so my choices probably won't poll all that well, unless fellow crime fiction bloggers decide to chime in. There are some Australian authors in my list too - Michael Robotham, PD Martin, and Leah Giarratano - and they probably won't poll particularly well overall either.

Also, in our genre we have so much choice, so the choices could be wide ranging rather than concentrated. Much will depend on people sticking to the published in 2008 rule. Of course what it doesn't take into account that some books are published in some countries earlier than in others. We often find that books published in Australia are not available in the UK or the US until later, or vice versa. There are always flaws in any rule.

Meanwhile, you've read my list. Are any of mine in your top 10? What crime fiction have I left out that you would put in your top 10? Please feel free to list your top 10 in your comment, but only those published in 2008. I might work up a "local" poll for us in a couple of weeks time.

27 September 2008

Anthony Award nominees 2008

The 2008 Anthony Awards will be announced at Bouchercon in Baltimore at the closing brunch, so I guess that is on October 12.

The guests of honour at Bouchercon 2008 are
Shortlisted for Anthony Awards:

Best Novel:
  • James Lee Burke- Tin Roof Blowdown- Simon and Schuster
  • Lee Child - Bad Luck and Trouble Delacorte Press
  • Robert Crais- The Watchman Simon and Schuster
  • William Kent Krueger- Thunder Bay Atria
  • Laura Lippman - What the Dead Know William Morrow
Best First Novel:
  • Sean Chercover- Big City, Bad Blood William Morrow
  • Tana French- In the Woods Viking Adult
  • Lisa Lutz- The Spellman Files Simon and Schuster
  • Craig McDonald- Head Games Bleak House Books
  • Marcus Sakey- The Blade Itself St. Martin Minotaur
Best Paperback Original
  • Megan Abbott- Queenpin Simon and Schuster
  • Ken Bruen and Jason Starr - Slide Hard Case Crime
  • David Corbett- Blood of Paradise Ballantine Books
  • Robert Fate- Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues Capital Crime Press
  • P.J. Parrish- A Thousand Bones Pocket
Maddy Van Hertbruggen the creator of 4MA has been shortlisted for a Special Services award.
4MA is a very busy and well run Yahoo list that I have been a member of for over 6 years.

See the short list for all categories here.

26 September 2008

Forgotten Books - WHEN IN ROME, Ngaio Marsh

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

A select group of Companion Book Club books sit on my shelves and pre-date my "little green record book" that begins in 1975. These books all have my name and 1972 on the flyleaf. They are bound in heavy cardboard and paper made to look like leather with gold bossing, and they have coloured edges to the leaves. This one is pink.

The following comes from Fantastic Fiction:
Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of New Zealand's most remarkable and charismatic women, was world-renowned as a leading crime fiction writer and as an eminent Shakespearian producer.
From her first book in 1934 to her final volume just before her death in 1982, Ngaio Marsh's work has remained legendary, consistently compared to that of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers. During her celebrated fifty-year career, Marsh was made a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, named Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, won numerous prestigious awards and penned 32 mystery novels.

WHEN IN ROME is #26 from her Rodderick Alleyn series;
Murder, blackmail and drug-dealing on the Tiber combine in one of Ngaio Marsh's liveliest and most evocative novels. When their guide disappears mysteriously in the depths of a Roman Basilica, the members of Mr Sebastian Mailer's tour group seem strangely unperturbed. But when a body is discovered in an Etruscan sarcophagus, Superintendent Alleyn, in Rome incognito on the trail of an international drug racket, is very much concerned...

My feeling was that Ngaaio Marsh was never really as good as Agatha Christie, but I certainly read a lot of them. These days I tend to think that perhaps they have dated a bit, but then New Zealand author Vanda Symon told me recently that she has set herself a challenge to read them all.

ACRC: #2 The Secret Adversary

Published in 1922, this was Agatha Christie's second novel, and her first featuring Tommy and Tuppence.

The copy I have appears appears to be a Harper Collins fascimile of the original Bodley Head publication. Advertising on the covers and flyleaf tell me that the first, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, sold for 7s. 6d.

If you'd like to join a few of us in a challenge to read the Agatha Christie novels in order (at a leisurely pace I might say, maybe a couple a month) , please feel free to do so. We are not far on our journey, so you won't have to jog very hard at this stage to catch up.

Check the opening blog of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.

1. 1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles
2. 1922 The Secret Adversary
3. 1923 The Murder on the Links
4. 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
5. 1924 Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)


Originally published 1920, reprinted Harper Collins 1997, 204 pages.

This account of the Styles Case is penned by Captain Hastings, a war hero invalided home from the Front. He is invited down to Styles Court by his friend John Cavendish to spend some of his convalescent leave. In the village Hastings runs across his old friend Hercules Poirot, an elderly Belgian, once one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police, but now a refugee assisted by John Cavendish's mother Mrs Inglethorpe. While Hastings is staying at Styles, Mrs Inglethorpe dies in suspicious circumstances, in a seemingly locked room. Through Hastings Poirot becomes involved in the case, and the "little grey cells" are put to work in England for the very first time.

Without creating any spoilers I want to list a few points about this book. They are not really in any particular order.
  1. Although it was published almost 90 years ago, it is very readable even now.
  2. It was actually Agatha Christie's debut novel.
    When we review such a novel these days, we tend to say something like, "really good for a debut novel." With THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, her publishers must have thought they'd hit the jackpot! She burst onto the scene, 30 years old, and, by the time STYLES was published, married for 5 or so years, and mother to a baby daughter.
  3. This is Poirot's debut novel too, and Inspector Japp who figures in many of the later Poirot novels also makes his first appearance. While Hastings is a relatively young man, only 30 years old, Poirot is quite old, perhaps in his 50s??. Japp for example reveals that he had worked with Poirot on a case in Brussels and Antwerp in 1904, and he was already a celebrated sleuth.
  4. This novel is set towards the end of World War One, and Christie makes a number of observations about the privations of life in England during the war, rationing, and shortages, and a style of living that is fast disappearing. The house at Styles for example once had a much larger domestic, household and garden staff, but is now "making do". The Cavendish brothers have inherited money, John lives the life of a country squire, and Lawrence, the younger brother is delicate and follows literary pursuits. Other members of the family are working in "acceptable" occupations, for war time that is, a nurse, the land army, and a companion.
  5. The War features not only in Hastings' convalescence, but alos in the fact that one of the characters is a German spy.
  6. In STYLES Christie is exploring the scenario of a classic locked room mystery. The room in which Mrs Inglethorpe dies has 3 doors all apparently bolted on the inside. You can almost see her cutting her teeth on a classic crime fiction puzzle.
  7. In many ways Hastings is Poirot's foil, just as Watson was for Holmes.
  8. In the long run we see the resolution of the threads in a couple of ways that became a pattern in later books: all the characters are called together and Poirot reveals all, and the finer points are explained carefully to Hastings so that he (and we) finally understand how it all fitted together. Throughout the book Poirot jumps to conclusions but keeps them to himself, making us wonder what we've missed. Nor are we always told of the things he finds out. He disappears off to London for a day or two for example, but neither we, nor Hastings, don't always know why he went there, what he did, and what he found out. I don't think Christie always "played fair" with the reader.
It's been so long since I originally read THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES that I really had forgotten most of the detail, so it didn't really feel like I was re-reading it.
I'll be interested to hear how my fellow "challenge companions" went.

My rating 4.5

25 September 2008

What's on Your Nightstand?

I like the idea of this meme.
The original link is at 5minutesforbooks and then I was reminded of it by Reading Adventures .

Too many books is the answer.
My recent venture into an Agatha Christie Reading Challenge has seen THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES supplant
COLD IN HAND, John Harvey
and push THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION, Michael Chabon further down
In the car, not strictly on my nightstand, I've nearly finished reading THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET by M.C. Beaton and will soon be ready to listen to THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS by Alexander MCCall Smith.

And,oh, I'm almost listening to daily gobbets of CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith.

But this list ignores the 16 library books, 20 review books, and sundry others clamouring for attention!

I'm away at conferences in Canberra and Brisbane next week, and air travel always means I get more reading done. So too nights in hotel rooms with not much else to do.

23 September 2008

ACRC: #1 - The Mysterious Affair at Styles

So here I am setting out on my journey in the self-created Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
I feel quite excited, almost as you do when you set out on a real journey.

Written in 1920, this is the first of Agatha Christie's novels and the beginning of the Hercule Poirot series.

I got this one from the library, and it is in hardback, reprinted by Harper Collins in 1997.
Not all the books on the list will be as easy as this to get.
The inside flyleaf lists the 80 books in the "collection", so maybe I'll photocopy that to cross check with the Wikipedia list.

It has 13 chapters, and is only 204 pages long!

Let me know if you are going to join me in reading at least this first book.

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge - setting up

I'm a novice here. I don't know much about setting up a reading challenge, so I'll probably make all sorts of mistakes. Any advice is welcome.

Anyway, I've decided that, even if no-one else joins me, I am going to read my way through Agatha Christie's novels, in the order in which they were written. I'm not sure how long this project is going to take, but quite a long time at about 100 books at maybe 1 or 2 a month.

I am going to use the list at Wikipedia of novels and collections of shortstories

So that means I'm looking to read them in this order

1. 1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles
2. 1922 The Secret Adversary
3. 1923 The Murder on the Links
4. 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
5. 1924 Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)

So if you are into crime fiction, or cozies, or murder mysteries, I invite you to accompany me on this "journey."

I have set up a block over in the right hand column called Agatha Christie Reading Challenge where I am listing the books I'm currently reading and those I've finished.
The challenge will be called ACRC so each review will be preceded by by those letters.

If you want to follow my progress through your RSS reader, then the RSS URL is

So if you think you'll join me, by all means leave a comment, and then watch for my progress.
I warn, I may not get to read them all, but let's see if we can read 5 or 6 by Christmas!

22 September 2008

When Agatha Christie met Dr. Who

Our house has been a Dr. Who fan for decades. The old Dr. Who that is. The jury has been out a bit on the current version, but what crime fiction fan could resist watching this episode? Well, I couldn't anyway.

If you are lucky enough to be in the UK then you will be able to watch some of the trailers or listen to audio clips at this link.

The general focus of the episode is
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days. Was it amnesia? A nervous breakdown? Or a Giant Alien Wasp..?

The Doctor and Donna Noble arrive at a dinner party on 1920s Earth, just in time
to meet famed mystery author Agatha Christie. Not long after introductions are made, one of the guests is found dead in the mansion of Lady Eddison, the party's host. The Doctor, Donna and Agatha Christie team up to investigate the mysterious murder -- only to discover that (surprise!) the culprit might not be human. One big bug and a few murders later, it's time for big revelations and keen deduction as, like in any good mystery, it turns out that everyone there has something to hide. The notorious thief known as "The Unicorn" is revealed, but the actual murderer turns out to be a Vespiform -- an alien shape-changer whose natural state resembles a giant wasp. Agatha Christie saves the day and history falls back in line as The Doctor and Donna head off on their next adventure.

More on the Dr Who episode.

More about her disappearance.

21 September 2008

Sunday Salon #26 - 21 September 2008

Hello fellow Sunday Saloners. I hope you've had a good reading week - I have.
Spring has sprung down here in Oz and the weather is best at this time of the year. The wattle is out and the tree in my front garden is glorious with golden blossom.

My posts this week:
Breaking News
Currently Reading
  • now - COLD IN HAND, John Harvey
  • then - THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION, Michael Chabon
  • audio book - THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET, M.C. Beaton

Never mind the quality, feel the width

This is an old expression from the rag trade that was used in a British sit-com of the same title. I'm not totally sure of its meaning but it seems to fit what I want to talk about here.

It's topic I have touched on before, the length and size of books, current crime fiction in particular. Friends who read fantasy tell me I have nothing to worry about. The tomes they read are much bigger.

But I am not sure that I understand what is happening in the crime fiction genre. Should I be grateful that many books are that much longer? I am getting more pages for my $, but am I getting quality? Is the case, as one of my fellow bloggers said of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (533 pages), There was an excellent 400 page novel in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it is a pity that no one dissected it out from all the padding and extraneous detail. I myself referred to it as a "turducken", a novel with many parts, and many flavours and styles.

I think that, back in the good old days, of Christie, Marsh etc., books were not only smaller, easier to hold, but shorter. Was the shorter novel a sign of the times, an effect of economies where paper and printing were much more expensive?
Were they as good?
These days I almost breath a sigh of relief when I pick up one, like ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE, that is less than 300 pages. I'm looking forward to Laurie King's TO PLAY THE FOOL which is only 260 pages!

Here are the lengths of some that I have read recently.
Can I point out too that they are mainly in trade paperback size?

THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK, Fred Vargas, 409 pp
A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES, Reginald Hill, 535 pp
CARELESS IN RED, Elizabeth George, 532 pp
THE CLEANER, Brett Battles, 353 pp
THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN, Kate Morton, 490 pp
VOODOO DOLL, Leah Giarratano, 303 pp
SHATTER, Michael Robotham, 466 pp
NEMESIS, Jo Nesbo, 474 pp
WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS?, Kate Atkinson, 348 pp

So you can see that TGWTDT is amongst the longest.
We've been discussing TGWTDT this week over on oz_mystery_readers and length is one of the topics.

I guess the point is whether these novels are not only long in length but also long-winded.
Could they have done with better editing?
Do some authors get away with murder, so to speak?

Given that a longer novel must cost a publishing house more to print, ship, store etc. I wonder how much pressure there is to cut long manuscripts back.
Perhaps if you are an author you might like to comment on whether there are guidelines etc.
Do you have to fight hard to keep extra length?

I suspect that what happened with TGWTDT is that the publishers were dealing with a deceased estate, a dead author, and the decision was made to go largely with the manuscript as they had it, apart from obvious typos etc.
The structure of the novel would also make it difficult to decide what and where to cut. About 100 pages before the end, I thought "that's it!" and then realised that not everything was tied off and I still really didn't know the final answers.

The other effect of longer novels might be that readers would read fewer books altogether.
But my recent records don't support that idea.
2000 - 72 books, 2001 - 73 books, 2002 - 79 books, 2003 - 86 books, 2004 - 110 books, 2005 - 132 books, 2006 - 114 books, 2007 - 124 books, and already in 2008 - 78 books, more than in 2000 and 2001.

I don't actually find the length of a book offputting if it is a good read. What happens though sometimes is that the extra material, that should have been trimmed, makes it harder for the reader to appreciate what the book is about, keep track of charcaters and threads. What do you think?

In the right hand margin of this page you will find a poll where you can tell me the size of the book you are currently reading. Do give it a go! It will be fun to see how many people respond.

19 September 2008

Review: VOODOO DOLL, Leah Giarratano

Random House Australia, 2008, 303 pages, ISBN 978-1-86325-614-8

A dinner at the boss's place becomes a nightmare: a home invasion with one of the intruders wielding a machete. One of the victims is pretty sure that he recognises the man with the machete despite the fact that he is wearing a balaclava. In the moment of recognition when their eyes locked, he was pretty sure the invader recognised him too.

The Sydney police know there have been at least five brutal home invasions in the last month, each more violent than the previous. They are almost sure that the invasions are being carried out by the same gang, and that the increasing violence is being perpetrated by just one or two members of the gang.

Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson, whom we met in the first in the series, VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE, has been shifted from comfortable Maroubra to Sydney's Western suburbs to be part of a newly formed Home Invasion Task Force. Not only does the new job mean a long commute to work, it also means she has to learn to work with a new partner. Jill's new partner is Gabriel Delahunt, a Federal police agent seconded to the taskforce because of his interviewing skills. Jill has to re-establish herself and again prove herself worthy in her male dominated profession, and her first impression is that working with Gabriel is not going to be easy.

VOODOO DOLL is a real page turner. Each of the major characters is carrying a legacy of traumatic events that affects the way they relate to other people. Their traumas surface in nightmares, waking dreams, and flashbacks. As the police narrow their net and identify the home invaders, the tension builds. The major characters, police and civilian, each attempt to locate the psychopathic leader of the home invaders before he strikes again. The author's experience as a clinical psychologist working with offenders who have severe personality disorders displays itself in realistic scenarios.

This novel has an authentic Australian flavour and feel to it. It isn't just conveyed in the setting, in the way the characters treat each other, but also in the language used. VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE was remarkably accomplished for a debut novel, but VOODOO DOLL demonstrates that Leah Giarratano is a force to be reckoned with in Australian crime fiction. VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE was long-listed for the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Fiction, and I won't be at all surprised if VOODOO DOLL is long-listed for Best Fiction in 2009.

My review of VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is available on Reviewer's Choice.

My rating: 4.8

Forgotten Books: HALLOWEEN PARTY, Agatha Christie

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

HALLOWEEN PARTY is the first Agatha Christie book recorded in my "little green book" in 1976. During that year my records show that I read 94 books, and 28 of them were Agatha Christie, so you could say that I had a bit of a binge!

HALLOWEEN PARTY was #36 in the Hercule Poirot series.
At a Hallowe'en party, Joyce - a hostile thirteen-year-old - boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no-one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the 'evil presence'. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer . . .

If you go to Amazon, you can read the first chapter.

HALLOWEEN PARTY probably doesn't really qualify as a forgotten book, nor Agatha Christie as a forgotten author, so I'm probably just paying homage to an author who without doubt had a huge effect on my reading tastes. I used to classify Christie as "light reading" but I think that I probably underestimated how clever a writer she really was.

I rarely read books a second time, but there are times when I feel I should take on a "Christie" reading project - start at the beginning with THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES and read my way to the last one, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case). Before 1975 I had already read quite a number, and I think I have probably read near all of them now.

How many novels did Agatha Christie write?
From WikiAnswers
+ 82 as Agatha Christie
+ 6 under the pen name Mary Westmacott
+ 2 as Christie Mallowan
+ her autobiography
= 91 total

Fantastic Fiction says 80.

Interesting Biography: http://www.readprint.com/author-21/Agatha-Christie
Should you want a list, then there is a good one that looks pretty complete on Wikipedia.

If you want some (200) Trivia questions check this site.
And here are 43 online quizzes of varying difficulty.

18 September 2008

Review: MY LADY JUDGE, Cora Harrison

Unabridged Audio, 11 hours on 10 CDs, read by Caroline Lennon.

Set in 1509 in the Burren on the western coast of Ireland near the River Shannon. Mara is the Brehon, the judge appointed by King Turlough Don O'Brien, to dispense justice in the Burren according to Brehon law. Mara runs a law school for six scholars as well as holding regular courts.

At the end of April people gather at the Burren for Mara's court and judgements are passed. That night hundreds of people including the law scholars, Mara, and King Turlough Don O'Brien, ascend the Mullaghmore Mountain to celebrate the coming of May Day, and at midnight to light the great bonfire.

But after all return home, one man's body lies on the mountain until Mara gets an inkling that something is wrong. It seems that many have known that he is dead, but none is willing to own up to the killing.

This story is set against an interesting backdrop of ancient Brehon law, quite different to the Roman and British law that we are accustomed to. Although this is a murder mystery it is a fairly placid cozy tale. The story is read by Caroline Lennon in what seems to me to be an authentic Irish brogue. Not an earth shattering story, but it is the first of the series, and I would read another quite willingly, if only to learn more about Mara and King Turlough Don O'Brien.

My rating: 3.8

Cora Harrison's own site is here.
She has published 26 children's novels.

Burren Mysteries
1. My Lady Judge (2007)
2. Michaelmas Tribute (2008) /A Secret and Unlawful Killing - US title (2008)

Her fiction for children:

Drumshee Chronicles

Treachery at Midnight (Book two)

Murder Strikes Again (Book one)

Drumshee Timeline Series

Secret Spy from Drumshee (book 13)

Dark Days at Drumshee (book 12)

Titanic Voyage from Drumshee (book 6 new edition)

Famine Secret at Drumshee (book 5 new edition)

World War II Rescue at Drumshee (book 11)

Murder at Drumshee (book 10)

Viking at Drumshee (book 9)

The Drumshee Rebels (book 8)

millennium@drumshee (book 7)

Secret of 1798 (book 4)

Secret of Drumshee Castle (book 3)

Secret of the Seven Crosses (book 2)

Nuala & her Secret Wolf (book 1)

Review: ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE, RJ McDonnell

Killeena Publishing, 2008, 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-9814914-1-7

In one of the most dramatic and grisly beginnings I have read for a long time, Terry Tucker, the lead guitar and contract manager of the San Diego rock and roll band Doberman's Stub, dies when his headphones explode at break time during a recording session. The band, already popular on the club scene, has been on the brink of producing three CDs.

Among the suspects for what is undoubtedly murder are the three remaining members of the band, and Tucker's wife Chelsea who inherits $5 million. Chelsea hires Jason Duffy, once a guitarist himself, but now in his debut year as a private investigator. She is convinced that Terry's murder is somehow connected with the contract that Terry had negotiated with the record company Cerise Records. Not only does Jason understand the music industry, his father is a highly decorated, now retired, detective of the San Diego Police Department and his contacts will be invaluable if Jason can get him onbpard. The action heats up when Jason uncovers links between the record company and the Russian Mafia.

ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE is RJ McDonnell's debut novel and in some ways it shows. For example, rather unusually, the back cover of the dust jacket contains information about Jason Duffy, the detective who is the focal point of the book. This is information that does not appear anywhere else in the book. If the book is ever separated from its dustjacket, the information is lost. The blurb on the inside covers of this book is too explicit, too extensive. It doesn't just try to whet the reader's appetite for the book - it makes us wonder if there is anything left to be told. Neither the book or the dust jacket contains any information about the author.

The potential of this novel was marred by an excessively complicated story, with too many threads which then all needed to be tied off. It may have seemed a stroke of genius to link the recording company with the Russian Mafia, but for me it looked like a step too far. I would have settled for much more local gangsters. I felt the same about an import/export company called Rasputin Enterprises.

There is, however, no doubting the fresh enthusiasm of RJ McDonnell's writing. He creates interesting characters, who range from an obsessive compulsive office assistant, to a photographer who has Tourette's Syndrome, to Jason's Duffy's very normal and very supportive mother. The extensive amounts of dialogue on the other hand often didn't work for me, and seemed to be in need of tough editing. I feel that writing this novel has been a great learning experience for McDonnell and a good platform from which to write his next. He writes with authority and ultimately achieved that final resolution of loose ends that all crime fiction writers aim for.

ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE will undoubtedly find a niche among readers who love the band scene.
Find out more about the author on his website at http://www.rjmcdonnell.com/
There you can also read the Prologue and the first two chapters of ROCK & ROLL HOMICIDE.

My rating: 3.5

17 September 2008

CORDUROY MANSIONS, get your daily fix

Alexander McCall Smith is writing his first ever online novel Corduroy Mansions exclusively for Telegraph.co.uk. A new chapter will appear on The Telegraph each weekday for the next 20 weeks. The best-selling author welcomes your suggestions as the story unfolds.

You have options: read it online with your own eyes, as it were; listen to it being read by Andrew Sachs ( from Fawlty Towers); get it sent to you every day by email, get it via RSS. What a choice.

Today chapter 3 has been published so it is not too late to start.

Get started with Chapter 1 In the Bathroom (text version) here. or listen to it.
Spend some time meeting the characters.

The home page is here. Choose your options and get started. I'm adding it to my blog roll.

16 September 2008

Participants in Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2008

Looking for some new blogs to follow?

Here's a list of those who have registered in Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Explore and enjoy!


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