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

Thursday 31 December 2020

The New Murray, and What I Read in November and December

 Okay, a bit of a busy posting! 

First, The Status of Murder, a Murray novella, is out - if you're on the mailing list you may already have had this.

Second, The Dead Chase, Murray 12, is now on pre-order. This takes Murray to London and Sussex in pursuit of Blair and Isobel.

Third, the newsletter is out so if you were expecting it and didn't get it, let us know!

 Now, what have I  been reading?                                                               

Criminal Shorts: UK Crime Book Club Anthology

Criminal Shorts, ed. Kath Middleton and Will Templeton: Yes, I have a story in this, but there are twenty-one more and they’re pretty good! It’s difficult to pick out favourites – all of them have charm of one kind or another – so I’m not going to, but I will say that I enjoyed the authors I’d read before and found a few new ones to follow up. Lots of variety – you never know what you’re going to find next!

I Will Miss You Tomorrow (Thorkild Aske, #1)

I Will Miss You Tomorrow, Heine Bakkeid: Signed copy by the author, who very kindly wrote ‘En kjempestor klem fra Thorkild og meg’ – but I’m not sure I really want a great big hug from Thorkild, the tortured, damaged ex-policeman who is thrown into investigating the disappearance of a young man from an old lighthouse in northern Norway. This is a disturbing, haunting story, very well written and paced, but I think in the end it’s Thorkild that needs that hug, and more besides! Well worth a read.

Street Cat Blues

Street Cat Blues, Alison O’Leary: ‘In his experience, the world was divided into those that told other people when to move, those that moved when they were told, and cats.’ Aubrey was a street cat though he now has a good home – and before that, his previous owner was murdered. Now there have been other murders – not all of them to Aubrey’s disadvantage – and his new owners are growing anxious. Not exactly a cosy, despite the cats, this is an engaging and exciting book and I’m looking forward to another in the series.

The Hope That Kills (DI Fenchurch, #1)

Ed James, The Hope that Kills: This is much darker and less amusing than the Scott Cullen series – it’s good, but I’m not sure that I like it as much. The seamier side of east London (and so much of it is indeed seamy) is very well portrayed, but I just didn’t like the characters so much and found the police team much more superficially connected with each other than the Edinburgh team in the Cullen series. That said, Fenchurch’s father is a treasure.

The Reach of Shadows (DI Bliss, #4)

Tony Forder, The Reach ofShadows: These really do improve as they go on. This is a tangled tale involving a charismatic environmental group and threats from Bliss’s past. The two cases don’t come together in some improbable ballet but are kept separate and intertwining, with a satisfactory resolution to one and a fairly reasonable solution to the other. Space, then, for moving on to the next book, and the next stage in the Bliss/Chandler relationship.

CONSTABLE BY THE STREAM a perfect feel-good read from one of Britain's best-loved authors (Constable Nick Mystery Book 11)

Constable by the Stream, Nicholas Rhea: I’ve read a more mainstream crime novel by Nicholas Rhea before but this is the reminiscences, very entertainingly told, of a country bobby in the mid 20th century. Some of the situations are rather over-explained and repetitious, but the overall effect is charming. – I gather since that this is the series that Heartbeat was based on.

Falling Fast (McGregor and Drummond, #1)

Falling Fast, by Neil Broadfoot: Interesting but noir start, centring around a nasty individual who doesn’t kill but likes to see things suffer, including people. The main character is a journalist for whom the story is all, but he’s a likeable person and he’s friends (perhaps this might end up going further?) with a senior police officer. The Edinburgh setting feels real and the plot is pleasantly complex (bereaved politician not as upset as he should be, and various people undergoing violence for different, connected reasons).

The Unburied Dead (Thomas Hutton, #1)

The Unburied Dead, Douglas Lindsay: One of those present tense jobs that needs to earn its keep. This one sort of does, in that it’s a first person running commentary on a cop’s life and quite entertaining in a blackish way. There are unexpected elegances of language, as if the cop is trying hard to crush his own educational background in order to get through the day. The body count is high!

The Death of Justice (DI Bliss, #5)

OTony Forder, The Death ofJustice: I liked ‘her mind was flypaper to his words’ of a young officer taking orders, and the analysis of how finding a headless corpse can affect someone. This is a bit of a ‘take Murder on the Orient Express and think what might happen afterwards’ kind of plot, a feature I enjoyed. There were a few Americanisms I liked less, like measuring someone in pounds rather than stone, and the endless parking up – why not just park? I still find Bliss rather ponderous and wordy, and not half as impressive as his underlings seem to think he is, but he’s evidently well-meaning – just a bit pi, to use an old expression.

Lethal Secret (A Cavendish & Walker Novel, #4)

Lethal Secret, Sally Rigby: This is a bit clunky and shallow but still very readable, with pleasant lead characters looking into apparent suicides linked with a wellness centre with cultish features. The friendship between the somewhat awkward forensic psychiatrist and the police officer is realistic. I also liked the uncommunicative pathologist – definitely not one who’s going to involve herself in the investigation. I was a bit worried, though, that the police officer felt she needed her friend’s input to decide whether or not a witness was lying – what do other police officers do?

The Great St Mary's Day Out (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #7.5)The Great St. Mary’s Day Out, Jodi Taylor : I’m constantly in awe of this writer’s ability to switch effortlessly between historical periods and give each of them a distinctive, authentic flavour – never mind the complex plots and laugh-out-loud humour. I’ve read several St. Mary’s shorts recently and found them all atmospheric, enthralling, and very good value for a short story!

The Christmas Mystery

OtheThe Christmas Mystery, Jostein Gaarder; Lovely, atmospheric, intriguing, charming – Joachim goes shopping with his father for an Advent calendar and comes home with an old unused one they find in a bookshop – one without chocolates, just the pictures. But when Joachim opens the first door he finds the picture and a little piece of paper, the first in twenty-four episodes in the story of Elisabet, a little girl who runs out of a busy department store after a come-to-life toy lamb, heading back through time to Bethlehem. This is a beautiful, layered book with reflections on European history and geography, Biblical references, humour, mystery and delight.

Flotsam & Jetsam: What secrets will be washed ashore? (Inspector Torquil McKinnon Book 4)

Flotsam and Jetsam, Keith Moray: Couldn’t resist this as an antidote to some intense reading, and it did not fail. They are very entertaining, and not too demanding.

The Big Man Upstairs (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers, #7)

The Big Man Upstairs, J.D. Kirk: Logan is back, but he needs to make up with the people he abandoned before he can really settle in. Another entertaining mystery, up to the usual high standard.

The Haunting of Bregoli Estate (A Riveting Haunted House Mystery Series, #18)

The Haunting of Bregoli Estate, Alexandria Clarke: An odd book, set on an island at a writers’ retreat. The place seems to be enormous, and it’s haunted, not only by a cat and by its recently late owner, but also by more malevolent spirits. Daisy has unexpectedly inherited the place, just as the retreat is about to start, and though I should probably feel more sympathetic I find her attitude and those of her allegedly more experienced writer friends very immature, and the hostile board of directors a tableful of two-dimensional threats. However, I did keep reading partly because the sense of place is very strong and fairly charming. And the main character did improve – though I found her leaps in confidence a bit sudden. There are some true-to-life reflections on the publishing industry and the choices authors have to make these days. The real threat, though, aside from the board of directors, are the hostile spirits.

Penitent (DI Munro & DS West #9)

Pete Brassett, Penitent: I’ve seen these advertised a lot, and something always put me off – probably the ‘twist you never saw coming’ type of subtitles. This is No.9 in a series, but I plunged in anyway, and I think even if I had read the first eight before it I might have found it a bit confusing, random characters and timelines. Nevertheless I liked the tone which is reminiscent of Keith Moray’s books, and I rather liked the baffling phrase, ‘Carrying himself with the unflappable demeanour of a comatose koala’. Some of the sentences are the length of Cicero’s – a few full stops wouldn’t go amiss if you were looking for a suitable Christmas present – and the whole thing is brimming with similes. Still, it’s amusing, and rattles along at a fair pace – lots of fun.

Deadly Engagement (Alec Halsey Mystery, #1)

Deadly Engagement, Lucinda Brant: An early Georgian setting for this book which starts abruptly enough with an unexpected and to the hero unwelcome engagement. There was a bit too much switching of point of view, and some anachronisms (I don’t think cheroots were around in this period, for example, nor tea trolleys, nor describing someone as ‘certifiable’. But I may be wrong). One murder leads to another at a grand country house near London, and the hero, irresistible to women and skilled in every direction but detested by his brother, must sort things out as only he can. It’s a bit dark and gloomy, but it gets there in the end and despite a rather unhealthy body count comes good.

The Lost Children

The Lost Children, Theresa Talbot: I went back to this eventually and began to find some interest in it. I still couldn’t like the main character, which is a problem for me in a book, but I could see that she was trying to be likeable, to relate to people, and actually finding it very hard.

Friday 6 November 2020

September's reading - or what I managed to fit in in the corners of everything else ...

Well, as it turns out we have October's reading in here, too - not quite sure where the time went, there!  

If Fear Wins (DI Bliss, #3)

Tony Forder, If Fear Wins: Nice start (well, if you can cope with necklacing, which is a bit horrible) but portraying co-operation between the armed forces and the civil police is a refreshing change. I didn’t like the way a female witness was referred to just by her surname – found it a bit confusing and off-putting. Bliss finds himself helping an old girlfriend and mixing with the security services in a subplot that turns out to be part of the main plot. The relationship between Bliss and Chandler is a well-written one, and the ending was very satisfying.

Murder on the Peninsula (Galway Homicide: Hays & Lyons #8)

David Pearson, Murder on thePeninsula: Too many names to start with, but we soon focus on a body in a half-submerged car and the plot is under way. The setting is coastal Galway and a rural police force who know the people of the area well. The situation is quickly intriguing, though I struggled a bit to remember who was who. But once the story established itself it was an entertaining read, with plenty of action, a little quiet Irish understatement and some characters I’d like to spend more time with.

Rewilding: a novella

Rewilding, Catherine Czerkawska: A disturbing novella set in the Scottish Highlands, the account of a short solo walk for purposes not quite made clear. As can happen on solo walks, there is much reflection on the narrator’s past, her bolting mother and dead father and abandoned relationship. And then she meets a mysterious handsome stranger …

The Lantern Men (Ruth Galloway, #12)

The Lantern Men, Elly Griffiths: The latest in the Ruth Galloway books and I loved it just as much as I loved the others. 

Unsafe Distances (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 21)

Unsafe Distances, Cecilia Peartree: The first book I've read set in the recent lockdown, and Pitkirthly's inhabitants treat it in just the ways you would expect, backing off from a corpse because of social distancing, pondering all the implications of closed cafes, tea gardens at the pub, and visiting the elderly. Hilarious as ever.

The Skeleton Road (Inspector Karen Pirie, #3)

Val McDermid, The Skeleton Road: I’m always delighted at the quality of McDermid’s language. Here the plot involves the Balkans and a skeleton found in Edinburgh, and though we can leap to some conclusions fairly early on there is plenty to tantalise us and lead us into reading further. Some of the Balkan history is pretty nasty, as is entirely appropriate for that conflict. This is my first Karen Pirie book and I liked her very much, and the other characters were very human and not at all cardboardy. If I solved the mystery about halfway through, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Broken Ground (Inspector Karen Pirie, #5)

OVal McDermid, Broken Ground: Might as well go on with the next Karen Pirie from the TBR pile - same high standard! I love the Mint, her unpromising but occasionally useful sidekick. This one winds together three genuinely unconnected cases into one satisfying plot, and if there's a touch of First Minister hero-worship going on at the end then the First Minister's enthusiasm for crime fiction may be enough to excuse it.

The Fenman (The Seven Stars)

The Fenman, Elspeth Speirs: This needs a bit of tidying up – not so many capitalised words, and generally numbers under 100 should be represented as words, not figures. Twenty past ten should definitely be that, not 20 past 10. There’s also a bit of an issue with formatting, lines wandering off into the next line – easily sorted out. A bit too much mundane description of the police station, though the bit about the pigeons was nice. Quite a bit of the description could be cut in general, in fact, or at least distributed rather than landing in economy-sized bags. It gives the book a pedestrian quality which, while possibly typical of a police investigation, does not make for gripping reading. A good editor might help to find the book in here.

The Penitent Priest (Father Tom #1)

The Penitent Priest, J.R. Mathis: I hadn’t realised this was an American book till I started it. Tom is a widower, a latecomer to the priesthood, standing in for the mysteriously absent Father Anthony in the town in which Tom lived with his late wife – in which his wife was murdered. It’s amusing at first, with Tom gently fighting Glenda the parish gatekeeper to include more families in his services, but it’s clear there’s a great deal of unspoken trauma going on behind the scenes. There is also a great deal of new (to Tom) information about his wife and her death that I would have thought would have come out at the time, or would at least have been asked about. And Father Tom has secrets too about the death of his wife – I’m a bit surprised that all this had not been covered when he was undergoing his selection for the priesthood, for there are clearly many unresolved issues, not to mention anger, that one should probably not carry into ordination. However, despite a few misgivings I found this a very readable yarn.

The Art of Not Being Dead (Health of Strangers, #1.5)

Lesley Kelly, The Art of NotBeing Dead: A novella in the series about the Health Enforcement Team, and just as you would like it, with some quirky humour and a clear idea of this post-apocalyptic (well, post-virus) Edinburgh. She manages to weave two plots into a short space and still make both funny and satisfying – an excellent taster if you haven’t read any of her series.


Claire McLeary, Burnout: Maggie and Wilma are in action again, bringing all their baggage with them. This time they’re trying to help a woman who believes, against all evidence, that her husband is trying to kill her, while a young woman of Maggie’s acquaintance is struggling to escape a manipulative husband. Some of the university terms are a bit out of date or at least don’t fit Aberdeen – there’s no Senior Common Room and a lecturer is not a junior lecturer’s boss – but the rest of the setting rings very true, and the book is full of great humour as well as some very moving moments.

Where There's A Will (Inspector Stone Mysteries, #1)

Alex R. Carver, Where there’sa Will: The cover is more disturbing than the book. There are really two unconnected plots, and it takes a while to get to the kidnapping of a schoolgirl, daughter of a wealthy videogames developer. I wasn’t much impressed by ‘It became clear as he spoke that he only lapsed into Scots’ dialect when agitated, for as he calmed, his words became more English and less distorted by his accent.’. However, the detectives were interesting enough. The book could do with a bit of an edit: one outstanding sentence read: ‘Grey got a shock when the door to the house the car used in the hit-and-run, and most likely the festival robbery as well, was registered to opened.’ It took me three goes to work out what that one meant! There are plenty of other places which could do with a tidy-up, and I didn’t find the main characters very distinctive. The ending, though, was quite exciting and pacey.

Not the Faintest Trace (Sergeant Frank Hardy #1)

Wendy M. Wilson, Not theFaintest Trace: I was drawn to this as I hadn’t really read any New Zealand historicals before – the best I’d managed was Ngaio Marsh and those were contemporary to her, therefore not historicals. This is set in the 1870s in a New Zealand unfamiliar to me, with some Maori supporting the British and some not, and plenty of northern Europeans, Scandinavians and Germans, brought in to manage the forests. The start is pretty brutal, but we’re soon into establishing the fascinating setting and getting the back story of our main character, tasked with finding two young Danish boys who may have drowned. The domestic detail of the Scandinavian community is interesting and the whole book is an enjoyable and informative read.

Blood on the Island

Blood on the Island, Stewart Giles: Set on Guernsey, this begins with the arrival of a thoroughly obnoxious and apparently stupid new police officer who turns out very quickly to have a link with Northern Irish terrorism. The plot is fair even if they’re a bit slow to look into various leads, and I found the hostility between the lead character and one of his colleagues overdone. It had a satisfactory ending, though.

Now or Not at All: When time runs out, decisions won't wait (Mike Stanhope Mysteries Book 5)

Peter Rowlands, Now or Not atAll: A crime novel featuring a body that probably isn’t the one they think it is, and a main character who is a freelance logistics journalist. No, don’t switch off now – this is a good book, and as with Dick Francis’ books you learn a bit from it, unless you’re already a freelance logistics journalist. I’m willing to bet not many of you are. I hadn’t realised this was the fifth in the series but it’s perfectly readable as a standalone, intriguing and exciting – and actually, the comparisons with Dick Francis stand up well. I’ll go back and read the earlier ones.

Poisoned Palette (Alistair Fitzjohn, #6)

Poisoned Palette, Jill Paterson: a novella and apparently the sixth in this series, set in what sounds like the rather lovely Blue Mountains near Sydney. I couldn’t quite believe that the hero, Fitzjohn, was a police officer at all – he seemed elderly, wistful, dreamy and not quite of this world. I wanted to tell him to be more assertive, if not over his job then at least over his house. Nevertheless I liked him and his kindness. There were a few odd typos, and I wasn’t quite sure about the behaviour of some of the suspects – I couldn’t work out the comparative ages of the main characters, which confused me.

Death on Lindisfarne (The Aidan Mysteries, #2)

Death on Lindisfarne, Fay Sampson: There's a lovely sense of place in this well-written, quiet book. I enjoyed the characters and the interplay. It was perhaps not the most original crime novel I've ever read, but it had charm and was an appealing read.

Well, there we are, I think - I had to switch laptops this month and reload Kindle on to the 'new' one, so I may have mislaid a book or two on the way. As for writing, well, I'm just past halfway on the new Murray, The Dead Chase - no idea when it will be remotely anything like finished! But I can live in hope.

Monday 12 October 2020

Interview with Merryn Allingham, author of Caribbean Evil

 I'm delighted today to welcome Merryn Allingham to the blog! I read the first book in her Tremayne crime series last year, and the second, Caribbean Evil, is just out.

Well, with a book set in Venice and another in the Caribbean, I have to ask if you’ve spent time in these places? Is Malfuego based on somewhere real?


By now, I know Venice pretty well. Despite the crowds, it’s my favourite Italian city, and as long as you avoid the central heave, it’s magical. I’ve also visited the Caribbean several times, Malfuego being a mix of a number of islands, all sharing the same dreadful history and, in the 1950s, celebrating their independence. The idea for Caribbean Evil came out of a casual remark made by a guide on one of our trips. Novels are born from such snippets!


What drew you to writing?


For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to put pen to paper. As a small child, I wrote poems; at secondary school there were short stories that I never dared mention – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. And I kept on writing through the years, but between family, pets and my job as a lecturer, there was little time to do more than dabble. However when the pressures eased, I grabbed the chance to do something I’d always promised myself – to write a novel. I knew I wanted to write popular fiction though I  hadn’t a clue where to start, but since I’d taught 19th century literature for years and grown up reading Georgette Heyer, it seemed natural to gravitate towards the Regency period.  

I’ll come back to that Regency theme! But it seems brave to me to write historical fiction set at a period lots of people can still remember – I quaked when I published a Second World War standalone! What drew you to the 1950s?


It’s one of the most fascinating periods you can write about, particularly if you love a feisty heroine. At the beginning of the decade, Britain was a monochrome world and five years of fighting had left behind a general feeling of exhaustion. There was still food rationing and the country was covered in bomb sites. Women, who had proved their worth during the war—as land girls, working in munitions factories, driving ambulances to the most horrific scenes—were pushed back into the kitchen and the nursery. The dead hand of society ensured their lives became narrow and acutely gender-based. But discontent with the status quo was just beneath the surface and during the next ten years rebellion brewed.  Life was transforming. The Fifties were a cauldron ready to explode into the Sixties. And I’m old enough to remember them!


The Regency period, where you’ve also set books, is close to home for me! Which is your favourite?


I’m going to sit on the fence because I love every period I’ve written on. The Regency for its sheer elegance, the Victorians for their certainty (on the surface at least), and their amazing technological and engineering feats—Bazalgette’s sewers are still working beneath London. The Edwardian period has a special place in my heart. It’s bathed in permanent sunshine, at least in popular memory, and becomes even more poignant when you know it will end in the horrors of the Great War. And then the dreadful years of the Second World War, which still resonate with us today—witness the language used in fighting the Corona virus. I’ve set books in all these periods and each time have loved the sense of being immersed in a wholly different world, of living in different houses, wearing different clothes, meeting different people and confronting different choices.



You’ve turned to crime relatively recently – what has brought you to our happy genre? And the obvious question from a crime fiction perspective is are you related to Marjory Allingham?


No relation, though it would be great to claim one! I’ve only gradually inched my way towards crime. My first six novels were Regency romances, but though they proved a great apprenticeship, I wanted to broaden my scope into mainstream women’s fiction. I also wanted to create something a little darker—it hadn’t escaped me that with each succeeding Regency, the mystery element had become more pronounced. It was a natural progression then to write suspense but with an element of romance, and from there, only a small step further to full-blown crime. But though I have one or more deaths in each book, relationships are still very important, including a romantic temptation that develops throughout the Tremayne series.

The first book in this series beautifully evokes the grandeur and murkiness of Venice. Do you have a favourite scene in Venetian Vendetta?


The scenes I like best are those between Nancy and Archie Jago, her husband’s assistant. We’re early in their relationship here, when there’s a good deal of conflict and a general sparring between them. I think the passage encapsulates what infuriates Nancy about Archie, but also lays the ground for changes to come!


Luisa was waiting her turn to be served, but looking around expectantly.

‘I bet that’s her,’ Nancy said.

‘Probably. Nice legs. Salvatore has taste.’

‘You can go now.’ She would have liked to hit him, but settled for sounding severe.

He saluted, making her feel stupid. ‘Right away, Mrs Tremayne. Sorry… Nancy. I’ll be back at the vegetable market.’ ……….


She found Archie looking morosely at a pile of aubergines. ‘Can’t stand them,’ he said. ‘And they’re in everything you eat here.’

‘Never mind the aubergines, I must tell you what Luisa said.’

‘Do I need to know?’

‘Yes, you’re helping me.’ She said it decidedly. The only way to deal with Archie Jago, she’d realised, was to confront him head on. ‘I’ll tell you as we walk back.’


It’s a seriously tantalising triangle between Archie, Nancy and her husband Leo! I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters. But do you have hobbies that help you escape from the writing or that feed into it?


I very much enjoy going to the theatre, to the cinema and to art exhibitions. Mooching around galleries, just looking, is a favourite activity, though sadly not at the moment. Painting and artists come into my books a good deal. Nancy is a former art student, Leo, her husband, an expert on Renaissance art. I love all things Italian and I’m learning the language. That’s evidently fed into the Tremayne series via Venetian Vendetta, but my ballet exercise classes? So far there have been no ballerinas, but I guess there’s still time!



Ballet exercise? That’s impressive! I fear I would lack the co-ordination … And finally, where can people find you and your books?


All my titles are available on Amazon as well as through a distributor such as Ingramspark. My latest novel in the Tremayne Mysteries Series is Caribbean Evil.


Universal link: https://bookgoodies.com/a/B08K4MDGRW

If you fancy receiving, The Dangerous Promise FREE (the prequel to the Tremayne series)

do sign up for my newsletter at  https://merrynallingham.com/free-book/


or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter. Facebook: https://www.tinyurl.com/m322ovu

                                                                       Twitter: https://twitter.com/merrynwrites

It’s so nice to hear from readers!

My review of Caribbean Evil - well, I was supposed to be reading this carefully for review, but I found myself galloping through it, loving the setting and the characters and letting the plot take me along. Great descriptive language – I can feel the heat of the Caribbean island where Nancy finds herself in company with her husband Leo and his assistant Archie, our companions from A Venetian Vendetta (formerly A Venetian Atonement) which I read a few months ago. The 1950s are delicately evoked with their sensitivities and the sharp contrast between privilege and poverty. Nancy discovers political unrest on the island and is soon drawn in to help a young man determined to reform the very system that is paying Leo for their stay and work. There’s plenty of meat in the plot, and in the difficult relationship between Nancy, Leo and Archie – enough to make me delighted to see there will be a third in the series!

Thank you so much, Merryn!