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

Wednesday 15 November 2023

September and October reading - late again! and a new book out!

 September, always my busiest month for all kinds of reasons, has this year expanded even further and cast its influence into November! I think I'm maybe catching up now ...

The Business at Blandyce is at last out for preorder, paperback to follow shortly.

Dr Robert Wilson is writing a cultural guide to Europe, and perhaps beyond. Gil Archibald needs to get to Paris. As Dr Wilson’s secretary, he thinks he can reach his goal, but Dr Wilson is not a straightforward employer, and neither of them can make much progress when a body is found in the mud and rain of the Pas de Calais. When neither of them is telling the other the whole truth, how will they ever work together to solve the mystery?

But anyway, to books by other people! It's been quite a selection over the last two months - you'll be sure to find something to enjoy.

Hania Allen, The Polish Detective: Though we don’t know too much about our main character to start with – why she’s in Dundee, for example – she’s sympathetic enough and the case is interesting, a dead lecturer hidden in a scarecrow. The plot evolves to include the Dundee Druidic community – no idea if they exist or not but this is a good portrayal of Dundee and the surrounding countryside, with the additional interesting layer of Polish culture.

Andrea Carter, Death at Whitewater Church: Winter in Donegal, atmospherically portrayed in this, the first in the series with lawyer Ben O’Keefe as the main investigator. When she and the estate agent find a skeleton arranged in a disused chapel that’s up for sale, it triggers an investigation that draws her further into a local community where she has, till now, been an outsider, risking her own secrets on the way. This has a proper small community feel, with layers of dark memories underlying current problems, and a good conclusion that works well.

Carmen Radtke, Genie and the Ghost: This is a lovely start to a new cosy mystery series, where Genie, a young jewellery designer, chums up with her long-dead flapper aunt to solve mysteries. The physical difficulties of living with a ghost, particularly one who can communicate with animals, are wonderfully imagined and touchingly amusing. Looking forward to the next one!

Blue Raven, Adam: I thought this a little overpriced for a novella but was interested by the concept: a criminal discovers time travel and goes back to the past to manipulate politics to cause a nuclear war and start an alternative timeline. The story is told from the future in the alternative timeline, where an AI being called Adam reveals what really happened to cause it. This is perhaps more of a political thriller than a sci-fi book, with shades of conspiracy theories. Sometimes it jumps a little and you wonder if the author is trying to jam too much plot into a short form. I’ll make no comment on anything here about the actual American politics referred to – not my cup of tea. In the last third of the book, the science fiction comes back in and I liked the ending, even if I wasn’t in complete agreement with the character who made it there! Interesting book, but perhaps a novel would have been a better format and less rushed.

J.D. Kirk, A Dead Man Walking: If I had any gripes with this they would be 1/ how could he be so unkind to Logan as to send him to an island with Tammi-Jo and Tyler and 2/ it would never occur to me to wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my Barbour jacket. But perhaps he means the quilted ones, not the proper waxed jobs. As usual, there’s humour and some deep emotion here, and despite the slightly Hallowe’en theme we have a good plot and character development.

Robert Galbraith, The Ink Black Heart: Others have complained about the online conversations in parts of this book. I found them interesting, and laid out very well – except that for some reason the e-book then laid them out again in a different pattern. This was an enjoyable though not always comfortable read with plenty of interesting characters, a few nicely resolved problems, and some horrible reflections on the use of social media today.

Cecilia Peartree, Two Steps to Murder: Hooray! Another Pitkirtly mystery! A teenager is killed and Amaryllis is arrested in the midst of a folk and pop festival which sits over Pitkirtly like a granny-square blanket on a comfy armchair.

Anna Faversham, Hide in Time: Intriguing start here with a dating agent finding she has more and more in common with one of her clients – and we grow to wonder if perhaps one final thing they have in common is that they were both born in a different time. Eventually the plot unfolds into a kind of time-swap romantic adventure, cleverly imagined and ultimately satisfying, with touches of humour that are very sweet.

Groovy Lee, Colors in the Dark: The first action scene snatches you in fast to this charming romantic thriller set mostly in California, with an excursion to Mississippi. Hailey, the narrator, is sweet and sensible and a loving friend, and you just want everything to go right for her! This causes the reader some considerable stress when Hailey heads off on her own to pick up a vulnerable child from a hostile family – my heart was in my mouth for several chapters. No spoilers, though. Just go along for the ride!

Carmen Radtke, Murder at the Races: It’s lovely to be back in 1930s Melbourne – I’ve left this series too long! I’ve enjoyed contrasting this, too, with the author’s new Genie series, which is much more cosy. This is also very Australian, whilst Genie feels like small town America: very clever writing! You can really feel the struggles in a society trying to keep things together in a slump. Frances is trying to clear the name of her vet brother, Rob, caught up in a horse-ringing scandal and murder. Satisfying plot, and great set-up for the sequel.

J.M. Dalgliesh, A Long Time Dead: Our police main character is sent back to his native Skye to investigate when the body of a girl missing since his childhood is discovered in a bog. Though the resolution was maybe a little overdone (I mean I felt I’d read it a few times before), the characterisation was good, as was the sense of place, and I’d happily read another one.

T. Kingfisher, Thornhedge: A charming ugly fairy creature is guarding the thorn hedge around Sleeping Beauty’s ruined tower. She’s been doing it for centuries, when at last a knight comes along to give it a closer look. This is a brilliant twisting of the fairy tale, amusing and touching and ultimately very satisfactory.

Ann Cleeves, The Long Call: Ann Cleeves is a terrific example to us all of how much writing can improve even for published authors. It was coincidence that I started reading both this and A Lesson in Dying around the same time, and The Long Call was instantly more interesting, appealing, and intriguing. I loved the main character, everything seemed to work to further the plot, and the general sense of the author’s ease with writing was clear.

Ann Cleeves, A Lesson in Dying: I really struggled with the first few chapters here. I could see that the different stories were going to link up, but they seemed overly disjointed and unsympathetic – it might just have been the mood I was in, but I was almost relieved when we had a dead body and something definite to focus on. But as we reached the discovery of a second murder, there is a very detailed, intimate portrait of how murder can affect those around it, those not even that closely connected with it, that is beautifully done.

David Gatward, Blood Trail: Another excellent episode in the series, with Grimm really starting to settle down in Yorkshire and a fine mystery with its feet in the past and some very emotional moments.

Rhys Dylan, Gravely Concerned: Some weirdly inconsistent apostrophe use here, but we’re back with the team after Evan’s break for a funeral. There’s a well-paced urgency to the hunt for an abducted boy and a couple of  nice twists. On to the next one soon!

Gareth Williams, Needing Napoleon: A very interesting start, with a man arriving at Waterloo the afternoon before the battle – but from the year 2018. Desperate to get away from his life and help his hero Napoleon, he takes the extreme step of accepting a one-way trip to Waterloo. I found it amusing that the present day is written in the past tense, and the past is written in the present tense – a clever way to show the period that matters more to the main character. Let’s put aside my favouritism here: I’m a big fan of the sensible Wellington, and not at all of the selfish Bonaparte, and Richard is a serious Bonapartist. But the quality of the writing makes him very sympathetic, and renders the time-travel element quite realistic, in an unexpected way.

Valerie Keogh, No Memory Lost: The discovery of a child’s body disrupts West’s self-recrimination over the death of a neighbour, a guilt-trip that I didn’t really find very convincing. But the rest of the case is more interesting. Less convincing is the attack on Edel by an old acquaintance. The book rounds itself up well and I found the ending satisfying.

So there we are! And aside from all of that, I have started (just about) the fifth Orkneyinga Murders book - limited progress so far because of all that September stuff, but perhaps now I can give it a bit more attention!