29 May 2022

Review: THE LOCKED ROOM, Elly Griffiths

  • this edition made available through my local library
  • published by Quercus in Great Britain 2022
  • ISBN 978-1-52940-966-6
  • 361 pages
  • #14 Ruth Galloway series

Synopsis (publisher)

Ruth Galloway and DCI Nelson are on the hunt for a murderer when Covid rears its ugly head. But can they find the killer despite lockdown?

Ruth is in London clearing out her mother’s belongings when she makes a surprising discovery: a photograph of her Norfolk cottage taken before Ruth lived there. Her mother always hated the cottage, so why does she have a picture of the place? The only clue is written on the back of the photo: Dawn, 1963.

Ruth returns to Norfolk determined to solve the mystery, but then Covid rears its ugly head. Ruth and her daughter are locked down in their cottage, attempting to continue with work and home-schooling. Happily, the house next door is rented by a nice woman called Zoe, who they become friendly with while standing on their doorsteps clapping for carers.

Nelson, meanwhile, is investigating a series of deaths of women that may or may not be suicide. When he links the deaths to an archaeological discovery, he breaks curfew to visit the cottage where he finds Ruth chatting to her neighbour whom he remembers as a carer who was once tried for murdering her employer.

Only then her name wasn’t Zoe. It was Dawn. 

My Take

For me, reading a Ruth Galloway novel is like meeting up with an old friend. This one is set in 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Ruth's classes are cancelled and go onto Zoom, schools are closed. Just before this event a skeleton is found in Tombland and it raises the possibility that there may have been plague pits in Norwich near the Cathedral.

Nelson begins investigating cases of unexpected deaths among women who have been attending slimming groups.   

Ruth becomes friendly with Zoe who has moved in to the cottage next door to hers and then Zoe disappears.

Nelson's wife Michelle is away visiting her mother and he and Ruth take advantage of that fact.

I read with interest the way English society deal with Covid, the restrictions and lock downs put into place. This gave the story an extra relevance.

And then Cathbad is struck down with Covid.

My rating: 5.0

I've also read

26 May 2022

Review: THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY, Agatha Christie

  • This edition read on my Kindle (Amazon)
  • Originally published 1931
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0046REG94
  • this edition Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins (October 14, 2010)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 289 pages
  • AKA THE MURDER AT HAZELMOOR (title for USA publication)
  • My original review (2009)

Synopsis (Amazon)

A seance in a snowbound Dartmoor house predicts a grisly murder…

In a remote house in the middle of Dartmoor, six shadowy figures huddle around a small table for a seance. Tension rises as the spirits spell out a chilling message: ‘Captain Trevelyan… dead… murder.’

Is this black magic or simply a macabre joke? The only way to be certain is to locate Captain Trevelyan. Unfortunately, his home is six miles away and, with snow drifts blocking the roads, someone will have to make the journey on foot…

My Take

I've read this for my U3A Agatha Christie discussion group. As always I am amazed that in the 12 intervening years since I have last read this novel, I have forgotten the salient features, particularly the details of who did what. It came as a genuine surprise to discover the identity of the murderer, although I must admit that his identity crossed my mind, and was dis-counted, earlier in the novel.

So here are some of the elements in the novel we will discuss

  • The role of the seance as the harbinger of death. How did that work? Who was it that told the gathering that the message was for Major Burnaby?
  • What are the relationships between the various characters?
  • Why have Miss Willett and Mrs Willett really taken Captain Trevelyan's house?
  • What is the role of Emily Trefusis in solving the murder?
  • How effective is Inspector Narracott and what is the role of Mr Duke?
  • Who are the most memorable characters? What makes them so?
  • Which are the most effective red herrings?
  • This novel is a stand-alone, although I think at this stage Agatha Christie was still looking for a suitable sleuth. Will Inspector Narracott appear in future novels do you think?
  • What does the isolation of Sittaford House make you think of? What about the escaped convict scenario?
  • How credible is the secondary plot (the Willett scenario)
  • What did you think of Charles Enderby? How good is he as a journalist?
  • Why did the murderer commit the murder? Is the reason given plausible?

In 3 weeks we are going to view the ITV television version, which I was interested to find is a "Miss Marple." I think I can see which  character in the original is replaced by Miss Marple, even though that will involve eliminating some aspects of the original plot. I wonder if I am right. 

How do you feel about television productions that change the story of a novel?

My rating: 4.4

Agatha Christie novels that I've read

23 May 2022

Review: THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR, Cathy Ace

  • This edition published in The WISE Enquiries Agency Murder Mysteries Box Set: Books 1-4
  • Made available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • BOOK 4: THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09SZLBH5T
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Joffe crime thriller and cozy mystery (February 20, 2022)
  • Length: 229 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

A SUITOR WITH THREE DEAD WIVES. JUST BAD LUCK OR SOMETHING MORE SINISTER?

Successful businessman and charmer Huw Hughes comes back to the village and sets his sights on Annie. Can the other women of the WISE Enquiries Agency unearth the truth behind Huw having been widowed three times?

Christine is enjoying a break at her family’s Irish estate – where she and the brooding Alexander face a surprisingly dangerous case of theft.

Mavis and Carol have to work with dowager duchess Althea Twyst to ensure their unsuspecting friend Annie’s safety . . . and possibly protect the lives of other villagers. And of course all this mustn’t disrupt the Duke’s annual croquet tournament! Someone seems to want it to turn out very nasty indeed.

My Take

Vandalism and nasty graffiti on the croquet shed shows that someone is very upset, and there are moles attacking the croquet lawn. And then a number of people are unwell with a tummy bug, and finally there is a death. The WISE Agency is already investigating whether Huw Hughes has killed his three former wives, and now he is arrested for murder. Annie is convinced he is innocent.

In a separate plot, over in Ireland Christine is investigating the abduction of one of her household, and the operations of a criminal master mind called the Gadfly. Why is it that local police investigations in the past have not managed to get anywhere?

I've come to the end of this set of 4 mysteries and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. The format of 4 female investigators from Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland does seem to have its limitations. In each book at least one of the investigators operates "off-scene" and almost independently of the others. In each title there is more than one plot.  I have enjoyed the way each character has been given her own identity, and the way in which a number of themes have been explored. The plots are both imaginative and satisfying.

You do need to read them in order to appreciate the development of the main characters and the role of the minor characters.  

My rating: 4.5

I've already read

21 May 2022

Review: SHADOW SANDS, Robert Bryndza

  • this edition published in 2020 by Sphere Great Britain
  • #2 in the Kate Marshall series
  • ISBN 978-0-7515-7275-9
  • 365 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

The internationally bestselling author of Nine Elms and The Girl in the Ice Robert Bryndza is back with a nail-biting new Kate Marshall case, a woman with a dark secret and a powerful sense of justice.

When Kate Marshall finds the bloated body of a young man floating in the Shadow Sands reservoir, the authorities label it a tragic accident.

But the details don't add up: why was the victim there, in the middle of the night? If he was such a strong swimmer, how did he drown?

Kate is certain there is more to this case than meets the eye. As she and her research assistant Tristan Harper dig deeper, they discover a bloody trail that points towards an active serial killer hiding in plain sight. People have been silently disappearing for years, and when another woman is taken, Kate and Tristan have a matter of days to save her from meeting the same fate.  

My Take

When Tristan's date disappears just before they are due to meet, he and Kate leap to the possibility that she is the latest in a list of young women who have been snatched by a serial killer. Throughout the story we are very aware of the need to find Magdalena before she dies. From time to time the author has been telling us the story from her point of view and we know that time is running out.

The police are difficult to persuade to take action. Is Detective Inspector Henry Ko hiding something? Or is he the tool of the wealthy family who own the land that the Shadow Sands Reservoir is on? 

This is a well plotted story, a mystery to be explored, a few red herrings, interesting characters, some personal details explored about both Kate and Tristan, and an opening created for a follow-on.

Quite a bit more gritty than the cozies that I have been reading lately.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

4.6, DARK WATER - #1
4.8, THE NIGHT STALKER - #2
4.8, THE GIRL IN THE ICE - #3
4.8, LAST BREATH - #4
4.7, COLD BLOOD - #5
4.6. DEADLY SECRETS - #6
4.7, NINE ELMS - Kate Marshall #1 

Kate Marshall
   1. Nine Elms (2019)
   2. Shadow Sands (2020)
   3. Darkness Falls (2021)

15 May 2022

Review: THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK, Cathy Ace

  • This edition published in The WISE Enquiries Agency Murder Mysteries Box Set: Books 1-4

  • Made available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • BOOK 3: THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09SZLBH5T
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Joffe crime thriller and cozy mystery (February 20, 2022)

Synopsis (Amazon)

TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE BROTH, BUT DO TOO MANY DETECTIVES?

Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is terribly worried about some water damage to the priceless books in his library and hires a local book restorer to tackle the repairs.

The antiquarian also runs the Crooks and Cooks bookshop with his daughter — local TV celebrity chef, The Curious Cook.

When the book restorer mentions some strange shenanigans going on at the book shop, Dowager Duchess Althea brings the case to the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency.

Just as they are trying to solve one case, they get embroiled in another. They come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a famous local artist, who was murdered by her own brother.

Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home?

The WISE women are on the case — and nothing will get in their way . . .

My Take

Many threads come together in this book and a relatively plausible main plot. The Dowager Duchess Althea, coming up to her 80th birthday, decides she is capable of undertaking a little bit of undercover work. Unfortunately there is very real danger.

I am thoroughly enjoying this series- but do read them in order, to get the best out of the development of characters and the relationships between them.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read

14 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Connie Archer

  • This edition from Amazon on Kindle
  • A Soup Lover's Mystery Book 1
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0072O0020
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (August 7, 2012)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 303 pages  

Synopsis (Amazon)

Winter is big business in small-town Snowflake, Vermont. Tourists arrive to hit the ski slopes—and what could be more satisfying after a chilly day of carving powder than a steaming bowl of soup?

When Lucky Jamieson inherits her parents' soup shop, By the Spoonful, she realizes it's time to take stock of her life. Should she sell her parents' house or move in herself? Does she really want to run a restaurant business? And what about her grandfather Jack, who seems to be showing signs of Alzheimer's?

But her life decisions are moved to the back burner after an icy blonde tourist is found frozen to death behind the soup shop. and Lucky is bowled over when her soup chef, Sage DuBois, is led out of the kitchen by the police. As suspicion and speculations snowball, Lucky decides that the only way to save her employee and her business is to find out herself who iced the tourist--and landed her chef in the soup...

Recipes included!  

My  Take

This is a fairly predictable but readable cozy murder mystery with an abundance of red herrings and a heap of amateur sleuthing. The local sheriff arrests the chef of the soup shop By the Spoonful for murder on the very thinnest of evidence. Owner of the shop Lucky Jamieson is determined to prove his innocence.

Of the 3 books titled A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Robin Stevens, and A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, JM Hall, this is probably the one with best claim to the title, as the name of the soup shop where most of the action takes place is By the Spoonful. Even though I have given each a review rating of 4.4, based on their readability, the one by JM Hall wins my vote by the narrowest of margins, as the book with most appeal to my "age group".

My Rating :4.4

About the Author
Connie Archer is the bestselling author of the Soup Lover's Mysteries from Penguin Random House (Berkley Prime Crime) set inVermont:  A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal, A Roux of Revenge, Ladle to the Grave and A Clue in the Stew.  Her excerpts and recipes can be found in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.  Connie was born and raised in New England and now lives on the other coast.  You can visit her at ConnieArcherMysteries.com, Facebook.com/ConnieArcherMysteries and Twitter @SnowflakeVT.
Writing as Connie di Marco, she is also the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink.  (conniedimarco.com)  Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

8 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, Robin Stevens

  • this edition made available on Libby by my local library
  • Published: 2 April 2018
  • ISBN: 9780141373782
  • #6 Murder Most Unladylike series.
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Pages: 384

Synopsis (Penguin)

The gripping new mystery in the award-winning, bestselling Murder Most Unladylike series.

When Hazel Wong's beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells is all too happy to accompany her friend (and Detective Society Vice President) to Hazel's family estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong.

But when they arrive they discover something they didn't expect: there's a new member of the Wong family. Daisy and Hazel think baby Teddy is enough to deal with, but as always the girls are never far from a mystery. Tragedy strikes very close to home, and this time Hazel isn't just the detective. She's been framed for murder!

The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs, mysterious suspects and sinister private detectives to solve the murder and clear Hazel's name - before it's too late . . . 

My Take

As I said in my earlier post, the "chooser" in our monthly book group has set a challenge. We are reading 3 cozies that all share the same title. I reviewed the first here, here is the second, and the last  will shortly follow.

The year is 1936 (we know because as Hazel and Daisy are sailing to Hong Kong via the Suez Canal the news comes that King George V has died), and so the time frame is almost 80 years ago. It is therefore before World War II and Hong Kong then is very different to the Hong Kong of today.

The voyage from England to Hong Kong takes 30 days, and when Hazel arrives she finds it isn't just the absence of her grandfather that is different. She now has a little brother whom nobody has told her about, and the maid who used to look after her is now her brother's nursemaid. In addition, her baby brother now has her old room.

A few days after her arrival, Hazel's baby brother is kidnapped and held for ransom, and Hazel and Daisy begin trying to work out who has taken him. 

This is essentially a book for a young adolescent reader, part of a series that presumably he/she is already hooked on. The author tries valiantly to introduce the reader to the culture of Hong Kong. We are also told the back story of the Detective Society which Hazel and Daisy have founded, and which has already successfully pursued five investigations.

It occurs to me that one of the questions I should have posed in my review of the previous book was the significance of the title. To be quite honest, I can't see any relevance in the case of this book, and only remotely in the case of the previous one. There are two murders in this one, one by stabbing, and one by gunshot, so I think the title is a bit random.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Here are ten absolutely true things about me:

  1. I am a woman. I really am! I do get a lot of letters addressed to ‘Mr Stevens’, though.
  2. I have a pet bearded dragon named Watson, and she is a girl too.
  3. I was born in California, and I moved to England when I was three. This means that I have two passports (like a spy), and that I could be the President of the USA and the Prime Minister at the same time if I wanted to be. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I might consider it.
  4. I grew up in Oxford, across the road from Alice in Wonderland. If she hadn’t been Victorian and fictional, I think we could have been friends.
  5. When I was little, I wanted to own a zoo and write books about it. I also wanted to be married to Gerald Durrell. I dreamed big.
  6. Colin Dexter once sent me a fan letter. I met him when I was twelve and told him that when I grew up I was going to write murder mysteries. I must have been really insistent, because he believed me.
  7. I really did go to an English boarding school, Cheltenham Ladies College. And I really did sleep in a dorm, and learn Latin, and have school on Saturday mornings. I never detected a murder, though, which was a bit of a disappointment.
  8. I’ve been on University Challenge! I was the Captain of the Warwick University team. We didn’t win, unfortunately, but I did get to meet Jeremy Paxman.
  9. When I was at university, I did my MA on crime fiction. So I really do have a degree in murder.
  10. I used to work as an editor, helping other authors get their books published, but today I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author!

7 May 2022

Review: A SPOONFUL OF MURDER, JM Hall

  • this edition available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09F5N8FR8
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Avon (March 17, 2022)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 331 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0008530084

Synopsis (Amazon)

Introducing the three unlikeliest sleuths you'll ever meet…

Every Thursday, three retired school teachers have their ‘coffee o’clock’ sessions at the Thirsk Garden Centre cafĂ©.

But one fateful week, as they are catching up with a slice of cake, they bump into their ex-colleague, Topsy.

By the next Thursday, Topsy’s dead.
 
The last thing Liz, Thelma and Pat imagined was that they would become involved in a murder.
 
But they know there’s more to Topsy’s death than meets the eye – and it’s down to them to prove it…

Sit down with a cup of tea and this perfectly witty, page-turning cosy crime novel. Fans of Agatha Christie, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders will be hooked from the very first page.

My Take

The "chooser" in our monthly book group has set a challenge. We are reading 3 cozies that all share the same title. So here is the first, and the other two will shortly follow.

Thelma, Pat and Liz have all retired after successful careers in primary school classrooms at the St. Barnabus' Primary school. Their coffee session on a Thursday at the Thirsk Garden Centre Cafe is an extension of the sharing that they used to do when they were working. They have all maintained "outside" interests at charity shops, Keep Fit, and book groups. At coffee o'clock on Thursdays they catch up with their various news: what their families are doing. 

On this particular Thursday who should walk in but another ex-colleague whom they haven't seen for a while: Topsy Joy. She is on the arm of her daughter Kelly-Anne whom the group all remember. But they are taken aback at the change in Topsy: "stooped, bewildered, slightly shaking...wondering where she was". Kelly-Anne spots the little group and brings her mother over to sit with them. 18 months before Topsy's husband Gordon had died unexpectedly, and it is obvious to the group that Topsy has "gone downhill" since then. 

In the following minutes it is obvious to the group that Topsy has dementia and that Kelly-Anne is "doing it tough". Topsy refers to her husband in the present tense, as if he is not dead. 

I enjoyed the way the book went on to explore what was happening in each of the lives of the main characters, and then to reveal what happens to Topsy. Each of the three sleuths feels that what has happened to Topsy is "not right", but is unsure what to do about it. They feel their way to working it out.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

J.M. Hall is an author, playwright and deputy head of a primary school. His plays have been produced in theatres across the UK as well as for radio, the most recent being Trust, starring Julie Hesmondhalgh on BBC Radio 4. His first novel, A Spoonful of Murder, is about retired primary school teachers who turn to sleuthing 

1 May 2022

Review: THE PIRATE CLUB, G. R. Jordan

  • This edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • Highlands & Islands Detective Book 6
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08BS369DY
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (September 22, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 242 pages 

Synopsis  (Amazon)

A body holding a spade in the sand amidst tales of a missing gem. An old boy’s network whose members are rapidly becoming extinct. Can Macleod solve the gamester’s clues before the club players are liquidated and the prize is gone forever?

In the sixth major case of Macleod and McGrath’s partnership, a deadly game is being played in the search for a long-stolen jewel of fantastic wealth. Whilst former friends dispatch their new enemies, DI Macleod hunts the pieces of parchment that will lead him to the resting place of a Sultan’s pride and joy, and the killers who cannot live without it. Will the pirate king emerge triumphant, or can the Inspector run their plans asunder?

When precious things seem out of reach, death may be the only compromise.

My Take

Bodies turn up on two separate islands, one male, one female: one killed where he lies and the other perhaps has floated in off a ferry. But Mcleod is convinced that they are somehow connected.  A scrap of a map with locations marked. A man digging up a gold cross on a beach, the item identified as something taken from a Spanish museum, 25 years earlier.

And now a trail of bodies, more murders, more throats slashed, and some young murderers, not above killing police pursuers if they get in the way.

I nearly drowned in the complexity of this plot and I'm still not sure that I got it all worked out. The "treasure hunt" turns into a fast paced thriller, challenging all the resources that Macleod and McGrath can muster. Macleod is forced to re-define and expand his team, firstly as his usual pathologist is incapacitated by ill health and needs to be replaced, and then he needs to add new investigators to his team, resulting in a redefinition of McGrath's role, with her being promoted to DS. McGrath becomes angry as choice bits of the investigation appear to be being handed over to the DC Stewart, and Macleod struggles to maintain control.

I've been thinking about why I am enjoying this series so much. I think it has something to do with the episodic nature of it. The investigative team of Macleod and McGrath is being expanded and redefined as both characters are developed from episode to episode.  I think Macleod is creating a crack investigative team which can be thrown into whatever mystery the Highlands and Islands can throw up. Macleod's superior officer is playing a very small role in this scenario. I'd almost compare this structure to something like a television series where in each episode we tackle a new mystery. Each of the episodes is sited on a different island and comes with its own locational challenges.

Running behind all this though are some personal scenarios for the main characters. Macleod has certainly developed since Book 1. He has now got a female live-in partner who needs to be very accommodating to the demands of his job. They have moved out of Glasgow back to the Isle of Lewis. MacGrath has changed too. She is still looking for a live-in partner, but she too intends to move out of Glasgow. She has risen from DC to DS and has become very attached to working with Macleod at the same time as getting very angry with him at times.

The episodes of the series do not move directly from one to another. In some cases a short period of time has elapsed and we are told of significant developments in the following pages.

I am looking forward to seeing how the series develops next.

My rating : 4.4 

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