Archives for crime fiction

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so after a spell in London’s PR world Agatha Raisin is pleased to return to Carsley. Everything seems the same, except she cannot shake her crush on neighbor – and detective buddy – James. James, however is concentrating on writing his history book and so in an effort to distract herself, Agatha takes up rambling. To cut a long story short, there is a murder, Agatha and James investigate, and all sorts of trouble ensues. This series is a great example of the ‘cozy crime’ genre, involving a bitchy walking group, a miltant leader determined to challenge landowners who block access to their land, and lots of sexual crossed wires. MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books are like that paint: they do what they say on the cover [or, it does what it says on the tin]. Read my reviews of the first three Agatha Raisin mysteries:- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death AR#1 Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet AR#2 Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener AR#3 ‘Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley’ by MC Beaton, AR#4 [UK: Constable] Buy at Amazon And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Private Patient

Published in 2008, The Private Patient turned out to be the fourteenth and last in the Adam Dalgliesh detective series by PD James and there are flashes which make me think James knew that. It wasn’t to be her last novel, though. Death Comes to Pemberley, published in 2011, was to be her last. She died in 2014 at the age of 94. Is The Private Patient her best Dalgliesh novel? For me, no. I think the thirteenth in the series, The Lighthouse, is the best. Other favourites are Devices and Desires and Original Sin. The Private Patient takes a while to get going. The first few chapters tell us about the victim, Rhoda Gradwyn, who we know will die at a private clinic in Dorset. Rhoda has a facial scar which she will have removed in surgery at Cheverell Manor. The intriguing thing for me is that Rhoda tells her surgeon she has no further need for the scar, but this seemed to get buried in the explanation of Rhoda’s background and that of the staff at the Manor. Of course, once the murder happens, the story moves rapidly. This is an old-fashioned English murder story set in a private
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Michelle Adams If You Knew My Sister, debut psychological suspense thriller by Michelle Adams [below], plus one further novel, will be published in the UK by Headline in spring 2017. If You Knew My Sister tells the story of Irini who was given away by her parents when she was three, whilst her volatile sister was kept within the family. Twenty years later, Irini receives a phone call to say that their mother has died. Irini returns home and uncovers the truth which has defined both their lives. Adams is a part-time scientist and has published six sci-fi titles under a pseudonym, including a YA dystopian series. Anneliese Mackintosh Jonathan Cape will publish So Happy It Hurts, the debut novel by short story writer Anneliese Mackintosh in spring 2017. Audio rights were sold to Audible. It tells the story of a year in the life of Ottila McGregor, a particularly significant year for 30-year-old Ottila. Mackintosh is the author of short story collection Any Other Mouth [Freight Books] which won the Green Carnation Prize, and was shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s First Book Award and Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Check out Mackintosh’s work at her website. MJ Arlidge Thriller writer
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Little Boy Blue

This book ends on such a cliffhanger I wanted to start reading the next straightaway. As the end approached I kept thinking ‘it won’t end like that, it can’t end like that’. Hide and Seek, sixth in the DI Helen Grace series by MJ Arlidge, is published in September, so not too long to wait. This is a chilling tale, one that pulls you in and turns the pages. I’d just finished a heavy literary book and needed a contrast, this book certainly provided it. As a television writer, Matthew Arlidge certainly knows how to manage tension and the pacing of his series is managed like television episodes. So perhaps it is not a surprise that Little Boy Blue ends on such a cliffhanger that it could actually be called part one of a two-part series. The murders – yes plural, isn’t it always? – take place in Southampton’s shady world of BDSM, the world of sexual role play, bondage, dominance and submission. The first victim is someone known to Helen Grace and her instant reaction to hide this acquaintance is at the centre of this hurtling story of murder and secrets. What sets this series apart? The character of
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

When a new arrival in the Cotswold village of Carsley brings competition for the attentions of James Lacey, Agatha Raisin is tempted to turn her back on her neighbour and make a reckless decision and return to London. As usual, Agatha’s decision-making is suspect and she gets herself deeper into trouble. But observation of James and her rival in love, Mary Fortune, at the gardening club give her hope that James is not convinced by Mary’s obvious charms although Mary seems universally loved by the rest of the village. Another murder mystery in Carsley gives Agatha, ably aided by James, ample opportunity for nosiness, trespassing, the making of lots of general assumptions, all tempered by common sense and observation of human nature. Sometimes Agatha seems to have a death wish when it comes to relationships, she admits she was never good at making friends, perhaps she is likeable because she is not perfect. On occasions she is rude, grumpy and arrogant. MC Beaton’s creation – this is the third in the Agatha Raisin series – is an enjoyable well-written mystery more akin with Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, than with Miss Marple. If you want an easy read one
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Re-bound dates are never a good idea, and this book starts with retired PR supremo and now amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin feeling spurned by sexy neighbour James Lacey. On the re-bound, she goes out for dinner with the village’s new flirtacious vet, Paul Bladen. It soon turns out that he dislikes cats, although he does seem to have a penchance for middle-aged ladies. When he drops dead, seemingly of an unfortunate accident, Agatha refuses to accept it is not murder. And so the second novel in the prolific Agatha Raisin series sets off at a pace, as Agatha tries to spend time with James Lacey without drooling. They ignore police warnings not to ask questions where it is inappropriate, and after breaking into the bank, and snooping around the dead man’s house, they think they find evidence of wrongdoing. Except it is not quite the wrongdoing that they expected. Another easy-to-read detective romp by MC Beaton, charming to read with your feet up on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Formulaic, yes. But very funny. For my review Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, first in the series, click here. If you like Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, try:- Etta
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin is the sort of neighbour you don’t want to live next to, if you live in a quiet picturesque Cotswold village where nothing ever happens. A newly-retired PR executive, Agatha arrives in the village of Carsley expecting a quiet retirement, a dream-like existence. But once she arrives in her perfect but soulless interior designed house, she finds real life in Carsley is not as she expected. First of all, no-one likes her. Second, no-one seems to give a fig about who she is. Third, she is bored. And so begins the first novel in this addictive series by MC Beaton, featuring busy body Agatha who things just seem to keep happening to. Desperate to make friends, she enters a village baking competition. Except Agatha can’t bake. So she buys a quiche and enters it as her own. So what, you may think. Lots of people probably do that. But when the competition judge dies of poisoning, Agatha is the key suspect. Desperate to clear her name, she turns detective. And so a new crime series is born, featuring an overweight, pompous and self-important woman who always thinks she knows best. Why is this series so good? Because Agatha
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Blood Detective

I raced through this book, a hybrid mixture of crime and genealogy mystery. Author Dan Waddell is also a journalist and genealogist, having written The Genealogy Handbook [below] to accompany the Who Do You Think You Are? television series. So, he knows his stuff and it shows. Usually a crime novel features a lead detective and team, here we have two lead characters: Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster, and genealogist Nigel Barnes. Waddell’s plotting is ingenious. The past really does come back to haunt the present. There is a serial killer in West London who leaves a clue carved into the skin of his victims. This clue prompts DCI Foster to call on the specialist help of researcher Barnes. The murder hunt takes parallel paths: Foster chases living suspects, Barnes searches the archives for the true 1879 story of a serial killer, his victims and their descendants. What is the link? The final chapters are a thrilling race against time. I really enjoyed this. The linking of historical and present-day crime was clever, and the characterization was convincing and not of the stereotypical detective form. An enjoyable mixture of fast-moving crime novel with genealogical research and historical gems about this particular
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: The Lighthouse

Over the years, the character of Commander Adam Dalgliesh has become a real person. Helped by the TV series of PD James detective novels, whenever I read a Dalgliesh book I see the face of actor Roy Marsden. The Lighthouse, the 13th in the series of 14, is perhaps her best. There is no doubt that as the series progressed, the writing acquired depths earning it the label ‘literary fiction’. A lot of the action is in the mind, intellectual detection. The Lighthouse is a long way from Cover Her Face. This is another closed room mystery. The room is an island off the North Cornish coast, a secure, secluded get-away-from-it-all holiday destination for politicians, celebrities and entrepreneurs. Dalgliesh, with his team Kate Miskin and Francis Benton-Smith, become residents on the island with its small number of suspects. Dead, is a famous writer, Nathan Oliver, found hanging by a rope from the railings of the lighthouse. Nothing, from this point, is as it seems. All the island’s guests, residents and staff could have a motive. Oliver was not generally liked. But you can rely on James to unwind a story which brings unexpected depths, difficulties and an unpredictable motive for
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Ezekiel Boone The Hatching, plus two sequels, by US author Ezekiel Boone, will be published in the UK by Gollancz. The Hatching, described as a “fun as hell” thriller, is about a desperate fight against a long-dormant, ancient species that hatches from an unusual egg following a nuclear bomb drop. Comparisons have been made to Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Max Brooks’s World War Z. TV and film rights have been signed by Lionsgate on behalf of Joel Silver, who produced The Matrix and Die Hard. Boone promised the book was “fun as hell and just scary enough to make you afraid to put it down.” Due to be published in July 2016, this [above] is the US cover design. For more about Ezekiel Boone, here’s his website. Jussi Valtonen They Know Not What They Do by Finnish writer Jussi Valtonen [below] will be published in September 2016 in the UK by Oneworld. This is Valtonen’s third novel, but the first to be translated into English. The Know Not What They Do is a “sweeping literary thriller, offering a complex, multi-layered story of family conflict and the search for identity.” The story, set in Finland and the US, opens with an attack on a US neuroscience research lab by animal rights activists. One of
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Murder Room

Written in 2003 this, the 12th in the Adam Dalgliesh crime fiction series by PD James, is preceded by an excerpt from TS Eliot’s poem ‘Burnt Norton’: ‘Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.’ Time is a theme layered throughout this book. Its setting is the Dupayne Museum on Hampstead Heath, so historical time is represented by the exhibits at the museum. Time, recently passed, is examined and re-examined as part of the murder investigation. Time future, is represented by the theme of Adam Dalgliesh’s love for Emma and his courtship of her, a path not easy or untroubled. Like all Dalgliesh novels, murder happens within a tight community. The Dupayne Museum has a small community of owners, staff and visitors. At first glance the victims are not clearly attached to the museum, but this is a James novel: of course they are, we just don’t know how yet. The murder doesn’t happen for quite a while as James takes her time introducing us to the circle of potential victims and criminals, their connection to the museum and their life outside it. There is an air of the
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Isabel Costello Paris Mon Amour, a story of “desire, betrayal and devastating loss” by Isabel Costello, is to be published by Canelo on June 13, 2016. Set in France, Paris Mon Amour tells the story of one woman and two men, of love and loss. Costello [above] said: “Paris Mon Amour was inspired by my frustration with the double standards applied to women and men, especially when it’s about sex or age or both. But from the moment I started to write, it was Alexandra’s story and I’m delighted to be working with such an enthusiastic team at Canelo to share it with readers.” Read more about Isabel Costello at her blog, The Literary Sofa. Eimear McBride The Lesser Bohemians, the second novel by Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride, will be published by Faber in the autumn 2016. Described as another imaginative novel, it is the story of innocence and love of an 18-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to study drama, who meets an older actor. McBride [above] won the Bailey’s Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, originally published by independent Galley Beggar Press. Faber
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Dead Simple

Book review: A plot that twists and turns, a dramatic beginning, a likeable detective in Roy Grace and a cleverly-drawn setting. Brighton is full of potential for a crime writer looking for a setting and it is clear Peter James knows and loves the Sussex seaside city. This is a page-turner with clever ideas and a couple of twists I didn’t see coming. The story opens with a stag night which does not go to plan, a missing groom, a car crash, an absent best man and a frantic bride. As the horrible realities of the situation become clear, with no witnesses and no clues, the police struggle to find the missing groom before the wedding on Saturday. But a few things do not ring true and that, coupled with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace’s controversial use of a medium, bring fresh, if confusing, clues. Peter James has created an authentic police community which feels real from page one, this is not the first in a series where the first novel is about setting the scene and the context. James hits the ground running with a believable detective. Roy Grace is a maverick, and I like him. James spends a day a
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Killing of Polly Carter

This is the first of the ‘Death in Paradise’ series by Robert Thorogood that I have read. It is the second in the series, and I picked it up unaware of the TV series of the same, the sixth series will be aired on the BBC this year. So, I am playing catch-up. My first reaction was that it seemed lightweight, but the story and the characters pulled me in. This definitely fits into the comfort crime category so effectively occupied by MC Beaton. Detective Inspector Richard Poole is a man out of place, an English policeman on a tiny Caribbean island, he is a proper chap who persists in wearing leather shoes and woollen suits even at the height of the summer heat. His team is small and their resources are limited, which makes this more of an old-fashioned tale as they put together clue after clue. The setting is luscious. Supermodel Polly Carter is dead, is it suicide or murder? In the true Agatha Christie fashion, of whom Thorogood is a childhood fan, this is a ‘closed room’ mystery where few people have the opportunity and motive. One by one, each of Polly’s family and friends are suspected,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Silent Twin

Blackwater Farm, an isolated farmhouse outside the town of Haven, is a creepy place: things move, are thrown and rattle, and not just because of the wind. In The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell, the new owners of the farm, a young couple with identical twin daughters, have plans to convert the place. But all is not well. When nine-year old Abigail goes missing, the cracks become ravines. Detective Constable Jennifer Knight is a policewoman, a Family Liaison Officer with an unusual skill. This is the third book in the Knight series by Caroline Mitchell and the first I have read, so it was a while before I realized she is a psychic. Jennifer is not an unreliable narrator as such, but her ‘take’ on things for me at times conflicted with what I expected from a police investigation. Is she a psychic first or a police officer? Everyone has something to hide and at one point I suspected each member of the family and their inner circle as the murderer. The story is told from three main viewpoints – Joanna, the young mother; Jennifer, who seems rather mysterious; and diary entries by an unknown person – and so starts
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Death in Holy Orders

A sandy cliff collapses, a theology student dies and his father suspects foul play. And so Adam Dalgliesh returns to St Anselm’s, the theological college which he visited as a boy. And so this murder mystery by PD James is cut through with Dalgiesh’s memories. “When secrets are unspoken and unwritten they are lodged safely in the mind, but writing them down seems to let them loose and give them the power to spread like pollen on the air and enter into other minds.” So writes college housekeeper Margaret Munroe in her diary. She found Ronald’s body and was advised by Father Martin, a priest at St Anselm’s, to write about her experience as a way of coming to terms with what happened. Does she know a secret and write it in her diary? Ronald’s death is declared accidental, a second staff member dies naturally. But then there is a third death and Dalgliesh is put in charge of the case. His familiar team of Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant are accepted uneasily into this closed community which is secretly worried the building houses a murderer, but outwardly tries to behave as normal. Included in the mix of clergy, teachers
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Death in the Dales

This was a book picked at random purely because of the beautiful cover design and the title. Frances Brody is a new author for me, I had never heard of her Kate Shackleton series. Inadvertently, I chose her latest, A Death in the Dales, the seventh Shackleton book. Now I plan to go back to the beginning. I didn’t struggle for lack of backstory, so I don’t think this is a series which must be read in order. It is 1926, Leeds, and Kate Shackleton’s niece is recovering from diptheria. Aunt and niece arrive in the Yorkshire Dales village of Langcliffe in the middle of the May Day celebrations, both in need of a holiday. There they are greeted by two men – the local doctor who has offered the loan of his recently deceased Aunt Freda’s house to Kate, and an elderly local man who presses into Kate’s hands a mysterious box. And so starts the unravelling of a murder, 10 years previously, of which Freda was a witness. Freda believed the wrong man was convicted and sentenced to death. There is a lot going on in this story: the wrongly convicted murderer, the disappearance of a young farm
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Certain Justice

It is a while since I’ve read any PD James, why did I leave it so long? Reading an Adam Dalgliesh story is like slipping into a favourite pair of old jeans. It’s that feeling you get with an assured author: you are in safe hands. It is mutual trust. The author trusts the reader to make connections and ‘get’ references without having to spell everything out, the reader trusts the author to deliver a satisfying story without distractions of blind alleys. This applies, especially I think, to crime fiction. I have read A Certain Justice before, many years ago, my paperback is old. I remembered the character of Venetia Aldridge, the murder victim, and of course know detective Adam Dalgliesh, but I had forgotten the identity of the killer. One of the pleasures of a PD James novel for me is the cultural background and the depth of knowledge she demonstrates. Dalgliesh is a poet, he is fond of architecture, of music, of the countryside. The murder of Venetia Aldridge, a barrister, takes place in her Chambers, and so as the reader I became involved in the world of law, of trial by jury, of guilty v not guilty,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Original Sin

I am never disappointed when I pick up an Adam Dalgliesh mystery, I know what I will get with PD James: excellent plotting, thoughtful characterization, an impossible maze of clues, patient description and scene setting, and deep literary references. Original Sin delivers, and it also gives life to London and the River Thames. This is the ninth outing for James’ poet detective, Commander Dalgliesh, the taciturn, thoughtful, policeman with the stare which is as hard-as-nails. His colleagues respect him but cannot say they either know or like him. He is mysterious, and thereby hangs the fascination he holds for readers. The first death at Peverell Press, a traditional publishing house located in a Venetian-style house beside the Thames, is a suicide, the body found by a new employee. The same employee has the misfortune to find another dead body later in the book. There are a lot of dead bodies at Peverell Press, and there is also a prankster. Proofs wrongly amended, illustrations disappear, appointments cancelled. When the managing director, Gerard Etienne, is found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, upstairs in the little archive room, the death is considered suspicious enough to call in the police. This is a complicated
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Truth Will Out

A great beginning, it made me want to check that the loft space of our house is sealed and inaccessible from outside. In The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaac, the lives of two young women are never the same again after a holiday to Italy. The truth of their trip dawns on them on their way home, and the days after their return are fraught. One is attacked, the other flees. Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery is on the case, hindered by the appearance of a central police team led by her ex-lover [odd that so many crime novelists feel the need to add a romance theme, is this because so many crime novels are read by women?]. So, a good combination of tension: will the baddies catch up with Eva, will the attacker strike again, and how will Helen cope with seeing her ex? A competent crime thriller with a female detective who, refreshingly, is not an alcoholic, on the verge of a nervous breakdown or being bullied by male officers. A few plot weaknesses aside – I never fully bought-into Eva’s flight and lack of concern about Naomi – this was a good tale though perhaps it
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Categories: Book Love.