Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: The Three Dahlias

I had a lovely week off last week and read some good stuff, but interests of not repeating myself, today’s pick is a book I finished on Monday. Yes I know it’s cheating, but the book is really good so I’m sure you’ll let me off!

The three Dahlias of the title are three actresses who have played or are about to play the same character – a legendary heroine of golden age detective fiction. They’re spending a weekend at a fan convention organised at the stately home the author lived in. But then there is a suspicious death and they have to work together to find the killer.

I mean could this be any more up my street? Honestly it ticks so many of boxes of things that I like: A murder mystery set in a country house! A classic crime connection! A group of actresses! A convention! It almost seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t. It was really, really good. I was 100 pages in before I even realised it. I really liked the way the narrative switched between folllowing the three different actresses and I think it did really well at making each of them seem distinct. I did have the murderer figured out (or at least narrowed down) but I couldn’t figure out why so it had me partly fooled.

I loved the golden age crime tie in – from what you can work out, Dalhia is a bit of 1930s Phryne Fisher type character – glamorous and rule breaking and with a police man in tow (but written at the time) – and like some of the Golden Age detectives, the series went on being written for many years, although wisely the books didn’t move through time at the same pace as the author! And each chapter starts with a quote from one of the books and it works really well – making you want to read a Dahlia book without really ever telling you much about their plots!

A sequel is coming later this – which is both excellent news and really interesting to see if the formula can work again! I will be keeping my eye out for it for sure.

My copy of The Three Dahlias was part of my post Christmas book buying spree, so I think it should be fairly easy to get hold of in your format of choice.

Happy Reading!

crime, series

Mystery series: Christy Kennedy

For the first series post of the new year (yes I spent nearly two weeks looking back at 2022 and looking ahead to 2023), we’re going back in time to the late 1990s and a London-set mystery series from a time before smart phones and being able to google anything you don’t know.

Inspector Christy Kennedy is from Ireland but his patch is Camden, in North London and across the series he investigates a series of murders across his patch. He’s also involved with a local journalist ann rea (her spelling/capitalisation) who isn’t quite as convinced about the relationship as he is. The first book in the series was I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass, which sees Christy investigating a record producer who has gone missing and later turns up dead, but the second book, Last Boat to Camden Town, is actually a prequel where you see ann and Christy meet during the investigation into the death of a doctor found dead in a canal. Paul Charles worked in the music industry for years – managing bands, being an agent and programming the accoustic stage at Glastonbury, so when the books are dealing with the music industry – and they often are, see also the titles – it’s from an actual position of knowledge from someone who was there at the time and that’s the sort of detail that I love.

And it’s delightful – although a little bit disturbing – to see 90s London in a book and realise how much everything has changed. I mean I know that everything has changed over the last *gulp* 25 years, but this is definitely an era that I remember – although I wasn’t reading crime fiction at the time – so it’s weird to see how much things have changed over just a portion of my lifetime! When I first read these, it did send me on a bit of a 90s crime jag – if you were around this blog at the time you may remember me doing these and the Sam Jones mysteries around the same sort of time as each other – and I’ve since been picking up the Liz Evans’ Grace Smith series whenever I spot them too. There’s something about this sort of era that means that murder mysteries really work – maybe it’s because a lot of the stuff that’s been written now has gone super gruesome or psychological and I’m not up for that, or maybe it’s just that because it’s in the past it gives me a bit of a remove from stuff and means I can deal with it a bit more. Anyway, I love discovering old crime series that I missed – so do stick any more you can think of in the comments.

Buying this series is where it gets tricky – I read the first five of the series when Fahrenheit Press republished them nearly six years ago. I’ve since picked up the sixth, and have just ordered the seventh while I’ve been writing this and then there are another two after that that I haven’t read. I’m just going to point you at Paul Charles’s own website and the info he has there and hope that’s the best option!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: A High-End Finish

New year (yes it’s still a new year even if we’ve hit the middle of the month), new cozy crime series for me and something different to talk about in today’s BotW. And you know I love a cozy crime series. So here we go.

A High-End Finish is the first in a series of cozy crimes featuring Shannon Hammer, a contractor specialising in Victorian homes in her town of Lighthouse Cove on the Northern California coast. In this first book, Shannon finds a dead body in the basement of a house that she’s working on – and becomes a suspect in a murder inquiry as she went on a blind date with the victim a few days earlier – and was heard threatening him after he wouldn’t take no for an answer. The town’s new police chief doesn’t seem inclined to believe that she had nothing to do with the murder, so Shannon starts investigating herself with the help of her friends, her nosy neighbours and a crime writer who has just moved to town.

This is a really nice set up for a new series but because there are a lot of characters to introduce and backstories to set up, the detecting is not quite as well developed as you would like and I thought the solution was a bit, ho hum. BUT I really liked Shannon, her friends and the town itself so I forgive it – because first books in series are often like this – either they don’t do a good enough job of setting up the side characters or the mystery isn’t as good as you want it to be. This usually settles down in book two – especially if it’s an established author starting a new series (which Kate Carlisle is). Luckily I picked up the next book in the series (in fact the whole series so far) second hand last month (as seen in Books Incoming) so it’s a good thing I liked them and I can also go straight on to book two to see if the problems get ironed out.

It is nice to have a home improvement/contractor theme for a cozy series though – as previously mentioned, I’m a bit cookery cozied out, and as I’m not usually into the supernatural sometimes it feels like there aren’t a lot of choices for me beyond that. Still hopefully these will keep me busy for a few weeks (at least).

As previously mentioned, my copy of A High-End Finish came via one of my Facebook book groups, but they’re available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback. As they’re American Mass Market Paperbacks though, you may have trouble finding them in stores in the UK – so your best bet might be ordering from Book Depository or similar.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books

Book of the Week: The Chalet School Wins the Trick

As mentioned yesterday, very much a week on my sickbed last week with a lot of rereading going on, which left an interesting array of options for today – so I’ve setttled on a sort of re-read – I’ve read the abridged version of Chalet School Wins the Trick before, but never the original version, so here we are, another week another Girls Own pick! Apologies for the slightly gloomy/shadowy picture – it’s so overcast here you would not believe

The Chalet School Wins the Trick is number 46 in the series and in many ways could be considered Peak Chalet School Tropes. But I’ll come back to that. First, lets have the plot: Just before the start of term, Miss Dene catches a group of children trying to start a campfire in the middle of the school’s best cricket pitch. She sends them along their way – but the group swear they’ll get their revenge on the school. Thus the summer term is marked by a series of pranks pulled by the quintet affecting the pupils, the staff and ex pupils.

So if you were playing Elinor Brent Dyer Bingo, this would get you a full house. We have: Joey saves the day, Mary Lou Butts in, Joan Baker being “not the right type”, sick parents/relatives at the San where the children don’t know, very weird medical treatments (a scalded arm into a vat of flour), lots of unaccompanied Child Wandering, a fete, a death of (another) parent, women’s careers being thrown over because of housework and the all time great – a massive continuity fluff within the same book. I think the only thing its missing is Joey singing someone out of an illness/coma!

As with so many reviews of Girls Own stuff that I write, this is not a book that you can easily get hold of – and nor do I recommend you to, unless you’re already interested in the oevre. It was one of the rarer books – it is from 1961, so fairly late in the series and so it had less time to be reprinted than the earlier ones. And it is full of references to escapades in previous books, which might get tiresome if you haven’t read them. If you’ve never read a Chalet School book, you should probably start with Chalet School in Exile – which is probably EBD’s best book – grappling with how to deal with a British school in Austria as the Nazis swept through Europe and what women and girls could do about it. It’s not your normal school story. Other than that, you could always start at the beginning.

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Green for Danger

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick – and I would apologise except that this is really really good and a new to me author so I’m not really sorry.

Green for Danger is set in World War Two, at a military hospital in Kent. At the start of the novel, a postman delivers seven acceptance letters to people who want to work at the hospital. A year later, he returns to the hospital as a patient, and dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. At first it is thought to be an accident, but Inspector Cockrill is sent to double check. When he is stranded at the hospital during an air raid, events start to unfold that prove that Joseph Higgins’ death was no accident.

This is a really clever and atmospheric novel – enough to make you afraid of ever having an operation again, for all that it’s set in the middle of World War Two and technology has obviously changed and moved on since then. I didn’t guess who did it – but I probably could have done if I had tried hard enough because the clues were there if you thought about it hard enough. As I said at the top, this is the first Christianna Brand novel that I’ve read – having spotted this on the BLCC table at Waterstones in Piccadilly a couple of months ago and waited to see if it would rotate into Kindle Unlimited – which it has. And if they are all as good as this, I’ve got a treat coming, even if this is her most famous mystery. And I chose my words wisely there – because she’s also the creator of Nurse Matilda – which was adapted for screen by Emma Thompson and turned into Namny McPhee, which is one of my favourite kids films of the last twenty years. And not just because it has Colin Firth in it!

Anyway, the paperback of Green for Danger is fairly easily found: in the British Library shop, and I’ve seen it in several more bookshops since that first time in Piccadilly. And as I said it’s in KU at the moment, which means it’s off Kobo for a while, but should be back there at some point.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Fantasy, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Fire in the Thatch

I read two British Library Crime Classics last week, and it was a tough choice between the two – both of which are within the statute of limitations according to my own rules, but I’m going with Fire in the Thatch, because I read it quickest and I do like Lorac’s style – it’s so easy to read.

It’s towards the end of the Second World War, and a service man who has been invalided out of the forces takes a tenancy on a thatched cottage in rural Devon. Vaughan sets about putting the cottage and land in order, seemingly ready to make his life there. His landlord is a local farmer, whose son has been taken prisoner and has invited his daughter in law and baby grandson to come and live with them. But June is bored of the country and its company, and invites her friends to stay nearby, disturbing the peace of the rural idyll. And then Vaughan’s cottage burns down and one of his friends refuses to believe that it’s an accident. Inspector Macdonald is sent down from London to investigate whether there was a motive for murder.

Setting aside that I really liked the victim and wanted him not to be dead (it’s so much easier in a murder mystery when the victim is awful isn’t it?) this is a clever and twisty mystery, where I had figured out the who of the solution but not quite the why. Some of the motivation is a little of its time – sorry can’t explain more than that because of spoilers – but it’s not really any wilder than some of the stuff that goes on in some of the Girls Own stuff I read so I was prepared to go with it.

MacDonald is Lorac’s regular detective and his is calm and methodical and although you don’t always see much of his personality or personal life, he still manages to be engaging to the reader. This is one of a long series, not all of which are available on Kindle, but I’ve already written about several others – including Post After Post Mortem, These Names Make Clues and Murder By Matchlight.

Fire in the Thatch is £2.99 on Kindle at the moment in the BLCC edition, but there is another version for 99p, if you can live with the fact that the author’s name is spelt wrong on the cover. This is also the only version that I can find on Kobo. But the BLCCs do slowly rotate through Kindle Unlimited, so it may comethrough at some point. Several of the other Lorac’s are in KU at the moment though if you want to read them instead.

Happy reading!

mystery, series

Crime Series: Nanette Hayes

Am I starting a new series strand? Maybe. I nearly called this retro crime series, but I didn’t want to limit myself too much. Anyway, I have a couple of crime series in mind for this – stuff that is a little older, but not Golden Age old. And these have got a gorgeous reissue recently – which is what first brought them to my attention.

Nanette Hayes is a saxophone-playing street busker, whose mum thinks she has a proper job. At the start of the first book, her boyfriend breaks up with her and a fellow busker she invites to sleep on her couch ends up murdered in her kitchen. The dead man was an undercover cop – and Nanette ends up doing some investigating of her own to try and make sure she doesn’t end up being blamed. In the second book she’s in Paris, trying to track down her missing aunt and in the third and final novel she finds herself investigating the murder of a woman who made a voodoo doll that Nanette is given by a friend.

This are just incredibly stylish and evocative. Nanette is strutting her way through a jazz infused world where seedy peril is always lurking on the periphery. There’s just something about her that makes you want to read about her, even when she’s being foolhardy or stupid. The books are relatively short, but they pack a lot in. The mysteries are good but Nanette is the star.

I picked the first of these up a couple of months back after seeing them looking gorgeous in Foyles – and I went back for the other two because I enjoyed it so much. Nanette’s New York (and Paris) are so cool that I’m annoyed that there aren’t more of them to read. But the three there are are worth it – and you could probably read them all back to back in one weekend if you wanted, which is a treat in itself

You might need to order these in, but as I said the Big Foyles had all three of these in stock so you might get lucky. I have no clue what the original UK release was like – but I don’t recall having seen these in a second hand book store. Doesn’t mean they don’t turn up though.

Happy reading!

previews, romantic comedy

New this week: Better Than Fiction

Well it was a delightful treat from Past Verity when this dropped onto my Kindle on Tuesday morning – because I had completely forgotten that I had preordered the new Alexa Martin novel! I’ve recommended her football romances before, but I think her last novel and this are moving more towards the Rom com than the straight Rom. I shall report back. This promises a reluctant bookstore owner being converted to book lover by a best selling romance author. I can’t wait!

Adventure, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Adventure capers

Continuing the adventure caper theme of the last ten days or so, for this week’s recommendsday I’ve got some books for you if you want some excitement that’s not necessarily murder mystery – although to be fair there are some deaths involved in most of these. And I’ve stuck fairly strictly to stuff sent in contemporary times – and without any fantasy or paranormal elements.

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

This technically a romance but it’s also an adventure story so it totally belongs in this post. Lily’s father was a famous treasure hunter – always looking for a big find. But when he died he left her with nothing but debts and his own hand drawn treasure maps. She’s turned those maps into a business – taking tourists on fake treasure hunts through canyons in Utah as she tries to raise enough money to buy her family ranch back. Then one tour the man who broke her heart and his friends turn up and the tour goes horribly wrong and Lily starts to wonder if the treasure her dad was searching for was real after all. Lily and Leo will have to work together if they’re going to fix the wrongs of the past. I really enjoyed this – it’s quite different from Christina Lauren’s usual romances as it has Actual Life or Death Peril, and in some ways I was more interested in the treasure hunt side of it than the romance!

Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen

Hiaasen writes darkly humorous adventure romps – I’ve read a few and every time I read one I think I should read more of them. Skinny Dip is the first in a series, and sees a former State investigator trying to work out who is trying to kill him after an intruder breaks into his house with a gun. His former career means he has a long list of enemies to narrow down as he tries to stay alive to enjoy his retirement. If you want to get a flavour of the sort of black comedy we’re dealing with: he kills the burglar using a stuffed fish. I saw someone describe his work as “if Florida man was a book” which is sort of fair, but sort of not. This was actually a Book of the Week back in 2018 – so i’m allowed to recommend it again now – and another of Hiaasen’s books, Basket Case, was a BotW last year too.

If you haven’t read the Da Vinci Code, that definitely counts as an adventure more than anything else I think – it feels very chase-y. I read the Da Vinci Code not long after it first came out and then read another non-Robert Langdon Dan Brown before reading Angels and Demons – and with Angels and Demons I was able to pick out the culprit straight away and I’m not sure I’ve finished another one since, although I have tried – so your mileage may vary but I do know people who have loved them all.

And of course there are a couple series that I’ve written about that fit into this too: Vicky Bliss (and Amelia Peabody although obviously that’s historical adventure and so doesn’t belong here!) and the Vinyl Detective probably counts too.

Happy Wednesday

Adventure, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Killers of a Certain Age

I’m breaking the rules again with this week’s BotW a little bit, because I already flagged Killers of a Certain Age to you the day it came out. But I finally (because: shingles) finished it last week on holiday and now I want to write about it again! As I said in that post, this is Deanna Raybourn’s first contemporary adventure-thriller novel – although it does have some jumping back and forward in time in the way that her standalone novels do too.

To the plot: Billie and her three friends have spent their whole working lives working for the Museum – a network of assassins which was founded to hunt down escaped Nazis after World War Two, but has expanded its business into other people the world would be better without. To mark their retirement, the four women are sent on an all expenses paid cruise – but on day one, Billie spots a colleague from the organisation under cover, and realises that they are now the ones targetted for assassination. Thus begins their quest to stay alive – and to find out why their employer suddenly wants them dead.#

I was definitely expecting to be more nerve wracking than it ended up being – beause it’s actually a a charmingly murderous adventure caper, rather than a scary thriller type thing. I’ve been trying to explain what I mean, but the best that I can come up with is that it’s the cozy crime of adventure thrillers. Does that make sense? Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Nathalie are a great gang to be following around for 300 pages and it makes such a change to see older women who are not just super competent, but super competant with modern technology and all that that entails. I liked the flashbacks to earlier in their career that explains how they became the women that they are today but I also liked the fact that they complain about their knees and that they’re not as young as they used to be. It felt very real and very relatable. I would say that I would like to be friends with them – except that I don’t think they do friends that aren’t assassins unless they want to kill you.

Killers of a Certain Age is an absolutely bargainous 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment – which is less than the pre-order price that I paid , so you really should go for it if you like cozy crime, or Steph Plum (and similar series) or Raybourn’s historical novels.

Happy Reading!