Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Cast, In Order of Disappearance

Back to semi-normal service this week, in that there is a BotW post, albeit a shorter one because I spent the week working and then gadding about Washingotn with my sister.  However after she and her boyfriend left on Saturday evening I consoled myself with books and this was one of them.

Cast, In Order of Disappearance is the first novel in the Charles Paris series by Simon Brett. Set in 1974, Charles is a middle-aged actor, with a drink problem and a career problem.  But when he meets up with a previous paramour (from a seaside run in panto) he ends up getting entangled in blackmail, the murder of a theatre impresario and all sorts of other shenanigans.  It’s all set against the backdrop of petrol shortages, electricity rationing and the winter of discontent which makes for a slightly different take on the murder mystery.  Charles is very much in the mold of the classic amateur sleuth, and even as he’s being terrible (drinking, womanising etc) he’s still strangely likeable and very readable.

This is the first book in a seventeen-book series – which I came across because the radio adaptations popped up in my recommendations on audible.  I’ve been listening to some of them – which are great fun as they have Bill Nighy as Charles (he’s predictably brilliant) but they have been considerably updated.  I really liked both of them – and although the original version is probably my favourite, it does require a level of knowledge about Britain in the 1970s which may not work for modern audiences.  Anyway, I’m already stockpiling more of these to read, so you may well here more of them anon.

Yes, this is short, but it’s been a busy week – and it’s about to get even busier.  As this posts, I should be gearing up for a midterms overnight shift.  Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that I love elections – so it’s a big night for me and requires proper preparation.  Hence the short post.  Sorry, not sorry.

You can get Cast, In Order of Disappearance on Kindle or Kobo, but the paperbacks are out of print.  But the radio plays are available on audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, crime, detective, Verity Goes to Washington

Book of the Week: Legwork

After a good week of reading last week I was spoilt for choice forBotW options, but in the end I went for a new to me author and series that I picked up in a secondhand shop during one of my lunchtime strolls through Washington DC.

Paperback copy of Legwork

Casey is a private eye. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for a spell in jail that means that she can’t get a licence in her current home in North Carolina. What she actually is, is the person doing all the hard work for Bobby D, an overweight eating machine who doesn’t want to do anything that means he needs to leave the office. Casey’s current job is some security work for a local senatorial candidate. Mary Lee Masters decided she needed extra protection when she started getting threatening phone calls, so when she finds a dead body in her car it’s Casey she calls for help. Soon Casey is investigating some very seedy dealings and trying to keep the fact that she doesn’t have a licence under wraps from Detective Bill Butler.

Long-term readers may remember me tearing a streak through Janet Evanovich’s back catalogue, in particular the Stephanie Plum series, and that I’m always looking for books and series that scratch a similar itch. I think this might be one of them. Casey is a so much fun to read about. She’s smart and tough and knows what she’s good at – and she’s good at her job. Casey is no damsel in distress who needs rescuing. She’s running away from her past, but she knows she’s doing it and that she’ll have to face up to it some day. The mystery is well plotted and twisty and all the characters are well drawn. I also really liked Southern setting, which is so well described I can almost smell it. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book in the series.

Legwork first came out in 1997 – three years after Stephanie Plum, which makes it another older series which I’ve discovered years after the fact. Clearly I need to do some more research and digging to see if there are anymore unconventional female sleuth series from that era that I’m missing out on.

As I mentioned earlier, my copy was secondhand, but it’s still available in Kindle or in paperback if you want to take a look. In fact the whole series is available for free on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (which I’m not, we all know I’ve got enough access to books as it is and the to-read pile is already massive!)

Happy Reading!

detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Inspector Richardson series

If you follow my Week in Books posts, you ma have noticed me tearing a streak through Basil Thomson’s Inspector Richardson series earlier in the summer, and I’ve been planning to write about them for a while.  As this is my first week away in the USA, I though now might be a good time to post this – as I’ve no idea how busy I’m going to be – and whether I’ll be able to keep normal service going on here!

The eight books in the Inspector Richardson series follow the titular policeman as he rises through the ranks, from police constable in the first book, into the detective branch and all the way up to the giddy heights of Chief Constable.  They were originally published between 1933 and 1937 – which makes rather a rapid rise for Richardson – and fit nicely into the Golden Age of murder mysteries that I love so much.

These aren’t as complicated in plot terms as some of their contemporaries, but they are fast-paced and very readable.  The first book sees an estranged couple murdered on the same day, later stories feature diplomatic intrigue, the drug trade, a suspicious suicide and smuggling.  As he rises through the ranks, Richardson becomes more of a supervisory figure, but there are some themes that run through the series – and which get pulled together nicely in the final book in the series, A Murder Is Arranged, which I think might be my favourite of all.

What makes these a little bit different from most of the other mysteries of the time that featured a police officer as the detective is that the author, Basil Thomson was a former Assistant Chief Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and a former head of their CID department.  So the police procedural detail in this is drawn more from real experience from many of its contemporaries.  Martin Edwards has written an introduction for this latest batch of reissues that tells you a little bit about the author and the context of the books at the time – although it doesn’t mention some of the more dubious aspects of his life that are in Thomson’s Wikipedia entry. However as Thomson’s been dead since 1939 I felt ok buying the books because its not as if I’m lining his pockets!

I wouldn’t suggest making these your starting point if you want to dip your toe into the world of inter-war crime novels – but then i find it hard to see beyond Peter Wimsey for that –  but if you’ve exhausted Sayers and Christie, these are easier to get hold of than Margery Allingham can be and are worth a look – along with more well known authors like Josephine Tey and Patricia Wentworth and are more affordable than some of the other more forgotten authors that British Library Crime Classics have been republishing*.

The first book in the series, Richardson’s First Case is available for 99p at time of writing on Kindle and Kobo and the rest of the series are at a similar price point so if you like it, it’s a fairly cheap way of passing a few hours!

Happy Reading

*See BotW posts on The Cornish Coast Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder (both by John Bude), Christopher St John Spriggs’ Death of an Airman and Christmas compilation Silent Nights if you want more on some of these.

Book of the Week, detective, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Mystery of Three Quarters

This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely!  Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.

Cover of The Mystery of Three Quarters

As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder.  Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her.  Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter.  The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters.  So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.

And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.

My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights

With all the holiday excitement over and my reading pretty much back to normal, we’re in the murder mystery end of my reading for this week’s BotW, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights by Ovidia Yu. I picked this up on a whim from a charity bookshop in Westminster on my lunch break from my local elections results shift back in May and I’m really glad I did.  In fact that bookshop trip provided a few books from authors that I hadn’t heard of before that really, really appealed to me.  I think it’s location meant that it had a different selection of books from a lot of the charity shops I’ve been in recently.  And I’m always after new voices and new ideas for reading material!

Cover of Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

When her client and her sick son are found dead in his bedroom during a garden party that she is catering, Aunty Lee finds her food under suspicion. The intrepid widow starts to investigate, but when her restaurant and kitchen are shut down because of the influential connections of the victims, she redoubled her efforts. Meanwhile the police officer in charge of the investigation finds his efforts hampered by an officious and over zealous junior officer as well as political pressure to blame the food and let it go. What really killed Mabel Sung and her son Leonard, how does a dead Chinese man fit in and who is it that is so desperate to cover everything up?

I’ve been describing this to people as Crazy Rich Asians meets cozy crime. It’s got some of the elements of the super rich privileged lifestyle that you find in Kevin Kwan’s novel but also the amateur detective trying to save their business element that I love in so many small town cozy crime novels. Aunty Lee is a great character – an older widow who talks to photos of her dead husband that are on the wall in every room of her house and restaurant, she has an annoying stepson and daughter-in-law and a band of loyal friends. This is the second in the series and I still feel like I’m missing a bit of Aunty Lee’s back story, but I enjoyed this so much I didn’t care!

I hadn’t come across Ovidia Yu before – my copy of this is also clearly a US edition – but having read this I’m really keen to read more from her. This is a well-written page turner with a clever plot and a brilliant cast of characters.  I also loved the setting – Singaporean life and culture is brought to life so vividly in this – with the mix of cultures, backgrounds and languages with a lot of what felt like really good insider detail.

Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights is available on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback – although I suspect it’s going to be an order it in to the bookstore sort of book rather than a find-it-on-the-shelf one.  I’ll definitely be looking for more from Ovidia Yu – there are three other Aunty Lee books and she’s written other books that I like the look of as well, because of course what I need is more books on the to-read shelf…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: A Spoonful of Murder

This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that.  The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.

Cover of A Spoonful of Murder

Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather.  Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support.  And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh.  As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages.  The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares.  Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.

The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf.  One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint.  The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England.  The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done.  Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated.  And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.

And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this.  The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly.  I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there.  It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.  Perfect.  And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this.  And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them.  It has maps and everything.

You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too.   For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith

There were a few options for this week’s BotW pick, but I have plans for some of them, but also this was my favourite book that I read last week and makes a nice companion or compliment to last week’s choice. Last week I picked A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia, which was a book set in the interwar period but written now, this week it’s The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith, which is a genuine forgotten Golden Age mystery. It was also another book from the massive unread pile on my Kindle and I’m so pleased I impulse bought it at some point in the distant past.

The cover of The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith

Patrica Wentworth’s The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith was originally published in 1923 and tells the story of a young woman who is swept into an adventure after a chance meeting when she’s down on her luck, with nowhere to stay and be t to no money. In one of those astonishing coincidences that you find in some books, it transpires that a Jane has a cousin who is practically her double and who is being held hostage by her father and a shadowy group that he is associated with. The cousin has a fiancé who is desperate to elope with her and run off to foreign climes and Jane ends up switching places with Renata and taking over her identity. What follows is a breathless espionage adventure thriller with a dash of romance and a dollop of murder.

It rattles along at a breathless pace that doesn’t really give you a chance to notice the bonkersness until you’ve finished and stop to think. I raced through it once I actually sat down properly to read it and then went off to trawl Kindle for more books by Patricia Wentworth in my budget. A certain amount of suspension of belief is necessary – there are anarchists and secret passages and shadowy forces at work as well as the lookalike cousins – but you liked The 39 Steps, or the more adventure-y Albert Campion novels, then you need to read this.

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith is included in Kindle Unlimited if you’re part of that scheme, or you can buy it on Kindle or as a paperback. At time of writing it’s £1.99 on Kindle, but I’m fairly sure I picked it up for free, so it might be worth adding to your watch list to see if the price drops.

Happy Reading!