30 November 2008

Sunday Salon #34 - 30 November

Today is my parents' 68th wedding anniversary. We had a small family gathering for lunch at the Middleton Tavern. Ern Willats and Joan Dean tied the knot on 30 November 1940 and have lived at Victor Harbour and Port Elliot ever since.

Here we are at lunch:

That's me on the left, then my son-in-law, younger daughter, Mum, Dad, my sister, and then my sister-in-law on the extreme right. As usual husband is behind the camera.

Anyway on with the books....
I'm a bit disappointed on two counts.
Visits to my blog have dropped off a bit this week. I'm not sure whether that is because I've done such a good job of getting people subscribed to the email feed or the RSS feed, or whether my blog is getting just plain boring.
Secondly hardly anybody has used the new rating widget I put in last week. Perhaps it is not clear what they are actually rating!

Blog posts for the last week:
What helps you select your next book to read?
This was the poll that I have been running this week which 20 people participated in.
Here are the responses. They seem to say that people to appreciate the book reviews, recommendations from friends, or that they "follow" particular authors.
12 - Blog book review
9 - recommendations from friends
9 - I follow particular authors
6 - newspaper book reviews
4 - book blurb
4 - book selected by online reading group
3 - book selected by face to face reading group
3 - "challenge" group
2 - I read award winners
1 - library recommendation
1 - book cover
5 - not covered here

Breaking News
Currently reading
  • now - DEAD I WELL MAY BE, Adrian McKinty
  • sometime soon - THE 19TH WIFE, David Ebershoff
  • also listening to - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, ready for ch. 52 (running a week behind)
  • in the car - BLINDSIDE, J.R. Carroll
This week's poll. Pop over and participate.
How many books are you currently reading?
It will be interesting to see the answers to this. Many book bloggers that I know have a number of books "on the go" at once.

Book Lists for Christmas buying

If you are not a crime fiction reader, or don't buy new books, or haunt book shops, then what to buy friends and family for Christmas may be a bit of a daunting task.

Fear not! As the date approaches, 24+ days to go, then suggestions will abound.

This week I 've come across
The Times Christmas Books: Crime
Lovely choice here, including a new-to-me Scandinavian author.
Check out also
Top 10 hardbacks - fiction
Top 10 paperbacks - fiction
although these are not exclusively crime fiction

100 Notable Books of 2008
- from the New York Times. Oddly, there's few crime fiction on this list.

Here are the Angus and Robertson Crime Fiction Best sellers, Dymocks have 25% off 25 best sellers (but they are not all crime fiction), and browse the Borders catalogue online.

And here are my top 30 reads from 2008 (so far)
Go to your book shop armed with this and you are sure to come away with a lighter purse.
5.0, SHATTER, Michael Robotham
5.0, NEMESIS, Jo Nesbo
5.0, FAN MAIL, PD Martin
5.0, DIRTY WEEKEND, Gabrielle Lord
5.0, A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES, Reginald Hill
4.8, VOODOO DOLL, Leah Giarratano
4.8, THE LORDS' DAY, Michael Dobbs
4.8, WATER LIKE A STONE, Deborah Crombie
4.8, NOT DEAD ENOUGH, Peter James
4.8, CARELESS IN RED, Elizabeth George
4.8, OVERKILL, Vanda Symon
4.7, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, Laura Lippman
4.7, DEAD MAN'S FOOTSTEPS, Peter James
4.7, WORLD WITHOUT END, Ken Follett
4.7, COLD IN HAND, John Harvey
4.7, SUCKED IN, Shane Maloney
4.7, THE PURE IN HEART, Susan Hill
4.7, THE VOWS OF SILENCE, Susan Hill
4.7, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, Linwood Barclay
4.7, DEATH DELIGHTS, Gabrielle Lord
4.7, A NAIL IN THE HEART, Timothy Hallinan
4.7, A KILLING FROST, R.D. Wingfield
4.7, THE UNQUIET NIGHT, Patricia Carlon

29 November 2008


Harper Collins Publishers, 2008, ISBN 978-0-00-725273-2, 313 pages.

Joe Sixsmith, P.I., has been approached by a YFG (Young Fair God) Chris Porphyry, on the recommendation Detective Inspector Willie Woodbine. Chris has a serious problem at Luton's Royal Hoo Golf Club, where he holds, by inheritance, the controlling shares. He wants Joe to carry out an investigation for him at the club, under the pretence of seeking membership.

His investigation at the golf club takes Joe into a level of society that he doesn't often fraternise with. He knows next to nothing about golf and is in almost constant dread that he will have to show off his lack of prowess. The investigation proves to be far more complex than he has anticipated too. A simple matter of cheating is complicated by the black-balling of a local magnate who wants to expand his grocery chain in a real estate development bordering the golf club. Nor did Joe anticipate that the case might involve violence against his person, to the point of someone dangling him upside down from his own balcony.

This is the fifth in Reginald Hill's Joe Sixsmith series, the first to make an appearance for 9 years. I haven't read any other Joe Sixsmith titles, although I did recently read a short story that featured him in THERE ARE NO GHOSTS IN THE SOVIET UNION.
Joe Sixsmith has a reputation that says he is easy to under-estimate. That when the pressure's on, he will solve the case through startling intuition.

THE ROAR OF BUTTERFLIES made me feel that I really needed to have read earlier titles in the series to understand Joe's relationship with other characters, but perhaps that would not have helped.
And certainly this is a different style of book to Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series. In the long run though it does turn out to be a murder mystery with the twists and turns of plot, and interesting characters, that we've come to expect from Hill. It is a lighter book, more a cozy, occasionally flavoured with quirky humour.
The title is a bit obscure, although the reader is given the meaning of the phrase quite early on. But at the end I wasn't sure that it was a good fit for this book.

My rating: 4.2

Other titles:
1. Blood Sympathy (1993)
2. Born Guilty (1995)
3. Killing the Lawyers (1997)
4. Singing the Sadness (1999)
5. The Roar of the Butterflies (2008)

2008 Blog Advent Tour

Marg at Reading Adventures and some friends have organised a 2008 Blog Advent Tour.
My "window" is on December 10.

Meanwhile here is the "calendar" so you can follow each day.

1 December
Alabama Bookworm /Joanne from Lost in a Good Book /Susan from You Can Never Have Too Many Books

2 December
Louise from Lou's Pages/Penelope from Life's Sweet Passions

3 December
Booklogged from A Reader's Journal /Lisa from Book Lists Life

4 December
Ladytink from Ladytink's Neverland /Kim from Page After Page

5 December
Vickie from Scrapbooking and Tidbits /Rob from The Snig's Foot

6 December
Andrew from The View from Arizona /Marny the Bookworm

7 December
Becky from Becky's Book Reviews /Melissa from Book Nut

8 December
Amy from Passages to the Past /Alyssa from By the Book

9 December
Raidergirl3 from An Adventure in Reading /Sherrie from Just Books

10 December
Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise /Dolce Bellezza

11 December
Chris from Book-a-ramaBookwormom /Mister Teacher from Learn Me Good

12 December
Bigsis from Through the Eyes of the Creator / Trish's Reading Nook Julia from A Piece of My Mind

13 December
Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot /Lisa from Book Ahoy /Suey from It's All About Books

14 December
Emily from Dreaming on the Job / Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic /Cindy from Nocturnal Wonderings

15 December
Natasha from Maw Books Somewhere in Between /Wendy from Caribou's Mom

16 December
Strumpet from Strumpet's Life /Chris from Stuff as Dreams are Made on /Tammy from Omah's Helping Hand

17 December
3M from 1 More Chapter /Stine from The Washingtonium /Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness

18 December
Alex from Daemonwolf Books / Leya from Wandeca Reads / Julia's Book Corner

19 December
Laclau from Conversacions de Cafe / Krissi from The Swim Mom /Morgan from Insert Clever Name Here

20 December
Jessica from The Bluestockings Society /Naida from The Bookworm /BookClover

21 December
Rhinoa from Rhinoa's Ramblings /Melissa from Remember to Breathe /The Bluestocking Guide

22 December
Think Pink Dana/My Friend Amy

23 December
Jane from Janezlifeandtimes /Memory from Stella Matutina

24 December
Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings /Kailana's Written World

27 November 2008

Forgotten Books: THE COUNCIL OF JUSTICE, Edgar Wallace

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

One of the earliest books recorded in my "little green book" is THE COUNCIL OF JUSTICE by Edgar Wallace (1875-1932). He was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and numerous articles in newspapers and journals.

This was the second in a series called Four Just Men and was published in 1908. Prior to 1902 Edgar Wallace had worked as war correspondent (Boer War), and a newspaper journalist. The series marked his first foray into crime fiction. He is probably better known for his later books and short stories and as the co-creator of King Kong.

There are crimes for which no punishment is adequate, offences that the written law cannot efface. Herein lies the justification for The Council of Justice - a meeting of great and passionless intellects. These men are indifferent to world opinion; they relentlessly wage their wits and cunning against powerful underworld organisations, against past masters of villainy and against minds equally astute. To breakers of the unwritten laws they deal death!

There's a review of Four Just Men at Bookends. The reviewer obviously enjoyed it:
It demands great leaps of imagination to accept the elaborate preparations Leon and Poiccart make to get Manfred out of the jail, and the corresponding climax. But it is precisely this kind of plotting that characterises Edgar Wallace and more so, the four just men. As with most crime fiction, the “what” of the ending is rarely a surprise; it is the “how” that makes it enthralling reading. And The Council really scores on that count. The way Manfred escapes from prison is as unbelievable as it is riveting. And that alone makes The Council worth reading.

Unfortunately all I have to remind me of it is the fact that I recorded it in my book and that it was the first Edgar Wallace book that I ever read.

It is said that Wallace was the first British crime novelist to use policemen as his protagonists, rather than brilliant amateur sleuths as most other writers of the time did. Most of his novels However are apparently independent stand-alone stories. For some reason I thought he was American not British. In England in the 1920s Wallace was said to be the second biggest seller after the Bible.

THE COUNCIL OF JUSTICE is available in its entirety (as far as I can see) as an e-book to read online. Or you can buy it for a small cost as a downloadable Adobe e-book, or a Microsoft one. A free rtf version is also available.

More information about Edgar Wallace.

25 November 2008

CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith

I've been listening to CORDUROY MANSIONS for 10 weeks now.
It is not a mystery or crime fiction, rather an exploration of the lives and interactions of the people in a fairly middle class London area.
In fact, the 2 minute video above explores Pimlico which is where the novel is set.

There's a lot of information on the daily Telegraph website about the novel which is due to have 100 chapters and won't be finished until February 13. You can read online, listen online, get a daily podcast for iTunes, get a daily chapter by email or an RSS feed.
So far each of the episodes, read online by Andrew Sachs, goes for somewhere between 7 to 8 minutes.

What's on Your Nightstand?

What's On Your Nightstand is a monthly challenge for the 4th Tuesday of the month. It is a meme run by Jennifer over at 5 Minutes for Books.
I haven't done so well since last month in dealing with my nightstand.
I think the problem was that I was just too greedy.
The ones in green are the ones I haven't yet read.
I have reviewed all the others.

What I intended to read:

A MAN LAY DEAD, Ngaio Marsh
DEAD I WELL MAY BE, Adrian McKinty
THE UNQUIET NIGHT, Patricia Carlon
PLAY DEAD, Richard Montanari
THE DYING BREED , Declan Hughes
OVERKILL, Vanda Symon
DEAD HEAT, Dick & Felix Francis

THE 19TH WIFE, by David Ebershoff - half way through this one.
THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS (comic strip version), Agatha Christie per Francois Riviere
THE LORDS' DAY, Michael Dobbs - as an audio book

As always some other books crept into range and also got read.

What is on my nightstand now:
Some of the unread books had to be returned to the library unfortunately but there is no lack of replacements. As always they are all crime fiction or murder mysteries.
And I've just realised what a long list it is!

THE FENG SHUI DETECTIVE, Nury Vittachi - for oz_mystery discussion in January.
DEAD HEAT, Dick & Felix Francis.
THE DYING BREED, Declan Hughes.
PLAY DEAD, Richard Montanari.
THE 19TH WIFE, David Ebershoff.
FRIEND OF THE DEVIL, Peter Robinson.
THE PYRAMID, Henning Mankell.
BRIGHT AIR, Barry Maitland.

To come from the library:
SKINNY DIP, Carl Hiassen

Visit 5 Minutes for Books to see what others have on their nightstand this month.

24 November 2008

ACRC: Short Stories, Update #1

In ACRC: Short Stories, I explained how I'm going to keep records of the reading of Agatha Christie's short stories.

As I read another collection, I'll add the stories to the list that I've created and publish a new posting headed ACRC: Short Stories, Update #x, and also link to ACRC: Short Stories which will show my gradual conquering of the short story mountain.

The updates will show the short stories read, listed in the order in which they were written, and the collection(s) in which they were published.

1926, Magnolia Blossom - romance - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1926, The Love Detectives - Mr Satterthwaite & Harley Quinn - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1929, Next to a Dog - romance - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1932, The Second Gong - Hercule Poirot - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1935, Problem at Pollensa Bay - Parker Pyne - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1936, The Regatta Mystery - Parker Pyne - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1937, Yellow Iris - Hercule Poirot - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991
1971, The Harlequin Tea Set - Mr Satterthwaite & Harley Quinn - Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991

Review: PROBLEM AT POLLENSA BAY and other stories, Agatha Christie

BBC Audiobooks, 1993, ISBN 9780745141657, read by Jonathan Cecil

Published in the UK in 1991, this short story collection has never been published in the United States.
Three of these stories are the result of Agatha Christie exploring the theme of romance, and really must have been a disappointment to her growing audience of crime fiction readers. Two of them feature Hercule Poirot, two Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Harley Quin, and two Mr Parker Pyne.

It consists of
* Problem at Pollensa Bay (1935)
Christopher Parker Pyne is on holidays in Majorca and assists a young couple in overcoming the boy's mother's objections to their engagement.

* The Second Gong (1932)
An Hercule Poirot story. A locked room mystery. The head of the house, always extremely punctual, fails to come out of his study for dinner. And why did one person hear the gong sound twice, when the butler struck it only once? This is set in a country house at Kingsbourne Ducis.

* Yellow Iris (1937)
Another one featuring Hercule Poirot who gets a phone call from an urgent sounding young woman saying that she fears a murder is about to be committed. She gives Poirot the address of a restaurant and says to look out for the Yellow Iris. Poirot arrives to find that a friend of his is a guest at the table and then the host reveals the dinner is a commemoration of the death of his wife who died from cyanide poisoning excatly four years ago, and says he is convinced that one of four dinner guests is the murder.

* The Harlequin Tea Set (1971)
This story appeared in a collection of short stories sometimes referred to as the Kingsbourne stories because of their location presumably. The title of the collection is The Harlequin Tea Set and other stories and it is possible to read an excerpt (228 pages, so perhaps all of them) online. In this story Mr Satterthwaite is travelling to the house called Doverton Kingsbourne to see an old friend now in declining health. His car breaks down in the village of Kingsbourne Ducis and while his chauffeur and the garage mechanic fix it, he walks back to a tea shop that caught his eye as they drove into the village. He is sitting in the tea shop when another old friend Mr Harley Quin walks in.
Mr Satterthwaite apparently appears in 3 Agatha Christie titles, another short story collection, The Mysterious Mr Quin, and THREE ACT TRAGEDY where he appears with Hercule Poirot. I gather Mr Quin is a bit like the Cheshire cat, always appearing and disappearing. References to him have an air of the supernatural.
Mr Satterthwaite, with Mr. Quin's help, prevents a murder taking place at Doverton Kingsbourne.

* The Regatta Mystery (1936)
How can a diamond be stolen from a "locked room" that no one enters or leaves? Six dinner guests are there when the diamond disappears, and although nothing can be proved, one dinner guest is suspected by all the others. He visits Mr Parker Pyne who is able to work out who was really guilty.

* The Love Detectives (1926)
While visiting Colonel Melrose, Mr Satterthwaite hears of the murder of Sir James Dwighton, a friend and neighbour of his host. Colonel Melrose is the local magistrate and Satterthwaite accompanies him to the murder scene. On the way they are involved in a minor car accident with Mr Harley Quin. At the murder scene they are bewildered when first one, then another, person confesses to the murder, when it is very clear that neither knows how Dwighton was murdered. However not all is what it seems, and Mr Harley Quin again points the way.

* Next To A Dog (1929)
Joyce loves her dog Terry almost more than life itself. He is all she has left to remember her husband Michael, who did in France, by. But Joyce is almost at the end of her tether, without a job, and penniless, living in a room in a very poor location. This is a strange, out of character, story to come from the pen of Agatha Christie. The blurb says "This story gave Christie the opportunity to indulge in her well-known love of dogs, particularly wire-haired terriers. She obviously had a huge affection for these creatures."

* Magnolia Blossom (1926)
Another love story. A young wife decides to run away with her lover, and they get as far as Dover when she sees a newspaper headline announcing that her husband's firm has collapsed. This was published in the year (1926) when Christie's own marriage was under stress. In the short story she explores where a wife's loyalties should lie.

Jonathon Cecil exercises considerable oral talents in his reading of these stories, with voice characterisations that I really didn't expect. His characterisation of Poirot, husky foreigners, Americans, upper crust Englishmen, genteel ladies and others is staggering and contributes considerably to the enjoyment that these stories, some of them a little dated, provide.

My rating: 4.0

Other links to explore:

Crime and Mystery Fiction on FriendFeed

Karen at Euro Crime has a post about Social Networking and points to a Friend Feed site that a number of us belong to.

Called Crime and Mystery fiction, it was set up by Maxine (Petrona), and enables us to "watch" blog postings in one place, comment on them, and also to add links to other sites of interest.

I get a daily email digest showing me what has happened there. You still have to go to the blog sites to read the stories, but the FriendFeed lets you comment in a sort of "walled garden" on what you've seen.

In a way it is similar to what I'm trying to do on Crime Fiction Journeys, which highlights postings from other blogs, although there there is no ability to comment individually on the blog postings of others, although you can leave a comment on the main blog posting.

23 November 2008

Review: OVERKILL, Vanda Symon

Penguin Books New Zealand, 2007, 331 pages, ISBN 978-0-14-300665-7

Unsuspecting, Gabriella Knowes invited death into her house. The reader knows that from the first paragraph of the prologue in Vanda Symon's debut novel. What we learn too in the first few pages is that this is a targeted kill.

To the lone young police constable in Mataura, Sam Shepherd, it first of all looks as if Gabriella may have committed suicide. But Sam is no fool, and she realises that there are things that just don't fit that scenario. But who would want to kill Gabriella, a young housewife, and why?

The investigation quickly passess out of Sam's hands. Within hours, the Mataura Elderly Citizens Centre becomes the centre of operations, a collection of CIB detectives from as far afield as Invercargill and Dunedin are called in, and a forensics team has been flown in from Dunedin. And then the investigators learn that Sam once had a live-in relationship with Gaby's husband. Sam is suspended.

It is rare that a book captures me for a whole afternoon, or that I read it in one sitting as I did this one. OVERKILL is a wonderful page-turner. Sam Shepherd is a gritty character, persistent, intuitive, a lateral thinker, a police constable who has always wanted to be a detective. Despite her suspension from duty she can't leave things alone and it is her persistence that finally solves the why and the who. In OVERKILL Vanda Symon has given Sam a sounding board in Maggie her flatmate. I liked her so much that I hope we see her in another novel.

The setting for OVERKILL, the southern part of the South Island of New Zealand is important for two reasons. The first is that it explains Sam's position as lone constable in charge of a small town police station. The second relates more closely to explaining why some one decides to "deal with" Gabriella Knowes. It is a setting that feels very authentic to me.

Well, I bought a copy of the next book, THE RINGMASTER, when I bought OVERKILL. I'll have a hard time preventing myself from promoting it up my reading list in the next week or so. There's an extract from RINGMASTER at the end of OVERKILL. It is also a Sam Shepherd title.

My rating: 4.8

From Vanda's blog:
When I'm not writing Crime novels I'm busy being a Domestic Goddess and queen of my household in Dunedin. The first in my Sam Shephard detective series, Overkill, was published by Penguin New Zealand in 2007. The Ringmaster was released in August 2008. The German translation of Overkill, Ein Harmloser Mord was published by Blanvalet in October.

Explore Vanda's blog and her website for yourself.

If you are outside New Zealand, you will be glad to know that in Australia you can get both titles through Angus and Robertson; the Book Depository in the UK lists them, but they are out of stock; and Amazon UK lists OVERKILL.

ACRC: The Short Stories

I've been thinking about how to record Agatha Christie's short stories as I read them and have decided to create (in another blog posting) a list which shows the stories in the order in which they've been written.

I'll also try to remember to come back here and update this list to show my progress through the published collections. The list below comes from Wikipedia.

What I've read:
Collections to be read

What helps you select your next book to read?

I'm running a poll on my blog for the next 7 days to try to determine what readers of this blog use to pick their next book.
You can make multiple selections from the list, so pop in and vote.
Look for the poll in the sidebar.

Is there any method you use that is not covered in the list I have created? Please leave a comment.

Sunday Salon #34 - 23 November

I wasn't able to do my usual Sunday Salon last week. I was away in Singapore for nearly a week, and while I was able to manage a few blog postings, catching up with ones others had made was almost beyond my resources.

Here are the postings I've made since my last Sunday Salon summary two weeks ago.
Currently Reading
  • now - THE 19TH WIFE, David Ebershoff - and struggling I might add.
  • next - OVERKILL, Vanda Symon.
  • also listening to - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, ready for ch. 51.
  • in the car - THE PROBLEM AT POLLENSA BAY and other stories, Agatha Christie.
The poll for the coming week: What helps you select your next book to read?
Do pop in and vote. I've set it up so you can choose more than one option.

Breaking News:
Thanks for reading my post. Enjoy your Sunday and I look forward to reading your Sunday Salon posts.

22 November 2008

Review: MYSTERIOUS PLEASURES, Martin Edwards (edit)

Time Warner paperback, 2004, ISBN 0-7515-3692-X, 496 pages

Published in 2003, this book is a celebration of 50 years of the Crime Writers Association (the people who give the Daggers out).
All the writers, 23 of them, are either foundation members of CWA, past presidents, or award winners.

The writers featured: Margery Allingham, Eric Ambler, Robert Barnard, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Lionel Davidson, Lindsey Davis, Colin Dexter, Dick Francis, Antonia Fraser, Michael Gilbert, Cyril Hare,
Reginald Hill, H.R.F. Keating, Peter Lovesey, Ed McBain, Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky, Ellis Peters, Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, Julian Symons, and Margaret Yorke.

It's hard to pick a favourite because they are such a varied bunch.
In One Morning They'll Hang Him by Margery Allingham, Albert Campion prevents a miscarriage of justice when the police inspector assumes the wrong person has committed the murder.
Robert Barnard's Everybody's Girl is a chilling tale of a young woman who is an immoral and fiendish manipulator.
Leslie Charteris in the Mystery of the Child's Toy describes how unscrupulous businessmen provoke suicide.
The Chief Witness in John Creasey's tale is only six years old, but his evidence is spontaneous and irrefutable.

I think the most amusing one has to be Something Spooky on Geophys by Lindsey Davis. It will appeal to anyone who watches Time Team. An archaeological team making a TV programme are excavating a site in 5 days, watched from the castle ramparts by 3 ghosts. The team finds a Roman skeleton and then a much more recent one. Davis' sleuth, Marcus Didius Falco makes an appearance.

In The Double Crossing Colin Dexter has written a spoof on his own popular Morse and Lewis series.
Peter Lovesey's The Man Who Jumped for England is a play on the word jumped, while Margaret Yorke does something similar with Mugs.
I had read Ruth Rendell's When the Wedding Was Over before (or maybe I saw it dramatised in the Wexford TV series). Mike Burden gets married and Wexford agrees to read the manuscript for a "real crime" book which purports to prove a miscarriage of justice nine decades before when a young wife was hanged for poisoning her husband.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a story written by Martin Edwards though...
Each of the stories is fairly short and I think that heightens the enjoyment.
Between the collection gives a good indication of each writer's style and also changes in the crime fiction short story genre over the period of five decades.

My rating: 4.4

ACRC #5: The Secret of Chimneys

Published in 1925, Agatha Christie's 5th novel. This time the detective is Superintendent Battle. My copy of THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS is to come from the library and I'm waiting for it to be returned by another reader.

Check the opening blog of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.
  2. 1922, THE SECRET ADVERSARY- finished
  3. 1923, THE MURDER ON THE LINKS - finished
  4. 1924, THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT - finished
    1924, POIROT INVESTIGATES (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)
  7. 1927, THE BIG FOUR
I have already "read" the "graphic novel" version of THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, but that doesn't really "count". If you read my review of it, you'll understand why.

I am using the list at Wikipedia of novels and collections of short stories. I will interlace the short story collections into the list where I can, but may have to read them out of order.

Please feel free to join in my challenge, comment on my reviews etc.

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

If you want to follow my progress through your RSS reader, then the RSS URL is
Just save that in your bookmarks or RSS reader and you will be notified when I have written a new post.
Alternatively you could subscribe to the feed through FeedMyInbox. Just copy the RSS URL, click on the FeedMyInbox link and paste the URL in there.
You will need to confirm your subscription by email.

Spotlight on Ian Rankin - EXIT MUSIC

My mini review of EXIT MUSIC

John Rebus is facing his last week in the police force. He will turn 60 in 10 days and is legally required to retire. He has no vision of what he will do in retirement and is determined to work as he's always done, right to the end. Late at night, at the foot of Raeburn Wynd the body of a Russian poet is discovered.

So solving this crime will be Rebus' last case. But there is so much more to be resolved. Rebus' biggest unfinished business is with Big Ger Cafferty. He would dearly like to put Cafferty away forever, but is that going to be a legacy he will leave to DS Siobhan Clarke? And Shiv has problems of her own. Will she just move into Rebus' job as Detective Inspector and if she does, who will she choose to be her new partner?
In a sense this, their last case together, is an important test for her too, made all the more important when DCI McCrae decides that DS Clarke will be in charge of the case, with Rebus as a sort of mentor - if a loose cannon can ever be a mentor.

Rankin manages to bed this case against the issues of real time Scotland, focussing on Scottish independence, an issue that dominated the Scottish elections of 2006. Not a short read, but certainly an engrossing one. It left me hoping against hope that this isn't the last we see of Rebus!

My rating in 2007: 5.0

Ian Rankin on writing EXIT MUSIC

Bookzone interview with Ian Rankin on writing EXIT MUSIC

Love Books, Give them away

On on life & other conveniences today, Sandra Ruttan urges us all to give books for Christmas, and she has a few recommendations. She links her blog post to the UNESCO site for World Book & Copyright Day even though it doesn't happen until April 23. But Sandra says it shouldn’t be too hard to persuade you to declare an “unofficial” book day and go buy a book…. Should it?

So consider that a recommendation from me too - give a book for Christmas!
Most Christmases I have the "year of"...
Last year most of the younger near and dear got a USB stick. I didn't give them to the older ones in recognition of the fact that most of them would not have a use for it. However the daughters, sons-in-law, and nieces and nephews were appreciative.
It has in the past been the year of the calendar, the year of the chocolates, the year of the socks, the year of funny mugs, and even the year of the book.

There are such a great bunch of crime fiction titles available at present that choosing should be easy. Don't worry too much about what they read! Make sure it is something you haven't read so they can have the pleasure of lending it to you after they've read it.

Check my reading list for 2008 for some recommendations.

Do visit the World Book and Copyright day site, there is a great animated cartoon. Here are some "grabs" from it to whet your appetite:

21 November 2008

Sources of widgets and ideas for Blogger blogs

Today I have added a widget to my blog that allows visitors to rate postings.
This is supposed to not only generate a rating for each post (if your visitors bother to do it) but also to eventually show a list of most highly rated posts in a block on the side.

I like playing around with widgets to see if they add information for me, or interactivity for those who drop in. Some I've installed and then discarded, particularly if they seemed to slow my blog down.

So I thought I'd tell you about some of the "how to" blogs that I watch/read as well as where some of the widgets I use come from. So far I haven't done anything that involves altering the code of my Blogger template.

Blogs I watch for ideas:
Blogging Basics 101.
Blogger Buster.
Blog to Great.

I find these more than enough as they usually grab their ideas from other sites.

The widgets
The rating widget is from Yellow Turnip.
I'm still in two minds about Snapshots (the widget that gives you a preview of linked sites).
The podiocast comes from Odiogo.
The Christmas countdown is from Widgetbox.
I think I got the code for the Recent Comments widget from Blogger Buster
They have a list of available widgets here and that's where I think I got the Search box code too.
My Free Counter up in the menu bar comes from Easy Counter.
I have Sitemeter installed on all of my blogs.
I also use ClustrMaps to graphically show where visitors come from, and Feedjit for similar functions but this displays as a list and you can watch it "live".
You can get my blog posts as a daily email digests through FeedMyInbox, and Feedburner provides both RSS and email subscription.

Here is a video about how to access even more gadgets/widgets through Blogger/Google.

19 November 2008

Back from Singapore

We really didn't need to buy any books but spent a very happy hour browsing the Singapore BookFest and I am happy to report that crime fiction is alive and well in Singapore.

You might also remember that I took a pile of books with me.
Sadly a couple of extras found their way into the travel bag, and wormed their way into my attention. I read
A MAN LAY DEAD, Ngaio Marsh

I made good headway in THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff but I am not sure whether I'll get it finished for this weekend's discussion. It does require some seriously attentive reading. I've also begun MYSTERIOUS PLEASURES edited by Martin Edwards which is a collection of very enjoyable short stories. But I was a little ambitious this time in how much reading I was going to get done, and some books came back untouched.

We got back this morning after an overnight flight.

The Carnival Moves On - #26

The Carnival of Criminal Minds has come back down under to Aust Crime Fiction, where #26 has set up its tents. Check out crime fiction in Australia, South Africa, and social networking on Crime Space.

Review: A HOLLY, JOLLY MURDER, Joan Hess

1997, Penguin Putnam, ISBN 9-780525-942405, 265 pages

This is the 11th title in Joan Hess' Claire Malloy series. Claire owns a book shop in Farberville Arkansas. As Christmas approaches, business is rather slow. Then less than a week before Christmas and the Book Depot has a visit from Malthea Hendlerson, an Arch Druid in search of New Age titles. Claire is able to order the books in for her.

Claire's teenage daughter Caron and her friend Inez have found what look like the ideal, well paying, holiday jobs at Santa's Workshop. They will be reindeer assisting in taking Christmas photos of children sitting on Santa's lap. What could be simpler?

Claire's friend Peter, the local police chief, has had to leave town for a few days to deal with a family emergency, and Claire is feeling rather disappointed. But the final few days to Christmas prove to be far from uneventful. Claire is invited by Malthea to be an observer at a winter solstice celebration. Just before dawn, as the ceremony is about to start, an older male member of the Druidic community is found dead, murdered. The subsequent hunt for the murderer reveals that the Druidic community is full of problems.

Just to complicate things Caron's job as Santa's helper turns out to be part of a scam for the unsuspecting.
In the police chief's prolonged absence Claire works with the local officers in finding out the truth about who committed the murder and why.

A HOLLY, JOLLY MURDER is light frothy read, a variant on a cozy, but not one that will send me in desperate search for other titles by Joan Hess. Perhaps you have read a better one??

My rating 3.2

Check more Joan Hess titles at Fantastic Fiction.

15 November 2008

The faces of crime fiction

This wonderful cartoon is on the front page of Swedish Crime Writers' Academy (Svenska Deckarakademin).
You have probably recognised all of these famous sleuths.
Back row from the left: Lord Peter Wimsey, Gideon Fell, Jules Maigret, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen
Front row from the left: Jane Marple, Father Brown, Auguste Dupin (= Edgar Allan Poe), Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe
Konstnär: Henry Lauritzen.

14 November 2008

Review: A MAN LAY DEAD, Ngaio Marsh

Isis Publishing large print edition, 2005. First published 1934. ISBN 0-7531-7409-X 211 pages

This is Ngaio Marsh's debut novel, a classic country house party murder mystery, where the reader is tempted to map the location of all of the characters at the location of the murder. Nigel Bathgate, with his cousin Charles Rankin, is attending his first houseparty at Frampton. He has heard these houseparties hosted by Sir Hubert Handesley are both "original" and unpretentious. There will seven or eight guests, and, upon arrival, he learns that the main event will be a Murder. Sir Hubert has his own rules for the Murder Game, and eventually a murder there is, but not the theatrically staged one they have anticipated.

This is not Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn's first murder case, although it is Ngaio Marsh's first novel. Alleyn is already a seasoned detective, with a reputation for thorough and careful sleuthing. His reputation preceds him. He arrives at Frampton from Scotland Yard the morning after the murder. The body has already been moved, and the local constabulary and the police doctor are already in attendance.

In essence what Marsh does in this first novel is establish some of the characteristics which will become Alleyn's "signature" in subsequent novels. Alleyn does not appear as the other characters expect a detective to be. He is tall, cultured, detached, thorough, and objective. He professes to have a poor memory and keeps a small note book of important facts, with an alphabetical index. We learn that Alleyn is an Oxford man who initially became a diplomat, before turning to policing. He likes to inspect things first hand, and likes to reconstruct events until he gets them right. He may also lay traps for suspects. In A MAN LAY DEAD he decides one of the characters is innocent, and then uses him as his "Watson", not only involving him in some of the sleuthing, but also as a sounding board for his deductions. Thus we see the action often through two sets of eyes, both Alleyn's and the other characters.

This is an interesting novel as Marsh has included the element of "the Russian threat". First of all there is the Russian dagger with which the victim is stabbed, then the Russian butler who disappears, the house guest who is a Russian espionage agent, and then the Russian secret society that binds them all together. A MAN LAY DEAD was published in 1934 and is indicative of the fear of Russian communism that had had Europe in its thrall for the previous decade or so.

Ngaio Marsh is a New Zealander but this novel puts her right into the vein of the Golden Age writers like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. It is a British cozy murder mystery through and through. In A MAN LAY DEAD she is exploring a classic scenario, and bringing a new sleuth onto the crime fiction scene. There is no hint of her Antipodean origins. The language, the slang, the setting are thoroughly British.

From a 21st century point of view A MAN LAY DEAD has survived 8 decades pretty well. We wouldn't put it at the top of the tree these days, because there are things that date it. Marsh was more concerned to write a carefully constructed whodunnit, and not so taken with "why". Nevertheless it is very readable.

My rating 4.3

See full list
My first link to Vanda Symon's Ngaio Marsh challenge

Review: ACRC#4: THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT, Agatha Christie

First published by Bodley Head in 1924. This edition published by Harper Collins in paperback in 2002, 381 pages, ISBN 978-0-00-715166-0

This Agatha Christie's 4th novel, and as she did in the first 3, you can see her experimenting with a different style of murder mystery.

In the Prologue, in the dressing room of a Russian dancer in Paris, through a meeting she has with another Russian, we learn 3 things. Firstly neither of them are Russian. Secondly they have both been working for an arch criminal who is on the point of retirement. The "Colonel" has, even during the First World War, organised a series of "stupendous" coups including jewel robberies, forgery, espionage, assassination, and sabotage. Thirdly we learn the story of the theft of some South American diamonds before the war. The dancer knows where these diamonds are and intends to exchange them for some of the "Colonel's" accumulated wealth.

THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT is narrated by two characters. The first, whom we meet in Chapter 1, is Anne Beddingfeld. It is she who witnesses the death of a strange-smelling man when he falls off an Underground platform and is electrocuted on the rails. She also sees a man dressed in a brown suit who pretends to be doctor, inspects the body and pronounces the man dead, and then rushes away, dropping a scrap of paper with a cryptic message on it as he does so.

The second narrator is Sir Eustace Pedler MP who keeps a diary. We begin reading extracts from his diary in chapter 8. Inevitably the paths of the two narrators converge. A young woman dies in a house that Sir Eustace owns called Mill House, and he is forced to return from abroad. He is then asked by the British government to travel to South Africa, where he has business interests, to deliver a message in person to the government of Rhodesia.

After that the setting, with all the characters we've met so far, and a few more besides, moves to a ship going to South Africa, and then the action moves to South Africa itself.

I have my reservations about THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT.
I think Agatha Christie tried to move from a murder mystery to a thriller with connections to the world of organised crime, unionism, espionage and romance. The result is a longer book with a lot of time lapses in it, caused mainly by the distances between locations, and the nature of what happens to the first narrator Anne Beddingfield. Some of the scenarios don't quite work and the result is confusion rather than a genuine puzzle for the reader to solv.
Christie tried also to show her awareness of political events in South Africa, and we get occasional mentions of General Smuts thrown into the mix.
And finally, it is a plot where definitions of good and bad are blurred, and in the long run evil goes unpunished.

The book sees the first appearance of Colonel Race; he later appears in Cards on the Table, Sparkling Cyanide, and Death on the Nile.
The Wikipedia entry gives a lot of plot details, reactions of reviewers at the time, including a comment about the fact that she had not used Hercule Poirot, but had in fact introduced another "detective" in the form of Colonel Race.

My rating: 3.8

Follow all the posts in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.

13 November 2008

Keeping Records of your reading

I often refer in this blog to my "little green book", a record I began keeping in 1975 that shows title, author, and date when I completed reading the book.

On 1 January 2000 I graduated to a little red book because the bindings that held the green book together were disintegrating. By the end of this year the two books between them will hold list about 2,800 books read over a period of 34 years. I read more now than I used to. That has a lot to do with the little birds having flown the nest.
What I can also track from the records is my growing interest, indeed passion, for reading crime fiction, and the authors who have been most influential in shaping my reading tastes.

As well as the notebook, I have been keeping an electronic database since the end of 2004, and have 478 books recorded in there. The database allows me to record more description, and also has the advantage of being searchable by keywords and dates etc.

Since April 27 2007, I have been adding records to Library Thing. I now have 262 books recorded on there, all with reviews.

And of course since the beginning of this year I have been publishing all my reviews on this blog. You can see them all on Smik's Reviews. According to database, and the little red book, there should be 95 of them there, but I haven't really counted them.

Do you keep records of your reading?
How do you do it? A notebook, a spreadsheet, a database, my blog, Library Thing, Shelfari, other online utility, other means.
I have a poll running for the next 10 days or so on my blog.
Check the gadget out in the right hand panel.


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