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

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.