Tag Archives: historical crime

Friday Faceoff – If my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is the TUDOR PERIOD, so I’ve selected one of my favourite reads of this excellent series, Dark Fire – Book 2 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.

This edition was produced by Penguin in December 2005 and features a blazing London cityscape. I love the artwork and drama – but loathe that red blob plonked in the middle of scene announcing that this is a Matthew Shardlake thriller. What’s wrong with adding that detail under the main title?

 

Published in May 2007 by Pan Books, I love the drama of this ancient text being engulfed by flames – the title font is awesome. But I don’t like the lack of additional information, like the fact that this is the second book of the series, which is a serious fail.

 

This edition, published by Viking Books in January 2005, at least includes some of the vital information on it. I very much like the title text box as a ripped scroll, though I do feel they have been a tad too clever adding the St George’s Cross, which instead looks like a cross put in the corner by a grumpy teacher. The actual artwork is skilful, with the half-hidden swordsman in the foreground and the Tudor building behind him, but it doesn’t have much impact in thumbnail.

 

Produced by Pan Books in 2005, this dramatic depiction is my favourite for the sheer drama of the cover. The fire roaring through the windows with the winding stone staircase in the foreground immediately pulls us into the scene. I also love the stylish lettering of the title font – but again, why is it such an almighty secret that Dark Fire is the second Matthew Shardlake book in the series? It’s unforgiveable to leave a detail like that off the front cover, I feel. Notwithstanding this egregious omission, this is my favourite cover.

 

This German edition, published by Fischer in 2011 is another stylish offering in the form of a Tudor book, complete with the elaborate hinges and attractive font – though again, there isn’t a mention that this is part of a best-selling series. Which is your favourite?

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Friday Faceoff – Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring a potion or perfume bottle, so I’ve stretched the idea of a potion a little further and selected Strong Poison – Book 6 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins Publishers in October 1987, is boring given the fabulous premise and what is at stake in this stunning book. Wimsey’s unexpected burst of passion for a desperate woman fighting for her life doesn’t remotely factor into this vanilla cover. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, other than its complete lack of excitement or connection with the gripping content.

 

This edition was produced by Open Road Media in July 2012 and looks as if it took all of 10 minutes using an off-the-shelf graphics program. This book deserves better.

 

Published in March 1995 by HarperTorch, this cover is deliberately harking back to the 1930s when this book first appeared. The large title font and relatively small area given over to the artwork may not be to my taste, but I can at least respect the care and attention that has gone into the drawing, which takes three crucial scenes from the book and illustrates them.

 

This HarperCollins offering, published in 1993, ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the punchy colours and strong art deco feel, along with the detailed depiction of the crucial medium scene in the book. This is my favourite – I even like the black edging, which is unusual for me. But this time around, it has the period styling and small details that turn it into part of the cover rather than a blank interruption of the artwork that so many of these solid blocks of colour and bordering tend to do.

 

Produced in October 2009, this pink and grey effort by Hodder & Stoughton will certainly draw the eye and is clearly designed to work as a thumbnail. The imagery is stark and crude in comparison to some of the earlier efforts and the colour garish, but I suppose it grabs the attention. However, it doesn’t do the book justice in my opinion. Which is your favourite?

ANNDDD…

Chuckles at Chuckles Book Cave is promoting both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space

ANNDDD…

Mello & June, It’s a Book Thang are featuring an except from Dying for Space

Review of W is for Wasted – Book 23 of the Alphabet/Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton

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Just in case you were residing on another planet for the last several decades, Sue Grafton – an established screenwriter – was going through a messy divorce and fantasising about ways to murder her ex-husband, when she decided to write down the ideas she had for killing him. After reading a book to her children entitled The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an abecedarian book listing the different ways in which children die, she decided to write a murder mystery series based around the alphabet. As a result, in 1982 the first book featuring Kinsey Millhone, A is for Alibi, was published.

w is for wastedTwo dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue… The first was a local private investigator of suspect reputation. He’d been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The second was on the beach six weeks later. He’d been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with PI Kinsey Millhone’s name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him…

That’s the start of the rather long blurb – and neatly sums up the starting point of the novel. Kinsey doesn’t know the homeless man and tries to discover who he is. Alongside her first person narration of the events surrounding this particular case, we get another storyline in third person narrative (he) by Peter, who is quite a different investigator from Kinsey. This dual narrative powers the plot for much of the novel and works very well.

Kinsey’s account is chatty and detailed – her cases generally include a lot of description about the weather, the neighbourhood, what she eats and where… Given this is a murder mystery you’d think all these extraneous bits and pieces would silt the book up and dilute the tension. But they don’t. Grafton is a master of the slow burn and I have always found that the juxtaposition of Kinsey’s everyday life alongside the violence of the crime that she is investigating highlights the shocking nature of the murder – something that doesn’t always come across in the cosier whodunits. Inevitably in the series twenty three books long, some are better than others. See my review of U is for Undertow here, and V is for Vengeance here.

The action takes place in the autumn of 1988 – another smart move in pacing this series. Kinsey’s narrative time is far more compressed, which means she isn’t staggering around on a zimmer frame as she would have been if she’d aged at the same rate as the books were written and released – and neither is she dealing with modern technology such as mobile phones and GPS, which has significantly changed the tenor and mode of murder mysteries. The gradual unravelling of this case produces a couple of real surprises – one of which impacts upon Kinsey’s life in a profound and long term manner.  I was struck by the underlying mood of melancholy running through this particular book – the plight of the homeless man and his friends is starkly portrayed. Grafton presents us with one of the current problems in modern western society – that of the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. And what to do when drug dependency or alcohol or just sheer misfortune derail someone’s life to the extent they lose their friends, family and any form of shelter…

I really enjoyed this offering. And if you, too, like your murder mysteries embedded in a distinct setting with a layered, enjoyable protagonist, then give it a go. Then again, you might simply be a Kinsey Millhone fan – along with large chunk of the reading public around the world.
9/10

Review of V is for Vengeance – Book 22 in the Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton

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This is the latest offering in the long-running series about P.I. Kinsey Millhone, For those of you who haven’t picked up a Grafton alphabet thriller, starting with A is for Alibi which was published way back in 1982, you may not be aware that Grafton’s spiky female detective was a trailblazer. Back in the day, women detectives weren’t exactly thick on the ground and the fact that so many of them now exist is in no small part a tribute to Grafton’s successful series.

However, thirty years after the first book was published, the question has to be asked – is V for Vengeance a worthy addition to this visforvengeanceworld famous franchise? Does the latest novel still have the sparky freshness that made it fly off the shelves all those years ago?

In Las Vegas, a young college graduate decides to borrow a large amount of money to stake his new career as a professional poker player. However, things don’t end well when the money is funded by the notorious criminal Lorenzo Dante. Two years later, Kinsey Millhone finds herself watching a woman, Audrey Vance, shoplifting a number of items and helps in her capture. Events take a much darker turn when Audrey’s body is discovered beneath the Cold Spring Bridge, a local suicide spot.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Dante is becoming weary of his criminal activities and very much aware that the police are steadily closing in. He has other concerns – his faltering love affair; his increasingly mentally impaired father who founded the current organisation; and above all, his younger brother Cappi, whose impulsive and dangerous behaviour has posed all sorts of problems. As Kinsey’s enquiries reach a dramatic head, it becomes clear that she and Dante have one thing in common – they must be careful who they trust…

As is apparent from the blurb, there are a number of plotlines weaving their way through this book and Kinsey’s ongoing investigation and everyday life is only one strand in this book. Do the other characters manage to provide sufficient balance against Kinsey’s powerful, established narrative voice? Absolutely. The book starts with a bang, and while Grafton has always been about steadily winding up the tension throughout her books, this one really had me reading into the wee small hours. I particularly enjoyed Dante’s character – Grafton managed to make a criminal boss seem charming and vulnerable, which is a testament to her writing ability. Indeed, Dante even beguiles Kinsey into cutting him some slack – the only grizzle I had with the whole plot, as I think she is far too hard-edged and unforgiving with lawbreakers to suddenly acquire a soft spot for Dante. However, it is a minor niggle when set against the sheer excellence of the characters; the superb handling of the small details that breathe life into Kinsey’s daily activities; the steady increase in the narrative tension as we uncover the layers of secrecy surrounding all the major protagonists, with the exception of Kinsey. Until the wonderful reveal at the end, which gives the book its title and provides a brilliant extra dimension to one of the major conflict points throughout the novel.

And this is where I think that Grafton has been so very clever. I enjoy reading a number of successful long-running series featuring a single main protagonist and what most of them feel forced to do, is to continue providing extra surprises from their main character’s past. Grafton doesn’t see the need to go down this avenue – Kinsey Millhone is a character that we now know very well, as throughout the books we have learnt all about her difficult upbringing, her suspicious nature, her methodical approach to her work and her complete inability to cook, along with a dozen other traits. So while the main narrative voice is in Kinsey’s viewpoint, we are treated to a new cast of characters involved in her investigation, who have their own agendas. This also prevents the books becoming formulaic and predictable.

All in all, I think V is for Vengeance is a triumph. For my money, it is the best of the series so far – and for Grafton to be writing at this level thirty years after her first book is a testament to her talent and inventiveness. And leaves me with a nagging worry that increases with the passing years – once Grafton has published Z is for Zero, where do I go for my new slice of Kinsey Millhone magic?
10/10