Saturday 21 November 2020

Several short reviews

Several books to catch up with today, all to do with murder mysteries, so my addiction to them obviously continues unabated.

I've finished Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder at last. So informative and it's making my vintage crime reading a lot more interesting in that I now know who some of these authors are and what they were like. I didn't for instance know how shy Agatha Christie was and how much she hated public speaking. I didn't previously have a sense of what a huge, domineering sort of character Dorothy L. Sayers was... or G.K. Chesterton. It also made me try 'new to me' authors like Margery Allingham (although I had heard of her of course),  Anthony Berkeley and E.R. Punshon and it was nice not to be disappointed when I did. It made me go back to P.D. James too and her books will go with me into 2021 for a reread. This is a book to keep and refer back to. I loved it. 


So this is the book a lot of murder mystery fans have been reading and talking about. Richard Osman is a household name in the UK, famous for hosting the quiz shows, Pointless and The House of Games. He's smart, quick-witted and 'witty' and I've often wondered what he would come up with if he ever wrote a fictional book. And here's my answer, The Thursday Murder Club. It's based in a retirement village for the well off, attracting what you might call retired 'professionals'. Thus, there are many activities and clubs and four of the residents have formed a club looking into cold murder cases. Joyce is an ex-nurse, Ibrahim a psychiatrist, 'Red' Ron was a left-wing trade union leader and their leader, Elizabeth... well that becomes pretty obvious as the book goes along. The village was built by some pretty shady characters and as controvercial negotiations are going on about new builds in said village one of the them is killed. The Thursday Murder Club begins to investigate, dragging in a couple of reluctant police officers. I found this hugely enjoyable. Osman's very sharp sense of humour and of the ridiculous is really to the fore and I laughed at his gentle poking fun of our Britishness all the way through. There is sadness, this is an old people's village after all with the obvious results of extreme old age and Osman does not shy away from this. It means that this is not a straightforward whodunnit but I liked that - I found I really cared about everyone in it. If I have a tiny complaint it's that I got a bit confused towards the end about who was doing what to whom and why. You'll need your wits about you if read this so don't leave them snoring by the fire. Book two is out next year I gather and I look forward to it very much. 


Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet is part one of her 'Max Tudor' series. Max is an ex MI5 agent who has changed direction and become a vicar. He finds himself in Somerset ... at least I think that's where Nether Monkslip is, all hints point to the Quantocks or Mendip hills... but both beautiful areas. The village tyrant is Wanda Batton-Smythe and it's pretty clear from the start that she's for the chop although it's way into the book before it happens. Max finds the body and it's soon apparent that she died because of her allergy to peanuts. Given how careful she is about this it's immediately suspicious and murder is eventually proven. Because of his background the police rope Max in to help solve the murder. This wasn't bad but it was slightly lacking in something and I'm not sure what. Perhaps just a bit too cozy for my taste but I'm sure it would appeal to lots of people. I was a bit thrown to be told Max had got 'catsup' down himself though (or was trying to avoid doing so, I can't remember now). 'Catsup'? Then I remembered that tomato ketchup is called that in parts of the US but I still can't think why a British vicar would be thinking of it as 'catsup'. No matter, this is a series I probably won't be continuing with anyway but it was a pleasant enough distraction for a day or two.

Monday 9 November 2020

More catching up

I'm so behind with reviews that this needs to be yet another quick catch-up post.

My first book for November was Jew(ish) by Matt Greene. 

This was a free book from Amazon Prime's 'first reader' thing that they do. I was in the mood for something like this so I read it as soon as I downloaded it. It's a very interesting report on what it's like to be Jewish. Although the author is what he refers to as 'lapsed', having a new baby made him consider what it is to be a Jew and whether he should bring the child up as such, the child's mother being non-Jewish. It's a series of essays really and it taught me a lot, especially in the way that Jewish people feel apart from the rest of us, somehow 'other'. There's quite a debate going on too about whether being Jewish means that you must automatically support Israel and its policies. Also included, naturally, are Holocaust testimonies and lessons about how many Nazis were actually caught and prosecuted after the war... just 15% if I recall correctly... thus, it was a good book to read at this 'Rememberance' time of year. Plus The Holocaust is a subject I've taken an interest in for years despite being told I'm ghoulish for doing so (I'm very good at ignoring that kind of judgement.) It lost something for me when it got overly political as regards British politics but  generally speaking a good book on the subject of being Jewish, about which I knew very little.

Next up, The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw. This is my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

A friend of the author, James, built a canoe to see if he actually could and he and the author, Matt Gaw, then set about exploring the waterways around their home in Cambridgeshire. Local rivers first, the Granta, the Waveney, the Cam, and then branching out further affield to explore rivers such as the Thames and the Severn. The inspiration came from the writings of two authors, Roger Deakin and Robert Louis Stevenson who canoed some of the rivers of Belgium and France and wrote about it in An Inland Voyage available for free on Amazon. I thoroughly enjoyed this recounting of the joys of messing about in boats. The author is very honest, it's not all wonderful, they have accidents, one very serious in which they could've died, it rains on them, finding camping spots is not easy and so on. But really it's quite clear that they absolutely 'love' having adventures on the river and thus the book is an absolute joy to read.


And now for something completely different, as they say. Information Received by E.R. Punchon is vintage crime story written in 1933, the first of the author's 'Bobby Owen' series.

Constable Bobby Owen has been with the police for 3 years. He's currently stationed in rather a quiet area of London and being quite ambitious is not too happy. Then city magnate, Sir Christopher Clarke, is found murdered and Owen is on the spot and a witness to the events surrounding the killing. It means he can be quite involved with the investigation, although he has to tread carefully around the CID officers assigned to the case. As is usual with these cases the dead man is not particularly nice. He has a daughter and a step daughter both of whom he's manipulating as regards who they can marry and why. The two men they want to marry are therefore suspects but who are the other strangers seen lurking around the house and why have they completely disappeared? This was a very well written crime yarn, quite complicated and yet I did have an idea who'd done the deed and was right. Nevertheless all the twists and turns were very entertaining and I liked the main protagonist, Bobby Owen, and his dogged determination to find out the truth. This is a long series, 35 books, whether I shall get to end of it I don't know but I've downloaded a few more to my Kindle as they're only 99p each and well worth a read in my opinion.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Books read in October

October was another decent reading month for me. Eight books read, which seems to be my norm these days, not sure what the increase is down to, possibly lockdown, possibly not.

Anyway, these are the books:

72. The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley

73. The French Adventure - Lucy Coleman

74. Capital Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards

75. The Murder Room - P.D James

76. In Strictest Confidence - Craig Revel Horwood

77. Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

78. Menace of the Monster - edited by Mike Ashley 

79. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman - P.D. James (to be reviewed)

A bit of a mish-mash as regards genres, three crime yarns,  two short story anthologies, a bookish fantasy that wasn't really, some light fiction set in France and an autobiography. 

It wasn't a standout month as regards quality. They were all good but there were not, as in some months, several really brilliant books. My favourite is this I think:

The Murder Room was beautifully written and very absorbing, brilliant sense of place. I shall be reading more P.D. James in November and December. 

Current reads:




The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw, all about canoeing on rivers in England, Jew(ish) by Matt Greene who is a lapsed Jew, and writes about Jewishness, very interesting, and I'm about halfway through The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. I'm not doing 'Non-fiction November', officially, but I seem to be anyway. 

So here we are in November. Another year almost gone... the craziest I've ever lived through and I'm 67 and seen a few things. I've taken comfort in books and am already thinking about reading plans for 2021. Anyone else that mad?