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Wednesday 23 March 2022
Probably a bit of March here, too, to be honest! Again, a mixture, the second half of the alphabet.
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.
V.E.H. Masters, The Conversos: This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Monday 21 March 2022
I'm adding in books this month that I read before Christmas but could not, for various reasons, review till now, so there are so many that I'm dividing the list in two! It's alphabetical, so there is no distinction between the two lists. Bit more variety than usual!
S.J. Bennet, The Windsor Knot: This is a witty book with H.M. the Queen as a subtle investigator, moving behind the scenes to solve a murder in Windsor Castle with the help of her assistant private secretary, Rozie. I don’t know what the Queen herself might think of it but it is certainly written with affection and tremendous humour. I may well look out for the next one.
Tom Binnie, The Painter and the Sea: This book comes into its own when the narrative settles in a place like Kirkcaldy or parts of the Low Countries and describes everyday life. There is a good deal of research evident and some nice little details - I enjoyed the idea of the council struggling for funds – sounds all too real! – and the kirk ‘overseeing’ the town, and the descriptions of 1730s Edinburgh really came alive. The characters were interesting and quite well rounded – I particularly liked van Reit and his attitude to death, and the relationship between Rose and Adam Smith. I had not previously seen much of Adam Smith and David Hume fictionalised, and Hume in particular seems well fitted for it. The cover image is lovely, and the incidental portrayal of the cat is charming.
Susan Buchanan, Just One Day: A very realistic narrator given to over-achieving and seeking things to worry about, all of which she tries to control with to-do lists. I read this in two sittings and felt I was in Louisa’s world with all her stresses and emotions. The plot was intriguing though, as with real life, it had its ups and downs, and I had not expected the ending which sets things up well for a sequel.
Catherine M. Byrne, Mary Rosie’s War: This is a good yarn, set mostly on the shore of the Pentland Firth and also in various air force postings. Both physical settings and period feel are well executed - some research has gone into this but it is very naturally written. Many books of this type are simply done with one ‘romantic’ plot but this one is made more interesting by the inclusion of a sad, but ultimately satisfying, subplot that weaves in and out of the characters’ lives. The only drawback was that I thought the ending came a little too abruptly – the story could have been stretched to another book of the same length and been very enjoyable!
Susanna Clarke, Piranesi; I finished this book lateish at night and couldn’t decide if it had a message I was too stupid to decipher or was just plain mysterious. It was in some ways an easy read with charming and slightly naïve descriptions of the House, the setting, which is a very strange, ruinous place. Gradually clues appear hinting at what might be going on, and while the narrator seems pretty ignorant about the whole set-up the reader starts to realise that there is more behind the scenes. Did I enjoy it? I think so. Would I read it again? Probably not: it’s somewhat melancholic, and there’s a tragedy to it, even in its beauty.
Helen Fields, One for Sorrow: Are British post mortems really recorded in imperial measurements? A bit surprising if so. And the obnoxious Liam seemed to be straight out of New York. I didn’t enjoy this as much as others in this series, which is a shame as I really loved the earlier books – at times, unfortunately, I felt as if my feelings were being manipulated (I know writers do this all the time, that’s what a book is, but this time it felt somehow cynical), and it had a distinctly American feel, which is odd. And goodness, the criminal’s trophy wall – surely this has been over done? Nevetheless the plotting was beautiful, the structure really impressive.
Linda Gillard, Cauldstane: This is fun, a ghost writer moving to live in a Highland castle while she helps the laird write his autobiography in the hope that it will inject a bit of cash into the dwindling family coffers. The family stories she finds are more immediate and tragic than she expects when the ghost writer meets a ghost.
Will Harker, Silencing the Dead: You might struggle to get into this book if you hadn’t read the first in the series, but if you have and it’s a little while ago the first chapter or so is a great aide-memoire. I like some of the description – this is of a haunted rectory: ‘The overall effect was one of clutter and disorder, as if the architect had been unable to bear contemplating any single part of his design for too long.’ Scott Jericho is not a happy soul and once again tangles himself in a nasty and complicated plot here.
Sylvia Hehir, Deleted: From the cover illustration, which made me laugh, I thought at first this was chicklit, but the back material makes the book’s genre much clearer, and the brief prologue was very enticing. I did not much like the main character to start with, and found it a little hard to place her in age terms, but felt that was probably deliberate – she was at a transitional point in her life and had to grow into a better understanding of her parents. In a way this is an odd story involving young love, old resentments, and a bit of the supernatural, but ultimately it’s a satisfying read.
J.D. Kirk, Northwind: This is a spin-off from the Logan series of crime novels set in the north of Scotland, full of irreverent hilarity – don’t read if you don’t like swear words, though. Here I missed the rest of the team as Hoon, a retired, discredited senior officer, set off on his own to rescue a friend’s missing daughter in London, but it was as hilarious as the Logan series. I liked the way the plot was woven into the Logan episode, Cold as the Grave, which I happened to be reading around the same time - had a real life feel to it but would not prevent them being enjoyed separately.
J.D. Kirk, Colder than the Grave: The mixture of noir and daft hilarity we’ve come to expect – painful to read sometimes, but for wildly differing reasons.
Chris Longmuir, Dangerous Destiny: Quite a lot of detailed historical information has to be available to the reader right from the start of this book, which puts pressure on a writer to lecture. This is avoided here: there’s still a good deal to take in but it is layered in the narrative. The writer has opted not to go for too much language of the period and there are few challenges here for a modern reader in that sense. Enticing, exciting plot, a sound historical setting and interesting characters – what else do we need?
Marion Macdonald, No Song in a Strange Land: A light touch brings the characters to life and the setting is good. It’s an easy, entertaining read, but not without its tragedy, written a little naively in the voice of Chrissie as she finds her way into an unexpected marriage. I enjoyed the portrayal of her rather up-and-down relationship with her husband and ultimately with her step-daughter, too, and the depiction of life in Canada, and the journeys there and back, was interesting. Details about tuberculosis, public reaction and treatment were unexpected and intriguing, particularly the women’s mutual support groups. I’d have liked to have heard more about the two little boys and their experience!
There, that's the first batch - lots of fun!