The book was Rose Tremain's Trespass, and I nearly didn’t find out that there was a murder in it as I almost gave up on it. Beautifully written misery, with no sympathetic characters at all, even when they are excused because they are so damaged – my usual experience with Rose Tremain. I still think it’s not really a crime book - certainly not a murder mystery - though (can’t read all this turgidity for nothing!), so I’m telling myself it’s really literary fiction (I’m sure her publisher tells her the same thing) and trying to enjoy the lovely writing instead.
Now - in no particular order - for the crime!
What Lies Buried, Margaret Kirk: One of those forgettable titles. This, like the first in the series (which I loved) is written in the present tense, and it took me a little longer to get over it than with the first book. I didn’t fall for the book straightaway, either, as I did for the first one. But it was well plotted and compelling: I love the main character and the ‘sidekick’ Fergie, and Kirk doesn’t rest with giving them depth but goes on to portray other people with sympathy and realism. But why present tense? It just doesn’t work for me!
Fiona Leitch, Dead in Venice: Funny book from the start, with a blocked writer struggling to come up with a new book in her series and receiving an invitation to Venice. Her portrayals of the difficulties of writing, not to mention how crime writing makes you look at the world, are worryingly accurate! You need quite a suspension of disbelief about the whole thing but it’s entertaining, and Venice is real, and the ending is, well, satisfying in the circumstances – read it and you’ll see.
Births, Marriages and Death, Will Templeton: An interesting set up, a registry office, and it's well used. The start is slow and for my own personal preference I like a book where I try to work out the offender along with the investigators, rather than see them in action in parallel with the investigation. But the characters are well-drawn, if often very unpleasant – though even then the unpleasantness is not unmixed with common humanity. And the plot is well-constructed, too. Altogether a good read.
Alison Morton, Inceptio: Interesting premise – an America handed by the Dutch to the British in the early 19th century then finally given up by the British in the 1860s, with a consequently Dutch-biassed society, and a country called Roma Nova where Latin is still spoken. We’re on Karen’s side immediately, too – victimised for taking reasonable action against a stoned preppie who was tormenting an old man in Central Park. When a new client she takes on helps reveal some interesting things about her childhood and background, her life becomes very complicated and she is thrown into a fast-paced adventure with the handsome Conrad. Of course I love the idea of an up-to-the minute nation still conversing in Latin. The pace changes when she moves right into Roma Nova and starts taking control of her life. There’s a lot packed into this book, but it’s an enjoyable ride and clearly the first in a series.
Sean Campbell, and/or Daniel Campbell, Dead on Demand This is a familiar idea, made easier with the internet: you want someone dead, you swap victims with another person who wants someone dead. However, this one takes on some extra twists and turns not quite envisaged by Hitchcock or Agatha Christie. The writing is occasionally a little stilted and I couldn’t warm to any of the characters who were very flat or inconsistent throughout, but the plotting is quite clever – it occasionally loses itself, or becomes over-convoluted, and a couple of lines I found completely incredible. But honestly, the Americanisms – ‘toll free number’? Deputies? Where are you trying to tell us this is set? And if it really is the U.K., then when? We haven’t had W.P.C.s since 1999. And even if we had, they would be wearing stab vests …
ExpiryDate, Alex Walters: These are really very good books, and I was delighted to find a new release in this series. I’ve been reading a few police procedurals recently which will not live long in the memory (and are possibly best not mentioned here) where the characters are just names on the page, and not even memorable names at that – where it’s hard to remember what first name goes with what surname, whether the police are male or female, who is friends / lovers / rivals with whom, whose the body is and whether or not we should even care. These are different. It’s not as if we’re wallowing in character description but they are real people, with depths, humour, emotions, stories. When you add to that good plotting and an interesting case, or intertwining cases, the book is irresistible.
Robert McNeill, TheInnocent and the Dead: Perhaps not the most gripping of titles, but I liked the cover, which shows an old place of work of mine. But I was a bit confused – the story ended halfway through and another one started. This book must contain some of the wordiest ransom notes in crime fiction history, and again, not particularly interesting characters. Edinburgh became a – not even a tourist brochure, more of a leaflet – in the background. In addition, there were I think three plots in the end which had no connexions – probably a more realistic depiction of police work, but not the grounds for a particularly gripping novel - so perhaps the title was apt.
Jasper Fforde, Early Riser: I loved Fforde’s Thursday Next books, but hadn’t read one for a while. This is rather different, another cleverly imagined alternative reality (Britain with the kind of winters most people hibernate through), where collective dreams start to drive people mad. It’s less funny (though still witty), more tragic, more all enveloping and challenging. The plot is clever and convoluted and beautifully imagined. My main question, though, is – what happens the animals?
Deathin the Dordogne, Martin Walker: Enjoyable bit of leisurely French crime, full of lovely food and enviable lifestyles, but the crime has its root in Vichy France and all the pain that involves. An interesting rummage around the tensions of modern France, and an enjoyable read, the first in what looks like a comfortable series. In Dark Vineyard, the second, there are distinct hints of Louise Penny – nasty murders in a charming setting.
TheRat Stone Serenade, Denzil Meyrick: Good crack, though the body and violence count is high. The setting is very traditional, family gathering marooned in snowstorm, family business causing family tension. I found the plot stretched credulity a bit far and I spotted the ending coming, but Daley and Scott, and new boss Symington, are very entertaining. One excellent thing about Denzil Meyrick's books, however, is the titles: they're intriguing, hard to forget, distinctive, and relatively easy to find on GoodReads!
Wellof the Winds, Denzil Meyrick: I’m a bit behind in this series, so followed on quickly with this one. The meshing of contemporary narrative with 1945 was well done and intriguing, coupled with present day conspiracies. The relationship between Daley, Scott and Symington is developing in an interesting way, and there was a good little twist at the end.
And my own progress? Over halfway through The Incident at Lochgorm (Hippolyta V), and planning to get straight into The Slaughter of Leith Hall (standalone) when it's done. And then, perhaps, Orkneyinga III, then Murray XII? The vaguest of plans!