30 September 2011

Review: THE EMPANADA AFFAIR - Last, Jerold, Last, Elaine

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 254 KB
  • Publisher: Jerold and Elaine Last (July 6, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought it ($0.99
Product Description (Amazon)

This new mystery novel features Private Detective Roger Bowman, and the action takes place in Los Angeles and in Northwest Argentina. Bowman is hired to solve the murder of Robert Foster by Foster’s beautiful daughter Suzanne. The murder occurred a month previously in Salta, Argentina, and the local police seem to have given up on this case. Bowman and Suzanne, who is being followed by a mysterious man, travel to Salta to make their own investigation.

The big questions they try to ask are whodunit and why was Robert Foster killed? There’s plenty of action, our PI and his client find themselves strongly attracted to one another, and the setting is pretty far off the beaten path for American tourists.

The settings and locales are authentic; the authors lived previously in Salta for several months. The cover art is an original painting by a friend from Salta, who graciously allowed us to use it for this book cover. It depicts the typical colorful rock formations in the Andes Mountains near a small indigenous village north of Salta that Suzanne and Roger visit during their eventful week in Northwest Argentina. The book’s title comes from a local food served ubiquitously as an appetizer in the region, and from the name of a famous restaurant in Salta where our detectives find a key clue. This is a first novel for both of the authors, who are a married couple living in Northern California. Hopefully, it will be the first book in a series.

My take

THE EMPANADA AFFAIR reads to me as if the authors had collected a lot of tourist brochures, visited many tourist sites, and eaten at many restaurants during their stay in Salta (see notes about the authors below) and decided to write a tourist handbook for US visitors. It is filled with the sort of detail you would expect to find in a Frommer's Guide for tourists. When that didn't quite work out they decided to add a mystery element. Unfortunately liking to read crime fiction doesn't always endow the ability to write a good crime fiction novel.

My estimate is that the murder mystery thread in THE EMPANADA AFFAIR occupies about 10% of the novel. The rest is filled with extraneous and largely irrelevant travelogue details. If you had a mind to, you could learn quite a lot about the culture and historical background of Argentina, but unfortunately that wasn't my purpose in reading it. I was looking for a good murder mystery plot set against an authentic background. While I got the background, I wasn't prepared for it to take centre stage. In fact the murder mystery theme never does get properly resolved. The suspense element dies out well before the end.

To add to my annoyance PI Roger Bowman, ex LA cop, was a most unprofessional person and the numerous steamy (and graphically described) sex scenes between him and his client Suzanne Foster made me feel like a voyeur.

There are a number of technical difficulties with this novel that the authors must solve before venturing into publishing again. For example most chapters finish with Roger and Suzanne snuggled up in bed at the end of the day. Each chapter seems to deal with a journey or a day.

There is a second problem caused by stilted and poorly constructed dialogue.
I can always tolerate something that looks like the following once, but to ask me to read conversations constructed like this several times is unimaginative.
    “What did you like the best?” I asked Suzanne. 
    “Did you like the chorizo, the beef sausage?”  
    “I thought it was kind of bland and needed something spicy to go with it. The combination with chimichurri was pretty good. At home I’m used to the Mexican pork chorizo, which is highly spiced, and I like it a lot more.”  
    “How about the blood sausage?”
     “I didn’t particularly care for it. The flavor is very bland and the texture is off-putting, kind of gritty.”  
    “What did you think about the chinchulines?”
So, if you are not particularly addicted to crime fiction, want to read something that reads like a non-fiction travelogue with virtually no story, and intend to travel to Salta, Argentina, then this may be the book for you.

Me, I took the blurb a little more at face value, and was extremely disappointed.
My rating 1.0

About the Authors (from Amazon)

The authors are a husband and wife team presently living in Northern California.  Elaine is a retired occupational therapist currently enjoying breeding, training, and showing German Shorthaired Pointer dogs and playing with her grandchildren.  Jerry is a scientist on the faculty of the University of California and a big fan of California mystery novels.  A quick search of Amazon will turn up books and articles in biochemistry previously edited or authored by Jerry, but The Empanada Affair is his first novel.  Reader feedback will be greatly appreciated, so please take a few minutes to write a review of the book after you finish reading it.

The settings and locales for The Empanada Affair are authentic; the authors lived previously in Salta, Argentina for several months.  The book's title comes from a local food served ubiquitously as an appetizer in the region.

29 September 2011

Forgotten Book: MURDER CAN STUNT YOUR GROWTH, Selma Eichler

This contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books is from my records for 1996.
It does show, for those who know my tastes now, that I haven't always been such a dour reader.

MURDER CAN STUNT YOUR GROWTH (1996) is #3 in the Desiree Shapiro series, a cozy series where every title begins MURDER CAN..

Desiree Shapiro is no lightweight when it comes to crime. At five foot two and pleasingly plump, she always takes on cases she can sink her teeth into. That's why she is so reluctant to investigate the death of little Catherine Corwin.
After all, the police, the medical examiner, and the child's doctor all concluded that the sickly nine-year-old died of natural causes. But Catherine's wealthy grandmother believes it was murder and asks Desiree to look into things.
Desiree agrees, but only to set the grieving woman's mind at ease. And everything does seem kosher at the elegant uptown Corwin mansion--until Desiree notices one small thing that convinces her someone did want Catherine to die. But finding out who, how, and why may make even a smart cookie like Desiree crumble in confrontation with a most unsavory killer.

The series published from 1994 to 2008 and consisted of 15 titles in all.
Desiree Shapiro, a funny and overweight New York PI, was launched in 1994 with MURDER CAN KILL YOUR SOCIAL LIFE when an investigation into the death of an elderly woman turned into one of double murder.

28 September 2011

Review: CARIBBEAN MOON, Rick Murcer

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 380 KB
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Rick Murgittroyd; 45 edition (March 30, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004U2UPOK
  • Source: I bought it ($2.99)
 Product description (Amazon)

This is written in the tradition of Connelly, Patterson of old, and JA Konrath.

Small-town detective/workaholic, Manny Williams is thrilled with the prospect of finally taking the long-awaited vacation he had promised his wife, Louise.

The couple’s exotic getaway begins in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico, by attending the June wedding of a fellow Lansing (Michigan) police officer, followed with an incredible week-long Southern Caribbean cruise on the glamorous Ocean Duchess. Tropical paradise appears to be a perfect recipe for desperately needed R and R...until the first dead body.

A bizarre, seemingly random murder in their posh San Juan Hotel, and the heinous cruise ship deaths of two of Lansing’s law enforcement family, brings Manny, and his unique skills, out of cruise mode and head-long into the FBI-led investigation. Manny soon discovers that in this killer’s twisted perception nothing is off limits, prompting a race against time that could cost him everything.

If you like edge-of-your-seat thrillers laced with humor, you'll love this!

My take

I read CARIBBEAN MOON to add to my list for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge, but it didn't quite give me the "set in another culture" South American experience I had been hoping for.

Actually what kept me reading is that most of the action takes place on board a cruise liner, or in the excursion activities associated with it, that very closely resembled a luxury cruise experience I had a couple of years ago. Not the murders, let me hasten to explain, our cruise was very tame by comparison, and that personal experience left me feeling that the author had got the setting absolutely right.

Perhaps the plot itself strains the bounds of credibility - a wedding party of small town cops from Lansing Michigan targeted by a psychopathic killer because of the role they played in a murder conviction - but the setting gives the author plenty of latitude. The nature of the plot means that it is really a police procedural/thriller involving a combined FBI/US police team conducting an investigation on board a cruise liner instead of on land. "Foreign/global" culture really doesn't come into it.

The workaholic hero, Sergeant Detective Manny Williams, a "natural" profiler, supposedly on holidays on the cruise with his colleagues, his boss and the DA and her husband, is a credible character. There are also some very gruesome murders that equally strain the bounds of credibility.

So while CARIBBEAN MOON isn't the best written book in the world (and does have the occasional "proof reading" error), it is a good debut effort, and a reasonable page turner. Many of the reviews on Amazon comment how they didn't see the ending coming. I must admit that about 15% before the end, in Amazon e-book terms, I realised what the next plot twist would be, simply because the action appeared to be over, and I was wondering what the author might do to extend the book.

My rating: 4.1

About the author
See Amazon's author page.
An older writer who started writing only 8 years ago, and then lost his "real job" two years ago.
I want to be a living example that with hard work and God's blessing, you can do anything.
A second novel was published in May 2011: Deceitful Moon (The Second Manny Williams Thriller) and a third is in planning.

27 September 2011

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Czech Republic: books to look for

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass has certainly thrown up some challenging countries and this week's country the Czech Republic is almost the hardest.

I like the way the map is growing, but I think I'll be glad to get on to more familiar territory in Italy next week.

Let me introduce you to Vlastimil Vondruska whom I discovered in my search to get better acquainted with Czech crime fiction.

On his website Vlaistimil tells us "Since 1994, I have published 35 historical novels, some of which have proved to be Czech bestsellers, including 14 (historical crime-fiction) novels about the Royal Procurator, Oldrich of Chlum. Around 400 000 copies of my books have been sold in the Czech Republic."

Unfortunately my usual sources don't seem to have any of Vlaistimil's titles. Those who live in other places may have more luck.

Books set in the Czech Republic

Have you read John Connolly's BLACK ANGEL (I gave it a rating of 4.7)
The rebel angels fell, garlanded with fire…. Charlie Parker has got his life back together, and is settled with a new girlfriend and a new daughter, Sam. But in New York City Martha is looking for her daughter Alice and when she doesn't find her, she calls in a favour from Louis, Charlie Parker's right hand man. Martha turns up at Sam's christening party. As he investigates, Charlie realises that Alice's disappearance goes further than the streets of New York, and is linked to events as old as time itself. In fact to the fall of the angels.. Read the prologue here 
This book would appeal to those of you who like a bit of woo-woo with your mystery/thriller

The reason that the book made such an impression on me, and I think the reason I read it, was that Bob and I were going to Europe for a holiday and were visiting Prague where much of the novel is set. In fact we went on a tour of the old silver mining town of Kutna Hora with its ossiary (see picture), which made BLACK ANGEL seem just that much more "real". John Connolly's site has more details about the area and its legends.

Check what other participants in Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass have highlighted this week.

26 September 2011

Review: DEATH IN THE LATIN QUARTER, Raphael Cardetti

  • Published by Abacus, 2010
  • Translated from French by Sonia Soto
  • 312 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-349-12255-7
  • Source: borrowed from a friend
Product Description (Amazon)

Early one morning in Paris the magnificent tranquillity of the Sorbonne university is shattered by a death. But why would Albert Cadas, a crumpled professor of medieval literature, have any reason to kill himself?
Meanwhile, Valentine Savi, a talented young restorer, receives a visit from an enigmatic elderly gentleman with a unique commission: to restore a priceless medieval manuscript whose timeworn pages promise to reveal the truth of a mystery that has fascinated scholars and writers for centuries.
Valentine soon learns that the shadowy figures who seek to possess the book's secrets are far darker and more ruthless than she could ever have imagined...Together with her friend Hugo Vermeer -- aristocrat, epicure, crook -- and David Scotto, Cadas's doctoral student, Valentine finds herself on a terrifying and thrilling adventure through the narrow streets and gloomily palatial mansions of the Latin Quarter.

My take

Valentine Savi was once a highly regarded restorer at the Louvre until she made a mistake that resulted in the destruction of a priceless document. Since then she has been reduced to working for herself, restoring pedestrian rather than valuable works. Elias Stern is making her an offer she can't resist, to redeem herself, but why has he chosen her?

Valentine always likes to find out the background to the works she is restoring and the more she finds out about Stern's medieval manuscript the more intrigued she becomes. She confides in her friend Hugo Vermeer who lets the world know what Valentine is doing. And from there the action escalates. Some one else wants to get their hands on the manuscript and will stop at nothing to get it.

There are a number of little mysteries in this novel, starting with the one about Valentine's disgrace, and that is what keeps us reading to some extent.

DEATH IN THE LATIN QUARTER is quite assured for a debut novel although there were a couple of characters that I could cheerfully have strangled. As the action escalates the reader is required to let go the limits of credibility, but then, don't we do that in all thrillers anyway?

By the time the action comes to an end there have been a number of very messy deaths and we finally do know why Elias Stern approached Valentine in the first place.

So, not a bad effort - I would try another by this author.
Raphael Cardetti is currently a Professor of Italian History, specialising in the Renaissance, at the Sorbonne University.

My rating: 4.3

Other reviews:

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Czech Republic: week beginning Mon 26 Sept

The idea behind Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass is that participants write a post linked to the country of the week.

We have already visited
As we've ventured into the centre of Western Europe it has certainly been challenging to find crime fiction authors or books set in these countries. It has revealed big holes in my own reading.

This week's country is the Czech Republic

The future stops on our journey will be
  • Monday 3 October - Italy
  • Monday 10 October - Greece
  • Monday 17 October - Turkey
Some suggestions:
You can choose one of the following (or something more imaginative)
  • a book review (create a new one or revive an old one)
  • an author profile
  • a reading syllabus for crime fiction either set in this country, or written by authors from this country.
Your post can be "based" anywhere in this week's country.

When you have written a post please do the following:
  • put a link to this post in yours (feel free to use the logo if you like)
  • Come back here and put a link to your post in Mr Linky

25 September 2011

Review - NEMESIS, Lindsey Davis - audio

  • Release Date 2010
    book publication date 2010
  • 10 CDs, length 11hrs 30 mins
  • Product no. 9781408467664
  • Narrator  Christian Rodska
  • Source: one of the audio books we won at CrimeFest 2011
  • Shortlisted for a Crime Fest Sounds of Crime Award 2011
Plot Hints from Lindsey Davis

The usual ‘Plot Summary’ would be too revealing.
The book’s title says it all – no, it doesn’t suggest the half of it…
The Chief Spy’s beauty salon is not for the squeamish.

Falco takes a bodyblow from two personal tragedies, then is hammered by good fortune - even harder to endure. Escaping the demands of family life, he makes the first of several trips to the coast where he stumbles upon a mystery. Unexpected disappearances of innocent citizens are the relief he needs.

Soon Petronius has an interest too. The friends have shared plenty of grim adventures but now it’s Petro’s turn to get stuck with a hideous location and horrible suspects, in this case the dread Pontine Marshes where the air exudes death and a foul bunch of freedmen to whom ‘friends at court’ is a talisman. Nobody wants the Claudii for neighbours – and nobody wants them in Rome either.

One evil location precedes several that are worse. There are heart-broken women and manipulative men, singers to shun, caterers to curse, Anacrites makes friends by hosting a dinner party (‘Don’t eat the mushrooms’ advises Glaucus) then two families collide; one of them will disintegrate, but few will escape damage. Even Falco and Petro are to learn shocking things about themselves.

The subject is families – so expect it to be dark.
This is the one where Nero (aka Spot) has his mugshot drawn.

My take

I have not read all of the Marcus Didius Falco series and this is #20. I was better off than my listening companion because I at least had read #19 ALEXANDRIA to which I gave 4.3.

This particular novel has a large canvas and a huge cast of characters. The narrator Christian Rodska does a marvellous job of distinguishing between characters by using a range of regional British accents.

Descriptions in NEMESIS tend to be very detailed and slow the pace of the novel down. At the same time the plot twists and turns down pathways the reader could not have foreseen. Lindsey Davis has a quirky sense of humour and that comes out through Didius Falco's epithets and similes.

If you'd like to read the first chapter or so click on the image to the right. The printed version has the advantage of a couple of pages of a cast of characters too.

My rating: 4.2

24 September 2011


Earlier this week I reviewed VIOLENT EXPOSURE by Katherine Howell.
Now you have a chance to win a copy wherever you are in the world

To find out what to do, visit this page at Fair Dinkum Crime.

While you are there, check out the other links to Katherine Howell.

Review: A QUESTION OF BELIEF, Donna Leon

  • Publisher: William Heinemann London 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-4340-2021-8
  • 263 pages
  • Source: I bought it
  • #19 in the Brunetti series
Click on the image or here to read the opening chapter

Synopsis (Random House)

As Venice experiences a debilitating heatwave, Commissario Brunetti escapes the city to spend time with his family. For Ispettore Vianello, however, the weather is the last thing on his mind. It appears his aunt has become obsessed with horoscopes and has been withdrawing large amounts of money from the family business. Not knowing what to do, he consults Brunetti and asks permission to trail her.

Meanwhile, Brunetti receives a visit from a friend who works at the Commune. It seems that discrepancies have been occurring at the Courthouse involving a judge and an usher with a flawless track record. Intrigued, Brunetti asks Signorina Elettra to find out what she can while he’s away.

When news reaches Brunetti that the usher from the Courthouse has been viciously murdered, he returns to investigate. But why would someone want a good man dead, and what might his death have to do with the Courthouse discrepancies?

My take

It seems that August is a good time not to be in Venice. Not only is it hot and humid, but many officials take holidays elsewhere, leaving the city to an influx of 20 million tourists.

Pulled together by the murder of a homosexual regarded by others as a good man, and whose name has already come to Brunetti's attention in relation to irregularities in the judicial system, A QUESTION OF BELIEF is a perfect illustration of the closely networked community and infrastructure of the city that the tourist doesn't see. Donna Leon uses the novel as a vehicle to deliver a telling description of the corruption and back-handers that underpins the city. Some criminal activity goes unchecked because it involves the duping of the elderly, such as Vianello's aunt, the constant delaying of court cases, or the delivering of financial favours. But some such as murder can't be ignored, even though Vice-Questore Patta, ever mindful of the social favours that can be delivered by the wealthy and socially secure, tries to prevent Brunetti from causing offence.

Brunetti's family gets away to their holiday in the mountains and so we miss our usual glimpses of Guido's interaction with his children and have to make do with his long distance phone calls to his wife.

Once again the murderers are discovered because Brunetti is a man of the city, because he attends the funeral of the murdered man. As Brunetti himself says "the scales fall from his eyes" after the funeral as Donna Leon delivers her own version of the significance of "the dog in the night".

Very recommendable read, but one that you'll get a lot more out of if you read more in this series. (See the list below)

My rating: 4.4

Other reviews on MiP

courtesy Fantastic Fiction
Guido Brunetti series
1. Death At La Fenice (1992)
2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)
3. The Anonymous Venetian (1994)
     aka Dressed for Death
4. A Venetian Reckoning (1995)
     aka Death And Judgment
5. Acqua Alta (1996)
     aka Death in High Water
6. The Death of Faith (1997)
     aka Quietly in Their Sleep
7. A Noble Radiance (1997)
8. Fatal Remedies (1999)
9. Friends in High Places (2000)
10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)
11. Wilful Behaviour (2002)
12. Uniform Justice (2003)
13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
14. Blood from a Stone (2005)
15. Through a Glass Darkly (2006)
16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)
17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)
18. About Face (2009)
19. A Question of Belief (2010)
20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)

22 September 2011

Forgotten Book: THE SECRET HOUSE OF DEATH, Ruth Rendell

This contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books is from my records for 1993.
I was an admirer of Ruth Rendell and an avid reader of her books from the 1970s.

THE SECRET HOUSE OF DEATH is an early standalone novel published in 1968.

Publisher's Blurb

Susan Townsend was the only resident with no interest in the affair going on next door in Orchard Drive, or in the neighbourhood gossip about it. Yet it was Susan who found the bodies of the lovers locked in death. And it was Susan whose own life would be imperilled by a monstrous crime.

From the inside flap of the dustjacket
Louise North doesn't care what the neighbors think. She lets her lover leave his car just outside her house in broad daylight, telling everyone a cockamamie story about him being a central heating salesman. Still, it's a shock when she's found shot dead, covered by the equally dead body of the "salesman." Now Susan Townsend -- the Norths' next-door neighbor, who discovers the bodies -- must help Louise's husband, Bob, get back on his feet. But is she helping a neighbor . . . or a murderer?

The story was filmed for TV in the Ruth Rendell Mysteries 1987

Director:Jim Goddard

Writers:Ruth Rendell (novel), John Harvey (adaptation)

Original Air Date: 8 March 1996 

Film blurb: A lonely divorcée becomes involved with a neighbor whose wife and her lover carried out a suicide pact. Unaware that Bob and Magdalene are the adulterers who murdered their spouses and faked the suicide pact, Susan offers her neighbour comfort, which he pretends to accept in order to find out how much she knows. However, whilst her son is on holiday with his father she does some sleuthing which links him with Magdalene. He comes after her and she is rescued by an unlikely saviour.

Review: ACTS OF MURDER, Laurali R. Wright

  • Published by Scribner 1997
  • 278 pages
  • ISBN 0-684-81381-5
  • Source: my local library
Publisher's blurb

Canada's award-winning "queen of crime fiction" is back with Acts of Murder, the ninth title in the acclaimed Karl Alberg series.

Mrs. O'Hara had heard nothing, has thought her husband Tom was out. She looked up quickly, stumbling in her shock, and her hand flew from the railing as she lost her balance. Tom was standing directly beneath the light...behind him, slightly shorter than he, huddled against his back like a shadow, was a white specter with long hair...

The sleepy Sunshine Coast town of Sechelt, B.C., is once again beset by crime and only Karl Alberg can solve the mystery. Three people have been found murdered, by someone known as "the avenging Angel," a killer who has assumed the responsibility of ridding the village of those who sin, those who betray.

This latest case also brings with it some life-changing surprises for Alberg and his love, Cassandra Mitchell. But theirs are only two of the lives that will be irreparably changed by the murderous activities of an angel straight from hell.

With the help of his striking new sergeant, Edwina Henderson, Alberg must race against time to prevent the killer from claiming another victim.

My take

This is the first book that I have read by Laurali R. Wright, and I had no idea, as I was reading, that ACTS OF MURDER was in fact the last in a quite long series.
  • The Suspect (1985)
  • Sleep While I Sing (1986)
  • A Chill Rain in January (1990)
  • Fall From Grace (1991)
  • Prized Possessions (1993)
  • A Touch of Panic (1994)
  • Mother Love (1995)
  • Strangers Among Us (1996)
  • Acts of Murder (1997)
Mrs O'Hara's epiphany takes place in 1985. After her fall down the stairs she becomes convinced she will die near her 65th birthday - most of her immediate family have - and she sets herself the task of sweeping the world clean of people who have done injury to others.  Just how many she swept aside and how she did it I will leave you to find out from the novel. The amazing thing is that no-one saw the connection between the murders for nearly ten years, until a teenager and a young woman are discovered to be in adjacent graves, and killed by the same methods. Some of the murders go entirely undetected.

For a while I wasn't sure whether there was one murderer at work or two.

Karl Alberg, local police chief, has a sort of an epiphany too, as he realises there may be something he can do outside the RCMP.

Until I got into the heart of ACTS OF MURDER I felt as if I was doing mental gymnastics as we jumped backwards and forwards between time frames. In the long run it was a satisfying read, and everything came together nicely, but for a while I had my doubts that it would. I'm not sure, having read the last in the series, whether I will go back and read any of the others, although L.R. Wright won the Edgar for Best First Novel for THE SUSPECT in 1986.

In a sense the series does continue with two Edwina Henderson novels.
  • Kidnap (2000)
  • Menace (2001)
My rating: 4.4

Other reviews and items to check
About the author
Winner 2001 Arthur Ellis Award (The Derrick Murdoch Award for Lifetime Achievement), L R Wright died of breast cancer also in 2001.

21 September 2011

ACRC Update - 21 September 2011

My intent in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge is to read her books in order, so that I can get some idea of what she is doing, problems she is attempting to solve, and her development as a writer. If you look at some of my reviews you will see that I have been able to undertake some of this reflection.

Currently I am managing about a book a month.
I've read 31 books and 11 collections of short stories.

Read & reviewed so far
    1924, Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)
  7. 1927, THE BIG FOUR
    1929, Partners in Crime (fifteen short stories; featuring Tommy and Tuppence)
    1930, The Mysterious Mr. Quin (twelve short stories; introducing Mr. Harley Quin)
  12. 1932, PERIL AT END HOUSE
    1932 The Thirteen Problems (thirteen short stories; featuring Miss Marple, also known as The Tuesday Club Murders in the US)
    1991, Problem at Pollensa Bay publ. 1991 (Two of them feature Hercule Poirot, two Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Harley Quin, and two Mr Parker Pyne.)
  16. 1935, THREE ACT TRAGEDY (aka MURDER IN THREE ACTS)- Hercule Poirot and Mr Satterthwaite.
    1933, The Hound of Death - 12 short stories, UK only
    1934, Parker Pyne Investigates - 12 stories introducing Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver
    1934, The Listerdale Mystery - 12 short stories, UK only
  17. 1935, DEATH IN THE CLOUDS (aka DEATH IN THE AIR) - Hercule Poirot
  18. 1936, THE A.B.C. MURDERS (aka THE ALPHABET MURDERS) - Hercule Poirot
    1947, The Labours of Hercules - Hercule Poirot - 12 short stories
  19. 1966, THE THIRD GIRL - Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver
    1997, Miss Marple: complete short stories - Miss Marple - 20 short stories
    1997, While the Light Lasts - 9 short stories - incl. 2 Hercule Poirot
  20. 1936, MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA - Hercule Poirot
  21. 1936, CARDS ON THE TABLE - Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, Ariadne Oliver
  24. 1937, DEATH ON THE NILE - Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race
  25. 1938, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH - Hercule Poirot, Colonel Carbury
  26. 1939, MURDER IS EASY (aka EASY TO KILL) - Superintendent Battle
  28. 1940, SAD CYPRESS
  30. 1941, EVIL UNDER THE SUN
  31. 1941, N or M?

    Reading schedule
  39. 1948, TAKEN AT THE FLOOD (aka THERE IS A TIDE...)
  40. 1949, CROOKED HOUSE
Check the opening blog post of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.
If you'd like to join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge click here.

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. I have decided on a method for reporting on the short stories. Here is my latest short story update.

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 same 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.

Contribute your blog postings about any Agatha Christie novels to the monthly carnival. Make an agreement with yourself that whenever you complete reading an Aggie you will write a blog posting about it and then submit the posting to the carnival.
If you are participating in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge then write updates like this one and submit them to the Carnival. Let us know what progress you are making.

Review: N or M? Agatha Christie

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 372 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0451201132
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010)
    Originally published in 1941
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046A9MQ8
  • Source: I bought it

Synopsis (from the Christie site)

This atmospheric story, set during World War Two, finds Tommy and Tuppence doing what they do best – having an adventure. These unlikely Intelligence Service spies decide to help Queen and country by tracking down two ruthless traitors.
The only clue to the traitors’ identities is a government agent's dying words that lead them to the Sans Souci boarding house, where it’ll take some extremely subtle detection work to establish which of the guests are the treacherous N and M.

Published in 1941, the novel is one of two which Christie worked on simultaneously during the Second World War whilst living alone in London.

My take

It is 1940. England is at war. Blitzkrieg is about to begin. Tommy and Tuppence are being told they are too old for active war service. Their twin offspring Derek and Deborah are of course younger and are in the Air Force and nursing respectively.

A Mr Grant turns up at the Beresford flat to offer Tommy a clerical job in the wilds of Scotland. When Tuppence is called out to assist a friend Mr Grant tells Tommy that in fact what he is offering is a spy job hunting down some Fifth Columnist Nazi spies known as N and M. The previous agent on their trail is dead, run down by a lorry. Tuppence is to be kept in ignorance of this venture.

Tuppence of course adroitly outwits these attempts to exclude her and joins Tommy in Leahampton where they both attempt to track down N and M, but at the same time both under assumed names and definitely not married. But neither are as clever as they think.

This is #3 in the Tommy and Tuppence stories (see below).

#1, THE SECRET ADVERSARY, was not published until 1922 but was set mainly in 1919, when World War I was fresh in readers' minds. As I said in my review I thought Christie was probably reflecting contemporary paranoia with Bolshevism and secret agents and conspiracies, and showed a political awareness that we don't often give Christie credit for. THE SECRET ADVERSARY was also Agatha Christie's second published novel and had many signs of an author still coming to terms with her craft.

#2 in the Tommy & Tuppence series, PARTNERS IN CRIME, published in 1929, was set mainly in 1925. Tommy now has a desk job with the British Secret Service, and Tuppence, much to her displeasure is at home, though when the Chief of British Intelligence asks them to take over the International Detective Agency, both jump at the chance of new adventures. The fifteen stories contain parodies of fictional detectives who were well-known to readers of the 1920s. In each story Tommy and Tuppence assume the mannerisms and methods of a different detective or detective team, including Sherlock Holmes. The stories are bound together with an overall theme of a rather vague Russian plot. Again Christie appears to be reflecting popular paranoia.

So World War II is the perfect opportunity for Christie to add to the Tommy & Tuppence series (and you may want to reflect whether they would have made another appearance without the war) but now Christie is a well established and successful novelist with 30 novels to her credit, so she doesn't wait for the war to end, but publishes N or M? while the issues it reflects are still topical.
Once you recognise that, you realise that Christie is reflecting a lot of contemporary thinking. It certainly must have made the average English reader look carefully at those around him. It is a very patriotic novel.

Christie introduces the idea of a "wooden horse", Fifth Columnists, people who are very attracted by Hitler's ideas, a network that has infiltrated English society and infrastructure.
    N or M, you see, is a term we have heard before. It refers to two of the most important and trusted German agents. We have come across their activities in other countries and we know just a little about them. It is their mission to organise a Fifth Column in foreign countries and to act as liaison officer between the country in question and Germany. N, we know, is a man. M is a woman. All we know about them is that these two are Hitler’s most highly trusted agents. 
    ‘But there are those for whom we’ve neither respect nor liking–and those are the traitors within our own ranks–the men who are willing to betray their country and accept office and promotion from the foreigner who has conquered it.’
    ‘We know The Day is fixed. We know, or think we know, roughly, where…(But we may be wrong there.) We’re as ready as we can be. But it’s the old story of the siege of Troy. They knew, as we know, all about the forces without. It’s the forces within we want to know about. The men in the Wooden Horse! For they are the men who can deliver up the keys of the fortress. A dozen men in high places, in command, in vital spots, by issuing conflicting orders, can throw the country into just that state of confusion necessary for the German plan to succeed. We’ve got to have inside information in time.’ 
    Our Leader does not intend to conquer this country in the sense that you all think. He aims at creating a new Britain–a Britain strong in its own power–ruled over, not by Germans, but by Englishmen. And the best type of Englishmen–Englishmen with brains and breeding and courage. A brave new world, as Shakespeare puts it.
There are some interesting little cameos too. I was very taken with little Betty Sprot, not yet 3 years old, but exploring language and relationships in a very engaging way.

I think it is a very powerful novel in which Christie pins her own colours to the mast so to speak. If there is a weak part, it is the final roundup of information, where Christie ensures that no stone is left unturned for the reader.

My rating: 4.4

Tommy & Tuppence stories
Of course I read this as part of my participation in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, in which I am reading the books in order of publication. This is the 31st novel, the 41st title published (including short stories)

20 September 2011

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Switzerland: complexities

One of the things that clouds the issue when you consider writers of Swiss crime fiction is whether you are talking about "born in Switzerland" or "living in Switzerland."

That is why for example both Friedrich Glauser and Paulus Hochgatterer (whom I listed last week as Austrian) are sometimes cited as Swiss.
Certainly Glauser wrote his Sergeant Studer mysteries in Swiss German. Bitter Lemon Press tells us that Glauser is often referred to as the Swiss Simenon.

So I had some fun looking for names of authors for this week's post. Apart from the two mentioned above I don't appear to have read any books by Swiss crime fiction authors, or rather, I haven't reviewed them on this blog. Indeed according to my database which is a bit older I don't even seem to have read any crime fiction books set in Switzerland.

Perhaps, I thought, they are all so law abiding there that authors just don't write crime fiction.
I have seen somewhere that Switzerland has the lowest crime statistics in the world.
There were just 84 homicides in Switzerland, for example, in 2009. more

But, it appears, crime fiction is alive and well in Switzerland. Indeed there is a biennial crime fiction festival called Mordstage, held this year in June at a number of regional venues such as Zurich and Bern.

I did manage to find a Practical Guide from Crime Time UK (pdf) which gives a brief overview of Swiss Crime Fiction and tells me that the best-selling Swiss writers include Martin Suter, Hansjörg Schneider, Milena Moser, and Petra Ivanov.

Apparently both crime fiction based on regions and themes is also popular:
    Inspired by Friedrich Glauser, the so-called ‘Regionalkrimi’ (crime fiction situated in and emphasising the characteristics of a specific region), is predominant. Most Swiss crime writers belong in this category. 
    Bern and its surroundings, the long-time ‘capital’ of Swiss crime fiction, is represented by the likes of Glauser and Dürrenmatt, as well as by Alexander Heimann, Werner Schmidli (all of them deceased) and (more recently) Sam Jaun, Paul Lascaux and Stefan Hänni. Zürich is notable for crime novels by Roger Graf, Stephan Pörtner, Sabina Altermatt, Mitra Devi, Stefan Naglis or Gerlinde Michel, who won the first Zurich-based crime fiction prize (see Prizes). Basel is represented by Hansjörg Schneider. 
    Crime fiction with a specific theme is also important. Such themes include stories set in the mountains (authors include Emil Zopfi, Urs Augstburger, Sabina Altermatt, and Martin Suter), food (Paul Lascaux), a specific problem like the exploitation of women (Petra Ivanov) or lately, the success of novels with a hospital setting, sometimes written by professionals with a medical background (Paul Wittwer, Nicole Bachmann, Gerlinde Michel).
Another Crime Time page lists many of the same authors.

Check what other participants in this week's Crime Fiction on a EuroPass participants have highlighted.

19 September 2011

Review: VIOLENT EXPOSURE, Katherine Howell

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 620 KB
  • Publisher: Macmillan Australia (December 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought the e-book but was also supplied with a hard copy for review by Macmillan Australia.
Publisher's Blurb

When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?

As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords' fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it's too late.

My take

The structure of VIOLENT EXPOSURE is similar to earlier novels in this series (this is #4): parallel plots that advance in tandem, each generating their own sense of suspense. The link between the main  plots is Detective Ella Marconi. This time, in addition to Marconi providing links to plots of previous novels, there is a continuing thread linking VIOLENT EXPOSURE to the first novel FRANTIC in which the baby son of a police officer and a paramedic was kidnapped. The links reinforce the close nature of the paramedic community.

There is plenty in VIOLENT EXPOSURE to keep the reader engaged: believable characters and scenarios, as well as a building tension as the Marconi and her team race to find Connor Crawford.
Marconi has moved from Sydney's Cold Case Unit, where she was taking this easy after a bullet wound, into the "real world" of severe crimes. Other strands of the novel involve the paramedics where a trainee does not seem to have the sense of commitment required, and the struggle one of the paramedics and his wife are having to bring a baby to full term.
There is a further crossover between the police and the ambos (paramedics) where one of the latter is running a drama class that is part of a "street kid" project. One of the drama class participants works for the victim in her garden centre. Again this sense of coincidence reinforces how small the worlds are that we move in.

The title also makes the reader contemplate the effects on both police officers and paramedics of constant exposure to violent crimes. Do they become inured to bloodshed, less sensitive emotionally, or undermined morally?

For me VIOLENT EXPOSURE was further affirmation that Katherine Howell's novels are both unique and of world-class.

My rating: 4.8

Other titles reviewed:
THE DARKEST HOUR (contains mini-review of FRANTIC)

Katherine Howell's website

Win a copy of VIOLENT EXPOSURE from Fair Dinkum Crime - competition closes October 3, 2011

Other reviews to check:

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Switzerland: week beginning Mon 19 Sept

The idea behind Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass is that participants write a post linked to the country of the week.

We have already visited
This week's country is Switzerland

The future stops on our journey will be
  • Monday 26 September - the Czech republic
  • Monday 3 October - Italy
  • Monday 10 October - Greece
  • Monday 17 October - Turkey
Some suggestions:
You can choose one of the following (or something more imaginative)
  • a book review (create a new one or revive an old one)
  • an author profile
  • a reading syllabus for crime fiction either set in this country, or written by authors from this country.
Your post can be "based" anywhere in this week's country.

When you have written a post please do the following:
  • put a link to this post in yours (feel free to use the logo if you like)
  • Come back here and put a link to your post in Mr Linky

15 September 2011


This contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books is from my records for 1989.

I had recorded this book as being written by John Dickson Carr but those details were not quite correct.

As you can see from the cover, the book was apparently published by The Detection Club with the principal authors shown as Dorothy L. Sayers and John Dickson Carr.

No Flowers by Request was originally published in 1953, and Crime on the Coast in 1954.
The Detection Club re-published both in 1984 and 1987.

Good Reads tells us "Crime On the Coast brings murder and intrigue to a raucous seaside resort in this classic mystery with a strange twist, a mistaken victim, and an elusive heroine.

-written with Detection Club members: Valerie White, Laurence Meynell, Joan Fleming, Michael Cronin, and Elizabeth Ferrrars."

Crime on the Coast at least was a round-robin novel, but not sponsored by The Detection Club.

One review labelled Crime on the Coast as an "Unremarkable group-authored English murder mystery"
The story actually has six authors, John Dickson Carr and five other members of "the Detection Club". They wrote a pair of chapters each, in order, and I think the game was that each author received the story as it had been written so far, without any previous consultations on plot or anything, and had to continue it into their two chapters. The result starts out promising (John Dickson Carr wrote the first two chapters, and he's good) but rather fragments after that, due to the underlying game and perhaps the fact that the other authors weren't John Dickson Carr.

The same reviewer says that No Flowers By Request suffered even more in terms of reading enjoyment from the sudden shifts in authorial style and tone.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 572 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1409100952
  • Publisher: Orion (May 12, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0050C86Y0
  • Source: I bought it
Product Description (Amazon

When wealthy Sarah Erroll dies a violent death at her home in a posh part of Glasgow, the local community is stunned by what appears to be a truly gratuitous act.
Heavily pregnant with twins, DS Alex Morrow is called in to investigate and soon discovers that there is more to Sarah's murder than it first seems.
On the other side of town, Thomas Anderson is called into the headmaster's office at his boarding school to be told that his tyrannical father - a banker responsible for the loss of many livelihoods in the recession - has committed suicide. Thomas returns to the family home to find his mother and sister in a state of numb shock. The head of the household is dead, yet their initial reaction is not of grief, but relief.
As Alex Morrow slowly unravels the connections between the two cases, she must also deal with the death of her own father and her brother's continuing criminal activities. Trying her hardest to disentangle herself from her family's disreputable history, she faces the challenge of an uninspired police force who have zero sympathy with Sarah Erroll, a middle-class victim who it appears was acting as an high class escort. Can Morrow solve the mystery of a cold-blooded murder without support? In THE END OF THE WASP SEASON she faces her greatest challenge yet as her work and home lives collide with potentially disastrous consequences.

My take:

This is #2 of Mina's Alex Morrow series, with #3 planned for publication in 2013.
I reviewed the debut title STILL MIDNIGHT a few weeks back.

In that first title Alex Morrow had recently returned to work after a breakdown and period of convalescence. DS Morrow has secrets that she would rather colleagues and bosses didn't know about. THE END OF THE WASP SEASON relates another of those secrets - Alex is attending her father's funeral, and meets up with her half-brother, local crime boss Danny McGrath. In STILL MIDNIGHT Alex asked Danny for a favour. In THE END OF THE WASP SEASON he has one to ask of her.

The opening pages of the novel though describe the death of Sarah Erroll at the hands of two gawky teenage boys. Sarah's attempt to phone 999 is treated as a prank call and Sarah signs her own death warrant when she tells one of the boys that she recognises him. The reader is really never given a clear description of how Sarah Erroll dies but a lot is made of using the blood spatters to determine which of the boys was responsible.

One of the boys, Thomas Anderson, is later told that his father has hung himself, although this is not the motivation behind the murder. He has to return home to become "head" of the family at fifteen, and then it becomes obvious how damaged and dysfunctional this family really is.

At work Alex's former DS colleague John Bannerman has been made DI, and he has resorted to bullying tactics with his team. The team on the other hand not only dislike Bannerman but they have no empathy with Sarah Erroll, the victim of the murder. The investigation by Morrow  takes place against the background of police department politics. The fact that Alex Morrow is just over four months pregnant with twins is definitely a complicating factor.

Alex Morrow finds that she actually went to school with a woman who was the primary carer for Sarah Erroll's mother. A little predictably Kay and her sons become prime suspects for Sarah's murder. The unempathetic Bannerman is keen to wrap the investigation quickly by charging Kay.

I really enjoyed this novel, including the puzzle of the title. If you read it watch out for references to wasps. I love titles where the meaning is open to interpretation!
So, do yourself a favour - read these in order, go looking for STILL MIDNIGHT, read that first, and then savour THE END OF THE WASP SEASON.

My rating: 5.0

Other reviews to check
Read the first chapter on Denise Mina's website.

Happy Birthday Agatha Christie, September 15

Today we celebrate Agatha Christie's 121st birthday.

I thought I'd point you to the "official" Christie site and talk a little about why you should visit there.

The "new", more interactive, site was launched earlier this year and really is an excellent place to go to browse titles, look for events, join communities, and even to play online games and crosswords.

The fun begins with the site header. Hover your mouse across the header and you get to choose which TV actor you see for Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

There are other games on the site too: Book Club and discussions, games such as Quizzes, Crosswords and Word Searches, and an interactive map where you can see the locations mentioned in individual stories.

If you are looking for recommendations of what to read, here is Christie's own list of "favourites":

Here is a list of books in order of publication, and here a recommended reading order.

Many crime fiction addicts like myself can lay the blame for our start in reading murder mysteries squarely at the door of Agatha Christie.

So join me in raising a glass to the Dame on the 121st anniversary of her birth!

If you'd like to see how others are observing the day (and to add your blog post link to the Mr Linky there) visit the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge blog today.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to be there, there is plenty going on this week on the English Riviera.

13 September 2011

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass: Austria: Friedrich Glauser & Paulus Hochgatterer

Friedrich Glauser's claim to being Austrian comes from the fact that he was born in Vienna in 1896.
However he generally wrote in a Swiss/German dialect.
He is most famous for creating Sergeant Studer.
Wachtmeister Studer, Zürich 1936; English translation: Thumbprint, 2004

Here is my review of THUMBPRINT, written back in 2008.

THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser, ISBN 1-904738-00-1, 199pp

Originally published in 1936 (Swiss German??), translated in to German in 1995, first published in English in 2004 by Bitter Lemon Press.

Sergeant Studer has been asked to arrest Erwin Schlumpf on suspicion of having murdered his fiance’s father. The body of Wendelin Witschi, merchant and travelling salesman from Gerzenstein, has been found in the forest, shot in the head behind the ear. For reasons really unknown to himself, having delivered the prisoner to Thun Castle only an hour so previously, Studer returns to find the young man hanging by the neck from a leather belt tied around the window bars. He is in time to save Schlumpf’s life.

The case of murder appears to be an open and shut one, but to Studer, an aging sergeant and unlikely detective, things don’t seem right, and of course they are not. Studer gets himself assigned to the case by almost blackmailing the magistrate who originally thought the facts clearly showed Schlumpf’s guilt. This is a very satisfying whodunit, with lots of the elements of the more modern whydunnits.

Bitter Lemon Press tells us that Glauser is often referred to as the Swiss Simenon.
What strikes you as you read THUMBPRINT is how well it has stood the test of time. It is set in the early 1930s but none of those “older novel” characteristics that you find in many Golden age English crime novels are there. That of course may be because it has been translated into English only recently, and so it is closer to modern idioms.

My rating: 4.6

There were 5 books in the Sergeant Studer series that were translated into English.

Glauser's name is perpetuated in the Glauser prize one of Germany's best-known crime writing awards.

Paulus Hochgatterer was born in 1961 in Amstetten, Lower Austria. Following studies in medicine and psychology, he lives today as a writer and child psychoanalyst in Vienna, directing as well the Institute for Educational Assistance in Vienna-Floridsdorf. His literary works include the novel Über Raben (2002) and the novella Eine Kurze Geschichte zum Fliegenfischen (2003). Hochgatterer’s literary awards include the Elias Canetti Stipendium (2001). He lives with his family in Lichtenau, Austria.

Quercus, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84724-389-8, 248 pages, translated from German by Jamie Bulloch.
Originally published in Germany in 2006 as Die Süße des Lebens.

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.

The body is not discovered until the next morning. In part THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE is about the solving of the crime, but there are other themes that almost take over: an exploration of the damage done to children by unexpected trauma, by violence and cruelty, and pain inflicted by their parents and their elders.

I liked the way this novel is structured. Hochgatterer employs a number of narrators, but the reader is not always automatically sure who the narrator is until a few pages have passed. So you work hard looking for clues about the identity of the mind you are seeing events through. Is it Joseph Bauer, the Benedictine monk who teaches at the local school, conducts services, listen to music on his iPod, and runs to quell his personal demons? Or Raffael Horn, the psychoanalyst to whom the little girl is taken to see if he can unlock her mind? Or Kovacs the policeman, or Bjorn whose cruel and perverted brother Daniel has recently returned from reform school? And there are many more damaged people living in this seemingly quiet and normal Austrian village.

You've probably gathered by now that I really enjoyed THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE.

My rating: 4.6

Take a look at other blog posts in this week's Crime Fiction on a EuroPass.


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