Friday 9 June 2023

A couple of crime titles

So, I'm in the mood for a bit of a crime yarn binge at the moment. Always a fun thing to do as I seem to have no trouble finding three or four good mysteries in a row, whereas I'm struggling in other genres. For instance, I thought I would indulge in a personal challenge to read more science fiction this year and I have, but the books have been very variable and that's being 'kind'. Crime fiction doesn't do that to me, although it could also be that I've become very adept at judging which ones I'm going to like.

Anyway, first up, Death of an Author by E.C.R. Lorac. This is my 7th. book for Susan's Bookish Books Reading Challenge.

Author of popular crime fiction, Vivian Lestrange, is a recluse. Not just a 'bit' of a recluse, but an obsessive one, to the point where hardly anyone knows who he or she is. It's thought it's a man because of course only men can write really intense crime stories... And then his secretary, one of two people who know him, reports him missing. She's turned up for work and both him and his house-keeper have gone. But can her word be trusted? It's not long since she herself pretended to be Lestrange, sent by him to fool people. And is it a double-bluff? Is she in fact the author? The police, CI Warner and Inspector Bond, are completely at sea. They have no clue who's telling the truth and no idea how to proceed. As one of them stresses, what they could really do with is a dead body! It's only when Warner follows a lead to the beautiful countryside around the river Wye in Gloucestershire that things start to become clearer, or do they? E.C.R. Lorac is definitely my favourite of the authors that the British Library have 'rediscovered'. I honestly can't think how she disappeared as her books are so well written and so 'meaty'. This book was complicated and twisty. It's thought Lorac was poking fun at people who thought only men could write crime fiction although why they would've thought that back then when Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and so forth were so hugely popular is hard to say, but there you go. I so enjoyed this book and had no idea until quite near the end what was going on. Highly recommended along with her, Murder in the Mill-Race, Fire in the Thatch and many others.

Next, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone. This was a book mentioned by Margot at Crime Writer Margot Kinberg wherein you will always find a lot of excellent posts about all aspects of crime fiction and loads of excellent recommendations. I highly recommend her blog and also her Youtube channel.

So this is an Edinburgh based story. Jim and Dorothy Skelf, both in their early seventies, run a funeral business and do private investigating on the side. When Jim dies, Dorothy, their daughter, Jenny, and grand-daughter, Hannah, feel completely adrift because he had handled most of the business side of things. Dorothy notices money has been going out of the account every month to a certain person, something she didn't know about. This forces her to wonder if she ever really knew her husband. Jenny, divorced and in her forties, has just lost her job so, reluctantly, moves back into the family home to help out. Hannah, at uni, needs help... her flat-mate has gone missing but the police will not help, citing anyone's right to go off if they want to. Hannah does not believe Mel would do this. The book is written from the pov of the three women and it's beautifully done, each woman having a very clear and succinct personality as portrayed by Doug Johnstone. Like all of us, they have life issues they're dealing with while trying to solve several cases at once, and all felt very real to me and representative of their own age-groups. I loved this one 'but' I think I should warn readers that there's a lot of detail of the work of funeral directors. 'Minute' detail. It will not be for everyone, in fact my husband picked it up off the library pile and after I had told him what it was about he quickly put it back again. Personally, I found it fascinating but then I am slightly weird. (Only 'slightly'?) This book has a twisty, convoluted, edgy feel to it, secrets abound, people are not what they seem and the women soon realise that jumping to hasty conclusions is not a good idea. I found the family dynamics endlessly fascinating too... three generations of women trying to get along and work together to solve cases. I loved it and will read on in the series, I think there're another three or four.  Thanks for the recommendation, Margot!

Two five star Goodreads ratings in a row! That doesn't happen every day! I hope you too are finding some good books to read in June. 


Margot Kinberg said...

Thank you so much, Cath, for the kind words and link! I'm so glad you enjoyed A Dark Matter. I think it's got an awful lot to recommend it. I very much like the context, too! I'm also glad to know you've had some decent reading, too. It's a nice change, isn't it, after reading a few books that, well, don't quite do it for you.

Kay said...

Cath, I do appreciate your thoughts on both these books. I will see about trying A DARK MATTER and also appreciate the fact that Margot mentioned it. I laughed at your husband putting it quickly back on the stack. Yes, we are likely a little 'weird'. I always think that I shock people a bit when I talk about liking to read about a 'nice' murder. And I don't necessarily mean a cozy thing - just a murder. Ha!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I have been reading quite a mix of genres recently, but at the moment I am nearing the end of a psychological thriller, which has more twists and turns than I thought possible in one storyline. I just know that there is going to be that final 'what the ****!' moment soon, but I'm still not sure what it is going to be! 'The Marriage Counselor' by Dea Poirier.

I have Lorac on my list of classic authors to read, however, there are just so many titles in the catalogue that I can never hope to read them all. The trouble is, every time you feature a particular book, I want that to be the first one I get to!

I also want to read the Doug Johnstone series, as in a previous life, my role as a florist, brought me into regular contact with undertakers and it is a profession which has always intrigued me. Although things have rather moved on since then and many funerals are much more unrestrained and 'user friendly', with the rather staid and stiff image of the funeral director, changed forever. I had hoped that there were only a couple of books in the series to date, however I see we are up to book #5 already, so I may have to sample one of his stand alone stories instead!

They both sound like worthy 5 star reads, so I hope that your good run continues :)

Cath said...

Margot: You're most welcome!

Dark Matter was such a page-turner for me. I know that's quite an over-used term but sometimes the clich├ęs are what's true. I found all the funeral details absolutely fascinating and agree with one of the comments in the book that we should not be sweeping these kinds of things under the carpet because we're all going there at some stage.

Thank you, yes it was so nice after abandoning a book 70 pages in to pick up a couple of books that immediately hooked me.

Cath said...

Kay: Thank you, it's nice to share a few thoughts about reading with like-minded weird people. LOL! My husband really doesn't like anything to do with bones or graves. I love to watch archaeology programmes on TV but I have to watch alone because it's really not for him. We're all different. For me, the more bones the better!

As I said, it's good to be among friends as I appreciated your comment about people seeming shocked when you say you like a nice murder... but you don't necessarily mean a cozy one.

Cath said...

Yvonne: I know what you mean about twists and turns, A Dark Matter ws like that. Look forward to your thoughts on The Marriage Counselor if you decide to do a blog post. It sounds intriguing.

As to Lorac's books, there's no personal progression as regards the police detective so you can start anywhere with any book. They don't follow on or anything like that. The British Library has reissued around half a dozen of hers so if you spot one on your travels it's worth grabbing it.

Oh, how interesting that you were a florist and had a lot of dealings with undertakers. The Skelf series might be one you would enjoy then. It's certainly quite gritty and I know you don't mind that from time to time.

Have a good weekend. I hope the garden/turf laying's coming along?

Lark said...

Death of an Author sounds so good. But then I enjoy those British Library Crime Classics. I'm glad they've reprinted so many of them! And I even like the sound of the other book, too. Though I can see where the whole funerary business could be off-putting to some. Like you, I'd probably find it interesting. ;D Oh, and I just finished reading Blind Descent. What a fun caving mystery! I loved all the parts underground especially. Thanks for the rec.

Sue in Suffolk said...

Hope BLCC continue republishing the Lorac crimes - they are all so good. Just looked on Fantastic Fiction and found she wrote 46+ !

TracyK said...

I still have only read one book by ECR Lorac, which I enjoyed very much. And have a few more on the TBR to try.

I agree with you that Margot is a great source of recommendations, and I can't keep up with them. Doug Johnstone is new to me, although the name sounds familiar, and the subject matter would be very interesting, I think. And told from the point of view of three women is a bonus. I will have to check that one out.

I have only finished one book in June, which I started on June 1, so not doing so well on reading. I did like the book at lot. It was The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes, the first in a series. Haven't decided what I will read next.

Sam said...

Both of those sound like fun, Cath, so I'm glad you mentioned them - and most of all, enjoyed them. I'm not familiar with Lorac's work, but that's one I'm going to try to find. Apparently that's the pen name for Edith Caroline Rivett, thus the three initials at the beginning of it. She seems to have been quite popular during the "Golden Age of Detective Fiction" with a series featuring a Chief Inspector MacDonald. Kind of a wonder that she had to be "rediscovered," I suppose, but this novel is already 88 years old, so... I guess only the extra-famous names "survive" for as long as we would like to think.

CLM said...

Both of these sound great. The Lorac I read was a little slow but I've been keeping my eyes out for more.

I am going to a memorial service this afternoon, and when I asked my friend the widow what I could do to help, she suggested I bring a specific vintage of white wine. I am so sure I will forget it in the refrigerator that I have post-it notes in several places, including the car!

Cath said...

Lark: The BL reprints do vary a bit but most of them are pretty good. LOL... yes I suspect that like me you'd find the funerary details in that book interesting. I felt I learnt quite a lot by reading about it.

Oh, I'm so pleased you enjoyed Blind Descent. You don't get many books about caving, not fiction anyway, so I was really pleased to discover that one.

Cath said...

Sue: Yes, Lorac was really prolific. I hope the BL bring out more by her as all the ones I've read have been good.

Cath said...

Tracy: At least you have read one! :-)

Yes, Margot is a wonderful source of info when it comes to crime fiction. So many series she talks about which are new to me. The Doug Johnstone is well worth checking out. I must admit the quirkiness of the funeral directors setting is what attracted me to the book and I wasn't disappointed.

I've heard of the Mitford Murders, I think the author might be the daughter of Julian Fellowes who wrote Downton Abbey, but I'm not sure. I'm glad you liked it as I've been thinking I ought to read it, it being about the Mitfords of course.

Cath said...

Sam: Gosh yes, you're right, Death of an Author 'is' 88 years old. I hadn't quite computed that somehow. Yes Edith Caroline Rivett, the 'Lorac' coming from 'Carol' reversed. She also wrote books as Carol Carnac. Perhaps she didn't write with quite the variety that Agatha Christie did? But then Dorothy L. Sayers only wrote about one detective so that argument doesn't hold up. It's very odd because the writing definitely stands up to scrutiny. I can't think why she disappeared to be honest.

Cath said...

Constance: Lorac does take her time to set the scene in her books. And she often starts off with one set of characters and then moves to a different pov altogether about a quarter of the way in, Murder in the Mill-Race, for instance, starts with a couple moving to a Devon village and who they meet etc. then a few chapters on they become extras in the police enquiry. It's quite odd.

LOL! I hope you remembered the wine!