The usual quick post to say the newsletter and a Murray short story went out today, so if you haven't received it and expected to let us know at email@example.com. A couple of people seem to have changed addresses since we last sent one out!
Dragon in the Snow is now fully drafted, but will require a good edit (what doesn't?) before its appearance!
Tuesday, 9 June 2020
See that time lag again this month? That's because I was determined to finish Tombland before I posted my reviews!
So here we go:
So here we go:
Tombland, C.J. Sansom: Complex, nuanced, subtle and intriguing – just as good as ever. A shame my arthritic thumbs made reading much of the heavy paperback at any time a rather painful experience, but that’s not the author’s fault and at least it made me pace it. The plot is very rich, particularly as it draws heavily on real events, though Shardlake’s doings are interwoven seamlessly with them. It could have done with a touch more editing, but it is a huge book. Towards the end it became more and more grim and for a while I had to force myself to read one more chapter, just one more chapter – then resolution began, and again it flowed.
Here's a non-crime:
Bridget Collins, The Binding: Clever concept and a thought-provoking, emotional book, in which books are only rarely ‘made up’ but instead are the repository of memories of people who have visited a binder. To destroy a book is to restore those memories to the person, usually with resulting trauma: memories can be removed through kindness, but also for commercial or personal gain. To say more might be to give away too much: this is a twisty book, stretching the ideas into strange shapes in a society something like Victorian England.
As it happens, I managed to read a non-fiction in May, too:
All that Remains, Sue Black: My usual resistance to factual books slowed me on this but it really is a fascinating book – very strange in places, and more about her relationship with death than either her life or her career. She touches with sensitivity on real cases and her experiences in Kosovo, and to an extent Thailand post-tsunami. It is very well written and flings us from humour to pathos and back through the realms of scientific explanations with great ease.
Now for May's crime fiction:
Gerald Hammond, Dog in the Dark: This has the feeling of a slightly mournful and bad-tempered Dick Francis, which from me is a compliment. I was immediately drawn into the world of dog-training and eager to learn more (the reason I like Dick Francis is that I always learn something from them). In the end the plot was quite good but some of the attitudes felt more dated than the late 1980s. Still, I liked the general idea and several of the relationships, and might well go back for another one.
A.A. Abbot, The Bride’s Trail: Intriguing missing person / identity theft mystery involving gangsters and city types. Amy the heroine was annoying naïve but otherwise this was entertaining and exciting.
Frances Brody, Dying in the Wool: I enjoyed this, liking both the setting and the main character. She was intelligent without being too precocious and stayed quite well in her historical place. The plot worked, and the characters were pleasantly ambiguous.
M.W. Craven, Black Summer: Tilly and Poe are back for another chase, cleverly plotted and North Country-set. This is a very enjoyable series – Tilly and Poe are excellent characters – but I must try Craven’s other one, too, beginning with Born in a Burial Gown (Avison Fluke, I think?).
Cecila Peartree, Careless Death: How did I miss this one? I’ve read the following one! Anyway. One always feels for at least some of the characters in the Pitkirtly series – Christopher, mostly – but this time our sympathies focus on Mollie the librarian, trying to cope with a trying mother, and then accused of trying to murder her. It’s still funny, but Mollie’s problems are real and very sad. But our valiant cast saves the day as always: the world needs Pitkirtly just now!
Jodi Taylor, Roman Holiday, When a Child is Born and A Trail Through Time: two novellas and the next episode in this hilarious series – hilarious, thrilling, exciting, and very well researched. Max and Leon head a cast of complete misfits, some good, some bad, in plots that gallops through history but always return to mad St. Mary’s to find some new way to blow the place up. Really good fun.
Tony Forder, Bad to the Bone: An appealing police procedural, with interesting, if often dim, characters and a decent plot, though the setting (Peterborough) is almost deliberately dull. Bliss did not seem to care much about his dogs, but that happens. There were some fumbly bits of dialogue and description and though I liked the main characters I didn’t think they were very bright, but generally it was a very enjoyable read that I came back to each evening with pleasure. I don’t like the phrase ‘park up’, though – what’s wrong with just parking?
Ross Greenwood, The Snow Killer: I had to stop reading this at first as it was set in Peterborough as was another one I was reading (the Tony Forder). I don’t usually like to hear the perspective of the killer but this was rather different and very compelling, if upsetting. When we moved on to the police procedural bit it was again well done (though I hope Nav has not just retired completely out of the series), with real people and proper issues convincingly presented. Again we have people parking up (up what?) – perhaps it’s some weird Peterborough thing? But it’s an exciting conclusion and very enjoyable.
OAmbrose Parry, The Art of Dying: Life has moved on a little for Sarah and Raven, but it doesn’t take long until they are once more embroiled in mystery. The medical descriptions are great, the balance between the characters is appealing, and the plot is pleasantly busy. It would be quite nice if Raven were right about something for a change and Sarah were wrong, but the ending was beautifully ambiguous and I’m of course looking forward to the next one.Well, after all that if anyone's still here I can say that I'm a bit over two-thirds of the way through Dragon in the Snow, the third Orkneyinga Murders book. The plan is that it will be out in late summer / early autumn ... I also now have a website! The content is a little basic just now but things will be added - feel free to drop in and see what you think (and let us know if anything doesn't work!). It's at www.lexieconyngham.co.uk - come and visit!
Wednesday, 6 May 2020
April's reads! Definitely in no particular order, and I think all crime this time.
Keith Moray, Deathly Wind: I’m sorry, the lurking ten-year-old in me just wants to giggle at the title! Glasgow gangsters, dead dogs, revenge and retribution: quite an entertaining read once you get all the characters sorted out.
Keith Moray, Murder Solstice: Entertaining now I’ve got to know the characters a little, though I still don’t want to know what everyone is driving or riding. Incidentally sixteen is the age of legal responsibility in Scotland. I think I’ll happily carry on with this series.
Carmen Radtke, A Matter of Love and Death: Very different from the Missing Bride series but really interesting, beautifully sensitive and suspenseful. Set in Adelaide in a time of poverty and distress, this sees respectable telephonist Frances edging into a much more dubious world of nightclubs and illicit drinking, yet she manages to hold true to herself. A very satisfying mystery.
Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree: Yashim is a eunuch in early 19th century Istanbul, able to enter the harem of the Sultan and investigate the murder of one of the girls, but also trusted to help the seraskier investigate the deaths of of four young officers in his new army, the force brought in to replace the Janissaries. The Janissaries, however, do not really want to be replaced. This is a fascinating insight into the Istanbul of the time, fragile, flammable, and frightening in many ways – exciting, too.
Lynda Wilcox, The Lockington Legacy: A very entertaining, light read, with an awful lot of Ls in it! Linzi and Loren Repton have set up a detective agency, and are commissioned to recover the Lockington Legacy, a diamond necklace, in the course of which they stumble upon a murder. Instrumental in their solution is the mysterious Magda, dog owner and feeder of the homeless who looks like a bag lady but is evidently much more (quite apart from consuming heroic quantities of tea and biscuits). I need to find out more about Magda!
E.S.Thomson, Dark Asylum: The setting has shifted to a lunatic asylum but this plot is just as deep, macabre and intriguing as the first book, and the writing is just as good. As insanity is a looming threat in these books this is particularly poignant for our main character: there’s just enough relief to keep us going.
James Oswald, Nothing to Hide: Constance is a much put-upon person, so that the reader feels some kind of relief when she fetches up in the Leith Walk home of Madame Rose and her cats, to be succoured and supported. Constance is rather self-destructive (she reminds me a bit of Claire Balding and her autobiography My Animals and Other Family) but very sympathetic and we really do want her to win, even if occasionally we’d like her to keep her mouth shut just for a little while. I’m sorry it’s written in the present tense, but it’s possible to get past it as it’s first person narrative.
Doug Johnstone, A Dark Matter: This was not what I was expecting – I had thought from comments I had read that it would be more comedic. Instead it is tragic, wistful in places, but ultimately very pleasing with some very odd turns in the mysteries that are investigated by this odd family of undertakers and private detectives in Edinburgh. For anyone concerned about these things (like me) the cat is all right.
Elly Griffiths, The StoneCircle: Really enjoyed this as usual – the perfect pandemic escape. I had intended to ration it and instead read it in a couple of evenings. What a shame!
Cecilia Peartree, The Spy who came out of the Bushes: Delighted to meet the 20th Pitkirtly mystery, which even makes reference to the demand for archivists in the black economy. Oh, I love Christopher and Amaryllis! And all the other regulars – and poor Maisie Sue whose wedding day to Benjamin or Benedict is inevitably spoiled by the appearance of her supposedly ex husband sporting a fatal knife wound.
M.J. Lee, Death in Shanghai: I wasn’t sure about the cliched British (fine, no doubt a lot of British administrators were indeed silly asses but this was a bit shallow) or the endlessly dancing waiters, but I was intrigued by the set-up and keen to know more. I found a lot of it to be rather trite, and here and there rather American. But there was originality here, too, and some well observed characters: I don’t think I’d like to work with Danilov, but I enjoyed reading about him, and about Strachan.
Chris Longmuir, Missing Believed Dead: the third in the Dundee Crime series. I was really trying to find her suffragette series but kept missing! Anyway, these are very good. This third one has a missing girl who seems to have come home, thus causing more disruption in her family almost than her original disappearance. An excellent mystery, right up to the last minute (and maybe even beyond).
Friday, 3 April 2020
Tuesday, 31 March 2020
The usual warning - if you were expecting the newsletter and haven't received it, or would like to, then let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We're also doing something a bit different for a change this quarter with a link to a promotion we're participating in - lots of free crime and thriller books! There's a link at https://AuthorsXP.com/giveaway.
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Wednesday, 25 March 2020
I've abandoned any kind of reading challenge for this year as I was so late starting - I still have a George Eliot book sitting on the hall table waiting to be read for it! But I have been reading, of course, and so below is the list - mostly crime, of course!
Dead Wood: I bought Chris Longmuir’s three book collection and this is the middle one. I enjoyed the first of these as a separate book, and started the second one ages ago. Various circumstances led to me not making any progress with it after the first few pages, but I went back to it recently and was amazed to be able to slot back into what was happening straightaway, a sign of a good writer, I think. I wasn’t quite sure till the end who the perpetrator was, but I found the characters really compelling and wanted them to find the right paths eventually.
Thorn in my Side by Sheila Quigley: I was wary of this as it’s the first in what’s called ‘Holy Island Trilogy’ and I’ve been stung by a ‘Holy Island’ book before. This is better, rough and tough and I suspect not quite true to police life but interesting. Could do with a bit of an edit – ‘classified’ is an American term, not a British one, a straight jacket is not the same as a straitjacket, for example, apostrophes deserve a day off, too, and it’s the second book I’ve read recently with a reference to florescent lighting – blooming lovely! I didn’t like the main thrust of the plot – just not my kind of thing, and I wasn’t convinced that an open order of monks could be taken over so secretly. But I did appreciate the portrayal of experiencing diabetes, the characters of Smiler and Aunt May, and I liked the variety of characters and their personal experiences.
Big Sky, Kate Atkinson:Ah, bliss, a new Jackson Brodie! Great start, leading us up the garden path as usual! She’s wonderful at laying multiple trails, including some drawn over from previous books (I was delighted to meet Reggie again), and slowly weaving them together in unexpected ways. The ending is episodic but ultimately very satisfying – she does like to tie up her loose ends. I read this far too fast – stupid. How long might we have to wait for another one? But unlike a lot of crime fiction they bear rereading well.
Helen Fields Perfect Kill: urgh, a dark one indeed. But well written, and of course the tantalising ongoing non-relationship between Luc and Ava is a major component. Inevitably I read it too quickly and really want to go back and read it again.
Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall: a great counterpoint to Helen Fields, lighter and gentler, though I wouldn’t call it a cosy. Ruth’s near stream-of-consciousness narration (only that it’s third person) keeps the story alive, though there’s little danger of it falling flat between domestic crises and deaths of old colleagues. An excellent entertainment, always feeling as if it’s part of real life.
Nick Quantrill, Broken Dreams – straight into the action here, private detectives finding the person they’ve been innocently following has been murdered. Much of the paragraph layout is confusing – it’s not clear who’s speaking – and I couldn’t particularly warm to the narrator. This is another book where you think – why is he hurling himself into that particular chasm? How thick is he, to go and poke that particular bear? But it kept the attention quite well, even if I wasn’t particularly convinced by the solution.
The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell – and she seems such a nice girl when you meet her! This is a thoroughly creepy, Gothic book, and as I read the first thirty or forty pages I changed my mind three or four times about the 19th century narrator – there’s a 17th century one who comes in later and though she has her secrets she is rather less ambiguous. Wisely written in smallish chunks so you don’t completely wallow in darkness, this is a very good read.
The Burned Man, Jason Vail: The usual good stuff – in fact, perhaps a little better than the last couple in the series, which were turning into some kind of American action film. But we’ve settled back into 12th century England now, and there is indeed plenty of action and excitement and humour, as well as a decent plot.
Way Beyond a Lie, Harry Fisher: This is an impressive debut, and if there are one or two elements that you feel you may have seen before, the whole comes together well and the writing is very good – you really feel as if you’re there and with the characters. Has the missing wife been kidnapped? Did she run away? Did she exist at all? The plot is full of action and you’re not quite sure who to suspect and who to trust. Very good, entertaining book.
Death in the Asylum, Caroline Dunford: I’m a long way behind in this series so picked up a few at once. This is the third, and I liked it better than the second, even if it rushed a bit towards the end. The plot held together well and carried on the characters and lines from previous books.
Caroline Dunford Death at the Wedding Party: My edition of this needs a serious proof read, unfortunately, and I’m never quite convinced by Rory’s accent. But as always these are entertaining and full of action and amusement. I carried on with Death in the Pavilion – well, poison ivy doesn’t generally grow in Britain, but we’ll disregard that and enjoy Euphemia’s growing relationship with the awful Richenda, which is great fun. Then Death in theLoch, which takes the characters back to the Highlands with Rory and Bertram at each other’s throats and plenty of government skulduggery.
The Gathering Murders, Keith Moray: Okay start, though I very much dislike being told the make and model of every vehicle that appears. And is the Padre Church of Scotland? I think they might take issue with him offering the last rites, if so. However, the setting is rather pleasant and the lead characters are quite appealing. I was slightly puzzled by the ‘village green on the hill above the town’! but it’s a gentle and amusing book for the most part. – the ending, however, stretched credulity a bit.
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, Olga Wojtas; An amusing twist on the current fashion for time-travelling lady investigators, often librarians. This one has a serious hang-up about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which is the thing that endears her to the reader through her rather irritating though funny omniscience and Morningside superiority. Her well-bred pomposity sits badly, occasionally, with her use of current slang. The setting is less familiar to me, mid 19th century Russia, which made for a good background. Altogether an amusing book.
Swordheart, T. Kingfisher – witty, really witty. I enjoyed tremendously this road trip romance between a middle-aged (soi-disant – she’s thirty-something) woman and an enchanted sword, with a priest called Zale and an ox-driving gnole for company. It’s a well-paced adventure, a fantasy romance, a comedy about older women, families, the law, cults … a really entertaining read.
Douglas Skelton, Thunder Bay – good start, very emotional. The characters felt real though densely packed on a small island. The island itself I wasn’t so sure about – don’t quite know what it was but it didn’t come to life for me. But I’ll read more of this author.
The Body in the Marsh, Nick Louth – A good sound police procedural with a nice twist that I saw coming but still enjoyed. I thought it was the first in a series but it turns out to be later than that – nevertheless it was perfectly readable as a standalone.
Worst Case Scenario, Helen Fitzgerald: This is a funny but quite a stressful read, taken from the point of view of a parole officer who has submitted her resignation and is trying to sustain a long-distance relationship with her husband in Australia while also keeping in touch with her son, annoyingly consorting with someone involved in her current high-profile wife-murdering case. So often I found myself yelling ‘No! Don’t be so stupid!’ as her whole life tumbles into chaos – her own fault, in so many ways, but still you want to hug her and drag her away from it all.
Death Stalks Kettle Street, John Bowen: A cosy with a conscience. We have a lead character with mild cerebral palsy, and another with bad OCD, and both conditions are rather well and sympathetically described. But it’s not a heavy book – Beth is attending a writing workshop with a famous author who has produced nothing for years, while Greg is receiving odd warnings, or clues, about the next in a series of local murders – both of them think that something is a bit suspicious, but how could it be in ordinary lives when they have other things to think about, like Greg’s horrible therapist and Beth’s crush on the famous author? Mind you, I’d like to distinguish between ‘ravish’ and ‘ravage’ here. The plot leads us up one or two garden paths before we reach the dramatic conclusion, made all the more convincing by very good preparation.
A Breath on Dying Embers followed, with some serious personal traumas for Jim Daley with his awful wife Liz, and a more prominent part for his boss, Carrie Symington, whom I like – and interesting consequences for Brian Scott. A very good read as usual, with a bit of a cliffhanger ending – roll on the next book!