28 February 2021

Review: OLD BONES, Aaron Elkins

  • this issue published Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reissue edition (8 July 2014)
  • Paperback : 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1497643155
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1497643154
  • #4 in the Gideon Oliver series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel of the year. 1988

With the roar of thunder and the speed of a galloping horse comes the tide to Mont St. Michel goes the old nursery song. So when the aged patriarch of the du Rocher family falls victim to the perilous tide, even the old man's family accepts the verdict of accidental drowning. 

But too quickly, this "accident" is followed by a bizarre discovery in the ancient du Rocher chateau: a human skeleton, wrapped in butcher paper, beneath the old stone flooring. 

Professor Gideon Oliver, lecturing on forensic anthropology at nearby St. Malo, is asked to examine the bones. He quickly demonstrates why he is known as the "Skeleton Detective," providing the police with forensic details that lead them to conclude that these are the remains of a Nazi officer believed to have been murdered in the area during the Occupation. Or are they? Gideon himself has his doubts

Then, when another of the current du Rochers dies - this time via cyanide poisoning - his doubts solidify into a single certainty: someone wants old secrets to stay buried . . . and is perfectly willing to eradicate the meddlesome American to make that happen.

My Take

Members of the du Rocher family have been "summoned" to a meeting at which it's oldest member Guillame intends to make an important announcement. But before they can all get together he is dead, accidentally drowned on the flats of Mont St. Michel, caught by the galloping tide. Guillame's nephew claims to have been in his confidence, and to know what the meeting was about, but he is an unlovely character, and at least one other has a different idea about why they have been brought together.

Then the discovery of a skeleton in the cellar of the chateau, one that has apparently been there for over 40 years, calls for the involvement of the police and a bones expert, an American who is lecturing at a forensic science conference.

This is the first in this series that I have read, and it certainly won't be the last - there are plenty to choose from.

This is a many stranded plot, lots of red herrings, with engaging and interesting characters.

My rating: 4.6

About the author
Aaron Elkins is a former anthropologist and professor who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982. His major continuing series features forensic anthropologist‑detective Gideon Oliver, "the Skeleton Detective." There are fifteen published titles to date in the series. The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC‑TV series and have been selections of the Book‑of‑the‑Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. His work has been published in a dozen languages.
Mr. Elkins won the 1988 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year for Old Bones, the fourth book in the Gideon Oliver Series. He and his cowriter and wife, Charlotte, also won an Agatha Award, and he has also won a Nero Wolfe Award. Mr. Elkins lives on Washington's Olympic Peninsula with Charlotte.

23 February 2021

Review: THE BURNING ISLAND, Jock Serong

Synopsis (publisher)

A father’s obsession. A daughter’s quest.

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.

Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.

My Take

In a sense this is a sequel to an earlier novel PRESERVATION in which Joshua Grayling was a key character. It involves the same geographic and historical setting - the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, the wreck of a ship and the disappearance of its passengers and cargo, but it is 30 years on, and Joshua Grayling, once assistant to Governor Hunter in the Sydney colony, is no longer the man he was. Now old, blind, and an alcoholic, he has been haunted for over 30 years by the thought of catching up with Master Figge, one of the survivors of the earlier wreck and the author of so much death.

Grayling is asked to undertake a private expedition to Bass Strait to discover what has happened to the Howrah, its passengers and its cargo. Some debris has been found that indicates that it has been wrecked. It is unthinkable that he take this voyage on his own, and so his daughter accompanies him. They arrive at the boat the Moonbird to discover that there is a paying passenger, doctor/scientist who will be studying birds and fish.

The Furneaux group in Bass Strait is largely populated by sealers who have taken Aboriginal wives, sometimes originally against their wills, and there are half-caste children. And the mad governor of Van Diemen's Land, Governor Arthur, is attempting to purge the main island and the Furneaux group of their Aboriginal population.

The story line didn't hold my interest as much as I would have liked, but that was certainly overlaid with a heap of interesting historical detail and and a wealth of very interesting characters, not the least the master of the Moonbird.

My rating: 4.4 

I've also read

5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET
5.0, ON THE JAVA RIDGE

4.8, PRESERVATION
4.6, QUOTA 

18 February 2021

Review: A STRANGER'S HOUSE, Clare Chase

  • this edition published by Choc Lit Limited 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-781893-47-0
  • 307 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #2 in the London and Cambridge series

Synopsis (author website)

What if you were powerless to protect the person you cared about most?

When Ruby finds out that her partner has done the unforgivable, she has no option but to move out of their home. With nowhere else to go, a job house-sitting in Cambridge seems like the perfect solution.

But it’s soon clear the absent owner hurts everyone he gets close to, and Ruby’s faced with the fallout. As violent repercussions unfold, her instinct is to investigate: it’s a matter of self-preservation. And besides, she’s curious…

But Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and seems determined to put a stop to her sleuthing. Is he simply worried for the welfare of a member of staff, or is there something altogether more complicated – and potentially dangerous – at play?

My Take

I picked this up expecting it to be similar in tone to the cosy by the same author (MYSTERY ON HIDDEN LANE) that I read a few weeks ago. But there is something a little more noir about this one, a little more mystery to be unpicked, with Ruby facing and solving some serious problems.  

There was an provocative twist in the tail right at the end too.

An interesting story that just kept me reading.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read

4.3, MYSTERY ON HIDDEN LANE

About the author

Clare Chase is becoming quite a prolific author with 3 separate series on the go.
Accord ing to Fantastic Fiction, Clare Chase writes romantic suspense and women sleuth mysteries, using London and Cambridge as settings. Brought up in the Midlands, she went on to read English at London University, then worked in book and author promotion in venues as diverse as schools, pubs and prisons. More recently she's exercised her creative writing muscles in the world of PR, and also worked for the University of Cambridge. Her current day job is at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Her writing is inspired by what makes people tick, and how strong emotions can occasionally turn everyday incidents into the stuff of crime novels.

When she's not reading or writing, Clare enjoys drawing, cooking and trips to the Lake District. Closer to home, she loves wandering round the pubs, restaurants and galleries of Cambridge, where she lives with her husband and teenage daughters.

London & Cambridge Mysteries
   1. You Think You Know Me (2014)
   2. A Stranger's House (2016)
   3. One Dark Lie (2016)
 
Tara Thorpe
   1. Murder on the Marshes (2018)
   2. Death on the River (2018)
   3. Death Comes to Call (2019)
   4. Murder in the Fens (2019)
 
Eve Mallow Mystery
   1. Mystery on Hidden Lane (2020)
   2. Mystery at Apple Tree Cottage (2020)
   3. Mystery at Seagrave Hall (2020)
   4. Mystery at the Old Mill (2020)
   5. Mystery at the Abbey Hotel (2021)

13 February 2021

Review: THE MURDER ON THE LINKS, Agatha Christie - audio book

  • edition available from audible.com
  • Narrated by: Hugh Fraser
  • Series: Hercule Poirot, Book 2
  • Length: 5 hrs and 59 mins
  • Release date: 01-30-09 
  • ©2008 HarperCollins Publishers

Synopsis (Audible)

An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son's overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse... 

My Take

I have recently read the printed copy which I reviewed here. So why, you say, listen to it as well? The narrator is Hugh Fraser and he does an excellent job. I'm not sure about his "French" voice but he does make the various characters easily distinguishable.

But the other thing with an audio book is that it forces you to "listen" (no pun intended) to the author in a different way, because in some ways you pick up the narrator's interpretation as well. Sub-plots seem to take on a life and certain nuances seem a little more obvious.

The one thing with an audio book is that it is not easy to go back over something and "read" it again, although my system does allow you go back in 30 second bits.

My rating: 4.5

7 February 2021

Review: THE MURDER ON THE LINKS, Agatha Christie

  • First published 1923
  • ASIN : B085VHVV9C
  • Publisher : GENERAL PRESS; 1st edition (March 12, 2020)
  • Language : English 
  • File size : 809 KB 
  • #2 Hercule Poirot series
  • At AgathaChristie.com

Synopsis (AgathaChristie.com)

An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son’s overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse.

My Take

Yes, I have read this before, but have read it again, leading a group to read the first 5 Poirots and the first 5 Marples. So I am reading it with an eye to what I can point out to them.

The story is narrated by Captain Hastings and is set maybe 3 or 4 years after the first novel which introduced the Poirot/Hastings "team". Although this is only the second time we have seen Poirot in action, Hastings implies they have worked other cases together since THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. In a reference to Inspector Japp from Scotland Yard in the opening pages, Hastings says that he had "more than once introduced us to an interesting case."

At the beginning we get an update on what Hastings and Poirot have been doing, and in France Poirot meets up with the Commissary of Police with whom he worked on a case in 1909. 

As investigating the murder begins, the "team" is joined by Inspector Giraud from the Surete, who is much younger, and obviously regards Poirot as a "has-been". One of the themes of the novel is the comparison of the methods Poirot and Giraud use - the difference between "little grey cells and logic" and what Poirot disparagingly calls Giraud's methods. Giraud is very sarcastic to Poirot. Eventually they have a bet on who will solve the case first.

Poirot elucidates his principles of investigation but Hastings is embarrassed by his friend's lack of action, and even betrays Poirot, as well as showing quite clearly how easily duped he himself can be.

The plot is quite complex and the reader needs to keep on their toes to make sure they understand each nuance.

We are introduced also to Poirot's "romantic streak", as he match-makes for Hastings and chooses a wife for him.

There are several denouements, a couple caused by the fact that poor old Hastings has not been able to make sense of what has happened.

I am also listening to the audio version read by Hugh Fraser but will review that separately.

My rating: 4.4

See also

5 February 2021

Review: MYSTERY ON HIDDEN LANE, Clare Chase

  • This edition published by Bookoutre in 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-83888-525-0
  • 270 pages
  • #1 in Eve Mallow mystery series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Meet Eve Mallow: an American far from home, a professional busybody... and an amateur detective?

Seasoned obituary writer Eve Mallow has a new assignment: to tell the life story of famed musician Bernard Fitzpatrick. A chance to spend a few days in the sweet little village of Saxford St Peter, walking the country lanes with her beloved dachshund Gus and meeting new people sounds like a dream. But it turns out that Bernard's life was much less interesting than his death. On the day she arrives, news breaks that the charismatic cellist was the victim of a grisly murder. Could this quaint English village be hiding a dark secret?

As Eve starts to interview Bernard's friends and colleagues, she finds that he'd ruffled a few feathers. In fact, from the keepers of the Cross Keys Inn to his own staff at High House, there's barely a person in town who doesn't have some reason to hate him... is one of the friendly villagers a cold-blooded killer?

Eve hoped Saxford St Peter would be the perfect escape from her busy city life. But there is darkness even in the most sunlit of settings. And when a second body is found, Eve becomes certain that one of the people she's met must be the murderer. She has never done any detective work before... but is there something in her notes that can crack the case?

An unputdownable page-turner, perfect for fans of Faith Martin, Agatha Christie and Betty Rowlands.

My take

The first time I have encountered a sleuth who is an obituary writer. Eve Mallow is keen to find out what people thought of the deceased, cellist Bernard Fitzpatrick. On the day she arrived in the village to begin work on the obituary Eve discovers that the police have announced that he was murdered. She feels a little uncomfortable that she might put herself in danger by actually interviewing the murderer, and, even worse, that she might realise this is the person the police are looking for.

She realises also that there are many candidates - the fact that Peter was charismatic doesn't mean that he was popular or well-liked. In fact he was very self-centred and even manipulative.

A nice start to what looks like it will be an interesting series worth following.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Clare Chase writes romantic suspense and women sleuth mysteries, using London and Cambridge as settings. Brought up in the Midlands, she went on to read English at London University, then worked in book and author promotion in venues as diverse as schools, pubs and prisons. More recently she's exercised her creative writing muscles in the world of PR, and also worked for the University of Cambridge. Her current day job is at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Her writing is inspired by what makes people tick, and how strong emotions can occasionally turn everyday incidents into the stuff of crime novels.

When she's not reading or writing, Clare enjoys drawing, cooking and trips to the Lake District. Closer to home, she loves wandering round the pubs, restaurants and galleries of Cambridge, where she lives with her husband and teenage daughters.

31 January 2021

Review: MY BEST FRIEND'S MURDER, Polly Phillips

  • This edition published by Simon & Schuster 2021
  • ISBN 9-781398-501300
  • 355 pages
  • source: publisher

Synopsis (publisher)

You’re lying, sprawled at the bottom of the stairs, legs bent, arms wide.
And while this could be a tragic accident, if anyone’s got a motive to hurt you, it’s me.


Bec and Izzy have been best friends their whole lives. They have been through a lot together – from the death of Bec’s mother to the birth of Izzy’s daughter. But there’s a darker side to their friendship, and once it has been exposed, there is no turning back.
 
So when Izzy’s body is found, Bec knows that if the police decide to look for a killer, she will be the prime suspect. Because those closest to you are the ones who can hurt you the most . . .
 
Best described as The Rumour meets The Holiday, MY BEST FRIEND’S MURDER is a compulsive thriller with a toxic but layered friendship at its heart that keeps you in the dark until the final few breathless pages.

My Take

Bec and Izzy have always been close, too close. It seems to Bec that she has always come off second-best, and now that she is becoming engaged she finds Izzy's interference and "help" almost too much.

For example, Izzy took Bec's boy friend Rich from her and married him. And whenever Bec tells Izzy something in confidence, it somehow leaks out, and there is a back lash. Izzy always wants to know everything. Izzy's house is perfection, and Bec always feels under criticism. But Izzy doesn't always tell Bec everything and sometimes she feels left out. And then there is the fact that Izzy is returning to work, and she will be working with Bec's fiance. And so tensions ramp up to the point where Bec would like to kill Izzy. 

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Polly Phillips currently lives in Australia, although she is originally from the UK. My Best Friend’s Murder won the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2019. Polly has worked as a journalist in Australia, Dubai, Denmark and the UK. This is her debut novel.

29 January 2021

Review: WHITE THROAT, Sarah Thornton

  • format: e-book Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B084RSGCG1
  • Publisher : Text Publishing (1 December 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 3336 KB
  • #2 in the Clementine Jones series 

Synopsis  (Amazon)

Looking out over an ebb tide from the back verandah was like watching God paint stripes…

Disgraced former lawyer Clementine Jones is on the shores of paradise—Queensland’s Great Sandy Straits—trying to outrun her past.

Bored with her house-sitting gig, she becomes a reluctant recruit to the local environmental group, campaigning to save an endangered turtle as developers close in. Then a body is found at the base of a quarry, and Clem’s world is turned upside down.

The police say suicide. Clem’s convinced it was murder. She also knows she’s the only one interested in tracking down the killer.

Well, the only one apart from her friend Torrens, ex-con and reformed standover man. And he’s got his own fight on his hands.

My take

Clem has fled north after the people of the Victorian town of Katinga have become aware of her past, after she brought its footy team to a premiership. She has ended up house/dog sitting in the coastal Queensland village of Piama.

There she meets up with a close family friend Helen who is working to save the white-throated turtle from extinction and its habitat from being destroyed by a mining company. Helen asks Clem to give legal advice to the conservation society and would like her to be more active and front-line.

Then Helen’s body is found at the base of a fifteen-metre cliff in the local quarry; the police rule suicide, but Clem is certain that Helen has been murdered and tries to work out who has been interested in getting rid of Helen. There are several candidates including some people who have been contributing financially to the cause.

Clem is also under pressure to say she will return to Katinga for the footy season, but she has other irons in the fire.

I didn't enjoy this novel as much as the first in the series, but Clem Jones is certainly a strong and interesting character.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
4.7, LAPSE

24 January 2021

Review: SHELTER, Catherine Jinks

  • format: e-book for Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B08KTP6721
  • Publisher : Text Publishing (5 January 2021)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 2006 KB
  • Print length : 327 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 1922330469

Synopsis (Amazon)

Meg lives alone: a little place in the bush outside town. A perfect place to hide. That’s one of the reasons she offers to shelter Nerine, who’s escaping a violent ex. The other is that Meg knows what it’s like to live with an abusive partner.

Nerine is jumpy and her two little girls are frightened. It tells Meg all she needs to know where they’ve come from, and she’s not all that surprised when Nerine asks her to get hold of a gun. But she knows it’s unnecessary. They’re safe now.

Then she starts to wonder about some little things. A disturbed flyscreen. A tune playing on her windchimes. Has Nerine’s ex tracked them down? Has Meg’s husband turned up to torment her some more?

By the time she finds out, it’ll be too late to do anything but run for her life.

My take

At first Meg focusses on keeping Nerine's presence in her house a secret from her neighbours and friends. The scenario is complicated by the impact of everything on Nerene's young daughters.

By the time Meg realises that Nerine is not only unhinged but dangerous, it is almost too late. And nothing prepared me for the impact of what has happened on Meg's own life.  

It is enough to persuade you to never help anyone ever again.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Catherine Jinks’ books for adults, young adults and children have been published in a dozen countries and have won numerous awards, including a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and the CBCA Book of the Year Award (four times). She lives in the Blue Mountains.

22 January 2021

Review: THE NIGHT SWIM, Megan Goldin

  • this edition available from my local library as an e-book through Libby
  • Published: 4 August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760897208
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Pages: 352

Synopsis (Publisher)

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name – and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognised for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel's podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial.
A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation – but the mysterious letters keep coming.

Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered. When Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases, past and present collide. What she finds will change not just the course of the trial, but the lives of everyone involved. 

My take

As the blurb says, past and present collide in this story, and the two cases 25 years apart are strikingly similar except that the death of Jenny Stills was never investigated and never came to trial. Once again Megan Goldin has set her story in a small town in North Carolina. but you can imagine that it could be set anywhere. 

Rachel Krall's podcast takes her readers to the Scott Blair's trial and tries to put them in the role of the jury. She tries to get them to see that it really isn't Scott that is being tried, that the real substance of the trial is what is happening to K. the alleged rape victim. She has already been victimised by a large section of the town's population for her allegations, but as Rachel says, who would allege rape if it hadn't happened?

Simultaneously we are investigating the much older case of Hannah's sister Jenny who drowned twenty five years earlier. The case got very little footage in the local paper because of a car crash at about the same time in which two teenage boys were killed. Jenny's mother died of cancer a few weeks later and there was no-one to push for an investigation.

An interestingly constructed book with three main narrative voices.

One thing that has struck about the 3 books that I've read so far by Megan Goldin is that they are all very different, but all very believable.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

17 January 2021

Review: THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS, Elly Griffiths

  • this edition published 2020 by Quercus
  • #2 in the Harbinder Kaur series
  • ISBN 978-1-78747-764-3
  • 344 pages
  • source: my local library 

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Murder leaps off the page when crime novelists begin to turn up dead in this intricate new novel by internationally best-selling author Elly Griffiths, a literary mystery perfect for fans of Anthony Horowitz and Agatha Christie.

The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should not be suspicious. Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing out of the ordinary when Peggy’s carer, Natalka, begins to recount Peggy Smith’s passing.

But Natalka had a reason to be at the police station: while clearing out Peggy’s flat, she noticed an unusual number of crime novels, all dedicated to Peggy. And each psychological thriller included a mysterious postscript: PS: for PS. When a gunman breaks into the flat to steal a book and its author is found dead shortly thereafter—Detective Kaur begins to think that perhaps there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.

And then things escalate: from an Aberdeen literary festival to the streets of Edinburgh, writers are being targeted. DS Kaur embarks on a road trip across Europe and reckons with how exactly authors can think up such realistic crimes . .

My Take

Peggy Smith, murder consultant, is 90, living in sheltered accommodation, seemingly healthy and fit, but dies unexpectedly. At first there seems nothing suspicious about her death, but questions are raised when a gunman breaks into her flat just to steal a book. Her death is followed by the murder of a popular crime fiction author whom she assisted with unusual plots. Her carer decides to tell the police that her death was unexpected.

Eventually an investigative trio decides to track another author, who also used Peggy's services, to a crime fiction festival in Aberdeen where another author dies and it seems the suspicions about Peggy's death were well founded.

This novel felt a little too cosy at times, and perhaps a little slow, but the various threads are brought together with a sure hand.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read

4.6, THE CROSSING PLACES
4.6, THE JANUS STONE
4.6, THE HOUSE AT SEA'S END
4.5, A ROOM FULL OF BONES
4.8, DYING FALL- audio book
4.5, THE GHOST FIELDS, Elly Griffiths - audio book
4.7, THE OUTCAST DEAD, Elly Griffiths - audio book
4.7, THE WOMAN IN BLUE
4.7, THE CHALK PIT
4.4, THE VANISHING BOX
4.6, THE STRANGER DIARIES
4.5, SMOKE AND MIRRORS

15 January 2021

Review: LOCKDOWN, Peter May

  • Written 2005
  • Published 2020 by riverrun 
  • ISBN 978-1-52941-169-0
  • 398 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Written over fifteen years ago, this prescient, suspenseful thriller is set against a backdrop of a capital city in quarantine, and explores human experience in the grip of a killer virus.

"They said that twenty-five percent of the population would catch the flu. Between seventy and eight percent of them would die. He had been directly exposed to it, and the odds weren't good."

A CITY IN QUARANTINE

London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. No-one is safe from the deadly virus that has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed.

A MURDERED CHILD

At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. A remorseless killer has been unleashed on the city; his mission is to take all measures necessary to prevent the bones from being identified.

A POWERFUL CONSPIRACY

D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. Sinister forces are tracking his every move, prepared to kill again to conceal the truth. Which will stop him first - the virus or the killers?

My take

After what we have all been through in 2020, and are still undergoing, this novel set in a global pandemic of bird flu is one that most of us can approach with some understanding. Self-isolation, public panic, and permits restricting us to our homes and local areas all ring bells. But this pandemic, admittedly not Covid-19 in origin, didn't just happen. Someone, something, caused it. And the world is waiting for a vaccine.

Jack MacNeil has decided that there has to be life outside his work, and so he has resigned, and now has only about 24 hours left to his working career. The bones in the bag will very likely be his last case and he is determined to solve it. When coincidences indicate that someone is tracking his every move, even protecting him against attack and robbery, he has to ask why.

At times the scenarios strained credibility but the characters and plot threads felt real enough. And with what we know of the "China virus", we might even ask some cynical questions about what has been happening in our world.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read
THE RUNNER
VIRTUALLY DEAD
FREEZE FRAME
4.7, THE BLACKHOUSE
5.0, THE LEWIS MAN
4.5, EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE
5.0, ENTRY ISLAND
4.9, COFFIN ROAD

13 January 2021

Review: THE SAFE PLACE, Anna Downes

  • This edition published by Affirm Press Melbourne 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-925972-65-8
  • 371 pages
  • source: my local library 
  • author website

 Synopsis (author website)

Emily Proudman is a struggling actor in London, whose life is falling apart. When she is offered a job as live-in assistant for a family on a remote French estate, she jumps at the chance to start over. But her charismatic new employers are hiding dangerous secrets, and what at first appears to be a dream come true turns out to a be a prison from which none of them will ever escape – unless Emily can find a way to set them all free.

Superbly tense and mesmerising, The Safe Place is a deft examination of the lengths we’ll go to project and protect the façade of a perfect life and was largely written when author Anna Downes was in the grips of post-natal depression following the birth of her second child. With all her existential fears bubbling to the surface, Anna began writing as a way to have some semblance of control. She wrote and wrote and, reliving her previous career as an actor, began playing all the parts of the characters she had created. The result is one of the most tense and compelling debut novels ever, and The Safe Place was subject to a frenetic auction between Australian and international publishers in 2019.

My Take

Emily Proudman isn't a very good receptionist. She is often late because she is juggling auditions and bit-piece work. So in a sense she is not surprised when she is sacked. What she doesn't know is that she has been noticed by the boss who has decided that she is just perfect for another job. He "accidentally" bumps into her after she has been sacked and offers her a job as general factotum on his estate in France assisting his wife and helping look after his young daughter.

He flies Emily to France in his private jet, she is collected from the airport by a chauffeur, who then rather unceremoniously dumps her at the estate which is well hidden away in the countryside. By that night Emily is ready to leave but decides to give the wife Nina another chance. Over the weeks Emily and Nina get on fairly well and then her boss visits for the weekend. After that Emily begins to realise that there are things that are seriously wrong.

What is actually behind all the seclusion and isolation was not what I expected, and so I was once again hooked into reading until the very end so that I could see how it all panned out.

The structure of the novel is interesting. Emily is the main narrator and we generally see things through her eyes. There is a second narrator whose chapters are in italics, and the tragic story, and the identity of the narrator are there for us deduce.

My rating: 4.4 

About the author
Anna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career. Her acting credits include EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End.

In 2009 she left to go travelling with her Australian partner, a trip that included a stint working as a live-in housekeeper on a remote French estate, where the seeds for The Safe Place were sown. Anna now lives on the Central Coast with her husband and two children. The Safe Place is being published simultaneously in the US and the UK, with several other countries to follow.

11 January 2021

Review: THE GIRL IN THE MIRROR, Rose Carlyle

  • this edition e-book (Libby) through my local library
  • Publisher : William Morrow & Company (20 October 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Hardcover : 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0063030144
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0063030145
  • author website

Synopsis (Amazon)

Twin sisters Iris and Summer are startlingly alike, but beyond what the eye can see lies a darkness that sets them apart. Cynical and insecure, Iris has long been envious of Summer's seemingly never-ending good fortune.

When Summer calls Iris to Thailand to help her sail the family yacht to the Seychelles, Iris has secret hopes for what might happen on the journey. But after a disturbing incident in the middle of the Indian Ocean, everything changes.

Now Iris has the chance to step into the golden life she's always envied-and get one step closer to the hundred-million-dollar inheritance left by her manipulative father. All Iris would need to do is ensure she's the first of his seven children to fulfill the strange conditions of his will.

But Iris soon discovers that her twin was keeping more than one secret, and Iris's life lurches between glamorous dream and paranoid nightmare. In a family in which the winner takes all, whom can she trust? And how far will she go to get the life she's always dreamed about?

My Take

The narrator at first is Iris, second-born of "mirror" twins. Summer, the older twin, is perfect. Iris has always been conscious of being the less beautiful, the less perfect, although most people, including their younger brother, find it difficult to tell which is which.

Both women are recently married, but Iris's marriage has recently collapsed. Summer and her husband are in Thailand with her infant stepson and call for Iris to come to them because of an emergency with the little boy. 

Much of the plot becomes predictable once Summer and Iris begin sailing the family yacht from Thailand to the Seychelles. In the long run there is only one of them on the boat when it arrives. 

From that point on there are several plot twists. The last, in the final few pages, sent me back re-reading the final few chapters to check if there were any indications about where the plot was heading.

This book just kept me reading, mainly because I wanted to know how the plot worked out.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Rose Carlyle is a law professor who has written intermittently throughout her life and who began writing fiction in 2016. She was awarded first class honours in her creative writing Masters at the University of Auckland and was granted a prestigious mentorship under which she developed and completed this manuscript. She spends her spare time in far-flung places and currently lives in New Zealand. The Girl in the Mirror is her debut novel. 

10 January 2021

Review: THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, Agatha Christie

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B07MX6QZSD
  • First published 1920
  • #1 Hercule Poirot
  • Print length : 313 pages 

Synopsis (Agatha Christie.com)

Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was the result of a dare from her sister Madge who challenged her to write a story. The story begins when Hastings is sent back to England from the First World War due to injury and is invited to spend his sick leave at the beautiful Styles Court by his old friend John Cavendish. Here, Hastings meets John’s step-mother, Mrs Inglethorp, and her new husband, Alfred. Despite the tranquil surroundings Hastings begins to realise that all is not right. When Mrs Inglethorp is found poisoned, suspicion falls on the family, and another old friend, Hercule Poirot, is invited to investigate.

My Take

I have read this novel many times, but starting in February I am leading a small group into reading the first 5 Poirot novels and the first 5 Marples during the coming months..

So I have read this novel with a focus on what I want the group to get out of their reading.

So here are some of the points I want them to see:

  • the novel introduces us to Hercule Poirot and we get our first descriptions of him
  • How old is Poirot? Clues? Does Christie age him realistically?
  • It also introduces Arthur Hastings and his role as the narrator of the Poirot stories, and the foil to Poirot's brilliance and
    intuition 
  • Why did Agatha Christie write this novel, and what role did her own knowledge of poisons play in the plot?
  • I want them to look at Agatha Christie as a commentator on her times, how she gives a background and setting to the action of the novel.
  • some of the features of this novel: the locked room mystery
  • The final denouement sets up a pattern that is repeated in subsequent Poirot novels
  • the fact that this novel introduces some characters that recur in later novels

My rating: 4.5

Some useful links

My previous review on this site

8 January 2021

Review: THE MIST, Ragnar Jonasson

  •  First published in Icelandic in 2017
  • Translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb 
  •  Published in English by Penguin Random House: 30 April 2020
  •  ISBN: 978-0-718-18908-2
  •  Pages: 302

Synopsis  (Penguin Random House)

The final nail-biting instalment in the critically acclaimed Hidden Iceland series

1987. An isolated farm house in the east of Iceland. The snowstorm should have shut everybody out. But it didn't. The couple should never have let him in. But they did. An unexpected guest, a liar, a killer. Not all will survive the night. And Detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir will be haunted forever.

My Take

The Prologue tells us that Reykjavík detective is coming back to work after 2 months leave following a family tragedy. She is not sure she is ready to return to work but she knows it will be better than what is happening every day at the moment. A suspected murder has been called in from a farm in the east of Iceland. The bodies have been lying there since at least Christmas, over 2 months.

The time frame then jumps back 2 months, before Christmas, two settings: the farm in the east, and Hulda's own home in Reykjavík where she and her husband and teenage daughter are preparing for Christmas. In addition Hulda is investigating another case: a teenage girl who has gone missing while taking a gap year to travel on her own around Iceland.

Predictably these plot strands come together but what is not predictable is the how and why of their concatenating. Very cleverly plotted, and an excellent read.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Ragnar Jonasson is an international number one bestselling author who has sold over one and a half million books worldwide. He was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he also works as an investment banker and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie's novels. His critically acclaimed international bestseller The Darkness is soon to be a major TV series.

7 January 2021

Review: THE DARKEST EVENING, Ann Cleeves

  • e-book from my local library on Libby
  • Published by Macmillan September 2020
  • ISBN 9781509889518
  • 384 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

DCI Vera Stanhope returns in The Darkest Evening, the ninth novel in Sunday Times bestseller Ann Cleeves' enduringly popular series.

Driving home during a swirling blizzard, Vera Stanhope's only thought is to get there quickly.

But the snow is so heavy, she becomes disoriented and loses her way. Ploughing on, she sees a car slewed off the road ahead of her. With the driver's door open, Vera assumes the driver has sought shelter but when she inspects the car she is shocked to find a young toddler strapped in the back seat.

Afraid they will freeze, Vera takes the child and drives on, arriving at Brockburn, a run-down stately home she immediately recognizes as the house her father Hector grew up in.

Inside Brockburn a party is in full swing, with music and laughter to herald the coming Christmas. But outside in the snow, a young woman lies dead and Vera knows immediately she has a new case. Could this woman be the child's mother, and if so, what happened to her?

A classic country house mystery with a contemporary twist, Ann Cleeves returns with a brilliant Vera novel to savour.

My take

As you will see from my list below, Ann Cleeves is one of my favourite authors, and one that I love to follow. This latest offering in the Vera series does not disappoint.

I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the connections between Vera's familial history and the stately home of Brockburn. In each novel a little more of Vera's character is tweaked out and we gain more insight into what makes her "tick".

A complex plot comes to the fore as Vera discovers what has happened to the child's mother. Several characters are explored and a number of red herrings laid across our path. There's plenty of mystery on our plate. A very good read.

For those interested, there are differences between the books and the television series, but I feel that central character of Vera is essentially the same person. There are differences in the personnel of her team, but the interplay between the main characters is similar.

My rating: 4.9

I've also read

RAVEN BLACK - Shetland #1
WHITE NIGHTS - Shetland#2
RED BONES - Shetland #3
5.0, BLUE LIGHTNING - Shetland#4
5.0, DEAD WATER  - Shetland#5
4.6, THIN AIR - Shetland #6
4.3, MURDER IN PARADISE - Palmer-Jones series #3
TELLING TALES (Vera Stanhope) #2
4.8, SILENT VOICES, (Vera Stanhope) #4
5.0, THE GLASS ROOM (Vera Stanhope) #5
4.9, HARBOUR STREET (Vera Stanhope) #6
4.5, BURIAL OF GHOSTS - stand-alone
4.8, THE MOTH CATCHER (Vera Stanhope #7)
4.4, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE (Quick Reads)
4.7, THE SEAGULL - (Vera Stanhope #8)
4.6, THE LONG CALL - Two Rivers #1

4 January 2021

Review: STICKS AND STONES, Katherine Firkin

  • This edition published by Bantam 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-76089-302-6
  • 392 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website

Synopsis (author website)

It’s winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.

So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.

But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets – none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.

Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.

What had seemed like a standard missing person’s case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.

But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body . . .

My Take

We meet the murderer, who turns out to be a serial killer, right at the start, in the Prologue, but we don't know who he is. 

Two cases present themselves for the attention of the MPU almost simultaneously. Rosemary Norton is reported missing by her brother because she fails to turn up for her disabled brother's birthday party. The second case, that of Natale Gibson, mother of two, who fails to collect her two young children from day care, looks more serious.

The MPU is under pressure to perform. It seems likely that the future state budget will bring with it a cut to their funding, and the absorption of the MPU into other police departments.

In the background Emmett Corban's wife Cindy is excited to be taking up a new job, but, while Emmett is glad for her, he realises it will bring changes to the dynamics of their home life.

The plot is many stranded, with a load of red herrings to distract the reader. The way the strands are connected up is very clever. There are a range of well-developed characters too. Good reading.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Katherine Firkin is a Melbourne journalist, currently with CBS New York.
She has over a decade of experience and has worked across every medium – print, online, television and radio.
Katherine has been writing fiction from a young age, and she studied literature and journalism at university. Her debut novel is inspired by the many criminal trials she has covered.

 

1 January 2021

Review: THE BLUFFS, Kyle Perry

  • Published : 2 July 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760895679
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (publisher)

At the bottom of the world, there is an island. It is a land of rugged wilderness, of ice and snow and blistering heat, of the oldest trees on earth . . . They say tigers still roam there. They say other things roam, too.

When a school group of teenage girls goes missing in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers, the people of Limestone Creek are immediately on alert. Three decades ago, five young girls disappeared in the area of those dangerous bluffs, and the legend of ‘the Hungry Man’ still haunts locals to this day.

Now, authorities can determine that the teacher, Eliza Ellis, was knocked unconscious, so someone on the mountain was up to foul play. Jordan Murphy, the local dealer and father of missing student Jasmine, instantly becomes the prime suspect. But Detective Con Badenhorst knows that in a town this size – with corrupt cops, small-town politics, and a teenage YouTube sensation – everyone is hiding something, and bluffing is second nature.

When a body is found, mauled, at the bottom of a cliff, suspicion turns to a wild animal – but that can’t explain why she was discovered barefoot, her shoes at the top of the cliff, laces neatly tied.

My Take

Limestone Creek, a small town, exists on the very edge of the Tasmanian wilderness, so close that it is a short walk from the local high school to the mountains, rumoured to be inhabited by The Hungry Man. If you see him or hear him, you die. Is that what happened to 5 school girls 3 decades ago? And now, 4 girls go missing.

And Limestone Creek is put on the map by social media. People flood into the town from other places in Tasmania, a police investigator with a history sweeps in from Hobart, and a local teenager floods YouTube with pre-prepared videos. And then a body is found.

The author uses several voices to explore relationships at the school, between adults and the teenagers, and among the teenagers themselves. The father of one of the girls is the local drug grower and dealer. Some of the adults prey on the school girls, betraying their duty of care.

This is a novel that crosses boundaries. I'm not sure that the final resolution is particularly credible, but the author certainly achieved his aim of keeping me reading.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Kyle Perry is a counsellor who has worked extensively in high schools, youth shelters and drug rehabs. In his work he encounters stories and journeys that would fill a hundred books. Kyle’s mother grew up in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers, in Tasmania’s heartland, where his grandfather was called on for search and rescues in the mountains. Kyle himself has been lost in Tasmanian mountains twice, and once used ripped pages of a journal stuck on branches to find his way back out. He has also seen strange things in the bush that defy explanation and are best not spoken about. Kyle divides his time between his small country hometown in Tasmania’s North West and Hobart. The Bluffs is his debut novel.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin