Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 books, #61-65

Spider light, by Sarah Rayne [audiobook]. Read by Diana Bishop. [S.l].: Oakhill, 2005.

Like the previous book by this author, there are layers to this thriller.... It starts with Antonia Weston, who has come to the quiet town of Amberwood after a very public tragedy; Antonia's interest in local history turns out to precipitate a tragedy; and the unveiling of secrets inside a place.  This is another stunning, multidimensional thriller, and is definitely worth a read.

Shut your eyes tight, by John Verdon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: AudioGO,  [n.d.]

Dave Gurney gets a call from a former colleague; and can't ignore it. A bride's been killed in the middle of her wedding reception - the murderer's identity seems to be straightforward, but nobody can find him. The plot is fascinating. I have to admit that I find Gurney's wife entirely irritating throughout these books...

Blood games, by Faye Kellerman. London: HarperCollins, 2011.

This book was called Gun games in the US; which I found interesting. Peter and Rina Decker's foster son Gabe Whitman finds a girlfriend; sadly, the girlfriend's family would find non-Jewish, non-Persian Gabe unacceptable, so their meetings are clandestine. Meanwhile, Decker is investigating the murder of other teenagers.  Plots intertwine very well, and this is probably the best in this series for a while.

Breaking point, by CJ Box. London: Head of Zeus, 2013.

The title makes explicit the theme of so many of CJ Box's thrillers - how far can you push an ordinary person before violence ensues?  Of course, if you're in Wyoming with infinite access to weapons, it all becomes more deadly.  A couple is threatened with extraordinary sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency, and it all goes horribly wrong.  This is, as ever, tightly plotted and character-heavy; and I was somewhat horrified to learn in the afternote that the most unbelievable elements of the plot actually happened.

Two evils, by PJ Tracy. London: Penguin, 2013.

Four Native American girls are kidnapped, and one is found in a car park with her throat cut. Two young immigrants from Sierra Leone are gunned down. Gino and Magozzi investigate, but as the victims escalate and everything becomes more incomprehensible, Monkeewrench are called in to protect their own. This is well up to the standard of the previous books; plot-wise, it runs alongside so many post-9/11 terrorist thrillers, but then we also have the characters we know...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

2014 books, #56-60

Written in blood: the remarkable caseboook of one of Britain's top forensic scientists, by Mike Silverman with Tony Thompson. London: Bantam, 2014.

Mike Silverman worked for the Home Office's forensic science service from the 1970s until the late 1990s, and then in various high-level advisory posts.  This is a fascinating account both of the development of forensic science, particularly blood-pattern and DNA analysis, and of the politics surrounding government departments during the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s.  Silverman goes into individual illustrative cases, and there's a lot of gentle humour at his own expense, but also looks as the factors which led to the closing of the last government forensic laboratories in 2010. An extremely interesting and readable book.

The skin collector, by Jeffery Deaver. London: Hodder, 2014.

A young woman is killed in a New York basement by having been tattooed with an obscure poison - the tattoo "the second" only tells Lincoln Rhyme that there will be more deaths to come.  There are, as ever, a huge range of twists and turns in this story. Possibly too many; this is the first time I've ever felt that Deaver might be becoming almost a parody of himself.  It's still highly enjoyable though, with some new bits and bobs for people like me who've become very fond of these characters...

A room swept white, by Sophie Hannah [audiobook]. Read by Julia Barrie. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

Fliss Benson gets into work one morning to find her boss has resigned and bequeathed her his documentary film about women who have been exonerated of killing their babies.  It's already been a bad day because Fliss has received an anonymous card containing sixteen numbers in a grid pattern, none of which mean anything to her.  Then one of the subjects of the documentary, Helen Yardley, is found dead at her home, with a card with sixteen numbers in a grid pattern in her pocket...  Very well-plotted and with a surprising ending, at least to me; and obviously based on real events.

The devil's cave, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2012.

An Inspector Bruno novel.  A woman is found floating in a boat on the local river, surrounded by black candles and other black magic symbols; later the local cave system is found to have been vandalised in the same way. Bruno is also juggling a domestic abuse case and a local development proposal which seems just too good to be true; and has a ridiculously cute Basset hound puppy to train.  Well up to the standards of this series; Walker loves the quaintness of Périgord but is also aware of the tensions and flaws inherent in modern French life.

Gironimo! riding the very terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

In French revolutions, Tim Moore covered (most of) the route of the 2000 Tour de France a few weeks ahead of the riders.  This time, and 12 years later, he decides to cover the route of the Giro d'Italia, 1914 edition, as a reaction to the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Not content with riding the 3,200km of the route, he decides to do it on a 1914 bicycle and in the traditional merino cycling garb of the pre-WWI cyclist.  This is hilarious and moving by turns, and tells you a lot about both the world of a hundred years ago and life in Italy today. Highly recommended whether you like cycling or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014 books, #51-55

The death chamber, by Sarah Rayne [audiobook]. Read by Diana Bishop. Bath: Oakhill, 2008.

Georgina Grey has inherited her great-grandfather's cottage, and with it, his papers. He was the doctor to Calvary Gaol, and when Georgina bumps into a pair of documentary-makers in the local pub she is astonished to find that they are doing research into psychic phenomena in the now-abandoned prison buildings.  As it turns out, though, the threat to Georgina and researcher Jude (a former foreign correspondent blinded in a war zone) is not so much psychic as very real; someone is extremely unhappy about the past being dug up and is prepared to act on it.

Wolf, by Mo Hayder. London: Bantam, 2014.

This is a very scary book; there's real violence (and Hayder goes for gory), but there's also implied and threatened violence which is even more frightening.  Oliver, Matilda and Lucia Anchor-Ferrers arrive at their holiday cottage to find a scene which is horribly reminiscent of a crime which happened to the family a decade before. The perpetrator of that crime is still behind bars, though... isn't he?  Then the police arrive to warn the family; and it all gets worse from there...  Meanwhile, Jack Caffery is trying to find the secret of his long-lost brother's death, and the owner of a lost dog.  This twists and turns all over the place towards the end; Hayder has created a hall of distorting mirrors.  Excellent, but gruesome.

Her brilliant career: ten extraordinary women of the Fifties, by Rachel Cooke. London: Virago, 2013.

This was a book-group book, not one I'd normally have picked up, but I'm glad I did.  Some of the figures in this book are very well-known even today - Patience Gray the cook, for instance, and Rose Heilbron QC who was active well into the 90s; but some like Sheila van Damm, rally-driver and manager of the Windmill Theatre, have vanished from collective memory.  Some of the women were remarkable for their lifestyles (van Damm was in a relationship with both Nancy Spain and magazine editor Joan Werner Laurie), some for their choice of profession; all are remarkable for their unconventionality in the times.  Definitely worth a read.

Without fail, by Lee Child. London: Bantam, 2002.

A Jack Reacher novel.  Reacher is contacted by his brother Joe's former girlfriend Emily Froelich; she's now head of Vice-President-Elect Armstrong's security detail, and wants Reacher to try fnding the holes in her plan to protect Armstrong.  Reacher and former colleague Frances Neagley take the part of would-be assassins and advise Froelich; at which point it becomes clear that the threat to Armstrong is more than theoretical. Even by Lee Child's high standards, this is a good one; and after a couple of the books above (notably The death chamber) I realised again that one of the reasons I like Reacher is that he works totally straightforwardly with women as well as with men; I hadn't even realised that was what had irked me about some of the books I'd read recently!

Do not pass go: from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair, by Tim Moore. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2002.

Tim Moore has always been obsessed with Monopoly, and has always lived in London. One of the things he's always been puzzled by is the arbitrariness of the choice of stopping-points on the board - why Vine Street? Why the Angel Islington? What do the groups of places have in common?  Moore goes to investigate, in the random order of throwing dice to start, and having others throw dice when he gets to his destination.  This is a lovely, funny ramble around parts of London you wouldn't necessarily visit as a tourist, and the chapter on "the greens" (Bond, Regent and Oxford Streets) is made more hilarious by the confession that "the prospect of an extended retail quest for goods you can't plug in or uncork fills my limbs with gravel".  There are a lot of interesting, well-researched facts in here as well, which slip into your head while you're laughing....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2014 books, #46-50

And now the shipping forecast: a tide of history around our shores, by Peter Jefferson. Cambridge: UIT Cambridge, 2011.

This is a whimsical little book.  Occasionally a little too much so; but those moments are fewish and far between.  Peter Jefferson read the shipping forecast from 1969 until recently, and now reads the quotes on Quote, Unquote (I tried not to hold that particular thing against him when reading this book).  There's a lot of factual stuff on the construction and interpretation of the forecast, such as what the word then means with reference to types of weather, and some reminiscences of the different technologies used over four decades to get the forecast across. There's some general stuff about the BBC, and then a brisk tour around the shipping forecast areas.  If you're a Radio 4 nut, and don't mind the occasional awful pun, it's an entertaining read.

The crowded grave, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2011.

Life's pretty complicated for Bruno Courrèges at the moment. A body's been found by an archaeological dig, which would be fine if it weren't wearing a Swatch; animal rights activists are letting out ducks being raised for fois gras; a new magistrate is proving problematic; and there's a Franco-Spanish ministerial summit happening on Bruno's patch which may be threatened by Basque terrorists. On top of that, he still doesn't know where he is in his relationship with Pamela, and ex-lover Isabelle has arrived to help with the summit.  This is a wonderful series of books - Walker lives in la France profonde for six months of the year and it shows.  International and local politics are skilfully dealt with, and you could definitely cook from some of the descriptions of wonderful meals.

Farewell performance, by Tessa Barclay [audiobook]. Read by James Bryce. Whitley Bay: Isis, 2001.

The first of the Gregory Crowne books. Crowne is promoting an orchestra in the Edinburgh Festival when the instruments of several cellists, including a Stradivarius, are apparently stolen. Shortly afterwards, an outbreak of food poisoning at the hotel seems to be more than a coincidence.  Crowne ends up investigating along with the local police.  This rattles along nicely, but I find Crowne a bit irritating, particularly with regard to what might be thought of as old-fashioned gallantry or might, in my case, be thought of as patronising behaviour to women...  The reading is good enough, apart from the pronunciation of Guarnieri as Garnery - as this particular instrument-maker turns up a few dozen times in the book, it becomes a bit grating.

The funeral owl, by Jim Kelly [audiobook]. Read by Ray Sawyer. Oxford: Isis, 2014.

Philip Dryden's dilemma in this week's Crow isn't how to fill the pages of his Ely newspaper; it's what to leave out.  The body of a Chinese man is found crucified in a churchyard; a "Fen Blow" removes topsoil from a huge area; and Humph's daughter disappears (while this isn't news, it does put a crimp in Dryden's travel plans while his usual chauffeur is engaged on family business). Is a Chinese gang operating in King's Lynn? What's the significance of drowned tramps being found in a ditch? And will Dryden's little boy ever be bothered to start walking?  As ever, this is as much about the characters as it is about the plots, and shows the Fens in all their strange beauty.

Hangman, by Faye Kellerman. London: Harper, 2011.

I was delighted to find that Kellerman had produced not one but two Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus books while I wasn't watching - this is always difficult to track because she's one of those increasingly rare authors producing books with different titles on different sides of the Atlantic, so you can never really work out whether you're likely to have read the book before under another name...   This one features a couple of recurring characters, doctor Terry McLaughlin and her hit-man husband Chris Donatti; but mostly also their 14-year-old son Gabe, a messed-up musical prodigy who is foisted on the Deckers when both his parents disappear.  Gabe's an interesting character; and it's good to see the other kids, including little Hannah, in adulthood or their late teens. Decker's approaching 60 at this point, but not really slowing down on the homicide front; while looking for Terry, he's also trying to solve a series of stranglings.  I enjoyed this one a lot; but you sort of need to go back to the beginning of the series to get the most out of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 books, #41-45

The teleportation accident, by Ned Beauman. London: Sceptre, 2012.

Egon Loeser, an experimental set designer in early 1930s Berlin, is trying to construct a replica of a 17th-century "teleportation device" when he meets Adele Hitler (no relation), falls in love and follows her first to Paris, then to Los Angeles. This is a novel which starts off (as signalled) as Literary Realism, but passes through genres including farce, hardboiled detection, time travel, playscript and science fiction before crashing to a conclusion.  It's a very enjoyable read after the first few pages; but I'm not really sure what I got out of it in the end!  While you'd think that given the time and place there'd a more political awareness, Loeser is completely politically disengaged throughout the period.  I may well go back and read Beauman's first novel, Boxer, beetle, though.

Cross and burn, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2013.

The eighth of the Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series from McDermid, and follows on almost a year after the traumatic events of The Retribution. Carol and Tony are still estranged and trying to rebuild their lives in their different, dysfunctional ways, when two women are abducted, tortured and murdered - the characteristic they have in common is that they both look like Carol Jordan. Paula McIntyre asks for advice from Tony, but then DNA evidence is found which draws McIntyre's new boss DI Fielding to an almost impossible conclusion, and leads Paula to hunt down Carol and enlist her help.  This is well up to the usual standard, and Reichlin's reading is excellent as ever.

Think of a number, by John Verdon. London: Penguin, 2010.

Dave Gurney, a retired NYPD homicide detective, is contacted by an old college acquaintance about some very odd letters in verse form he's been receiving. It's a puzzle, and Dave tries to encourage his friend to go to the police; then the friend is killed in circumstances where there's a mass of evidence, none of it pointing anywhere.  Meanwhile, Dave's wife Madeleine is more than a little annoyed at his being sucked back into homicide investigation.  This is extremely tightly plotted and a real page-turner of a first novel; the author is a retired advertising executive who lives in the Catskills near Gurney's fictional home.  If you like early P J Tracy, this is one for you.

French revolutions, by Tim Moore [audiobook]. Read by Andrew Wincott. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2009.

Tim Moore's gradually growing fascination with the Tour de France, fuelled by early daily TV coverage of the event, reached its apotheosis in 2000, when at the age of 35 he decided to cycle the entire course ahead of that year's riders. Just finding out details of the route in advance was a challenge at that stage (how things like satnav and smartphones have changed things), quite apart from the physical challenges of riding over 3,000 kilometres on roads stacked with old men on butchers' bikes and Norbert Dentressangle pantechnicons.  This is an extremely funny account, and Moore is honest about the combination of hubris, chicanery, sheer agonising slog and unpleasant physical side-effects involved in getting round an approximation of the course, while giving some snippets of the history of the Tour.  Wincott reads very well (his French pronunciation of Ventoux and Troyes, and his insistence on pronouncing "derailleur" with a French accent aside) and this is a funny, engaging read.

The autobiography of Jack the Ripper, by James Carnac [audiobook]. Read by Mark Meadows and Christian Rodska. Bath: Random House/AudioGO: 2012.

The weirdest thing about this account of Jack the Ripper's exploits is that it came from the estate of the man who invented Larry the Lamb and Toytown.  Having looked it up, this is a genuine mystery - is this a work of fiction, or could it be the truth?  The jury's still out among Ripper theorists.  Whatever it is, it's immensely interesting and entertaining, and gives all sorts of details of life in the East End as well as new ideas about motivation.  Christian Rodska is the main reader as the voice of Jack/James Carnac, with Mark Meadows as the "framing" narrator talking about the provenance of the narrative.  Rodska is, as usual, utterly compelling as a reader.  This is not one for someone who's blood-phobic; but equally, there are no gratuitous blow-by-blow accounts of the killings.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

2014 books, #36-40

Howard's End is on the landing: a year of reading from home, by Susan Hill. London: Profile, 2009.

Susan Hill went searching for a book on her shelves, and discovered a treasure trove of unread books, or books she wanted to re-read. She decided to spend a year reading only things she found on her own shelves, and this book is the result.  There are short essays on different authors, and also on themes (school stories, detective fiction etc.); all very readable and an introduction to some new-to-me authors which have now been added to my reading list. There's also a particularly moving chapter on Charles Causley.  Hill has worked in the literary world since her first novel was published at the age of 18, and so has met and liked many of these authors, so personal anecdotes also feature. There are also some surprising dislikes, including an antipathy to Jane Austen, which gives this book an extra interest.

Jar city, by Arnaldur Indridason [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Oxford: Isis, 2014. (Originally published in 2004.)

A man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat. There are no clues apart from a cryptic note left on the body, and a photo of a young girl's grave. Erlendur discovers the man was accused of a terrible crime 40 years before, but never convicted. Meanwhile Erlendur's daughter has come home after some time away living a wild life. Parents and children feature heavily in this book, and the "jar city" of the title reflects a quite recent UK scandal.  Reichlin does his usual workmanlike job on the reading here, but somehow the story never really caught fire for me.

To die for, by Tessa Barclay [audiobook]. Read by Michael Tudor Barnes. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2007.

The unlikely team of a (deposed) Crown Prince of fictional Hirtenstein and a London fashion designer (Greg and Liz) investigates a murder in the rolling stacks of the Museum of Music Heritage; the victim is a friend of Greg's and companion to an elderly Chopin fanatic, who in turn believes she is in possession of a photocopy of an original manuscript.  The search takes Greg and Liz to Paris, Scotland and Dover in search of the murderer.  This is what you'd call a "cozy" if you were American, I think; it's quite gentle, in places over-explained (yes, we've got it, she's a fashion designer so she likes clothes) and you can see things coming a long way off, but I'll look out for other books in the series because it buzzes along nicely. And Michael Tudor Barnes is an excellent reader and does all the accents.

The outcast dead, by Elly Griffiths. London: Quercus, 2014.

Digging at the foot of Norwich Castle, Ruth Galloway unearths Victorian bones; a woman with a hook for a hand who may be the notorious murderer Jemima Green, hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children in her care. Meanwhile DI Harry Nelson is investigating the deaths of three other infants in the same family; he's convinced the mother is responsible although others on his team think otherwise. The cases intertwine - King's Lynn and its network of mothers and babysitters is only so big - and while Ruth learns about the intricacies of TV archaeology, she's also drawn in to Nelson's case.  This is well up to the usual standard of these books; I'm only sad that I read these way too fast.  And finally, the mystery of the King's Lynn Campbells factory tower is solved - I've kept thinking I've just looked out of the window at the wrong time, when it turns out the tower was demolished in 2012...

Let the devil sleep, by John Verdon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: Chivers/AudioGO, [n.d.]

This is the third one in this series, and contains major plot spoilers for the second one; but a new-to-me author so I didn't realise this.  I'll be going back and reading the others, anyway.  This has some of the elements of the Peter Decker or Dave Robicheau books, but with an element of the supernatural more reminiscent of Greg Iles or some of Harlen Coben's standalones. An old journalist acquaintance of retired cop Dave Gurney gets in touch: her daughter is producing a documentary on a 10-year-old series of murders by the "Good Shepherd", a murderer who was never caught, and she asks Gurney to keep an eye on her daughter. Gurney becomes fascinated by the original series of murders, and as the documentary series starts appearing, on the unintended consequences it unleashes.  This is very, very well-written, and I was very happy to spot the first in the series lurking in my "unread" pile, so will be picking that up soon!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

2014 books, #31-35, plus an extra

This boy: a memoir of a childhood, by Alan Johnson. London: Bantam, 2013.

This could so very easily be a misery memoir. Alan Johnson describes growing up in a slum with his violent, feckless father, his hardworking but chronically ill mother and his quite remarkable sister, and some of the incidents seem to come from a previous century, not the era of JFK and the Beatles. Because Johnson manages to step back slightly (describing his parents by their first names and supplementing his memory with those of family and friends), he can look slightly more dispassionately at events, but every now and then emotion does break through and it's more powerful for that.  It's also a portrait of two strong, tenacious women, particularly his sister Linda who seems to have taken charge of the family from the age of 9 or 10. Compassion also comes over as a strong element in the book - Johnson is clear that he was protected from many of the worst things his family was experiencing by being the younger one, but he was obviously aware of, and outraged by, some of the racism experienced by a schoolfriend, and aware that at the time, however terrible things were at home, his friend had it worse.

This is a read-at-a-sitting sort of book; and you're left wondering how this junior postman (who at the end of the book has just married at 18 and become a father to his wife's small daughter) ended up in some of the top Cabinet posts in the 1990s and 2000s.  I went to see Johnson discussing the book (very engagingly) at the Cambridge Literary Festival this morning, and happily there's a second volume in the works covering that period (due out in September, we're told...)

The scent of death, by Andrew Taylor. London: Harper, 2013.

Set during the American War of Independence. I'm currently listening to a podcast series on this, so it was a nice coincidence.  Edward Savill, a civil servant, has been sent to New York from London to assess the claims of loyalists whose land has been seized and property destroyed during the war; he lodges with a former judge, his wife and their daughter whose husband has disappeared in the war. Taylor handles a complex plot with his usual skill, and really gives us a flavour of the period; and there are some truly terrifying moments in this.

The President's hat, by Antoine Laurain. London: Gallic Books, 2013.

This is a lovely whimsical little book. Daniel Mercier, treating himself to a meal at a posh Parisian restaurant, finds himself sitting on the next table to François Mitterand; when Mitterand leaves, Daniel finds the President's hat on the banquette next to him.  When he puts on the hat, things start to change in his life... This is set in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I knew Paris best, and some of the details of life (Minitel, Jack Lang as Culture minister, les Grands Projets) brought many others flooding back.

Echo burning, by Lee Child. London: Bantam, 2001.

Jack Reacher wakes up to discover that the guy from last night's bar fight is a police officer; escaping from town, he's picked up by a beautiful woman.  What seemed to be a lucky break turns out to be the beginning of entrapment in another dangerous web; the woman tells him her husband's in jail, and when he comes out he's going to kill her.  I usually enjoy books from this series, but this one was genuinely difficult to put down - to the extent that I missed my Tube stop twice while reading it...

Never tell, by Alafair Burke [audiobook]. Read by Jennifer Woodward. Bath: Oakhill/Harper, [n.d.].

A 17-year-old girl is found in the bathtub of her family's Upper East Side apartment, apparently having slashed her wrists; there's a note, and the police initially write it off as suicide despite the insistence of the girl's parents. Meanwhile, the mother of one of the girl's friends is being harassed about comments she has made on her well-known blog.  The plot twists and turns, but somehow never really lights up, and despite the reading being quite decent, it failed to hold my attention; I found myself skipping back a couple of tracks several times because I'd missed some detail of the plot.

And then the extra:

The October list, by Jeffrey Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Todd Boyce. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2013.

I don't normally review books/audiobooks I haven't finished; it seems unfair to the author.  In this case though, I think readers who've been with this blog for any length of time know that I bloody love Jeffrey Deaver, but I couldn't deal with this one at all and want to warn people like me not to wait for months for (or pay to download) an audiobook they might not like! The premise is that each chapter is the prequel of the one before.  I listened to one of the 6 disks and abandoned, I'm afraid; just not a way of reading I can get my head round.  I'm not one of those people who likes to turn to the last page to find out whodunnit, and I like to read series in order; it just messed with my head way too much.  I'm sure that if you do get on with that way of reading, this will be as excellent as many of Deaver's books... just warning those who read like I do.