30 January 2014

Review: WITNESS THE NIGHT, Kishwar Desai

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 378 KB
  • Print Length: 171 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (May 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006YDG16Y
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl, barely alive, is found in a sprawling house where thirteen people lie dead. The girl has been beaten and abused, and the house still smoulders from the fire that raked through it.
The girl now awaits her trial for the murders that the local police believe she has committed. But an unconventional social worker, Simran Singh, is convinced of her innocence. As Simran begins to examine the circumstances around the case, she encounters a terrifying web of prejudice and deceit in which lives of women are endangered from birth.
Brilliantly descriptive of tradition-bound Punjab, Kishwar Desai's debut novel introduces the feisty and independent Simran, whose determination to seek out the truth places her at odds with her environment. What she discovers will change her forever.

My take

There are two main narrators in this story with occasional interjection, mainly by email, of a third.

The first narrator is Durga herself, the sole survivor of whatever killed her parents and eleven other household members. Fourteen years old, she is keeping a diary, in which she first of all alludes to the events of the night, and then reflects on the events of her life as a girl in the Punjab. From her diary which she is actually writing for Simran the reader is able to piece together what has happened.

The second narrator is Simran, the social worker, employed by the authorities to get Durga to talk, and primarily to get a verbal confession from her that she was solely responsible for the massacre of the family. Simran is in her early 40s and through her we get the description of the social problems in modern Punjab. Simran left the small town of Jullundur in disgrace twenty years before. This is the first time she has returned and she doesn't think things have changed all that much. She thinks this will be  her first and last case.

Simran finds it very difficult to get others to talk about the family and Durga. She tries family friends and Durga's sister in law in London. Binny is the third main voice, mainly by email, and even she tells Simran there are questions she must ask others, and things it will not be helpful for her to know.

Crimes are committed in this novel, and certainly it starts with the massacre of an entire Sikh family, but the background is the traditional treatment of unwanted female babies and girl children.

At the end of the novel the author says that while the characters of her debut novel are fictitious, the events are not. She pays tribute to her father, a policeman, whom she says is possibly one of the few incorruptible police officers in northern India.

I am in listing this novel in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge in the category of Asia (India).

My rating: 4.4

28 January 2014

Review: THE GOLDEN CALF, Helene Tursten

  • format : Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1723 KB
  • Print Length: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime (February 5, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Translated from Swedish by Laura A. Wide burg
Synopsis (Amazon)

In this fifth installment in the critically acclaimed Irene Huss series, three men are found brutally executed in one of Goteborg's most fashionable neighborhoods. All three men were involved in an online poker company, but that's all they appear to have in common. The complex investigation immerses Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues into a world of expensive cars, fancy homes and impressive castles in the air.

Meanwhile, the normally peaceful atmosphere of the Huss family is disturbed by marital tension as Irene suspects her husband Krister of having an affair with a younger woman.

My Take

This novel explores the role of young Swedish businessmen in the collapse of the dot com world in the early 21st century. It begins with the death of one businessman and then the revealing of his strange living arrangements with his young wife and son. Then a further two businessmen who normally live together in Paris are found dead, obviously murdered. Police investigations reveal that another has been missing for three years. The wife of the first victim appears to hold the key.

Irene and a colleague are sent to Paris to view the apartment of the dead couple and they disturb a man who attacks both of them.

An action packed thriller that explores a web that reaches from Sweden to Paris and London and even into the mafia of New York.

Change is imminent in Irene's world with a couple close to going through  marital breakup and the Huss twins on the verge of leaving home.

This series are basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.

My rating: 4.4

I have already reviewed

26 January 2014

Happy Australia Day 2014

Greetings from Indianapolis where we are about to have some winter chill.

24 January 2014

Review: ARMS FOR ADONIS, Charlotte Jay

  • first published 1961
  • this edition published by Wakefield Press 1994
  • 189 pages
Synopsis (Wakefield Crime Classics)

The blood of Adonis, thought Sarah, remembering the church that was built like a pagan temple. Coquelicot rouge - the symbol of a dying man whose blood stained the hillside in the spring.

Sarah Lane, abandoning her French lover for the brilliant Lebanese sunshine, believes that the day will belong to her alone. But when a street bomb hurls her into the arms of a dangerously handsome Syrian colonel, she finds herself trapped once again. Is this a kidnapping? A seduction? Or merely the chaos of the Middle-East?

The Wakefield Crime Classics series revives forgotten or neglected gems of crime and mystery fiction by Australian authors. Many of the writers have established international reputations but are little known in Australia.

My Take

Charlotte Jay, an Australian author, wrote this book during the months leading up to the Suez Crisis in 1956 when she was living in Beirut during a one year tour of duty by her husband John, a senior official for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East. This gives the setting of the novel a touch of authenticity and also gives it a relevance to today's readers.

This novel reminded me of those I read in the 60s, by authors like Susan Howatch and Victoria Holt. It is a thriller/romance almost gothic in style. The description of the setting is wonderful and sent me off Googling the tourist sites of Lebanon.

I don't think I was ever in any real doubt about how the plot would turn out but there were a few twists and turns that caused the occasional doubt. I think the plot is much better drawn than the novella HANK OF HAIR by the same author that I read recently.

Embedded in the main story are Jay's reflections on the political revolution taking place in the Middle East in the 1950s and in particular how it affected ordinary people. There is also reflection on how Britain is being affected by a flood of refugees who despite being Moslem can claim British citizenship. They aren't always going to be an asset to their new country.

This was a satisfying read, and you'll notice it is part of my reading for the Vintage Reading Challenge. I think I will also include it in my 7th continent reading (history) for the Global Reading Challenge. It carries with it a feeling of authenticity, and I've come away feeling that I've learnt quite a bit.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed 4.5, BEAT NOT THE BONES

23 January 2014

Review: HANK OF HAIR, Charlotte Jay

Synopsis (Wakefield Crime Classics)

For I prefer beauty always a little soured. When it comes to me as a spoonful of syrup, I spit it out.

Gilbert Hand hasn't been the same since his wife died. He's moved to a dull but respectable hotel where silence seems to brood in the hall and stairway. In a secret drawer he discovers a long, thick hank of human hair, and his world narrows down to two people - himself and the murderer.

The Wakefield Crime Classics series revives forgotten or neglected gems of crime and mystery fiction by Australian authors. Many of the writers have established international reputations but are little known in Australia.

My Take

This plot didn't quite turn out the way I expected it to. It is a relatively short novel, but I can't see how the author could have made it much longer. In this Wakefield crime classics reprint there is an interesting epilogue in which the author discusses with the editors Gilbert Hand's hair fetish. The author raises points that I didn't see in my reading of the novel, so perhaps I really missed the point.

My rating: 3.9

I've also reviewed 4.5, BEAT NOT THE BONES

Other titles in Wakefield Crime Classics

A Hank of Hair
Arms for Adonis
Beat Not the Bones
Common People
Ligny's Lake
Sinners Never Die
The Secret of the Garden
The Souvenir
The Whispering Wall
Vanishing Point

22 January 2014

Review: DEATH OF A SWAGMAN, Arthur Upfield

  • first published 1945
  • this edition published by Angus & Robertson 1994
  • ISBN 0-207-18582-4
  • 256 pages
  • setting: Lake Mungo in south-western New South Wales
Synopsis (Amazon)

In an isolated hut not far from the sleepy country town of Merino, stockman George Kendall is found dead and it looks very much like murder. Six weeks later, when the murderer is still at large, another stockman turns up in the township and, as a first move, provokes the local sergeant to lock him up.

This particular stockman is Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, and there's method in his seeming madness. While serving a semi-detention sentence and being made to paint the police station, he wears the best of all possible disguises for a policeman on the trail of a ruthless and single-minded killer.

My Take

The editorial note at the front of the book will be of interest:
"Part of the appeal of Arthur Upfield's stories lies in their authentic portrayal of many aspects of outback Australian life in the 1930s and into the 1950s. The dialogue, especially, is a faithful evocation of how people spoke. Hence, these books reflect and depict the attitudes and ways of speech, particularly with regard to Aborigines and to women, which were then commonplace. In reprinting these books the publisher does not endorse the attitudes or opinions they express."

There is considerable similarity between Bony and his contemporary Hercule Poirot. Both emphasise the importance of observation in their methods of detection. In this book Bony is able to move freely among the people of the town of Merino because his real identity is kept secret. He collects information, and checks alibis, without those he is checking suspecting.

The other similarity with Poirot lies in his confidence that he will solve the crime in the end. He does not take on cases that will not provide a challenge and treats all the evidence as puzzle to be correctly assembled.

In the 1930s Bony would have been a conundrum is Australian society: an Aboriginal half caste, with a better education than 99% of the population. 

I think the writing comes across as a little dated until the reader becomes immersed in the puzzle Bony is solving. One interesting aspect of this novel are the coded messages itinerant swagmen are leaving in shearing sheds and at station gates. They look like noughts and crosses puzzles but contain information about how the cook and manager of the place will treat a swaggie. And of course, set at the beginning of the Depression, swaggies looking for work are common in the outback.

An interesting read for those who have not met this author before.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Arthur Upfield (1890-1964) was an Australian crime fiction author who wrote 34 novels 1926-1966, with "Bony" making his first appearance in 1929, and then subsequently in 28 other novels. Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte was the son of an unknown white man and an aboriginal mother, a gentleman and genius of criminal science, with an M.A. degree from Brisbane University. In his work Bony frequently faces race prejudices but wins them with his wit and smile.

Find out more

Review: LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Atkinson

  • format Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2183 KB
  • Print Length: 545 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316176486
  • Publisher: Transworld Digital (March 14, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
Synopsis (Amazon)

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013.

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third  chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

My Take

LIFE AFTER LIFE is a fascinating novel, almost like a "choose your own adventure" for adults, except the reader does not get to choose what happens to Ursula Todd.

In a number of vignettes, some of which are very short and come to an abrupt end, the author explores the possible lives of Ursula Todd. Many of them hinge on a single choice, once taken impossible to reverse. The choice is often not Ursula's own, but sometimes it is. We've also had that feeling - "if only I'd done that" or "what if I'd done this" - the choice once taken leads down a very different path. 

This is a philosophical question sometimes tackled by historians - what if Germany had won the Great War; what if someone had stopped Hitler at the beginning, and so on. Would history tell the same story?

What Atkinson does is play with questions like these on a more minor level, at the level of e individual person - would the person be happier, would life have been better?

I'm not sure we would know if/when we had "finally got it right". The scenarios played out in LIFE AFTER LIFE seem to say we wouldn't. 

The vignettes are set against life in England and parts of Europe during the Great War, World War II, and later. History marches on seemingly despite what happens to individuals and nations. 

Other interesting philosophical ideas are discussed. Ursula experiences déjà vu, as do most of us at some time. Does that mean she has experienced other lives? Have we been here before?

My first non-crime fiction novel for the year.
A very good read.

My rating: 4.8

21 January 2014

Review: HOTEL BOSPHORUS, Esmahan Aykol

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 344 KB
  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press (June 21, 2011)
  • First published in Turkish 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • translated from Turkish by Ruth Whitehouse
  • ASIN: B004S22AFE
Synopsis (Amazon)

Katie Hirschel is the proud owner of Istanbul’s only mystery bookshop. When the director of a film starring an old school friend is found murdered in his hotel Katie starts her own maverick investigation.

After all her friend Petra is the police’s principal
suspect and reading all those detective novels must have taught Katie something.

About the author

Esmahan Aykol: Esmahan Aykol was born in 1970 in Edirne, Turkey. She lives in Istanbul and Berlin. During her law studies she was a journalist for a number of Turkish publications and radio stations. After a stint as a bartender she turned to fiction writing. She has written three Katie Hirschel novels. Hotel Bosphorus is the first and has been published in Turkish, German, French and soon in Italian.

My Take

A note from the publisher at the end of the novel gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the Arts Council of England and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Turkey.

Without doubt a murder mystery, this novel is also about the interlinking of Turkish and German cultures in particular.

The central amateur detective is German born Turkish citizen Kati Hirschel, owner of a book shop in Istanbul that specialises in crime fiction. She is in her early 40s, has a mother living in Germany, and relishes the opportunity to use her knowledge of real life detection gleaned from her reading.

Kati becomes involved in the murder when her good friend actress Petra comes to Istanbul to make a film about a 19th century Sultan's wife. Petra is an unlikely fit for the main role, and Kati is surprised when she discovers that the director is almost unknown. This director is later murdered, electrocuted when a radiator is thrown into his bath. Petra is immediately a suspect for the murder.

The style of the novel is a little unusual. The younger voice of the narrator made it a surprise when I discovered her chula age. She does a good job of describing life in Istanbul. (She describes herself as an Istanbulli). Tourism is well established between Turkey and Germany, and so it is not unusual to find cultural connections such as film making.

A good choice for the 2014 Global Reading Challenge.

My rating: 4.3

20 January 2014

Review: THE FUNERAL OWL, Jim Kelly

  • Format Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 909 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Severn House Digital; First World Publication edition (December 1, 2013)
  • first published 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • #6 in the Philip Dryden series
Synopsis (Amazon)

When a reader contacts local newspaper The Crow to report a rare sighting of the Boreal or so-called 'Funeral' owl, the paper's editor Philip Dryden has a sense of foreboding. For the Funeral Owl is said to be an omen of death.

It's already proving to be one of the most eventful weeks in The Crow's history. The body of a Chinese man has been discovered hanging from a cross in a churchyard in Brimstone Hill in the West Fens. The inquest into the deaths of two tramps found in a flooded ditch has unearthed some shocking findings. A series of metal thefts is plaguing the area. And PC Stokely Powell has requested Dryden's help in solving a ten-year-old cold case: a series of violent art thefts culminating in a horrifying murder.

As Dryden investigates, he uncovers some curious links between the seemingly unrelated cases: it would appear the sighting of the Funeral Owl is proving prophetic in more ways than one.

My Take

I'm not sure whether this is the first Philip Dryden title I've re, but it certainly won't be the last.

As the editor of the local Fenland weekly newspaper The Crow, Dryden has a lot of stories to juggle: metal thieves who have stolen lead from a church roof, cabling from a wind farm resulting in a spectacular fire, and the spikes from a railway track causing a derailment and a huge traffic jam; the Christ Church is short of funds and it's female new-age priest decides she must sell the sexton's cottage promised to its aging incumbent for life; a Korean war veteran with incredibly sensitive hearing is plagued by high pitched noises from a mechanical bird scaring device; two men die from alcohol poisoning from vodka produced by a local illicit still; two teenagers disappear from home in separate incidents; and Chinese triads based in King's Lynn begin a war.

So there is plenty to keep the reader's brain engaged. And then the connections between the plot lines gradually emerge. And of course there are human interest elements in each of the stories.

A good read.

My rating: 4.6

I have reviewed DEATH WORE WHITE (#1 in the Shaw & Valentine series)

19 January 2014


  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 445 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Digital (April 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003CUDOU8
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

Inspector Singh is home - and how he wishes he wasn’t. His wife nags him at breakfast and his superiors are whiling away their time by giving him his usual ‘you’re a disgrace to the Force’ lecture. Fortunately for Singh, there is no rest for the wicked when he is called out to the murder of a senior partner at an international law firm, clubbed to death at his desk.

Unfortunately for Singh, there is no shortage of suspects - from the victim’s fellow partners to his wife and ex-wife - or motives, as many of the lawyers have secrets they would kill to protect. And very soon Singh finds himself heading up an investigation that rips apart the fabric of Singapore society and exposes the rotten core beneath. Perhaps coming home wasn’t such a good idea, after all…?

My Take

This is the only title in the series set in Singh's home city of Singapore.

As background to the murder Flint manages to bring local issues into the novel: the fact there are still hanging offences in Singapore, drug dealing and homosexual activity.

Mrs Singh's status in her local Sikh community, always under threat because of her husband's involvement in the seamier side of life, takes a severe knock when a relative becomes a suspect in the murder investigation.

I thought there was a little less humor in this novel but even so there are glimmers.

Singh's boss Chen is able to interfere a little more than usual with Singh's work as he is right on the spot, that is, Singh is in Singapore not overseas.

If you haven't tackled this series, you are missing a real treat.

My rating: 4.5

I've already reviewed
4.2, INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES, A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder

18 January 2014

Review: THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET, Georges Simenon

  • Format Kindle: Amazon
  • File Size: 340 KB
  • Print Length: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (December 5, 2013)
    Originally published 1931
    Published as MAIGRET STONEWALLED 1963
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
Synopsis (Bloody Murder)

During a very hot Summer, the body is found of a commercial traveler in his hotel room in Sancerre. Shot in the face and then stabbed in the heart, the gunman seems to have got clean away after inflicting the fatal stabbing with the victim’s own knife as the poor man tried to fend off his attacker.

The victim was a regular visitor known as Clement but it quickly emerges that he was actually Émile Gallet. An outwardly conventional petit bourgeois living on the outskirts of Paris, he had in fact constructed an elaborate double life, which he had been leading for the best part of 18 years. He arranged for pre-written postcards to be sent to his haughty wife (of noble birth) from the various stops on his old route, faked letters from his old employer and even kept a false ledger of sales to make his wife believe that he really was still doing his old job. But perhaps all was well with his scheme as he had also started secretly receiving mail from a ‘Mr Jacob’, apparently demanding money.

My take

This is part of the Penguin Classics, a project to reprint the novels of Simenon in order of publication. THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET is #2 in the series and I was surprised to find that Maigret is already 45 years old. He has spent half his life in various branches of the police and is now in the Paris Flying Squad.

Monsieur Gallet it seems has been leading a double life for the best part of twenty years, living under two names, with a wife and son under the name of Gallet. However he no longer has the job that Madame Gallet thinks he has, so how does he earn his money? In addition it seems that his death is somehow related to the hotel room he has been allocated.

If Monsieur Gallet has been murdered, then who committed the deed? There are plenty of suspects but none quite fits the bill. Gallet it seems may have been a crook.

The plot is convoluted as one expects of Simenon, and Maigret spends quite an amount of time away from home on this case.  He would prefer what he considers a "real murder", where motives and details are clearer.

I found the plot a little tangled and disappointing. I don't think Simenon needed to make it quite as complex as he did, although he made it so to accommodate a range of characters like Gallet's reprehensible son and his girlfriend.

My rating: 4.3

See also plot summary at  Trussel

I've also reviewed
4.4, MAIGRET & the MAN on the BOULEVARD

The recent decision by Penguin to republish fresh translations of all of Simenon's Maigret novels, in the original order of publication, provides a real opportunity for readers to catch up on titles that have been out of print for some time. Apparently the 75 novels will be published at the rate of one a month. There is even an accompanying 24 page brochure available giving biographical details about Simenon and the characters he created.

17 January 2014


  • first published 1935
  • 187 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-00-651253-0

Synopsis (Amazon)

Ngaio Marsh's bestselling and ingenious third novel remains one of the most popular pieces of crime fiction of all time. Sir John Phillips, the Harley Street surgeon, and his beautiful nurse Jane Harden are almost too nervous to operate.

The emergency case on the table before them is the Home Secretary - and they both have very good, personal reasons to wish him dead. Within hours he does die, although the operation itself was a complete success, and Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn must find out why...

My Take

This is #3 in Ngaio Marsh's titles, and the dust cover says that it continues to be one of her most popular novels, and has outstripped all of her other novels in sales.

First published in 1935, it is the pre-cursor to those Robin Cook-style medical murder mysteries. I didn't think there was anything dated about the writing or the plot.

The setting is mainly the operating theatre of a small hospital (not the narrow meaning that nursing home has come to mean today).

Roderick Alleyn has two sounding boards for his theories - his assistant Inspector Fox, and his journalist friend Nigel Bathgate.

The victim is the Home Secretary sufferring from appendicitis and perotonitis, who collapses in Parliament when introducing a controversial Bill related to terrorists and anarchists. (this will have a familiar ring for modern readers although set nearly 80years ago). The appendix is removed successfully but the patient never comes around after the operation. When an autopsy reveals that Derek O'Callaghan has been poisoned, the plot revolves around whether his murder is related to the opponents of his Bill, personal problems relating to an affair, or even side effects of pain relief administered by his doting sister.  The plot keeps the reader guessing right until the end.

My rating: 4.3
Very readable.

I've also reviewed

15 January 2014

Holiday Reading Update 1

This is just an update for my current holiday reading.
Reviews will be added later.

So far I have read

The Nursing Home Murder, Ngaio Marsh
The Late Monsieur Gallet, Georges Simenon
Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy, Shamini Flint
The Funeral Owl, Jim Kelly

12 January 2014

Travelling again

This picture is a little misleading because we are going nowhere near deserts.

But travelling we are, today, for about 7 weeks.

We are first of all off to the snow (and family) in Indianapolis for a couple of weeks
and then we join a cruise from LA to Adelaide.

So the end result could be rather erratic posts here, because I really don't know what my Internet connections will be like. But rest assured, I'll be reading.

11 January 2014


  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 478 KB
  • Print Length: 496 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002BD2V1U
Synopsis (author site)

Goodluck Tinubu, an ex-Zimbabwean who has taught in Botswana for many years, is viciously murdered in his tent at the Jackalberry bush camp, situated on an isolated peninsula in northern Botswana. Peter Sithole, allegedly a tourist from South Africa and a second guest at the camp, is found bludgeoned to death a few hours later. Detective “Kubu” Bengu is sent from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, to assist the local Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in solving the crime.

Another guest at the camp – Ishmael Zondo - departed unexpectedly at dawn the morning after the murders. Now Zondo has completely disappeared, and the Zimbabwe police are unable – or unwilling – to trace him. Reports surface that he is wanted as a dissident in Zimbabwe. And, as a final enigma, matching fingerprint records reveal that Goodluck Tinubu was killed in the Rhodesian civil war thirty years earlier

Background (author site)

The first book in the series, A Carrion Death, was set in the deserts of Botswana, where the world’s richest diamond mines are located. The story dealt with greed, power, lust, and the conflict between modern views and traditional values.

The second book, The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu (USA) or A Deadly Trade (elsewhere), is set in the very north of Botswana, which contrasts vividly with the dry rest of the country. The Okavango delta, and the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, alive with hippos and crocodiles, push against the desert with lush vegetation and teeming wildlife. Huge numbers of elephants make this area their home, and herds of several hundred are common. The crystal-clear water and trees rich in fruit make these waterways a bird-lovers paradise. Hundreds of species of birds make their home here, from huge vultures to colorful parrots and lovebirds.

The area is also where four countries come together: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The rapidly declining situation in Zimbabwe, with its shattered dreams and human suffering, provides the subtext of the story. The countries surrounding Zimbabwe often find themselves caught between old loyalties from the struggles for freedom, and the embarrassment of having a neighbor like Zimbabwe as a member of the New Africa.

The story begins with the murder of a gentle teacher and a South African policeman.

My Take

This is #2 in the Kubu series and I read it to fill in a gap in my reading.
What I have enjoyed about these books is not only the very clever and tight plotting, but the lovely character development of Detective “Kubu” Bengu, his immediate family, and those he works with. It seems to me also that the setting provides another strong character. The initial action is set in tourist camp, but the roots of the plot go back decades into the history of Zimbabwe.

The character of Bengu gives the authors plenty of scope to show policing in Botswana in a good light. It comes across as a rather different Botswana to that of Precious Ramotswe but the values are the same.

A good read.

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed
About the author
The author with their Barry Award

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Johannesburg natives Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Sears lives in Johannesburg and teaches part-time at the University of Witwatersrand. Trollip was on the faculty at the universities of Illinois, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and at Capella University. A full-time writer, he divides his time between...

In 2012 Michael Stanley won a Barry Award for DEATH OF THE MANTIS

Current books - see author's website

1. A Carrion Death (2008)
2. A Deadly Trade (2009)
     aka The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu
3. The Death of the Mantis (2011)
4. Deadly Harvest (2013)

6 January 2014

Review: THIRD GIRL, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 597 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0425174719
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010)
    originally published 1966
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046RE5DG
Synopsis (Amazon)

A perplexed girl thinks she might have killed someone…

Three single girls shared the same London flat. The first worked as a secretary; the second was an artist; the third who came to Poirot for help, disappeared convinced she was a murderer.

Now there were rumours of revolvers, flick-knives and blood stains. But, without hard evidence, it would take all Poirot’s tenacity to establish whether the third girl was guilty innocent or insane…

(Agatha Christie site)
One of Poirot's latest appearances, Third Girl was published by Collins Crime Club in November 1966 with the American first edition appearing the following year - but after a condensed version with a photographic montage had been published in the April issue of Redbook magazine.

This story is relatively unusual for a later Agatha Christie in that Poirot is present more or less from the beginning of the case. Ariadne Oliver and Miss Lemon also feature and there are a great deal of amusing references to Poirot's age and the fact that he is no longer well known as a detective, now that the world has entered the Swinging Sixties.

The novel was adapted by Peter Flannery for ITV and was filmed with David Suchet as Poirot and Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in 2008. The story was reset in the 1930s to bring it inline with the rest of the TV series.

My take

I knew all along that I had read THIRD GIRL more than once before.
I thought perhaps my familiarity came from seeing the TV version and wasn't too clear how that differed from the book.

And then I discovered that nearly 4 years ago I had listened to
an audio version which I had much enjoyed.

For of course, what sticks in the mind, is that this is the story where the girl who comes to consult Hercule Poirot tells him that he is "too old".
That really gets under his skin because he thinks his little grey cells are ageless even if his body is showing rather a lot of wear and tear.
This leads the reader into all sorts of useless calculations about how old Poirot really is. He made his first appearance in 1920 (THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES) as a retired, evacuated Belgian police detective. 40+ years on he has to be approaching 100 if not more. Charles Osborne, in an article about THIRD GIRL, suggest we are meant to see Poirot as about 80.

Despite the era change by the television producers this is a book set firmly in the Swinging Sixties. Girls are much less bound to parents and home than they used to be, as shown by these young things sharing a London flat, and living in an unsupervised fashion. So once again here is Agatha Christie reflecting social and economic change in English society.
And of course, there is a little romantic match-making by Poirot which almost escapes notice.

And is Ariadne Oliver a reflection of Christie herself? She is much younger than Christie was at the time of writing the book (76), as well as a bit more impulsive and scatter-brained than I imagine Christie to be. But she does a lot of research for her books and obviously has a fertile imagination.

Critics have written that Christie shows signs of Alzheimer's in her last novels, but I saw no signs of it here.

And this is by no means the last Poirot novel.
Christie will publish another 9 titles, by my calculation, and 4 of them will feature Hercule Poirot.
POIROT'S EARLY CASES (1974, short stories)
CURTAIN (written about 1940, published 1975)

In reality ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER will be the last novel she will write featuring her little Belgian sleuth, and POSTERN OF FATE (featuring Tommy and Tuppence) published in 1973 will be her last novel.

My rating: 4.4

4 January 2014

Found an App

I'm going travelling later this month for about 7 weeks and wondered if there is an iPad App I could use if I don't have access to a computer.

Well, I've found one and that is how I'm creating this post. I searched for "Google blogger" and found a free App. It looks like it can do most things but I suspect the resultant posts are going to look pretty basic.  I can't imagine enjoying one finger typing much. Still if I have wi-fi access then I guess I will be able to put up with the other inconveniences.

I couldn't get the preview screen to work, and getting back to the editing screen wasn't all that straight forward. I suspect a rule needs to be to save before doing anything fancy. It has a spell checker and word prediction so you sometimes don't have to type the full word or worry about apostrophes.  
Not sure if I can add images. I may need to have used them already on my blog. Have just discovered that it can use photos saved on my iPad.

Anybody got any tips or favorite Apps?

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival for December 2013

A well patronised blog carnival for December 2013 with plenty of reviews and news.

And of course we are off to a flying start for the new year.
The carnival for January 2014 is here.

If you have been participating in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, why not post a progress report and submit it to the blog carnival?

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Participants
1. Review: THIRD GIRL @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel
2. Review: THE BIG FOUR (TV drama) @ Thinking about books
3. Review: DEAD MAN'S FOLLY (TV drama) @ Thinking about books
4. Review: The Idol House of Astarte @ Clothes in Books
5. Notes on HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS @ Christie in a Year
6. Margaret @ BooksPlease - Review: N or M?
7. Notes on DEATH ON THE NILE @ Christie in a Year
8. Margaret @ BooksPlease - Review: Ordeal by Innocence
9. TracyK - Hercule Poirot's Christmas
10. Notes on ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE @ Christie in a Year
11. Notes on MRS McGINTY'S DEAD @ Christie in a Year
12. Margaret @ BooksPlease (My Year of Reading Agatha Christie's books)
14. Write Your Own Christie - Help create a new novel
15. Notes on TAKEN AT THE FLOOD @ Christie in a Year
16. Review: Hercule Poirot's Christmas @ Tea Time with Marce
17. Notes on DUMB WITNESS @ Christie in a Year
18. Notes on MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS @ Christie in a Year
19. Review: DEATH IN THE CLOUDS @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

3 January 2014

Best Crime Fiction Read in 2013 - a meme

Best Crime Fiction Read 2013

I may be a bit late in creating this meme, as I am aware of a number of lists appearing already.
These lists have been very useful in the past.

However I have had a number of requests for such a page so here it is.

I won't make any attempt to collate the books that each link contains, but I would be grateful if you would add your own link or any others that you find.

Wrap Up Post: Australian Women Writers 2013

It seems that I may not have written a wrap up post for the
Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 so here it is.

Level of challenge: read only, or read and review

Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6

  1. COLD GRAVE, Kathryn Fox
  2. 4.8, THE MISTAKE, Wendy James
  3. 3.9, THE PRICE OF FAME, R.C. Daniells 
  4. 4.7, THE BETRAYAL, Y.A.Erskine 
  5. 4.3, TAMAM SHUD, Kerry Greenwood 
  6. 3.8, JENNIFER SHOT - THE FIRST SHOT, Patricia Kristensen 
  7. 4.0, MURDER WITH THE LOT, Sue Williams
  8. 4.2, THE AFFAIR, Bunty Avieson 
  9. 4.1, MANLY MURDERS: A MOTHER WITHOUT A CHILD, Gunilla Haglundh  
  10. 4.7, IN HER BLOOD, Annie Hauxwell
  11. 4.3, BAY OF FIRES, Poppy Gee 
  12. 4.8, SUFFICIENT GRACE, Amy Espeseth
  13. 4.8, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, Geraldine Brooks 
  14. 4.5, BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent
  15. 4.6, GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, Maggie Groff 
  16. 4.8, UNNATURAL HABITS, Kerry Greenwood
  17. 4.9, SILENT VALLEY, Malla Nunn
  18. 4.7, THE CRY, Helen Fitzgerald 
  19. 4.3, MURDER AND MENDELSSOHN, Kerry Greenwood 
  20. 4.7, THE MIDNIGHT DRESS, Karen Foxlee
  21. 4.5, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, Caroline Overington  
So as you can see, I easily exceeded the upper levels of the challenge, and I must admit to still having 4 or 5 titles still sitting on the TBR pile.

You can see from my ratings that many of these books are at the high level and I believe that a number of the authors rate well against international writers.

I will be entering the challenge again in 2014. Details can be found here.

Reading Challenge record: Vintage Mystery BINGO 2014: Silver & Gold Edition

This is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

* All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.).  The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library or bookstore.
*Challengers may play either the Silver Age or Golden Age Card—or both.
*BINGOS may be claimed by completing all spaces in a row--horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  You may also claim a “Four Corner” BINGO by reading a book for each of the four corners plus two more spaces—any two.  A valid BINGO must have six complete spaces.
This post will be my record for the challenge and I aim to update it as I read and review the books.

Golden Vintage - books written before 1960

6 books to be read
  1. xx
Silver Vintage: books written 1960 - 1989

6 books to be read
  1. xx

New to me crime fiction authors read October to December 2013

I love reading the work of new crime fiction authors, particularly discovering someone whom I can follow over the years.

In 2012 I read 48, and in the year before I read 60, and in 2013 I read 59.

As you can see I found most of them a worthwhile read.

See what others have chosen for their books in the new-to-me meme.

Reading challenges in 2014

You may think looking at the following list that I am simply continuing on with challenges that I had in 2013, and to to some extent you are right.

I have found that reading challenges help me focus my reading, although some of them don't present much of a challenge because they simply indicate my reading interests. Those records simply help me keep track.

Some of the challenges are external to this blog while others are hosted here or on a blog that I manage.

In practical terms I do allow some challenges to overlap, that is, most books will appear in more than one challenge.
In addition many of the challenges are simply continuations of challenges I took on last year, and are a reflection of my reading interests.

I have created a special 2014 Reading Challenges Update page for more detailed records and a visual summary..

The reading challenges I've joined
Looking for some reading challenge ideas yourself? Check A Novel Challenge.

2 January 2014

Review: BLOOD FROM STONE, Frances Fyfield

  • format Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 381 KB
  • Print Length: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (October 4, 2012)
    originally published 2008
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008EOA324
Synopsis (Amazon)

When the body of a successful criminal barrister is found outside a chic Kensington hotel, it looks at first like a suicide. For colleagues and friends, her death comes as a huge shock - Marianne Shearer was at the pinnacle of her career, wealthy and stylish - but for the police the case is open-and-shut.

There's something strange about the circumstances, though, something that prompts fellow lawyers Thomas Nobel and Peter Friel to dig deeper. Little by little, they discover that all is not as it seems. Oddly enough, Marianne herself appears to have left a series of small, almost imperceptible clues - clues that point to a far more sinister truth. Retracing Marianne's steps, Nobel and Friel uncover a carefully concealed darker side of her perfect life that leads them back to her last, gruesome case - when she knowingly sacrificed an innocent witness to let a criminal walk free.

From the author's site

Marianne Shearer is at the height of her career, a dauntingly successful barrister, respected by her peers and revered by her clients.  So why has she killed herself?  Her latest case had again resulted in an acquittal, though the outcome was principally due to  the death of the prime witness after Marianne's forceful cross-examination.  Had this wholly professional and unemotional lawyer been struck by guilt or uncertainty, or is there some secret to be discovered in her blandly comfortable private life? Her death reveals a paucity of friends, a grasping brother and a tenacious colleague, Peter Friel, who is determined to find out if that last trial held the reason for her taking her own life. The transcript holds intriguing clues, but it is another witness at the trial who holds the key to the truth and she is far from sure that she can reveal her secrets without releasing even more deceit and destruction.

My Take.

BLOOD FROM STONE was chosen for discussion by my face-to-face book group. It was also the winner of the 2008 Duncan Lawrie award for Crime Writers Association best novel of the year.

Apart from the enthralling story, the novel raises some ethical questions about defendants who are allowed to walk free because their lawyer was clever, not because they were innocent.

It is hard to imagine anyone more evil than the Defendant, Rick West. There was plenty of evidence of previous instances where he had mistreated women. But two previous victims were not available to give evidence and then Marianne Shearer caustically and methodically destroyed the victim in the witness box. But Rick West didn't get his day in court because the case was dismissed when the victim died. And more than anything he wanted his innocence declared. Is this justice?

When things become personal Marianne Shearer realises the truth of what she has done and she can see only one way out.

I realised the "truth" about 2/3 of the way through the novel but that didn't limit my enjoyment.

My rating: 4.6

I've also reviewed

MiP is six years old!

I am a little surprised that today is MiPs 6th blogoversary, having been started on 2nd January 2008.

According to the stats I have established the following
  • posted reviews for 778 books
  • written 2,725 posts, and attracted 8,638 comments
  • totalled 1.1m page views
  • with the most popular post being: Crime Fiction Alphabet: the letter N in 2012 with 14,175 page views
To be honest MYSTERIES in PARADISE has achieved most of what I was aiming for: a venue for my book reviews, a niche in the crime fiction blogging community, and new friends with a similar love for the genre.

What I read in December 2013

A few less books this month, but some real quality nevertheless, including 5 Australian authors..
  1. 4.7, THE RAVEN'S EYE, Barry Maitland - Aussie author
  2. 4.5, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, Caroline Overington  - Aussie author
  3. 4.3, WICKED DESIGN, Brian Kavanagh  - Aussie author
  4. 4.7, FULL DARK HOUSE, Christopher Fowler   - audio book
  5. 4.3, AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL, Agatha Christie
  6. 4.3, SHADOW OF THE SERPENT, David Ashton  - Kindle
  7. 4.7, POLICE, Jo Nesbo  - library book, translated
  8. 4.7, THE MIDNIGHT DRESS, Karen Foxlee  - Australian author,Kindle
  9. 4.2, THE RIDERS, Tim Winton - Australian author, not crime fiction 
My pick of the month is THE RAVEN'S EYE by Barry Maitland
although you'll have noticed there are several with a rating of 4.7.

Synopsis (author site)

First published : 2013 Allen & Unwin, Australia; 2013 St Martin’s Press / Minotaur

A woman dies in her sleep in a houseboat on the Thames; the apparent cause of death, an unflued gas heater. It all seems straightforward, but DI Kathy Kolla isn't convinced.

Unfortunately both Kathy and DCI Brock are up against an aggressive new Commander who seems to have a different agenda, opposing their investigation in favour of emerging technologies over the traditional policing methods. Coppers like Brock and Kolla who have reservations are being squeezed out.

To make matters worse, there's a new Task Force moving in on their patch, and a brutal killer, Butcher Jack Bragg, to be tracked down and caught. It's one of Brock and Kolla's bloodiest investigations yet.
In this heart-thumping new novel Brock and Kolla are under pressure; it's a clash between the menacing ever-present eye of computer surveillance versus the explosive threat of a man with a meat cleaver and a grudge.

The Raven's Eye is published in Australia by Allen and Unwin, http://www.allenandunwin.com, and in the USA by St Martin's Press / Minotaur, http://us.macmillan.com/minotaur.aspx.

Best new-to-me crime fiction authors: a meme: October to December 2013

It's easy to join this meme.

Just write a post about the best new-to-you crime fiction authors (or all) you've read in the period of April to June 2013, put a link to this meme in your post, and even use the logo if you like.
The books don't necessarily need to be newly published.

After writing your post, then come back to this post and add your link to Mr Linky below. (if Mr Linky does not appear - leave your URL in a comment and I will add to Mr Linky when it comes back up, or I'll add the link to the post)
Visit the links posted by other participants in the meme to discover even more books to read.

This meme will run again at the end of  March 2014

Click here for the lists for
January to March 2013
April to June 2013
July to September 2013

Summarising 2013, looking forward to 2014

Well, as my 2013 Reading Challenges Update shows, I had a pretty good reading year in 2013, even though I didn't reach all my reading challenge targets.

The reading challenges do help to give my reading choices some structure although I don't allow them to restrict me.
I ended up reading 137 books, just a little less than in 2012 when I read 140, and certainly less than the 150 I aimed for. 

I read fewer books on my Kindle than I had thought I would, less translated books and fewer Nordic/Scandinavian books.

During the year I ran a Crime Fiction Alphabet challenge, a monthly carnival for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, another year of the Global Reading Challenge, a Pick of the Month meme, and a New-to-me authors meme.

There are a couple of things I have let slide, like collecting people's top reads for 2013, but I ahve found I've had to prioritise a bit.

My challenge results:
 Personal reading challenges
  • American authors:  15/20
  • translated,  13 - last year 27
  • New Zealand,  2/4
  • new to me: currently 59 -  48
  • not crime fiction:  9
I've decided that my challenges for 2014 will not be very different.

I am managing the following challenges:
And I'll continue to collect

1 January 2014

My Top Reads for 2013

This list comes from my Reviews for 2013 and comprises the books I awarded 5.0 to.
They are in no particular order:
  1. 5.0, BITTER WASH ROAD, Garry Disher
  2. 5.0, THE ROBBERS, Paul Anderson
  3. 5.0, DEAD WATER, Ann Cleeves  
  4. 5.0, TRUST YOUR EYES, Linwood Barclay
  5. 5.0, THE LEWIS MAN, Peter May 
  6. 5.0, THE LAST POLICEMAN, Ben H. Winters
  7. 5.0, TRACES OF RED, Paddy Richardson
  8. 5.0, DEADLY HARVEST, Michael Stanley 
  9. 5.0, CLOUDSTREET, Tim Winton  
  10. 5.0, THE GHOST RIDERS OF ORDEBEC, Fred Vargas
  11. 5.0, ALEX, Pierre Lemaitre
  12. 5.0, THE CUCKOO'S CALLING, J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith 

    Of course you could argue that there is probably actually little difference between those and the next batch that I gave 4.9 to.
  13. 4.9, BLACKWATERCREEK, Geoffrey McGeachin
  14. 4.9, SILENT VALLEY, Malla Nunn
  15. 4.9, CAPTURED, Neil Cross
  16. 4.9, BLACK SKIES, Arnaldur Indridason
  17. 4.9, THE DARK WINTER, David Mark
or even those that scored 4.8
  1. 4.8, THE TOOTH TATTOO, Peter Lovesey
  2. 4.8, THE MISTAKE, Wendy James 
  3. 4.8, ROTTEN GODS, Greg Barron
  4. 4.8, UNNATURAL HABITS, Kerry Greenwood 
  6. 4.8, SUFFICIENT GRACE, Amy Espeseth
  7. 4.8, THE MARMALADE FILES, Steve Lewis & Chris Uhlmann
  8. 4.8, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, Geraldine Brooks
  9. 4.8, A DARK ADAPTED EYE, Barbara Vine 
  10. 4.8, ICE COLD, Tess Gerritsen 
  11. 4.8, IF I TELL YOU... I'LL HAVE TO KILL YOU, Michael Robotham (edit) 
  12. 4.8, THE HIGHLAND WITCH (aka CORRAG), Susan Fletcher


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