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

Thursday, 4 August 2022

July's reading

 A couple of things I can't include here yet, a beta read and a blog tour read, but here's the rest!

The Body Under the Sands (Inspector Blades, #1)

James Andrew, The Body Under the Sands (The Yorkshire Murders, Vol.1): Rather a depressing start, with two young lads, one injured during the war, looking for a bit of fun and female companionship in a seaside town and ending up charged with the murder of a visiting woman. It’s an odd book, with undeveloped, damaged characters who all have their memories of the trenches, or of naval conflict. There’s some perception of society at the time, the pressures on maids and ex-soldiers and landladies. The police have a minimal part to play here, and we finally discover the identity of the killer with a look through their eyes at the end. It was not a quick and easy read: I have the first four in the series and will see what the next one is like.

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #17)

Louise Penny, The Madness of Crowds: I don’t think I’m reading these in order, but it doesn’t really matter – one can pick up bits of the overarching plot as required. This is set in a post Covid Three Pines and that situation is taken a step further forward – an academic is promoting the idea of helping the stricken healthcare system by mandatory euthanasia, not just of the old and sick, but also of any child with birth defects. As usual, this is a thought-provoking and sensitive book, and the setting is as lovely as ever.

The Shetland Sea Murders

Marsali Taylor, The Shetland Sea Murders: The action, to a great extent, takes place on Foula, a tiny island in the archipelago with a community that is both close-knit and mobile, living, in some cases, half their lives elsewhere. I very much enjoyed the insight into this place and the resultant locked-room mystery, in the company of Cass and Gavin as usual. With this as with the previous book in the series, politics seem to be creeping in – not in a bad way, but more so than before.

Southpaw (Robert Hoon Thrillers, #2)

J.D. Kirk, Southpaw: The second Hoon book, as raucous as before and very funny but not at all without emotion, carefully handled. I still prefer the camaraderie of the Logan books, as well as the Scottish setting, but these are very entertaining.

Darkness Rises (Jeffrey Flint Archaeological Mystery #1)

Jason Monaghan, Darkness Rises: Apparently I bought this over a year ago and had no recollection of it. That’s the trouble with Kindle – with a real book I could glance at the back and remind myself, but with this I had only the front cover to go on and I don’t think it really conveys the nature of the book, which is a missing girl mystery investigated by an archaeologist and a reporter. These seem to have been written back in the eighties which is amusing in itself, as the reader tries to place the technology and indeed the social mores. I felt it was a slow book in some ways and yet there’s a good deal of action, and I looked forward to coming back to it each time. The lead characters are fairly sympathetic. There is, I should warn people, the violent death of a dog, but it was somewhere between self-defence and a mercy killing – not nice, but it sort of made sense. And though we see some of the villains’ activities, we’re strung along very competently, or I was, anyway.

The Consortium: Crime fiction from the heart of Wales (The Welsh crime mysteries Book 2)

Nicola Clifford, The Consortium: We’re back in the Welsh mountains with Stacey and Ben, and unfortunately some of the more unconvincing aspects of the first book carry on here – not least the arrival, in seconds, of an ambulance in the back of beyond, and its immediate departure without any attempt to stabilise the patient for a long and bumpy journey. The indiscretions of the police are a bit disheartening, as are the indiscretions of members of the press. The setting is still lovely and the plot is pacy, but a little two-dimensional – or I could just be tired.

Murder by the Book: mysteries for bibliophiles, ed. Martin Edwards: A good selection of mostly golden age fiction here, some very well known writers (Michael Innes, Ngaio Marsh) and some barely remembered. The tenuous connexion is books and writing, but that really doesn’t matter. Edwards has contributed nice little introductions to each story which really do enhance the collection.

The Locked Room (Ruth Galloway, #14)

Elly Griffiths, The Locked Room: It’s very strange to read this book set just before and into the first lockdown in the U.K. It’s always a little odd to find oneself reading something set in a history with which one is familiar, but this, just like the times we lived through then, is weird, and in some ways touching and in  others nostalgic. The quiet streets, the pre-Zoom days, the silent supermarket queues – well, strange. The plot is of course excellent and the continued character development is perfect. What next, though? And more of Whittaker, please!

And an update on what I'm doing ... The Contentious Business of Samuel Seabury is with a final reader and will, I hope, make an appearance during the autumn. 

Murray 13, Shroud for a Sinner, is four-fifths drafted! At the moment it's looking as if it might come out before Samuel Seabury, but one never knows.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Reading in June

Lucky me this month - James Oswald, J.D. Kirk, Alex McKay, David Gatward and Cecilia Peartree! some other good ones, too, including a few new writers to me.

Criminal Classes (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 24)

Cecilia Peartree, Criminal Classes: another brilliant outing for Amaryllis and her sister Clementine, and all the rest of the mildly eccentric Pitkirtly population. This one deals with cybercrime and is just as winning as any of the others. What does a cherry picker do, anyway? (no, it's all right, I do know).

The Snow Day Murders (Edward Crisp, #2)

Peter Boon, The Snow Day Murders: The return of Edward and Noah, and their village under the cliffs is cut off by snow, leaving them to investigate the murder of the vicar’s wife. This is classic British cosy – no recipes or crochet patterns but a good honest mystery with limited blood and gore. I’d have liked a bit more Noah in this one, I have to say, but there’s promise for the next book.

City of Scars (DCI Logan Crime #14)

J.D. Kirk, City of Scars: More cackling laughter and drama with Logan’s squad here, and a couple of tragic deaths to contend with. Kirk’s momentum is amazing – still producing the goods at such a speed.

Best Served Cold (DCI Harry Grimm, #2)

David Gatward, Best Served Cold: The second in the Wensleydale series with Grimm in charge, this is a story with its roots in the past and some nasty killings in the present. The team is coming together, including the irritating Matt and the nicely understated Jim. Perhaps we’ll get to find out just why the crime scene investigator is so grumpy at some point? Lovely setting, and I hope he buys his wellies.

A Parting Gift (The DI Alec McKay Series)

Alex Walters, A Parting Gift: A nasty killing in a chalet park at the end of the holiday season. The Black Isle setting is lovely and I very much like the detective and his team as always.

The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing

Mary Paulson Ellis, The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing: Clever, agitated writing, conveying quickly present day Edinburgh or 1918 France in sharp imagery. I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to: perhaps it was simply that I was not quite in the mood for it. I know the author loves her Dickens and you can feel that here, not in the plotting, perhaps, but somehow in the … in the mood of the book? It feels steeped in Dickens’ writing but not in his era. I love Dickens too and this should have appealed to me. I will try the second one when I’m in a different mood: there’s lots here to appreciate, and I feel the fault is in me.

All That Lives

James Oswald, All that Lives: Back with the gang again and the dreaded Mrs. Saifre is trying to build her Edinburgh empire despite Tony’s instinctive efforts to stop her. Madame Rose makes her appearance – maybe not as much as I expected or hoped – and the plot’s a good one. Lots more emphasis on Janie in this book, and I’ve heard speculation that the focus will move gradually to her. I’m not sure how I feel about that: I’m very fond of Tony and the cats who protect him – not so much of Emma, who has always seemed a bit high maintenance.

The Bangalore Detectives Club (Kaveri and Ramu #1)

Harini Nagendra, The Bangalore Detectives Club: A charming trad historical crime novel, neither cosy nor noir, set in the Bangalore of the 1920s ish. New bride Kaveri and her lovely husband Ramu, a doctor, set about investigating a murder when their milkman is suspected, with the help of the local police officer who appreciates Kaveri’s brains. Good fun, and seems to suit the time well.

Slow Horses (Slough House, #1)

Mick Herron, Slow Horses: This is fun: tongue in cheek account of the place spies go when they make mistakes. It’s not glamorous, but the plot is nicely woven, sometimes humorous, and quite exciting – a good read.

Meanwhile, I'm almost, almost halfway through Murray 13, Shroud for a Sinner. There's also that kind of a sequel to The Slaughter of Leith Hall which is now with beta readers and might appear relatively soon! More news about that when the launch is more definite - there could be some unique giveaways coming!

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Summer Ballater Bugle

 The summer edition of the Ballater Bugle is just out, with a Hippolyta short story. If you were expecting to receive it and haven't, let us know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk!

Thursday, 2 June 2022

May's reading


I can't imagine what I was doing that I only seem to have read seven books this month!

A Curious Death (A Stephen Attebrook Mystery Book 12)

Jason Vail, A Curious Death: A complex political plot along with more domestic problems as Stephen and Gilbert split up to tackle a murder in a bathhouse and a rebellion against the King. The historical detail is rich and thick as usual and as this is probably my favourite author for fight scenes I’m glad to say there’s some action, too.

Death on a Shetland Isle (Shetland Sailing Mysteries #7)

Marsali Taylor, Death on a Shetland Isle: Political in places, this one, and no reason not to be with some of the daft things London and the central belt come up with when it comes to dealing with services to the further reaches of our islands. We’re back on Sorlandet so there are some familiar characters, including Cat, and some new ones to whet our curiosity. The feeling of sea and island is strong in these books, and so authentic you can smell it. And the plot is good, too!

A Cruise to Murder (A Rachel Prince Mystery #1)

Dawn Brookes, A Cruise to Murder: I had no idea that cosy cruise ship crime was a thing, but there we are, every day’s a schoolday! This starts well, with a police officer just ditched by her fiance and a nurse working on a cruise ship the main characters. There’s a real feeling of knowing what goes on behind the scenes on the ship even within the first couple of chapters, which is reassuring. The downside is that the information comes thick and fast and in tremendous detail, which makes the writing a bit stiff and awkward. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, and the book would perhaps appeal more to a romantic fiction reader than a crime reader. But then it is very cosy, and I should have expected that. On the whole I learned things and was fairly well entertained, so that’s good.

The Green Lady

Sue Lawrence, The Green Lady: I bought this because it relates to Fyvie Castle, a National Trust property near here. Much of it is told from the perspective of Marie Seton, one of Mary Queen of Scots’ four Marys, whose nephew owned Fyvie at the time and who was not a kind husband – the Green Lady of the title is the ghost of his maltreated wife. I found some modern usages jarred, ‘lay’ for ‘laid’, ‘it’s quite something, isn’t it?’ and other oddities. The modern thread of the story seemed unnecessary, as if the reader couldn’t cope with something set entirely in the past. Nevertheless the story came together eventually and was a compelling read if you stuck with it. I was glad of the explanatory notes at the end that untangle history from novel.

Dead Man’s Grave (DS Max Craigie #1)

Neil Lancaster, Dead Man’s Grave: An intriguing start and an intriguing grave in the Highlands, and an ex-Army policeman who can track – very promising. The action moves well and the main characters are impressive, in bravery, dedication and fighting skills, though a bit thrawn. It’s a very exciting read, more of a thriller than a police procedural, and sets the series up well.

Born in a Burial Gown (DI Avison Fluke #1)

M.W. Craven, Born in a Burial Gown: Having enjoyed the Washington Poe series so far I was interested to read this, the first in his other and slightly earlier series. You could see how he had started with ideas here and carried some of them into the Poe series, though it is distinctly different in flavour (not so different that it would not appeal to the same readership, though, I think). On the whole I prefer Poe to Fluke as a character, but there's much to enjoy here.

Come Hell or High Water (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #13)

J.D. Kirk, Come Hell or High Water: Another dangerously laugh-out-loud episode from Logan's police team. I had to ration myself to reading about ten pages of this at a time and not in public, in case I actually choked with laughter. But the plots are exciting and hold together, too, and the team continues to develop. Enviable writing, altogether.

And on the home front ... well, I'm now almost two-fifths of the way through the thirteenth (!) Murray book, Shroud for a Sinner. This sees Murray back in Letho with a few old faces. Not sure when it will be out, but the cover's only coming in July so not before then!

Monday, 2 May 2022

What have I been reading?

 Was this really for March as well? My goodness, I'm slow! Either that or I've managed to delete some of my ongoing reviews ... Still, some good reads in the last couple of months.

Still Life (Inspector Karen Pirie #6)

Val McDermid, Still Life: Another excellent book in the Karen Pirie series, with two plots and a myriad of twists and turns. I didn’t mind that one of the supposedly puzzling clues was obvious from the start – I think I was just supposed to feel clever for a bit as Karen struggled with it!

Lost Hours (Detective Annie Delamere #2)

Alex Walters, Lost Hours: This is a good police procedural series with interesting, strong characters. I'm enjoying this series very much! See further down for the next one.

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike, #5)

Robert Galbraith, Troubled Blood: At over 1,000 pages this weighed heavily on arthritic thumbs, but it was well worth it! A very entertaining read, a further development of the relationship between Robin and Strike, a furthering of their individual stories, and a fascinating plot. Two things were less than pleasing - the title looked like something a publisher had flung at it in an off moment - what on earth did it have to do with anything? And there were quite a few instances of ‘lay’ for ‘laid’ and I actually flicked back to see if I had inadvertently bought an American edition, but apparently not. It grates, though!

Callum and the Mountain

Alan McClure, Callum and the Mountain: This is a book for about ten year olds, set in a fictional town in the west of Scotland and written in a tremendously immediate, chatty, story-telling style that is instantly appealing and often laugh-out-loud funny. There’s quite a bit of Scots in it, all explained at the end if you didn’t quite grasp it in context, but honestly, it just gives the narrative vibrancy. I wasn't completely sure what had happened at the end but that seems deliberate - no one in the book really knows, either. Some of the description is wonderful.

Bad Terms (Detective Annie Delamere #3)

Alex Walters, Bad Terms: I liked the way the old story and the new eventually came together in this story focussed on a private girls’ school. We also learned more about the awkward and unlovely Margaret. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between the main character and her boss, which felt very real to me – not awful, not brilliant, but natural.

Dig Your Own Grave

Carmen Radtke, Dig your own Grave: An intriguing start – an abused wife kills herself, and her old schoolfriend, herself dying from leukemia, swears to stop the husband doing the same thing to another woman. The plot moves so quickly it’s hard to see, at first, how it will last for the whole book. But it is sustained, and I found myself worrying about Marie when I wasn’t anywhere near the book, wondering how it was going to turn out for her. A very enjoyable and thoughtful book.

Death of a Delegate

Cecilia Peartree, Death of a Delegate: the third Max Falconer, starting enjoyably with a trip to a conference in Inverness. Loved the setting and enjoyed the plot, with some of the focus on the hapless Torquil, whom I hope we shall see again, possibly back directing tourists to the House of Bruar. I find the relationship between the two main characters quite odd but intriguing – on the other hand, I think they probably both feel the same way.

The Mermaid's Scream (Wesley Peterson #21)

Kate Ellis, The Mermaid’s Scream: I have a niggling feeling I’ve read this before – bits of it were familiar and bits not at all so. Nevertheless I like this series very much with its mixture of police procedural and archaeological dig, and the overarching plot of the main characters’ home lives. Very enjoyable, whether it’s a repeat or not.

Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace

Olga Wojtas, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace: Tremendously entertaining: the DM wearing librarian heads off to late 19th century rural France to solve a problem she does not even quite identify until nearly the end. Debussy and Mary Garden feature, hilariously, and if it’s all a tremendous muddle it all works out in the end so this very flawed heroine can live to fight another day!

And what's going on here? Well, I'm on the penultimate chapter of the first draft of the current work in progress, which should have been finished last Thursday and have undergone its first edit by now. However, I have no cover ordered for it and no publication date set yet, so I suppose there's no rush! The  next on the list to write is Murray 13, which has the traces of a plot but not even a working title yet, so I'd better get on.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Letho Observer

 If you're expecting the quarterly newsletter - along with a short story featuring Sigrid this time! - and haven't received it, let us know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Reading in February - part two


Probably a bit of March here, too, to be honest! Again, a mixture, the second half of the alphabet.

Bad Debt

William McIntyre, Bad Debt: Nice start at a funeral in very wet weather, and we continue with a book written with a very dry sense of humour. McIntyre is a practising advocate, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit at the asides of the defence lawyer taking on a client bequeathed to him by a dodgy lawyer friend, while managing his retired footballer brother and his semi-celebrity life. This isn’t the first in the series, but I liked the author in his session at Granite Noir, and needed a book with a purple cover for a reading challenge I’ve joined. There’s a shovelful of legal terminology here but it’s all explained as you go along, which is at a great rate as the plot is pacy. Just as entertaining as the book is the author’s note at the back, which talks of the real-life cases that inspired the book – entertaining, but just a bit worrying!

Sheena Macleod, Tears of Strathnaver: This book demonstrates deft handling of a large cast and neat contrasts between Strathnaver and crofting life and the landlady’s London grandeur. The situations are cleverly evoked and I had a real sense of landscapes, townscapes and buildings. The historical detail was rich, fascinating and not overly-lecturing - I liked the scene where Mhairi is horrified at the danger of burning coal indoors – and the author has woven historical figures like Sellar and McKid into the plot with some conviction. 

The Conversos (The Seton Chronicles #2)

V.E.H. Masters, The ConversosThis is good. The history is rich and thick without being lecturing, the setting completely convincing, the characters strong, real, complex people. There’s delightful detail throughout. Though it’s not the first in the series, the explanations of what has gone before are lightly done to make it an easy read, and the plot is nicely rounded and satisfying even though it clearly leads on to a sequel. I didn’t see the need for it to be written in the present tense, but that’s a personal taste and otherwise this was a very satisfying read – one of those books where you forget you’re reading and feel you are there.

Through His Eyes

Kath Middleton, Through His Eyes: Another cracking read from Middleton. As usual this author has given us lovely real people that you feel you know, which makes what happens to them all the more convincing and alarming! The heroine's struggles over what to tell Tom and how much were so genuine, and the plot was chilling. Loved it.

Bury Them Deep: Inspector McLean 10 (The Inspector McLean Series) by [James Oswald]

James Oswald, Bury Them Deep: Another good installment in the Tony McLean series, one of those that makes you look around Edinburgh and wonder if anywhere is safe.

The Case of the Late Capybara (Max Falconer Mysteries Book 2)

Cecilia Peartree, The Case of the Late Capybara: The second in the Max Falconer series, with the additional appeal of a capybara, albeit a taxidermied one. I like these quirky mysteries very much, and have already bought No.3. These books seem to be set in a world that is more real than Pitkirtly but they are still very good fun.

Isle of Somewhere by [Eileen Rolland]

Eileen Rolland, Isle of Somewhere: Immensely detailed, close narrative of Ros finding her way into a revival of her life after a bad relationship. Her repetitive dreams are intriguing as they develop, and the character of Suzanne does just what she needs to do in the course of the story. The ‘real life’ story of Ros’ mother and her experiences dealing with the medical services after a fall is all too realistic, but the way Ros learns to deal with it all is very appealing and sympathetic.

Silent Tide (DCI Boyd, #1)

Alex Scarrow, Silent Tide: Boyd has just moved to Hastings after a couple of years compassionate leave, and is thrown straight into a murder enquiry with no body, just lots of blood and a few bits of ‘human tissue’. The setting felt alive, the Sussex town of Hastings with its picturesque old town and deprived new parts, its issues with gulls and its relationships with Eastbourne and Brighton. The new team was intriguing, too. While DCI Boyd seems a sympathetic man, I can’t love someone who drapes ketchup over their chips. It’s simply not right. I did love the point, though, where he turns up with his daughter and dog to meet an informer, and I’ll be heading off to the next one.

Alana: A Novel

Palo Stickland, Alana: This novella-length book is a touching portrayal of a young, bereaved woman confused by the loss of her beloved grandfather, and how she comes to terms with her life and finds a place to flourish, in the midst of apparent betrayal and mystery. I found the mystery intriguing, particularly as Alana’s expectations and perceptions of her family shifted and changed in the course of the book. I felt it could have been longer! It would have been fun to see more of some of the characters and their stories.

Lies to Tell (Detective Clare Mackay, #3)

Enlarge coMarian Todd, Lies to Tell: Enjoyed this very much, though I have to wonder at Claire’s personal judgement sometimes! This remains the best contemporary series I know set in St. Andrews, St. Andrews as I recognise it – maybe just my perspective, but I did live there for seven years.

Caesar's Gladiatrix

OAnthony Watt, Caesar’s Gladiatrix: This is a pacy, exciting read, full of action, with bloody and realistic fight scenes and some good strategy and tactics. The main character is strong and striking, and the supporting cast are well-written, too. There’s a good historical basis to the background and a nice sense of the Rome of the period, though the author takes the liberty of deviating from actual history for a dramatic climax.

H.L. Welsh, Flegg Family Gatherings: An intriguing time-slip story for young adults, with a striking cover. This is the third in a series and the cover theme is carried through all three. This is set just after lockdown but written during lockdown, which makes for an interesting perspective – the book’s own little time-slip. The heroine, who is and evidently has been a difficult, slightly prickly person with a very challenging background, mellows even in the course of this story. I liked the way her encounters in the present day and with 16th century family taught her to think differently and to grow as a person.

Greta Yorke / Gemma Jones, Elbo the Elf and the Christmas Hulabaloo: This children’s story book about Santa’s elves is delightful, with a timely moral about spending less time on playing electronic games in bed. There is a good balance of text and illustration, and the illustrations have plenty of clever details for reader and child to find together. There’s also a Scottish touch with Santa’s bonnet and Mrs. Claus’ tartan petticoat. The book is a good size and weight for the intended readership, the cover is bright and Christmassy, and one nice touch is an envelope inside the back cover to hold the reader’s own new year’s resolution.

And what am I doing? Writing a kind of sequel to The Slaughter of Leith Hall - I'm about 3/10 through and it's going, so far, all right, after a slow start. I was ready to begin this last summer but couldn't get into the archive to do the last bit of research. After that's finished, it's Murray's turn again!