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

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Reading in - oh my! September to November!

Oh, dear, with all the preorders and things I haven't posted any reviews for ages! No wonder I seem to have a backlog on my review file ...

Anyway, here we go: no pictures this month as I'm pressed for time, but just click on the links!

Anna Penrose, The Body in the Wall: I liked the older main character and the setting very much, enhanced by the fact that the author lives in a similar place and runs a bookshop just like the main character. And we’re tantalised by the main character’s criminal record – something for which she was jailed but which she would do again! As the plot builds and the police inspector grows ever more annoying, the main character is more and more sympathetic and the story more enjoyable. And who could not love a book with a swimming cat called Mackerel?

Ben Aaronovitch, Tales from the Folly: A collection of short stories that smacks of being all the bits he had lying around unpublished, but nonetheless fun. As he has carefully pinpointed where they belong in the series – or outside it – it was good to revisit those parts of the over-arching narrative, and for some reason it really highlighted the foxes, which I shall enjoy going back to. Clever things, foxes.

Chris Longmuir, Web of Deceit: I enjoy this author’s historical mysteries, too, but really enjoy her contemporary police procedurals set in Dundee, with their closely woven over-arching plot concerning Teasers Nightclub. This one is a lovely portrayal of people over-confident on the outside and terrified inside, and the misunderstandings that occur when people assume they are the centre of attention. Lovely.

Sharon Penman, The Queen’s Man: It took a few goes for me to get into this but I think this was probably my fault, not the book’s, for this time it gripped me very nicely. I liked the portrayal of the aging Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the story sits fairly easily in its historical setting with just a few anachronisms and a good atmosphere. The hero becomes likeable quite quickly and his social discomforts were sympathetically portrayed. There are heaps of fascinating historical details and some good action – and a very endearing dog, which all helps!

Sharon Penman, Cruel as the Grave: It would be wise, I think, to read these from the start, but the over-arching plot of Justin doing his bit for Queen Eleanor has a counterpoint here in an investigation of the death of a young woman assaulted in a churchyard. Justin’s new friends in Cheapside assume he will help them and indeed he does, bringing his expert colleagues in to sort out the mystery. There are very occasional modern clunks here: mostly the plot runs smoothly and one can abandon oneself to the twelfth century very convincingly.

Andrew Raymond, The Bonnie Dead: Rather grim start – a serial killer has been abducting children. He has vanished for a while, and now seems to have reappeared, and the police officer who devoted his career to catching him is brought back from Ultima Thule (or Paisley) to help with the case. Not many laughs here to relieve the tension, but it does build well and the final scenes are very exciting, with a satisfying ending. Glasgow is subtly portrayed and nicely done. This is a new writer to me and I might well go for another one.

JD Kirk, Here Lie the Dead: While I like the Hoon books I sort of wish he had not barged his way back into this series: he’s just a bit too much of a loose cannon amongst the delicate balance of Dave, Hamza, Tyler, Sinead and Ben. Setting him aside, the case is an interesting one and of course I enjoyed the ghastly wedding party, almost too easy to loathe.

Alex Scarrow, Old Bones, New Bones: I meant to come back to this series earlier, having enjoyed the first one in both setting (Hastings) and character (bereaved but not too traumatised Boyd and his nice daughter and dog, and the team). There’s a reality to the injuries, if you know what I mean – even in book 2 he’s still remembering his ear injury from book 1. The plot here was good, too, a serial killer mystery, and if the ending was not altogether a surprise it was still very well done, with a nice little postscripty bit that just gave the flourish to the book.

S.G. McLean, The Bookseller of Inverness: It’s very difficult not to picture Leakey’s bookshop as I read this. It took me just a little while to get into it (my fault, I fear), then we were off, in a very realistic 18th century Inverness with all kinds of interesting characters. A really excellent book, full of pace and action and sense of history.

Alex Walters, Human Assets: I’ve got to the stage where I preorder Alex Walters’ books even if I don’t know which series they belong to – and this turned out to be a standalone, which pulled me in straight away with a death on an allotment (always a risk). With the follow-up apparent suicide of a Cambridge student, only son of an angry police officer, we suddenly fall into the world of espionage and mystery, and it’s not clear who, if anyone, is on the side of the angels and who is just unbearably naive.

Olga Wojtas, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters: This has to be the best of the series yet – a take-off of the Scottish Play with some really hilarious jokes – I did like the witch with the hair, which made me think of the crime author in question before her name was even mentioned. Frank is one of those characters that has the reader shouting ‘Oi! Pay attention!’ to our heroine – and makes a lovely cat.

Cecilia Peartree, It’s a Long Way from Pitkirtly: I was made slightly anxious by the title, as I love Pitkirtly, but I need not have feared – in short order most of the gang are settling in by Loch Rannoch, and chaos follows. ‘Was his inner monologue starting to sound like Amaryllis? He fervently hoped not.’ Loved it as always.

M.J. Lee, Where the Dead Fall: Well plotted and a good read, but he needs to take more care of his health and his family! The whole opening set-up is excellent and is followed through very well.

M.J. Lee, The Irish Inheritance: It’s difficult, to start with, to like anyone much in this – they all seem uncharitable. But the mystery is intriguing. How does a man come to appear on a child’s birth certificate seven years after his own death? I think this is an older book than some of this author’s, and the writing is not as crisp and accurate as the later series, but it does draw one in.

Jason Vail, Bag of Bones: I do enjoy this series set in and around Brother Cadfael’s books, as it were – the right historical period and close geographically, but never actually touching. Here I was a bit thrown by Simon de Montfort being referred to as Montfort, rather than the more usual de Montfort, but the rest was sound and great fun.

David Gatward, Corpse Road: Marks for ‘disorientated’ instead of ‘disoriented’! I was quite upset by the murder, because I felt so sorry for the victim, but the setting and plot are as engaging as ever, and the team are growing together. Jim is excellent, and Fly is of course wonderful. Looking forward to the next one.

J.D. Kirk, Southpaw: violent start, but where’s the surprise in that? This one is brutal, though, and the follow-up, Westward, is just the same, with a continuation of the over-arching plot. Southpaw has a satisfying conclusion, though, despite the carry-over into Westward. Full marks for mentioning Queen Camel – I’ve spent a lot of time in Somerset and that’s one of the places that pings memories for me. Then up to Westward proper, and a good rural landscape, and we have elements of Skyfall, with some more laughs.

Alison O’Leary, Summer CatBlues: There was more time away from the cats in this one but plenty spent with Carlos and his adopted family, and enough menace from the baddies to chill a bit. I love this series, which is not as cute as the titles would imply – a hefty helping of reality for an apparently cosy book.

And here? Well, I'd started the next Hippolyta, then had to stop to do the first 10,000 of something else that I was going to start in January anyway, and now probably won't be able to start till April, so once I've finished the Hippolyta I might have start what I was going to start in April ... or I'll just go and have a cup of tea and sit in the corner for a bit and consider the world ...