Tag Archives: historical crime

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T.E. Kinsey #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #AQuietLifeintheCountrybookreview

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I had a wonderful audiobook lined up on my Kindle all ready to listen to – and then the world fell on my head and I couldn’t face it. Though excellently written and doubtless a gripping story – I was already aware that it would probably be also somewhat bleak. So Himself proposed that I get hold of this delightful read, instead…

BLURB: Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life. But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation… As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country…

REVIEW: So… two women who live together end up solving a crime in the 1900s – it certainly sounds like a female version of Holmes and Watson. However, Lady Hardcastle is a great deal nicer and more charming than Holmes and Flo is far more feisty and less hampered by an overwhelming sense of admiration for her employee.

I really liked the relationship between the women. It transpires that they endured a great deal of danger and trauma together, after Lady H’s husband was killed in China. Essentially they had to go on the run, eventually ending up in India during which numerous attempts were made on their lives. Elizabeth Knowelden does a marvellous job with the narration as the story unfolds in the first-person viewpoint of Flo, who certainly looks after Emily Hardcastle in the capacity of a lady’s maid and housekeeper, but as they are on first-name terms and generally dine together, she is also something a great deal more.

The ensuring murders and mysteries – there is also a stolen jewel that Lady H is tasked with tracking down – certainly keep the two women from relaxing into the quiet life they were looking for. The humour is enjoyable throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the unfolding plot, which provided plenty of twists that made me quite sorry to complete my houseworking chores and have to switch off. All in all, this is a gem that provided a really entertaining escape, as well as a real puzzle as to whodunit. This is one of those stories where the setting, the characters and murder mystery all weave together to provide a satisfying world that I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to returning to. Fortunately, Himself has already loaded the next book in the series – In the Market for Murder – onto my Kindle. No wonder he’s a keeper! Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebooks The Zig Zag Girl – Book 1 of the Stephens & Mephisto mystery series by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffbookreview #TheZigZagGirlbookreview

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I enjoy Elly Griffiths’ books, though I haven’t remotely kept up with her prolific output –see my reviews of The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and A Room Full of Bones , which all feature Ruth Galloway. I have also become a huge fan of her latest series, the Harbinger Kaur series, see my reviews of The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders. So I was intrigued to check out her other series, set in the 1950s featuring two very different men linked by their experiences in the war, Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto.

BLURB: Brighton, 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

REVIEW: For me, part of the enjoyment is that I live reasonably close to Brighton and know of many of the landmarks that Griffiths describes in her book – that said, it would be a rather lame reason to tuck into any book, unless the plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding weren’t also spot on. Fortunately, Griffiths is a solidly good writer, so they are. I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding – the rather subdued atmosphere where everyone is still recovering from WWII is brilliantly done, along with a host of nicely added details, making this setting thoroughly believable.

The plotting is also excellent – as it should be, given that Griffiths is an experienced author of a best-selling murder mystery series. I quickly became caught up in the unfolding drama and flew through this book as the pages more or less turned themselves – always a sign that I am caught up in the world and its problems. But for me, Griffiths’ superpower is her characterisation. This book is mostly from the viewpoint of both Mephisto and Stephens, two very different people with a totally different world view. While I initially preferred Edgar, as the book wore on, I became increasingly intrigued by Max and what actually drives him.

The way both characters developed and expanded into complex, three-dimensional characters with occasional flashes of humour in amongst the serious business of tracking down a serial killer, worked very well. I have found myself thinking of this one since I finished reading and I’m delighted to discover that Himself has also bought the second book in the series – the man is a treasure! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys engrossing, well plotted whodunits set in an enjoyably detailed historical seaside town.
9/10


Friday Faceoff – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffminimalistcovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring MINIMALIST covers. I’ve selected The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Enhanced Classics, 2014

So who knew that such a classic would be a source of such minimalist covers? But this edition, released in September 2014 by Enhanced Classics is one of a number of pared back designs that trades on our abiding affection and knowledge of this quirky detective. I really like it – though I do wonder if the dog ought to feature on the cover, given the way the fear of the beast looms throughout this tense murder mystery.

Vintage Classics, 2008

Published in September 2008 by Vintage Classics, this is another simple design. Despite the apparent simplicity, there’s quite a lot going on here. I like the graduated colour fading to black at the outer edges, which essentially puts that magnifying glass and the title in the spotlight. It’s a clever move having the snarling muzzle of the dog within the magnifying glass. The cover projects tension and menace without a splash of blood, or any garish visual tricks regarding the title. My one grumble is that I think the title could do with being less Victorian and self-effacing.

Portuguese edition 2013

This Portuguese edition, published in 2013 by Zahar, is a real gem. Again, it has used the ubiquitous silhouette of Holmes to produce the heart of the design, before adding another layer that absolutely nails this one for me. Within the shadowed outline of Holmes is the ruined house where a certain character hid, thus thoroughly throwing dear old Watson right off the scent of the real villain. And then we have the cemetery and the dog, himself… I also absolutely love the way the smoke curls up from the pipe to give us the name of the author. This is my favourite.

Marathi edition, 2012

And this Marathi edition is another example of a simple outline featuring on the cover. Published in January 2012 by Diamond Publications, the almost cartoonish creature on the trail of his prey immediately draws the eye. Again, the background is effectively shaded, pulling our attention onto the snarling beast in the centre of the cover – while that hill than provides the text box for the title and author fonts. This one was so nearly my favourite – it was the wisping smoke turning into Conan Doyle’s name on the other other contender that edged for me.

Lithuanian edition, 2013

This Lithuanian edition, published in May 2013 by Baltos Iankos, is another effective and simple cover. The shaded background allows the black outline of the dog to stand out, so although he is running more or less towards us – a difficult angle when most of the details aren’t apparent – we can make him out with no difficulty. I like the fact the designer has taken the trouble to give him a shadow, thus anchoring him to the background, instead of just plonking him onto the top of it. I do think the title font could be a bit larger and punchier, but that is a personal preference. Which is your favourite?


Review of AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andew Taylor #Brainfluffbookblog #TheFireCourtbookreview

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I have read the first book, The Ashes of London and then, when I got hold of the Netgalley arc, The Last Protector, I was shaken to see that it was the fourth book in the series – when did THAT happen? So I resolved to get hold of the intervening books, as this historical series starting with the Great Fire of London covers a fascinating period in English history.

BLURB: The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder …? Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death … and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Taylor’s handling of the initial murder and the cris-crossing of the circumstances around it was masterful. James Marwood, a rising young clerk whose employer’s patron is Lord Arlington, returns home to find his father babbling about a rook and a fallen woman after he disappeared. Poor Marwood senior has lost his wits during his imprisonment and lives in a world of his own. Lady Jemima is unhappy at having to host a dinner party on behalf of her husband, Philip, whose good friend Lucius Gromwell will be there, along with one of the Fire Court judges. And Cat Lovett, now posing as Jane Hakesby, is found shelter and some work as an assistant to reputable architect Mr Hakesby. All these characters have a major impact on this well executed murder mystery, ably narrated by Leighton Pugh.

Though I would mention that if your taste runs to foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action, then this one isn’t for you. While the forward momentum never lets up, it is one of those slow-burn stories, where a series of apparently unconnected circumstances finally all converge with the gripping denouement on London Bridge.

I really appreciated the clever characterisation and the way 17th century London is depicted in stunning detail, without unduly holding up the story. It is during an unprecedented time – only some eight months after the great Fire of London, so that swathes of the city are still ashy ruins and many people are living in makeshift shelters.

The Fire Court is a special sitting of judges whose task is to sort out competing claims from people who lost their homes and want to rebuild. Often it is boundary disputes and at other times, they have to sort out claims between freeholders and leaseholders – and such a case seems to lie at the heart of the murder of the woman found near Fetter Lane. I was shaken at times by what our two main protagonists, James Marwood and Cat Lovett, went through during this adventure and I am very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of well written historical whodunits.
9/10


Sunday Post – 24th May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Again no rain, and on Wednesday and Thursday we were back to high summer temperatures and sitting outside. So Himself is trudging around with the watering can. The yarrow is now flowering and here is the first bloom on my elder. I don’t know what the dear little pink fluffy flowers are – I bought the plant because I love the leaves, but they work really well with the rest of the colour scheme in that bed. And the echium spires are now in full flower and have stopped growing – don’t they look fabulous? For reference, I am 5’5″.

I completed my How-To book this week and am really pleased with it. Himself is compiling the bibliography for me, but I’ve added the writing exercises – there are 50 – to help with characterisation, along with the quick check-list. I am now starting the edits to Mantivore Warrior.

Other than that, I had an editing session with my friend Sally, working on the second book about her experiences with Tim. We took our scooters for a run along the sea front. It was hard work scooting against the wind, but great fun and nice to get out. Sadly, I missed the family games evening last night as I had a rotten headache.


Last week I read:
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?
Something almost unheard of – I actually read the last two books in this series back to back. It was so much fun – but I am now pining for Stella and hoping that the author has nearly finished the next book! Review to follow.


The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
As I had the great good luck to get hold of an arc for The Empire of Gold, I wanted to read The City of Brass, the first book in this series. It was a cracking read that swept me up into this enjoyable Sand and Sorcery tale. Review to follow.


The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.
So… reading TWO series back to back?? I must have had a personality transplant! However, after reading the first book I decided I needed to put the second book into context, so reread it before starting the final book, so otherwise I felt I wouldn’t be giving it a fair go. It was also great fun – I’m a sucker for Sand and Sorcery tales…


AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder …? Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death … and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.
This second book in this classy historical whodunit series took two sympathetic protagonists and wove a wonderful murder mystery around a fascinating time in English history that is oddly neglected in general fiction – the Great Fire of London and its aftermath. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over

Review of One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Book 2 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron

Sunday Post – 17th May 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Fiction Writing Contests Worth Your Time in Summer 2020 https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/22/fiction-writing-contests-worth-your-time-in-summer-2020/ For those of you who on the hunt for competitions – here are a selection…

Photo Prompt Friday: Ethereal https://leighhecking.com/2020/05/22/photo-prompt-friday-ethereal/ Also recommended for those of you who enjoy looking at wonderful photos…

10 of the Best Poems of Remembrance https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/remembrance-poems/ Another interesting, enjoyable list from this great site…

Senior Moments https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/20/senior-moments/ I can relate. I want an app that will tell me why I climbed the stairs – because I generally only remember once I’ve gone back down them again…

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Celebrating Fantasy Artwork https://onemore.org/2020/05/19/top-ten-fantasy-cover-art/ This is worth a visit to immerse yourself in some stunning covers – and make a note of some awesome reads along the way…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Sunday Post – 24th November, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Another funfilled week. Himself’s shoulder injury is apparently an issue with his neck and while he is coping better, it’s because he now is now taking three different types of painkiller. I’ve still been battling on and off with this wretched headache, which I think is a mixture of stress and lack of sleep. And then on Tuesday I broke a tooth. I’ve a delightful visit with the dentist ahead of me, involving lots of tooth-drilling while gazing up his nose, and then handing across an eye-watering amount of money at the end of it. And that’s all going to happen in early December on my mother’s birthday.

One chink of light in all this November murk – will it EVER stop raining??? – is that my sister now is in the process of moving into her new home. I spent yesterday morning with her, helping to hang curtains and put up a shower rail. The other chink is that in the middle of all this misery, I’ve managed to dive back into Mantivore Warrior – to be honest, writing about the struggles of my young hero while MindLinked to a rather grumpy alien is something of a relief…

Last week I read:

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Our voyage from Earth began generations ago. Now, we approach our new home.
AURORA.
This was a really intriguing read about a generational ship finally approaching its destination after a long, long time in space… Review to follow.

 

 

AUDIOBOOK – Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations adapted from the books of Agatha Christie
This included Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders and my favourite – The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
All these stories were given the full Radio 4 treatment, including a stellar cast of the great and good of British acting at the time and were well worth the cost of a single credit. Review to follow.

 

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
They hid among us, until she exposed them. They’ll destroy everything to be hidden again.
Pax is discovering that the smallest mistakes can have the deadliest impact. To protect her city, she’s uncovered monstrous truths and involved terrible people. The consequences are coming for her. The Sunken City is unstable. The Fae are armed for war. Can Pax stop the coming disaster?
I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this quirky urban fantasy series – see my review of Under Ordshaw – so was keen to find out how it all gets sorted out. Review to follow.

 

My posts last week:

Review of Cleon Moon – Book 5 of The Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

Friday Faceoff featuring Use of Weapons – Book 3 of the Culture series by Iain M. Banks

Review of New Star Rising – Book 1 of the Indigo Reports by Cameron Cooper

Review of Castaway Planet – Book 4 of the Boundary series by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

Teaser Tuesday featuring Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Secret Library – Book 6 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

Sunday Post 17th November 2019

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Happy Friday! #ThePositivityWave #13 https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com/2019/11/22/happy-friday-thepositivitywave-13-november-22/ Carla explains how she and her wonderful family turned what could have been a devastating anniversary into a celebration…

Travel Back in Time – Thanksgiving 1963 (excerpt from DOG BONE SOUP by Bette A. Stevens) https://4writersandreaders.com/2019/11/21/thanksgiving-1963-excerpt-from-dog-bone-soup/ This lovely extract is both poignant and funny and so I thought I’d share it with you.

The Guilty Reader Tag #Bookblogger #Bookbloggers #Bookblog #Blogger #Bloggers https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/11/20/the-guilty-reader-book-tag-bookblogger-bookbloggers-bookblog-blogger-bloggers/ Drew addresses these searching questions, designed to test his blogging rectitude with his customary seriousness—nah – who am I kidding? It’s a hoot…

Sci Fi Month 2019: THE BORDERS OF INFINITY by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2019/11/19/sci-fi-month-2019-the-borders-of-infinity-by-lois-mcmaster-bujold/ Sci Fi Month is in full swing and going brilliantly – and one of the highlights for me is the series of reviews written by Maddalena on the classic Vorkosigan Saga. Science fiction at its best really is allll about the characters – and what a character Miles Vorkosigan turns out to be!

Wordless Wednesday: Lillian https://applegategenealogy.wordpress.com/2019/11/20/wordless-wednesday-lillian/ I keep thinking about this photo. That smile is so wonderfully radiant – I hope she had a happy life…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

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?

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