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11 December 2010
Crime Calls at Christmas: Crime Fiction titles
These are crime fiction novels recorded in my database over the last 5 years, where Christmas looms, or a crime takes place over the Christmas period. Some of the full reviews are in my blog, others not.
In some the fact that Christmas is on the way is something the author has thought important enough to tell us. That knowledge seems to add to the atmosphere in which the story is set. Should the festive season give immunity against crime?
VOICES, Arnaldur Indridason, my rating 5.0
The doorman at a Reykjavik hotel who doubles every year as Santa at Christmas parties in the hotel is found dead by one of the hotel maids, stabbed to death, in his squalid basement room. Christmas is fast approaching and the detective Erlendur is confronted by the problem of how or even if he is going to celebrate Christmas. Is there anything to celebrate? Strangely he moves into the hotel while the investigation of the murder is carried out just feeling he can't go back to his flat. This is Indridason's 3rd novel to be translated into English. It was originally published in 2003 and made it into English in 2006. Erlendur of course eventually solves the murder mystery but along the way we learn a lot about the ghosts of his own past, and gain insight into his relationship with his drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind. And even in the last 10 pages we are still juggling candidates for the killer.
COLD GRANITE, Stuart Macbride, my rating 4.8
Aberdeen, oil capital of Europe … Christmas is coming, cold, dark and wet, bringing death with it.
It's DS Logan McRae's first day back on the job after a year off on the sick, and it couldn't get much worse. Four-year-old David Reid's body is discovered in a ditch, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. There's a killer stalking the Granite City and the local media are baying for blood.
If that wasn't enough, Logan also has to contend with a new boss, DI Insch, who doesn't suffer fools gladly and thinks everyone's a fool, and his own ex-girlfriend, the beautiful but chilly Isobel MacAlister, who also happens to be the chief pathologist. The only good news is WPC 'Ball Breaker' Watson, Logan's new guardian angel.
The dead are piling up in the morgue almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going missing. More are going to die. If Logan isn't careful, he's going to end up joining them.
Very readable. Black humour mixed in with the serious stuff about the world of crime and child abuse. Interesting thread about how Colin Miller from the press is getting his information and the effect that the press can have on an investigation.
BLOOD FROM A STONE, Donna Leon, my rating 4.8
On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a street vendor is killed in a scuffle in Campo Santo Stefano. The closest witnesses to the event are the American tourists who had been browsing the man's wares—fake designer handbags—before his death. The dead man had been working as a vu cumpra, one of the many African immigrants peddling goods outside normal shop hours and trading without work permits.
Commissario Brunetti's response is that of everybody involved: Why would anyone kill an illegal immigrant? Because these workers have few social connections and little money, infighting seems to be the answer. And yet the killings have all the markings of a professional operation. Once Brunetti begins to investigate this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake within the secretive society.
While his wife, Paola, struggles to come to terms with their young daughter's prejudices about the immigrants, Brunetti finds that his own police force shares many of the same biases. Warned by Patta, his superior, to desist from further involvement in the case, Brunetti only becomes more determined to unearth the truth. How far will Brunetti be able to penetrate the murky subculture of Venice's illegal community? And how high does the corruption reach into the upper echelons of Brunetti's own world and the world at large?
WATER LIKE A STONE, Deborah Crombie, my rating 4.8
The first Christmas with your partner's parents is never an easy one, and Gemma James is not sure she is looking forward to the one that she and Duncan Kincaid and their two boys will be spending with his parents in Cheshire. However on the eve of their arrival, Duncan's sister Juliet finds the mummified body of a baby concealed in the wall of a barn she is renovating, and everything takes on a different twist. Duncan finds the investigating officer called to the scene is someone he was at school with. Despite the setting in the small Shropshire town where Duncan Kincaid grew up, WATER LIKE A STONE has a big canvas feel to it. There are a number of threads, at least one murder, a couple of mini-mysteries to be solved, and plenty of action, all taking place in the holiday season of Christmas to New Year. Most enjoyable read. #11 in the James/Kincaid series
THE REDEEMER, Jo Nesbo, my rating 4.8
The shooting of a Salvation Army officer at point blank range as Christmas shoppers stand listening to a street concert in Oslo is almost unthinkable. Many saw the assailant, the gun in his hand, but predictably, afterwards, they were almost of no help. If there is an irony, it is that the victim should not have been there, having changed his shift with his brother.
At Police HQ Harry Hole is investigating another case, the death of a young heroin addict, found dead in a unit at the container terminal. Harry's boss Bjarne Moller is leaving. If it hadn't been for Moller's protective wing Harry would have been off the force years ago. Harry mistrusts his new boss, Gunnar Hagen, who threatens to make him toe the line.
You can almost feel Nesbo building this book, layer on layer, investigating how events that took place over a decade before, can have consequences in present time. You certainly forget that it is translated, so natural is the English.
We've already met Harry Hole, most recently in NEMESIS, and before that in THE REDBREAST and in THE DEVIL'S STAR. THE REDEEMER is a great read, a book whose ending may shock. Harry's personal life is also once again at the centre of this book.
HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS, Agatha Christie, my rating 4.7
Simeon Lee gathers his family around him for Christmas, including his black sheep of a son Harry, whom everyone had assumed (or hoped) was either dead or in gaol somewhere. His granddaughter Pilar, whose mother had died the previous year, turns up as does the son of his old mining partner in South Africa.
On Christmas Eve Simeon Lee signs his death warrant by telling his collected family that he is about to change his will.
"Your mother had the brains of a louse! And it seems to me that she transmitted those brains to her children!". He raised himself up suddenly. A red spot appeared on each cheek. His voice came high and shrill. "You're not worth a penny piece, any of you! I'm sick of you all! You are not men! You're weaklings - a set of nanmby-pamby weaklings. Pilar's worth any two of you put together! I'll swear to heaven I've got a better son somewhere in the world than any of you, even if you are born on the right side of the blanket. "
This is a locked room mystery. There are plenty of suspects. Simeon Lord is found with his throat cut on the other side of a door with the key on the inside.
FROST AT CHRISTMAS, R. D. Wingfield, my rating 4.7
Ten days to Christmas. 8 year old Tracey Uphill disappears on her way home from Sunday School. D.I. Jack Frost has been assigned a new helper, the Chief Constable's nephew, D.C. Clive Barnard. As Christmas approaches, Frost is typically behind with his paper work and the trail to Tracey seems cold. His investigations unearth information about the vicar, about a teacher who regularly visits Tracey's prostitute mother, and about a robbery that was committed a long time ago.
PAST REASON HATED, Peter Robinson, my rating 4.7
Susan Gay, newly appointed Detective Constable at Eastvale, her second day on the job in D.I. Bank's team, is called to a murder scene. It is 22 December, Christmas is approaching, and the rest of the team are at D.S. Hatchley's wedding celebrations. The victim Caroline Hartley lies stretched out on the lounge in front of the fire, with multiple stab wounds in her throat and chest, and blood drenching her whole body. She is part of the cast of a local dramatic production of Twelfth Night, and right from the beginning it seems as if there are far too many suspects.
LIGHT ON SNOW, Anita Shreve, my rating 4.7
Thirty years old Nicky looks back at the event that changed her and her father from gloom and depression to hope for the future. Just prior to Christmas 1983 in New Hampshire, twelve years old Nicky Dillon and her father Robert walk in the woods when they find an abandoned newborn female with the umbilical cord still attached. They take the blood drenched infant to the nearest hospital while the police search for the parents. The incident shakes both Dillons to the core because it serves as a fragile reminder of life; two years ago Nicky's mother and her one-year-old sister died in a car crash in Westchester County. Not a mystery, but a good read none-the-less
THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE, Paulus Hochgatterer, my rating 4.6
A little girl is playing Ludo with her grandfather, having cocoa, when the door bell rings. It is Christmas time, the presents have been opened, but Ludo is a game she and her grandfather always play. Grandfather goes to the door, talks to someone there, gets his coat, and goes out.
Opposite, its windows lit up, is the house where the little girl and her family live. When her grandfather doesn't come back the little girl puts on her new green quilted jacket with the squirrel on it and goes out to find him. She follows footprints and finds her grandfather's body on the ramp that leads into the barn. There is no doubt it is his body, the clothes are right, but his head has been squashed flat. The little girl goes home and says nothing for the next few days.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (audio), Charles Dickens, my rating 4.6
I know, I know, I can can hear you! This is not crime fiction! This audio book came to me as a Christmas gift from Audible.com.
The book is presented in five parts, and you probably all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose name is synonymous with penny pinching, mean-ness, and all enjoyment of Christmas being dashed as humbug. He is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, the present, and the future, and brought to his senses before it is too late.
This is a most enjoyable performance by Tim Curry.
CHOCOLAT (Audio CD), Joanne Harris, my rating 4.5
Vianne Rocher, with her small daughter Anouk, arrives at a small French village on a festival day leading up to Christmas. She decides to stay and sets up a chocolaterie in the square directly opposite the church. As Lent approaches the village priest identifies her as a corrupting influence, confirmed in his mind when Vianne decides to have an Easter Chocolate Festival. Is this a mystery book? - some would say not - but there is plenty of mystery, even an old case of murder - and who is the old priest in a coma whom Father Reynaud visits on such a regular basis? Is Vianne herself who she thinks she is? Beautifully read by Juliet stevenson - a BBC Audiobook on 8 CDs.
TIED UP IN TINSEL, Ngaio Marsh, my rating 4.5
Every member of the staff at Halberds, but one, is a convicted murderer. Troy Alleyn, wife of DI Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, is spending Christmas there, her husband out of the country. She is painting the portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasman, the rather eccentric and enormously wealth landed proprietor of Halberds Manor.
The other members of the Halberds Christmas houseparty, Hilary's Aunt Bed and Uncle Flea, his uncle Bert, and his fiance Cressida Tottenham, round out a rather unusual cast of characters.
Bill-Tasman has organised an elaborate Christmas Day treat for local children in which an ancient bewhiskered and bearded Druid arrives towing a sledge of presents. But after the event the Druid can't be found, and other pranks seem designed to cast the blame for his disappearance on the murderous staff.
Enter Roderick Alleyn just returned from Australia.
WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK, Hakan Nesser, my rating 4.5
A pre-Christmas funeral, a solitary mourner, a dead woman whose whole life had been littered with defeats and messy failures, a death bed promise to exact revenge. Just over three weeks later the murders begin.
When the first victim's wife comes home from the theatre near midnight she finds her husband dead just inside the door, shot twice in the chest, twice under the belt.
There are few clues for the police to work on. None of the neighbours noticed anything, there seems to have been no motive, the killer simply shot Malik when he opened the front door, then closed the door and walked away.
Solving this case, amid a rising death toll, takes Inspector Van Veeteren and his team the best part of two months. The tension rises as the reader identifies the next victims, and the race is on to see who gets to them first: the police or the killer.
MURDER IN THE DARK, Kerry Greenwood, my rating 4.5
#16 in the Phryne Fisher series. It is the end of 1928. We celebrate Christmas with Phyrne and her family and then she is off to the Last Best party of 1928, being held by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. The party is a 4 day event being held at Werribee Manor outside of Melbourne. Someone tries to dissuade Phryne from going, but that of course makes her more determined to be there. Once the party gets underway there is plenty to keep Phryne occupied, including cryptic threatening notes, an extravaganza of activities for rich young things, the kidnapping of a child, and the discovery of one that has been kidnapped and belongs to no-one.
THE SHOOTING IN THE SHOP, Simon Brett, my rating 4.4
Nothing in Fethering happens unseen. There's always someone watching.
Christmas is approaching in the seaside village of Fethering and Jude is horrified that her neighbour Carole Seddon, retired public servant, has chosen such dull presents for her immediate family. To make matters worse Carole's son Stepehen, his wife gaby and her baby grandaughter Lily will be coming down for Christmas Day.
So Jude takes Carole off to a newly opened trendy shop called Gallimaufray. A few days later, when the shop is burnt down fire investigators find the body of a young woman in the burnt out premises. By this time Carole has met the owners of the shop at Jude's pre-Christmas open house party, and so neither she nor Jude have any hesitation in becoming personally involved in finding out what really happened.
THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY, Agatha Christie, my rating 4.3
Christmas is approaching. Snow has fallen in England over the last four days and the landscape on the fringe of Dartmoor at Sittaford House is several feet deep in snow. To all intents and purposes the tiny village of Sittaford is almost completely cut off.
The winter tenants of Sittaford House, Mrs Willett and her daughter Violet, are entertaining the residents of the nearby estate cottages to afternoon tea. To pass the time the group tries a spot of table turning. When the table spells out the message ""Captain Trevelyan ... dead... murder"", one of the party, Trevelyan's lifelong friend Major Burnaby decides to make the six mile trek into the village on foot, just to check his friend's welfare.
CROWNER'S QUEST, Bernard Knight, my rating 4.3
Set in Exeter 1194 AD. Sir John de Wolfe, ex-Crusader and king's man through and through, is the King's Coroner in Exeter. He leaves a party being given on Christmas Eve by his wife Matilda to investigate the death of a canon found hanging in his cell. Set against the background of a country on the verge of rebellion against its absentee king, Richard Couer de Lion. The action comes thick and fast, a local lord is killed, and we learn a lot about the Norman legal system.
WINTER OF SECRETS, Vicki Delany, my rating 4.3
It's Christmas Eve at Trafalgar in the Kootenay area of British Columbia and there's lots of snow. It's the storm of the decade and the roads are icy. Constable Molly (Moonlight) Smith, recently off probation, is on duty overnight, and it promises to be a busy one. Just after midnight a car goes into the river.
The occupants are tourists, a couple of young men staying at a local B&B with friends. They've come to Trafalgar for the skiing. They are both pronounced dead when the car is retrieved from the river. The only trouble is that the pathologist discovers a day or two later that the passenger had been dead when the car went into the water.
FORBIDDEN FRUIT, Kerry Greenwood, my rating 4.3
For those who haven't yet made her acquaintance Corinna Chapman is an accountant turned baker who has a shop in Melbourne, just off Flinders' Lane.
FORBIDDEN FRUIT is #5 in the Corinna Chapman series (you may already be aware of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series which also has a new title out this year).
It is December in Melbourne, in the lead up to Christmas. As it often is at this time of the year, Melbourne is in the grip of a heatwave, with north wind days every day: hectic, invasive, dust-bearing wind like dragon's breath. Corinna and her assistant run a boutique bakery in the ground floor of an old building named, Roman style, Insula, with apartments in the floors above populated by a range of interesting/weird characters.
The Corinna Chapman books are light cosy reads, sure to be popular with those who like food with their mystery. In this one Corinna's talented assistant (and Corinna is no mean cook herself) is in search for the perfect recipe for glace cherries. Everyday their bakery "Earthly Delights" serves up a mouth watering range of muffins and breads. As always, in the final pages of the book, Corinna delivers some tried and true recipes for readers to try. The ones at the end of FORBIDDEN FRUIT are for glace cherries, Christmas cakes, Vegie delights, and variety of muffins. One of the things I think Kerry Greenwood gets right is a taste of Melbourne weather at this time of the year.
A CANTERBURY CRIME, Brian Kavanagh, my rating 4.3
Antiques dealer Hazel Whitby and her Australian companion Belinda Lawrence have been asked to catalogue and value the contents of a deceased estate, the Manor House. It is just a few days to Christmas and Hazel and Belinda will be spending Christmas in Canterbury.
Professor de Gray died nearly six months earlier, supposedly from a heart attack. But Hazel and Belinda hear stories of there having been "blood on his head" and the Professor's body was cremated with almost indecent haste, the day after his death.
A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY, Anne Perry, my rating 4.1
A bit disappointing. A novella rather than a full novel. With the London season over, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould like most of her peers is now looking forward to the Christmas holidays. Vespasia's husband is abroad on business and her children remain in London while she attends a party at Applecross, home of friend Omegus Jones. Vespasia feels good about life in general, but hers in particular as she reflects that her nation is prospering in the peace of the middle of the century though rumors fly that war in the Crimea is imminent. However, at a gala, Vespasia's friend Isobel Alvie's behaves is rather spiteful and nasty especially towards widow Gwendolyn Kilmuir. The next day, Gwendolyn is found dead, apparently having jumped off a bridge. Everyone blames the tragedy on acrimonious Isobel due to her cruel words so no one will talk to the "culprit" except Vespasia. A despondent remorseful Isobel accompanied by her only loyal friend Vespasia journey to Scotland to offer sympathy to Gwendolyn's mother where they will learn the truth behind the suicide and the true meaning of friendship."
MISS MARPLE: COMPLETE SHORT STORIES, Agatha Christie, my rating 4.1
20 short stories actually come from only 3 collections: * The Thirteen Problems * Miss Marple's Final Cases * The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. a bit patchy, and a couple of them were downright improbable. All the stories tended to suffer a bit from the need to write sparingly, to keep the plot to short story length. Sometimes the story was finished off, and tidied up, a little too quickly for my liking.
THE DEVIL'S COMPANIONS, John Misto, my rating 4
On Christmas Eve, three-year-old Anna Brennan disappears from a crowded church during midnight mass. She is kidnapped, believed murdered. Twenty years later, in the process of a burglary investigation, a startling piece of evidence accidentally comes to light. Could Anna still be alive? If so, who abducted her, and why? Detective Constable Greg Raine is assigned the task of solving the case and reuniting Anna with her parents. But a nightmare of treachery and murder lies ahead. In a shattering climax, the detective unearths the secret behind Anna’s disappearance … and it’s a discovery that comes at a terrifying price.
A HOLLY, JOLLY MURDER, Joan Hess, my rating 3.2
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.
AGATHA RAISIN and KISSING CHRISTMAS GOODBYE, M. C. Beaton, my rating 3
Phyllis Tamworthy, about to celebrate her 80th birthday, contacts Agatha Raisin because she thinks someone from her family will try to murder her at her birthday celebrations. And they do - Mrs Tamworthy dies of hemlock poisoning despite the fact that Agatha is on the case, and actually staying in the manor house! That's enough to raise any female PI's dander. Phyllis Tamworthy was universally hated by her family and all the villagers, so the list of suspects reads like the local telephone directory.