Authors I love, Book of the Week, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

It’s Danny Bird time again!  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be.  Danny’s previous outings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.Cover of Death of an Angel

In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.

We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship.  And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.

Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:

You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?

But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.

It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (remember them?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, detective, mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Roderick Alleyn

Now I’ve written about Albert Campion as well as Peter Wimsey, it would be remiss of me not to write about Ngaio Marsh’s brilliant creation, not least because I spend as much time re-reading or re-listening to the Roderick Alleyn mysteries and watching the BBC TV versions while I iron as I do revisiting Wimsey or watching Miss Marple.  And as I have now finished reading the series, having treated myself to the last omnibus in the January sales, this is an even better time to write about them!

Shelf of Ngaio Marsh omnibuses
Omnibus two is on loan to my dad. I think. I hope.

In some ways, Roderick Alleyn is another of the gentlemen detectives so popular in Golden Age detective fiction – he’s a well-educated younger son of a baronet, born in the 1890s and who served in the First World War – but with one major difference: Alleyn is actually a police officer.  At the start of the series, in A Man Lay Dead he’s a Detective Chief Inspector, by the end he is a Chief Superintendent.  A Man Lay Dead was published in 1934, the final novel came out in 1982 and the setting of the series moves with the time period – although Alleyn’s age… doesn’t really.  At the start of the series Alleyn is single, but later marries artist Agatha Troy, who he first met during the course of the case in the sixth book.  Troy, and later their son Ricky, pop up in several more cases, but by no means all of them -his regular companions are Inspector Fox and xxx Bailey.

Most of the books are set in and around London and the south of England, but there are several novels set in Marsh’s native New Zealand.  Marsh was passionate about the theatre and the arts and several of the novels are feature actors as well as the Unicorn Theatre in London and artists and artistic circles.  This means there’s a really nice variety of settings, and combined with the fact that Alleyn is a police detective, helps avoid the series seeming repetitive of like bodies are following Roderick around.  Alleyn is also a more peripheral figure in some of the novels than many of the other Golden Age detectives are.  In A Man Lay Dead, most of the story is mostly told from the perspective of Nigel Bathgate, friend of Alleyn and a guest at the party where a man has been really killed during a game of Murder, A Surfeit of Lampreys is seen through the eyes of Roberta Grey, visiting a family of penniless and eccentric aristocrats when their uncle is killed in a lift and there are more.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve read all the books now, but I’ve watched the early 90s TV adaptation so many times that I’ve had to go back and do some actual re-reading of the novels as the TV versions are colouring my memories of the novels slightly.  There are eight TV Alleyns – and there are a few differences from the book.  The most obvious is probably that Troy is in almost all of them, with the relationship between the two their relationship builds over the course of the series.  The second is the condensing and moving of the timeline – while the series starts before the Second World War and continues in the post-war period, the TV series specifically sets the first case in 1948 and moves on from there.

There are also fairly major alterations to the plots – some have less victims than their book equivalent, others have characters removed and replaced, others have extra subplots added in and others taken out. The other obvious difference for the viewer is that two different actors play Alleyn – Simon Williams in Artists in Crime, the pilot episode and the story where Alleyn meets Troy, and Patrick Malahide in all the others.  Williams’ Alleyn is also a slightly different character – he’s said to have had a difficult war and is seen having some emotional difficulty with the resonpsibilty of the job – generally more Wimsey-ish than when Malahide plays him in the subsequent episodes.  I have reminder set on my TiVo box to record The Alleyn Mysteries and generally have two or three saved at a time for watching while ironing.  My favourites are – bizarrely – the aforementioned pilot and Dead Water  In fact if you fancy it, Alibi are showing two Alleyn’s this weekend and another two the week after.  They all have the added bonus that if you’ve watched any other murder mysteries (or costume dramas to be honest) of the same sort of vintage, you can spot the same people popping up all over the place – particularly the Joan Hickson Miss Marples: Emily Pride in Dead Water is played by Margaret Tyzack who plays Clotilde Bradbury Scott in Nemesis; in Artists in Crime, Rory’s mother Lady Alleyn is played by Ursula Howells who is Miss Blacklock in A Murder Is Announced.  They are not the only ones, but they’re probably the most obvious*.  There’s also cross over with Campion and Poirot as well as the BBC TV Narnia adaptations…

Audible screengrab showing Ngaio Marsh novels

Several of the Alleyn mysteries are on fairly heavy rotation in my audiobook library.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I am Very Bad With Silence and often listen to audiobooks to go to sleep to while I’m away from home.  And the audiobook fan is particularly lucky with this series – there’s abridged and unabridged versions of many of the novels with a variety of different narrators.  Benedict Cumberbatch has done shortened versions of three of them – Artists in Crime, Scales of Justice and Death in a White Tie – but I also like Anton Lesser (who is particularly good at accents).  And if you want something even shorter there are also a few radio plays available on Audible.  My favourites on audiobook are probably the Cumberbatch Scales of Justice and then Lesser’s  Opening Night and James Saxon’s unabridged Final Curtain.

If you fancy trying some Inspector Alleyn, you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily – they are available as ebooks, or as the three novel omnibuses that I have and they’re often in secondhand bookshops (although not usually charity shops, the most recent editions are a bit too old).  I started at the beginning and worked my way through (over the course of just under five years) but I don’t think you need to read them in order to enjoy them.  There is also an unfinished Alleyn, recently finished by Stella Duffy, which is out in paperback next month and which I have on my to read pile to get to sooner rather than later now that I’ve finished the series proper.  If you’re an Alleyn fan, let me know which your favourites are in the comments – and if you’ve read the “new” one let me know what you thought!

Happy Reading!

*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!

Cover of Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: Albert Campion

When I added the Campion Christmas stories to the festive reading blog, I realised that I hadn’t ever written a Series I love post about Margery Allingham’s detective and so one was really somewhat overdue.  So, to start off the new year, I’m putting that omission to rights.

Old Penguin copy of The Beckoning Lady

Albert Campion – not his real name – is a detective and problem solver.  He’s got an aristocratic background that is hinted and and has to be pieced together* – and many sources say he started as a parody of my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey.  Indeed as well as their family history, their physical description is fairly similar – Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses and has a face that is described as bland and inoffensive and as having a deceptively blank expression.  Wimsey by contrast is describes as being fair, average height, with a monocle and with a vaguely foolish face.  You see what I mean?  But as the books go on Albert is definitely his own man and a character in his own right.  He’s more of an adventurer and a man of action than many of his Golden Age Counterparts – and more often on the edge of the law.  Where Wimsey has Bunter – a gentleman’s gentleman with a flare for photography and chemistry – Albert has Lugg, an ex-con with a passion for trying to better himself but constantly being reminded of his past as he and Albert encounter his former criminal associates.  Albert’s friend in the police is the detective Stanislas Oates, who over the course of the series rises through the ranks of The Yard to become its chief.

The Campion stories tend more towards the adventure than straight up detective fiction – for example, my particular favourite is Sweet Danger which sees Albert posing as minor royalty at a foreign watering home and then attempting to outwit a criminal mastermind in the hunt for documents to prove who the ruler of a tiny but oil rich principality is.  There are chases, and a treasure hunt, and evil machinations and attempted witchcraft and it all builds to a very satisfactory conclusion.  The one in the series which gets most attention is The Tiger in the Smoke – which is a thriller not a detective novel – as Albert tries to track down a psychopath in foggy, smoggy London.  I also really like The Fashion in Shrouds, in which Albert’s fashion designer sister (also estranged from the aristocratic family) falls under suspicion after two deaths that are rather convenient for her best friend.

Copies of The Fashion in Shrouds and Flowers for the Judge

The series started in the 1930s and ran through until the 1960s, so I need to add my usual caveat about there being some dated attitudes and language in some of these – particularly the Fashion in Shrouds if I recall correctly – which means that the modern reader needs to approach with slight caution, but I don’t think there’s anything worse here than there is in Christie or Sayers.

There are 19 Campion novels written by Margery Allingham, two more written by her husband (who completed the final Allingham novel after her death) and then another five modern continuations by Mike Ripley.  I’ve read most of the Allingham written stories – although interestingly I think Campion’s first appearance, as a side character in The Crime at Black Dudley, is one of the ones in the series that I haven’t read.  I can almost see your puzzled face at this – but I have an explanation: I discovered Campion when I was living in Essex and on a very tight budget.  I was reading my way through the local library’s detective selection and they had a whole shelf of Campions – because Margery Allingham was a local author.  I promptly read my way through as many as I could lay my hands on – but it was pre-goodreads and I wasn’t keeping track.  I still don’t own many of them – a fact which has hampered me not inconsiderably in putting this post together!

There were also two series of TV adaptations in the early 1990s, starring Peter Davison as Campion, which do occasionally pop up on TV (usually on Alibi or Drama) which are fun if not entirely faithful to the plot and a bit clunking in places.  They’re definitely not as well put together as the Joan Hickson Miss Marples for example, the David Suchet Poirots or the Inspector Alleyn adaptations, but if you like the books then they’re worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

I’ve got a couple of Campions as audiobooks too which has actually been a really nice way to revisit the series.  Once I get my audiobook and podcast backlogs back down and under control, I’m planning to get a few more – and fill in some of the gaps in the series.

If you’ve read any Campion books – or have a favourite – let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading!

*And I can’t remember all the pieces at the moment!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

Revisiting My Big Obsessions of 2017

 

Contemporary Romances

After glomming on Jill Shalvis, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Kristen Higgins in 2017, I’ve continued to expand my contemporary romance horizons in 2018.  I’ve read even more Shalvis, Morgan and Crusie and added Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert to the list.  There no-go tropes are still there – billionaires, biker gangs, secret babies – but there’s plenty that I do like and they make a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of the newsroom after a long day of breaking news.

Crime series

As you’ll see from the 2018 obsessions post tomorrow, I’ve read a whole stack of new crime series this year.   The new Hobson and Choi was a Book of the Week and it’s a bit of a spoiler for my Books of the Year post to tell you how much I liked the new Vinyl Detective book. I’ve also continued to work my way through the Royal Spyness series – which I love, despite the title and the fact that I have to not think too hard about the premise – but some of the other series that I discovered last year have faded a little this year as they’ve got longer and deeper.  I’m not naming names though.

Non fiction

I’ve probably read more non-fiction books this year than any year before.  And yes, a lot of that was preparing for my Washington posting, but I’d already read a fair bit of non-fiction by that point. There was more Mary Roach but also more celebrity memoirs than previously.  I’m continuing to try and expand my world-view and the perspectives that I get on the world through my non-fiction reading and it’s been a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t read a lot of straight up history this year, so I’m hoping to change that a little bit in 2019.

I said in this post last year, that my obsessions tend to be quite consistent – and that I was hoping for something new and random in 2018.  I think I’m still working on similar themes to previous years, but the breadth and variety of my non-fiction reading is helping me from becoming boring in my old age!

 

Authors I love, Best of..., book round-ups

Best books of 2018

It’s nearly the end of the year and I promised you some extra posts looking back at the year didn’t I?  Well, here’s my look at five of my favourite books of the year.  Looking back on my Goodreads stats to write this, I realise that I’ve been very stingy with the 5 stars this year – which has made this very tricky to write because there are a lot of 4 star ratings and I’ve had to workout which ones were my real favourites.  And because of the way this blog works, you’ve heard about most of these before – either as Books of the Week or in other roundup posts – because when I like stuff this much, I tell you about it!

A Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

Copy of Another Day in the Death of America

This was part of my pre-Washington reading and although I read a lot of good books in that particular reading jag, this one has really stuck with me.  A snapshot of all the children and teens killed by guns on just one day in America, it is meticulously researched and will break your heart.  If you are in any doubt about the scale of gun deaths in the US, this will put it all into perspective -this is just a normal day – no mass shootings, just ten dead young people ranging in age from 9 to 19.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Paperback copy of Five Children on the Western Front

Lets get all the sad books out of the way to start with.  This is a middle grade continuation/follow on to E Nesbit’s The Five Children and It book.  I think I read the 5 children (maybe even more than one of them) after the 1990s BBC TV series was shown and it had never occurred to me that these were the children who would be the young men and women of the Great War – and of course when Nesbit was writing the books, she had no idea what was in their future either.  This is really, really good, but also quietly devastating. There are a lot of Second World War middle grade books, but not so many (or at least not that I’ve come across) Great War ones – this is a very good addition to the genre.  It came out a couple of years ago, but reading it this year with the centenary of the Armistice, felt very timely.  It wasn’t my BotW at the time -I was in a historical crime groove back in at the start of the year, but I’ve recommended it a few times since and it’s quietly crept up my list of best reads of the year.

The Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel

Copy of Victory Disc

The third in the Vinyl Dectective series is right up there as one of my favourite detective stories of the year.  This time our unnamed hero is on the hunt for records by a wartime swing band.  The Flarepath Orchestra were contemporaries of Glenn Miller, but their recordings are incredibly rare.  After one pops up unexpectedly, the Detective and his gang are asked to track down the rest.  But there are still secrets and lies at the heart of the band and soon a great deal of danger is threatening the gang.  This wasn’t a Book of the Week at the time – because it’s the third in the series and you’ll get the most from them by reading them in order.  The first in the series, Written in Dead Wax was a BotW last summer though – and I thoroughly recommend starting with that.  My Dad has read these and practically snaps my hand off to get the next one from me!  Good reads doesn’t have any details for a fourth yet, but I’m hoping that we’ll get more adventures in vinyl in 2019.

Anyone for Seconds by Laurie Graham

Regular readers know how much I love Laurie Graham (and if you don’t, here are the posts to prove it) but I remember saying to a friend before this came out that if she was going to write a sequel to one of her novels, this wasn’t the one that I would have picked.  How wrong I was, because this is my favourite of her contemporary novels in ages.  It snuck out a bit under the radar in August and I nearly missed it. We rejoin Lizzie Partridge, the heroine of Perfect Meringues, some twenty years after we last met her.  Lizzie was a TV-chef on the regional news, but after The Incident she has mostly worked in print.  But when her last paying gig is pulled, Lizzie decides to run away in the hope that it’ll get her some attention.  But no-one notices.  It does however, set in train a series of changes in Lizzie’s life.  It was a BotW and it’s still one of my favourites this year.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

It was a long wait for a new book by Jasper Fforde – my big Fforde discovery and binge actually happpened before I started this blog, but Early Riser was worth it and it was a BotW.  Set in a world where humans hibernate for four months every winter, this follows the adventures of one man in his first year as a Winter Consul – one of the people who watch over the sleeping masses.  This is completely standalone from his other books, but if you’ve read other Fforde novels you’ll spot that this world has some elements in common with Thursday Nexts.  It’s fantasy and sci-fi but at the end of that spectrum that I like.

The Birth of South Korean Cool by Euny Hong

Copy of the Birth of Korean Cool

And another non-fiction book to round out this list.  Euny Hong’s family moved back to South Korea in the 1980s when she was at school so she is ideally placed to take a look at how South Korea turned itself into a big name on the world stage through the course of twenty years. This is a really, really interesting and readable guide to the Korean pop-culture phenomenon and the policy behind it. Although some of the section dealing with North Korea is now slightly dated that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the book. I would happily have read another 100 pages.   It had been on my to-read list for ages – but I finally got around to getting hold of a copy after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at the start of the year (although it took me another few months to get around to reading it!). I’ve recommended it a number of times – and used knowledge I learned from it to look smart when talking about K-pop with younger colleagues.  A winner all around!

Let me know what your favourite books of the year have been in the comments – and coming up over the next few days we’ve also got my reading obsessions of the year – and how 2017’s obsessions have lasted as well as the books that I’m looking forward to in 2019.So here you are, six of my favourite reads of 2018.  There were a few five star reads this year that aren’t on the list – but they are very much from favourite authors – new installments in the Wells and Wong series and from Gail Carriger and the Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang that I’ve already talked about so much already over the years that I’d be boring you to tell you about them again.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Forever and a Day

A tricky choice this week – I didn’t finish a lot, and there’s a lot of repeat authors here. And I’ve been super busy, so that means I don’t have a lot of time to write. But as I’ve read three Lucky Harbor books in as many weeks, this seemed like a good option. Anyway, to the book…

Cover of Lucky Harbor omnibus

Grace never thought she’d end up in a town like Lucky Harbor. Her super successful parents had plans and ideas for how they wanted her life to turn out and she’s never wanted to make them feel disappointed in the little girl they adopted. But when the job she moved across country for turned out to have some sexual strings attached, she knew it wasn’t the job for her. But that left her without a job and a long way from home and she doesn’t know how she’s going to sort this out before her parents find out. Then she ends up dog sitting and then baby sitting for local doctor Josh. Josh has got far too much on his plate. His son is only communicating in barks since his sister brought home Tank the puppy. And his sister has got a serious case of rebellion going on, after the accident that killed their parents and left her in a wheelchair. Soon he and grace are getting on really well and the sparks are flying, but they both know that this can only be a temporary thing – after all she isn’t staying in town and he’s been burnt before and doesn’t want to upset what balance he does have in his life. Right?

So Lucky Harbor books come in threes, and this is the third of its groups, so if you’re reading in order you’ve already seen Grace’s arrival in town and the friendship that she’s built with Amy and Mallory, the heroines of the previous two books in the series, as well asserting glimpses of Josh as he interacted with his friends in town. This makes this book extra satisfying because you’re already engaged with the characters and invested in a happy ending for them. Jill Shalvis is so good at these small town romances. Her characters are three dimensional and their backstories feel very realistic. And the writing is so witty – you get to laugh as well as getting a happy ending. What more could you want?

As you can tell, I got my copy from Barnes and Noble as part of an omnibus edition, but you should be able to get hold of these fairly easily as ebooks from all the usual sources although the paperbacks may be a little harder to find in the UK, but I have found them in the library on occasion too.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, historical

Book of the Week: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace

I treated myself to this the day before my flight, and what greater treat to read for part of my flight (I slept and watched two documentary films* too) than the first Daisy Dalrymple book in quite a while. Long term reader may remember my long time love of Daisy – which has spawned my (mostly unsuccessful) quest for more similar sort of mysteries.

Cover of the Corpse at the Crystal Palace

We rejoin Daisy and her family as they prepare for a visit from the long lost relatives she discovered in a previous book (Heirs of the Body). As part of the visit they make a trip to the Crystal Palace, where they stumble upon a body. Of course Daisy can’t help but get involved in the investigation. Over the course of the investigation there’s nightclubs, showgirls and Russian emigrés. Meanwhile in the background there’s a chance of a promotion for Alec. Can Daisy solve the crime? And is Alec ready for a new job?

It’s always nice to be back in Daisy’s world and this is particularly fun because there’s a lot of familiar faces showing up here from earlier books, some of whom we haven’t seen for a really long time. It’s not my favourite book in the series, but that was mostly because I wanted a bit more from the actual mystery. But as far as historical cozy crime series go, it’s hard to beat Daisy.

You should be able to get this in ebook from all the usual places like Kindle and Kobo, but I suspect the physical book will be harder to find in bookshops unless you order it in. Do yourself a favour though, if you’re new to Daisy and go back at start at the beginning and Death at Wentwater Court. It’s the sort of series where it’s worth it.

Happy reading!