Saturday 31 December 2016

Catching up

Time to catch up on a couple of reviews... as always I seem to be behind. First up, my 24th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge, The Fellowship of Ghosts by Paul Watkins. This is also my 5th. book for the European Reading Challenge 2016 covering the country of 'Norway'.

I'm pinching the Goodreads synopsis for this one: Acclaimed writer Paul Watkins describes his spellbinding solo trek through the wilds of Norway's Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains—grand but harsh landscapes where myth and reality meet. His adventure takes him through valleys bordered by thousand-foot cliffs, roaring waterfalls wreathed in rainbows, blinding glaciers, and shimmering blue snowfields. Yet this is also some of the harshest, most challenging terrain in the world. Watkins's route follows razor-thin ridges, hair-raising paths, and vertigo-inducing drops. An engaging and reflective memoir, The Fellowship of Ghosts captures the profound connection between the Norwegian landscape and the myths, peoples, and dreams that it inspires.

Norway seems to be one of those countries that doesn't get written about a lot so when I saw this on Goodreads somewhere I nabbed myself a copy from Amazon. The author, Paul Watkins, follows in the footsteps of several walkers and mountain climbers who wrote about their experiences in Norway in the late 19th. and early 20th. century. The area covered is the mountainous part of southern Norway, but Watkins also explores fjords, various towns and a little of the capital city, Oslo. He recounts quite a lot of history as well, ranging from the vikings all the way up to WW2 and the country's occupation by the Nazis. He also talks about those other earlier explorers and what they got up to and how they coped with the conditions. It's all fascinating and I enjoyed it very much, particularly the section where he discusses supernatural experiences people have had in these mountains. Algernon Blackwood even based one of his ghost story novellas on a weird experience he had there. The Willows can be read here and I've downloaded it to my KIndle to read very soon. The Fellowship of Ghosts is a nice addition to the 'mountains' section of my travel writing shelf and not to be parted with.

Next, a crime fiction story, The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards.

In the tiny Lake District community of Ravenbank two murders have been committed. One took place before the first world war, the second only five years ago but the similarities are startling. Both women were battered to death in the same spot and a shroud placed over them to conceal their ruined faces. Daniel Kind, historian and friend of DCI Hannah Scarlett, is fascinated by the original murder and talk that the village is haunted by the ghost of the murdered servant girl. There's a lot of digging to be done and head of cold cases, Hannah, eventually becomes involved when another murder is committed. To all intents and purposes each of the killings was separately solved and the culprit found or on the run. Cut and dried. But is it? Perhaps not...

The Hannah Scarlett 'Lake District' series is one of those that every time I pick up a new instalment it never takes more than a page or two for me to sink right into the story and characters and feel right at home. The Frozen Shroud was no exception. I love the setting of The Lakes and author, Martin Edwards, is fantastic at describing the atmophere and landscape no matter what the weather and conditions. These stories are wonderfully atmospheric. This particular story begins around Halloween so is quite ghostly in feel. One aspect I enjoyed was the discussion of the ghost stories of Hugh Walpole, some of which I've read, and the works of Thomas de Quincy who was obssessed with murder of course and lived in The Lake District for a while. Daniel Kind is a historian and very into these kinds of books so this makes the series doubly enjoyable for me. The investigation into the murders made for a good, enjoyable crime yarn... quite complicated and involved. My early guess as to who the culprit was turned out to be correct but I didn't know that until the end. I have to admit to getting a bit frustrated with the complications of Hannah's personal life but that's fine, I think we're supposed to, to be honest. These books are never less than very readable, always well written and one of my favourite crime series of the moment.


Thursday 22 December 2016

The Santa Klaus Murder

The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay, is another one of the delightful new British Library Crime Classics reissues of vintage crime stories. It's my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 and my 12th. book for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt challenge covering the category 'A yellow object' (star on top of the tree).

The Melbury family have gathered for Christmas at the country house residence of the head of the family, Sir Osmond Melbury. They're all trying to keep him sweet because he's very rich and they want a good share of his money when he dies. What no one expects is that his death will happen within days, but happen it does when he's murdered in his study while Santa Klaus is doling out presents to the family in another room.

The Chief Constable, Colonel Halstock, is assigned the task of solving the murder, he being an old friend of the dead man. It's a poisoned chalice of course. The relatives hate him for questions he has to ask and the amount of delving he has to do. Just about everyone has their secrets and possible motive for killing Osmond Melbury, be it his five children, their various spouses, sundry suitors, employees and ex-employees. The list is endless. Sir Osmond, it seems, was a manipulator and complicated man who thought nothing of playing games with people's lives.

Halstock finds it impossible to trace the precise movements of the large number of people present during the relevant minutes when the murder occurred. Then a revelation throws everything he's learnt into doubt. An actor acquaintance tries to assist him in his enquiries but does he too have an ulterior motive? Is there anyone who hasn't? And why does it appear that everyone in the house is witholding information?

Well, this crime yarn was very enjoyable. It does involve a very large cast of characters and I must admit they were difficult to keep track of at first. Luckily there is a helpful list of who's who at the beginning and I did have to refer to it a few times. Eventually though I did get my head around them all and settled nicely into the storyline which is a traditional country house mystery. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially at this time of year when you're busy and just want a good, fun read.

That said, I thought this was very well written and quite challenging in the whodunnit department. I actually had no idea who'd done the deed until quite near the end and it's good fun when that happens. Perhaps I would've liked a slightly better idea of who the detective, Colonel Halstock, was. He didn't have the depth that we see in, say, Hercule Poroit, with his pedantry and funny little ways that make him so human. But that's being nit-picky. I really enjoyed the story and the setting and thought it was a perfect Christmas read.

The author, Mavis Doriel Hay, is one of those lost authors from the 1930s who has been rediscovered by the BLCC and her books reissued. There are two others available from them, Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell both of which I plan to read now that I've discovered that the author's writing is very good.


Friday 16 December 2016

Mount TBR 2017

Time to sign up for Bev's Mount TBR 2017. I find this an extremely useful challenge to do as it does help me get at least a number of books off the hefty tbr pile on my bookshelves. We won't talk about the fact that I usually end up adding as many new books each year as I read off the pile from previous years. 'The spirit is willing' as they say...

Anyway, go here for the sign up post to Mount TBR 2017 There you'll find a list of the rules and so on.

Challenge Levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

This year I did Mont Blanc - 24 books - but given the first month or two of 2017 will be a bit difficult I think I shall go for Pike's Peak - 12 books - and see how I go. It's likely I'll get beyond that but if I don't then it won't matter in the slightest.

Thanks to Bev, as always, for hosting the challenge.


Tuesday 6 December 2016

Read Scotland 2017

As always around this time of year I've been thinking about which reading challenges to do next year. I'd already decided not to do too many as I've been finding it rather confining... I like to be free to read what I fancy rather than having to read for a challenge all the time. I think I've managed to strike a happy medium by keeping the amount of challenges to three. This year I may even cut that back to two, not sure at the moment. The beginning of next year is going to be difficult as my husband's second knee replacement surgery is happening on the 10th. January, so I know from experience that books will not be a priory for at least three or four weeks after that. We'll see how things pan out.

Anyway, one challenge that I have decided to do again, after a gap of a couple of years, is Peggy's Read Scotland 2017. I enjoyed this one when I did it before, plus I do have quite a lot of books about Scotland and by Scottish authors on my TBR pile.

Peggy has a Goodreads group going for the challenge, here. All the info about the various levels of participation is there. I've decided to go for 'The Highlander' which is to read 6 to 10 books between the 1st. January and the 31st. December 2017.

My Goodreads shelf for Scotland is here and I'm hoping to get some of the unread ones off my TBR mountain. Books read can be read for other challenges as well.

Looking forward to taking part and thanks to Peggy for hosting.


Friday 2 December 2016

The Singing Sands

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey is my book 22 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 and my 11th. book for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavanger Hunt covering the category, A Body of Water.

Detective Inspector Alan Grant has been suffering from bad attacks of claustrophobia, so much so that he's been given a leave of absence. He heads to Scotland to stay with his cousin and her family for a few weeks. As the train pulls in to his destination he passes a compartment where the dead body of a young man is just being discovered. Alan inadvertantly picks up a newspaper belonging to the dead man and later discovers a poem he had started in the margins. Intrigued, Alan can't help himself, he has to find out more about who the young man was.

The death is declared an accident, the man had fallen while drunk and hit his head. He was one, Charles Martin, and apparently French. For some inexplicable reason, Alan Grant doesn't believe a word of it. He's supposed to be recovering from an illness, taking it easy, fishing, relaxing, but he can't. Something is just not right about this incident. The trail leads him to an island in The Hebrides to find 'the singing sands' in the poem written by a dead man and thus on to a discovery he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.

I'm so sorry that this is the last Alan Grant book - I've loved them all, although my favourite was The Franchise Affair. The Singing Sands had a wonderful sense of place, the Highlands of Scotland, absolutely one of my favourite 'places' of all. Alan Grant on holiday was a joy. I loved his cousin, Laura, and her husband, and son, Pat... with his Scottish accent that no one can understand, hero worshipping Alan. Delightful. Poor Alan though is suffering from a bad dose of claustophobia and this is very well depicted. He suffers agonies on the train journey for instance as he forces himself not to open his carriage door during the night. Car journeys are a particular trial and one scene where he has to force himself not to ask the driver to stop and let him out is particularly affective and well written.

The thing that made this story for me though was the investigation. It was fascinating to follow Alan as he made painstaking progress with his inquiries, never giving up even though many of them led nowhere. This is not a hard-hitting, serial killer sort of a crime yarn, it's a gentle, intellectual exercise as one clue after another is followed up and either discounted or added to the stockpile of information. Where it all eventually led was completely unexpected... not the kind of thing I've ever seen in a crime story before. Huge fun.

As I said, it's a shame this is the last Alan Grant book. Josephine Tey only wrote six in the series, this last one published the year of her death in 1952, she was only 56. I still have a stand alone, Brat Farrar, to read and a couple of others that I don't own. What a class act she was as a writer, one of my favourites now, several of her books I will definitely reread.