30 March 2013

Review: THE ROBBERS, Paul Anderson

  • Published by Hardie Grant Books 2012
  • ISBN 978-174270465-4
  • 409 pages
  • source: review copy
Synopsis (ABC Shop)

The Victoria Police Armed Robbery Squad has long been considered the hardest and most feared group of Victorian detectives. They operate without fear or favour.

Newspaper journalist Ian Malone, new to the city crime beat, has assigned himself a story: uncover the truth about the enigmatic squad. Have the men from "The Robbers" been demonised or is their hard-arm reputation deserved? It is a time of disruption and change. Force command and a new police ethics commission want the Armed Robbery Squad disbanded. Apart from political enemies, the squad has a new nemesis on the street: a vicious bandit prepared to shoot robbery victims - and detectives.

The Armed Robbery Squad men, for so long the hunters, have become the hunted.

As Malone builds a unique and unexpected bond with the squad he is enticed into a sometimes dark, seedy and seductive world where right can be wrong and wrong can often be right: a grey world of honour versus politics. "Heat" meets "Animal Kingdom" in this gritty and dirty crime saga.

The Robbers takes the reader into a world where cops and bandits fight a silent war; a world where the most dangerous enemies might just be the bureaucrats and the political powerbrokers. Honour versus politics in a grey world where nothing is as black and white as the media makes it appear. 

My Take

In the beginning we are told
    Paul Anderson spent fourteen years as a police reporter with the Herald Sun before becoming the newspaper's chief court reporter in 2009. He has won team Walkley and Quill awards for crime coverage and most recently won a joint Quill for the Best Feature in Print. Paul is the author of five true crime books. This is his first novel.
And I certainly hope it is not his last: the writing is assured and fluent, the background stories authoritative and cohesive, and the central plot(s) keep you reading right until the end.

The style of policing administered by the Robbers (The Victoria Police Armed Robbery Squad) has become unpopular with the general public, answering violence with violence. And through the thread  of the investigation into a spate of armed robberies the author asks the question: whether the Robbers are morally better than those they hunt. And they are not above a little bit of corruption here and there. But we ask ourselves whether that is the price we pay for feeling safe in our beds.

THE ROBBERS is noir and gritty, and reminds me a lot of the new breed of Irish writers. And yet there is definitely an Australian flavour to it, not just the colloquial language and the Melbourne setting.

My rating: 5.0

Other reviews to check:

28 March 2013

Forgotten Book: POISON IN THE PEN, Patricia Wentworth

My little green book
My plan this year for my contributions to Friday's Forgotten Books hosted by Pattinase is to feature books I read 20 years ago - in 1993- from the records I have in my "little green book", which I started in 1975. In 1993 I read 111 books and was pretty well addicted to crime fiction by then.

My choice this week is from Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver series, #29, published in 1955.


When Tilling Green is plagued by a series of poison pen letters and a mysterious suicide, Miss Silver goes undercover and determines that a vicious killer is at work and is out to make her the next victim.

Tilling Green was a charming little village nestling in the Ledshire countryside. Not at all the sort of place you would expect to find an anonymous letter writer.
And when one of the recipients, a young woman, was found drowned in the lake belonging to the Manor House, Miss Silver was persuaded to go and investigate.

Valentine Grey, the pretty young heiress from the Manor House, was marrying one Gilbert Earle, but on the night of Valentine's pre-wedding party Jason Leigh, Valentine's former love, returned after months without a word.

From FictionDB

She is everyone's favorite spinster-detective. From her Edwardian hair style to her beaded shoes, she is the very model of a governess which indeed she once was. Now she has taken on the much more challenging occupation of private enquiry agent. Armed with stubborn British common sense and an iron will to succeed, she is one of the best at tracking murder, as memorable as the finest creations of Agatha Christie

For a full list of Miss Silver titles see Fantastic Fiction

Review: JENNIFER SHOT - THE FIRST SHOT, Patricia Kristensen

  • Published by Strategic Book Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-61897-163-051997
  • 258 pages
  • source: review copy
  • Available from Amazon for Kindle - read an excerpt there
Synopsis (author site)

Murder, kidnapping and cannibalism. (Cannibalism?) Must be just another day in Tasmania! What else could go wrong in the humorous murder mystery Jennifer Shot – The First Shot?

Jennifer Shot, a law student at the University of Tasmania is trying to make some extra money as a fledgling private detective. She finds herself targeted by a mafia hit man, Chester the Chisel, named after his weapon of choice. To further make ends meet, she rents rooms to Nathan, Rod and Cindy, two oversexed fellow law students, and a police officer with personal issues. When Jennifer’s detective job has her searching for a missing senator’s daughter, she stumbles onto an elaborate mob scheme.

Her life is further complicated by an old flame, a new love, a senile aunt and, oh yes, a killer, one who has Jennifer’s murder at the top of his things-to-do list. Who will get in The First Shot?

My Take

From the first I was attracted by the author's refreshingly quirky sense of humour. I'm not really one for chick-lit or comedy-with-your-murder plots but Kristensen hits the nail on the head several times in the first few pages.

In the following Jennifer Shot is describing her mother's death after her father, an undercover cop, was killed by a Tasmanian biker, when his cover was blown:
    My mother followed my father off the Derwent Bridge three months later. It was not an act motivated by overwhelming grief at my father's death, but by my mother's need to always be right. While driving on the bridge, my mother saw people waving and yelling that the bridge was down. As she had crossed it earlier in the day, she saw no reason why it should not be there on the way back.

    The combination of a big ship and a drunken captain had not fared well for the big structure. The centre of the bridge was torn out, leaving a gaping hole that then claimed the lives of sixty-three people. They drove their cars off the centre of the bridge, plunging into the Derwent River and to their death. My mother was the last to make the fall.
The passage helps put a time frame on Jennifer's life. Jennifer was thirteen at the time she was orphaned.

The plot strained the bounds of credibility a bit too much for my liking, narrative passages at times read like they had been lifted from a travelogue (but then Tasmania is a bit out of the way for your typical crime fiction reader, and there's a lot that needs explaining), but there were redeeming features among some of the quirky characters, and I'm sure this author will have a following.

My rating: 3.8

The title gives the clue that this is intended to be the beginning of a series. Indeed it appears that the second, JENNIFER SHOT - ANOTHER SHOT is already in the wings.

26 March 2013

Review: MURDER ON DISPLAY, Reece Pocock

  • Published by Custom Book Publications 2012
  • ISBN 9-781481-044561
  • 211 pages
  • source: reviewer's copy
  • Available from Amazon in paperback and for Kindle
Blurb (Amazon)

As soon as the Flynn brothers lifted their Glocks, Dan was in trouble. Silence descended like a cloak of doom.
No confusion crossed his mind... it was clear he would die in the next few seconds. In all his years of facing danger, he often wondered how he would react when faced with imminent death.
He was about to find out.  More

My Take

What reviewers are forced to use for the "blurb" on this book is actually a prologue, a glimpse into events that took place three years earlier, that have become the driving force in Adelaide police investigator Detective Sergeant Dan Brennan's life.

Readers who live in Adelaide or who have taken an interest in the macabre events in Adelaide's recent past like the operations of the the "Family", the Truro murders and the "bodies in the barrels" cases will recognise the fictionalised background in this first novel from Reece Pocok. For me it was all a bit too close to the truth and not sufficiently original.

Where I thought it might have got a bit interesting was in the premise that the police might not have tracked down all the perpetrators of the earlier crimes - the culmination of which, the attack by the Flynn brothers on Dan Brennan and his wife at a restaurant, is the opening page, and the backcover blurb, for this novel. But the author seemed to lose sight of this thread and to embark on too many others.

The main story opens promisingly enough with the body of a the wife of a courtroom defence barrister being found in the parklands that surround the city. But then more bodies begin to turn up in nearby Kuitpo forest in the Adelaide Hills. The sniffer dogs turn up more in shallow graves and at that point it feels like the investigation is wallowing in blood, too much blood, not enough connecting threads. The main plot is complicated by the connections, homosexual and otherwise, between the police hierarchy and the judiciary. When the author tried to add a human interest to Dan Brennan's life, in the form a daughter who returns home and becomes an assistant to the pathologist, and then a relationship with one of his staff, he lost me.The narrative seems to get away from the author, and the twist at the end is quite bizarre.

In short, a novel with promising passages but not quite my cup of tea.

My rating: 3.6

25 March 2013

Progress Report on Canadian Reading Challenge

This is the third year (maybe 4th??) I think that I have participated in the Canadian Reading Challenge hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

The Canadian Book Challenge is an online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. 

The Challenge begins 1 July and this year is the 6th Challenge.

I doubt that I will get to 13 books this year, although I have in the past.
At present, I'm on 6 which is YELLOW PEA SOUP level - all the levels this year are Canadian flavourings and products.

Here are my books so far
  1. 4.3, CHALK VALLEY, Dan Johnstone
  2. 4.2, ASIA HAND, Christopher G. Moore
  3. 4.9, THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, Louise Penny
  4. 4.7, I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS, Alan Bradley
  6. 4.7, WATCHING THE DARK, Peter Robinson 

24 March 2013


  • A Dark Passage Book published by Verse Chorus Press 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-89141-32-1
  • 235 pages
  • Source: review copy
  • available from Amazon including a Kindle version
Synopsis (Amazon)

BRISBANE, 1943. Overnight a provincial Australian city has become the main Allied staging post for the war in the Pacific. The tensions – social, sexual, and racial – created by the arrival of thousands of US troops are stirring up all kinds of mayhem, and Brisbane’s once quiet streets are looking pretty mean.

Enter P.I. Jack Munro, a World War I veteran and ex-cop with a nose for trouble and a stubborn dedication to exposing the truth, however inconvenient it is for the -powers that be. He’s not always a particularly good man, but he’s the one you want on your side when things look bad.

When Jack is hired by a knockout blonde to find her no-good missing husband, he turns over a few rocks he’s not supposed to. Soon the questions are piling up, and so are the bodies. But Jack forges on through the dockside bars, black-market warehouses, and segregated brothels of his roiling city, uncovering greed and corruption eating away at the foundations of the war effort.

Then Jack is hired to investigate a suspicious suicide, and there’s a whole new cast of characters for him to deal with – a father surprisingly unmoved by his son’s death, a dodgy priest, crooked cops, Spanish Civil War refugees – and a wall of silence between him and the truth, which has its roots deep in the past. Friends, enemies, the police – they’re all warning Jack to back off. But he can’t walk away from a case: he has to do the square thing.

Written in the spare, plain-spoken style of all great pulp fiction, G.S. Manson’s fast-paced debut captures the high stakes and nervous energy of wartime, when everything becomes a matter of life and death.

My Take

This book actually consists of two novellas.

The first, COORPAROO BLUES, introduces Jack Munro, ex-soldier, de-commissioned policeman turned private investigator.  Jack has been hired to find an absentee husband who has gone missing in wartime Brisbane (1943), where US troops are mounting the defence of Australia. Jack's search for the missing husband turns up a link with a missing sailor, and connections with US MPs.

The language is gritty and colloquial, typical of the criminal underworld and the seamier side of Brisbane, and the glossary provided in the final pages of the book will get plenty of use.

The second story, THE IRISH FANDANGO, is set a few months later. The US troops have receded into the background, although obviously still there, and now we have political refugees and Communist activists. It begins with an apparent suicide being questioned and Jack is hired to find out why the dead man hung himself. Again, as in the earlier story, he touches nerves and begins to unearth things people want to keep hidden. As a veteran of World War One Jack is not backward in using violent methods to find out the truth, but then neither is the other side.

Despite the fact that the stories are relatively short (just over 120 pages each) the plots are fairly complex. Descriptions that give time and place to the settings feel authentic and are quite detailed.

This is a new area for Australian crime fiction and Jack Munro a quite different protagonist. A  refreshing read, although I do wonder about its appeal outside Australia, mainly because of the colloquial dialogue.

My rating: 3.9

Author's website: read the first chapter online.

23 March 2013

Review: WATCHING THE DARK, Peter Robinson

  • Published 2013 by Harper Collins
  • ISBN 978-0-06-200480-2
  • 354 pages
  • Source: a loan from a friend
  • Inspector Banks series #20

  • Synopsis (from author's website)

    When Detective Inspector Bill Reid Quinn is found murdered in the tranquil grounds of the St Peter’s Police Treatment Centre, and compromising photographs are discovered in his room, DCI Banks is called in to investigate. Because of the possibility of police corruption, he is assigned an officer from Professional Standards, Inspector Joanna Passero, to work closely with him, and he soon finds himself and his methods under scrutiny.

    It emerges that Reid’s Quinn's murder may be linked to the disappearance of an English girl called Rachel Hewitt, in Tallinn, Estonia, six years earlier. The deeper Banks looks into the old case, the more he begins to feel that he has to solve the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance before he can solve Reid’s murder, though Inspector Passero has a different agenda. When Banks and Passero travel to Tallinn to track down leads in the dark, cobbled alleys of the city’s Old Town, it soon become clear that that someone doesn’t want the past stirred up.

    Meanwhile, DI Annie Cabbot, just back at work after a serious injury, is following up leads in Eastvale. Her investigations take her to the heart of a migrant labour scam involving a corrupt staffing agency and a loan shark who preys on the poorest members of society. As the action shifts back and forth between Tallinn and Eastvale, it soon becomes clear that crimes are linked in more ways than Banks imagined, and that solving them may put even more lives in jeopardy.

    My Take

    I'm not sure why this book took me much longer than usual to read. I think it is probably that Robinson's writing is much more detailed than that of most of his contemporaries. There's always a lot going on in an Inspector Banks novel, not just several plot threads, but also connections with previous plots in previous novels. WATCHING THE DARK is no different. They are novels designed to satisfy fans of the series, to further develop threads, characters, and ongoing stories. That is their value as a series, more like episodes in a saga, and that's why the series grows on you. Readers have been with DCI Alan Banks for over 25 years now. I haven't read them all, but certainly most.

    Despite, or maybe because, I read the book slowly, I thoroughly enjoyed it: had time to smell the flowers so to speak, to appreciate the connections between the various plot threads. On fairly tenuous evidence, Banks is convinced there are links between the murder of DI Bill Quinn and a case he (Quinn) was involved in 6 years before: the disappearance in Estonia of a young English woman. He decides he needs to go to Estonia to investigate himself, but he will be accompanied by an officer from Professional Standards, and he does not like that one little bit.

    The character portrayal is excellent, and for the most part, the plot is believable. Just be prepared for it to be a demanding read.

    My rating: 4.7

    I've also reviewed
    4.6, BAD BOY (2010)
    4.9. BEFORE THE POISON - 2011 - not an Alan Banks title 

    21 March 2013

    Forgotten Book: MAIGRET'S SPECIAL MURDER, Georges Simenon

    My little green book
    My plan this year for my contributions to Friday's Forgotten Books hosted by Pattinase is to feature books I read 20 years ago - in 1993- from the records I have in my "little green book", which I started in 1975. In 1993 I read 111 books and was pretty well addicted to crime fiction by then.
    My choice this week is MAIGRET'S SPECIAL MURDER (aka MAIGRET'S DEAD MAN) by Georges Simenon.
    The French title was Maigret et son mort, published in 1948, and translated into English in 1964.

    There's a full plot outline here and more here.

    Basically the novel deals with a plot that focusses on the theme of organised crime.
    This theme concerns a gang associated with a series of vicious attacks on the occupants of isolated farms in Northern France culminating in their murder
    The reason for the attacks is to steal as much money as possible from the farms and the murders are carried out so as to eliminate any witnesses to the gang’s identity.

    Reading Slowly...

    You may have noticed that nothing much has happened on this blog for a week.

    I've struck a slow patch but I am reading.
    The current book is Peter Robinson's WATCHING THE DARK and I am enjoying it, just seem to be reading a snail's pace.

    15 March 2013

    Forgotten Book: THE WILL AND THE DEED, Ellis Peters writing as Edith Pargeter

    My little green book
    My plan this year for my contributions to Friday's Forgotten Books hosted by Pattinase is to feature books I read 20 years ago - in 1993- from the records I have in my "little green book", which I started in 1975. In 1993 I read 111 books and was pretty well addicted to crime fiction by then.
    My choice this week comes from March 1993: 
    In 1960 Ellis Peters writing as Edith Pargeter published THE WILL AND THE DEED, published in the USA as WHERE THERE'S A WILL.

    From Good Reads..

    The reading of the will of legendary diva Antonia Byrne turns out to hold some unpleasant surprises for her nearest and dearest: one way or another, none of them get quite what they are expecting.

    And when a quirk of Fate maroons the mourners in a tiny snowbound mountain village for Christmas, it is inevitable that feelings will be far from festive.

    But what no one could predict is that one of their number has lethally sinister intentions and when the final curtain falls, it turns out to be Antonia herself who has had the last laugh…

    The only cover images I have found so far actually show Ellis Peters as the author although Fantastic Fiction attributes it to Edith Pargeter.

    Pargeter wrote under a number of pseudonyms: Peter Benedict, Jolyon Carr, John Redfern, and Ellis Peters which how she is mainly remembered (the Cadfael novels).

    Some recommendations on Library Thing:

    This is a non-series mystery, a sort of English-country-house plot picked up and dropped in the middle of Switzerland. Great character studies - Ellis Peters's people are never cookie cutter types. Nice little plot, rife with misunderstanding and misdirection. And the revelation at the end was very nicely done indeed. It's a quick read, but a quality one.

    An interesting island-style mystery. When a group of people are going to the reading of a will they find themselves in a plane crash and lost in a small alpine village. The will is read and found to be disappointing on several levels and then one of the inheritors dies. 

    A musical mystery. Legendary diva Antonia Byrne has left some unpleasant surprises in her will. Her nearest and dearest are marooned in a tiny village at Christmas time, and feelings run high. (1960) Average - an okay mystery, but not terribly exciting or memorable.

    14 March 2013


    • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
    • File Size: 554 KB
    • Print Length: 242 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1927129095
    • Publisher: Touchwood Editions (March 6, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B007NLCLXS
    • Source: review copy supplied by publisher.
    Synopsis (supplied by publisher)

    In the south of France where hatred simmers in the heat, a man seemingly admired, but certainly feared, is killed during a dinner party. All of the guests fall under suspicion, as each one has a possible motive for murder. Add to that the disappearance of an ancient gold collar that’s said to be cursed and you have the ingredients for a Nicoise salad of death, secrets and lies. Will the resourceful Cait Morgan find the killer before she, too, becomes a victim of a murderer who is driven by a surprising, and disturbing, motive?

    The first novel in the Cait Morgan Mystery Series, this is a classic whodunnit, featuring Welsh Canadian Professor Cait Morgan — a criminologist who specializes in profiling victims, when she’s not over-indulging in gourmet food.

    My Take

    This debut novel begins with one of the most memorable opening scenes I have read recently:
      THE CHATTER AMONG THE DINNER guests was bubbling along nicely, when Alistair Townsend suddenly clutched at his chest, made gurgling sounds and slumped into his bowl of escargots. Reactions around the table varied: his wife told him to stop messing about, one of his guests looked surprised, one a little concerned and a couple were quite cross. All of which led me to suspect that “How to react when one’s host drops dead at the dinner table” is not tackled in any modern etiquette books.
    It really was purely coincidental that Professor Cait Morgan was at this dinner. She had known the host through work some years before and had bumped into him at lunchtime that day. She was in Nice to deliver a paper at a conference for a colleague and due to fly back to Vancouver after the weekend. She surprised herself by accepting his invitation to dinner even though, if the truth be known, she really disliked him

    And so she is the only one at the dinner party who knows no-one else and then finds herself a suspect for murder.

    I found this an easy and engaging read although I thought there were some plot twists that got into trouble. The style is confident and easy to read. There are a number of characters each of which has a credible motive for the murder, but the police seem to need some convincing that Cait could not be responsible.

    Alistair Townsend's death is the main plot which runs alongside another that involves Cait's good friends Bud and Jan back in Vancouver. This part of the story is essential for background to Cait, and for the continuance of the series. (The second novel THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE is already available.)

    My rating: 4.2

    About the author

    Born and raised in South Wales, CATHY ACE moved to London after graduation to pursue a career in marketing communications. Since relocating to British Columbia in 2000, she has taught at various universities, and is currently lecturing at Simon Fraser University. Cathy’s love of crime fiction began at an early age: she graduated from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie when she was ten and has never looked back! Cathy makes her home in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and beloved Labrador dogs. The Corpse with the Silver Tongue is her first novel.

    13 March 2013

    Reminder: CFA (Crime Fiction Alphabet) begins April 8

    The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

    CFA 2013 begins Monday 8 April

    The Crime Fiction Alphabet has become an annual event on this blog, having run before in 2009-10, 2011, and 2012. 
    Check out contributions from previous events here.

    Sign up below for Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013

    Here are the rules

    By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.

    Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname, or even maybe a crime fiction "topic".
    So you see you have lots of choice.
    You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow.
    (It is ok too to skip a week.).
    In the past participants have shown considerable creativity with extra rules imposed on themselves: e.g. authors only, crime fiction from a particular country only etc.

    Here is the 2013 schedule: showing the date that the week's page will be posted and the letter of the week.

    Letter    A    :    week beginning    Monday, 8 April 2013
    Letter    B    :    week beginning    Monday, 15 April 2013
    Letter    C    :    week beginning    Monday, 22 April 2013
    Letter    D    :    week beginning    Monday, 29 April 2013
    Letter    E    :    week beginning    Monday, 6 May 2013
    Letter    F    :    week beginning    Monday, 13 May 2013
    Letter    G    :    week beginning    Monday, 20 May 2013
    Letter    H    :    week beginning    Monday, 27 May 2013
    Letter    I    :    week beginning    Monday, 3 June 2013
    Letter    J    :    week beginning    Monday, 10 June 2013
    Letter    K    :    week beginning    Monday, 17 June 2013
    Letter    L    :    week beginning    Monday, 24 June 2013
    Letter    M    :    week beginning    Monday, 1 July 2013
    Letter    N    :    week beginning    Monday, 8 July 2013
    Letter    O    :    week beginning    Monday, 15 July 2013
    Letter    P    :    week beginning    Monday, 22 July 2013
    Letter    Q    :    week beginning    Monday, 29 July 2013
    Letter    R    :    week beginning    Monday, 5 August 2013
    Letter    S    :    week beginning    Monday, 12 August 2013
    Letter    T    :    week beginning    Monday, 19 August 2013
    Letter    U    :    week beginning    Monday, 26 August 2013
    Letter    V    :    week beginning    Monday, 2 September 2013
    Letter    W    :    week beginning    Monday, 9 September 2013
    Letter    X    :    week beginning    Monday, 16 September 2013
    Letter    Y    :    week beginning    Monday, 23 September 2013
    Letter    Z    :    week beginning    Monday, 30 September 2013

    11 March 2013

    Review: I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS, Alan Bradley

    • This edition published by Orion Books 2011
    • ISBN 978-1-4091-1420-8
    • 291 pages
    • #4 in the Flavia de Luce Mysteries
    • Source: my local library
    Synopsis (Amazon)

    It’s Christmastime, and Flavia de Luce—an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry—is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick.

    But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern.

    Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight.

    My Take

    A film crew to use Flavia's home Buckshaw as a set is the latest in her father's money making schemes to stave off the debtors. There's plenty of room at Buckshaw to accommodate them and the arrangement is that each will stay out of the other's way. But he has not reckoned with Flavia's insatiable curiosity, nor with the fact that someone will commit murder.

    On the night of the blizzard almost the entire population of the village is visiting to watch an impromptu fundraising performance by the main actors. And so it becomes the perfect setting for a "locked room" mystery.

    I have enjoyed each in this series featuring 11 year old sleuth Flavia de Luce, Flavia has an insatiable love of Chemistry and this Christmas she wants to test whether Father Christmas is a real person by laying a sticky trap for him on the main chimney.

    But there is a delightful cast of characters apart from Flavia: her sisters Daffy and Feely, her father's man-servant Dogger, the cook Mrs Mullet, Dr. Darby, the Vicar and his wife, and even the policemen who come to investigate, all feel larger than life.

    This more-or-less cozy series is set post World War II and is certainly worth reading in order.

    My rating: 4.7

    I have also reviewed

    Review: AGENT 6, Tom Rob Smith

    • This edition published by Simon & Schuster UK 2011
    • ISBN 978-1-84737-567-4
    • 543 pages
    • #3 in the trilogy that began with CHILD 44
    • Source: my local library
    • Read an extract on Amazon
    Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

    How far would you go to solve a crime against your family?

    It is 1965. Leo Demidov, a former secret police agent, is forbidden to travel with his wife and daughters from Moscow to New York. They are part of a "Peace Tour," meant to foster closer relations between the two Cold War enemies. On the tour, Leo's family is caught up in a conspiracy and betrayal that ends in tragedy.

    In the horrible aftermath, Leo demands one thing: that he be allowed to investigate and find the attacker that struck at the heart of his family on foreign soil. From the highest levels of the Soviet government, he is told No, that is impossible. Leo is haunted by the question: what happened in New York?

    In a surprising, epic story that spans decades and continents-from 1950s Moscow to 1960s America to the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s-Leo's long pursuit of justice will force him to confront everything he ever thought he knew about his country, his family, and himself.

    My Take

    I have read neither CHILD 44 nor its sequel THE SECRET SPEECH so for me AGENT 6 had to make sense as a stand alone, and it did, although it did make me feel that I should go back and read the other two at some stage.

    I was unprepared for the timespan of the novel and wasn't helped by chapters that are headed "Same Day" or  "One Month Later". I do understand that the action basically takes place between 1965 and and 1981/2 and that the location moves from Russia to Afghanistan to New York, following Leo Demidov's quest to clear his wife's name. It explores the political connections between Russia, Afghanistan and America, and the truly awful ramifications of the manipulation of ordinary lives by a few secret agents from both sides. The conspiracy that first affects Demidov's wife and daughters in 1965 is still alive in 1981.

    On another plane it balances love of the family against patriotism. There are at least two examples of young people who put aside familial loyalties for what they see as the higher level of patriotism. Demidov's loyalty to his family is contrasted with the betrayal of an Afghani girl's parents.

    I don't know that you can ever say you enjoy this sort of novel, but I felt that it did add depth to my basic knowledge.

    My rating: 4.4

    Read another review at Reactions to Reading 

    10 March 2013

    Review: TRIAL BY FIRE, Frances Fyfield - audio

    • first published 1990, #2 in the Helen West series
    • this edition published 2011, by AudioGo
    • available from Audible
    • narrator Rula Lenska
    • length 7 hours 14 mins
    • source: local library
    Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

    A woman's naked and dead body is found outside the Essex commuter village of Branston. Crown Prosecutor Helen West and the local police discover a world of passion and envy ready to explode under the veneer of village gentility.

    My Take

    Helen West, Crown Prosecutor, and Geoffrey Bailey, police inspector, have moved in together into a new house in the estate that is the commuter village of Branston. Neither of them like their rented accommodation, a stylistically modern house, and it adds to the stresses of them working out their relationship. They never seem to have any time to talk about their feelings either.
    Helen is working through the local Crown Prosecutor's office, very different to her city base in London, and Geoffrey is finding his work is far from ideal. Helen is aware that she is making major career sacrifices and Geoffrey seems determined to exclude her from his new life. He also has a new sergeant, female, who is career driven, and hard for Geoffrey to relate to.

    The murder investigation provoked by the discovery of the body of the wife of the estate's creator brings both Helen and Bailey into close contact with the locals, many of whom are commuting to work in London, as well as establishing a social pecking order based on their economic status and the quality of their housing. Most have little time to devote to taking notice of what is happening around them.

    Apart from the issues of the West/Bailey household, the author uses the novel to explore what is happening in these modern "yuppy" communities, where faux villages give London commuters the impression that they are living in the country. Her analysis of the two teenagers who feature centrally in the novel is stunning.

    Many refer to the work of Frances Fyfield as "literary" at the same time as being crime fiction. The first in this series A QUESTION OF GUILT was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel in 1990.

    Though I enjoyed the story, I didn't find the narration of Rula Lenska easy to listen to, although she did much to embellish her character portrayal. The voice that holds TRIAL BY FIRE together is that of Helen West but the narrator didn't seem to capture that as well as I would have liked.

    Nevertheless, well worth reading. My rating: 4.3

    Trial by Fire was a major TV film and starred Juliet Stevenson.
    I've also reviewed PERFECTLY PURE AND GOOD #2 in Frances Fyfield's Sarah Fortune series.

    8 March 2013

    Forgotten Book: A SUITABLE VENGEANCE, Elizabeth George

    My little green book
    My plan this year for my contributions to Friday's Forgotten Books hosted by Pattinase is to feature books I read 20 years ago - in 1993- from the records I have in my "little green book", which I started in 1975. In 1993 I read 111 books and was pretty well addicted to crime fiction by then.

    The first two months of 1993 saw a mixture of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell as I caught up with backnumbers in the series that I discovered in 2012.

    I began March in 1993 with A SUITABLE VENGEANCE by Elizabeth George.
    This was #4 in the Inspector Lynley series, published in 1990.

    Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

    Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton, has brought to Howenstow, his ancestral home, the young woman he has asked to be his bride.

    But the savage murder of a local journalist soon becomes the catalyst for a lethal series of events which shatters the calm of the picturesque Cornish community, tearing apart powerful ties of love and friendship, and exposing a long-buried family secret.

    The resulting tragedy will forever alter the course of Thomas Lynley's life.

    I have continued to read the Lynley series.
    Most recently I have reviewed

    Inspector Lynley
    1. A Great Deliverance (1988)
    2. Payment In Blood (1989)
    3. Well-Schooled In Murder (1990)
    4. A Suitable Vengeance (1990)
    5. For The Sake of Elena (1992)
    6. Missing Joseph (1993)
    7. Playing For The Ashes (1994)
    8. In The Presence Of The Enemy (1996)
    9. Deception On His Mind (1997)
    10. In Pursuit Of The Proper Sinner (1999)
    11. A Traitor To Memory (2001)
    12. A Place of Hiding (2003)
    13. With No One as Witness (2005)
    14. What Came Before He Shot Her (2006)
    15. Careless in Red (2008)
    16. This Body of Death (2010)
    17. Believing the Lie (2012)
    18. Just One Evil Act (2013)

    Review: TAMAM SHUD, Kerry Greenwood

    • Published 2012 by NewSouth Publishing
    • ISBN 9-781742-233505
    • 220 pages
    • source: I bought it
    Synopsis (ABC Shop)

    In 1948 a man was found dead on an Adelaide beach. Well-dressed and unmarked, he had a half-smoked cigarette by his side, but no identity documents.
    Six decades on we don’t know who he was, how he got there or how he died. Somerton Man remains one of Australia’s most mysterious cold cases.
    Yet it is the bizarre details of this case that make it the stuff of a spy novel. The missing labels from all his clothing. The tiny piece of paper with the words 'Tamam Shud' found sewn into the lining of the dead man’s coat. A mysterious code found etched inside the very book of Persian poetry from which this note was torn.
    Brimming with facts that are stranger than fiction, the case has intrigued novelist Kerry Greenwood for almost her whole life. She goes on a journey into her own past to try to solve this crime, uncovering a new way of writing about true crime – and herself – as she goes.

    My Take

    Let me point out first of all that there is only a tiny bit of crime fiction in this book - a short story in the last pages titled Tamam Shud: A Phryne Fisher Mystery in which Greenwood's popular sleuth solves the Somerton Man mystery.

    The majority of the book covers the Somerton Man mystery and Greenwood uses it as a vehicle for paying tribute to her story telling wharfie father, a mountain of autobiographical detail, and telling us about Adelaide which seems to specialise in peculiar murders.

    The book was of particular interest to me on two counts: the first related to hearing Greenwood speak at Adelaide Writer's Week yesterday, and the second because of the Adelaide setting, which is of course where I live.

    The book provides an opportunity for Greenwood to tell us a lot about her background, which we don't get much of in either her Phryne Fisher or Corinna Chapman books.
    To me it feels a less disciplined book than either of those series, with Greenwood allowing herself to ramble tangentially from topic to topic, in fact over a diverse range of topics.
    There's a glimpse of Adelaide just after the war, as well as in the 1970s. There are peeks into Greenwood's family history as well as references to her childhood and adult life. There are references to the nature of poisons, the use of ear shapes for identification purposes, to events in world and Australian history, to the murders and disappearance of children in Adelaide, and then to some of the more popular explanations for the death of the Somerton Man.

    All that "true crime" detail is nicely complemented by the Phryne Fisher story at the end.

    My rating: 4.3

    You might like to also check these reviews and websites

    4 March 2013

    Review: DEAD MAN'S FOLLY, Agatha Christie

    • First published in 1956
    • This edition: part of the Agatha Christie Collection acquired in 2012
    • ISSN 1473-0022
    • 187 pages
    • Source: my local library
    Synopsis (Agatha Christie site)

    Sir George and Lady Stubbs, the hosts of a village fete, hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery.
    In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the well known crime writer, agrees to organise the murder hunt. Despite weeks of meticulous planning, at the last minute Ariadne calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance. Instinctively, she senses that something sinister is about to happen...
    Ariadne Oliver plays a central part in this novel, with many seeing her as Christie's alter-ego. Indeed the house that the novel is set at was based on her own home, Greenway.

    My Take

    This is an interesting novel because the solution to the murder eludes Hercule Poirot until he realises while doing a jigsaw puzzle that he has been looking at some information he has had all along the wrong way around.

    It is one of those stories where you keep thinking of the title because the obvious murder victim is female, so who or what is the "dead mans folly"?  There is a folly, a building placed on the estate by Sir George Stubbs soon after he arrived, or is Lady Stubbs, supposedly a little intellectually wanting, the folly?

    Ariadne Oliver's mock murder mystery backfires when the Girl Guide who was to pose as the murder victim is actually strangled. Hercule Poirot is on the spot because Mrs Oliver was already uncomfortable with how things were going. She had the feeling of being manouvred and called her friend on the day before the fete to see what he thought.

    There is not a lot of social or historical comment in DEAD MAN'S FOLLY. We know it is set post World War Two, because the original owners of the house, the Folliats, lost both their sons in the war.
    Sir George Stubbs came along at the right time as the buyer of the house as old Mrs Folliat found herself unable to pay the death duties incurred by the death of her husband and two sons. The villagers had assumed it was destined to become a school or a hotel.
    Sir George Stubbs appears to have "new money" which he is spending extravagantly on ventures like the folly and a tennis pavilion.The house is next door to a back packer's hostel, with European young people staying there. And another of the characters is an "atom scientist".
    All of these items serve to place the novel in the early 1950s,

    I found the final explanation a bit extravagant but it worked well enough.There are certainly clues along the way that the reader tends to gloss over.

    My rating: 4.1

    Read as novel #49 for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

    2 March 2013

    Review: TURN OF MIND, Alice LaPlante

    • Published by Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2011
    • ISBN 978-1-921758-42-3
    • 305 pages
    • Source: my local library
    Synopsis (Amazon)

    A stunning first novel, both literary and thriller, about a retired orthopedic surgeon with dementia, Turn of Mind has already received worldwide attention. With unmatched patience and a pulsating intensity, Alice LaPlante brings us deep into a brilliant woman’s deteriorating mind, where the impossibility of recognizing reality can be both a blessing and a curse.

    As the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who lived down the block, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand. Dr. White is the prime suspect and she herself doesn’t know whether she did it. Told in White’s own voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between these life-long friends—two proud, forceful women who were at times each other’s most formidable adversaries. As the investigation into the murder deepens and White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers: is White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

    A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, Turn of Mind is a remarkable debut that examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence.

    My Take

    This is the second of two books chosen by my book group for our current read. (The other is BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson which I read last year.) Both books deal with memory loss but that is where the similarities really end.

    Dr. Jennifer White is an a retired orthopaedic surgeon struck down by Alzheimer's at a relatively young age. The story is told primarily through a journal in which Jennifer and those who care for her or visit her record the events of the day. The other main "voice" is Jennifer's own mind as it reacts to the people who visit her, whom she doesn't always recognise, and the conversations that take place around her.

    Through Jennifer's recollections of her adult life we are able to piece together details of her marriage to her husband James and their relationship with the couple, Amanda and Peter, who lived just 3 houses down.

    From time to time Jennifer's world is peopled with family members and friends who have long "gone", and at times she thinks she is much younger, still working in a busy practice, while at others she is troubled by mistakes she made. The events in the journal make the reader aware of changes in Jennifer's circumstances as she is moved out of her home and into a care facility. Her children visit with motives not always driven by concern for her.

    Through the persistence of Detective Luton who is investigating the death of Amanda the reader is eventually led to an understanding of what happened.

    This is crime fiction because a murder appears to have taken place, but the focus of the story is less on the crime than on what has happened to Jennifer's mind, and on the deterioration still continuing. I suspect for many who have family members stricken with Alzheimer's it will come very close to the bone. The unusual structure of the novel is very effective.

    My rating: 4.5

    Other reviews to check

    1 March 2013

    What I read in February 2013

    February is one of those months that simply skates by, but it was a good reading month for me, with lots of Australian authors read.
    11 books altogether, tow audio books, 6 Australian authors and another book set in Australia, 4 library books.

    My pick of the month was THE MISTAKE by Wendy James but as you'll see from the list a few other close contenders: THE BAT by Jo NesboTHE BETRAYAL by Y.A.Erskine, and  DEGREES OF CONNECTION by Jon Cleary
    THE MISTAKE was another fascinating read from Australian author Wendy James. (I read WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? last year).

    Jodie Garrow kept a secret about her first baby, Elsa Mary, for twenty four years. When her teenage daughter Hannah breaks her leg on a school excursion she is hospitalised by chance at the very hospital where Jodie gave birth to her first child. Hannah shares a genetic characteristic with the earlier baby, and by chance a nurse at the hospital recognises this and then recognises Jodie. Thus begins the chain of events that leads to the investigation of what happened to baby Elsa Mary Evans.

    Read more

    Crime Fiction Pick of the Month February 2013

    Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2013

    Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

    This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
    It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for February 2013, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
    If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

    You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

    That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
    ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

    You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.


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