1 February 2015

Review: A SLEEPING LIFE, Ruth Rendell - audio book

 Synopsis (Audible)

The body found under the hedge was that of a middle-aged woman. With nothing more to go on than what appeared to be a sardonic gleam in the wide and staring eyes of the victim, It’s time for Wexford and his team to get pro-active. From a seemingly unremarkable death comes an intricate web of lies and deception. 

A wallet found in the victim’s handbag leads our hero, Inspector Wexford, to a Mr. Grenville West, a writer whose plots revel in the blood, thunder, and passion of dramas of old; whose current whereabouts are unclear; and whose curious secretary--the plain Polly Flinders--provides the Inspector with more questions than answers. And when a second Grenville West comes to light, Wexford faces a dizzying array of possible scenarios--and suspects--behind the Comfrey murder. 

My take

This is one of those stories where Wexford seemed a bit plodding in coming to the same conclusion as me but then I can't really decide whether or not I had actually read this before, decades ago, when I was focussed on reading Wexford after Wexford.

Wexford's search for the family of the dead woman under the hedge, Rhoda Comfrey, turns up remarkably little information, and in particular he can't find out where she has lived in London for the last twenty years. Wexford calls in a few favours among London police in a desperate attempt to stave off the Chief Constable's threat to hand the case over to Scotland Yard if he hasn't solved it by the end of the week.

Wexford's personal life becomes complicated when his daughter Sylvia leaves her husband and adds herself and her two young sons to stay indefinitely with Dora and Reg. Sylvia is feeling much put-upon, in a women's lib way of thinking, and Reg tries to add his bit of common sense to the brew.

I love the way Rendell weaves the byplay between Reg and his colleague Mike Burden into the investigation, while the ongoing story of Wexford family life hums along in the background.

And Nigel Anthony does an excellent job with the narration.

My rating: 4.3

I've also reviewed
FROM DOON WITH DEATH - Wexford #1
4.5, A NEW LEASE OF DEATH- Wexford #2
4.6, THE BEST MAN TO DIE - Wexford #4  
4.7, PUT ON BY CUNNING - Wexford #11
4.6, THE VAULT- Wexford #23 
4.5, NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE- Wexford #24   
Stand-alones 
PORTOBELLO
4.7, THE MONSTER IN THE BOX
4.5, A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
4.5, THE SAINT ZITA SOCIETY
4.6, THE MASTER OF THE MOOR


Writing as Barbara Vine:
THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
4.8, A DARK ADAPTED EYE

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month January 2015

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2015
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for January 2015, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
e.g.
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.


31 January 2015

Review: MURDER ON THE THIRTY FIRST FLOOR, Per Wahloo

  • first published 1964
  • this edition translated from Swedish into English by Sarah Death
  • published by Vintage Books 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-09955469
  • 215 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In an unnamed country, in an unnamed year sometime in the future, Chief Inspector Jensen of the Sixteenth Division is called in after the publishers controlling the entire country's newspapers and magazines receive a threat to blow up their building, in retaliation for a murder they are accused of committing. The building is evacuated, but the bomb fails to explode and Jensen is given seven days in which to track down the letter writer.

Jensen has never had a case he could not solve before, but as his investigation into the identity of the letter writer begins it soon becomes clear that the directors of the publishers have their own secrets, not least the identity of the 'Special Department' on the thirty first floor; the only department not permitted to be evacuated after the bomb threat.

My Take

This novel comes before THE STEEL SPRING which I reviewed recently. Again it is a dystopian novel. In the unnamed country crime rates are falling and so are birth rates, but the government has recently made it illegal to become inebriated not only in public but also at home. Every night the jails are filled with drunks, and the government makes a small fortune by fining the inebriates.

Publishing of all sorts has become a monopoly of the group that owns The Skyscraper, the 31 storey building that dominates the capital city's skyline. As a result the people are fed a bland diet of feel good material whatever their choice of reading. The Skyscraper employs over 4,000 people and these all have to be evacuated when the bomb threat arrives by post. Stopping the presses even for a short time is extremely expensive, and the managing director of the publishing group contacts the chief of police for advice and immediate action. Neither is pleased when Chief Inspector Jensen advises that they must evacuate the building as he can't guarantee safety of those inside. However there is no bomb.

Jensen is given seven days to find out who sent the threat. His life is complicated by the fact that the pain that eventually sends him out of the country for a transplant in THE STEEL SPRING is ever present, but he is a dogged investigator and eventually finds out the truth. 

This is not your every day crime fiction novel and those who have no taste for political polemic or satire might like to steer clear of it.

My rating: 4.3

I've also reviewed - Sjowall, Maj & Wahloo, Per:
4.7, ROSEANNA
4.7, THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE
4.5, THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED
4.5, MURDER AT THE SAVOY
4.7, THE ABOMINABLE MAN

Per Wahloo
4.1 THE STEEL SPRING

I read this for my participation in the Vintage Mystery Bingo.

30 January 2015

Review: CLOSED FOR WINTER, Jorn Lier Horst

  • first published in 2011
  • translated from Norwegian into English by Ann Bruce 2013 and published by Sandstone Press
  • #7 in the William Wisting series, second to be translated into English
  • ISBN 978-1-908737-49-6
  • 321 pages
  • source: my local library
  • Winner of Norway's Booksellers' Prize 2012
Synopsis  (publisher)

Ove Bakkerud, newly separated and extremely disillusioned, is looking forward to a final quiet weekend at his summer home before closing for winter but, when the tourists leave, less welcome visitors arrive. Bakkerud’s cottage is ransacked by burglars and next door he discovers the body of a man who has been beaten to death.

Police Inspector William Wisting has witnessed grotesque murders before, but the desperation he sees in this latest murder is something new. Against his wishes, his daughter Line decides to stay in one of the summer cottages at the mouth of the fjord. Wisting’s unease does not diminish when they discover several more corpses on the deserted archipelago. Meanwhile, dead birds are dropping from the sky.

My Take

There is a nice introduction to William Wisting at the beginning of this novel, giving the reader a description of the setting, and Wisting's personal history. The foreword also points out how Jorn Lier Horst draws on his own deep experience of police procedures and processes in these novels, resulting in a strong sense of these novels being grounded in reality.

CLOSED FOR WINTER brings two different types of crime together: those who want to take advantage of Norway's wealth by burglarising summer cottages now closed up for winter, and drug runners bringing cocaine into Norway and using it as a base for money laundering.

Wisting has recently returned from sick leave, a breakdown, worn down by thirty years of increasingly complex and disillusioning police work. There are times when he wonders if he has returned too soon.  This seems to lead quite naturally into reflection by the author into the state of Norwegian society, and how it compares with its near neighbours.

A very satisfying read.

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed
4.7, DREGS

About the Author
Jorn Lier Horst was born in 1970, in Bamble, Telemark, Norway. He has worked as a policeman in Larvik since 1995. His debut novel in 2004, Key Witness, was based on a true murder story. The William Wisting novel series has been extremely successful in his native Norway as well as Germany and the Netherlands. DREGS was his first book published in English. In 2013 the next novel in this series, The Hunting Dogs, won both the prestigious Golden Revolver, for best Norwegian crime, and The Glass Key. See more

27 January 2015

Review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Sophie Hannah

Synopsis (publishers)

Hercule Poirot's quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered.  She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim...

My Take

I feel pretty strongly about  what I have called elsewhere "coat-tails" writing. Nevertheless I was interested to see whether Sophie Hannah could capture anything like the spirit of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. I guess that is what a lot of Agatha Christie readers want to know, and I have decided to try to judge THE MONOGRAM MURDERS on its own merits, as far as I can.

The setting is February 1929 in London. According to the Hercule Poirot chronology, this is thirteen years after Poirot left Belgium and arrived in England as a refugee. In 1925 he "officially" retired, at the age of  about 61. So he is really at the height of his deductive powers, has been working privately, but has not been very satisfied with the kind of work he has managed to get.

Here are the stories set around this date.
    1926 MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD
    THE MURDER ON THE BLUE TRAIN
    1929 "The Third Floor Flat"
    "The Underdog"
    "Wasp's Nest"
    1930 BLACK COFFEE (play by Christie)
    "The Second Gong" (Expanded with new ending as "Dead Man's Mirror")
    "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest" (expanded and updated as "The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" in the fifties)
The story is narrated by a young Scotland Yard detective,  Inspector Edward Catchpool. He and Poirot have rooms in a London lodging house belonging to Mrs Blanche Unsworth. From the lodging house Poirot can see his own apartment house, where he normally lives, but he has spread the rumour that he has gone on vacation out of London. The narration has been completed it seems some time after the events. I found the placement of the story in the Poirot chronology interesting and that probably worked better than later in Poirot's life.

I considered several things as I read this book: had the author captured Agatha Christie's style? Did I recognise this Hercule Poirot? Did the plot hold together?

Well, there were glimpses of the original Hercule Poirot - there was his faith in his own ability to solve the case logically, and his disparagement of others like Catchpool who could not match his abilities. He played his cards very close to his chest, not wanting to share his knowledge or conclusions.  But there was little description of Poirot's physical appearance, not much sense of his dapperness or fastidiousness.

The plot worked well enough but was rather more convoluted than an original Christie, resulting in a slightly longer book. There were passages that I could not envisage Christie having written. Christie had a sparer style than displayed in this novel. Some parts of the story seem almost theatrical particularly when Poirot gathers a large audience of the staff at the Bloxham hotel so that he can confront the guilty persons. During the story we hear different interpretations of what has happened, and much depends on the timing of when things happen. Red herrings abound. So it is very easy for Catchpool and the readers to become a little confused.

Worth the read? Yes, you really do want to know what actually happened and all is not revealed until the very end.  But I don't want to see another: I for one don't want THE MONOGRAM MURDERS to be beginning of a string of pseudo-Christies.

My rating: 4.3

While I read this for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, I have also read the following by Sophie Hannah.

23 January 2015

Review: HADES, Candice Fox

Synopsis (Random House Australia)

A dark, compelling and original thriller that will have you spellbound from its atmospheric opening pages to its shocking climax.

Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies they want disposed of become his problem – for a fee.

Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants ‘lost'. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything...

Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there's something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can't quite put his finger on.

At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner's sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank's wondering if she's as dangerous as the man they hunt. -

My Take

This is a cleverly layered novel, superbly written, that flits between the past and the present, between the serial killer case the Sydney based police are currently focussing on, and Eden Archer's story.

Eden Archer and her brother have a secondary agenda, one which Hades, their adoptive father, has trained them for all their life. Those who get in the way, those who want to know too much and to get too close, are putting their own lives on the line.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
(from Random House Australia)
Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney's western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers.

As a cynical and trouble-making teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the calamity of her home life. She was constantly in trouble for reading Anne Rice in church and scaring her friends with tales from Australia's wealth of true crime writers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. Candice lectures in writing at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, while undertaking a PhD in literary censorship and terrorism.

Hades is her first novel, and won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014. Eden, its sequel, is published in December.

See another review at AustCrime.

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