23 March 2021

Review: A LESSON IN DYING, Ann Cleeves

  • this edition available as an e-book through Libby
  • originally published in 1990
  • #1 in the Inspector Ramsay series
Synopsis (Amazon)
 
A Lesson in Dying is the first mystery novel in the Inspector Ramsay series by Ann Cleeves, author of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope crime series.

Who hung the headmaster in the playground on the night of the school Halloween Party?

Almost everyone in Heppleburn either hated or feared the viper-tongued Harold Medburn. Inspector Ramsay is convinced it was the headmaster’s enigmatic wife but Jack Robson, school governor and caretaker, is determined to prove her innocence.

With the help of his restless daughter Patty, Jack digs into the secrets of Heppleburn, and uncovers a cesspit of lies, adultery, blackmail and madness .
 
My Take
 
You can see from the list below that I have read a lot by this author and generally really enjoyed them. I can't believe that I have never come across the Inspector Ramsay series before, but then it pre-dates both the Vera and the Shetland series.
 
Inspector Ramsay is a somewhat peculiar character, a bit reclusive and there is some mystery to his background which I haven't yet worked out. Maybe it will become clearer in the next books in the series, which I intend reading.
 
Harold Medburn, the principal of the Heppleburn school, is a nasty bit of goods, and no-one is regretful about his death. But who hated or feared him enough to kill him? It looks an open and shut case, but  when Inspector Ramsay arrests Medburn's wife, an old flame, Jack Robson, now the elderly school caretaker, begins to try to prove her innocence. 
 
It seems that everybody in this village has their secrets. When Jack Robson gets coshed during the course of his investigations, Ramsay realises that Kitty Medburn is not the murderer, but it is too late - she has already taken her own life.
 
A good read.  I will certainly read the next in the series.

My rating: 4.5
 
I've also read
 

21 March 2021

Review: THE NIGHT WHISTLER, Greg Woodland

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B088VKG7Q4
  • Publisher : Text Publishing (4 August 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 4287 KB
  • Print length : 300 pages
  • source: NetGalley

Synopsis (Amazon)

The summer of 1966–7. Hal and his little brother have just come to live in Moorabool. They’re exploring the creek near their new home when they find the body of a dog.

Not just dead, but killed.

Not just killed, but horribly maimed.

Constable Mick Goodenough, recently demoted from his big-city job as a detective, is also new in town—and one of his dogs has gone missing. Like other pets around the town.

He knows what it means when someone tortures animals to death. They’re practising. So when Hal’s mother starts getting late-night phone calls — a man whistling, then hanging up — Goodenough, alone among the Moorabool cops, takes her seriously. But will that be enough to keep her and her young sons safe?

Nostalgic yet clear-eyed, simmering with small-town menace, Greg Woodland’s wildly impressive debut populates the rural Australia of the 1960s with memorable characters and almost unbearable tension.

My Take

There's something rather Disher-like with this novel, and the underlying theme is not a new one: a demoted city cop sent to the sticks, to rural NSW, to teach him a lesson. The boss at the Moorabool police station doesn't appreciate this new burden but Goodenough's is a pair of new eyes, and he realises there are things Bradley, the station boss, has been letting things slide.

Hal's father hasn't been telling the truth about his new job either, that he will be on the road a fair bit, leaving his wife and sons to fend for themselves. And then come the phone calls and the messages, and the prowler in the back yard. The police would rather not know - it's "normal" - but Probationary Constable Goodenough recognises the signs. 

A good read.

My rating: 4.6

About the author:
Greg Woodland is an author, screenwriter and director. Since 2000 he’s worked as a freelance script editor and consultant for film funding bodies and the Australian Writers' Guild. The Night Whistler is his first novel.

18 March 2021

Review: MURDER ON THE MENU, Fiona Leitch

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B08BHN4H1P
  • Publisher : One More Chapter (January 15, 2021)
  • File size : 3113 KB
  • Print length : 286 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

The first book in a NEW cosy mystery series!

Still spinning from the hustle and bustle of city life, Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker is glad to be back in the Cornish village she calls home. Having quit the Met Police in search of something less dangerous, the change of pace means she can finally start her dream catering company and raise her daughter, Daisy, somewhere safer.

But there’s nothing like having your first job back at home to be catering an ex-boyfriend’s wedding to remind you of just how small your village is. And when the bride, Cheryl, vanishes Jodie is drawn into the investigation, realising that life in the countryside might not be as quaint as she remembers…

With a missing bride on their hands, there is murder and mayhem around every corner but surely saving the day will be a piece of cake for this not-so-amateur sleuth?

The first book in the Murder on the Menu cosy mystery series. Can be read as a standalone. A humorous cosy mystery with a British female sleuth in a small village. Includes one of Jodie's Tried and Tested Recipes! Written in British English. Mild profanity and peril. 

My Take

Here is one for those who would like to be in on the start of a new cosy series. Ex-police Jodie "Nosey' Parker is trying to set herself up as a cook for hire, when she meets up with an old boyfriend desperately looking for a caterer for wedding which is imminent. And then his ex-wife is killed, his wife-to-be goes missing, and eventually another body is found. And Jodie finds that she hasn't lost the urge to investigate. The groom is the main suspect and Jodie is convinced that the police are barking up the wrong tree.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.2

About the author

Fiona Leitch is a writer with a chequered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called 'Sod Off'. After living in London and Cornwall she's finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Her debut novel 'Dead in Venice' was published by Audible in 2018 as one of their Crime Grant finalists. Fiona also writes screenplays and was a finalist in the Athena Film Festival Writers Lab, co-run by Meryl Streep's IRIS company.

Fiona is represented by Lina Langlee at the North Literary Agency.  

14 March 2021

Review: THE TALLY STICK, Carl Nixon

  • this edition on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B089SC8KLH
  • Publisher : Random House New Zealand (August 4, 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 547 KB
  • Print length : 234 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)  

A compulsive and chilling novel about subjugation, survival and the meaning of family.

Up on the highway, the only evidence that the Chamberlains had ever been there was two smeared tyre tracks in the mud leading into the almost undamaged screen of bushes and trees. No other cars passed that way until after dawn. By that time the tracks had been washed away by the heavy rain . . . It was a magic trick. After being in the country for only five days, the Chamberlain family had vanished into the air. The date was 4 April 1978.

In 2010 the remains of the eldest Chamberlain child have been discovered in a remote part of the West Coast, showing he lived for four years after the family disappeared. Found alongside him are his father’s watch and what turns out to be a tally stick, a piece of wood scored across, marking items of debt.

How had he survived and then died? Where was the rest of his family? And what is the meaning of the tally stick?

My Take

Thirty two years after he and his family disappeared in a remote part of New Zealand Mo Chamberlain's skeleton turns up on an equally remote beach.  At the time when the family and their car disappeared the land near the highway was searched extensively but no trace was ever found, of the car, of the husband and wife, or the four children.

We are in the car with them as it plunges off the road, and with the children as they wait for rescue. What follows is beyond belief.

We are with Suzanne, Julia Chamberlain's sister, when the New Zealand High Commission rings 32 years later to say a body has been found. We know Suzanne has been to New Zealsnd 4 times in the intervening years, the first just 3 weeks after the family disappeared, trying to work out where they had gone.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Carl Nixon is an award-winning short story writer, novelist and playwright. He has twice won the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition, and won the Bank of New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Short Story Competition in 2007. His first book, Fish ’n’ Chip Shop Song and other stories went to number one on the New Zealand bestselling fiction list, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.

Nixon completed his first novel while he was the Ursula Bethell/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence at Canterbury University in 2006. Rocking Horse Road saw him identified as ‘a major talent’ by North & South, and was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2009. It has been published in China, France, and Germany and was on several lists for the best crime novels in Germany in 2012. His second novel, Settlers’ Creek, was also long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award. His novel, The Virgin and the Whale is being developed as a feature film by South Pacific Pictures.

His stage plays have been produced in every professional theatre in New Zealand. They include Mathew, Mark, Luke and Joanne,The Birthday Boy and The Raft. He has adapted for the stage Lloyd Jones’s novel The Book of Fame and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. He was awarded the 2020 Howard McNaughton Prize at the Adam NZ Play Awards, recognising excellence in a unproduced script.

In 2018 Carl Nixon was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in France where he worked on The Tally Stick.

See more at www.carlnixon.co.nz/

13 March 2021

Review: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD

  • This edition from Amazon on Kindle
  • ASIN : B0046A9MRW
  • Publisher : HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Originally published 1926
  • My original review (2008)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 1538 KB
  • Print length : 260 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon)

Agatha Christie’s most daring crime mystery - an early and particularly brilliant outing of Hercule Poirot, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, with its legendary twist, changed the detective fiction genre for ever.

Roger Ackroyd was about to be married. He had a life of wealth and privilege. First he lost his fiancée – and then his life.

The day after her tragic suicide he retires upstairs to read a mysterious letter, leaving his closest friends and family to eat dinner below.

Just a few hours later he is found stabbed to death in a locked room with a weapon from his own collection.

Was he killed for money? For love? Or for something altogether more sinister?

The truth will out.
But you won’t see it coming

Warning: there are significant differences between the original book and the TV version.

My Take

I have read this one several times before, and also seen the TV version more than once. I think that resulted in some confusion in my mind, because after all that I wasn't really sure who murdered who. So I'm glad to have read it again, and clarified things, I think...

I did remember though that it introduced for the first time in Christie novels the theme of the unreliable narrator. Poirot himself remarks on how a number of people witnessing an event will have a variety of interpretations, particularly if they are hiding secrets. And of course, if we were not a first-hand witness, then we have no idea of how reliable the version we are being told is.

And of course what we are reading is Dr. Sheppards' version of events. In that he has picked up the role that Hastings played in the two earlier novels. And because we accepted Hastings as a narrator chosen by Poirot, we tend to accept Sheppard.

The plot also appears to present as a locked-room mystery, but that is quickly dismissed.

I'm not sure that I agree with the synopsis that I picked up from Amazon. Was Roger Ackroyd about to be married? Certainly his adopted son was, and it was his impending marriage that was being announced, and while Roger was deeply in love with Mrs Ferrars, was his marriage to her expected?

Plenty to think about though, with a prototype of Miss Marple making an appearance, and many references to how useful Hastings had been is making suggestions even if he didn't always understand what was happening. 

Poirot is living in the village of King's Abbot, retired after 30 years as a detective, so a change from where he was and what he was doing in MURDER ON THE LINKS. He is now attempting to grow marrows and finds it very frustrating.

My rating: 4.4

Check the list of Agatha Christie novels

Another review: This novel, written in 1927, is considered the best and most successful of the early mysteries. It met with no small outrage when it appeared, as it uses a plot device many readers thought "unfair." There is a full complement of characters populating the cozy English village of King's Abbot: Major Blunt, Colonel Carter, Miss Gannett, the butler, the housekeeper, the narrator, Dr. Sheppard, and his know-it-all sister (the precursor of Miss Marple, according to Christie), and, of course, the redoubtable Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells. There are clues with a capital C to mislead us, and the listener gets so involved with these red herrings (or not) that the very simple truth eludes the puzzler. A classic of the genre and essential for any fiction collection. 

Review: A LATE PHOENIX, Catherine Aird

  • this edition published by Chivers Press (Large Print) 1993
  • originally published 1970
  • #4 in the Sloan and Crosby series
  • source: my local library
  • ISBN 0-7451-6427-7
  • 196 pages

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Decades ago, Germans bombed the village at Lamb Lane. But now redevelopment is under way. During the excavation, a workman finds the skeleton of a pregnant girl with a bullet lodged in her spine. The trail is definitely stone cold when C. D. Sloan takes on the case.

My Take

The people who lived in the houses that were bombed on the site claimed not to know whose body it might have been. No-one knows of a young woman who might have been unaccounted for. But Inspector Sloan sees a flicker of recognition in the eyes of one of the men. And someone is taking desperate measures to stop the truth from being uncovered.

Catherine Aird specialises in tangled plots, many red herrings, and this novel is no exception.

By the end, the place is littered with bodies including a death previously thought to be a suicide.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read
4.3, DEAD HEADING
4.4, HIS BURIAL TOO

7 March 2021

Review: THE LAST MOVE, Mary Burton

  • this edition published 2017 by Montlake Romance, Seattle
  • ISBN 978-1542046923
  • 325 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website

Synopsis (author website)

FBI agent Kate Hayden heads to San Antonio to hunt a serial killer. The tricky part? She already caught him.

Catching monsters helps FBI agent Kate Hayden keep her nightmares at bay. Now an urgent call brings her back to San Antonio, the scene of her violent past. A brutal new murder shows hallmarks of a serial killer nicknamed the Samaritan. Tricky part is, Kate already caught him.

Either Kate made a deadly error, or she’s got a copycat on her hands. Paired with homicide detective Theo Mazur, she quickly realizes this murder is more twisted than it first appeared. Then a second body is found, the mode of death identical to a different case that Kate thought she’d put behind her.

Now Kate and Detective Theo Mazur aren’t just working a homicide; the investigative pair is facing a formidable enemy who knows Kate intimately. While Mazur is personally trying to protect Kate, the closer they are drawn to the killer, the clearer it becomes that in this terrifying game, there is only one rule: don’t believe everything you see…

My Take

Kate Hayden is the FBI's best profiler. She has solved a number of serial killing cases. But this new murder in San Antonio is close to home, close to where her father was killed, and she herself was set on her career path. A text message sent to a burner phone left with the body is directed to her, and the words are hauntingly familiar.

Kate is essentially a loner, but her boss is clear: she must work with the locals on this one, and she has 3 days to make her contribution.  It looks like this murder may be a copy-cat killing: but is it? There are aspects to the murder that only the original serial killer could know, but he is still in jail.

And then Kate realises that a voice is reaching out from the past. He has been in jail for 17 years for the death of her father, but is now free. What does he want?

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Mary Burton, whose latest book, Burn You Twice, her most recent Criminal Profiler novel, loves writing suspense, getting to know her characters, keeping up with law enforcement and forensic procedure, morning walks, baking, and tiny dachshunds. She also enjoys hunting down serial killers, which she does in her New York Times and USA Today bestselling novels. She is a 2019 Montlake Romance Diamond Award winner signifying she’s reached one million readers. Library Journal has compared her work to that of Lisa Jackson and Lisa Gardner, and Fresh Fiction has likened her writing to that of James Patterson.

Mary is routinely featured among the top ten writers in Amazon’s Author Rankings for romantic suspense. Upon publication, her books, including her recent titles Never Look Back I See You, Hide and Seek, Cut and Run and Her Last Word, consistently rank high on the Kindle eBooks Store Bestseller List.

Research is a favorite part of Mary’s workday. She never tires of delving into police work, evidence collection and analysis. She’s known for taking a hands-on approach, whether it means interviews with professionals in the field, forensic seminars or lessons at the firing range.

A Richmond native, Mary has lived there for most of her life. She’s a graduate of Virginia’s Hollins University and worked in marketing before she began writing full time. Her first book was published in 2000. Today she’s the author of thirty-three published novels and five novellas as Mary Burton and six works of contemporary fiction as Mary Ellen Taylor, including her recent Winter Cottage and Spring House and upcoming Honeysuckle Season. She’s co-editor, with novelist Mary Miley, of Deadly Southern Charm, A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.

A member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., and Romance Writers of America, Mary is known for creating multiple suspense stories connected by characters and/or place.

When not on the road for research or visits with readers at bookstores, book festivals and conferences, Mary remains very much a homebody. She and her husband spend time alternately enjoying their empty nest and spoiling their four-legged babies Buddy, Bella and Tiki.

6 March 2021

Review: A MURDER AT MALABAR HILL, Sujata Massey

  • this edition on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B07YTGHYT7 (Amazon)
  • Publisher : Allen & Unwin (January 7, 2020)
  • Publication date : January 7, 2020
  • Language : English
  • File size : 5731 KB
  • Print length : 390 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 0143428233
  • author website 
  • multiple award winning author
  • aka WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL

Synopsis (Amazon)

Introducing Miss Perveen Mistry, the star of an outstanding new crime series. This courageous, likeable and determined young lawyer-turned-sleuth will appeal to readers of Phryne Fisher and Precious Ramotswe in a stunning combination of crime and mystery set in 1920s Bombay.

Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen Mistry has joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India.

Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr Omar Farid, a wealthy mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What future will they have?

Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X-could she even read the document? The Farid widows live in strict seclusion, never leaving the women's quarters or speaking to any men. With her own tragic history close to her heart, Perveen worries that the women are vulnerable to injustice.

As Perveen comes closer to the truth, tensions escalate to murder, the widows fall under suspicion and Perveen must figure out what's really happening on Malabar Hill. 

My Take

It is always nice to start at the beginning of a new series, with a new sleuth, set in a different culture, especially when the author is as talented as Sujata Massey.

The story has a ring of authenticity about it, taking readers into a world we will know very little about. Perveen is a recently qualified solicitor, in fact the only female solicitor in Bombay, Parsi background, in British India. The story gives considerable background to her own failed marriage, which gives her some understanding of the position of the three widows in the household of Mr Omar Fareed, deceased. Perveen is determined that these women who are living in purdah, and their children, will not be duped out of their inheritances by an unscrupulous house manager. Things get complicated when he is murdered.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read 

4.5, THE KIZUNA COAST

About this author:

  • Winner and Top Pick of the 2019 American Library Association Reading List for Mystery
  • Winner of the 2019 Mary Higgins Clark Award
  • Winner of the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Historical Novel
  • Winner of the the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel
  • Finalist for the 2019 Shamus Award
  • Finalist for the 2019 Harper Lee Legal Fiction Prize

5 March 2021

Review: AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD, John Le Carre - audio book

  • this audio book from Audible.com
  • Narrated by: John le Carré
  • Length: 9 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 10-17-19
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd, 2019

Synopsis (Audible)

Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.

Nat is not only a spy, he is a passionate badminton player. His regular Monday evening opponent is half his age: the introspective and solitary Ed. Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed, of all unlikely people, who will take Prue, Florence and Nat himself down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all. Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.

Listed in Times Books of the Year, New Statesman Book of the Year, Guardian Books of the Year, Sunday Times Books of the Year, TLS Books of the Year, Daily Mail Books of the Year, Mail on Sunday's Best Books of the Year, Apple Best books of 2019

My take

This audio book comes with an impressive list of credentials, not the least that it is read by the author. 

Nat is fully expecting to be retired but management has other ideas. There is a Russian agent, a sleeper, in London whom the service is fully expecting to be activated any time soon, and he becomes Nat's responsibility. Nat decides he will hand him over to "young" Florence, one of his brightest agent-runners. Meanwhile someone turns up at the Badminton club who wants to play Nat, the club champion despite his age. Ed wants to play him now, without having to go through the "ladder" system. Ed is taciturn most of the time but it is clear he has strong political views, and is keen to do something about them. He has no idea that Nat is a spy.

And then things begin to go a bit pear-shaped when Florence storms out, and rumours abound of a new double agent in London.

An interesting story with several puzzles to solve. Le Carre does an impressive job as narrator, particularly considering his age when he produced it. He died in 2020 at the age of 89.

My rating: 4.5 

I've also read

4.0, SINGLE & SINGLE
3.5, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR - abridged audio

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