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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 books, #26-30

One for the books, by Joe Queenan. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Joe Queenan is an inveterate reader, and has quite definite opinions on reading, and on the finite length of the rest of his life, and on what he's decided he no longer has time to read.  Books give his life structure, memory and colour.  This is a lovely book about the meaning of reading, particularly of reading print books (there's a refrain of You couldn't do that with a Kindle).  While I can disagree with him quite passionately on his love for Proust and his disdain for To kill a mockingbird, I love his endeavour here.  And as anyone who remembers his broadcasts on popular culture will know, the guy is seriously funny so even while you're disagreeing with him, you're smiling at his invective.

Entry Island, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2014.

This is the best book I've read this year so far.  Sime (pronounced Sheem) is brought in as the only English-as-a-first-language detective investigating the murder of a man on a remote island in Québec province. All evidence points to the wife as the murderer, but Sime is thrown off-balance by the strong belief that he has met the woman before.  Sime's job is complicated further by his soon-to-be-ex-wife also being present on the investigating team, and by his insomnia punctuated by dreams derived from his great-great-grandfather's diary, also from a remote island but this time in the Hebrides.  The stories intertwine and disorient the reader to the extent that sometimes we, like Sime, forget which time and place we're in. May does an amazing job here and it's a spellbinding read.

Danubia, by Simon Winder. London: Picador, 2013.

I'm not sure how much more knowledge of the Habsburgs I've managed to absorb in this really engaging canter through their history, but I definitely enjoyed the ride.  Winder is an enthusiast for all things Central and Eastern European, and uses visits to present-day places to show the history, and often the multiple renamings, of towns and regions.  He also picks up on quirks - the Habsburg jaw, the presence of improbable museums and so on - as repeating motifs.  I think what I most like about this book is that he's just wandering the areas (mostly on public transport) sort of bumping into his subjects everywhere, while illustrating quite powerfully the history of conflict, nationalism, rootlessness, fecklessness, monomania and inbreeding which characteristed the dynasty.  And oh, those poor, poor women, sacrificed on the altar of male primogeniture and slaughtered like cattle through childbirth.  And despite this last sentence, this is a profoundly humorous, humane book.

The child who, by Simon Lelic. London: Picador, 2012.

Twelve-year-old Daniel Blake has killed his schoolmate Felicity Forbes in Exeter.  This is stated very near the beginning of the book, and this isn't really a detective story; it's more an exploration of the effect of a brutal crime on the families involved, including the families of the legal and law enforcement professionals brought into a case. Leo Curtice, a local solicitor, is brought in to represent Daniel, and is unprepared for the public fury the case has unleashed and its effect on his family. It's very difficult to put this book down; the sense of one crime rotting its way through families and relationships is very powerful, and the ending is definitely worth waiting for.

We are here, by Michael Marshall [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding.  Oxford: Isis, 2013.

Really not sure what to make of this. (I've had this problem with Michael Marshall's books before).  The premise is instantly grabbing and somewhat creepy - we're introduced to a number of people who are having strange and inexplicable moments in their lives; a woman whose book group companion feels as if she's being followed but can see nothing; a man who encounters strangers in Union Park in New York who seems to be fading in and out...  It's all really engaging, and you keep listening; but I don't really feel at the end as if I worked out what was going on.  This is one listened to in bits over several weeks, though, so it may be my attention span, rather than the writer's ability, which is at fault.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grand day out: Saltaire

So, I went on PodRetreat in February, and I have photos; but striking while the iron is still reasonably luke-warm, this was last Friday's slightly mad day trip.

Just after Christmas, East Coast had a sale; a ridiculously good sale. Wasn't able to pin family down to dates within the timescale, and there weren't many trains on a Sunday in the offer, so I thought "Wonder how far I can go for £5 each way?" and the answer was York or Leeds. I love York; but I love Leeds more, and all I've done there for the last many years is change train, occasionally popping out of the station for a quick meal between journeys.

I set off at 5:35am from the village (first train out; only the second time I've done that), so by 9:30 I'd got to Leeds, bought my onward ticket, and wandered out to City Square.


As you can see, it's a bit wet; but the forecast for the rest of the day was good.  And there was a happy sight on the way out of the station; Leeds is seriously cheerful about the Grand Départ  in July.


(This year, I'm abandoning the French pronunciation of Grand and doing it in a Yorkshire voice in my head...)

Normally, I'm really organised on a visit; this time, other than the tiny map in the Kindle version of the Rough Guide and a quick look-up of bus routes, I was entirely unprepared for the trip after what had felt like an extraordinarily long week.  I also have absolutely no sense of direction, which is always interesting in a strange city, even one I visited briefly last year.  But I had a destination in prospect, and Leeds has lots of maps around at road junctions, so I found the bus stop, and the no. 1 bus; and I reached my destination about 2 minutes before it was due to open. Looked promising!


The extremely nice Baa Ram Ewe (Headingley branch); just opposite a big shopping centre, but based in a converted cottage; about 15 minutes from the city centre by bus.  The person in the shop was American, and lovely, and I realised afterwards we hadn't exchanged names (sorry, lovely yarn-shop lady!); conversation ranged from London commuting to Yarndale to the beautiful yarns they had from West Yorkshire Spinners.


 One of my aims was to fondle some of their own Titus yarn, as I hadn't managed to get anywhere near their booth at Yarndale, particularly given my final destination. A skein of duck-eggy-green, very springlike (Bramley Baths), has accompanied me home, along with a coordinating Crazy Zauberball; once the current knitting project is done that'll be the next thing on the needles! (Also picked up some gift yarn and a couple of skeins of discounted Colinette.)


All yarned-up, I got the bus back into Leeds and a train out to Saltaire.  I've been through Saltaire so many times on the way to Keighley for the SkipNorth holiday, and every time I've promised myself that next time... I'd stop.  But I've always had luggage with me, and luggage and cobbled hills don't really match. This time, I could have a ramble round.  It had turned into a perfect spring day by the time I got there...




First destination: Salt's Mill.  Built in 1853 by Titus Salt for textile production, and the heart of the planned community which surrounds it.


Textile production ended in the 1980s, and the mill was bought by Jonathan Silver. Since then, it's been converted into a series of galleries, shops and restaurants, and contains a huge collection of works by local boy David Hockney.  This is the ground floor gallery



There were some beautiful pots.  Some William de Morgan, some Islamic, some local.


These ones are Burmantofts - I hadn't heard of them before, but they're local, and from a company much better known for tiles and architectural features.  Fabulous things.


View from the ladies' loo window...


After a lovely smoked chicken salad at Salt's Diner, and a poke around the shops (think I've managed to stock up on cards and small gifts for the next six months or so!), I thought I'd do the walk round the village suggested in the official guidebook.


Other than Albert Street and Victoria Street, all  the others are named after members of Titus Salt's family.


Some of these names work better in a modern context than others.


Here are some of the more humble houses



(following the modern rule that Where There Shall Be Houses, There Shall Be Wheeliebins. I'm hoping it's bin day, rather than that being the permanent situation - we used to play in the lane like that behind our house when we were kids).

Here are some of the rather posher ones, belonging to overseers.


Signs of spring


There are also almshouses



and a concert hall (the Victoria Hall, of course)


and, right next to the station, a pub.  As you can see from the name, not in the original town plan.  Salt doesn't appear to have been anti-alcohol - the mill-owned shops in the village would do off-sales - but preferred to build educational public spaces.


After a restorative pint, I went back to Leeds in mid-afternoon, and had a wander round the city centre. Missed the covered market (due to lack of sense of direction), but found the Victoria Quarter and its rather spectacular stained-glass roofs




and one of my favourite shops - stand aside, Harvey Nicks, this town has a Clas Ohlson!  Realise that not everyone's idea of holiday shopping is buying locks, hacksaws and cleaning materials; I love Clas Ohlson but don't get to Norwich very often...


Looking for somewhere to eat on the way back to the station, I again got lost, but heading downhill always seems to be a good move.  I ended up in a Pizza Express (lack of research again!), but it was right next to St Paul's House, a spectacular Hispano-Moorish construction; former cloth-cutting mill which now seems to be full of lawyers.



I was shattered on the train home and the next day, but it was completely worth it - hills, sunshine, Yorkshire and its sense of solid Victoriana, yarn...  Lovely day.

2014 books, #21-25

Lost river, by Stephen Booth. London: Harper, 2011.

On May Bank Holiday afternoon, Ben Cooper pulls a dead child from a river; the incident is immediately traumatic, but there seems to be something more than accidental death involved and Cooper is led to investigate the girl's family. Meanwhile, Diana Fry is reliving trauma of her own - new DNA evidence has been found by West Midlands police, and the case is Diane's own rape, the event which sent her to Derbyshire in the first place.  This is a slightly disjointed book because of the two settings, and to me there are some slightly strained (and possibly stereotypical) elements - Fry's taking the law into her own hands to the extent she does doesn't seem in character; but the coming-together of the two very disparate plots into similar themes (won't say more, spoilers!) is so skilfully done that Booth's allowed the benefit of the doubt here!

Vengeance [Mystery Writers of America presents...]. Edited by Lee Child. London: Corvus, 2012. [Kindle edition.]

A volume of short stories around the theme of vengeance.  As ever with these anthologies, it's a mixed bag; but some of these stories are extraordinarily good.  Unfortunately, as I never seem to get around to blogging books from the Kindle, I can't really remember which were which!  There are some big names here, as you'd expect from a book with Child's pulling power - Child himself, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and Karin Slaughter, but also some newer authors like Dreda Say Mitchell and Alafair Burke.  (And as far as I remember, it was a very good cheap offer on Kindle at the time!)

A fatal thaw, by Dana Stabenow. [Kate Shugak 2]. Kindle edition.

I got these for Kindle last autumn, but was waiting until it was a bit warmer to read them - they're set in Alaska and Stabenow is extremely good at showing us how cold it is!  Kate Shugak is caught up despite her will in another murder; nine of her neighbours have been killed by a man running amok with a hunting rifle. As investigations continue though, it seems that one of the dead was actually murdered with a different weapon, and just about everyone in the area had a potential motive. Kate and her motley crew of sidekicks including a part-wolf, part-Husky called Mutt and a disabled Vietnam veteran called Bobby take on the case, at some personal cost.

Dead in the water, by Dana Stabenow. [Kate Shugak 3]. Kindle edition.

This time, Kate is investigating the deaths of two crew members on a crab-boat in the Aleutian islands (yes, possibly even colder than the last book) by joining the crew. The work is extraordinarily hard but also pretty lucrative, but she suspects the captain and permanent crew members of having alternative sources of income. She also needs to protect her very young, very naïve roommate Andy from their colleagues, and while she has her usual backup from Jack Morgan on land, she's at sea on her own in every sense. As someone who's part-Aleut, she is also drawn to the people of the islands and their culture, which adds another element of interest.

Meet me in Malmö, by Torquil MacLeod. Kindle edition.

Ewan Strachan, a washed-up arts journalist from Newcastle, goes to Malmö to interview an old college friend, Mick Roslyn, now a successful film director with a film-star wife.  When he gets to Mick and Malin's flat, he finds Malin dead and no sign of Mick. Strachan is held in Malmö, filing despatches about the murder investigation and travel pieces, while inspector Anita Sunderstrom investigates. Meanwhile, we're finding out things about Strachan and Roslyn's relationship, which involves the suspicious death of a woman 25 years before. I wasn't massively convinced by this book; there are too many unconvincing twists and turns, and unlike with masters of these (like Deaver), you can see the mechanism too closely. The end also has a very unconvincing last bite in it.  Not necessarily recommended, although it starts off very well.

2014 books, #16-20

A land more kind than home, by Wiley Cash [audiobook]. Read by Lorna Raver, Mark Bramhall and Nick Sullivan. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2012.

Based on a true event. An autistic child is smothered during a "healing" service in a snake-wrangling church in North Carolina; the violence which follows in investigated by a sheriff with his own tragedies in the past, and his own axe to grind. The writing here is sometimes astonishingly moving, and the situation - faith, infidelity and the failure of a community to protect its children - very tragic. The multiple narratives wind around each other (this is possibly one where the audiobook format works at its best), and the conclusion is as shocking as it is inevitable. A very, very good book.

Racing hard: 20 tumultuous years in cycling, by William Fotheringham. London: Guardian/Faber, 2013.

I was interested in cycling in the late 80s when living in France, and subsequently watching the Tour highlights in sports bars after a day at the archaeological-finds-classifying tables, but from about 1993 until four years ago, I'd completely lost touch with the world of professional cycling.  This book fills in those gaps wonderfully with accounts of the development of the Tour and its characters, and of the development of the current crop of British cyclists (culminating in Wiggins's win in the 2012 Tour, and the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics). Fotheringham has written on many more subjects than this but he's decided to confine his scope to those two events here. He combines the viewpoint of the fan with that of the relative insider - his obvious disappointment and distress at the various drugs scandals is clear - and while he could have edited some of his articles extensively, he's reprinted them unedited, with rueful notes on the benefit of hindsight.  Great book.

Gone in seconds, by A J Cross [audiobook]. Read by Anna Bentinck. Oxford: Isis, 2013.

When the skeleton of a young woman is found near a West Midlands motorway, evidence suggests that it is that of teenager Molly James, who went missing five years ago. Forensic psychologist Dr Kate Hanson and the Unsolved Crime Unit are called in to re-investigate Molly's case. The deeper they dig the dirtier the clues get, and when a second set of remains is unearthed Kate suspects they're looking for a Repeater: a killer who will adapt, grow and not stop until they are caught. She also suspects that not all of her colleagues are as keen on investigating the case as she is. Good; tightly plotted.

The shock of the fall, by Nathan Filer. London: HarperCollins, 2013.

This year's Costa winner, and an astonishing book.  The narrator is a mentally ill 19-year-old boy, writing consciously for publication, whose illness seems to have been precipitated by events around the death of his older brother, who had Down's Syndrome, ten years before.  'I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.'  The account's both a diary and a memoir, and the text changes font and breaks up at different times to reflect Matt's state of mind. Not a cheerful book, although it's not without hope, but a fascinating read.

The daylight gate, by Jeanette Winterson. London: HarperCollins, 2012.

Written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials, this contains as much sex, violence and persecution as you might expect. Winterson weaves her tale around Alice Nutter, the only witch from the middle classes who was executed at Pendle. In Winterson's version (which she freely admits to be at least part fantasy), Alice makes her fortune by the invention of a colourfast magenta dye beloved of Elizabeth I, and has been in London with John Dee and Shakespeare; she has learned the secret of the elixir of youth from Dr Dee; and she is sheltering Christopher Southworth, one of the Guy Fawkes plotters and a Catholic priest. This is a wild, swirling fantasy which dips in and out of historical events while getting its feet completely soaked in the filth and squalour of the era.