Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Cut Short – Leigh Russell

Crime Fiction
3*s

I know, I really don’t need to be starting any new crime series as the ones I have on the go, and try hard to keep up with already fill up a fair few slots on the trusty spreadsheet, but this book was already on my kindle having been purchased three years ago.

Now I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t too sure about Geraldine Steel’s debut outing at first but reminded myself that it is hard to introduce a whole new bunch of characters with enough of a back story to make it into a full series and the plot was definitely an intriguing one.

In Woolmarsh following the breakup of a relationship and she’s looking forward to a quieter life than that she left behind, but it isn’t to be. No sooner has she moved into a gated apartment than a killer strikes leaving behind a woman hidden in the park for a small child to find. Not a great way for Geraldine to start her new life! Partnered with the affable DS Ian Peterson the pair along with the rest of the team are under pressure to apprehend the strangler, particularly when it isn’t long before he strikes again.

There are several strands to the story with one pertaining to someone vandalising Geraldine’s personal property and another narrative from a clearly disturbed man who talks to a woman called Miss Elsie which kept my interest when the police investigation inevitably stalled. All too soon the press are asking questions about the competence of the officers in charge and women are protesting about their safety.

The fact that this series is soon going to be up to book number nine leads me to believe that the character development that perhaps this book would have benefited from, the author having favoured dastardly plotting, will soon be realised. It is all too easy for these police procedurals to feel like a rehash of something done before and yet I did feel that this showed a lot of promise. Yes, Geraldine was prone to going home and drinking wine, but hey, so I’m sure do lots of her readers and they don’t have to wonder which member of this small town out and about strangling people even while the police are on every corner! She isn’t too beset by personal problems although she has the odd reflective moment, but on the whole she uses the fact that she’s single with no personal claims on her time to work. We are told, that she uses her attention to detail and great memory to put together the clues and in this case, it works.

In the first paragraph I alluded to the wealth of characters in this book which can be tricky to manage and Leigh Russell gets over this by introducing them throughout the book as they are required, in many ways this book is almost written for TV which led to a disjointed feel in parts but there was also an awful lot that appealed and I certainly found myself racing towards the ending.

I read this book as part of my Mount TBR Challenge 2017 – this is number 7 out of my target of 36 for the year but… I must put the series books aside as I’m very tempted to buy Road Closed which sort of defeats the point of the challenge.

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 2009
Publisher: No Exit Press
No of Pages:  435
Genre: Crime Fiction – Police Procedural
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

Short Stories 3*s
Short Stories
3*s

So after finally allowing Miss Marple into my life just last year with Murder at the Vicarage, I decided to try another book which featured this sharp, yet elderly spinster of St Mary Mead. What I didn’t quite appreciate was that The Thirteen Problems wasn’t really the second book in the series as denoted by Goodreads but a collection of linked, but essentially short stories, featuring the accidental detective.

The collection starts with The Tuesday Night club held at Miss Marple’s house where each of the six friends, including Miss Marpe’s nephew, Raymond West, the Vicar, Dr Pender, Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Henry Clithering, an artist, Joyce Lempriere and the solicitor Mr Petherick gather round while Miss Marple knits and they discuss a seemingly unsolvable problem which only they know the answer to. Amazingly, because I really doubt I could find one friend, let alone six, to come up with a mystery of this standard, they all have a story to tell.

Dr Henry Clithering kicks things off with a dastardly plot complete with poison where three people ate the poisoned food but only one died.

Raymond recounts his tale of Ingots of Gold complete with Cornish smugglers and a ship wreck.

Joyce’s tale is also set in Cornwall and features a missing woman and a mysterious puddle of blood on the pavement
Dr Pender recounts an odd fancy dress party where one of the guests is stabbed through the heart in front of witnesses but no-one knows how or where the weapon went.

The legal man Mr Petherick has a tale which involves spiritualists and a will made in their favour – another taxing mystery as who would want to alter a will made in their favour.

Miss Marple’s own tale is probably my favourite in the whole book and not only because it features poison but a play on words.

It is a whole year later before the second set of six mysteries are heard at a dinner party held by Colonal Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly in St Mary’s Mead. The dinner party also has Sir Henry Clithering in attendance along with, actress Jane Helier and Dr Lloyd ( a doctor of medicine this time) and of course Miss Marple herself.

Arthur Bantry has a spooky tale of mediums and ghosts appearing to an anxious woman in the Blue Geranuium
Dr Lloyd’s story is set in the glamorous location of Gran Canaria and a drowning he happened upon.

Sir Henry Clithering’s tale is in part philosophical on the harm of being a suspect with no way of proving your innocence. His tale had four men one of whom must have committed murder but with no obvious solution all remained suspects.

Spousal murder is Miss Marple’s contribution is set in a hydro spa where the sharp-eyed spinster is convinced murder is about to be committed but could she stop it in time?

More poison, this time from foxglove leaves from Dolly who recounted this domestic murder which seemed one that was likely to backfire onto the perpetrator.

The final dinner party story is from Jane Helier who tells a muddled tale of her ‘friend’ and a burgled bungalow that tends towards the preposterous. Even better Jane doesn’t have a solution but all becomes clear in Miss Marple’s whispered response to her problem.

Finally we have a lone tale where Miss Marple approaches Sir Henry Clithering some months later when he is visiting the Bantry’s again. This time the mystery is firmly local with a young girl having drowned whilst in the family way. Miss Marple is convinced it is murder and not suicide and needs Sir Henry to insert himself in the local police investigation to ensure justice is done.

There were some very clever stories in the mix but I have to be honest, I prefer a full length tale and thirteen murderous plots from a small number of people l began to feel a little contrived.

mount-tbr-2017
 

First Published UK: 1932
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages:  228
Genre: Short Stories
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

The Other Typist – Suzanne Rindell

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

The Other Typist is Rose’s tale we hear of her life working as a typist in a Police Precinct in Brooklyn, her shared room in a Boarding House with the room divided by a curtain, the other half containing a woman who Rose possibly dislikes, but definitely feels superior to. In 1920s Brooklyn the Prohibition period is in force and the Police Commander has decided that his force should be arresting those running the latest speakeasy which has popped up and then melt away around the city.

Enter Odile, a beautiful graceful creature, one with bags of sophistication, beautiful clothes and an easy manner. Odile is the ‘other typist’ the newest to join the typing pool. Rose is instantly both bewitched and disapproving of Odile, well that is until Odile decides to befriend her which leads to a chain of events that Rose could never have predicted.

The two girls become friends and moving from typing up the statements and sometimes confessions of the local gangsters and crooks, the girls attend the very speakeasy the police force they work for are supposed to be bringing to justice. There is a real sense of place and time in The Other Typist. I could quite have easily joined them on a night out in a beaded dress and sipping the champagne cocktails which were strictly prohibited. I think the secret locations with passwords required to gain entry would only make a night of partying with the select few who were in the know all the more alluring.

Rose narrates her story with a distinctive voice. We hear that Rose was an orphan, who was bought up by nuns but clearly a clever girl; she was one of the lucky ones who got an education. She is so obviously Odile’s inferior on the social scale but Rose has a sense of superiority that outweighs, well nearly, these facts. Indeed Rose’s narrative strongly reminded me of Barbara Covett in Zoe Heller’s novel What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, both require a different label to ‘unreliable narrator’ I suggest ‘nebulous narrator’ is a far more accurate description as even at the end of the book, it was hard to separate the facts from the fiction. Rose’s sense of superiority is an overriding feature of her narrative style, and yet there is a sense that she realises that this is unfounded at times, all of which should make her unlikeable to her reader, but it didn’t, I felt a certain amount of fondness for this spiky young woman. Of course there are a number of other characters who have their parts to play but it must be remembered that all of these characters are viewed through Rose’s eyes, and Rose is only really watching one person, Odile.

Fairly early on in the book we learn that Rose is recounting her story from a hospital and so we get some sense of where the ending might lie, but the fun is entirely in the journey. So we follow Rose to work where she admires the Sergeant but isn’t quite so sure about the Lieutenant. Where she types faster than anyone else, naturally without making any mistakes. A life where she is able to judge how a particular interview will play out and yet she melts into the background where the police, all men of course, go about getting their confessions. We watch as her certainties about right and wrong unravel under Odile’s influence as she whirls around the dance floor with the latest contraband cocktail in hand until life whirls a little bit too fast and the wheels come off.

This was a superb story, even more so when you consider that this is the author’s debut novel and it was one which had me completely entranced with an ending has had me pondering for a good few days now. If like me you had this lingering on some TBR list of one description or another, don’t delay pull it out and read it!

mount-tbr-2017
 
 

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Allison & Fig Tree
No of Pages:  369
Genre: Historical Fiction – Psychological
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Short Story 4*s
Short Story
4*s

This may be a short story but it is a disquieting one to say the least. Based upon the author’s experience in the late 1800’s when diagnosed by a physician of a nervous disease she was prescribed ‘rest cure’ which meant that she was to stay in bed all day and only allowed mental stimulation for two hours a day… this led to a near total mental decline.

The story features a young woman who has a baby, although he or she, is kept well ‘off-page’ as the subject who has moved into an old house with a creepy feel to it as she lies in a room with yellow peeling wallpaper.

The journal entries written by the woman in the bed, written in secret to hide them from her physician husband, who has diagnosed her with a nervous disease and banned her from leaving the house or having any mental stimulation.
Alone in the room the woman sees first patterns and then more disturbing things in the yellow on the wall which mirror the stretching and then the breaking of her mind although the ending is cleverly left open to interpretation.

The author wrote the story to warn others against rest cures but it has come to be viewed as one of the earliest examples of feminist writing and I can’t disagree. Somehow you can’t imagine a healthy man struggling with a new role in life being told to go to his room until he felt better!!

This is one of those stories that make me truly grateful that I was born when I was!

mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published: 1892
No of Pages: 27
Genre: Short Story
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Cipher Garden – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

We are back in the Lake District with its unpredictable weather and beautiful scenery with the appealing Daniel Kind, historian who finds parallels between his specialism and the work of a detective, particularly when the crimes reach back in time.

I really enjoyed the first of Martin Edwards’ The Lake District Mysteries, The Coffin Trail and fortunately I had already purchased the second in the series. The key mystery in this book is the death many years ago of Warren Howe, a gardener, not greatly liked (in my opinion the best kind of victim as no energy is wasted mourning his loss) who was cut down in a customer’s garden with his own scythe. The case has come to the attention of Hannah Scarlett’s cold case team courtesy of an anonymous letter pointing the finger firmly towards his widow, Tina. But Daniel Kind is also seeking to find out whether there is a cipher in his garden and if so what does it reveal? This involves digging around in a different section of the past that the locals would equally like to be forgotten, but why?

Hannah Scarlett who is still not overjoyed to be heading up the ‘Cold Cases’ team, she would prefer to have been in the thick of the ongoing investigations, calls up the old files and is somewhat heartened to see the original investigation was led by one of life’s lazier policemen. It soon becomes very clear that there were a few likely suspects but in the absence of any real ‘hard-graft’ whoever it was has escaped justice for many years!
There is a proper mystery at the core of this book involving the brutal murder of Warren Howe and then there is the everyday lives of those investigating it but this is perfectly balanced with the lives of Martin Edwards’ chief protagonists Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind. In other words there is plenty to keep the reader entertained when the inevitable dead ends are reached.

I am really enjoying my crime fiction reads which have more of a classical feel to them, this isn’t a thriller, so the pace while never slow, is not so fast that everything passes in a blur until the inevitable confrontation. No this is a book that relies on a good plot and interesting characters to keep its reader’s interested. The characters are all exceptionally well-drawn from the teenage daughter of the dead man to the new husband of his widow, they all feel read by having a mixture of characteristics rather than cardboard cut outs waiting for their part in the plot. That said, there are a fair few of these characters to get to grips with and placing them, particularly if you haven’t read the first book, may cause a little consternation but not for long!

There is something I find very appealing about the small town setting and getting to know the inhabitants and the way they tick is at the root of the enjoyment, especially as they have all known each other for years and know where ‘the bodies are buried.’ This adds to the intrigue as Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett use very different techniques to get them to reveal the facts and although I had a fairly good idea before the reveal, I’m pleased to report that there was one secret I simply didn’t anticipate.

The Cipher Garden is the third of my Mount TBR reads (books I own and were purchased before 31 December 2016), so I’m bang on target so far but since there are another five books to read in this series, I’m not entirely sure that this is actually helping reduce the TBR, You can be sure I’ll have bought at least one more before the year is out!

mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Crime Fiction Series – Police Procedural
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Lake District Mystery Series

The Coffin Trail (2004)
The Cipher Garden (2005)
The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)
The Serpent Pool (2010)
The Hanging Wood (2011)
The Frozen Shroud (2013)
The Dungeon House (2015)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

After She Fell – Mary-Jane Riley

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

Alex Devlin has moved since the truth of what happened to her sister’s children emerged at the end of The Bad Things, she now lives in London far from the wide open spaces of Sole Bay but she has secured herself a job as a journalist writing, at least in part, serious pieces. Sadly moving doesn’t stop time from marching on and while her beloved son Gus is off carrying out his own investigation travelling around Europe she feels at a bit of a loose end.

All that changes when she receives a call from a very old friend. Catriona is now a powerful woman, MEP and newly married to a younger man but the investigation she wants Alex to carry out is far from that world. Her seventeen year old daughter Elena Devonshire has committed suicide, it is official the Coronor’s inquest has deemed it so but Catriona simply doesn’t believe it. Promising money and an exclusive Alex can’t resist her friend’s pleas and sets of for North Norfolk, to her home country, to see the exclusive boarding school, The Drift, where Elena was at the time of her death.

With accusations of depression and anorexia levelled against Elena, Alex needs to get passed the highly controlling head teachers who are determined to protect the school’s reputation at any cost so she finds a teacher on the inside, to do the job for her but will he be able to come up with enough information to help the bereft Catriona?

Once again Mary-Jane Riley has painted a wonderful selection of characters, some nastier than others, against the brilliant backdrop of the setting all with a lightness of touch so that the picture is painted while the action is taking place.

The oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia, it was open to the public on certain days of the year. Thankfully, today was not one of those days.

There was no feasible excuse for her to be half-lying down in the middle of a rape field.

The village was the slightly brasher sister of Sole Bay, thought Alex, as she walked aong the beach road into Mundesley. An amusement arcade, one fish and chip shop on the front, and a couple of magnificent hotels built in the town’s heyday as a seaside destination, al made her feel as though she had stepped back forty years. It was a good feeling. Safe.

We meet the impatient second husband, the awful head teachers, the overly exuberant school receptionist and a raggle-taggle bag of teachers, and don’t even let me get started on the awful array of posh kids at the school, or their poorer relations in the village with whom a healthy rivalry is kept alive. The thing I like about Mary-Jane Riley’s characters is that there are elements of realism about them all, even those who don’t get a centre-stage part, those who often rely to a certain extent on clichés and prejudice, are given shading providing them with clear definition, thereby making them real. So real that I could easily imagine visiting Hallow’s Edge and walk into Hallow’s Edge Tea Parlour for a cup of tea and a piece of cake and giving a nod of recognition to those who grace the pages of After She Fell.

This is one of those books where the reader has more information to hand than the investigator because we hear Elena’s voice through her diary – labelled with the number of weeks before she dies, lest we forget for one moment. Elena’s voice is authentic, she isn’t an identikit teenager although from time to time she talks the talk, even if she doesn’t do the walk. Elena has one friend from her old life with her, Tara, a plump girl who longs to be part of the ‘in group’ the Queen Bees, whereas Elena has a different focus, one that she’s keeping secret, even from Tara. Will finding out what this secret is, enable Alex to give Catriona the real story of what happened that night?

I particularly love books that have multiple strands and while some of these seem more important than others, the author hasn’t let even the minor ones drift without some sort of tethering which makes for one tense ending, I can tell you.

This is book #2 in my Mount TBR Challenge as I purchased the book as soon as I finished The Bad Things in November 2016. Don’t miss the first Put A Book On The Map post on Saturday 4 February where Mary-Jane Riley will be talking about the setting of her books alongside one of my favourite bloggers Katherine from Bibliomaniac UK – in a show of blogger collaboration we are also linking with The Book Trail who will be providing her own unique map of the books.

mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published UK: 28 April 2016
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Redemption – Jill McGown

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

Book number two in the Hill and Lloyd series was just as enjoyable as I hoped with a good honest proper mystery, complete with a limited number of suspects and a solid investigation. As much as I am a fan of the newer types of crime fiction there is something incredibly appealing about a straightforward murder mystery, told in a sequential timeline with a single (reliable) narrator.

Redemption
is set in the Christmas period with snow on the ground, which was credible in 1988 when this book was first published, and in the Vicar’s home. George Wheeler, said Vicar, has a lack of faith which surely is a pre-requisite of the job, is ably supported with the lack of faith firmly disguised and ignored by his wife, Marian. They are both understandably distressed when their young daughter (a mere twenty-one) is visited by her husband in the small village outside Stansfield. Joanne, has been previously been beaten by Graham Elstow and returned to the bosom of her family after a particularly serious incident, and then on Christmas Eve night, he is found beaten to death in bed at the Vicarage. Acting Chief Inspector Lloyd (it seems Jill McGown went with her former Latin teacher, Colin Dexter’s naming preference for the chief protagonist and declined to give him a first name until much later in the series) and Sergeant Judy Hill are hopeful that this is going to be a case they can swiftly solve, after all surely young Joanne has retaliated with the handy murder weapon of a poker? It’s not to be, because it isn’t long before the alibis for the entire household come rolling in and the occupants insist that he must have been attacked by an intruder.

It was the skilful misdirection employed throughout this novel that really had me gripped. There are some convoluted relationships to dazzle the reader, including that of the young playgroup attendee Eleanor Langton who lives in the castle grounds as a single mother while working as an archivist. She has caught the Vicar’s eye and he is having very unholy thoughts about her. For Lloyd and Hill things are no less complex as there are some confessions, time lines which simply don’t fit with the time of death and locked doors that are usually left open, as I presume was the habit in a small village in the 1980s. Fortunately the reader doesn’t need to spare any sympathy for the wife-beating victim all of which ensures this book falls into the gentler half of crime fiction but far away from the cosy variety. I will grant you that we don’t get too far beneath the surface of the characters in the way more modern crime fiction tends to, but what is lacking here is made up for with a story with a puzzle that is told in a mere 246 pages.

Of course Christmas is a great setting for a murder mystery because you have all the angst and families, which often amount to one and the same thing, competing with the forced merriment. Jill McGown uses this aspect to breathe a contemporary feel into her mystery which has tendrils reaching back to the Golden Era. Lloyd and Hill are having an affair the beginnings of which stretch back through time but with Judy Hill moving back to the area, it has reignited, and we all know with those families hanging around that for those involved, Christmas is a tricky time to conduct any secret assignations. There have been strenuous efforts made by the author to remove the sordidness from this relationship with Judy’s marriage (almost) being one of convenience and the way both professionals keep their two worlds separate, meaning that the investigation isn’t sullied by bedroom antics.

All of this made for a very satisfying read, my first of the Mount TBR challenge which may not be succeeding in actually reducing the TBR as I now want the next book in the series which fortunately for me have been republished by Bello. Redemption has since been released by Pan as part of their Christmas series under the title Murder at the Old Vicarage. mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published UK: 1988
Publisher: Bello
No of Pages:  246
Genre: Crime Fiction Series – Police Procedural
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lloyd and Hill Series

A Perfect Match (1983)
Redemption (aka Murder At the Old Vicarage) (1988)
Death of a Dancer (aka Gone to Her Death) (1989)
The Murders of Mrs Austin And Mrs Beale (1991)
The Other Woman (1992)
Murder… Now And Then (1993)
A Shred of Evidence (1995)
Verdict Unsafe (1997)
Picture of Innocence (1998)
Plots And Errors (1999)
Scene of Crime (2001)
Births, Deaths and Marriages (aka Death in the Family) (2002)
Unlucky for Some (2004)