6 December 2016

Review: DEATH IN AUGUST, Marco Vichi

  • first published in Italian 2002
  • translated into English 2011 by Stephen Sartarelli
  • published by Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN 978-1-444-71221-6
  • 207 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #1 in the Inspector Bordelli series
  •  
Synopsis  (Italian Mysteries)

Florence, summer 1963.

Inspector Bordelli is one of the few policemen left in the deserted city. He spends his days on routine work, and his nights tormented by the heat and mosquitoes.

Suddenly one night, a telephone call gives him a new sense of purpose: the suspected death of a wealthy Signora. Bordelli rushes to her hilltop villa, and picks the locks. The old woman is lying on her bed - apparently killed by an asthma attack, though her medicine has been left untouched.

With the help of his young protégé, the victim's eccentric brother, and a semi-retired petty thief, the inspector begins a murder investigation. Each suspect has a solid alibi, but there is something that doesn't quite add up . .

My Take

Unencumbered by a wife and family, Inspector Bordelli likes to spend the August holiday season at work, even if it does mean incredible heat, and mosquitoes.

This is almost a Golden Age style mystery: there is no blood and gore, just a dead body and a mystery about how she died.  As Inspector Bordelli tracks down the beneficiaries of the dead woman's will, he and his young assistant settle on the murderer, but the problem is to prove it. He revisits the scene of the death frequently and makes a surprise discovery, and eventually gathers some concrete evidence.

This is to be the first book in the series and the author takes a lot of care in creating the Inspector's persona: he is 53 years old, fought the Nazis in World War Two, and already sees himself as an old man. He has a lot of friends among criminals and ex-soldiers. There is a lovely scene at a dinner party where a number of them tell stories from the war.

I was impressed by the careful plotting and the eventual resolution of the mystery.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Marco Vichi was born in Florence in 1957. The author of eleven novels and two collections of short stories, he has also written screenplays, music lyrics and for radio, and collaborated on projects for humanitarian causes. His novel Death in Florence won the Scerbanenco, Rieti and Camaiore prizes.

Series
Inspector Bordelli
1. Death in August (2011)
2. Death and the Olive Grove (2012)
3. Death in Sardinia (2012)
4. Death in Florence (2013)
5. Death in the Tuscan Hills (2016)

5 December 2016

Review: SALT CREEK, Lucy Treloar

  • this edition: EasyRead Large Edition
  • published in 2015 in Picador for Pan Macmillan Australia
  • ISBN: 978-1-45876-590-1
  • 569 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website: http://lucytreloar.com/salt-creek/
Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MILES FRANKLIN AWARD 2016

From the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific Region) and the 2013 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award
"Salt Creek introduces a capacious talent" The Australian

Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.

Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route - among them a young artist, Charles - and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.
Stanton's attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people's homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri's subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?

My take

First of all I note that this is NOT crime fiction, although there are mysteries.

A work of fiction, it is loosely based on inherited stories from the author's family, and includes some characters who actually existed, as well as some fictional creations.

It is set in the period 1855-1874. The Finch family who have been in the colony of South Australia for a few years, move from Adelaide to Salt Creek on the Coorong. They are a large family, 6 children initially, but things do not go well. There is a history of "bad blood" between the white settlers and the local aboriginal tribe, including the massacre of the survivors of the wreck of the Brig Maria. Details are left sketchy, but somehow Mr Finch was involved in the punishment meted out.

One of the issues is how the aborigines should be treated: Mr Finch believes in equality, but somehow that does not always come out in his treatment of others. There are references to George Taplin's attempts to civilise them through the mission at Raukkan.

The environment is a harsh one and members of the Finch family die and others go to the Victorian goldfields to seek their fortune. Meanwhile Mr Finch sinks further and further into debt, always balancing one "investment" against the meagre profit from another.

A very good read that seems to me to depict the history of these times with sensitivity and accuracy.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Lucy Treloar was born in Malaysia and educated in Melbourne, England and Sweden. A graduate of the University of Melbourne and RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing program, Lucy is a writer, editor, mentor and creative writing teacher and has plied her trades both in Australia and in Cambodia, where she lived for several years.
She was awarded an Asialink Writer’s Residency to Cambodia (2011) to undertake research and to work on her first adult novel, then titled Some Times in Life. Lucy is the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific), the 2012 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award and a 2013 Varuna Publisher Fellowship. Her short fiction has appeared in Sleepers, Overland, Seizure, and Best Australian Stories 2013, and her non-fiction in a range of publications.
Lucy’s debut novel, Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan) was published in 2015 to critical acclaim. It has won the Dobbie Award, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer, and the Indie Award for Best Debut, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Readings Prize for New Australian Writer.
Lucy is an Artist in Residence at Melbourne’s Arts House – see Creative Spaces. (Here’s the information page.) If anyone’s looking for an office or studio to write in, Creative Spaces is the place to find it.

2 December 2016

Review: A WOMAN MUCH MISSED, Valerio Varesi

  • first published in Italian 2004, 
  • first pubished in Great Britain in 2015
  • translated by Joseph Farrell
  • Commissario Soneri #4
  • ISBN 978-0-85705-345-9
  • 270 pages
Synopsis (Amazon)

A few days before Christmas, with Parma gripped by frost and fog, Ghitta Tagliavini, the elderly owner of a guesthouse in the old town centre, is found murdered in her apartment.

The case is assigned to Commissario Soneri, but the investigation holds a painful, personal element that sends waves of nostalgia sweeping through him. Tagliavini's guesthouse is where Soneri met his late wife Ada, and where the young couple spent unforgettable hours in each other's company.

But the present can embitter even the sweetest memories. An old photograph of Ada with another man sends Soneri into a spiral of despondency, ever more so when he realises her death may be linked to Tagliavina's lucrative sideline as a backstreet abortionist and faith healer.
Though Soneri would like nothing more than to be allowed to drop the case, he doggedly persists, uncovering at last, along with the truth behind Tagliavini's death, rife corruption at Parma's rotten heart and a raft of ghosts from Italy's divisive past.

My Take

This wasn't the easiest book to read.  A murder investigation is tangled with political overtones and Commissario is drawn back to an old stamping ground.  He recognises the dead woman as the landlady of the student house where his now dead wife used to board. In latter years the guesthouse has become a bordello and Soneri comes to wonder if that was its role when his wife lived there.

Complicating things is that Italy's two police forces are constantly trying to score easy points at the other's expense and Commissario Soneri, part of the state police force, feels constantly under threat from the officers of the carabinieri.

I hung in there until everything was resolved and the murder mystery was solved, but I can't say I enjoyed the book.

My rating: 4.2

1 December 2016

What I read in November 2016

November 2016
A pretty "small" month, reading wise. Some books that took me quite a while to read, but a couple of really good ones.
  1. 4.8, THE SOLDIER'S CURSE, Tom & Meg Kenneally
  2. 4.1, ENTANGLEMENT, Zygmunt Miloszewski 
  3. 4.4, PAST TENSE, Margot Kinberg
  4. 5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET, Jock Serong
  5. 4.3, THE MISTLETOE MURDER, P.D.James 
  6. 4.7, MAGPIE MURDERS, Anthony Horowitz
My pick of the month was a new-to-me Australian author:
THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET by Jock Serong


See what others have chosen this month.

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month November 2016

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2016
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 November 2016, 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.


26 November 2016

Review: MAGPIE MURDERS, Anthony Horowitz

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1819 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (October 6, 2016)
  • Publication Date: October 6, 2016
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01EG5HLR4
  • Text-to-Speech:  
Synopsis (Amazon)

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway...

But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

My Take

MAGPIE MURDERS is one of those "peeling an onion" books: There are two main stories, one contained inside the other, but at the same time Anthony Horowitz pays tribute to those successful writers of cozies, particularly those who have managed to sustain a credible detective over a number of titles. Here is his take on an Agatha Christie-style book, and the reader can't help but recognise that Atticus Pund has a lot in common with Hercule Poirot.

Both stories have a time of denouement: we eventually find out who was responsible for the murders in Alan Conway's novel, and then the finale of the story in which editor Susan Ryeland in the central character.

So the book also contains some interesting reflections on writing cozies, why readers like them, why the television public can't get enough of murder, and how writers often come to hate their main protagonist, even when killing them off is the equivalent to killing the golden goose. There is even a passage when the editor Susan Ryeland wonders how those protagonists, among them Morse, Rebus, Poirot, Wimsey, Marple, Poirot, felt when they realised their time was coming to an end.

So there was a lot to like about this book, a lot to think about, although I found it slow going at the beginning, and it is quite long.

A warning for Kindle users: on my paper-white kindle, the book that Susan Ryeland is reading, Alan Conway's Magpie Murders, is rendered as a "softer" print, which I found quite hard to read. It is almost as if the Kindle is trying to display it as grey. It wasn't something I noticed when reading on the iPad app, but there various parts of the book were rendered in a different font, indicating a different "voice", a different part of the book.

My rating: 4.7


I've also read
4.5, THE HOUSE OF SILK

About the author (from Amazon)

Anthony Horowitz's life might have been copied from the pages of Charles Dickens or the Brothers Grimm. Born in 1956 in Stanmore, Middlesex, to a family of wealth and status, Anthony was raised by nannies, surrounded by servants and chauffeurs. His father, a wealthy businessman, was, says Mr. Horowitz, "a fixer for Harold Wilson." What that means exactly is unclear — "My father was a very secretive man," he says— so an aura of suspicion and mystery surrounds both the word and the man. As unlikely as it might seem, Anthony's father, threatened with bankruptcy, withdrew all of his money from Swiss bank accounts in Zurich and deposited it in another account under a false name and then promptly died. His mother searched unsuccessfully for years in attempt to find the money, but it was never found. That too shaped Anthony's view of things. Today he says, "I think the only thing to do with money is spend it." His mother, whom he adored, eccentrically gave him a human skull for his 13th birthday. His grandmother, another Dickensian character, was mean-spirited and malevolent, a destructive force in his life. She was, he says, "a truly evil person", his first and worst arch villain. "My sister and I danced on her grave when she died," he now recalls.

A miserably unhappy and overweight child, Anthony had nowhere to turn for solace. "Family meals," he recalls, "had calories running into the thousands&. I was an astoundingly large, round child&." At the age of eight he was sent off to boarding school, a standard practice of the times and class in which he was raised. While being away from home came as an enormous relief, the school itself, Orley Farm, was a grand guignol horror with a headmaster who flogged the boys till they bled. "Once the headmaster told me to stand up in assembly and in front of the whole school said, 'This boy is so stupid he will not be coming to Christmas games tomorrow.' I have never totally recovered." To relieve his misery and that of the other boys, he not unsurprisingly made up tales of astounding revenge and retribution.

Anthony Horowitz is perhaps the busiest writer in England. He has been writing since the age of eight, and professionally since the age of twenty. He writes in a comfortable shed in his garden for up to ten hours per day. In addition to the highly successful Alex Rider books, he has also written episodes of several popular TV crime series, including Poirot, Murder in Mind, Midsomer Murders and Murder Most Horrid. He has written a television series Foyle's War, which recently aired in the United States, and he has written the libretto of a Broadway musical adapted from Dr. Seuss's book, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. His film script The Gathering has just finished production. And&oh yes&there are more Alex Rider novels in the works. Anthony has also written the Diamond Brothers series.

17 November 2016

Review: THE MISTLETOE MURDER and Other Stories

  • printed in Australia by Griffin Press
  • published 2016 by Faber & Faber
  • ISBN 978-0-571-33134-5
  • 136 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time--swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author's own word, add up to a delightful "entertainment."

The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is "pure Agatha Christie." . . . A "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh's godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather's mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author's sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex--not to say the most damning--aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James's legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.

My Take

There are 4 stories in the collection published by P.D. James' Estate with a foreword by Val McDermid and a preface by P.D. James.

The Mistletoe Murder, first published in 1995
A Very Commonplace Murder, first published in 1969
The Boxdale Inheritance, first published 1979
The Twelve Clues of Christmas, first published 1996

The connecting theme is Christmas and "family" murders. By far the best of the lot is The Mistletoe Murder which is also the longest, and most fleshed out. They are quick reads however, so if you feel like a seasonal dabble, these may satisfy your urge. The last two are Dalgliesh stories, when he is still a young man.

My rating: 4.3

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