31 July 2014

Review: THE LOST GIRLS, Wendy James

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 956 KB
  • Print Length: 268 pages
  • Publisher: e-penguin (February 26, 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00H8ARVG6
Synopsis (Amazon)

From the bestselling author of The Mistake comes a hauntingly powerful story about families and secrets and the dark shadows cast by the past.

Curl Curl, Sydney, January 1978.

Angie's a looker. Or she's going to be. She's only fourteen, but already, heads turn wherever she goes. Male heads, mainly . . .

Jane worships her older cousin Angie. She spends her summer vying for Angie's attention. Then Angie is murdered. Jane and her family are shattered. They withdraw into themselves, casting a veil of silence over Angie's death.

Thirty years later, a journalist arrives with questions about the tragic event. Jane is relieved to finally talk about her adored cousin. And so is her family. But whose version of Angie's story – whose version of Angie herself – is the real one? And can past wrongs ever be made right?

The shocking truth of Angie's last days will force Jane to question everything she once believed. Because nothing – not the past or even the present – is as she once imagined.

My Take

A cleverly written book, told mainly from the point of view of Jane, who was just twelve when Angie died. Jane's story is told partly in first person, particularly from an observer's point of view, and partly through the interviewing of Jane and other family members by Erin, a journalist wanting to make a radio documentary. Of course, at twelve, there are aspects of real life that Jane really doesn't understand, but now, thirty years on she can bring a more adult perspective to her teenage memories.

The focus of the story is who killed Angie and why, and also the impact of her death on the immediate members of Jane's family. What Jane did not understand at the time of Angie's death is that there were big secrets.

I managed to get part of the "real" story worked out easily enough but the final piece slotted in only a few pages from the end.

My rating: 4.7

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28 July 2014

Review: THE CARTOGRAPHER, Peter Twohig

  • first published in Australia by Harper Collins Publishers 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9316-1
  • source: library book
  • 386 pages
Synopsis (author site)

An eleven-year-old boy witnesses a violent crime. Just one year before, he looked on helplessly as his identical twin died  violently. His determination that he himself is the link changes his life.

The Cartographer is a captivating novel about a tragic figure in a dark place. The nameless child who tells the story handles the terrors of his life by adopting the strengths of fictional pop culture characters he admires, drawing on comics, radio and television dramas, and movies, finally recreating himself as a superhero who saves himself by mapping, and who attempts to redeem himself by giving up his persona so that another may live again.

His only mentors are a professional standover man, his shady grandfather, and an incongruous neighbourhood couple who intervene in an oddly coincidental way. 

In the dark, dangerous lanes and underground drains of grimy 1959 Melbourne, The Cartographer is a story bristling with outrageous wit and irony about an innocent who refuses to give in, a story peopled with a richness of shifty, dodgy and downright malicious bastards, mixed with a modicum of pseudo-aunts, astonishing super heroes, and a few coincidentally loving characters, some of whom are found in the most unlikely places.


My Take

This novel came highly recommended by  a friend whose judgement I trust, but perhaps it is just an indication of how widely our tastes diverge, that I can't share her enthusiasm.

I think I lost my way about halfway through the book after our narrator, 11 years old and often unreliable, survived yet another "adventure" in the name of mapping a safer world. I lost sight of what this book was about, what mystery I should be helping to solve. It was probably all there, just not plainly enough for me. There are some delightfully humorous passages, but I sometimes also doubted the authenticity of the narrator's voice. Juvenile narration is difficult to do at the best of times, but I felt our unnamed hero had too much latitude for his age.

I think there were connecting threads between various incidents in the story but the author made me work too hard to cobble them together. Perhaps at times I am a lazy reader...

My rating: 3.5

Check another review

27 July 2014

Review: THE CONFESSION. Charles Todd - audio book

Synopsis (Audible)

Declaring he needs to clear his conscience, a dying man walks into Scotland Yard and confesses that he killed his cousin five years earlier during the Great War. 

When Inspector Ian Rutledge presses for details, the man evades his questions, revealing only that he hails from a village east of London. 

With little information and no body to open an official inquiry, Rutledge begins to look into the case on his own. Less than two weeks later, the alleged killer’s body is found floating in the Thames, a bullet in the back of his head. 

The inspector’s only clue is a gold locket, found around the dead man’s neck, that leads back to Essex and an insular village whose occupants will do anything to protect themselves from notoriety. For notoriety brings the curious, and with the curious come change and an unwelcome spotlight on a centuries-old act of evil that even now can damn them all.  

My Take:

Another really good read from Charles Todd. Simon Prebble does an excellent job of the audio presentation. Although this is #14 in the series, it is only 1920 so we haven't progressed very far from the demons and ghosts of World War One. Ian Rutledge seems in better control of his own personal ghost Hamish, but even so wonders whether sometimes people hear him in conversation with Hamish.

Things are changing at the Yard. The Chief Inspector has had a heart attack and been hospitalised and so underlings like Rutledge are able to take advantage of the laxer supervision to operate this case on his own initiative. Of course that also means that the Yard doesn't actually know where he is and should anything happen to him, it will be some time before help arrives, if ever.

The audio versions of these books are produced to a very high standard, assisted by the fact that each story is carefully plotted and sufficiently tangled to be intriguing. World War One lurks there as a background without being intrusive.

my rating: 4.6

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23 July 2014

Review: HOLY ORDERS, Benjamin Black

  • published by Henry Holt and Company 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-8050-9440-4
  • 286 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #6 in the Quirke series- Benjamin Black is a penname for John Banville
Synopsis (author website)

When the body of his daughter’s friend is brought to his autopsy table, Quirke is plunged into a world of corruption that takes him to the darkest corners of the Irish Church and State.

“At first they thought it was the body of a child. Later, when they got it out of the water and saw the pubic hair and the nicotine stains on the fingers, they realized their mistake.”

So begins the latest Quirke case, a story set in Dublin at a moment when newspapers are censored, social conventions are strictly defined, and appalling crimes are hushed up. Why? Because in 1950s Ireland the Catholic Church controls the lives of nearly everyone. But when Quirke’s daughter Phoebe loses her close friend Jimmy Minor to murder, Quirke can no longer play by the Church’s rules. Along with Inspector Hackett, his sometime partner, Quirke investigates Jimmy’s death and learns just how far the Church and its supporters will go to protect their own interests.

Haunting, fierce, and brilliantly plotted, this is Benjamin Black writing at the top of his form. His inimitable creation, the endlessly curious Quirke, brings a pathologist’s unique understanding of death to unlock the most dangerous of secrets.

My Take

I can't believe that this is the first Benjamin Black title that I have read. I do remember the debut novel CHRISTINE FALLS being published and the speculation that Benjamin Black was somebody who had already made his name in another genre. (Among others things the Man Booker Prize for 2005).

HOLY ORDERS taps into what has become an international theme of the Catholic Church abusing the children supposedly under its care. It is something Quirke is familiar with having had an institutional upbringing himself. Mixed in with this theme is Quirke's own failure with regard to his relationship with his daughter.

It makes good reading.

My rating: 4.8

21 July 2014

Review: MURDER IN THE MONASTERY, Lesley Cookman

  • published in 2013 by Accent Press
  • ISBN 9-781908-917751
  • 309 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #11 in Libby Sarjeant Mysteries series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The eleventh book in the Libby Sarjeant series of British murder mysteries which features a retired actress as the female sleuth and are based in the picturesque village of Steeple Martin.

Libby Sarjeant is invited to look into the provenance of a jewelled Anglo-Saxon reliquary which has appeared on a website.

The nuns at St Eldreda's Abbey are curious, as it apparently contains a relic of St Eldreda herself. Libby's friend Peter obtains permission to mount a play based on St Eldreda's story in the ruins of the original monastery called, naturally, Murder In The Monastery.

 And then, inevitably, a real body is discovered, and Libby and her friend Fran find out that this is not the first.

My Take

Helpfully at the beginning of this novel there is a Who's Who in the Libby Sarjeant series. I did end up using it a few times to get relationships between people sorted out. There are a number of occasional references to events that Libby and her friends have been involved in in previous titles.

I think I may need to add the village of Steeple Martin to my list of places not to visit, although the village itself sounds pretty interesting. (If you remember others include St. Mary Mead, and anything including the word Midsommer.)

The action of the novel centres around a quickly written play about the life of St. Eldreda to be accompanied by the display of a reliquary which contains her finger bone. Of course we are expecting a murder because of the title of the novel, but the identity of the victim comes as a surprise to all. Libby engages a researcher to trace the descendants of the family whom the reliquary has belonged to over the centuries. The results of this research provides a lot of surprises.

This is a real cozy, lots of characters to sort out, and red herrings do abound. Libby has a good working relationship with a local police DCI because she has been involved in a number of earlier cases. There is probably a good argument for getting into this series at the very beginning, so you have the build up of character information that will result from that.

My rating: 4.2

19 July 2014


  • published 2014 by Viking, Penguin Books
  • ISBN 978-0-241-00351-0
  • 275 pages
Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

What if you could remember just one thing?

Maud is forgetful.  She makes a cup of tea and doesn't remember to drink it.  She goes to the shops and forgets why she went.  Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable - just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there's one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing.  The note in her pocket tells her so.  And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud's damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery.  One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

My Take

Maud organises her life with little bits of paper. She writes notes but doesn't always discard the paper when she should. She know Elizabeth is missing because the note says so, and because Elizabeth's house is empty. But she can't understand why no-one will do anything about Elizabeth's disappearance - not the police whom she visits several times, not her daughter, not her doctor.

Events in the present trigger vivid memories from the past, when she was a teenager and someone else close to her also disappeared.The war was recently over, they had a lodger, and a mad woman was killed by a car right outside their house.

Emma Healey does a wonderful job of of presenting Maud's fractured memories.
An excellent read.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Emma Healey is 28 years old and grew up in London. She has spent most of her working life in libraries, bookshops and galleries. She completed the MA in Creative Writing: Prose at UEA in 2011. Elizabeth is Missing is her first novel.

Check her website.

18 July 2014

Review: STRANGE SHORES, Arnaldur Indridason

  • first published in Icelandic in 2010
  • translated in English by Victoria Cribb 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-846-55711-8
  • 296 pages
  • #9 in the Erlendur series
Synopsis (Random House)

A young woman walks into the frozen fjords of Iceland, never to be seen again. But Matthildur leaves in her wake rumours of lies, betrayal and revenge.

Decades later, somewhere in the same wilderness, Detective Erlendur is on the hunt. He is looking for Matthildur but also for a long-lost brother, whose disappearance in a snow-storm when they were children has coloured his entire life. He is looking for answers.

Slowly, the past begins to surrender its secrets. But as Erlendur uncovers a story about the limits of human endurance, he realises that many people would prefer their crimes to stay buried.

My Take

I remember well reading the first novel by this author, JAR CITY (aka TAINTED BLOOD), first published in English in 2004, and I've been a follower ever since.

Some reviewers are saying this is his best ever. I'm not sure I would go that far, but it is certainly memorable. Detective Elendur has been haunted all of his life by the loss of his 8 year old brother in a snow storm, when he himself was only twelve, and by the impression that he was somehow at fault. Beggi's body was never found despite an extensive search. At times Erlendur relives that time when he was waiting in the cold snow for someone to find him, and he realised that he was no longer holding Beggi's hand.

The story of the disappearance of Matthildur during a similar snow storm is one that Erlendur seems to have known all of his life. He is on holidays in the area that he grew up in, and takes the opportunity to try to find out what people remember about Matthildur's disappearance. At the time some people didn't voice their suspicions and there were some who knew the truth.

Although this is not an official police investigation Erlendur puts a lot of energy into it and eventually solves the puzzle. But can justice be done?

This is an excellent read. Indridason leads the reader through layers of investigation, so that eventually we understand for ourselves what happened to Matthildur, and Elendur is able to come to terms with his role in Beggi's disappearance.

My rating: 4.6

Elendur has actually been missing from the most recent novels in the series: BLACK SKIES and  OUTRAGE, and it seems that STRANGE SHORES will actually be his final appearance - apart from the fact that REYKJAVIK NIGHTS published in 2014 is actually a prequel to the series. The first two novels in the series published in 1997 and 1998 have never been translated into English. There also appears to another novel in the Erlendur series, published in Icelandic in 2011, Einvígið, that has never made it into English.

I've also reviewed

17 July 2014

In which I claim Bingo in the Golden Vintage Mystery Challenge 2014

I'm pleased to have completed my first bingo line on the 2014 Mystery Bingo Score Card hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.
I am keeping my full records here.

I have no doubt I will be able to add a few more spots to the bingo card by the end of 2014.

My observations so far:
  • I have read a number of authors for the first time
  • I don't feel that I have enjoyed these books as much as I do modern crime fiction. I certainly haven't given them as high a rating.
  • While they are generally  not as long as a recently published novel, many of the plots have been quite complex and make liberal uses of devices like red herrings.
Golden Vintage - books written before 1960

6 books to be read - but need to be lined up for Bingo
  1. THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET, Georges Simenon, published 1931 - one translated work
  2. THE NURSING HOME MURDER, Ngaio Marsh, published 1937 - One Medical Mystery
  3. MURDER IN THE MEWS, Agatha Christie, published 1937 - a short story collection
  4. DEATH OF A SWAGMAN, Arthur Upfield, published 1945 -  a man in the title
  5. THE INSPECTOR BARLACH MYSTERIES, Friedrich Durrenmatt, published 1950/1 - with a professional detective
  6. 4.5, GIDEON'S MONTH, J.J. Marric published 1958 - with a Time, Day, Month etc in the title
  7. 4.1, GREY MASK, Patricia Wentworth - published 1928 - with a Color in the title
  8. 4.0, DEATH-WATCH, John Dickson-Carr - published 1935 - by an Author You've never read before
  9. 3.9, THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE, Mary Roberts Rinehart - published 1907 - a book set in the U.S.
  10. 3.7, THE FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING, Clayton Rawson - published 1939 - a locked room mystery

16 July 2014


  • first published 1939
  • locked room mystery
  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 542 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (May 22, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007ZI09CO
Synopsis (Amazon)

Wanted To Rent: Haunted House, preferably in rundown condition. Must be adequately supplied with interesting ghost.”

Ross Harte knows that only the Great Merlini could be behind such a strange classified ad. A magician, salesman, and occasional sleuth, Merlini is producing radio investigations of paranormal activity, and he needs ghosts to put on-air. His first target is Skelton Island, an eerie speck of land just a few hundred feet off the coast of Manhattan, but seemingly out of another time.

On a late-night trip to the island, Merlini and Harte find the house perfectly rundown and well-stocked with ghosts, including one fresh one. Linda Skelton, granddaughter of the famous Scourge of Wall Street, has been poisoned with cyanide. Unless Merlini works quickly, he and Ross will join her among the ranks of Skelton Island’s famous spirits.
My Take
This novel has a huge cast of characters and a hideously complex and very tangled plot. I chose it because the review I read said it was a locked room mystery and I needed one to complete a "bingo" line in the 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge.

The story is mainly told through the eyes of Ross Harte, the Great Merlini's friend, and mostly the author plays "fair" with the reader. There are times though when the police detective, Gavigan, or even Merlini himself, or another character playing sleuth goes off on a tangent which Harte is excluded from. At times the solution to a knotty problem is something the reader could not be expected to know: such as how to produce footprints on a ceiling, the characteristics of death by "the bends", or the nature of a disease that produces blue pigmentation in the skin. These are pieces of antiquarianism provided to tickle the reader's fancy.

As I've come to expect from crime novels of The Golden Age, red herrings, which Merlini calls "misdirections", abound. Just when you think you've got it all worked out Merlini puts another spanner in the works and you see that your solution has many holes in it. People are not who they appear to be either - almost as if the author is looking for another way to confound his own logic and to prolong the pages a bit more. By the end though I was getting a bit tired of these extensions and just wanted to know the "proper" solution.

This is my third "vintage" crime novel in a row and I think I'll be glad to get back to a more modern author.

My rating: 3.7

About the author (Wikipedia)

Born in Ohio, 1906-1971, an American mystery writer, editor, and amateur magician. His four novels frequently invoke his great knowledge of stage magic and feature as their fictional detective The Great Merlini, a professional magician who runs a shop selling magic supplies. He also wrote four short stories in 1940 about a stage magician named Don Diavolo, who appears as a principal character in one of the novels featuring The Great Merlini. "Don Diavolo is a magician who perfects his tricks in a Greenwich Village basement where he is frequently visited by the harried Inspector Church of Homicide, either to arrest the Don for an impossible crime or to ask him to solve it."

11 July 2014

Review: THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE, Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 627 KB
  • Print Length: 226 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1489526706
  • Publisher: first published 1907, this edition Start Classics (April 25, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00K0UAR3U
  • source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

The following are the opening paragraphs of the novel.

This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.

 For twenty years I had been perfectly comfortable; for twenty years I had had the window-boxes filled in the spring, the carpets lifted, the awnings put up and the furniture covered with brown linen; for as many summers I had said good-bye to my friends, and, after watching their perspiring hegira, had settled down to a delicious quiet in town, where the mail comes three times a day, and the water supply does not depend on a tank on the roof.

And then -- the madness seized me. When I look back over the months I spent at Sunnyside, I wonder that I survived at all. As it is, I show the wear and tear of my harrowing experiences. I have turned very gray -- Liddy reminded me of it, only yesterday, by saying that a little bluing in the rinse-water would make my hair silvery, instead of a yellowish white. I hate to be reminded of unpleasant things and I snapped her off. "No," I said sharply, "I'm not going to use bluing at my time of life, or starch, either."

My Take

I think I may have bought this quite cheaply, seeing an opportunity to do a bit of "vintage" reading. It has been on my kindle for a few months only.

At the beginning of this e-book version of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE there is a biographical introduction to the life and works of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Here is an extract:
    This book is credited with having been the first mystery to use the "Had I But Known" formula. This style of mystery centers around the protagonist withholding important details until it is too late. Often this variety of tale is narrated as a flashback from the protagonist's point of view. They will withhold the special damning piece of information from the reader as well, only revealing it after the climactic moment involving the secret clue. When done well, the technique can create real suspense for the reader.
I found myself remembering the phrase "Had I But Known " because once you know this was a feature of Rinehart's style, then it is certainly there.

There is an almost Gothic quality to the plot lines and setting of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. The story is narrated by Rachel Innes, who doesn't always understand the implications of what she has observed. There are two deaths, ghostly rappings emanating from the walls and ceilings, and as the novel progresses the plot strands get increasingly complex, as if the characters have got away from the author. In fact one part of the plot resolution gives the impression of having been plucked from the air. The central plot appears to relate to the stock market crash of 1903.

My rating: 3.9

About the author

Mary Roberts Rinehart 1876-1958 was a writer of detective stories and mysteries who was billed as the American Agatha Christie. She wrote over sixty popular mysteries and is credited with the creation of the "Had I But Known" school of mystery writing. She is also credited as the source of the phrase "The butler did it," though she never actually used it in her writing.

Her first novel, The Man in the Lower Ten (1906) and then in 1907, The Circular Staircase, are the earliest American novels that are still in print today as forms of entertainment rather than as "classic" works of literature. The Circular Staircase brought Rinehart national fame and prosperity. The book sold over a million copies and allowed the Rineharts more financial breathing room.

More details on Wikipedia

9 July 2014

Review: DEATH-WATCH, John Dickson-Carr

  • format e-book (Kindle) supplied by NetGalley by the Hatchette Group.
  •  ISBN 9781480472372
  • originally published 1935.  This e-book version published 2014 by Open Road Integrated Media
  • available from Amazon - read a few pages through this link
  • #5 in the Gideon Fell series
  • author aka John Dickson
Synopsis (NetGalley)

John Dickson Carr, a master of the Golden Age British-style mystery novel, presents Dr. Gideon Fell’s most chilling case, in which a clock-obsessed killer terrorizes London

A clockmaker is puzzled by the theft of the hands of a monumental new timepiece he is preparing for a member of the nobility. That night, one of the stolen hands is found buried between a policeman’s shoulder blades, stopping his clock for all time.

The crime is just peculiar enough to catch the attention of Dr. Gideon Fell, the portly detective whose formidable intellect is the terror of every criminal in London. Working closely with Scotland Yard, he finds that the case turns on the question of why the clock hands were stolen. And learning the answer will put Dr. Fell squarely in the path of a madman with nothing but time on his hands.

from Amazon
For Dr Gideon Fell this is the only case that has ever really frightened him, and before he can solve it he must find answers to some seemingly impossible questions: why was Calvin Boscombe standing near the corpse with a silencer on his gun? Who locked the attic door? And what has become of the sixteenth-century death-watch?

My Take

A number of the Gideon Fell titles have been released recently as e-books with a collective title THE MURDER ROOM.

DEATH-WATCH has the reputation of a classic of Golden Age crime fiction. In some ways it's main protagonist Dr Gideon Fell reminded me of detectives who went before and those who came after. He has a reputation for his great powers of deduction as did Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. And the similarities don't end there - there is the companion/observer Melson who compares favourably with Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings, and the policeman/foil Hadley who serves to demonstrate the superiority of Fell's deductive powers.

The plot is very complex and convoluted with a number of red herrings. At one stage Hadley is ready to make an arrest for the two murders that have taken place, but Fell manages to prove to him that he has been cunningly led to his conclusions by the real murderer. I think the complicatedness of the plot gives the reader a greater appreciation of the pared down simplicity of Agatha Christie's novels.Add to this some of the absurdity of detail: why use the gilt covered big hand of a clock as your weapon?; the meaning of why there is a sliver rather than a patch of light; a multiplicity of skylights, staircases, and sliding panels - just to identify a few.

To be honest, this title is not going to send me rushing to find another, but students of Golden Age crime fiction will appreciate that these out-of-print titles are being made available for modern readers.
I was interested in reading this for my participation in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2014

My Rating: 4.0

Biographical Notes  (Hatchette UK)

John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked-room mystery, was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of a US Congressman. He studied law in Paris before settling in England where he married an Englishwoman, and he spent most of his writing career living in Great Britain. 

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Golden Age mystery writers, his work featured apparently impossible crimes often with seemingly supernatural elements. He modelled his affable and eccentric series detective Gideon Fell on G. K. Chesterton, and wrote a number of novels and short stories, including his series featuring Henry Merrivale, under the pseudonym Carter Dickson. 

He was one of only two Americans admitted to the British Detection club, and was highly praised by other mystery writers. Dorothy L. Sayers said of him that 'he can create atmosphere with an adjective, alarm with allusion, or delight with a rollicking absurdity'. 

In 1950 he was awarded the first of two prestigious Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America, and was presented with their Grand Master Award in 1963. He died in Greenville, South Carolina in 1977.

5 July 2014

Review: LIFE OR DEATH, Michael Robotham

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Why would a man escape from prison the day before he's due to be released?

Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is.

For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he's due to be released.

Everybody wants to find Audie, but he's not running. Instead he's trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

My Take

Australian author Michael Robotham, already acclaimed both in Australia and internationally, takes a different direction in this novel: not the next in his Ruiz and O'Loughlin series set in Britain, but a stand-alone set in Texas. For me it shows another step, a necessary one, for Robotham in his development as a novelist. And one that I think will be popular with American readers.

Audie Palmer is a survivor - first of all from a gunshot that shattered his cranium, and then a decade where every other inmate in the prison seemed to want to be the one who killed Audie Palmer. As the day for his release looms Audie knows he is not going to make it to freedom alive.

The story is told from Audie's point of view, but in the third person, and we gradually piece together Audie's life before the armed robbery, and then his part in the robbery. We understand what has kept him going for a decade and why he escapes the day before his release date. But will he survive on the run as he tries to put the record straight?

There is a cinematographic quality to this story and I would not be surprised to find it optioned for a film.

LIFE OR DEATH puts Robotham right up there with modern crime fiction writers. It is a tightly plotted thriller with a roller coaster of suspense. It has made it  into my top 5 reads for this year.

My rating: 5.0

I've also reviewed
SHATTER (audio)
4.8, IF I TELL YOU... I'LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)  

Summary: Agatha Christie Blog Carnival for June 2014

The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge continues this year and the July carnival is now open.

We welcome all contributions providing they relate in some way to Agatha Christie.

I'd like to also point out to you an Agatha Christie Blog Tour happening September 1-14 over at Cozy Mystery Blog Tours. Participants can now sign up for a spot.

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Participants June 2014
1. Agatha Christie and the Two Wars @ Christie in a Year
2. THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah
3. My Love of Agatha Christie @ Briony's Blog
4. It's a Summer of Christie - 4 title Readalong, beginning June 30
5. In the Spotlight: THREE LITTLE PIGS @ Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
6. Wordsmithsonia: THE REGATTA MYSTERY
7. This month the Agatha Christie Book Club is reading 'Death Comes as the End',
8. Boltholes for the writing greats
9. TV series comment: Makeover for Agatha’s crusty old detective
10. The Essence of Agatha Christie - Matthew Christie
11. Musings on THE CLOCKS @ Reactions to Reading
12. THE CLOCKS @ Past Offences
13. POSTERN OF FATE audio~Sharon
14. Miss Marple Investigates- Sharon

4 July 2014

Mid Year Stocktake: Reading Challenge Progress

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.

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

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.

My summary page listing titles etc is here.
The reading challenges I've joined

  • Outdo yourself reading challenge 2014: aiming for 145, currently: 74 (137 in 2013) - I'm doing well here, despite feeling I'm not reading all that fast. I'll need to read about 12 a month for each of the next 6 months to get there.
  • Canadian Reading Challenge 2013/14  currently 2/13- this one has now finished and as you can see I didn't do well at all. I've got some Canadian authors lined up to read, just didn't get around to them. Not sure I will put my hand up for 2014/2015. Come to think of it I didn't complete it in 2012/2013 either.
  • Agatha Christie Reading Challenge  currently 7/12. I'm coming to the end of my journey (Have read 76 out of an estimated 87 titles) and this one seems to lack the urgency it once had, but I will get there and aim to complete some time next year. ***
  • 2014 Global Reading Challenge currently 18/21- just South America to complete. I've got the books, just need to read them. ***
  • USA Fiction Challenge So far 15/51 - this one is going to take me a few years. ***
  • 2014 Aussie Author reading challenge aiming for 12. Currently 17- I've got a couple of categories to go here.
  • 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge aiming for 20. Currently 11/20
  • British Books Challenge 2014 hosted by Feeling Fictional currently 33 - actually Completed but still reading this category.
  • Vintage Mystery BINGO 2014: Silver & Gold Edition currently 18/12- this one is proving a challenge. I've read plenty, just can't claim a bingo yet. I have got plenty lined up.
  • 2014 Ebook Reading Challenge  currently 37- Last year I read 29 so I'm actually doing well. I use my Kindle a lot when I am travelling. I'm also doing NetGalley reviews and all my advance copies come as e-books.
  • New to me authors - a personal challenge currently 15 - lagging a bit behind last year's total of 59. I host a quarterly meme related to this one.
  • Not crime fiction - a personal challenge currently 2
  • Nordic reading challenge - a personal challenge unless I find an "official" one, currently 5 - I've got plenty lined up.
  • New Zealand reading challenge - again a personal challenge unless I can find someone hosting an "official" one. currently 1 - I need to focus a bit on this one.
  • Translated crime fiction - a personal challenge that will overlap with many of the other reading challenges that I have undertaken. currently 9
  • 2014 Mystery Author Challenge A-Z  currently 21/26 - I'm down to the "difficult" letters here, and it could take me some time.
Looking for some reading challenge ideas yourself? Check A Novel Challenge.

2 July 2014

What I read in June 2014

I seem to have been reading a little more slowly this month. Nevertheless I have found a new translated author, caught up with some Vintage reads (V), and a couple of new-to-me authors (N).
  1. 4.3, GIDEON'S RIDE, J.J. Marric writing as John Creasey - Vintage crime fiction
  2. 4.7, I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE, Maurizio de Giovanni - translated(N)
  3. 4.8, CINDERELLA GIRL, Carin Gerhardsen   - translated (N)
  4. 4.1, GREY MASK, Patricia Wentworth - Vintage crime fiction
  5. 4.7, THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE, Carin Gerhardsen - translated
  6. 4.5, EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE, Peter May - kindle, Net Galley
  7. 4.5, APPLE TREE YARD, Louise Doughty - kindle
  8. 4.6, FALLING GLASS, Adrian McKinty  - Australian author, audio book
  9. 4.6, ELEMENTAL, Amanda Curtin - Australian author, not crime fiction
My Pick of the Month is CINDERELLA GIRL by Carin Gerhardsen  but I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE by Maurizio de Giovanni came a close second.

Synopsis (Publisher)

Three-year-old Hanna wakes up to find she has been abandoned.  Her family is gone.  The house is locked.  She is trapped.

Meanwhile, a teenage girl has been found murdered aboard the Cinderella, a cruise ship that sails between Sweden and Finland.

Detective Chief Inspector Conny Sjöberg visits the girl's home to deliver the tragic news.  But as he investigates it becomes chillingly clear that the girl's younger sister will meet a similar fate - unless the police can crack the case and trap this elusive and vicious killer.

And all this time, somewhere in Stockholm, a little girl waits to be found and rescued. . .

Read my review

See what others have nominated for their Pick of the Month


Meme: New-to-me Authors April to June 2014

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 2014, 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 September 2014

1 July 2014

Review: FINAL CURTAIN, Ed Ifkovic

  • Format: e-book (Kindle)
  • review copy from publisher via NetGalley
  • File Size: 1288 KB
  • Print Length: 268 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (June 5, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • #5 in the Edna Ferber series 
Synopsis (Publisher)

Who murdered the handsome young actor? And why?

In 1940, against the chilling backdrop of Hitler’s rise and the specter of another war, Edna Ferber decides to follow an old dream: to act on the stage. Selecting The Royal Family, the comedy she wrote with George S. Kaufman, for her starring role, she travels to Maplewood, New Jersey. But her escape from the troubling daily headlines is short lived. Before opening night, a mysterious understudy is shot to death, opening up a world of lies, greed, and hypocrisy.

Ferber, along with Kaufman, who is directing the production, begin a different kind of collaboration: the discovery of the murderer. As rehearsals evolve, they deal with a cast of characters who are all hiding something from their days spent in Hollywood: a stage manager, a young ingénue, an American Nazi and his boisterous girlfriend, a stagehand named Dakota who is the son of a famous evangelist, his charismatic preacher-mother, her money-bags husband, and a driven acolyte of the church. Each character, Edna discovers, has some connection with the dead man. Why have they all converged on quiet Maplewood? As Edna investigates, she realizes that the answer to the murder lies back in Hollywood.

As Kaufman wisecracks his way through the story, Edna methodically examines the facts, determined to find the answer. Opening night looms and so does World War II. Edna, resolute, believes that justice needs to prevail in a world that is falling apart.

Background material (Wikipedia)

Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968) was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels were especially popular and included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926; made into the celebrated 1927 musical), Cimarron (1929; made into the 1931 film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Giant (1952; made into the 1956 Hollywood movie).

She also wrote
  • Minick: A Play (1924) (play, with G. S. Kaufman)
  • Stage Door (1926) (play, with G.S. Kaufman)
  • The Royal Family (1927) (play, with G. S. Kaufman)
FINAL CURTAIN is #5 in the author's Edna Furber series. - check Publisher Poisoned Press.
The others are
#1. LONE STAR: Writer Edna Ferber arrives on the set of Giant to find her self in the middle of a murder investigation. Set in 1952.
#2. ESCAPE ARTIST: 19 year old reporter Edna Ferber interviews Harry Houdini.Set in 1904.
#3. MAKE BELIEVE: in June 1951 Edna Ferber heads to Hollywood to support an old friend who has found himself blacklisted as a result of the McCarthy hearings.
#4. DOWNTOWN STRUT; Manhattan 1927: Edna Ferber prepares for "the Ferber season on Broadway." On December 27, the musical adaptation of Show Boat by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern opens. On December 28, The Royal Family, her comedy of manners written with George Kaufman, hits the stage despite Ethel Barrymore’s disapproval of the play’s depiction of “theatrical royalty.” But despite the excitement, Edna misses both opening nights. She has something else on her mind—murder.

My Take

I've included the background material above in my review because it indicates the search I did to understand the background to this novel. My curiosity was pricked by the foreword to the review copy provided by Barbara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, Poisoned Pen Press.

Initially the name Edna Ferber meant nothing to me, but then discovered that I knew at least about ShowBoat. However I don't think I have ever read any of her novels or short stories. That may be because I am not an American resident, and so her work has never been part of any course reading I have done either at school or university.

I really am of two minds when a contemporary writer hitches his star to that of a "great". However I have tried to be as objective as I can be about FINAL CURTAIN, even though it attempts to bring both Edna Furber and G.S. Kaufman to life. I have no means of deciding how accurate these depictions are.

On its own, FINAL CURTAIN, is quite an intriguing plot. Edna Furber is delighted with the opportunity to go on stage, but from the very beginning there is a murder and intrigue. There is a focus on the Nazi element in the USA in 1940 which adds period authenticity. Furber and Kaufman are Jews. There is a second murder and Furber's investigation intensifies.

I think the author has taken great care with the style of these novels, to try to capture the style of how Edna Furber wrote - did I mention that the novel is presented in the first person?
My rating: 4.3

If you want to understand why I've used the graphic to the right, you might want to check this post.

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month June 2014

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2014

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 June 2014, 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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