Monday 31 December 2018

The Z Murders

The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon is my 6th. and final book for the What's In A Name? challenge which is being hosted by The Worm Hole. It covers the category, 'A title beginning with Z'.

Richard Temperley is pleased to arrive early one morning at Euston Station in London. His fellow passenger has loudly snored his way through the journey and Richard is glad to be rid of him. He takes temporary refuge in a nearby hotel, until the city wakes, but within minutes the peace is shattered when the man he shared his carriage with is shot dead in an armchair in the lounge. A young woman is fleeing the scene, Richard had previously seen her on the station platform, but he simply can't believe that she committed the murder. While being interviewed by the police he discovers the woman's small bag in the depths of the armchair and for some reason does not reveal it to them.

The police have discovered an enamelled 'Z' at the scene of the crime, is this relevant? Intrigued and wanting to see the woman again and to return her bag, Temperley sets off in search of her. He tracks down her London flat: she's not there but it's clear someone has been there before him. Sylvia Wynne turns up eventually, declares herself innocent, but will not reveal details she clearly knows about the murder.

Temperley convinces her to trust him and to let him help her and thus begins a mad, countrywide dash. First to Bristol, although Richard does not know why. He soon finds out when they hear that a woman has been shot there in a field and another enamel 'Z' has been found at the scene. It's clear a serial killer is on the loose and the police are relying on Sylvia and Richard to help them find a merciless killer.

This one was a quite a ride. Literally. Bristol, Lincolnshire, Shropshire... a mad dash all over England and a thoroughly enjoyable romp. At times it beggared belief a little, but that's fine, plus I needed my wits about me a bit to keep up, as there are a lot of characters and the pace is relentless. But I loved the very real sense of menace from the killings and the killer. Different points of view are used very effectively, including the murderer and what he's doing, but not why or precisely who he is. You soon realise that he's a nasty piece of work and become rather alarmed about what'll happen when the pursuers catch up with the pursued and, at times, who's pursuing whom. It's that kind of book. Great stuff by the author of Mystery in White. I'd like to read more by him but there aren't that many and I've already read several. Never mind, there are plenty more of these wonderful vintage crime books that have been reissued by The British Library.


Thursday 20 December 2018

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
by Alan Bradley is my second book for The 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

Twelve year old Flavia de Luce has lived at Buckshaw in the small English village of Bishop's Lacey all her life, solving a clutch of murders, scientifically, in the last year or two. But now she's been sent off to school in Toronto, Canada. 'Banished' in her opinion, to the school where her late mother was educated. Strange as her family are, bullying sisters, remote father, Flavia misses them and her home desperately.

And what an odd place she seems to have come to. Miss Bodycote's Female Academy has an intimidating headmistress, one minute severe, the next almost caring. The teachers too are an odd lot, the only one Flavia feels close to was accused of murdering her husband. The pupils seem to accept her but hold her somewhat in awe because of who her mother was.

When a mummified body falls down the chimney into her room one night, Flavia is much cheered. Something to get her teeth into to help her with homesickness. And there is a lot to discover... several girls have disappeared over the last couple of years, people know things but will not reveal what they know for fear of something awful happening to them. 'Trust no one' Flavia is repeatedly told, the inference being that if she interferes too much she too will 'disappear'...

For some reason I didn't connect with this instalment of Flavia's adventures as much as the previous six books. I think in moving her away from her natural habitat of Buckshaw and the village the impact was lessened and quite a lot of the charm is lost. I couldn't quite believe in the school and its inhabitants, they didn't feel real, I couldn't get a proper feel for who any of them were. And there was hardly any sense of Toronto or Canada, it could have been anywhere, which I thought was very odd as the author lives there. A bit of a shame really as I love Flavia and her mania for chemistry and logic and her use of her talents to solve murders. I wanted more answers to some of the questions posed... perhaps those will be supplied with the next book, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, which, thank goodness, has Flavia returning home to Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacey.


Wednesday 12 December 2018

A new series and an old one

Busy, busy at the moment so it's two quick reviews of what I've been reading over the past couple of weeks and they involve a brand new series and an old friend.

First up, the new series. Against a Dark Sky, book one in Katherine Pathak's 'DCI Dani Bevan' series.

DCI Dani Bevan and her team are assigned to a case in the small village of Ardyle at the foot of Ben Lomond in Scotland. A group of climbers became separated in bad weather, two returned safely to their holiday cottage, of the other three, a woman has been found strangled and two men are missing. For the people who live in the village it brings back bad memories of an event 30 years ago when a local school party got similarly separated in the fog and three children died. The parents of one of those children have returned to the village to offer help with the investigation. They claim to 'see' things in their dreams that they believe are linked to real life events. Most of the police team are skeptical about this but Dani feels they need all the help they can get. What she has to discover is whether there's a connection between the two tragedies and, if there is indeed one, is anyone else's life in danger?

This was one of those books that I found hard to put down. I believe this kind of murder story is known as A Police Procedural, where the tale is centred mainly around the police and the steps they take to solve a complicated murder. I sometimes find that can be a bit tedious but it wasn't in this case, there was a lot going on and the author injects a fair bit of pace into the story. I enjoyed the way in which family secrets were slowly revealed, people doing stupid things just as they do in real life. A real star of the book was the Scottish setting. Ben Lomond actually exists and as you can see the area is very beautiful. Katherine Pathak is excellent at atmosphere and depicting how frightening it suddenly becomes when the weather closes in on a mountain. With interesting characters, a strong mystery, and an excellent setting this was a real winner for me. I'll be reading more by this author, I have Aoife's Chariot, which is book one of another series, on my Kindle, and will be buying more in the Dani Bevan series too.

Against a Dark Sky is my eighth book for the 2018 European Reading challenge covering the UK.

And now for an old friend, A Song of Shadows, book 13 of John Connolly's 'Charlie Parker' series.

Parker is staying in the seaside town of Boreas, Maine, recuperating from a near-fatal shooting. He is quite frail and is trying to recover his former vitality by walking the beach, going further every day. A woman and her daughter, Ruth and Amanda Winter, move into the house further up the beach. The little girl is friendly but her mother is extremely wary. Parker isn't sure whether this is because of his reputation, which has preceded him, making the whole town wary of him, or whether there is another reason entirely. The young daughter alerts him when she asks about his dead daughter, how does she know about that? It's not long before things, as per usual around Parker, hot up. A dead body is washed up on the beach, a man named Perlman, and the police wonder if there's a connection to a double sadistic murder in Florida recently. Parker has a bad feeling about the whole business and tries to find out what is frightening Ruth Winter, because he doesn't think it's him. When his investigations turn out to be too little, too late, the trail leads eventually to the German community in Maine. Who are they? Why are they in the USA? What are they hiding?

A strong stomach is required for this instalment of the Charlie Parker chronicles. You know, as soon as the neighbour and her daughter appear on the scene and the daughter can see dead people, that things are not going to go well for them. A strong stomach because sadism is involved here, as regards the modern murders but also holocaust events in concentration camps in Germany during WW2. More than any book of this series, apart from possibly The Reapers which dealt with Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s, this is a real history lesson and even I who have read a fair bit about The Holocaust found myself horrified all over again. I often think that fictional books can be far more affecting than non-fiction when it comes to the retelling of shameful events and this book proves it. But it is also everything else we've come to expect from a Charlie Parker novel. It's psychologically very creepy, it's hugely descriptive - Maine is so real in Connolly's hands - and it's very funny in places: it needs to be to lighten the horror. But best of all there is that running back story of what Parker is and to this has been added the mystery of what exactly his daughter is. Rivetting. Superb, no one writes like John Connolly, but I have to read him in small doses and definitely NOT at bedtime! Five out of five stars on Goodreads, no question.


Thursday 6 December 2018

Calendar of Crime challenge

I'm at it again... another challenge I can't resist. Well it does involve crime fiction after all!

The challenge is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK and the sign-up post is here.

This is a reading challenge that will allow mystery readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2019

This is the chart for the monthly categories:

Challenge runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. all books should be read during this time period. Sign up any time between now and November 1, 2019.

All the other rules are to be found at the sign-up post.

Saturday 1 December 2018

Books read in November

Another average reading month for me - 6 books read - but not average quality-wise... taking that into consideration it was a jolly good month.

These are the books:

57. Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands - Fred Vargas

58. Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim - Alexandra Heminsley.

Already a seasoned runner and marathon participant, Alexandra Heminsley decides to take up swimming. She can swim, but not all that well. She watches other people do the front crawl easily and wonders why she can't seem to master the stroke. She takes lessons and realises it involves very precise breathing. Why can't she master it? Well of course she does... in the end. Her 'journey' is quite interesting, I really admired her perseverance and the lengths (no pun intended) she was willing to go to to achieve her goals. A longish teaching session at the end was not quite as interesting but not a bad read, a bit different.

59. Picnic in Provence - Elizabeth Bard.

American, Elizabeth Bard, has written two books about her life in France. Naturally this is the second book and I've not read the first, which involved her meeting Frenchman, Gwendal, and falling in love. On holiday in Provence they fall in love with a very old house previously owned by poet, René Charr. They buy the house and, after their first child is born, uproot themselves and move into it. The book is about how they acclimatise to a very different lifestyle to the one they had in Paris. The people are very different for a start, life is much more laidback and attuned to the seasons. Elizabeth loves cooking and in Provence you can really indulge that sort of passion. Loved this book. It seems I never tire of reading about how people cope with cultural differances and experience steep learning curves in foreign countries, especially France and especially Provence. Plus there are recipes! What's not to like?

60. Lord Peter - Dorothy L. Sayers

61. The Pure in Heart - Susan Hill

62. The Writer Abroad - Lucinda Hawksley

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the grand tour to the global village, novelists and poets have made particularly observant travelers. Many writers have been prone to wanderlust, eager to explore the world and draw inspiration from their travels. They recorded their notes in letters, journals, essays and books. In some cases, these became celebrated examples of travel writing, such as George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, but there are many more accounts which remain overlooked. This collection takes us on a literary journey around the world, through extracts from Arthur Conan Doyle in Australia, Aldous Huxley in India, Charles Dickens in Italy, Henry James in France, Mary Wollstonecraft in Sweden, and many more. Quite a sumptuous book this. Fabulously illustrated with paintings various artists have done of the regions covered in the book. It's split into sections: Africa, Asia, Europe, The Poles, Australasia, and more. Being an armchair traveller I enjoyed it enormously, the selected extracts come from journeys taken centuries ago right up to those undertaken in the 20th. century. A book to keep and dip into when the mood takes you and for finding authors and books to explore further.


It seems my reading this month has been split right down the middle: three excellent crime/murder mysteries and three equally good non-fiction books. Very happy with that state of affairs. Once again I'm not going to choose a favourite book of the month. They were all very good in different ways. It was a very satisfying month all round and I wish every month was as good for reading.

Currently reading and enjoying:

And here we are in the last month of the year... not at all sure how we got here so quickly and to be honest it's a bit scary but, regardless, happy reading in December.