Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Orkneyinga Murders 2 - A Wolf at the Gate

On pre-order now!

Ketil had not intended to return to Orkney, but when you work for Thorfinn Sigurdarson, you obey orders. Thorfinn wants him back to help with a visiting Abbot from Saxony, escorted by an old colleague of Ketil’s. Then people who know the Abbot start dying, and Ketil must once again work with his friend Sigrid to find out why – and to face dark memories from his own past.


It'll be on Kobo and Smashwords after 3rd July - after because on the day itself I hope to be launching the paperback in The Orcadian Bookshop, Kirkwall, and not in front of my computer! But soon.

If  you enjoy it, please leave a review where you bought it!

Monday, 3 June 2019

May reading

Here we are -

I'm just managing to keep up to my New Year resolution! My non-fiction this month was read in a cupboard while waiting for someone - very glad I had a book with me.

Raising the Dead, Andy Dougan: A very interesting book on the scientific background – and context – to Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus. Very much Glasgow-orientated, this looks at the experiments in resuscitation that took place in the early 19th century, focussing on the apparent revival of one victim of execution and the experiments carried out on his body in Glasgow in 1818. Let down by the editing (I’m surprised at Birlinn: one sentence repeated in two places in one paragraph, plus lots of typos), this is a thoroughly researched but very readable account of the time – I read most of it in one sitting.

Non-crime fiction: I was lucky enough to chair the double book launch at Aberdeen's Mayfest for John Bolland's Fallen Stock and Helen Steadman's Sunwise - and for the latter it was important to read the first book of the pair, Widdershins, so three non-crime books!

Fallen Stock, John Bolland: Martin Malone mentions ‘blue-collar muscularity’ but that would be to deny the delicacy of language in this collection of poetry from a north east oilworker turned poet and artist, for yes, he’s an accomplished artist, too – I loved the landscapes in particular, which you can see on his website. John’s originally from Glasgow, but has been up here now for a number of years and appears to have taken to the Buchan claik very nicely, as any poet would. Now, I say he has a delicacy of language but there is also a great deal of humour in the collection – I particularly liked the simple astonishment of the title poem, 'Fallen Stock'. Lots of variety here and plenty to think about, too. I think you probably have to get this from the publisher, Red Fox - no trace on Amazon.

Widdershins, Helen Steadman: my non-crime fiction, I suspect, for May. Very well written, with beautifully handled dialogue. The research that must have gone into this is impressive: the feel for the time period, not to mention two different settings and the complex beliefs and superstitions are completely convincing. There was delightful description – her portrayal of a stillroom was particularly enticing, though she doesn’t hold back on the rougher stuff, too. Much of the description is not for the faint-hearted. The wilfully stupid and ignorant John and the occasionally daft Jane are well opposed and set up for the sequel, with a twist in the tail to make it more enticing.

Sunwise, Helen Steadman: This follows on closely from Widdershins – not the initial plan of the writer, but the characters came and grabbed her, and you could sense it happening. Sometimes charming, sometimes disturbing, and very firmly set in its time and place – don’t expect an easy ride, though!
Now, to crime. One crime writer has dominated my reading this month, one I should have read a while ago.

The Various Haunts of Men (Simon Serrailler, #1)

The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill. I’d read other, non-crime books by Susan Hill before and enjoyed them but for some reason had steered clear of this series. The benefit of that is that I now have the rest of them to look forward to (there are ten, with another coming out in October, I gather – I’ve now bought the second). Of course the writing is delicious, the characters drawn finely, but the plot is rewarding too and its several strands are handled beautifully. And although in essence this is a book about a serial killer, at least two of the victims are given their full story, not portrayed simply as the next in line. The ending is properly shocking and I am itching to read more – and isn’t that what you want from a crime series?
The Pure in Heart, Susan Hill: Straight off on to the second one. Some new characters and mostly old ones to start with which was good – I needed to find out what was going on in the Serrailler family. Then a small boy is abducted and the plot starts in earnest. The characters are so well drawn I already felt I knew them, and some of the scenes are absolutely heart-wrenching. In a way, Cat and Chris Deerbon are the heroes at least of this and the preceding book: Simon is a flawed character, and not entirely sympathetic. Again, though, I really want to read on. This is a series about people, written by a fantastic author, and the crime is almost incidental, though it’s notable that almost everyone who appears is beautifully and richly portrayed, whether perpetrator, observer or victim. This from a crime fiction perspective is clever, because it’s not always easy to spot what is going to happen.
I then read the third, and am on to the sixth already. It is fascinating to see the way Hill portrays what seems to be a perfect, Aga Saga family in the first book then breaks it to pieces as the books continue – in some ways one can’t help feeling that Freya had a kind of lucky escape. In many ways the books flow into each other so it's a little hard to remember where one ends and another begins, but that doesn't make them in any way hard to read - they feel more realistic that way.

Now, there were others, too!

Broadland (DI Tanner #1)

Broadland, David Blake: A mixture to start with, but an appealing one: new man on job, young daughter dead, but he’s trying to accommodate himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of a friend’s boat while he looks for a flat. The office politics while he fits into a new police station are quite amusing and well depicted, though I wondered at the DC’s instant attraction to and flirtation with her new colleague. The plot was good except that there was one link I made that I felt the police should have made much earlier – after that, things moved fast and although there was a bit of jumping about, the book reached a pretty satisfactory end. I’m inclined to read more.

Wild Fire (Shetland Island, #8)

Wild Fire, Anne Cleeves. I wasn’t so keen on poor Jimmy Perez in this book – thought he was unkind and unsympathetic – but I found all the other characters so intriguing that I charged on through it with great enjoyment. Good work – hope her next series is as intriguing, though I shall miss Shetland.

The Health of Strangers (Health of Strangers, #1)

The Health of Strangers, Lesley Kelly: Set in a somewhat dystopian future in a time when bird ’flu has wiped out about a million people and the Health Enforcement Team, staffed by those with immunity, make sure that the population does not miss its health checks. The disappearance of a German student who may be linked with an evangelical church or drugs that purport to protect against the virus leads Mona and her colleagues into a complex investigation uncovering all their own weaknesses and prejudices. All paid-up members of the awkward squad, they do start to worm their way into your affections, mostly through their deep dislike of each other. Edinburgh in plague times is imaginatively and well-portrayed, and this is a series I intend to follow further. Slightly surprised to see Marlborough spelled Malboro, but hey.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #1)

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Vaseem Khan: A well-written and very sedate start to a series. Chopra is an unexcitable, solemn man and the book is loyal to him. Ganesha, the elephant he has unexpectedly inherited, is also rather quiet and sober. If anything Chopra seems to resist any urge to liveliness on the part of his wife, his mother-in-law, and his potentially overbearing neighbour, never mind any fast-paced police investigation. Everything, despite being set in one of the busiest and over-populated cities in the world, is extremely calm. Indeed, in the end it comes over as a cosy book, which surprised me. I think I’ll read more, but at least now I know what to expect.
Well, there we are for May. In my own little secret writing world I'm trying to write a short story and finding very little time to do it; waiting for the cover for A Wolf at the Gate (Orkneyinga Murders #2); and toying with the plot for a stand-alone that someone has suggested to me.  Looking forward to launching A Wolf at the Gate in July!

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

April Reading

And yet the to-be-read pile never decreases!

Funny gaps going on here so just keep scrolling down. And the cover above (if it appears when I publish this blog) is copied down below, too, so there you are, Cecilia, a little accidental double-coverage!
Right, this month's challenge books, starting with the non-fiction:

Ben Law: Woodsman - I knew nothing of Ben Law beyond what I had seen in the famous Grand Designs episode – the man who built his house in the woods, of the woods, in order to make his living there. This book tells the story of how he came to live in those woods after travelling in South America and eastern Europe, his motivation and the experience that led him to do the job he does. It touches almost as much on his previous residences in the same woods as on the famous and delightful house he built while being filmed, only, he said, never having heard of the programme, because the film crew who were supposed to be filming it for training purposes pulled out at the last minute. There is a great deal about charcoal burning and coppicing, choosing trees for an orchard and harvesting nuts, and maybe even slightly too much about sweet chestnut in all its uses – he is clearly an enthusiast. The penultimate chapter is close to a manifesto on what we should be doing to live more sustainably, and the final chapter (though there is an epilogue) foresees his village in 2037 after the ‘oil crisis’, putting that sustainable living into action after our present social and political system has suffered a catastrophic (or perhaps beneficial) shock. A little strangely written, educated but with some spikiness and a lot of repetition which could have benefitted from an edit, this is nevertheless an enjoyable read. The illustrations are charming but I found that I should have liked more diagrams to explain things, and the glossary only told me the meanings of words I already knew – there were various timber-related terms, perhaps local to Sussex, with which I was unfamiliar: as an educational book it just didn’t quite educate me enough for my liking! But perhaps that was not what it set out to do. As a memoir it was lovely.
Non-crime fiction:
Amusing and intriguing. Disrupted timelines –starting the story in the middle, zipping forwards and backwards, and the narrator cheekily playing with the reader, confounding expectations just, it seems, because they are there to be confounded. It’s undoubtedly a clever book, and a – as it were – well-read book, raising all kinds of questions about scientific practice, the history of psychology and relations between humans and animals, and the narrator throws clues over her shoulder for us to pick up or miss as our own alertness allows. If that sounds too clever to be an easy read, then rest assured: you’ll find yourself whipping through this far too fast and having to go back and reconsider the ideas in greater depth when you’ve had your fun.
Now for the crime:
Crow's Cottage: A Supernatural Thriller (Where the Dead Walk Book 2) by [Bowen, John]
I felt I’d read this before -I think it echoes bits of the Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman through which I am happily working. Nevertheless it’s a good read: a crime novel with a strong supernatural twist, as it’s set amongst people who produce a television ghost-hunting programme. Don’t be put off if you don’t fancy that kind of thing: it’s actually quite sensibly done (and I say that as someone who enjoys a touch of the paranormal in crime, but this is a level-headed interpretation), with interesting characters and a back story that will carry us nicely into future books. The plot worked well and there were just enough twists and turns to raise a few question marks. I’d like to read more of this series - and I've just discovered I started with book 2.

The Angel Monument,Kath Middleton A period piece this time from this clever and versatile author, and she transfers her skills well to the Georgian period, with a bracketing and chilling contemporary setting. The suspense is carefully handled (who do the three angelic heads really represent?), and the supernatural thread is all too believable. Nevertheless the realistic characters, and their reactions to the misfortunes thrown at them, are as always her principal achievements. I was almost in tears at two points over the poor serving maid in particular. Another readable and lovely book.

Murder by Request (The Agnes Merryweather Mysteries Book 1) by [Wilcox, Lynda]
Murder by Request,Lynda Wilcox: The author of the excellent Verity Long series has played a nice little move by opting to write the series invented by her own character, Kay Davenport. Agnes Merryweather is a wise vicar in a country parish, with a trusted friend in the local constabulary. Healing rifts and spreading calm in the community, Agnes sorts out murders as if they were slightly troublesome issues with the intercessions rota. Yet, as with the Verity Long series, there is depth here: the characters are well drawn and the relationships real and convincing. 

Death in Dulwich,Alice Castle: Unless you are a particular lover of Dulwich, this gets off to rather a slow start, and even when it speeds up in the middle I found the main character rather irritating. She acts irrationally, hiding evidence from the police, and is rather a bad archivist, too. The other characters (with the exception of the main character’s fringe, which is mentioned quite often enough to feature on any dramatis personae on its own account) are cardboardy and while there is some good description, some oddly-sitting dips into the dark side, and a couple of lovely asides (‘By a cruel twist of fate, there was no Waitrose supermarket in Dulwich village itself’) it is on the whole not a particularly exciting read. There is some hope for a relationship between the main character and the police inspector, which might be the best thing in it. Sorry, not feeling inspired by this one. Just me, I suspect.

A policeman heads the cast of this mystery surrounding a Royal visit and set in a thoroughly-researched Edwardian Aberdeen.

I haven’t read a mediaeval mystery for a while and approached this one almost tentatively. The start was convoluted and confusing – I might just not have been in the mood for it – but when it settles down and heads for the countryside I settled down too and enjoyed it. The plot is good and the relationship between the two main characters is subtly done with lots of promise. A warning, though: an animal dies! People do, too, but of course that’s nowhere near as traumatic for crime readers.
Perfect Crime,Helen Fields: One of the very few series in which I’ll actually preorder the next episode. In this one I was fairly sure I had guessed who the murderer was quite near the beginning, but it’s definitely worth going along for the ride – particularly as the relationship between Luc and Ava is extremely well written. Very, very enjoyable.

Quest for a Father (Adventurous Quests Book 6) by [Peartree, Cecilia]
Quest for a Father (Adventurous Quests Book 6)

Quest for a Father,Cecilia Peartree: More serious than the previous Quest books as Andrew tries to find answers as to why his father, thought dead in Spain, is alive and has another family. Spain is of course Franco’s Spain and a frightening place even as it begins to accept tourists once again. I found the background interesting – I had read C.J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and found it (unfortunately since I love his other books) relentlessly depressing, but this seemed to catch a little more warmth and excitement. Enjoyable.

Silent Scream: An edge of your seat serial killer thriller (Detective Kim Stone Crime Thriller series) 
Silent Scream,Angela Marsons: Hm. Well, I certainly didn’t like the main character to start with (and who is so physically confident that they run up carpeted stairs two at a time in plastic shoe covers? Shades of Kay Scarpetta here!). Of course, we find out why she’s the way she is, though it doesn’t make her much more likeable, but her colleagues are comparatively easy to be around (particularly the bloke who rescues the dog – though he must be extremely strong to have done so, I should have thought!). The denouement I found baffling, at least in part, and therefore not quite as satisfying as it might have been. Anyway, I might not be a complete convert to Marsons’ series, but it’s possible I’ll read some more at some point. The plot was well-constructed, and on the whole I enjoyed it. But oh, look! It's that woman in the red coat again!

Right, well ... The proof copy of A Deficit of Bones has just arrived for checking, so the paperback should be available soon. A Wolf at the Gate is with beta-readers just now - release date of both paperback and ebook is scheduled for 3rd. July when I'll be signing copies (if I have them) in the Orcadian Bookshop, Kirkwall - the ebook should be available for pre-order at the beginning of June, all being well!

Thanks for reading and for your reviews - they make grey days happy!