Saturday 21 July 2018

Catching up

A bit busy at the moment and thus several book reviews behind on here. So, this is a 'catch up' post, wherein I make an effort to be brief and fail dismally.

First up, Death on the Riviera by John Bude.

Detective Inspector Meredith and Acting Sergeant Strang are heading by car to the south of France. They've had information that 'Chalky' Cobbett, a notorious counterfeiter, is plying his trade in Menton, and the idea is to catch him at it and send him back to England. The trail leads to The Villa Paloma where Nesta Hedderwick, a middle-aged wealthy woman, holds court and and has constant house guests and permanent lodgers of the artistic persuasion. Her neice is one of those staying and when Strang comes across her in an art gallery it proves to be a convenient 'in' to the secrets of the villa and of those staying there. But what's all this got to do with Chalky Cobbett? And should Meredith and Strang be enjoying themselves quite so much when this is, after all, a police assignment?

This has got to be one of the best British Library Crime Classic books I've read so far. I really enjoyed the setting of the south of France, and feel the author got the hedonistic lifestyle of some of the foreigners who lived there spot-on. I'm currently reading a non-fiction book about it and although it deals mainly with a slightly earlier era, the details haven't changed much and John Bude clearly knew his stuff. This one was written and set in the early 1950s and the war was still very fresh in people's memories, but it still came as quite a shock to me to see Dunkirk described as still wrecked and practically unnavigable. Little things like that bring history home with a jolt and I like these reality checks. There's a touch of romance in this, humour, skulduggery, food and drink porn, and an excellent sense of place... loved it.

Next up, Valour's Choice by Tanya Huff.

The Confederation is an alliance of planets in which the populations have become too peaceful to fight their own wars. When 'The Others' start attacking from another galaxy they offer membership to several other less pacifist planets on the condition that they fight The Others for them. Another warlike race, the Silsviss, a reptilian species, is set to join The Confederation to help in the fight and Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is sent, with a small brigade of her men, to accompany the diplomats who're going to negotiate. *Not* her usual kind of mission. It's all going well until their ship is shot down over a wild area where young males of the planet spend time working off their severe aggression. Suddenly that aggression is pointed at the diplomats and their protectors. Who will prevail?

I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads which was possibly a bit miserly of me. 3.5 would've been more accurate as I enjoyed it and read it quite quickly. It comes under the heading of 'Military Science-fiction' I believe... these days science-fiction seems to have been compartmentalised into far more categories than it ever was years ago... and I'm not sure it's my thing precisely. I'm OK with it in small doses perhaps but endless battle scenes do bore me a bit and about half of this book concentrates on the long battle to survive against the rampant young males. I did think the various alien races were well imagined and depicted, especially the Silsviss and their planet. I'm curious about The Others as not much is said about them in this book. And I rather liked Torin Kerr as the main protagonist, her honest, no nonsense approach to everything was refreshing. So, whether I'll read more in this series is uncertain. It's a trifle too military for me *but* the world building and characterisation are both really excellent. Perhaps I'll see where the next books are in the Devon library system and go from there.

Lastly, Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Harriet Vine and Lord Peter Wimsey are now married. They head off to a large house in the village where Harriet grew up, for their honeymoon... Peter decided to buy it because Harriet always loved it as a child. The seller is supposed to be there to meet and help them settle in, but for some reason he's not there. Eventually they gain entrance and the housekeeper, gardener, vicar, chimney sweep, Uncle Tom Cobley, and Bunter, Peter's valet, all help get the house ready to live in. But where *is* the owner? 'In a neighbouring town attending to business', suggests the housekeeper. And they all accept this explanation until something is required in the cellar...

I gather Dorothy L. Sayers wrote this as a love story about Peter and Harriet after their wedding, with a little murder and mayhem thrown in to keep crime readers happy. It's not the place to start if you've never read any of her Wimsey books as this is the last novel she wrote about him, the final volume being a book of short stories I believe. I thought it was delightful, full of humour, quite a lot of romance, and the murder aspect was actually very good. I didn't solve it and had no idea who the culprit was until it was revealed at the end. The thing about Harriet and Peter is that they've neither of them had an easy time of it. Harriet was accused of murdering an ex-lover, culminating in a notorious court case (Strong Poison), and Peter has not been the same since he fought in World War One (the same can be said for the men I knew who fought in World War Two). So it's brilliant to have a book where they've both found happiness at last and I can't help but feel they're perfect for each other. I have an anthology of all of the Wimsey short stories Sayers wrote, Lord Peter, and I honestly can't wait to read them now, plus I have a few of the early Wimsey novels still to read.


Friday 6 July 2018

Blood on the Tracks

When I heard, via Martin Edwards's excellent blog, that the BLCC were bringing out a volume of vintage crime short stories based on railways I was delighted. I'm not a railway buff, let's get that straight, but for some strange reason I really enjoy ghost or crime stories set on trains. I've read several by Agatha Christie and as ITV3 are currently showing old Poirots I've recently 'seen' a couple too. Love them. So, Blood on the Tracks, edited by Martin Edwards, was an obvious buy for me and I've been reading it over the last few weeks.

A quick run-down of the stories:

1. The Man With the Watches - Arthur Conan-Doyle. A man is found dead in a railway carriage with six watches on him. The solution to this comes via a letter to the narrator, explaining everything. Slightly underwhelmed by this one.

2. The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel - L.T. Meade & Robert Eustace. This is a tale of a mysteriously dead signalman, the body found at the mouth of a railway tunnel. When another man dies in similar circumstances people suspect a supernatural cause. Excellent story, well written and slightly creepy.

3. How He Cut His Stick - Matthew McDonnell Bodkin. A bank employee is robbed of £5,000 on a train, it seems an impossible crime but female investigator, Dora Myrl, eventually works out how it was done. Not bad but didn't get a strong sense of the detective.

4. The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway - Baroness Orczy. One of series based on 'The Man in the Corner' who apparently sits in a café telling 'Polly' how murders were committed. This one involves a woman who's been killed on the undergound. Quite good.

5. The Affair of the Corridor Express - Victor L. Whitechurch. The son of a millionaire is kidnapped while on a train. An expert on train timetables works out how it was done. Another impossible crime with an ingenious solution.

6. The Case of Oscar Brodski - R. Austin Freeman. Silas Hickler, a crooked dealer in diamonds, kills a man he knows is carrying a stash of them on him. Will he get away with it or will two doctors, using scientific methods, manage to catch him? This long story was an excellent read. I liked how the murder featured at the beginning, so we know what's happened, and then we get to observe the detectives try to catch him. I've just bought four books by this author as a job lot for my Kindle for £1.99. Bargain!

7. The Eighth Lamp - Roy Vickers. An underground railway worker is absolutely terrified when he's given the job of closing up the station last thing at night. It's turning out that last light and being momentarily in the dark that unnerves him. Why? Excellent little supernatural story.

8. The Knight's Cross Signal Problem - Ernest Bramel. The cause of a nasty accident is in question. The driver of the train swears the signal was green and indicated he could go, the signalman swears it was not so. What's going on?

9. The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man With No Face - Dorothy L. Sayers. On a train journey, Lord Peter Wimsey joins in a discussion with the people in the carriage. A body has been found on a local beach, the face all bashed in, who is it and how was he killed? Terrific story this, Dorothy L. Sayers is not one of the best known female crime authors for nothing. Love how she does the speech of the common man.

10. The Railway Carriage - F. Tennyson Jesse. Solange Fontaine is only just in time to catch her train. Already in the carriage are two very odd people indeed... This is an excellent little supernatural story that works very well.

11. The Mystery of the Slip-Coach - Sapper. A man is found dead in a railway carriage. Four other occupants swear they didn't kill him and obviously didn't, so who did? Nice little 'impossible crime' story.

13. The Adventure of the First Class Carriage - Ronald Knox. This is a Sherlock Holmes story by an author other than ACD. A housekeeper comes to see Sherlock Holmes about her employers. She's worried that the husband is about do away with the wife. Quite a good story which I've read before somewhere.

14. Murder on the 7.16 - Michael Innes. Quirky little story about a body found on a film set train. Innes is famous for his John Appleby series of crime books and this is a good short story featuring that detective. I need to read a few of the novels I think.

15. The Coulman Handicap - Michael Gilbert. The police in London are watching a middle-aged woman who they know is acting as a carrier for stolen jewellry. They plan to catch her using The Underground. Enjoyed this one as it was slightly different.

I've read a few of these BLCC short story collections and this one ranks as one of the best. Possibly I'm slightly biased by the subject, I don't know, but there were only a few stories that I found 'average' the rest I thought were very good indeed. In particular The Unsolved Mystery of the Man With No Face by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace and The Case of Oscar Brodski by R. Austin Freeman. These three really stood out for me, partly because they were different in some way but also the writing was superb. Mind you, *all* of the stories are well written as I have come to expect from vintage crime books and short stories. I particularly like that at the beginning of each story Martin Edwards writes a little about the author and what he was famous for writing. Staggering how many of these authors were hugely popular in their time but are completely unknown now. A real shame. Thank goodness for the British Library in bringing these authors back in these delightful books.


Tuesday 3 July 2018

Update on 2018 challenges

We're now halfway through the year so I thought I would do an update on my reading challenges. I decided this year to only do two... also that both should be easy, books that I would read anyway. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of a new year by trying to do too many challenges that I haven't a hope of completing. So, this year, just two.

First up, The European Reading Challenge, 2018, which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

This runs from the 1st. January 2018 to the 31st. Jan 2019. I'm doing:

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. So far I've read five books:

1. Summer in the Islands - Matthew Fort (ITALY)

2. A Climate of Fear - Fred Vargas (FRANCE)

3. Snow Blind - Ragnar Jónasson (ICELAND)

4. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee (SPAIN)

5. Travellers in the Third Reich - Julia Boyd (GERMANY)

So, five books read which is enough to say I've finished but I haven't. I plan to read on and hopefully explore more countries. I have to say, this is definitely one of my favourite ever reading challenges.

My second and last challenge for 2018 is the What's In A Name? challenge, which is being hosted by The Worm Hole.

This runs from the 1st. January 2018 to the 31st. December 2018. These are the categories:

1. The word ‘the’ used twice.

2. A fruit or vegetable.

3. A shape.

4. A title that begins with Z

5. A nationality.

6. A season.

I'm not doing quite as well with this one. Two books read:

1. The Word 'the' used twice The Lost Book of the Grail - Charlie Lovett

3. A shape: The Cheltenham Square Murder - John Bude

I'm currently reading a third book for 'a nationality' which will put me at halfway through after half the year has gone so that's not too bad. I also have books for the other three categories, I just need to read them!