Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Crime Fiction 5*'s

Crime Fiction
5*’s

I recently picked up a 1972 edition of Murder on the Orient Express at a book sale for the princely sum of 50p and then spent a very pleasant time reading this, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels for the first time in years.

Reading a book when you know what happens, particularly when that book is from the mystery genre, may seem a little bizarre but what I’m realising is that I now notice nuances that perhaps evaded me before I immersed myself in crime fiction and so there was plenty to keep me amused on this fascinating journey, mine being more successful than the Orient Express’s as I didn’t encounter any snow-drifts.

This book was originally published as a novel in 1934 following Christie’s trip on the train where she noted down all the details required to perfectly recreate the scene, yes the placing of the lock on the interconnecting doors was researched to that level of detail! Christie used the real life disappearance of the abduction of Charles Lindbergh’s son as inspiration for the plot indicating that the Queen of Crime relied on real criminals to recreate in fiction, something that some commentators complain that it is disrespectful for our contemporary authors to do.
Anyway back to the plot, a closed room (or train) mystery featuring Poirot who just happens to be on the Orient Express on his way back to London from Istanbul to deal with an urgent matter, after all travelling days on a train was the response to something urgent in the 1930’s. Once aboard the train which is unusually full for the time of year Poirot is approached by a Mr Ratchett who tells him that his life is being threatened and he needs protection. Poirot having taken a dislike to the man while at the hotel in Istanbul declines to take on the job stating ‘I do not like your face Mr Ratchett. On the second night of the journey Mr Ratchett is stabbed to death and since the train is stuck in a snow-drift the Yugoslavian Police are unable to attend so it falls upon dear old Poirot to carry out the investigation.

The plot is peppered with clues and the characters each drawn to enhance the differences of culture and class so that the reader is easily able to follow the various suspects and their actions so that while the amateur sleuth is pitted against the far superior little grey cells of Poirot they still have a chance to solve the mystery, and what a mystery it is!

I love this book the plot is ingenious, the pace fast and the victim a man who is despised by all so not a moments sorrow is wasted upon the deceased instead the pleasurable seeking the clues and fitting them together into a fitting scenario but best of all is the ending where with all the travellers are called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2, and I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

Which is your favourite Agatha Christie novel?

29 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

The Dark Meadow – Andrea Maria Schenkel

Crime Fiction 5*'s

Crime Fiction
5*’s

This slim novel packs a mighty punch which is going to linger in this reader’s mind with some powerful issues covered under the guise of a murder mystery.

The story is told eighteen years after the death of Afra and her young son in a small German village when a stranger turns up in a tavern, drunk he has an old cutting from a newspaper about the crime provoking memories of what happened on that day when the storm clouds rolled in on the washing hanging in the cottager’s yard.

Afra had returned to her catholic parent’s home in post-war Germany years after she left as a 14 year old girl, she had no choice, her employer’s had thrown her out for having relations with a Frenchman and so with she returns to a house which slowly fills with anger. When her pregnancy becomes apparent her father, Johann, is resentful of the shame she has bought on him and his wife Theres and suspects both his daughter and his wife of hiding things from him as his dementia takes hold. When the police are called, Johann confesses and the case is closed.

So what is the book about? Where is the mystery? The story is told by recreating the day of the murder from different viewpoints, including Afra’s to build layer upon layer until the whole picture is clear. These multiple narratives range from Police Officers who visited the scene of crime remembering the events of years before, to Afra’s unwanted suitor, to the itinerant salesmen who passed through the village and the shame that Afra’s parents felt about their illegitimate grandson Albert and the ever pressing need for money to cover the cost of two extra mouths to feed. As the day is reconstructed piece by piece despite the evidence being provided as fact with no excitable emotions or race to find the killer that our crime fiction is usually full of, this incredibly powerful novel that made this reader think about the crime committed in terms of the lives it affected and sheer pointlessness far more than those action-packed thrillers ever do.

This is a nuanced and dark tale, based upon a real story in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s native Germany. If the names hadn’t been foreign I would have forgotten that this wasn’t originally written in English so seamless was Andrea Bell’s translation. It is unsurprising given the depth of this novel that Shenkel has won critical acclaim of a literary nature in Germany for this book. I’m pleased to hear that this is her fourth novel and I will be seeking out her earlier work to see if that packs as mighty a punch as this one does.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Quercus for allowing me to have a copy of this book to read in return for this honest review and to Liz Loves Books whose interview with the author led me to seek this fantastic read out.

12 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

One Last Dance – Judith Lennox

Historical Saga 4*'s

Historical Saga
4*’s

I had forgotten how enjoyable a well-written saga can be, that feeling of enormous satisfaction of following a family through their ups and downs, or more usually, downs and further downs, spanning decades isn’t replicated in the same way in any other type of genre and in One Last Dance I felt I’d travelled on a journey with Esme starting at the time of World War I and continuing to the 1970’s.

In 1974 Esme decides she wants her 75 birthday party to be held at Rosindell a somewhat diminished grand house which belongs to the Reddaway family and while we witness a scene where her daughter is somewhat perturbed at this choice of venue the story then switches back to 1917 when Devlin Reddaway visits England while on leave. The story that follows has all the normal components of love, jealousy, secrets and lies that you’d expect from the genre and pleasingly well-executed. The pace is measured and despite there being, as you’d imagine over such a time-span, quite an array of characters, these are well-defined so that there is no confusion. Judith Lennox has created some great characters, which develop well over the course of the book without ever losing their central characteristics thereby allowing the reader to sympathise or react in horror at the actions they choose to take.

The key protagonists are Esme and her elder, more beautiful sister, Camilla and Devlin Reddaway with the relationship between them being central to the story although as the book progresses we get to know the younger generations and understand their lives in context of the past.  Much of the setting is the wonderfully described Rosindell, which Devlin’s father had failed to maintain and the house he is determined to restore to its former glory, but there are other settings that Judith Lennox brings to life as far apart as London during World War II and San Francisco in the 1960’s where another house is built by one of Devlin’s children.

The earlier part of the book concentrates on a close time-span depicting the events that will haunt the family for decades to come while later on the sections depict wider ranging dates which avoids slowing down the pace and better still these sections add further nuance and complexity to the story avoiding the feeling that they are included for filling purposes.  In fact every one of the 500 plus pages adds a little to the story either in way of place, character or plot.

This is a gentle nostalgic story with enough action to keep the reader engaged with fantastic descriptions of both time and place that add to the richness of this read.

I’d like to thank Bookbridgr along with the publishers Headline Review for allowing me to read a copy of this book which was published in paperback on 11 September 2014.

11 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

Friday Finds (September 19)

Friday Finds Hosted by Should be Reading

FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS

From NetGalley I am now the proud owner of The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

The Girl in the Photograph

Blurb

In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.
Something isn’t right.
Someone is watching.
There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth’s life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.
The past is set to repeat its sorrows, with devastating consequences. NetGalley

I also have a copy of Stolen Child by Laura Elliot

Stolen Child

Blurb

It’s every mother’s worst nightmare.
Carla Kelly wakes to find her two-day-old baby daughter’s cot empty.
Isobel has been taken.
Susanne Dowling has been keeping a terrible secret following her fifth agonising miscarriage. But when at last she welcomes her new baby daughter into her life nothing else matters. They will both be safe as long as Susanne keeps her daughter close and confesses her lie to no one. Ever.
Carla, a top model, launches a fierce national campaign to find her child – but the trail is cold. She receives threats and recriminations from strangers – she flaunted her pregnancy in the media, she cashed in on it, she deserves everything she gets – and, encouraged by well-meaning loved ones to move on, she begins to fall apart.
But one letter Carla receives stands out from the rest. It offers support from a surprising quarter. And it sets in to motion a chain of events that opens wounds and exposes shocking secrets from Carla’s past that suggest what happened to her daughter was revenge a long time planned.
And it will bring Carla unknowingly close to the stolen daughter she has sworn she will do anything to get back … NetGalley

From Amazon Vine I have a copy of Deutschland by Martin Wagner, II have to admit I’ve seen more attractive covers than this one!

Deutchland

Blurb

Spending their summer holidays at their grandparents’ house by the sea, Sam and her two brothers play a series of dangerous games, pitted against each other yet united in their secrecy from the grown-ups. But when they discover a fierce dog mysteriously trapped in an electrical substation, they face their first real challenge, one from which they cannot walk away.
Meanwhile, on a long weekend in Germany, their aunt, Kate, and her new lover find themselves playing games of their own. In the red-light district of Munich, will Kate’s surprising challenge for her boyfriend strengthen or destroy their relationship?
Many years ago, Sam’s grandfather, Richard, also played an unusual game, encouraged by a stranger, as part of a scientific experiment. The choices he made then have haunted him ever since. As Sam delves into her grandfather’s secret she discovers that where free will turns to blind obedience, true horror lies. Amazon

And lastly I am delighted to be the proud owner of The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth whose book Precious Thing wowed me earlier this year.

The Life I Left Behind

Blurb

She’s dead but she’s the only one who knows what really happened;
What your friends have said.
What the police missed.
Who attacked you.
So if you want the truth who else are you going to turn to?
You think you know people: Colette McBeth tells you what you don’t know… Amazon

Please share your finds for the week in the comments below.

17 Comments

Filed under Weekly Posts

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s

Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

This is what happens to Rosie and Don almost a year after we last met them in The Rosie Project, you really do need to have read that book first to get the most from this one.

Rosie and Don are now living in an apartment in New York, making cocktails together at the local bar to supplement Rosie’s medical training while Don studies the effect of alcohol on rats in his role as Geneticist at the university. Unfortunately there is a domino effect of disasters ready to strike just around the corner, if not caused by Don’s inability to see the world in the same way as the average person, then certainly compounded by this fact.

Some of the secondary characters from the original book make an appearance in this one but I have to say even these aren’t quite as bright and sparkly as they were, it is almost as if by getting older the world is not quite so full of opportunities and life has become more ordinary, except for Don whose character has stayed entirely intact with a few minor modifications such as the modification to his daily eating plan. However much you like Don though, the other characters are required to move the story along so that it doesn’t get too bogged down in Don’s logic and this time the relief and most touching instances come from Don bonding with his male friends over a game of Baseball.  Graeme Simsion has successfully taken four disparate blokes and given them a way to bond which is entirely male, and in keeping with Don’s character and allowed us to see what goes on behind the raw actions of these men.  Gene was a surprise and it depends which way you read one episode to whether or not he gets the prize for the most-misunderstood man in the book.  Overall the writing was of the same standard of the original although some of the situations appeared to be a little bit forced and didn’t really have any real purpose.

Because the overall feel was slightly more downbeat I didn’t get the same enjoyment from this episode, it was still funny but not quite as sweet as The Rosie Project and the subject covered isn’t as unique, in fact Don’s reaction to the news isn’t so out of the ordinary for any man, Don just takes it to a slightly different level. Rosie’s character was much harder in this book, something necessary for the plot but disappointing for this reader as it added to the more downbeat tone, you can’t hook up with a man like Don and then decide in such a short space of time that he isn’t up to the job! That is just not fair Rosie!!

On balance I will still be recommending The Rosie Project to everyone who asks for a good book but this is one for die-hard fans to read with the knowledge that perhaps that original magic can’t be replicated in another episode.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Penguin Books UK who kindly gave me a copy of this book in return for this honest review. The Rosie Effect will be published on 25 September 2014.

18 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

WWW Wednesday (September 17)

WWW Wednesday green

Hosted by Miz B at Should be Reading

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading One Last Dance by Judith Lennox

One Last Dance

Blurb

‘Times change, and sometimes for the better…’
As the twentieth century draws to a close, Esme Reddaway knows that she must uncover the truth. A truth that began during the First World War when Devlin Reddaway fell passionately in love with Esme’s elder sister, Camilla, and promised to rebuild his ancestral home, Rosindell, for her.
But the war changes everything and Devlin returns to England to find that Camilla is engaged to someone else. Angry and vengeful, he marries Esme, who has been secretly in love with him for years. Esme tries to win Devlin’s heart by reviving the annual summer dance. But as the years pass she fears that Rosindell has a malign influence on those who live there, and the revelation of a shocking secret on the night of the dance at Rosindell tears her life apart. Decades later, it is she who must lay the ghosts of Rosindell to rest.
Spanning the last century, Esme’s story of sibling rivalry, heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness is sure to appeal to fans of Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and Downton Abbey. Goodreads

I have just finished reading The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, my review will be following soon.

The Rosie Effect

Blurb

GREETINGS. My name is Don Tillman. I am forty-one years old. I have been married to Rosie Jarman, world’s most perfect woman, for ten months and ten days.
Marriage added significant complexity to my life. When we relocated to New York City, Rosie brought three maximum-size suitcases. We abandoned the Standardised Meal System and agreed that sex should not be scheduled in advance.
Then Rosie told me we had ‘something to celebrate’, and I was faced with a challenge even greater than finding a partner.
I have attempted to follow traditional protocols and have sourced advice from all six of my friends, plus a therapist and the internet.
The result has been a web of deceit. I am now in danger of prosecution, deportation and professional disgrace.
And of losing Rosie forever. Goodreads

Next I am going to read The Dark Meadow by Andrea Maria Schenkel

The Dark Meadow

Blurb

Bavaria, Germany, 1947
At the end of the war, Afra Zauner returns to her parents’ cottage on the edge of Mauther Forest. Unmarried, and pregnant. As she struggles to raise her child, her father’s shame, her mother’s fury and the loud whispers of the neighbours begin to weigh upon her. She doesn’t believe in her sin. But everyone else does.
And someone brings judgement down upon her.
Many years later, Hermann Müller is throwing a drunk out of his tavern. A traveller, who won’t stop ranting about a murder left unsolved, about police who never investigated. Out of curiousity, the file is reopened. And in the cold light of hindsight, a chilling realisation creeps upon the community.
No-one ever atoned for Afra’s death. But her story is waiting to be told.
Andrea Maria Schenkel returns to the form of her groundbreaking The Murder Farm, narrating through suspects, victims and investigators to lead the reader to their own awful understanding. Goodreads

Please share your reads with me in the comments box below.

25 Comments

Filed under Weekly Posts

The Secret Wife – Linda Kavanagh

Psychological Thriller 3*'s

Psychological Thriller
3*’s

Laura Thompson is getting married. The university lecturer has got her man, her dress and her hopes of a long and happy life with stockbroker Jeff. But the man of her dreams isn’t all that he seems, and before long dark clouds are gathering on the horizon…

Told in two separate narratives, in the present the story told is Laura’s who has fallen madly in love with Jeff despite her best friend Kerry’s reservations and in the past by Ellie, who has an affair with the boss at the factory where she works in a lab.  Alan Thompson is married and his wife’s father is the chief investor in the business so he simply can’t leave her without losing everything.  I found Ellie’s story by far the more compelling of the two at the start of this book, as she flouts the rules of the small village she lives, retreating into her own company as she keeps the affair with Alan Thornwood a secret. Unfortunately this need secrecy means that as the story progresses she becomes a somewhat shadowy figure with few interactions with others to add tone to her character.

Laura’s story conversely becomes more complex as the marriage she entered into so hastily takes a turn for the worse. Jeff has demons from his past which result in him becoming domineering and Laura struggles with guilt over the death of her parents and brother. Through it all she depends heavily on her friend from childhood, Kerry as well as her trusted colleagues at the University where she lectures. As both Laura and Kerry feel they are being watched this part of the story soon takes on a darker hue.

I felt that although the pace picked up and I was eager to find out what was to become of both women the story was undermined by the constant monologues which became repetitive, hammering home the issues rather than letting the reader infer from the narrative. When a book starts with a character, in this case, Kerry, just appearing to know that Jeff was not the man for Laura with no evidence described to back it up, the author is always going to struggle to get me back on board, so it is a measure of some success with the plotting that I kept reading, initially on the strength of Ellie’s tale and didn’t give up in despair. There are some clever twists to the tale although I needed to suspend belief in the fact that Ellie kept her daughter’s father a secret in such a small village, and there is a culmination with a neat convergence of the two tales. I did guess some of the key points, again something that would have been avoided if the book had been written with a shade more subtlety.

This is a light, easy read for readers who like their romance slightly darker than normal as I think this straddles this genre and the psychological to create an interesting and well-paced read.

I’d like to thank the publishers Harlequin UK for sending me a copy of this book in return for this honest review.

5 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

Teaser Tuesday (September 16)

Tuesday Teaser

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

My teaser this week is from The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion which is the sequel to the fabulous The Rosie Project

The Rosie Effect

Blurb

With the Wife Project complete, Don settles into a new job and married life in New York. But it’s not long before certain events are taken out of his control and it’s time to embark on a new project . . .
As Don tries to get to grips with the requirements of starting a family, his unusual research style gets him into trouble. To make matters worse, Don has invited his closest friend to stay with them, but Gene is not exactly the best model for marital happiness. As Don’s life with Rosie continues to be unpredictable, he needs to remember that emotional support is just as important as practical expertise. NetGalley

My Teaser

It was 9.27 p.m. when  I arrived home from Dave’s. Rosie flung her arms around me and began crying.  I had learned that it was better not to attempt to interpret such behaviour at the time, or to seek clarification as to the specific emotion being expressed, even though such  information would have been useful in formulating a response.  Instead, I adopted the tactic recommended by Claudia and assumed the persona of Gregory Peck’s character in The Big Country.

Please leave the link to your teaser in the comment box below.

49 Comments

Filed under Weekly Posts

Trust in Me – Sophie McKenzie

Psychological Thriller 4*'s

Psychological Thriller
4*’s

This is a psychological thriller that certainly kept me guessing, one of those books where there appears to be a plethora of suspects for the scary narrator who we know has killed before and will probably not stop until they are caught.

Livy Jackson’s younger sister Kara was murdered when she was just 18 leaving Livy feeling that she should have done more to protect her. After her murder, Kara’s friend, Julia, became Livy’s friend, a friendship that remained close despite their dissimilar lives where Livy became a homemaker and mother whilst Julia lived an exciting life with numerous short-lived relationships. Years later Julia is found dead, alone in her flat and Livy begins to realise that her belief that they told each other everything simply wasn’t true.
The story is told from Livy’s viewpoint and the fault-lines in her marriage to Will are exposed right from the start. The couple have a moody pre-teen daughter Hannah as well as a less complicated son Zack and their household is easily recognisable of a myriad empty cereal boxes, tears and slammed doors.

After Julia’s death Livy starts to investigate, she is sure despite all the evidence that someone was involved in her death and she feels she needs to honour her friend’s memory. Early on in the story we hear from the killer themselves in a truly chilling fashion, they themselves pronounce themselves a psychopath with no attempt to justify their actions except that it was to fulfil an urge. Each section from the killer is simply headed with the name of a victim, the description of their murder and boasting of how no evidence was left behind. Livy meanwhile is in turn obsessing over an affair Will had six years previously and struggling without her best friend to support her. She hooks up with Julia’s latest boyfriend who is also doubtful that the vibrant and feisty woman he had dated would kill herself despite the fact that this is what her family believe.

The plot was good and it certainly kept me guessing as I became convinced that it was one suspect, then another until fairly close to the reveal I worked out who it was. Livy’s character was fairly bland, she seemed to lack oomph so I took a while to warm to her and I struggled to understand how this woman was so close to Julia. Julia’s character is a conundrum which was never resolved, estranged from her mother who seemed entirely happy to believe she committed suicide as did her downright horrible brother and his equally awful wife, who all seemed to know a different Julia than the one Livy knew the reason for the hostility was left unresolved.

Once the scene has been set the book picks up pace with enough action to keep this reader turning the pages. I like the fact that all the different types of relationships that define our lives are represented in a realistic way. This is the sort of book that is best read in big chunks which will allow you to immerse yourself in Livy’s investigation.

I’d like to thank the publishers Simon & Schuster UK for giving me a copy of this book in return for this honest review. Trust in Me was published on 11 September 2014.

15 Comments

Filed under Books I have read

The Stolen Girl – Renita D’Silva

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s

Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Ever since reading Renita D’Silva’s debut novel Monsoon Memories I have been a firm follower of this author with her tales across the Indian and English cultures.

The Stolen Girl has progressed the delightful and well-structured storytelling to another level due to the huge mystery at the heart of this novel. Diya is a teenage girl, living in England with her mother Vani who works in the local Indian restaurant bringing back the smells of the spices and oils as she returns home every night. One night she tells Diya they have to move, again. Diya is far from keen having made her first proper friend but that night everything changes when Vani is accused of abducting Diya from her real mother, Aarti, as a baby.

I really enjoyed this story told from the viewpoints of Diya in the present day, Vani by letters reminiscing over her past in India and Aarti as she lays claim to the daughter she lost thirteen years before. These three narrators all build up a picture of what life was like for the two women before Diya’s birth with lavish descriptions of houses and smells, of the different ways parents express their love for their children as well as an interesting insight into how your background is critical in hierarchical India. One of the things I love about this author’s writing is that on the whole she allows her readers to infer the messages, despite Vani’s life being very different to mine, I could ‘put myself in her shoes’ not because I was told how to wear them, but rather because a picture was painted using subtle tones allowing me to empathise with the choices she made.

The plotting is superb with the pace carefully controlled with well-timed revelations from the two women placed against the confusion of young Diya who struggles to comprehend the deceptions that led her to live in England within a close-knit relationship of two with her mother. With the issue of the effects of eating disorders covered too this novel could easily have slipped into a dispiriting read with so much misery but the thread of hope that all would turn out well for Diya along with some great supporting characters meant that this was avoided.

Having now had the pleasure of reading three excellent books by this author I can’t wait to see what Renita D’Silva produces next. I’d like to thank the publishers Bookouture for the copy of this book to read in return for this honest review. The Stolen Girl was published on 12 September 2014.

Other books by Renita D’Silva
click the book covers to see my reviews.
Monsoon Memories

The Forgotten Daughter

16 Comments

Filed under Books I have read