23 October 2021

Review: THE NANCYS, R.W.R. McDonald

  • this edition published in 2019 by Allen & Unwin
  • ISBN 978-1-76052-733-4
  • 389 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A schoolgirl and her uncle and his boyfriend have two weeks to solve a murder in a small town style forgot...
WINNER of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel

Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world - the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum's on a cruise.

Tippy is in love with her uncle's old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher's body is found beside Riverstone's only traffic light, Tippy's moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.

But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy's mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.

The Nancys is gripping and glorious, a heart-warming novel for anyone who's ever felt they were on the outside looking in. At its heart it is about the family we make and how we must summon the courage to face the truth, no matter what the cost may be

My Take

Tippy Chan is still trying to come to terms with the recent sudden death of her Chinese father whom she adored. Making things worse, it seems that her mother wants to erase all memory of him by removing his photos from their walls.

When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy's Uncle Pike volunteers to come to look after her. He brings with him his flamboyant boy friend. Pike and Devon decide to help their neighbor Melanie win the local Queen of the Show. 

In the meantime one of Tippy's friends has a fall from a bridge into the river and ends up in hospital in a coma. Photos arrive on Tippy's phone that seem to indicate that he has been a witness to something he shouldn't have seen.

I had a lot of trouble "getting into" this novel., and I am not totally sure why. There are really 3 or 4 plots progressing together and I had trouble in deciding who to trust. So separating out these plot strands was probably part of my problem. There is a large range of characters and their interaction with each other is at times a bit obscure.

My rating: 4.3 

About the author

R.W.R. McDonald (Rob) is an award-winning author, a Kiwi and Queer dad living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. His debut novel, The Nancys, won Best First Novel in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, as well as being a finalist in the Best Novel category. It was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, and Highly Commended for an Unpublished Manuscript in the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Nancy Business is his second novel, publishing in June 2021.

Shortlisted Best Debut Crime Fiction, Ned Kelly Awards 2020 AU; Winner Best First Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Designed Commercial Fiction Cover, Australian Book Design Awards 2020 AU; Highly Commended Unpublished Manuscript, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2017 AU

17 October 2021

Review: BENEVOLENCE, Julie Janson

  • this edition available as an e-book from my local library through Libby
  • Published: 1st May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781925936636
  • Number Of Pages: 356
  • Publisher: Magabala Books

Synopsis (publisher

LONGLISTED, 2020 MARK & EVETTE MORAN NIB LITERARY AWARD

For perhaps the first time in novel form, Benevolence presents an important era in Australia’s history from an Aboriginal perspective. Benevolence is told from the perspective of Darug woman, Muraging (Mary James), born around 1813. Mary’s was one of the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation. At an early age Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School by her Darug father. From here she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home.

The novel spans the years 1816-35 and is set around the Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people, Parramatta and Sydney. The author interweaves historical events and characters — she shatters stereotypes and puts a human face to this Aboriginal perspective.

My Take

The author tells us at the end of the book(in ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS) that this "is a work of fiction based on historical events of the early years of British invasion and settlement around the Hawkesbury River in Western Sydney, New South Wales.

... Muraging is based on my [the author's] great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, who was a servant on colonial estates in the Hawkesbury area. The other characters in the novel are inspired by historical figures and [my] imagination, except for the governors who are based on historical documents."

BENEVOLENCE relies heavily on research and the author's family history, and there is no denying the value of the perspective it gives us. The British invasion had a huge impact on the local Aboriginal tribes, not only with the declaration of the policy of "terra nullius" which gave white settlers the right to claim the land, but also with their so-called "benevolent' practices which put aboriginal babies into orphanages where they died, took children away from their families and put them into schools, brought with them diseases like measles, small pox, and the common cold which decimated the populations, and carried out war against those who resisted.

The novel is very graphic in the story that it tells, and will stay with readers well after reading it.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Julie Janson's career as a playwright began when she wrote and directed plays in remote Australian Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. She is now a novelist and award-winning poet. Julie is a Burruberongal woman of Darug Aboriginal Nation. She is co-recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize, 2016 and winner of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, 2019.

Her novels include, The Crocodile Hotel, Cyclops Press 2015 and The Light Horse Ghost, Nibago 2018. Julie has written and produced plays, including two at Belvoir St Theatre – Black Mary and Gunjies and Two Plays, published by Aboriginal Studies Press 1996.

Janson blends reality with fiction in a number of ways. She credits her own history as inspiration for the story, citing her great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, as the basis for Muraging. She has said that Benevolence was written as an Aboriginal response to Kate Grenville's The Secret River.

14 October 2021

Review: 1979, Val McDermid

  • this edition published by Little, Brown 2021
  • ISBN 9-780751-583083
  • length: 418 pages
  • Allie Burns, book 1

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The shadows hide a deadly story . . .

1979. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys' club to take her seriously.

Soon Allie and fellow journalist Danny Sullivan are exposing the criminal underbelly of respectable Scotland. They risk making powerful enemies - and Allie won't stop there.

When she discovers a home-grown terrorist threat, Allie comes up with a plan to infiltrate the group and make her name. But she's a woman in a man's world . . . and putting a foot wrong could be fatal.

My Take

Allie Burns and Daniel Sullivan are colleagues at the Clarion, in Glasgow. Their first collaborative effort comes as the result of Danny delivering a baby on the Glasgow train. Allie writes the story up.

Their next story results from Danny realising that his own brother is working as a courier for a company which has put some tax evasion schemes in place. Joseph is obviously getting a kickback from the scheme. Eventually Danny and Allie investigate the scheme and their exposure results in a much higher profile for both of them at the Clarion.

But their next investigation is much more dangerous.

A very good read, as one would expect from a writer of McDermid's standing.

My rating: 4.7 

I've also read

BENEATH THE BLEEDING
4.8, THE SKELETON ROAD
4.8, OUT OF BOUNDS

10 October 2021

Review: THE GOOD TEACHER, Petronella McGovern

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-76087-529-9
  • 401 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

From the bestselling author of Six Minutes, comes a fast-paced, heart-stopping thriller full of gripping tension, twists and turns.
A good teacher can change lives…

Every evening, Allison watches her husband's new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She's a good teacher, everyone says so - this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.

A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie. Allison takes the sick girl under her wing, smothering Gracie with the love she can't give her own son. When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison whips up the community into a frenzied fundraising drive.

But as others start to question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison wonders if she can trust herself. Has she crossed a line?

How far will the good teacher go to save a life? And whose life will that be?

An intriguing tale of our times about kindness and betrayal, and the danger of good deeds. 

My take

Wirriga is small town on Sydney's northern beaches. It is the town that Allison herself grew up in, and the school she teaches in is the one she went to herself. Everyone knows everyone else and Allison has a secret she is trying to keep to herself.

Gracie and her father Luke arrive just at the time when Allison is experiencing a yawning void in her life, and she not only takes them into her home, but begins a fundraising campaign to raise money to send Gracie, who has a life threatening cancer, to America for treatment.

There are several interesting sub-plots to the story, and because they are not revealed in the publisher's blurb, I am not going to reveal them to you either. Just let me say that you will be surprised by the twists and turns of this plot, and where it leads you.

In some ways it is about how gullible we can all be, how generosity can make you the prey for others.

My rating: 4.7 

I've also read 4.3, SIX MINUTES

7 October 2021

Review: THE ORCHARD MURDERS, Robert Gott

  • This edition made available as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • length: 304pp
  • ISBN (13):9781922310675
  • Pub date:3 Aug 2021, Scribe publications
  • #4 in the Holiday Murders series

Synopsis (Scribe publications)

A novel about revenge, obsession, and the dangerous gullibility of religious fanatics.

In 1944, in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Nunawading, a brutal triple murder heralds the return of a long-forgotten cult. A man named Anthony Prescott has declared himself the Messiah and has promised his followers immortality. There are those who believe him and who are ready to kill in his name. Inspector Titus Lambert of the Melbourne Homicide unit, whose detectives are over-stretched, requests the discreet assistance of Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once members of his unit, now private inquiry agents. The investigation is more perilous than any of them realise, and will have tragic consequences.

The Orchard Murders is the fourth novel in Robert Gott’s acclaimed series, set in Melbourne during the dark days of the Second World War.

My Take

At the beginning of this book a synopsis of each of the three preceding titles in the series appears. I hadn't read them all, but it did serve me to bring me "up to speed". 

The novel is a reminder that strange and violent crimes continue even when a country is at war, and so there is need of a police force and even private investigators. Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once part of the Victoria Police's Homicide squad, are now private investigators, but they keep in close touch with their former boss, Inspector Titus Lambert. The other main characters are Tom McKenzie, a former pilot, and Clara Dawson, a doctor at the Melbourne Hospital.

There are a number of linked plots in the book, which makes for interesting reading. For example Tom returns to work to undertake surveillance of a man married to woman in Japan, and therefore under suspicion of espionage. Clara's boss is a doctor who despises female doctors, and she is befriended by his wife. The main plot is the murders that take place in Nunawading on a farm next to one run by a sect. 

Between them the plots paint a strong picture of life in Melbourne towards the end of World War  II.

Highly recommended. Very readable.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Robert Gott was born in the Queensland town of Maryborough in 1957, and lives in Melbourne. He has published many books for children, and is also the creator of the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man. He is the author of the William Power series of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia, comprising Good Murder, A Thing of Blood, Amongst the Dead, and The Serpent’s Sting, and of the Murders series, comprising The Holiday Murders, The Port Fairy Murders, The Autumn Murders, and The Orchard Murders. 

I've also read

4.4, THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS
4.5, THE AUTUMN MURDERS

3 October 2021

Review: NEVER FORGET, Michel Bussi

  • this edition an e-book made available on Libby by my local library
  • first published in French 2014
  • translated into English from French by Shaun Whiteside 2020
  • ISBN 9781474601856

Synopsis (Amazon)

Jamal loves to run. But one morning - as he is training on a path winding up a steep cliff - he stumbles across a woman in distress. It's a matter of seconds: suddenly she is falling through the air, crashing on the beach below.

Jamal is only an unlucky bystander - or is he?

His version of events doesn't seem to fit with what other eyewitnesses claim to have seen. And how to explain the red scarf carefully arranged around the dead woman's neck? Perhaps this was no accident after all.

Or perhaps there is something more sinister afoot - a devilish plan decades in the making, masterminded by someone hell-bent on revenge.

My Take

You always know with a Michel Bussi novel, that nothing is going to be simple. 

From the beginning there are apparently two separate stories: on July 12th 2014 a section of cliff near Yport collapsed, and scattered over 40 metres of the beach among the debris are three human skeletons. Five months earlier a macabre event occurred with no apparent connection to the three skeletons. Out for his morning jog, Jamal witnesses a girl leap off the cliff to the beach below. By the time he gets down to the beach, she is dead, and there are two people standing there looking st the corpse.

There are inconsistencies that Jamal does not understand, and as days progress, he feels uncomfortably that the police are trying to imply that he has had something to do with the death.

Jamal discovers that the event is horribly similar to one that took place almost exactly 10 years earlier on a nearby coastline. The police thought that one was a rape/murder, and it was followed quickly by another. The murderer was never identified.

The thing I find about Michel Bussi plots is that they play with your mind.You begin to wonder whether the narrator is reliable, or whether the whole thing is just a nightmare that you somehow slipped into.  But good things come to those who persist.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

4.8, BLACK WATER LILIES
4.5, AFTER THE CRASH
4.5, DON'T LET GO
4.7, TIME IS A KILLER

2 October 2021

Review: HOLDING, Graham Norton

  • this edition published in Great Britain, 2016, Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN 978-1-444-79203-4
  • 312 pages

Synopsis

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste. So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel.

As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of lovable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

My Take

When PJ Collins had joined the police he had hoped to become a detective.  Instead, for his whole life he has been stuck in the village of Duneen, handling nothing more than the pettiness of everyday life., looked after by his housekeeper Mrs Meany, who feeds him well three times a day.

The discovery of human remains on a building site is certainly something out of the ordinary, and means that "the suits from Cork" will come to have a look, and inevitably take over. Twenty years earlier, a young man, Tommy Burke, had vanished, thought to have left the town on a bus, and never heard of again. 

Rumours start up that the pile of bones could be a mass grave, but eventually it is settled that it is just one person. The Superintendent arrived from Cork to supervise the investigation and PJ's local knowledge comes in useful.

Eventually, months later, a second bundle of bones is found, and then the truth comes out.

A deceptively gentle read, but eventually the secrets that the village has been hiding are revealed. People's lives are changed forever. The characters are beautifully and empathetically drawn.

My rating: 4.5 

About the author
Graham William Walker is an Irish actor, comedian, television presenter and columnist, known by his stage name Graham Norton. He is the host of the comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show and the BBC commentator of the Eurovision Song Contest.

28 September 2021

Review: THE SKELETONS OF BIRKBURY, Diana Febry

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B07CYQDHHJ
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ May 8, 2018 -originally published in 2015
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 277 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 198104986X 
  • #1 Peter Hatherall series

Synopsis (Amazon)

One buried body.
Many hidden secrets.
When the body of a teenage girl is discovered, the villagers of Birkbury close ranks to protect their secrets.
Gossip turns to fear and suspicion as they realise the killer is one of them and is prepared to kill again.
Beneath the good manners and polite smiles, DCI Hatherall discovers deep-seated resentments and family feuds going back decades. The stakes are raised when another girl goes missing.
Will the police uncover the killer before it is too late?

My Take

A debut title and the first in a series. The author has gone on to write more than a dozen titles, including five more in this series. 

During a big storm, a large tree falls over and reveals a skeleton. There is no problem in identifying the body as there is a bracelet that identifies her as a girl who had gone missing twenty years before. It seems most likely that she had been working at one of the local riding stables but nobody is able to remember her.

After her body is identified her twin brother and a cousin both turn up in the village. DCI Peter Hatherall and his offsider DC Fiona Wilson try to track down all who might have some knowledge of what was happening twenty years before. A mixture of local gossip and a set of old photos point the way for them.

While the story is very readable, and most of the i's get dotted and the t's crossed by the end, there are signs that this is a debut novel - for example there are a number of characters who come to nothing, and side-plots that have little significance. Peter Hatherall predictably has a curmudgeonly boss who threatens to take the case away from him if he doesn't get results "soon", and one of the suspects plays golf with someone higher up the chain than Peter Hatherall. Peter has domestic issues, a problem daughter, and a tragedy in the past, that all add dimensions to his character.

I'm looking forward to reading the second in the series.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
I was born and brought up in South west England where I still live with husband,two teenage children and aged dog. I studied law at Brookes University, Oxford but after a few years of feeling suffocated left to drift through a series of casual jobs. Mostly they have been connected with horses in some way but all gave me the freedom to dream and feed my imagination. 

 

27 September 2021

Review: THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS, Pat Barker

  •  this edition in large print published in 2019 by Doubleday
  • ISBN 978-1-64358-109-5
  • 430 pages

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award
Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again. 

My Take

Briseis knows what will happen to her if she is still alive when Achilles and the Greek army reach her palace. She can hear him coming. Her husband, father and her brothers are already dead, and she has the option to throw herself from the ramparts, but she chooses to wait and become a captive. She is assigned to Achilles as part of his prize for what he has achieved in battle.

Her life radically changes as she becomes concubine and house servant.

The story explores what happens to women as they become trophies of war, at the same as combining Briseis' story with the legends of Achilles as we know them from Homer's Iliad.

My rating: 4.4

I have previously read

4.4, DOUBLE VISION

23 September 2021

Review: THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE, Sujata Massey

  • This edition an e-book from Libby through my local library
  • ISBN: 9781760529420
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin, May 2020
  • Page Extent: 384
  • #2 in the Perveen Mistry series
  • Winner of the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery!
  • Nominated for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction!
  • Nominated for the The G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award and the Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery! 
  • author website

Synopsis (publisher

The delightfully clever Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first female lawyer, returns in an adventure of treacherous intrigues and suspicious deaths.

India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Sahyadri Mountains southeast of Bombay, where the kingdom of Satapur is tucked away. A curse has fallen upon Satapur's royal family, whose maharaja and his teenage son are both dead. The kingdom is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur's two maharanis, the dowager queen and the maharaja's widow.

The royal ladies are in dispute over the education of the young crown prince, and a lawyer's council is required - but the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. Just one woman can help them: Perveen Mistry.

Perveen is determined to bring peace to the royal house, but when she arrives she finds that the Satapur palace is full of cold-blooded power plays and ancient vendettas. Too late, she realises she has walked into a trap. But whose? And how can she protect the royal children from the deadly curse on the palace?

My Take

Perveen Mistry is commissioned to visit the small kingdom of Satapur to talk to its two maharanis about what needs to be done about the education of its young maharajah. His father and older brother have both died in the past year, and the kingdom currently comes under the agency of the British Raj. The local agent has been unable to talk to the maharanis because they observe strict purdah and his visits have been rejected.

They will not have the same objection to Perveen Mistry because she is female and she is a lawyer. Perveen's father, head of their legal firm in Bombay, thinks the journey to Satapur will be dangerous, and he is not keen for her to take the task on. Perveen on the other hand sees the commission as a great opportunity to branch out on her own. She is to travel to the British circuit house to meet the local agent by palanquin, and then go on to the Satapur palace to meet with the maharanis.

I was impressed by the evident research undertaken by the author, and feeling of authenticity and depth of historical background to the story. The characters are well fleshed out, and it is apparent that Perveen is not going to find her task an easy one. Here is India 100 years ago, Gandhiji is a young man and is admired by Perveen, and independence is a long way off.

Well worth reading.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

19 September 2021

Review: A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, Agatha Christie

  • This edition an e-book published by Amazon (Kindle)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000FC12YG
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ March 17, 2009
  • Originally published 1950
  • Miss Marple #5
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 240 pages

Synopsis (Amazon

The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which read: 'A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 p.m.' Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the pointed time when, without warning, the lights go out ...

My Take

This is another of my re-reads, so I can contribute to a book discussion on the first 5 or 6 Miss Marple novels. While Jane Marple was introduced in a set of short stories in the late 1920s, the first novels were spaced well apart.

  • THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE 1930
  • THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY 1942
  • THE MOVING FINGER 1943
  • A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED 1950
The last in that list seems to be placed just after World War II has ended, and there is even thought that another war is inevitable, with reference to the horrors of atomic war. 
England has much changed, and it's residents are no longer necessarily English. There are many migrants, and people are no longer whom they seem to be.
 
Fifteen years ago one knew who everybody was. The Bantrys in the big house—and the Hartnells and the Price Ridleys and the Weatherbys … They were people whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers...

But it’s not like that any more. Every village and small country place is full of people who’ve just come and settled there without any ties to bring them. The big houses have been sold, and the cottages have been converted and changed. And people just come—and all you know about them is what they say of themselves.
They’ve come, you see, from all over the world.

There were just faces and personalities and they were backed up by ration books and identity cards—nice neat identity cards with numbers on them, without photographs or fingerprints. Anybody who took the trouble could have a suitable identity card —and partly because of that, the subtler links that had held together English social rural life had fallen apart. In a town nobody expected to know his neighbour. In the country now nobody knew his neighbour either, though possibly he still thought he did …

Miss Marple is introduced relatively early in this novel. She is staying at a local hotel, having treatment for her "rheumatic leg." she is introduced as an old "Pussy" who has written to the local police saying that she might have something to contribute in the matter of the recent murder that has taken place at Little Paddocks.

Miss Jane Marple was very nearly, if not quite, as Craddock had pictured her. She was far more benignant than he had imagined and a good deal older. She seemed indeed very old. She had snow-white hair and a pink crinkled face and very soft innocent blue eyes, and she was heavily enmeshed in fleecy wool. Wool round her shoulders in the form of a lacy cape and wool that she was knitting and which turned out to be a baby’s shawl.

There are a couple of sub-plots to keep the reader involved, and eventually 3 murders in the quiet little village of Chipping Cleghorn, and of course, a whole raft of red herrings.

Inspector Craddock the policeman from Scotland Yard is far better treated by Christie than Inspector Slack was in earlier novels. He also has a better appreciation of Miss Marple:

Well, perhaps you’re right, Miss Blacklock, but my own diagnosis would be a severe attack of Nosey Parkeritis …’ ‘She’s a very harmless old creature,’ said Miss Blacklock. ‘Dangerous as a rattlesnake if you only knew,’ the Inspector thought grimly. But he had no intention of taking anyone into his confidence unnecessarily. Now that he knew definitely there was a killer at large, he felt that the less said the better. He didn’t want the next person bumped off to be Jane Marple.

Interesting features of this novel:

  • Agatha Christie's observations of the changed structure of village life, and her comments on social and economic changes that have taken place;
  • Miss Marple snares the murderer, whose identity she has already realised, but needs to prove. Her "honey trap", set up with the local policeman, puts one of the other characters in great danger. Note here Miss Marple's talent at mimicry;
  • Miss Marple moves in a circle of vicarages. The Vicarage at Chipping Cleghorn is not the first one she has stayed at in these novels.
  • ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering first appeared in the late 1920s and is still around, and being consulted.
  • Note the "mannish" women and the women doing men's jobs. 
  • Note also Jane Marple's own comments on her sleuthing abilities.
  • There is a romantic element
  • If Jane Marple was "old" in the late 1920s, how old is she now? It is 25 years later. She has to be in her 80s.

18 September 2021

Review: THE LONG GAME, Simon Rowell

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

A summer of relentless heat. A local surfer named Ray Carlson is found dead in a house not far from Portsea back beach. There’s a kitchen knife deep in his chest, and blood everywhere.

Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer is scarcely back from extended leave, and still wrestling with her demons, but she is assigned the case—alongside her new service dog, Harry, whose instincts help her in unexpected ways.

There’s an obvious suspect for the murder, and Zoe makes an arrest. But it’s all too neat, and none of Zoe’s colleagues believes her theory that the whole thing is a stitch-up.

Except now someone is trying to hunt Zoe down.

Superbly plotted, and vividly set in the beachside suburbs and hilly retreats around Melbourne, The Long Game is a mystery about a tough and clever investigator who won’t give up.

My take

An intriguing read from a new-to-me Australian author. 

We know that Zoe Mayer, Victoria Police, has come back from extended leave after being involved in a traumatic incident. Via flashbacks we eventually learn what happened then, something that put Zoe on the front page of every newspaper in Australia, if not the world.

Zoe is meant to be easing herself back into work, but when you investigate violent murders, that isn't really possible. It is Zoe who sees the similarities between the Ray Carlson case and earlier cases, but her colleagues take a lot of persuading, even those who work closest to her.

But then the person whom she identifies as the link between the cases, turns, and Zoe herself is in danger.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Simon Rowell has worked on outback oil rigs, managed nightclubs, been a tour guide and run marketing campaigns. His first book, THE ECHO OF OTHERS, was longlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Crime in 2018. He lives with his wife, Karen, in rural Victoria on a farm full of rescued animals.

12 September 2021

Review: A FATAL LIE, Charles Todd

  • this edition an e-book from Libby through my local library
  • #23 Inspector Rutledge series
  • published 2021
  • ISBN: 9780062905574
  • ISBN 10: 0062905570
  • Imprint: William Morrow
  • Pages: 352 

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In one of his most puzzling cases, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge must delve deep into a dead man’s life and his past to find a killer determined to keep dark secrets buried.

A peaceful Welsh village is thrown into turmoil when a terrified boy stumbles on a body in a nearby river. The man appears to have fallen from the canal aqueduct spanning the valley. But there is no identification on the body, he isn’t a local, and no one will admit to having seen him before. With little to go on, the village police turn to Scotland Yard for help.

When Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent from London to find answers, he is given few clues—a faded military tattoo on the victim’s arm and an unusual label in the collar of his shirt. They eventually lead him to the victim’s identity: Sam Milford. By all accounts, he was a good man and well-respected. Then, why is his death so mysterious? Looking for the truth, Rutledge uncovers a web of lies swirling around a suicidal woman, a child’s tragic fate, and another woman bent on protecting her past. But where among all the lies is the motive for murder?

To track a killer, Rutledge must retrace Milford’s last journey. Yet death seems to stalk his every move, and the truth seems to shift at every turn. Man or woman, this murderer stays in the shadows, and it will take desperate measures to lure him—or her—into the light.

My Take

You'll notice from the list below that I haven't read all of this series, but they are certainly worth following.

While each adds to the development of Ian Rutledge's character, each certainly works quite well as a stand alone. Most are set in the decade after World War One and Rutledge, an Inspector with Scotland Yard, is battling the aftermath of the war. The complexity of this case is typical of most of the stories. The body of an ex-soldier turns up in a river in Wales, and from there Rutledge establishes the identity of the man, and looks for the reason why he is so far from home.

It is typical of Rutledge that he goes that extra mile, looking for why Sam Milford has been killed and by whom. It is a tangled trail that leads him to look for a missing child, why she has been kidnapped, and to uncovering deaths of people who at first glance don't seem to have anything to do with the original case.

The main plot is surrounded by a number of sub-plots, many of them giving us further background to Rutledge himself.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

11 September 2021

Review: THE MOVING FINGER, Agatha Christie

  • This edition from Amazon on Kindle
  • Miss Marple #4
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0046H95SG
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 14, 2010
  • Originally published in 1942
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 243 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

The quiet village of Lymstock seemed like the perfect place for Jerry Burton to recover from his accident. But shortly after his arrival he receives a letter accusing him of the unthinkable.

He’s not the only one. Across the village people are receiving letters accusing them of terrible acts. It seems like just a cruel prank until one recipient is found dead, with a letter next to her reading ‘I can’t go on’.

The inquest rules that her death was a suicide and the case seems clear cut. Until another body appears…

My Take

I'm reading this again for a group discussion, and at the same time I'm looking for new insights, things I haven't taken notice of before. 

Here are a few things to consider

  • In this novel Agatha Christie reverts to the use of a narrator, and we need to ask ourselves how reliable he is. Does the fact that the narrator is male skew the perspective for the reader? Do other things cloud his judgement?
  • The novel is well underway (over 60% according to Kindle) by the time Miss Marple is called in by the Vicar's wife, after two murders have already taken place:

    I’m going to call in an expert. .... I don’t mean someone who knows about anonymous letters or even about murder. I mean someone who knows people.

    The Dane Calthrops had a guest staying with them, an amiable elderly lady who was knitting something with white fleecy wool. We had very good hot scones for tea, the vicar came in, and beamed placidly on us whilst he pursued his gentle erudite conversation. It was very pleasant. I don’t mean that we got away from the topic of the murder, because we didn’t. Miss Marple, the guest, was naturally thrilled by the subject. As she said
    apologetically: ‘We have so little to talk about in the country!’ She had made up her mind that the dead girl must have been just like her Edith.

  • Miss Marple lays a trap for the murderer just as she did in THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY
    • Miss Marple attributes her understanding of what has happened to her life-long observation of village life.

      One sees a good deal of human nature living in a village all the year round,’ said Miss Marple placidly. Then, seeming to feel it was expected of her, she laid down her crochet, and delivered a gentle old-maidish dissertation on murder. ‘The great thing is in these cases to keep an absolutely open mind. Most crimes, you see, are so absurdly simple. This one was. Quite sane and straightforward—and quite understandable—in an unpleasant way, of course.’

      “No smoke without fire.” It irritated you, but you proceeded quite correctly to label it for what it was—a smoke screen. Misdirection, you see—everybody looking at the wrong thing—

  • And of course Miss Marple engages in a little misdirection herself. When Jerry Burton and the police think the murderer has been found, the wrong person is accused.
  • And then finally there is a bit of romance, just as there was in MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, and THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY.
  • And the motive for the murders? well, that would be telling.

My Rating: 4.5

See what other Agatha Christie novels I've read

5 September 2021

Review: THE THREE MISS ALLENS, Victoria Purman

  • this edition an e-book on Libby made available through my local library
  • ISBN: 9781489210746
  • ISBN 10: 1489210741
  • Imprint: Mira
  • Published 2016
  • Pages: 416
  • author website

Synopsis (publisher

From a bestselling Australian author comes a compelling narrative set in the 1930s and modern-day South Australia.

How much of who we are is destiny and how much chance?

In 1934, the three Miss Allens – Ruby, Adeline and Clara – arrive in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay for their annual summer holiday. It's the last time they'll spend summers as a family. Adeline is engaged, Ruby is weighing up an offer, and Clara is just eighteen and about to start her life. But by summer's end, the lives they have known will change irrevocably and a mysterious secret will tear the family apart.

Eighty–two years later, Ruby's great–granddaughter Roma Harris moves to the now sleepy Remarkable Bay, retreating from tragedy. Roma's distant cousin Addy arrives too, fleeing a life with too much drama. It's only when the women discover an old guest book that they start asking questions about the mysterious third Miss Allen. Who was she? Why has she disappeared from the family's history?
If they solve this mystery from their past, could it change the women's futures?

My Take

A gentler read than my usual fare, a mystery rather than crime fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this title not just because it was set in my home town (thinly disguised) but also because of how well the characters were drawn, and the social changes of the last 80 years were described. For location confirmation see this interview with the author.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.6

29 August 2021

Review: A DIVIDED LOYALTY, Charles Todd

  •  this edition an e-book on Libby through my local library
  • Originally published 2020
  • #22 in Ian Rutledge series

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is assigned one of the most baffling investigations of his career: an unsolved murder case with an unidentified victim and a cold trail with few clues to follow

A woman has been murdered at the foot of a megalith shaped like a great shrouded figure. Chief Inspector Brian Leslie, one of the Yard’s best men, is sent to investigate the site in Avebury, a village set inside a prehistoric stone circle not far from Stonehenge. In spite of his efforts, Leslie is not able to identify her, much less discover how she got to Avebury — or why she died there. Her killer has simply left no trace.

Several weeks later, when Ian Rutledge has returned from successfully concluding a similar case with an unidentified victim, he is asked to take a second look at Leslie’s inquiry. But Rutledge suspects Chief Superintendent Markham simply wants him to fail.

Leslie was right—Avebury refuses to yield its secrets. But Rutledge slowly widens his search, until he discovers an unexplained clue that seems to point toward an impossible solution. If he pursues it and he is wrong, he will draw the wrath of the Yard down on his head. But even if he is right, he can’t be certain what he can prove, and that will play right into Markham’s game. The easy answer is to let the first verdict stand: Person or persons unknown. But what about the victim? What does Rutledge owe this tragic young woman? Where must his loyalty lie?

My Take

A very well plotted story, lots of red herrings, and a number of plot strands. This is another of those series where it pays to read the books in order, so that you follow the various by-stories that earlier titles bring with them. 

Rutledge is a very competent investigator and eventually he manages to untangle the plot that Brian Leslie didn't want anybody to know about. But even then he nearly gets it wrong.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

A TEST OF WILLS -#1
SEARCH THE DARK -#3
4.8, A FEARSOME DOUBT -#6
A PALE HORSE -#10
4.5, A DUTY TO THE DEAD - Bess Crawford series
4.7, A LONELY DEATH -#13
4.6, THE CONFESSION - #14
4.7, HUNTING SHADOWS - #16
4.7, NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE - #18
4.7, RACING THE DEVIL - #19 

4.7, THE GATEKEEPER - #20
4.5, THE BLACK ASCOT - #21

Review: THE DARK ANGEL, Elly Griffiths

  • This edition published by Quercus 2018
  • ISBN 978-78429-664-3
  • 346 pages
  • #10 Ruth Galloway series
  • author website

Synopsis (author website)

The tenth book in the Dr Ruth Galloway series sees Ruth wanting to escape from Norfolk and from  her complicated relationship with DCI Nelson, at least for a while. Her chance arrives with an invitation from Dr Angelo Morelli at Rome University. Morelli, with whom Ruth once had a fleeting affair, has found some Roman remains that seem to hold a mystery. He offers Ruth a role as a consultant and a free holiday in the picturesque hilltop town of Castello degli Angeli. 

Ruth and Kate fly to Italy without telling Nelson, who is preoccupied by a recently released killer and by Michelle’s pregnancy. But Ruth’s holiday is not the relaxing break she had imagined; an earthquake is followed by a murder that shocks the local community and stirs long-forgotten memories. And it’s not long before Nelson, accompanied by Cathbad, is on his way to Italy. But has Nelson ignored the dangers at home? 

My Take

This novel takes Ruth out of her familiar setting of North Norfolk, and potentially we have a story uncomplicated by her relationship with Harry Nelson.

Ruth hasn't told Nelson that she and Kate are having a fortnight in Italy so she can give some advice to a friend at the University of Rome. However an earthquake in the area Ruth is staying in, together with media reports of injuries, sends Nelson to fly to her side, much to her surprise. And then the local priest is murdered. The earthquake causes damage to the local church and bones that have been long buried are revealed.

So now I have caught up with the novels in this series that I had missed out on reading. The events of this novel have filled in the details of events I had half known about.

Excellent reading!

My rating: 4.8

I've also read

24 August 2021

Review: THE STONE CIRCLE, Elly Griffiths

  • This edition published in Great Britain by Quercus 2019
  • #110 in the Ruth Galloway series
  • ISBN 978-1-78648-730-8
  • 361 pages
  • Author website

Synopsis ( Author website)

DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letters telling him to ‘go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there’. He is shaken, not only because children are very much on his mind, with Michelle’s baby due to be born, but because although the letters are anonymous, they are somehow familiar. They read like the letters that first drew him into the case of The Crossing Places, and to Ruth. But the author of those letters is dead. Or are they?

Meanwhile Ruth is working on a dig in the Saltmarsh – another henge, known by the archaeologists as the stone circle – trying not to think about the baby. Then bones are found on the site, and identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago.

As the Margaret Lacey case progresses, more and more aspects of it begin to hark back to that first case of The Crossing Places, and to Scarlett Henderson, the girl Nelson couldn’t save. The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly.

My Take

Another page turner in this series, which I absolutely love.
I had discovered recently that I have missed reading a couple of titles, so I am remedying that.

There is something very satisfying about reading a series when you are familiar with so many of the characters who appear in one title after another, and also when there has been development in the mesh that holds the characters together.

And I love the merging of the plot with archaeological tidbits.

There are a couple of incidents in this novel when the author uses suspense very effectively.

And the question persists: do Ruth and Nelson have a future?

My rating: 5.0

I have also read

19 August 2021

Review: THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, Agatha Christie

  • this edition, an e-book in Kindle (Amazon)
  • Miss Marple #2
  • originally published 1942
  • ASIN ‏: ‎ B0046H95MC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins (October 14, 2010)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 226 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

It’s seven in the morning. The Bantrys wake to find the body of a young woman in their library. She is wearing evening dress and heavy make-up, which is now smeared across her cheeks.

But who is she? How did she get there? And what is the connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are later discovered in an abandoned quarry?

The respectable Bantrys invite Miss Marple to solve the mystery… before tongues start to wag.

My Take

THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY portrays Miss Marple very differently to THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE which was published 12 years earlier.

The village hasn't changed much in that period of time, although I suspect that not so much time has elapsed in"village time". This novel is perhaps set 2 or 3 years later than THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE. Among my reasons for saying that are that the vicar and his wife, who made their debut appearance in the earlier novel, now have a son, a toddler. Among the cast of characters are people whom we met in the earlier novel: Colonel Melchett, Sir Henry Clithering, the local spinster "cats", and Superindent Slack.

The body on the floor of the Bantry's library at Gossington Hall is quickly identified as a young dancer missing from the Majestic Hotel in nearby Danemouth. Dolly Bantry and Jane Marple go to stay at the hotel to see what they can find out about the dancer. Dolly in particular is determined to prove that Colonel Bantry has nothing to do with the murder. The local cats are already saying there's "no smoke without fire".

Meanwhile Sir Henry Clithering answers a call for help from his friend Conway Jefferson at the Majestic Hotel. Jefferson had been planning to adopt the young dancer. On his arrival Sir Henry recognises Miss Marple sitting in a chair in the hotel foyer, and she is drawn in as a private consultant.

As  the novel progresses the plot becomes more complex. Another body, another girl turns up in a burnt out car, and there are plenty of suspects and red herrings.

And I need to confess that when the murderer attempted to do away with Jefferson, I did not have a clue about who it might be.

We learn a lot about how Miss Marple's brain works in this novel. Unlike THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE there is no narrator, and we see the action from a number of points of view.

Miss Marple says

The trouble in this case is that everybody has been much too credulous and believing. You simply cannot afford to believe everything that people tell you. When there’s anything fishy about, I never believe anyone at all! You see, I know human nature so well.

My rating: 4.5

See Agatha Christie books I've read

My previous review, written 11 years ago.

17 August 2021

Review: INNOCENCE DIES, Colin Falconer

  • this edition large print, W F Howes Ltd, 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-00400-164-4
  • 386 pages
  • #2 in the Charlie George series
Synopsis (author website)
 
He loves surprises. But not this one.

A schoolgirl is found dead in a park in North London and DI Charlie George is not short of suspects – is it her stepfather? Is it a sex crime? Is it race-related?

Charlie finally thinks he has it sorted, with his killer bang to rights. But then his lawyer gets him free on a technicality.

And that’s just the start of his troubles.

He’s been a cop all his life, he thought he’d seen everything . . . But Charlie soon realises, he hasn’t seen anything yet. 

My take

This is a year or so on from #1 in the series, LUCIFER FALLS. Charlie has been on leave recuperating from an injury received at the end of that story. He has "lost" his mistress from that book and has taken up with Pippa, a school teacher in London.

A phone call in the early hours calls Charlie to a suspected homicide on a disused railway line in Finsbury Park. It is an 11 year old girl who has only been missing for a few hours. Her body was found by her father. The body has been found near the ventilation shaft for the underground, and that's where the brick that killed her is also found.
 
The family is an immigrant one from Sierra Leone. They have already had a hard life,
 
CCTV footage shows the girl being followed by a known paedophile, and Charlie is convinced he is the murderer. Charlie teams up with a DC Lovejoy whom we have already met in the first novel in the series.

In Chapter 4 we "meet" the murderer, who  tells us what he likes doing, where he likes hanging out, and that he has only murdered one person... so far. There will be more of this dialogue later in the book, but we are no wiser about the identity of the narrator.
 
So, on the surface, this is a police procedural, but it also about child abuse, community tensions and expectations,  and the nature of evil.
 
A very good read!

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

15 August 2021

Review: THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB, Richard Osman

  • this edition made available in my local library through Libby
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin (September 3, 2020)
  • 382 pages| 
  • ISBN 9781984880987 
  • Questions for discussion available
Synopsis (Random House)

Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Every Thursday, four unlikely friends meet in the Jigsaw Room at the luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village to solve cold cases that have been languishing on the books for years. There’s Red Ron, the infamous former socialist firebrand, still causing trouble wherever he can; gentle Joyce, widowed, pining for another resident, but surely not as innocent as she seems; Ibrahim, a former therapist who understands the darker side of human nature; and Elizabeth? Well, no one is quite sure who she really is, but she’s definitely not a woman to underestimate. Though they may be in their seventies, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce, and Ron still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local property developer winds up dead, The Thursday Murder Club finds themselves in the middle of their first live case — can the four catch the killer before it’s too late? 

My Take

Though the book follows the four friends—Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron—solving the murder, the only first-person POV is Joyce’s via her diary. We meet Joyce right at the beginning and she introduces us to the others and keeps us up to speed with events.

Elizabeth and her friend Penny, a former police inspector who now lies comatose in hospital, founded the Thursday Murder Club, to investigate some cold cases that Penny never managed to solve. After Penny had a stroke, Elizabeth invited other residents to join her on Thursdays in the Jigsaw Room to continue with the "work" that she and Penny had started. Elizabeth visits Penny, who is on life support, regularly to report progress.

Meanwhile PC Donna De Freitas, recently transferred to the country from London, arrives at the Coopers Chase Retirement Village to give a talk on home security and so meets the members of the club. This meeting is important for her career.

The Coopers Chase Retirement Village, billed, when it was first built on land bought from a convent, as "Britain's First Luxury Retirement Village", has 300 residents, and a local property developer is aiming to add to it by demolishing an old cemetery. Ian Ventham, the property developer, decides to get rid of his builder partner. A few days later Ventham himself drops dead after a struggle with people at the cemetery and the Thursday Murder Club are all witnesses.

Each member of the Thursday Murder Club brings different strengths to the club, all useful in tracking down suspects, and following leads. 

This is a delightful read, full of humour, but also rapidly moving. The plot turns out to be quite complex, and there is more than one death.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Richard Osman is an author, producer, and television presenter. His first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was a #1 million-copy international bestseller. Critics have already described The Man Who Died Twice as “his second novel.” He lives in London.

9 August 2021

Review: THE NIGHT HAWKS, Elly Griffiths

  • first published in Great Britain in 2021 by Quercus
  • ISBN 978-1-78747-781-0
  • 348 pages
  • #13 in the Ruth Galloway series 

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Dr Ruth Galloway returns to the moody and beautiful landscape of North Norfolk to confront another killer. A devastating new case for our favourite forensic archaeologist in this acclaimed and bestselling crime series.

The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. At first Nelson thinks that the dead man might be an asylum seeker but he turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, recently released from prison. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons. Nelson at first thinks that Taylor's death is accidental drowning, but a second death suggests murder.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. Nelson ignores this, even when the owner's suicide note includes the line, 'He's buried in the garden.' Ruth excavates and finds the body of a giant dog.

All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn't scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm ...

My Take

Another episode in this captivating series. It is set about a year later than the previous title. Ruth has left Cambridge and returned as Head of the Department of Archaeology at her old university. She has more or less picked up where she was about 3 years before. 

When two bodies are found, one a recent corpse on the beach, and the other a long dead skeleton in a burial mound, Ruth begins excavations. Dead bodies abound in this story, and Nelson seeks Ruth's advice on a number of aspects.

Among other things, I enjoy the ongoing relationships in these books, as well as the fact that they often combine North Norfolk legend/history with a crime fiction plot. The relationships mean that you get the best out of the stories if you read the books in order. There are characters who appear in several of the books. In the back of this title there is a Who's Who listing 8 of the characters who appear in the series.

The books are generally set in current time - there's mention for example of the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the next title in the series, THE LOCKED ROOM, is set during lock-down. 

My rating: 4.6 

I've also read

I have worked out that I have missed reading 2 in the series, and will take steps to remedy that:

10. The Dark Angel (2018)
11. The Stone Circle (2019)

3 August 2021

Review: LUCIFER FALLS, Colin Falconer

  • This edition large print from W F Howes LTD 2019
  • first published UK 2018 by Constable
  • ISBN 978-1-52886-149-6
  • 422 pages
  • #1 in the Charlie George series 
  • author website 

Synopsis (author website)

So many ways you could die. He knows every one of them.

A priest is found crucified in a derelict North London chapel.

“This is one for the ages,” DI Charlie George tells his squad next morning as they gather in the Incident Room at the Essex Road nick.

Their usual round is sorting cases of domestic violence, or a couple of stabbings on the estates.

When the case doesn’t get sorted, everyone gets nervous. And with good reason: it’s about to get a lot worse.

On Christmas night, a cop is found buried up to his neck on Hampstead Heath. He’s been stoned to death. Are the two murders related? None of his bosses wants to think so.

Charlie journeys into the city’s cold underbelly to try and find an answer to the madness before anyone else dies a martyr’s death…

Lucifer Falls is the first in Colin Falconer’s contemporary crime series, set in North London, featuring DI Charlie George.

My Take

This title got me in right from the beginning. At first Charlie George seems to be your run-of-the-mill flawed DI, and this seems to be yet another police procedural. But there is a lot more. Charlie seems to have had his fair share of failures, and a boss who wants to blame him for a few more. His original offsider goes out on stress leave when a kid he is chasing is run over by a bus, and Charlie is left to work with a woman newly posted to the Murder Squad. Charlie is married to the Murder Squad (although he has his "bit on the side"), and his background, experience and education keep him working at problems.

The plot got me in. The two initial murders, nicknamed Operation Galilee because the first is crucified, got me looking for connections, just as Charlie was doing. And I got there - at least I found the first connection - although it was Charlie's mother who gave us the second bit. Interestingly the author introduced readers to the murderer early on, and Charlie had seen him in passing, but the motives behind why he was doing what he was doing were well hidden until towards the end.

Here is a writer whose experience shines through (he is a prolific writer see Fantastic Fiction). The characters are well developed and the scenarios very believable. I'm sure I'll be reading the next.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Colin Falconer writes crime fiction and historical fiction. He has written twenty-six novels which have been translated into 23 languages.

In between leaving school and securing his latest publishing deal, he found time to
chase black witches across Mexico, travel the silk road, and occasionally play the
guitar in pubs. His only claim to fame from those days is completing all the verses of
‘All You Need is Love’ during a bar fight in the Stella Maris Sailors Club.

After a short stint in advertising he became a freelance journalist. He also worked in
radio and television before writing novels.

Colin Falconer (born 1953) is a pen name of Colin Bowles, who also uses the pen name Mark D'Abranville,[1] an English-born Australian writer. Works published under the pen name include contemporary and historical thrillers, and children's books. Under his original name he has also published books of satirical fiction; non-fiction books about language; television and radio scripts; and many magazine articles and columns.

DI Charlie George
   1. Lucifer Falls (2018)
   2. Innocence Dies (2019)
   3. Angels Weep (2020)
   4. Cry Justice (2021)

30 July 2021

Review: HER LAST HOLIDAY, C. L. Taylor

Synopsis (Publisher

You come to the retreat to be healed. You don’t expect to die.

Two years ago, Fran’s sister Jenna disappeared on a wellness retreat in Gozo that went terribly wrong.

Tom Wade, the now infamous man behind Soul Shrink Retreats, has just been released from prison after serving his sentence for the deaths of two people. But he has never let on what happened to the third victim: Jenna.

Determined to find out the truth, Fran books herself onto his upcoming retreat – the first since his release – and finds herself face to face with the man who might hold the key to her sister’s disappearance. The only question is, will she escape the retreat alive? Or does someone out there want Jenna’s secrets to stay hidden?

My Take

This novel, and others by this author are billed "gripping psychological thrillers".

Fran, in her 50s, is 12 years older than Jenna, and consumed by guilt, feeling that they were never as close as they should have been, and that she let her younger sister down when she most needed her. Their mother Geraldine, is convinced Jenna is still alive, and feels that Fran ought to try one more time to find her. At the time Jenna disappeared Fran went out to the Maltese island of Gozo but found out nothing. 

Now Tom Wade, the man who was holding the retreat on Gozo, has been released from prison and is holding another retreat, this time in the UK. Geraldine books herself into the retreat but insists that Fran goes in her place. Fran discovers that a number of the people at the retreat were also at the Gozo one, and she feels that they must know what Tom Wade, and his wife Kate are hiding.

The narrative predictably swaps between Now and Then, and Fran discovers she is not the only one who is hiding who she is. She also works out that there is someone else on the retreat who wants to sabotage her efforts to find out what happened to Jenna.

There is enough mystery in the plot threads to keep you reading.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
C.L. Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son. She started writing fiction in 2005 and her short stories have won several awards and been published by a variety of literary and womens magazines. Cally works in Higher Education and has a degree in Psychology, with particular interest in abnormal and criminal Psychology. She also loves knitting, Dr Who, Sherlock, Great British Bake Off and Margaret Atwood and blames Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected for her love of a dark tale.

24 July 2021

Review: THE MARLOW MURDER CLUB, Robert Thorogood

  • This edition published by Harper Collins UK 2021
  • ISBN 9-78008-43590-5
  • 338 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero…

Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy. She lives on her own in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there’s no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy she sets crosswords for The Times newspaper.

One evening, while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder. The local police don’t believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself, and is soon joined in her quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog-walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local Vicar.

Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.

When another body turns up, they realise they have a real-life serial killer on their hands. And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape…

My Take

I have categorised this novel as "geezer lit" - a sub-genre of mystery crime fiction in which "old geezers" are the principal characters, usually as amateur sleuths. (see this link for further examples). The authors themselves often fall into the "old geezer" category too.

Judith, Suzie and Becks work with a local police woman to find the murderer first of Judith's "neighbour" and then of the two subsequent murders that take place in the small Thames village of Marlow.

The reading audience is probably those who are "of an age" and like their cozies. I found the story entertaining. Under the leadership of Judith, a 77 year old who likes swimming in the Thames naked on a summer's night, the trio investigate a number of suspects and commit some very audacious acts. I enjoyed participating vicariously with them.

My rating: 4.4

About the author 

Robert Thorogood is the creator of the hit BBC One TV series DEATH IN PARADISE.He was born in Colchester, Essex, in 1972. When he was 10-years old, he read his first proper novel – Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House – and he’s been in love with the genre ever since.He now lives in Marlow in Buckinghamshire with his wife, children and an increasingly cranky Bengal cat called Daniel.

20 July 2021

Review: THE COFFINMAKER'S GARDEN, Stuart MacBride

  • this edition an e-book through Libby, through my local library
  • #4 in the Oldcastle Novels
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins (January 7, 2021)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ January 7, 2021
  • length: 494 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A house of secrets…
As a massive storm batters the Scottish coast, Gordon Smith’s home is falling into the sea. The trouble is: that’s where he’s been hiding the bodies.

A killer on the run…
It’s too dangerous to go near the place, so there’s no way of knowing how many people he’s murdered. Or how many more he’ll kill before he’s caught.

An investigator with nothing to lose…
As more horrors are discovered, ex-detective Ash Henderson is done playing nice. He’s got a killer to catch, and God help anyone who gets in his way.

My Take

It is years (before I began this blog) since I have read any Stuart MacBride novels. This one is particularly macabre. 

The headland that Gordon Smith's house is sitting on begins to disintegrate and fall into the sea. As the land breaks away bones buried under the house and in the surrounding land become visible. 

Gordon Smith himself has disappeared but in his basement are before and after photos of his victims.

Nobody wants this case and it is assigned to the "Misfit Mob". Henderson is actually working as a private consultant for Police Scotland alongside his friend and housemate Dr Alice McDonald, a clinical psychologist. Their team is in pursuit of one serial killer, who is taking and abusing children.

Alice continues to profile the child killer while Ash is drafted to work on the second case, alongside DS Franklin of the Misfit Mob.

There is a lot going on in this novel, a huge cast of characters, and not everyone is a squeaky clean policeman.

My rating: 4.4 

I have previously read

COLD GRANITE, Stuart Macbride, my rating 4.8
Aberdeen, oil capital of Europe … Christmas is coming, cold, dark and wet, bringing death with it.
It's DS Logan McRae's first day back on the job after a year off on the sick, and it couldn't get much worse. Four-year-old David Reid's body is discovered in a ditch, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. There's a killer stalking the Granite City and the local media are baying for blood.
If that wasn't enough, Logan also has to contend with a new boss, DI Insch, who doesn't suffer fools gladly and thinks everyone's a fool, and his own ex-girlfriend, the beautiful but chilly Isobel MacAlister, who also happens to be the chief pathologist. The only good news is WPC 'Ball Breaker' Watson, Logan's new guardian angel.
The dead are piling up in the morgue almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going missing. More are going to die. If Logan isn't careful, he's going to end up joining them.
Very readable. Black humour mixed in with the serious stuff about the world of crime and child abuse. Interesting thread about how Colin Miller from the press is getting his information and the effect that the press can have on an investigation.

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