One of my favourite tropes in mystery novels one where there is a limited number of suspects. This is quite hard to make believable even in times gone by, but in more modern settings it has to be a challenge to have a cast iron setting. One of the only reasonable places for this set-up has to be an island which no-one can get to, and of course no-one can leave. P.D. James has therefore sensibly chosen the secluded island of Combe off the coast of Cornwall. Even better this island is used as a retreat for under-pressure men and women, only those of the better classes need apply of course.
At the time of the unexplained death on the island was preparing for some very important guests and so the murder needs the brightest and the best to investigate, so that would be Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They all drop there current work and hurry to the island.
In the best traditions of this kind of murder mystery is that the dead person wasn’t exactly a likeable person. I say the best tradition because it is far easier to read about murder when there is a part of you that can’t help feel that it isn’t any great loss to the world. This way you can concentrate on helping the police from the side-lines without any emotional involvement wasted.
I’ve always enjoyed reading P.D. James’s novels and this one was no exception, the plotting was brilliant with many of the limited number of suspects having a reason to what the victim bumped off, it wasn’t at all easy to detect who the perpetrator was with my thoughts changing as the story progressed.
The characters are predictably an unusual bunch and most of them quite frankly not the kind you would invite around for dinner, but they were distinct with some depth and of course their own motivation for wanting the victim dead, but being unlikable doesn’t mean they are killers.
So onto the setting, an island complete with all the features of island life. The reliance on being able to escape is dependent on the tides, the visibility through the continual threat of mist and fog and of course not forgetting the main feature the lighthouse which despite being on the coast, holds centre stage within the book itself.
This book was written in 2005 and features the SARS which was the health scare of this time, being a highly infectious respiratory disease and it is worth noting that the author was the grand age of 84 at the time it was written. It did become fashionable to say that the latter books lack the originality of those written earlier but having read this one and comparing it to modern crime writers I am moved to say, I like the certain old-fashioned feel, and find some of the author’s attempt to modernise the writing more jarring than when she followed her heart and wrote to a plot that is tried and tested with her own twists which are devious and clever. The Lighthouse is the 13th out of 14 in the Adam Dalgliesh series
The Lighthouse is my eleventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that took me back to an author who became a firm favourite at the start of my foray into crime fiction.
First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
For the seventh outing of Jefferson Tayte, a genealogist now based in the UK with his wife Jean, JT as he is more fondly known, is asked to discover the four-times-Great-Grandfather of his client, Damian Sinclair. His trail takes him from a crumbling, literally, pile in the Southern Highlands of Scotland, Drumarthen, to Rajputana (now known as Rajasthan) with strong links to the East India Company.
If you have followed JT’s previous adventures you will have learnt that genealogy can be a dangerous business, something JT himself seems to forget with a sense of abandon as soon as any juicy mystery comes along.
Damian Sinclair is unlike most of JT’s clients, he and the wider family have done a massive amount of research into their family. It’s soon revealed that this isn’t out of simple curiosity about their family heritage but because wrapped into the history is a missing ruby, one that would significantly change the owner’s life and there is no better motivation than a treasure hunt to help fill in those gaps on the family tree. Damian Sinclair assures JT he is not interested in the ruby and even though the reader can hear the audience hissing, JT puts his scepticism about the truth of this statement aside, and agrees to work on the case.
JT is introduced to the wider family and it is revealed that packet of letters were found that might hold the link to the jewel written in 1820s from a travelling companion in India back to the woman’s brother. These seem to be missing, all apart from one. Do these letters hold the key to the mystery?
The characters are brilliantly portrayed, Steve Robinson has ensured you will be able to tell them all apart by making them distinct, if in the main, individuals that you don’t need to waste a whole heap of sympathy on. After all you don’t want feelings of sorrow for these fictional characters to slow the trail to finding the truth, do you?
While JT is seeking the truth from the past, there are disturbing events in the present with an ‘Golden Age’ type mystery involving a syndicate formed to find the ruby. We therefore have Detective Inspector Alastair Ross being kept busy with the odd dead body too.
As with the previous books in the series, not only are the stories incredibly informative showing the impeccable research carried out by the author, they also have a sense of fun too. The story as it unfolds by letter from life in Colonial India completely transported me to a very particular way of life. The historical part alone was a fabulous story while with the danger in the present and a mystery which seems to hinge on greed provides a puzzle which seems to confound the finest of minds. Steve Robinson created a thoroughly interesting, informative and entertaining read in Letters from the Dead.
I’d like to thank and the author Steve Robinson and the publishers Thomas & Mercer for allowing me to read an advance review copy of Letters from the Dead which was published on 14 August 2018. Perfect for lovers of genealogy as the author manages to weave some actual resources into the book without overshadowing either the historical angle or the mystery playing out in the present it also caters for a wide range of interests from history to those who crave a damn good mystery!
First Published UK: 14 August 2018
Publisher: Thomas Mercer
No of Pages: 348
Genre: Crime Fiction – Genealogical Amazon UK Amazon US
If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, not to worry, each of the books stands alone with only a very fleeting mention of anything in JT’s private life that has gone before.
Previous Books in the JT series
In The Blood
Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.
To The Grave
A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.
The Last Queen of England
While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.
On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.
Jefferson Tayte is good at finding people who don’t want to be found. For years he has followed faint genealogical trails to reunite families—and uncover long-hidden secrets. But Tayte is a loner, a man with no ties of his own; his true identity is the most elusive case of his career.
But that could all be about to change. Now Tayte has in his possession the beginnings of a new trail—clues his late mentor had started to gather—that might at last lead to his own family. With Professor Jean Summer, his partner in genealogical sleuthing, he travels to Munich to pick up the scent. But the hunt takes them deep into dangerous territory: the sinister secrets of World War II Germany, and those who must keep them buried at any cost.
Washington, DC: Twin brothers are found drowned in a Perspex box, one gagged and strapped to a chair. It’s the latest in a series of cruel and elaborate murders with two things in common: the killer has left a family history chart at each crime scene, and the victims all have a connection to genealogical sleuth Jefferson Tayte.
Hoping his insight and expertise will help solve the case, the FBI summon Tayte back to the capital. But as he struggles to crack the clues, the killer strikes again—and again. Tayte is known as the best in the business, but this time he’s up against a genealogical mastermind who always seems to be one step ahead.
With the clock ticking and the body count rising, Tayte finds himself racked with guilt, his reputation and career in tatters. The killer is running rings around him; is it only a matter of time before he comes for the ultimate target?
Ok I know I’m a little late to the party with my reading of this one, which is more or less unforgivable given all the accolades this crime fiction book was given at the time of publication, but I admit it, I was wrong and it should have been a prioritised read far earlier on.
After all despite my preference for a good police procedural set in the UK where I understand the rules and behaviours Now I have read The Dry I have to agree that there are far worse places to set your novel than Australia. This is particularly true of course if like Jane Harper you live in Melbourne. It is a credit to the quality of her writing that this book got optioned in so many territories from the off.
So I started the book and quickly got immersed in an outback town in the middle of a drought (not a minor one with a few weeks of no rain, but a sustained amount of heat and no rain at all) was overtaken by the murder/suicide of a farmer and his family. All the anger and worry in Kiewarra previously without a physical outlet is focussed on this tragedy. So the story starts and we have a killer sentence:
“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.”
The local policeman, Roco is investigating while Aaron Falk, a friend of the suspected perpetrator, Luke Hadler, is using his leave to help Luke’s father, unofficially. The problem is that years before Aaron Falk and his father had to leave town over suspicions that he was involved in the death of his friend, Ellie. Luke and Aaron had an alibi but that didn’t stop people talking, and believe me, this was no low-level grumbling. So Aaron is back to investigate what happened at his old friend’s farm and he can’t quite believe that his friend would have committed such an atrocity but are events from the past clouding his judgement.
“And yes, he battled the daily commute to work and spent a lot of his days under fluorescent office lights, but at least his livelihood didn’t hang by a thread on the whim of a weather pattern. At least he wasn’t driven to such fear and despair by the blank skies that there was even a chance the wrong end of a gun might look like the right answer.”
Now once again the book absolutely checks my preference for crime fiction having elements from the past intersecting with those in the present. And the mystery of what happened to Ellie looms larger the longer Aaron stays in Kiewarra.
You could say two solid mysteries, well-plotted and convoluted enough to keep the keenest of minds working on their theories is enough for an author but Jane Harper’s real skill is bringing the characters to life. Now you may not like them all but you won’t forget many of them, I can assure you of that. The characters alongside the town (which is almost a character in its own right) give the story an oppressive feel which is underlined by episodes from the past being placed throughout the book, the distinction being marked by italics and tense. Much later we hear from Ellie herself which gives us a three-sided view of life, and death.
This is a superb novel and of course I know that there is a second in the series called Force of Nature. Since I can assure you this isn’t one of those frustrating books that leaves on a cliff-hanger, I’m not quite sure how that one can possibly play out (I’ve resisted looking at the synopsis) but I am very sure that the quality of Jane Harper’s writing means that I can’t afford to miss out.
“Death rarely changes how we feel about someone. Heightens it, more often than not.”
No holiday is complete without one of Reginald Hill’s marvellous books in the Dalziel and Pascoe series and fortunately despite reading many of these books previously, each has been a delight to revisit, well, except the first in the series A Clubbable Woman which was horrendously dated having been written in 1970 and in my opinion not up to those later in the series. Child’s Play was published in 1986 and manages to be both an appealing police procedural with a hefty nod to the whys as well as the who in the course of the investigation.
Mrs Gwendoline Huby has died and when her will is read by the local solicitor (I do miss these formal will readings in more modern fiction) it turns out that those who were expecting the proceeds are to be sorely disappointed. First in line to the funds is her son, Alexander Huby, presumed dead in Italy courtesy of WWII. Gwendoline Huby never believed this was the case and has steadfastly expected her son to return home during the intervening forty-year period going as far as to advertise in newspapers and pay private investigators to find him. She’s not unrealistic though so if Alexander hasn’t returned by the year 2015 on his ninetieth birthday (shocking to think that was some 30 years hence!) then the proceeds of the will are to be divided between three charities; one-third for animal rights, one-third for a services benevolent fund and the remaining third for a fascist woman’s movement.
Now as coincidence would have it on the day of the funeral a man turns. He’s about the right age has a light, but relatively accurate back story, and an Italian suit and he cries out ‘Mama’. Is he Alexander Huby returned to Yorkshire just too late, or could this be an imposter? Meanwhile, given that charity begins at home, the three charities aren’t too keen on waiting so long for the promised inheritance either and determine to act to get the rest of the family on side and the money paid out, to them!
The book is deemed a tragi-comedy in three acts by the author himself, and I really can’t disagree. What I do love about the entire series is although there is the very important matter of murder at the heart of each novel, and sometimes the characters have an urge to take themselves far too seriously there is always a thread of humour to stop proceedings from becoming too grim.
Another feature is that often one or other of Dalziel or Pascoe take the leading role, but in this delightful story we really learn more about Wield, the ugly policeman who is often given the supporting role, on the fringes of the action. In this book, very fitting for the times he is contacted by a former lover. The issue being is that Wield is gay, something the self-professed sensitive guy Pascoe has never realised and there is pressure from above when it appears the local paper is proposing an expose of homosexual policemen. Dalziel, not quite being the uncouth brute he presents himself as really gets to show us the other side, because he always knew. This, given the year of publication was possibly a timely if challenging read for crime fiction lovers; it is often only retrospectively that you realise how much attitudes have changed.
You’ll notice I haven’t said too much about the plot, there is no need, it is multi-stranded and superbly executed ably supported by a brilliant cast of characters from the provincial solicitor to the young blackmailer, from the sleazy journalist to the hard-nosed publican all there to be laughed with, and on occasion at as hopes are dashed and fears are sometimes unrealised.
Child’s Play was my sixth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and Reginald Hill made sure it was a sheer delight – I think I’m enjoying this series even more on the repeat reads.
First Published UK: 1986
No of Pages:368
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Dalziel & Pascoe Series
A Clubbable Woman (1970)
An Advancement of Learning (1971)
Ruling Passion (1973)
An April Shroud (1975)
A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
A Killing Kindness (1980)
Exit Lines (1984)
Child’s Play (1986) Under World (1988) Bones and Silence (1990)
One Small Step (1990, novella)
Recalled to Life (1992) Pictures of Perfection (1994)
The Wood Beyond (1995)
On Beulah Height (1998)
Arms and the Women (1999)
Dialogues of the Dead (2002)
Death’s Jest-Book (2003)
Good Morning, Midnight (2004)
The Death of Dalziel (2007)
A Cure for All Diseases (2008)
Midnight Fugue (2009)
This is the first in the Shetland series and a book that has sat patiently on my bookshelf for many years, so many in fact that I have watched the TV series and still not read any of the books but the 20 Books of Summer 2018 challenge changed all that.
Now I’ll be honest, I usually prefer to read the books before watching them featured as I tend towards noticing the differences between descriptions of characters and that’s before we get onto the adaptions made for the small screen. I did love Douglas Henshall in the role of DI Jimmy Perez but I have a fairly short memory so I was sure I would have forgotten the plot. I was wrong but that didn’t in any way spoil my enormous enjoyment of this nuanced crime novel.
Two girls pay a visit to the local weirdo Magnus Tait on New Year’s Eve, they are drunk and have done it for a dare. No big deal Magnus loved having the visitors, probably because he didn’t understand their motivation. All was well until a couple of days later when Catherine Ross is found dead in a field, not far from Magnus Tait’s home. Magnus is the sort of character that is a familiar character from mine, and I suspect many other reader’s childhoods. The man that the children steered clear of for reasons that no-one quite understood. Of course our fictional character has taken it up a level, he was arrested, but not charged, with the disappearance of a child years before and ever since the Islanders have given him a wide berth.
The atmosphere of a small community coupled with the fabulous landscape are bought to life by Ann Cleeves words. This isn’t a tale that could happen anywhere, the Shetland Isles are almost a character in their own right. Cut off from the rest of the world in inclement weather, island life reflects modern life with a twist. The Police investigation has to balance the need to be seen to be doing something with avoiding inflaming needless tensions around someone who has already suffered, and who quite frankly is clearly disadvantaged.
The book also gives us a peek behind the life led by the teenagers on the island as well as contrasting those who are ‘incomers’ and kept at arm’s length. Catherine Ross was an outsider having come to the island to live with her father following the death of her mother. The grief of the father and the impact on his daughter also plays a part in the storyline.
You might think from all my rambling about what aspects are included within this book, that the mystery wasn’t much to write home about. You’d be wrong. The plot is so cleverly executed, this is a writer who knows how to pace her writing for the maximum tension without using a single weak device to do so. Even though I found I did remember far more of the TV series than I thought I would, in many ways that meant that I could admire the other aspects that really lends a depth to this crime novel. I will definitely be seeking to read more of this series, and of course this author.
Raven Black was my fourth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and I was transported from the hot sunshine to a very cold, windy place full of varied and three-dimensional characters.
First Published UK: 2006
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Angela Marsons burst onto the crime writing scene a mere three years ago and yet here I am reading the eighth book in the Kim Stone series already! This is a popular series because not only do the books have a modern feel, often the crime is based in an area that could be lifted from a news article, but the characters, particular those in Kim’s team are so realistically portrayed that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction.
In Dying Truth we have a thirteen year old girl who has apparently committed suicide from jumping from the roof of her expensive boarding school. The immediate narrative from those in the school is that Sadie was a ‘troubled girl’ but Kim wants to know more. Those words don’t explain to her quite how such a young girl can take such desperate measures and she’s determined to find out more.
Heathcrest Academy is an exclusive establishment and because of that there is the perception that the children, and more importantly their parents are somehow more elite than the everyday kid. Sadie Winters is a loner, the other kids with their overinflated egos pretty much ignore her but she doesn’t seem to mind. Although Sadie’s elder sister Saffie is also at the school, that hasn’t helped and when Kim meets their parents, she thinks she may understand why, but something doesn’t add up.
Then just as Kim begins to push for Sadie’s death to be investigated, there is another death and Kim is more determined than ever to winkle out the secrets that are hidden behind the fancy panelling, and opulent façade.
Angela Marsons has a great knack of writing stories that weave different strands together, never forgetting the psychology of crime but still presenting the story as a police procedural. Because of the nature of the deaths in this book our dear DI Kim Stone is forced to seek out her nemesis Alex Thorne for advice about kids who kill. This chapter is one of the most chilling exchanges that I’ve read, the truth underpinning this work of fiction is what makes the entire series so great.
There is another element to the storyline dealing with secret societies, something that has popped up from time to time in real-life tragic stories and yet each time this subject was broached in the book, I had to remind myself to close my mouth which dropped open in horror, not because I didn’t believe what I was reading could happen, but because I did!
If you haven’t started this fantastic series, do and not with this book because they are all amazing and each time I read a new one I say it was ‘the best yet’ and I’m going to again because it is true. The interaction between the characters is so natural and at times, like when Dawson tried to cheer up the ‘fat kid’ Geoffrey Piggott, it bought tears to my eyes with the careful yet supportive way he spoke, demonstrating the brilliance of the character himself, but then I love all of this small team and I can’t wait to see what life (or death) throws at them next.
First Published UK: 18 May 2018
No of Pages: 386
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
This is the second in the series by Cara Hunter featuring DI Adam Fawley. It might be set in Oxford but we have quite a different type of detective, crimes and characters than those who featured in Inspector Morse.
DI Adam Fawley falls into the breed of likeable detective. As you’d expect, he has some baggage, but in his case his past is one that is only likely to illicit sympathy. We learn a little more about him following on from his first outing Close to Home but his story is very much in the background, the foreground is most definitely the crimes committed in the quiet Oxford street where a woman and a young child are found locked in a basement.
The woman Vicky and child are starved and thirsty and severely traumatised, Vicky not speaking at all at first and with the owner of the house, Dr William Harper, is denying all knowledge of them the police are up against it trying to work out who the prisoners are, and more importantly how long and why they’ve been locked up. In their search for clues they realise that the house backs onto the garden of the home of a missing woman called Hannah Gardiner.
There are lots of characters who all add rich detail to what becomes an investigation into the two women, and of course the child who is too young to be able to tell them anything. The police team of course consists of more than DI Fawley and the relationship between the officers is good with Detectives Quinn and Gislingham (Gis) providing a realistic view of how to survive working on such a harrowing investigation.
“Gis, who has always been exceptionally good at knowing when to stop digging, and Quinn who carries his own set of shovels“
The author has worked hard though to provide a reasonable complement of police, all with distinct personalities which is far more realistic that the older style police procedurals with just a couple of detectives involved in solving a case. Another example that gives this book an up-to-date feel is the full use of the female detectives and supporting police personnel throughout the story. As in real life they are no longer used just to pass hankies these women are involved from beginning to end.
With the use of news reports from BBC Midlands and the like, inserted into the story the author also moves away from the more traditional tale that is told just from one viewpoint, this element is built upon with transcribed interviews, including from those living in Frampton Road. These are brilliant, the author telling us so much about the area from both the content and the words used.
This, as was the first book, is a fast-paced police procedural with the author liberally sprinkling her story with red-herrings to keep her reader’s guessing and I for one lapped it all up and I’m eager for the next book by this author to see what dark mystery Oxford will serve up for us next.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of In the Dark. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course Cara Hunter for keeping so thoroughly entertained if a little traumatised by what was waiting for me on this visit to Oxford!
First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Well before I picked this book as one of my Classics Club Reads, I noted that I did so because although she’s widely acclaimed, she is not an author I’ve actually read which is shocking considering that I consider myself quite widely read in this genre having been a fan since discovering Maigret and Agatha Christie in my childhood. I have to confess on the whole I found this a difficult read which I will attempt to explain.
The setting of the early scene was really well done when we met Mrs Bunz a German woman with an academic interest in folklore visiting the village of South Mardian in order to witness the “Dance of the Five Sons,” a mixture between a mummers play and a sword dance which has been performed in the village for generations at the time of the winter solstice. Fortunately for the time when we met the performers there were five sons all alive to accompany their father, even older, to give the villagers a show. Sadly the snow has kept the audience to a minimum, but no matter, Mrs Bunz is determined to document a rare example of an ancient tradition.
After lots, and lots, and lots, of build-up, through rehearsals and arguments, the dance is performed only for the father to be found with his head cut off at the finale. Shocking stuff indeed!
The villagers on the whole are a strange bunch, characterised by low education and an odd dialect. In short the five sons are portrayed as buffoons, particularly the youngest who has epilepsy causing the other four to endlessly chorus soothing noises whenever he gets agitated. Their father is the blacksmith, William Anderson, known to all as the “Guiser,” an unpleasant fellow who is prone to shouting and who cut off his daughter when she chose to marry someone from a different class to them. I know that this was written in a different time when attitudes were very different, but I found it distasteful because the family were at the heart of the action and even by the end we knew little more about them.
So I already had a problem with the ordinary folk but when you combine that with the way the wealthy of the village both acted and were deferred to by everyone, including our esteemed detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn who was bought in when the local bobbies were unable to decide who, out of the entire village (as they all had a motive for murder) had committed the act. With everyone loudly telling each other to keep quiet or disappearing because they don’t like visitors my main source of tension was created by the very real sense that Inspector Alleyn would don his wellington boots and leave without solving the crime because he seemed a little reluctant to ask the questions that seemed blindingly obvious. Consequently by the time we had the reveal, and the solution to a few more of the little mysteries that had occurred, I’d either worked it out for myself, or I was pretty much past caring.
For all that, I did like the parallels with King Lear, the murder itself was well plotted and the isolation of such a village in winter is one I could easily imagine. Sadly I wasn’t anywhere near as fond of the class obsession the writer enforced on her readers.
Off With His Head is number 30 on The Classics Club challenge list and the sixth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.
First Published UK: 1957
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
This is the third of the Lake District Mysteries and for once I am working my way through in strict order, something I’m glad I chose to do as the back story of how historian Daniel Kind left his teaching post at Oxford and his television career to live in a cottage there, while not key to the individual mysteries themselves, does of course work better when you the story arc plays out in the correct order.
I have to mention how thrilled I was to open the book to two family trees one for the Clough family and one for the Ichmore family. I love touches like this in books and although the significance of these families isn’t apparent for a while, once it was you can be sure I turned back to the beginning to acquaint myself with the details. After that we have an excerpt from a journal – something neither the police or Daniel have seen. Don’t you just love that feeling that we know something the investigators don’t?
Chillingly the journal starts with the words:
You’d never know it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.
So on to the mystery which starts with DCI Hannah Scarlett opening an old case file because local journalist Tony di Venuto, chooses the tenth anniversary to campaign for an investigation into the disappearance of Emma Beswick. For publicity reasons it seems like a good time to re-evaluate what Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team know, and where they should look to see if any new information comes to light. This is a case that DI Hannah Scarlett knows well, she was part of the original investigation team working for Daniel’s father.
Along the way she visits the Museum of Myth and Legend run by local man Alban Clough and managed by his daughter Alexandra because Emma used to work there, and she had a relationship with Alexandra. What she learns isn’t so much about Emma though, but about the local folklore and the arsenic labyrinth, set in a remote spot of the lakes.
Part of what I love about this series is the well-researched information that that the author carefully weaves into the storyline. Nothing as clumsy as an information drop for this accomplished author, rather key information in direct relation to the mystery which is fascinating.
With the professional detective and an amateur side-kick both involved in the investigation, although not in any formal way, the reader is offered an insight into the different ways key bits of information can be found, and used to unravel the different questions that need answers. For light relief we watch a con-artist weave his artful magic on an unsuspecting, desperate and gullible B&B Landlady to get a more comfortable bed for a few nights.
For a book that I would classify as at the more comfortable end of crime fiction it is jam-packed with literary references, historical information, an ancient feud and of course a solid mystery. Because there are so many strands to these books it can seem as though it takes longer to get to the heart of the puzzle than you expect but it really is well worth the wait.
This series really is a satisfying read, a beautiful location bought to life against the backdrop of the flip-side which investigates the darker side of human nature. It certainly won’t be long before I read the next in the series, The Serpent Pool.
This is the 16th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Arsenic Labyrinth was purchased on 6 November 2017 thereby qualifying.
First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Well Roy Grace is back for the fourteenth time in Dead If You Don’t which in short is an action packed police procedural that shouldn’t be missed.
I am a huge fan of this series and always look forward to the next book more or less from the time I close the last page and so it may surprise you to hear I had a moment of disquiet when I realised the opening scenes featured a Kip Brown and his teenaged son, Mungo, going to a big game at the Amex Stadium. OK I got that it was an important match with the locals Brighton and Hove Albion against Manchester City no less but I’m no fan of football and out of all crime fiction storylines, bombs rank bottom of the pile. The Head of Security had been warned that a bomb was going to be left in the Amex stadium unless a payment in bitcoin was made before kick-off. Oh dear, was this going to be the one novel in this series I didn’t enjoy because of my dislike of the combination of football and bombs? No, of course it wasn’t because Dead If You Don’t isn’t just about bombs and football, that was just setting the scene for something far more complex.
We have big businessmen, near bankruptcy a bunch of criminals to keep everything spicy and Roy Grace at the match with his son Bruno. Glenn Branson is with security at the stadium keeping an eye out for the promised bomb and then it all kicks off aside from the football!
As always Peter James keeps things real with his thorough research with the police giving this series a real air of authenticity whilst still ensuring that the storytelling isn’t overwhelmed with procedures and policies. I love the team, Norman Potting is still his un-PC self although more subdued than he was at his most annoying. Glenn has also overcome many of his personal problems and is reaching for the next rung on the career ladder but there is little time for the personalities to go wild in this book because Roy Grace is busy co-ordinating a missing boy, a bomb scare, a dead drugs mule and a dismembered body. Quite a lot to take on in a weekend! Dead If You Don’t is almost wall-to-wall action so although we get snippets about Roy’s wife Cleo and his sons Bruno and Noah they are very much in the background, unlike some of the previous books.
This is a scary ride of a book indeed, nearly as scary as Norman Potting’s erratic driving as they race to a potential scene of a crime. It’s a measure of the skill of the writing that I felt I was alongside poor Roy Grace as he urged Norman to go faster than a snail’s pace only to nearly be swung into the path of a van when he complied.
I’m not going to say any more – this was just as good as all the previous books in the series, if anything it felt more action packed with the switch of focus from the police and their families to the criminals and their nastiness and seeming complete lack of morality. And the ending is fantastic – a little bit of a moral to round the whole shebang off!
I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead If You Don’t before publication today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James. Roll on episode 15!
First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 400
Genre:Crime Fiction – Crime Series Amazon UK Amazon US