Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Midnight in Peking – Paul French #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction – True Crime
4*s

Midnight in Peking is an intriguing book which looks at the gruesome murder of Pamela Werner at the same time as the Japanese were poised to invade China.

ETC Werner was Pamela’s adoptive father, a retired Consul who was an academic of Chinese with a particular interest in mythology and language. When his daughter Pamela failed to come home that cold winter’s evening in 1937 he searched for her, sadly her mutilated body was found at the bottom of Fox Tower with her heart and other organs removed.

The book is seriously well researched with many documents examined which gives the reader the feel of the ex-pat community in Peking, and it is telling that Pamela had been ice skating before bicycling home, activities that her peers living in the UK could easily have been doing. What Paul French evocatively describes is the gated community, Legation Quarter, where most of the ex-pats lived, although not Pamela and her father who lived outside, and then there was the were the ‘Badlands’ where life was a whole lot more tawdry and where the Russians congregated eager to sample its fast food outlets and brothels. Through the whole book you can’t fault the descriptions of the places that were familiar to Pamela.

The book is of course focussed on who killed Pamela and it comes up with a valid scenario based on his combing of the archives and not least the efforts of her father who made it his mission to keep the investigation into his daughter’s death alive. ETC Werner is painted as a complex character and he clearly didn’t set out in life to win friends, indeed quite the opposite so when he bombarded anyone who he thought had power with letters full of his suspicions about the perpetrator with letter after letter. In a link to ETC Werner’s work we also hear about the Chinese superstitions which relate to the spirits that haunt Fox Tower where Pamela’s dismembered body was discovered.

Equally interesting is the history of the creeping invasion of the Japanese through China and the knock on effect that had on the ex-pat community as well as the wider implications for the Chinese. This is a slice of history that was new to me and although my geography is particularly poor this part is explained well enough that I easily followed the time-lines and could visualise the widening of the areas under Japanese control.

This is a non-fiction book although the majority of the book is very readable, however I did get bogged down in the early section of who was who in the ex-pat community in China with its lengthy section on not just who did what now but what they’d done before without any real idea of the part they would play in Pamela’s story. This is a minor criticism of a book that bought a time and place to life long after both had disappeared.

Having read the investigation carried out by the author I felt his theory worked although the fact that the case was never solved seemed to be for people in high places supressing the truth rather than it was never known. The real mystery that remains is ‘who was Pamela Warner?’ because this is a young woman, despite being represented as a school girl she was in her late teens, who was a mass of contradictions.

Midnight in Peking was my eight read of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge 2017

First Published UK: April 2013
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Saturday Requiem – Nicci French #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

In 2011 the talented duo Sean French and Nicci Gerrard published the first book in a new series about a psychotherapist called Frieda Klein under their pen name Nicci French with each of the titles featuring a day of the week. Originally I assumed that there would be a total of seven books but I’ve heard a rumour that there may in fact be eight in total. Saturday Requiem was the sixth in the series and published in 2016 but due to a NetGalley fail on my part, I missed reading a copy around publication time and later treated myself to the paperback copy in readiness for the seventh book which will be published later this month – Sunday Morning Coming Down.

Frieda Klein has vowed not to work with the police following some difficult moments which are covered in previous books, but… well of course there would be no book if she wasn’t in some way involved… she is drawn into the historic murder of Hannah Docherty’s family. Hannah had been tried and convicted of murder in her teens and has spent the last thirteen years in prison. Frieda agrees to meet her and is shocked to see that she is a shell of a person, almost mute and clearly injured. Because Frieda cares she is concerned that the treatment Hannah has received has caused her mental difficulties and decides to dig back to find out what sort of girl Hannah was before she apparently killed her mother, step-father and younger brother, Rory.

One of the reasons I get hooked on series is the relationships the key protagonists has with those around them and Nicci French has provided the readers with a real bunch of characters. Sadly DCI Malcolm Karlsson didn’t feature quite so much in this book having broken a fair few bones in his most recent crime fighting effort but the Polish builder Josef, Frieda’s biggest fan and protector, is there ready to lend a hand whenever the occasion demands it, and these occasions happen often! Jack and Chloe are also in the thick of things along with Karlsson’s loan of his deputy Valerie Long to investigate the historic murders, one that obviously needs more scrutiny following a recent discovery. Frieda is a complicated character but the validation of those around her ensures that I have warmed to her over the series. Dean Reeve, Frieda’s long-standing stalker is still elusively present and the set-up is still ongoing for what I hope will be an explosive showdown.

Apart from the characters of course what all readers need in crime fiction is a good puzzle with plenty of clues that don’t quite fit together until they are put into the right order. Nicci French gives us this in spades with each interview slowly moving the pieces around, and increasing the tension, until there is only one answer that makes sense. I don’t usually mention the endings to books, but this one blew me away!!

What more can I say, book six is up there with the best in the series, it sent me through the whole range of emotion with the plot, characterisation and pacing absolutely spot-on.

Saturday Requiem was my third read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 30 June 2016
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Nicci French featuring Frieda Klein

Blue Monday
Tuesday’s Gone
Waiting For Wednesday
Thursday’s Child
Friday On My Mind

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

What Remains Behind – Dorothy Fowler #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
4*s

A land sale in the family is the latest archaeological dig for Chloe Davis. As she returns to the site in the Kaipara, north of Auckland in New Zealand she is working to find the foundations of the place of worship for Kaipara Harbour community which had burnt in the 1880s.

Chloe has mixed emotions about the dig, she’s sad that the family land is being sold especially as her side of the family had fond memories of holidays spent in the house her sister Phaedra has inherited.

There are two distinct time lines to this novel both presented in the first person the current day narrative provided by Chloe on the dig with a mis-match of students and her old friend and colleague Bill. This time line follows not only the finds on the dig, but also the suspicion the small town inhabitants have towards the outsiders, some of whom have money tied up in the sale of the land. But rules are rules and the dig has been ordered and Chloe and Bill are determined to finish what they have started.

This present day timeline also takes in the mystery of a missing local farmer from some years before as well as the frankly odd relationship between the level-headed Chloe and her far more mercurial sister Phaedra.
For me far more fascinating were the pages of a diary written by Charity, a young girl, taken to the mission by her mother. There is something I find fascinating about cults; partly the amazement that a single charismatic man can make others believe what he says to the seeming exclusion of logic to the more mundane issues of adults living a communal lifestyle which for me, being fairly unsociable, has so far kept me inured to any charismatic man (or woman) bearing unlikely promises. However if I were a single mother forced to use her fading looks to make a living as a Housekeeper, back in the 1880s then maybe I would be as grateful as The problem faced by the cult, from the locals and more prosaically the lack of money as Brother Jack failed to gather a bigger flock to fund the mission.

This is a slow-paced mystery, quite unlike the crime fiction I normally read. The mysteries are there but the search for answers is nowhere near as frantic or all-consuming as these, the answers coming almost organically from the situation which is not only a novel approach, but also a deeply satisfying one. That’s not to say the book lacks action, it doesn’t there are a few hairy moments in both timelines. The mystery in the past was expected as we know from the beginning that the mission burnt down, what we don’t know is who did it, and why. The action in the present coming out of a fairly complex storyline which ensures that this book didn’t succumb to that perennial problem with dual timelines, the one story capturing my attention far more than the other.

What Remains Behind is the first read of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge 2017. I enjoyed this book featuring an archaeologist a real breath of fresh air away from the detectives that normally stalk the pages of my crime fiction. With the unusual, for me, setting in small town New Zealand easily imagined through the authors descriptions, both in the past and present, this one has got me off to a cracking start.