31 December 2014

Out with 2014, In with 2015

How quickly a year passes. Some of last year's resolutions will have been forgotten, others renewed.

Best wishes to everyone.

Reading British crime fiction

With nearly half of the titles I have read or listened to in 2014 coming from British authors, there can be no doubt that British crime fiction is one of my preferred genres.

I joined the British Books Challenge 2014 hosted by Feeling Fictional. The aim was to read at least 12 books by British authors. This was really not much of a challenge for me as I read so much British crime fiction, so the challenge became really just a way of keeping my records.

Here is my list, more or less in the order that I read them. You'll see that there weren't really too many disappointments.
  1. 4.6, BLOOD FROM STONE, Frances Fyfield
  2. 4.4, THIRD GIRL, Agatha Christie
  3. 4.6, THE FUNERAL OWL, Jim Kelly 
  4. 4.8, LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Atkinson
  5. 4.6, BLOODLAND, Alan Glynn 
  6. 4.1, THE DIVIDED CHILD, Ekaterine Nikas
  7. 4.5, DEATH SURGE, Pauline Rowson
  8. 4.4, NOWHERE TO GO, Iain Rowan
  9. 4.8, BITTER WATER, Gordon Ferris
  10. 4.5, BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, Agatha Christie
  11. 4.4, ENDLESS NIGHT, Agatha Christie
  12. 4.4, MURDER IN THE MEWS, Agatha Christie
  13. 4.8, DYING FALL, Elly Griffiths - audio book
  14. 4.6, THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON, Alexander McCall Smith
  15. 4.7, SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE, Ian Rankin 
  16. 4.4, THE GHOST RUNNER, Parker Bilal 
  17. 4.4, THE LABYRINTH MAKERS, Anthony Price 
  18. 4.9, A WHISPERED NAME, William Brodrick 
  19. 4.7, THE DISCOURTESY OF DEATH, William Brodrick
  20. 4.5, HALLOWE'EN PARTY, Agatha Christie
  21. 4.8, THE WHITE CORRIDOR, Christopher Fowler
  22. 4.3, THE STRANGLING ON THE STAGE, Simon Brett 
  23. 4.4, THE SILVERSMITH'S WIFE, Sophia Tobin 
  24. 4.5, THE DOCTOR OF THESSALY, Anne Zouroudi 
  25. 3.6, THE ALAMUT AMBUSH, Anthony Price 
  26. 4.5, GIDEON'S MONTH, J.J. Marric
  27. 4.5, THE AMBER FURY, Natalie Haynes
  28. 2.0, PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT, Agatha Christie 
  29. 4.5, BURIAL OF GHOSTS, Ann Cleeves
  30. 4.5, APPLE TREE YARD, Louise Doughty
  31. 4.5, EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE, Peter May 
  32. 4.1, GREY MASK, Patricia Wentworth 
  33. 4.3, GIDEON'S RIDE, J.J. Marric
  34. 4.7, ELIZABETH IS MISSING, Emma Healey 
  35. 4.2, MURDER IN THE MONASTERY, Lesley Cookman 
  36. 4.8, HOLY ORDERS, Benjamin Black 
  37. 4.6, THE CONFESSION, Charles Todd
  38. 4.2, THE CINDERELLA KILLER, Simon Brett 
  39. 4.5, CHRISTINE FALLS, Benjamin Black 
  40. 4.9, HARBOUR STREET, Ann Cleeves
  41. 4.4, NEMESIS, Agatha Christie
  42. 3.8, A BLUNT INSTRUMENT, Georgette Heyer 
  43. 3.9, THE WALLS OF JERICHO, Jack Bunyan
  44. 4.6, THE MURDER BAG, Tony Parsons
  45. 4.5, THE SILKWORM, Robert Galbraith
  46. 4.3, ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, Agatha Christie
  47. 3.8, POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie
  48. 4.5, THE CRITIC, Peter May
  49. 4.6, CURTAIN: POIROT'S LAST CASE, Agatha Christie
  51. 4.6, CURTAIN CALL, Anthony Quinn 
  52. 3.6, MURDER ON THE SECOND TEE, Ian Simpson
  53. 4.6, SHROUD OF EVIL, Pauline Rowson
  54. 4.4, AFTER THE SILENCE, Jake Woodhouse
  55. 4.5, THE TOMB IN TURKEY, Simon Brett
  56. 2.5, MOSCOW BOUND, Adrian Churchward
  57. 4.4, STAR FALL, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 
  58. 4.6, THE SOUL OF DISCRETION, Susan Hill 
  60. 4.8, A FEARSOME DOUBT, Charles Todd  
  61. 4.0, MURDER UNDERGROUND, Mavis Doriel Hay
  62. 4.4, THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON, Daphne du Maurier  
I have joined British Books Challenge 2015 hosted by Fluttering Butterflies

30 December 2014

USA Fiction Challenge - progress so far

State by State - ongoing challenge
The USA fiction challenge is going to take me years, and I even cheated just a little by including books I had read in 2013. Even so I've only covered 19 states so far.
Here is a repeat of the record I keep.

All my books are crime fiction and connected to the state either by setting or by author.
The home for the challenge is at USA Fiction Challenge: state by state in 2014. 
However the challenge is ongoing (until you complete it actually).

I've also set up a personalised map at World66

create your own personalized map of the USA

Here is my easy reference list
Current total of states covered: 19/51 
As you can see I have also decided to list multiple books for each state if needed.
The books are related to the state either by setting or author birth place.
    A COLD DAY FOR MURDER, Dana Stabenow
    (setting, author's birthplace)
    TURN OF MIND, Alice LaPlante
    (author's residence)
    BAMBOO AND BLOOD, James Church
    (author's birthplace)
    PRIMAL, D.A. Serra
    (author residence)
    THE BIG SLEEP, Raymond Chandler
    - setting
    4.4, THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon (setting)
    4.7, HUNTING SHADOWS, Charles Todd (author residence)
    EVERY BITTER THING, Leighton Gage
    (author residence)
    BUNDORI, Laura Joh Rowland
    - author residence
  6. KANSAS:
    4.4, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase
    NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT, Derek B. Miller
    (author birthplace)
    4.5, CHRISTINE FALLS, Benjamin Black
    4.4, A TIME TO KILL, John Grisham
    GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn
    THE LAST POLICEMAN, Ben H. Winters
    DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY, Donna Leon (author birthplace)
    4.3, FINAL CURTAIN, Ed Ifkovic
  12. NEW YORK:
    PAGO PAGO TANGO, John Enright
    (author birthplace)
    (author residence)
    4.6, VISITATION STREET, Ivy Pochoda
    3.7, THE FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING, Clayton Rawson
    3.8, LIQUID FEAR, Scott Nicholson
    (author residence)
    4.7, HUNTING SHADOWS, Charles Todd
    (author residence)
  14. OHIO:
    MURDER IN A BASKET, Amanda Flower
    (author works in a college near Cleveland)
    (author birthplace)
    4.5, IRREPARABLE HARM, Melissa F. Miller (setting)
    4.0, DEATH-WATCH, John Dickson-Carr
    (author birth-place)
    3.9, THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE, Mary Roberts Rinehart
    (author birth-place)
  17. TEXAS:
    THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS, Deborah Crombie
    (author birthplace)
    5.0, LIFE OR DEATH, Michael Robotham
    (author birthplace
  19. WYOMING:
    ICE COLD, Tess Gerritsen
Thanks to Ms Wordopolis for the inspiration for this post.

29 December 2014

Global Reading Challenge 2015 launched

Today I have launched the 2015 Global Reading Challenge on its own website.

GRC2015 has three levels of challenge, so you can choose to read 7, 14, or 21  fiction titles.

It asks readers to diversify their choices by reading books from Africa, Asia, Australasia & Oceania, Europe, North America, South America, and then a "wild card" Seventh Continent of their own choice.

Review: A TIME TO KILL, John Grisham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon) - I bought it
  • File Size: 754 KB
  • Print Length: 530 pages
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital (April 21, 2010), first published 1989
  • #1 in the Jake Brigance series
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099134012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099134015
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Carl Lee Hailey guns down the hoodlums who have raped his ten-year-old daughter, the people of Clanton see it as a crime of blood and call for his acquittal.

But when extremists outside Clanton hear that a black man has killed two white men, they invade the town, determined to destroy anything and anyone that opposes their sense of justice.

Jake Brigance has been hired to defend Hailey. It's the kind of case that can make or break a young lawyer. But in the maelstrom of Clanton, it is also the kind of case that could get a young lawyer killed.

My Take

Despite the popularity of John Grisham, particularly among those who frequent airports (it seems from the book stands there), I have not read one in recent years. I chose this title to read because I was looking for a "Silver" Vintage Mystery read - written 1960-1989 - and featuring a courtroom or a lawyer.  It is the last title for my Vintage Mystery Bingo for 2014.

The novel has an interesting foreword by the author, in which he says it took him three years to write and is largely autobiographical. It is an exploration of a scenario that he came across in the press, and then personalised: how would he himself react if someone raped/killed his daughter?In the long run that is the question that Jack Brigance poses for the jury in Carl Lee Hailey's trial.

The story is set among the black/white tensions of the rural town of Clanton, Mississippi. Suspense builds as white and black residents take opposing views about whether Carl Lee Hailey should be found guilty: indeed there is a widespread belief that if he had been white he would not even have been charged. And then the black churches go into fighting mode, raising money for his defence. A local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is created, and Klan members come from all over local counties to plant flaming crosses in the front yards of jury panel members and others. The National Guard is called in to keep the peace in Clanton town square after a battle breaks out between the blacks and Klan members. Jake Brigance sends his wife and young daughter out of state when he receives death threats on the phone.

The novel gives detailed descriptions of the workings of the Mississippi justice system. Court scenes come across graphically and vividly. The characters really came alive for me. Even until almost the last chapter, this reader had almost no idea how the story would end.

My rating: 4.4

The sequel to A TIME TO KILL, SYCAMORE ROW, was not published until 2013.
A TIME TO KILL certainly reads as if Grisham thought he might write a series with Jake Brigance at the centre, but he followed this up with THE FIRM.

28 December 2014

2014 Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge completed.

One of the challenges which has really held my interest this year has been Vintage Mystery Bingo hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

I have found trying to find books that fitted the descriptions in both the Golden Vintage (books written before 1960) and Silver Vintage (books written 1960-1989) challenging. I wasn't disappointed by too many of the books. I was impressed by this participant who found a book for every square of the golden card!

I intend to participate in the 2015 version which you can find here. Bev has changed some of the categories just to make it more interesting.

* 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.
It actually took reading 30 books for me to be able to claim 3 bingos!

2014 Golden Vintage - books written before 1960

6 books to be read - but need to be lined up for Bingo: 2 Bingos claimed
  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
  11. 3.8, A BLUNT INSTRUMENT, Georgette Heyer - published 1938 - read a book with a detective team 
  12. 4.6, CURTAIN: Poirot's Last Case, Agatha Christie, written about 1941 -  Read one book set in England
  13. 4.7, SLEEPING MURDER: Miss Marple's last case, Agatha Christie, written about 1941 - Read one book with a method of murder in the title.
  14. 4.4, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase - published 1939 - a book with a woman in the title
  15. 4.4, THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon - published 1955 - read one book you have to borrow
  16. 4.0, MURDER UNDERGROUND, Mavis Doriel Hay - published 1934, involving a mode of transportation
2014 Silver Vintage: books written 1960 - 1989

6 books to be read but need to be lined up for "bingo" - 1 bingo claimed
  1. 4.4, THIRD GIRL, Agatha Christie published 1966 - book with a number in the title
  2. 3.9, A HANK OF HAIR, Charlotte Jay,  published 1964 - by an author with a pseudonym
  3. 4.4, ENDLESS NIGHT, Agatha Christie, published 1967 - has been made into a movie
  4. 4.5, BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, Agatha Christie, published 1968 - a detective team
  5. 4.5, ARMS FOR ADONIS, Charlotte Jay, published 1961 - set anywhere except USA or UK
  6. 4.4, THE LABYRINTH MAKERS, Anthony Price, published 1970 - read one book that features a crime other than murder
  7. 4.5, HALLOWE'EN PARTY, Agatha Christie, published 1969 - read one book with a time, day, month etc. in the title
  8. 3.6, THE ALAMUT AMBUSH, Anthony Price published 1972, read one book with a place in the title
  9.  2.0, PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT, Agatha Christie published 1970, involves a mode of transportation 
  10. 4.3, GIDEON'S RIDE, J.J. Marric, published 1963,  - a book with a professional detective
  11. 4.4, NEMESIS, Agatha Christie - published 1971 - set in England
  12. 4.3, ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, Agatha Christie  - published 1971 - read a book with an animal in the title.  
  13. 4.4, THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON, Daphne du Maurier - published 1965 -  read a book by an author you've read before
  14.  4.4, A TIME TO KILL, John Grisham, published 1989 - read a book with a courtroom, a lawyer, a judge

27 December 2014

My top reads for 2014

The book that I'm currently reading looks like lasting me to the end of the year, and won't make it into my top reads, so I am pretty safe in displaying the top of my 2014 reading list here.

There is a good smattering of Australian authors ** amongst them, and for the most case those titles are recently published.
The list also includes some of those authors that I think of as my favourites - Michael Robotham, Jo Nesbo, Geoffrey McGeachin, Ann Cleeves, Louise Penny, Charles Todd, and Michael Stanley.

In reality there is probably not a lot of difference between top and bottom, and of course they are all crime fiction.
  1. 5.0, LIFE OR DEATH, Michael Robotham **
  2. 5.0, THE SON, Jo Nesbo
  3. 5.0, SWIMMING IN THE DARK, Paddy Richardson 
  4. 4.9, ST KILDA BLUES - Geoffrey McGeachin **
  5. 4.9, IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE, Adrian McKinty **
  6. 4.9, HARBOUR STREET, Ann Cleeves  
  7. 4.9, A WHISPERED NAME, William Brodrick
  8. 4.9, THE LONG WAY HOME, Louise Penny 
  9. 4.8, PRESENT DARKNESS, Malla Nunn **
  10. 4.8, FATAL IMPACT, Kathryn Fox **
  11. 4.8, A FEARSOME DOUBT, Charles Todd
  12. 4.8, DEAD CAT BOUNCE, Peter Cotton **
  14. 4.8, DYING FALL, Elly Griffiths - audio book
  15. 4.8, BITTER WATER, Gordon Ferris
  16. 4.8, HOLY ORDERS, Benjamin Black
  17. 4.8, CINDERELLA GIRL, Carin Gerhardsen  
  18. 4.8, LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Atkinson
  19. 4.8, THE WHITE CORRIDOR, Christopher Fowler  
  20. 4.7, GETTING WARMER, Alan Carter -  **

24 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all

Review: THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON, Daphne du Maurier

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 448 KB
  • Print Length: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (June 7, 2012), first published 1965
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008258YAI
Synopsis  (Amazon)

As a young guide for Sunshine Tours, Armino Fabbio leads a pleasant, if humdrum life -- until he becomes circumstantially involved in the murder of an old peasant woman in Rome. The woman, he gradually comes to realise, was his family's beloved servant many years ago, in his native town of Ruffano. He returns to his birthplace, and once there, finds it is haunted by the phantom of his brother, Aldo, shot down in flames in '43.

Over five hundred years before, the sinister Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, lived his twisted, brutal life, preying on the people of Ruffano. But now it is the twentieth century, and the town seems to have forgotten its violent history. But have things really changed? The parallels between the past and present become ever more evident.

My take

I read a lot of Daphne du Maurier novels in my earlier years but nothing for some time. In fact I appear to have had a du Maurier binge in 1975, and even read THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON back then, but remember nothing of the plot. I do remember how much I enjoyed her novels though.

The Amazon reviews of the novel are certainly a mixed lot. For me the novel has a sort of Gothic quality. Armino Fabbio discovers that his brother whom he was told was dead, shot down in flames in 1943, is not only alive, but just as manipulative as "Beo" remembers him to be. It is as if he has taken on the persona of "the Falcon", the sinister duke Claudio.

The action of the novel climaxes with the Ruffano festival, a one day event choreographed for the last three years by Aldo in his role as the Arts Director of the Ruffano Ducal Palace. This year he wants to involve all the town's university students in a re-enactment of the event which led to the death of Duke Claudio five hundred years earlier. Aldo offers Armino a part in the celebrations but he becomes concerned that it might result in bloodshed with student faculties attacking each other.

Meanwhile the investigation continues into the death in Rome of an old peasant woman. Armino realizes that he knows who she was and feels in some way responsible for her death. She was in fact the nanny of both Armino, and, before him, Aldo. There is a mystery attached to how she had come into their family.

I did enjoy reading this novel which I have included in my list for the Silver Vintage Reading Challenge. - a book by an author I've read before. I think it has survived fifty years very well.

My rating: 4.4

21 December 2014

Review: MURDER UNDERGROUND, Mavis Doriel Hay

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)- I bought it
  • File Size: 1558 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: British Library Publishing Division (March 20, 2014) - first published 1934
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00J5OU43U
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow-boarders in the Frampton Hotel are not overwhelmed with grief at the death of a tiresome old woman. But they all have their theories about the identity of the murderer, and help to unravel the mystery of who killed the wealthy ‘Pongle’. Several of her fellow residents – even Tuppy the terrier – have a part to play in the events that lead to a dramatic arrest.

This classic mystery novel is set in and around the Northern Line of the London Underground. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s. Includes an introduction by Stephen Booth, award-winning crime writer.

My Take

The structure of this novel hinges on the two tenets of motive and opportunity and much of the plot focusses on constructing a timeline to show who was in the right place at the right time to commit the murder. This strategy wears a bit thin as the novel progresses.

Dorothy L. Sayers appears to have approved of it:
“This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.”
(Dorothy L. Sayers Sunday Times)

For me, the victim's name, Euphemia Pongleton, feels like a joke that went wrong: something that was meant to amuse the reader but somehow doesn't. Miss Pongleton is found strangled, "lying like a heap of old clothes", half way down the circular staircase of Belsize Park station, with her dog's leash wrapped around her neck. Her nephew Basil actually discovers the body but, for a variety of reasons, is anxious to keep that fact hidden from the police investigation. He confides in the real murderer who doesn't become an obvious suspect until towards the end of the novel.

The author does allow a little humour to poke through every now and then, and there is some pleasure in extracting the truth from the muddle of characters and their motives for doing away with Miss Pongleton. There is also the tangle of a stolen broach, a missing string of pearls, and a missing will. All this lends a complexity to the plot which the author does well to untangle.

My rating: 4.0

About the author
Mavis Doriel Hay (1894–1979) published three detective novels in the 1930s that are now extremely rare. Hay’s The Santa Klaus Murder is also published by the British Library.

18 December 2014

Review: A FEARSOME DOUBT, Charles Todd - audio book

Synopsis (Audible)

In 1912 Ian Rutledge watched as a man was condemned to hang for the murders of elderly women. Rutledge helped gather the evidence that sent Ben Shaw to the gallows. And when justice was done, Rutledge closed the door on the case. But Shaw was not easily forgotten. Now, seven years later, that grim trial returns in the form of Ben Shaw's widow Nell, bringing Rutledge evidence she is convinced will prove her husband's innocence. It's a belief fraught with peril, threatening both Rutledge's professional stature and his faith in his judgment. But there is a darker reason for Rutledge's reluctance. Murder brings him back to Kent where, days earlier, he'd glimpsed an all-too-familiar face beyond the leaping flames of a bonfire. Soon an unexpected encounter revives the end of his own war, as the country prepares for a somber commemoration on the anniversary of the Armistice. To battle the unsettled past and the haunted present at the same time is an appalling mandate.

And the people around him - Among them the attractive widow of a friend, a remarkable woman who survived the Great Indian Mutiny; a bitter, dying barrister; and a man whose name he never knew - unwittingly compete with the grieving Nell Shaw. They'll demand more than Rutledge can give, unaware that he is already carrying the burden of shell shock, and the voice of Hamish MacLeod, the soldier he was forced to execute in the war. The killer in Marling is surprisingly adept at escaping detection. And Ben Shaw's past is a tangle of unsettling secrets that may or may not be true. Rutledge must walk a tortuous line between two murderers...one reaching out to ruin him, the other driven to destroy him.

My Take

If you are looking for some really authentic-feeling crime fiction based on the issues of  the social aftermath World War One, then here is a series for you. I haven't read them all, but I have in particular enjoyed the audio versions. Each of the titles seems to have a focus on an issue related to the War. The issues that emerge in  A FEARSOME DOUBT are the damage done to the survivors, whether physical as in the loss of a limb, or mental as in post traumatic stress or unresolved shell shock; another issue relates to those who profited by the war, while so many lost so much.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed
4.5, A DUTY TO THE DEAD - Bess Crawford series
4.7, A LONELY DEATH -#13

The full series according to Fantastic Fiction
1. A Test of Wills (1996)
2. Wings of Fire (1998)
3. Search the Dark (1999)
4. Legacy of the Dead (2000)
5. Watchers of Time (2001)
6. A Fearsome Doubt (2002)
7. A Cold Treachery (2005)
8. A Long Shadow (2006)
9. A False Mirror (2007)
10. A Pale Horse (2007)
11. A Matter of Justice (2008)
12. The Red Door (2009)
12.5. The Kidnapping (2010)
13. A Lonely Death (2011)
14. The Confession (2012)
15. Proof of Guilt (2013)
16. Hunting Shadows (2014)
16.5. Cold Comfort (2013)
17. A Fine Summer's Day (2015) 

Mystery Challenge completed

The A-Z Mystery Challenge was run at Red Headed Book Child for the calendar year of 2014.
I began my record page on 3 March and completed the final book on 17 Dec.

Mostly it was not hard to find books for the challenge but I have had to make conscious efforts in the last few weeks to locate titles for authors whose surnames begin with E, Y and X.

It is really is a bit of a variant of the Crime Fiction Alphabet challenge that I have run for the last few years.

The rules
  • A-Z represents the LAST name of the author in the mystery, thriller, suspense, cozy, noir, etc. genre. 
  • Read as many or as little as you want. 
  • Post your links here for your Challenge post and your reviews! 
  • Challenge Runs January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014 
  • Have fun! 

Number of letters achieved: 26/26

17 December 2014

Review: ENIGMA OF CHINA, Qiu Xiaolong

  • published 2013  by St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN 978-1-250-02580-7
  • 277 pages
  • #8 in the Inspector Chen series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (MacMillan)

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation—a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine.  Now he’s a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of most respected policeman in the department. Which is why he’s brought in by the Party to sign off on the investigation into the death of Zhou Keng. 

Zhou Keng—a trusted princeling, son of a major party member—was head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee when a number of his corrupt practices were exposed on the internet.  Removed from his position and placed into extra-legal detention, Zhou apparently hanged himself while under guard.  While the Party is anxious to have Zhou’s death declared a suicide, and for the renowned Chief Inspector Chen to sign off on that conclusion, the sequence of events don’t quite add up. Now Chen will have to decide what to do – investigate the death as a possible homicide and risk angering unseen powerful people, or seek the justice that his position requires him to strive for.

My Take

ENIGMA OF CHINA is not just a murder mystery, but also an exploration of Chinese history and culture. It also explores the role, even in China, of social media, of crowd-sourced investigation, so-called "human-flesh" searches, triggered in this case by the release of a photograph of Zhou Keng with a pack of very expensive brand cigarettes sitting on the table in front of him. The irony does not escape Chief Inspector Chen who has also accepted gifts in kind from Big Bucks customers.

But in Zhou's case a number of other examples of corruption have been unearthed, including a batch of compromising sex photographs. But it still doesn't seem very likely that he would have committed suicide. Chen's curiosity is further piqued when a police colleague is run down and killed outside the Party newspaper headquarters. Chen realises that he could very well share Wei's fate if he doesn't tread carefully.

Xiaolong paints a fascinating picture of life in Shanghai with vast economic and social gulfs between ordinary people and those who have access to privelege.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed 4.4, DEATH OF A RED HEROINE which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001.

About the author:
Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai and, since 1988, has lived in St. Louis, Missouri. A poet and a translator, he has an MA and a Ph.D. from Washington University. He is the author of several previous novels featuring Inspector Chen, including the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities.

This is my final title for the 2014 A-Z Mystery Challenge

13 December 2014

Review: THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon

  • originally published in 1955 as BOULE NOIR (my trans. Black Ball)
  • English translation published 1988
  • this large print edition published 1991 by Hamish Hamilton London
  • 212 pages
  • ISBN 1-85957-869-9
  • on loan from my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

This title is set in suburban Connecticut. (After World War II, for reasons related to accusations that he was sympathetic to the occupying forces and the Vichy Regime, Simenon moved to the United States and spent a few years in Connecticut.)

Walter Higgins is a supermarket manager. He is a stolid, predictable, married father of four living in a house that stretches his economic resources to the fullest. He is also enormously (and understandably) proud of the fact that he has lifted himself through diligence and hard work from a less than happy and economically depressed childhood. He plays by the rules. He goes to church and volunteers in any number of community organizations. He seeks affirmation of his status by applying for membership in the local country club. He is told his membership is a sure-thing and is devastated when he is told that he has been blackballed, denied entry by means of a secret vote of the club's membership committee. Each member of that committee was known to Higgins and he thought of each as a friend and colleague in the community.

The rejection turns Higgins's life upside down and the rest of the story takes us on the journey Higgins takes as the trauma of rejection hits him.

My Take

Walter Higgins thinks he knows what life in suburban America is all about. He works for his community, attends church every Sunday, and tries to be a good role model. But his dreams are about to be shattered. His application to join the town's prestigious country club is blackballed for the second time and it seems all the town knows. This precipitates Walter into a mid-life crisis, where he thinks everyone must be laughing at him. And then, when his mother dies, he has to go back to the New York area where he grew up, and the effect is soul-shattering.

This novel is a reminder of the years that Simenon spent living in North America (1945-55). During this time he learnt to speak English with relative ease.  see Wikipedia entry.

It is also not a murder mystery, no Maigret, but a chance for Simenon to show his understanding of what makes ordinary people tick, whatever their nationality. It is also reminded me that I should make more effort to read more Simenon novels. Several have been re-printed as e-books this year and last by Penguin.

Another one for the Vintage Mystery Bingo 2014.

My rating: 4.4

See another review.

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

12 December 2014

Review: NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • I bought it
  • File Size: 346 KB
  • Print Length: 188 pages
  • Publisher: The Murder Room (September 6, 2012). Originally published 1939
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00946TPFC
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Dave Fenner is hired to solve the Blandish kidnapping, he knows the odds on finding the girl are against him - the cops are still looking for her three months after the ransom was paid. And the kidnappers, Riley and his gang, have disappeared into thin air.

But what none of them knows is that Riley himself has been wiped out by a rival gang - and the heiress is now in the hands of Ma Grisson and her son Slim, a vicious killer who can't stay away from women, especially his beautiful new captive. By the time Fenner begins to close in on them, some terrible things have happened to Miss Blandish . . .

My Take

James Hadley Chase was an English writer born René Lodge Brabazon Raymond and well known by various pseudonyms, including James Hadley Chase, James L. Docherty, Raymond Marshall, R. Raymond, and Ambrose Grant. See Wikipedia for more details.

NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (publ. 1939) is set in the gangster era of the mid 1930s in Kansas, although Chase had never been there. It was his debut novel, and the beginning of a long and immensely successful career as a novelist. Dave Fenner appeared in a second novel in 1941. He is an ex-journalist turned private eye, and works with the "bulls" (police) to find Miss Blandish.

I thought it had a surprisingly modern feel about it although it is exceptionally noir, with an incredible amount of violence, which apparently drew considerable criticism at publication. It was indeed based on events and people who had gained notoriety in the early 1930s in America. I didn't expect the ending to have the twist that it had, and I thought that was a redeeming feature. A fast paced thriller.

My rating: 4.4

I read this as part of my participation in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge for 2014.

11 December 2014

Review: THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Sara Blaedel

  • review e-copy provided at Net Galley by publisher Grand Central Publishing
  • translated by Signe Rod Golly
  • publication date Jan 7 2015
  • ISBN 9781455581528
Synopsis (Publisher)

In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick--the new commander of the Missing Persons Department--is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a "forgotten girl." 

But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago. As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed--and hidden--in the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed. 

My Take

The publisher's blurb probably tells the reader a little too much of the plot. In the story behind the mystery Louise Rick is trying to establish herself as the head of the new Missing Persons Department. She has been made many promises by her boss, but it appears he has made similar promises to others. She ends up having to work with Eik, who is someone she would not have chosen, and they don't get off to a very good start. Nor does it appear that her boss's secretary Hanne likes her very much either.

Louise finds herself carrying out the investigation in an area that she grew up in, where some people recognise her and know a little more about her background than she is comfortable with. There is more than one murder, and after the investigation begins another woman disappears while running in the forest.

The plot becomes intriguing as the story unravels, and strands go back decades.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

I've discovered that this is the 10th novel published by this relatively new Danish author.
EuroCrime lists four of them (see below) but the author's website, which describes her as "Denmark's Queen of Crime", shows she has been quite prolific, her first novel being published in 2004. Wikipedia.

Detective Inspector Louise Rick
Call Me Princess (apa Blue Blood)20112
• Only One Life20123
• Farewell to Freedom20124
• The Forgotten Girls20155

Explore her website

7 December 2014

Give Books for Christmas - a meme for you to join

I love getting new books for Christmas, so here are my top reads this year to help you find some crime fiction to give (or maybe just to look for in your local library for holiday reading).

I've included lots of Australian authors**  too.
Perhaps you'd like to write a similar post on your blog; then come back and tell us where it is, using the Mr Linky below. Feel free to use my image, and please link your contribution to this post.

6 December 2014

Review: ANTIDOTE TO MURDER, Felicity Young

  • first published by Harper Collins 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9369-7
  • 325 pages
  • #2 in the Dody McLeland series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (publisher)

Set in Edwardian London, this fantastic mystery series features Britain's first female autopsy surgeon.

When an act of compassion misfires, autopsy surgeon Dr Dody McCleland must fight not only for her career, but also for her life. The body of a scullery maid is discovered in her room. When it emerges that she had recently begged Dody to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, the coroner recommends Dody be tried for criminal abortion causing death. Meanwhile, the one man who might be able to help her, Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, is nowhere to be found.

After another woman's body is discovered bearing all the hallmarks of the same crime, Dody suspects that a rogue doctor is on the loose. Amid the turbulence of Edwardian London with its mix of strikes, suffragettes, German spies, exotic dancers and an illicit drug trade, Dody must unmask the killer before more girls are butchered and her own life ends on the gallows. 

My take

Australian crime fiction author Felicity Young does a good job with a historical setting, giving her novel a feeling of authenticity, at the same time presenting the problems which women faced in the medical profession in the early 20th century.

Set in London in 1911, when conducting an abortion is a criminal offence, and encouraging women to practice birth control is also illegal, Dody assists the famous Sir Bernard Spilsbury in autopsies. But even with the great man's patronage, she treads a very thin line as she advises women towards better contol of their child bearing.

Dody faces not only public opposition to women like her breaking into the professions, but also opposition among males already working there. And treachery comes from an unexpected place, almost resulting in her death.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed
4.7, A DISSECTION OF MURDER -#1 in the Dody McLeland series

Review: CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION, Peter Robinson - audio book

  • Narrated by: Simon Slater
  • Length: 12 hrs and 59 mins 
  • firts published 2013
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Inspector Banks #21 
Synopsis (author website)

A college lecturer is found dead – murdered and dumped on a railway line near his home with £5,000 in his pocket. DCI Banks and his team are drafted in to investigate, and soon discover that the case is far from clear-cut.

Having spent his last years leading a secluded existence after dismissal for sexual misconduct, Gavin Miller wasn’t short of enemies, including an individual from the college where he used to teach, who has a venomous score to settle, and a mysterious lady he knew in the political-hotbed of Essex University in the early ‘70s.

It doesn’t take Banks long to start digging up old connections that many many people in power think would be far better left buried. Banks is told to back off before he pushes his enquiries too far, but if he did as he was told, he wouldn’t be Banks….”

My Take

To be honest, I don't think this is the best in this series. Mid book, I found myself urging Robinson to "get on with it". I thought he carried the dictum " show not tell" a bit too far. There seemed to be interminable dialogue as the investigation progressed from one set of interviews to the next, without making a lot of progress. Banks, ever the loose cannon, was unwilling to let his colleagues in on all that he had found out, and he certainly didn't apprise them of his surmises.

On the other hand, every base seemed to be covered in terms of all the information we needed to solve the mystery, and the pace of action did pick up in the second half of the book.

My rating: 4.4

I've also reviewed
4.6, BAD BOY (2010)
4.7, WATCHING THE DARK (2013)  

4 December 2014

Review: THE SHADOW WOMAN, Ake Edwardson

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 787 KB
  • Print Length: 355 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0143117947
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 28, 2010) - it was originally published in Sweden in 1998
  • Translated by Per Carlsson
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
Synopsis (Amazon)

It's August and the annual Gothenburg Party is in full swing. But this year the bacchanalian blowout is simmering with ethnic discord spurred by nativist gangs. When a woman is found murdered in the park-her identity as inscrutable as the blood-red symbol on the tree above her body-Winter's search for her missing child leads him from sleek McMansions to the Gothenburg fringes, where "northern suburbs" is code for "outsider" and the past is inescapable-even for Sweden's youngest chief inspector.

Chief Inspector Erik Winter investigates the murder of Helene Anderson, whose body was found in a local park. Armed with few clues, Winter soon learns that the young woman left behind a child who may still be alive. Further probing leads him more than two decades back in time to a bank robbery in Denmark that a very young Helene likely witnessed. (The perpetrators remain at large, a source of great frustration for local law enforcement.) Winter travels to Denmark, and soon a cold case turns hot. Back on the home front, the inspector must contend with the annual Gothenburg Party, a hedonistic free-for-all that prompts riots among nativist gangs. 

My Take

The novel begins
    For three years a massive drug war between the Hells Angels and the Bandidos has ripped through Scandinavia. Antitank rockets swiped from the Swedish military have been launched at club-houses, gun fights have erupted in airports, car bombs have been planted and bystanders killed. A well-publicized truce will soo bring the Great Nordic Biker War to a close, but not before dozens of lives are claimed by the violence, many of them innocent.
While this foreword helps put the action of the novel in 1997 it also confused me until I realised the novel was a reprint.

It actually takes some time, and a lot of careful police work, and a vital contribution by a concerned elderly citizen, to identify the young woman's body. Erik Winter becomes concerned with what has happened to the red-haired little girl who was seen with the young woman. Winter is a policeman who can't focus on anything else once an investigation gets underway.

One of the interesting features of this story is the feeling of history repeating itself. Twenty five years earlier the young woman was involved in a similar incident when her own mother disappeared. Both mother and daughter leave behind paintings that give clues to the life they've been leading. My guess is that some readers won't realise there are two young voices in the narrative.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read  FROZEN TRACKS

EuroCrime lists the titles available in English in this order
Chief Inspector Erik Winter, Gothenburg, Sweden
Death Angels20091
The Shadow Woman20102
Sun and Shadow20053
Never End20064
Frozen Tracks20075
Sail of Stone20126
• Room No. 1020137

Agatha Christie and the Search for a Superior Sleuth

When I began my personal journey on the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge I did so in hope that I would learn something about how Agatha Christie thought.
I gained the impression that, right from the beginning, even though she had "discovered" a very good detective in Hercule Poirot, she was always experimenting and searching for another.

Here are the first ten titles, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although 5 of the novels featured Hercule Poirot, the experienced, fastidious, though aging Belgian, we can also see that she introduced a couple of "bright young things" in search of a job, a military man, a policeman, and then finally a spinster who was a a bit of a sticky beak.

Ideas of international conspiracies and espionage come high on the list as she plays around with forms of the genre, as does the various legacies of the Great War.

Miss Marple does not seem to have hit the spot, because she doesn't appear again in a novel for another decade.

Here are links to my reviews:
    1924, Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)
  5. 1925, THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS  - Superintendent Battle
  7. 1927, THE BIG FOUR
  9. 1929, THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY - Superintendent Battle
    1929, Partners in Crime (fifteen short stories; featuring Tommy and Tuppence)
    1930, The Mysterious Mr. Quin (twelve short stories; introducing Mr. Harley Quin)
But to focus on the novels only tells you part of the story. Miss Marple for example made her first appearance in 1927 in a short story called the The Tuesday Night Club which was published in a collection in 1932. See my list of short stories.
Watch out for my next post about her search for a sleuth.


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