So after a week of old favourite authors and only a few new things, I find myself back in the realms of classic mysteries for this week’s BotW pick.
So Smallbone Deceased is a murder mystery set in the offices of a firm of London solicitors. Horniman, Birley and Crane is a well established and prestigious firm – who have just lost their senior partner, Mr Horniman. Some weeks after his death, when his son has taken over his share in the firm, a body is discovered in a deed box and the firm is thrown into turmoil. Inspector Hazlerigg is sent to investigate what strongly seems to be an inside job, and receives some assistance from Henry Bohun, the newest solicitor of the firm – newly qualified and arrived after the body must have been placed in situe.
Michael Gilbert was a solicitor by training, and this is a wonderfully drawn picture of the characters of the law firm and the way the wheels of the legal profession turned in the late 1940s. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I like all the details about the advertising company in Dorothy L Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise, and this does the same sort of thing for a solicitors office. The mystery itself is very clever, although a little slow to get started, the pace picks up nicely and by the end its tense and fast paced as Hazlerigg and Bohun race around (not together!) trying to catch the killer.
I’ve read a lot of British Library Crime Classics now and written about a fair few of them here (like Murder by Matchlight, The Sussex Downs Murder and The Division Bell Murder). I find them such a reliable series for discovering new-to-me Golden Age murder mysteries. They may not all be to my precise taste, but they’re always well constructed – even in the ones when the writing style doesn’t appeal to me. And they also have a habit of rotating their titles through Kindle Unlimited so if you’re smart you can work your way through them quite nicely.
My copy came via the wonders of the aforementioned Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy in the Crime Classics edition on Kindle for £2.99. Kobo has a slightly different looking version, for a slightly higher price. The Crime Classics version is also available in paperback – and if you get a big enough bookshop you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily. You could also buy it from the British Library shop direct – where they’re doing 3 for 2 on their own books so you could also grab
A productive week in reading last week as you can see from the list. I finished the new Vinyl Detective, which was great – but I think you need to be reading those in order. Check out my review of Written in Dead Wax – which is the first in the series – and as the series has gone on, the women have become more well-rounded and developed which I think maybe means I was being insightful?! Anyway today’s BotW is also new fiction and this is actually out on Thursday this week, so for once I’m ahead of time!
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland has a new life in Greece, where she is running a small hotel with her boyfriend. But when a couple at the hotel tell her about a murder that happened at their hotel on the day of their daughter’s wedding, she is intrigued. And then when she finds out that the daughter is now missing after saying that the wrong man was convicted and that she’s worked it out because of one of the books that Susan published, she returns to the UK to try and find out what has happened. Her investigation takes her from London to Suffolk and to the pages of 1950s Devon.
This is the sequel to Magpie Murders, and although I think this will work better if you’ve read the first book, I actually liked this more. Like the first book, it features a book-within-a-book and it’s really clever and super meta. It’s also super hard to explain in a review. In Magpie Murders, Susan found herself investigating the death of one of her authors who was famous for writing a series of novels about a 1950s detective called Atticus Pünd. The books were homages to Golden Age crime, but the author – Alan Conway – hated writing them (but no one wanted to publish his other stuff) so he wove in references to people that he knew and events in real life to entertain himself. In Magpie Murders the book within the book is Conway’s final Atticus Pünd novel, in Moonflower Murders, it is an earlier book in the series, which turns out to be similarly peppered with clues. It’s a really interesting reading experience. It’s easy to get lost in the Pünd story and forget that you’re meant to be reading it because Susan is reading it looking for clues to the “real” case. The Pünd novel is a satisfying mystery – and so is the “real” mystery that Susan is looking into. It’s such a fun and also mind bending reading experience.
My copy of the Moonflower Murders came from NetGalley, but it’s out on Thursday in hardback, Kindle and Kobo. Horowitz is a big name, so I’d expect you to be able to find physical copies of this fairly easily in bookstores and maybe the supermarkets.
So while I was writing about nice escapist reading from the ‘rona, I realised that even though I’ve talked about it a lot, I haven’t written a Series I Love post about one of my favourites: Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) but sticking to my rule about not recommending later books in series, even though there’s a lot of five star ratings on my Goodreads for them, I haven’t revisited the series properly. Even though my bonus picture for one of the last weeks before the lockdown was me at a Ben Aaronovitch event for the new book – and I enjoyed it so much I had a ticket for another one which got cancelled because of said lockdown. Anyway, now I’ve read that latest instalment in the series, here goes:
We meet Peter Grant in the first book as a rookie police officer in the Met, about to get assigned to a dead end department until he sees a ghost. Yes that’s right, a ghost. That leads him into a hidden world of magic and encounters The Folly – or the magic department. This means the series is what I have described as Grown Up Hogwarts but in the Police. Over the course of the subsequent eight books (so far), two novellas, an audiobook exclusive and a line of graphic novels, he and the gang have investigated in Soho, in the Underground, in a brutalist estate, in Herefordshire and in Mayfair and so much more as he’s learned about the world of magic, River Gods and so much more.
I don’t want to go into too much of the plots, because really that spoils everything, but I will say that you do need to read these in order – there is an overarching story that weaves in around the cases of the week (so to speak), which builds over time to a crescendo that puts everything else into second place. Peter doesn’t know that magic exists until he sees the ghost in the first book – but once he’s involved and has met Inspector Nightingale (the last wizard in England) things are slowly revealed to him. Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr Who and I think it really shows in his skill at building a complete and fully formed world – even if he insists he didn’t have all the rules sorted out when he first started writing the series.
Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking that you don’t really do books like this, but please don’t be so hasty or so judgemental.* If you’ve read Harry Potter, then this is nothing more “hard” fantasy than that is really. Ditto if you’ve read Terry Pratchett – this is closer to “real life” than he is. If you read police procedurals as your main thing (and hello, lovely to see you if you do, but not sure how you got here) then this is really one step small away from reality – the jargon of the police force is there – down to the brand name of their walkie talkies. So go on, give it a go. I honestly don’t think anyone who I’ve recommended them to and who actually read one has told me they didn’t like them.
As I said, start at the beginning with Rivers of London. These have sold a tonne of copies, so if you’re somewhere where you can get to a bookshop, then I would be surprised if they don’t have a copy in stock. And if they’re not open, then call your local and see if they have a copy they can send you. I’m sure Big Green Books will oblige if he can too. Equally your local library (and their digital collection) should carry them – mine does. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo. The audiobook versions are read by the silky-voiced Kobna Holdbrook-Smith** and I own most of those as well. The eagle-eyed may have noticed in the photo of my shelf that I’m missing one of the novellas and that’s because before that event at Foyles, I waited for them to come out in paperback. I’ve broken that duck now, so who knows what will happen – They’ve already changed the paperback style so that furthest station and Lies Sleeping don’t quite match the previous ones, so all bets are off. Will I mix it up? Will I buy another copy of False Value when it comes out in paperback so they match?
Anyway, go forth and enjoy and when London’s reopened after all this, hopefully you’l have enjoyed the series so much that you’ll be planning a walking tour of all the various locations.
*If you’re a romance reader who is fed up of people being rude about your genre of choice, then stop now and have a good hard think about what you’re saying and how much you hate it when people do that about romance. And if you need more persuading: Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches has mentioned (more than once) on her podcast how much she enjoys them.
**The observant of voice may recognise him from Paddington 2 where he plays the warder, but he’s been all over various bits of TV for years – and also won an Olivier award for playing Ike Turner in the original cast of Tina! (Which I’m still annoyed that I didn’t manage to see)
It was a bit of a post-holiday come down week in reading, in fact I only bought The Division Bell Mystery in Cambridgeon Sunday, but I read it on Sunday afternoon and evening and it was so good. And also, in case you missed it, it’s an important week for the British Parliament this week, so it seemed an apt pick.
When a wealthy American businessman dies while having dinner inside Parliament, at first it looks like suicide, while he was alone in the room as voting was taking place but the evidence doesn’t add up. Soon a young parliamentary private secretary plays amateur sleuth to try and work out what happened. This is a classic locked room myster, although I think you might need a bit of knowledge of how the House of Commons work for this to make sense. The Division Bell of the title is the bell that rings across the Palace of Westminster (and in some nearby drinking establishments) when MPs are called to go and vote (which is called a division because they divide into two lobbies, the Ayes and the noes) but for the most part Ellen Wilkinson has explained everything you might need to know. In fact Wilkinson, was one of the first female MPs and so the book is filled with insider details about what Westminster was like in the 1930s – and more than a few digs at the male-centric nature of it all.
I love a Golden Age crime novel as you know, and locked room mysteries are always fun. This is quite traditional/of its time in terms of structure – friendly cop, amateur detective with some skin in the game, tame reporter, but that’s probably to be expected! I basically read this in one sitting, which tells you a lot as well. Wilkinson is a fascinating person even before you add writing a Murder mystery into the mix (go google her) and on the basis of this, I wish she’d written more. The Division Bell Mystery is part of the British Library Crime Classics series – which is a fairly reliable source of forgotten mystery stories – I’ve featured several others as BotW before* – some are great, sometimes you can see why they might have been forgotten! Heffers had a whole load of them on Sunday and they were on 3 for 2, so of course I got three.
If you’re not going to Heffers, then you should be able to find a copy from all of the usual sources as well as on Kindle (£2.99 at time of writing). Most bookshops will have a selection of the British Library Crime Classics too if they don’t have this one. I also recommend Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Haye – which seems to be one of the more commonly stocked books in the line.
Long term readers will be aware of my love of Golden Age detective fiction, so it may not be a surprise that this is my choice this week.
Yes, I’ve finally managed to read the first Albert Campion book. And no, I didn’t realise when I was reading it that I had read it before and just not made a note of it. I’ve written about the series before – and you can definitley see why those Wimsey parody conclusions were drawn. In this Albert is a side-character who you never really get to know (but want to know more about) as he helps unravel what is happening. The main characters here are George Abbershaw and Meggie Oliphant, who find themselves caught up in the mysterious death of the host of a house party that they’re attending, and then imprisoned at the house by forces who believe they have stolen something valuable. Like many of the later novels in the series, it’s more of an adventure-thriller than a murder mystery and there are mentions of things that crop up again in later stories.
If you like this sort of caper, it’s a good example of its type. If you have an interest in the era and the genre, it’s definitely a good one to have read. I enjoyed reading it for more than just the thrill of filling in part of of the Campion story that I was missing. But, like so many first in serieses, it’s not the best of the character – I think I would still tell people to start with Sweet Danger or the Tiger in the Smoke. But if it comes your way, do not turn your nose up at it!
My copy came from the library, but you should be able to get hold of any of the Campion books fairly easily – the ebooks have been published by Vintage in the UK relatively recently and the series is still in print in paperback. On top of that you can often find them secondhand in the book section of the charity shops
Before I go, I should give an honourable mention to Christmas Secrets by the Sea though – a late entry into the festive reading stakes. As you may have seen in the comments from last week’s Week in Books, I quite liked this and wanted to like it more. I didn’t think you understood the heroine well enough until quite late on and I also I didn’t didn’t think the resolution did everything it needed to. But it was still better than a lot of the Christmas books I read this year…
Happy reading – and as it’s Christmas Eve – Happy Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all the books you asked for!
This week’s pick is the Inspector Alleyn continuation that I mentioned in my Alleyn series post. It’s a bit a of cheat because I finished it on Monday, but it was my favourite of the books I read last week that I hadn’t already written about!
World War Two is raging in Europe and Roderick Alleyn is in New Zealand undercover, staying at a hospital as the threat from Japan moves closer. On a dark and stormy night, the official bringing the wages to the hospitals on the plains gets stuck there for the night when his car breaks down. Also at the hospital are stir crazy soldiers, employees trapped in a love triangle and a dying elderly man and his grandson. Then the money goes missing from the safe and the body count goes up and Alleyn has to reveal himself (at least partially) to try and solve the crime.
I have a mixed track record with continuations of classic series in general and detective stories in particular. I like a couple of the Wimsey ones but have serious reservations about the later ones, the first Sophie Hannah Poirot is quite good and I’ve got a few Campion ones yet to read. And this is definitely on the positive end of the spectrum – hence why it’s a BotW pick – although I didn’t think it always read entirely like the rest of the series. I think it helps that this is based around opening chapters written by Marsh herself. The best Wimsey continuation is the first one – based on a Sayers plot outline – and they go downhill from there.
But in the case of The Money in the Morgue, the mystery is good, the New Zealand setting is atmospheric and in that response fits in with previous New Zealand installments in the series. And it’s also nice to be back in a period that really suits Alleyn. I read the series in strict order and in the last ones it’s just not quite the same as it was in the early half of the series – he should be too old to be doing what he’s doing and it’s just too much. The ones I revist are pretty much always the earlier ones in the series. I did miss the regular side kicks like Inspector Fox, but on the whole the new secondary characters mostly made up for it.
The Money in the Morgue is out now in paperback, and I’d hope you’d be able to find it fairly easily in bookshops – it’s certainly available on Book Depository. It’s also on Kindle and Kobo.
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 previousoutings 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.
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 (rememberthem?!) 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…
Now you may have noticed from the Week in Reading posts, but I’ve been tearing through Simon Brett’s Charles Paris murder mystery series. The first book was a BotW back in November (in the heady days of my American odyssey!) and I finished the latest one the other week – after reading all 20 in just under three months. I’ve loved reading them (and listening to some of them) and though I really ought to tell you more about it.
Our sleuth is a middle-aged, struggling actor. He’s got a fairly useless agent and drinks too much whiskey and it’s sometimes hard to work out which one of these is holding his career back more. He’s also got an estranged wife, Frances, who he still holds a bit of a torch for (although not enough to manage to stay out of other women’s beds or stay off the bottle) and a grown-up daughter Juliet who is married and has children of her own. Across the course of the series we follow Charles from job to job, where bodies and mysteries invariably turn up and he tries to work out what is going on – with varying degrees of success.
The first Paris novel was published in 1975 and the latest in 2018 and time has moved on in the series – at the start Charles is living in a bed sitter with a shared payphone in the hall, these days he’s living in a studio flat and has a smart phone (although he doesn’t do anything with it beyond texting and calling). He hasn’t aged along with the 40 years (or he’d be in his 90s!) but unless you read them all back to back (like me) you probably won’t notice! Charles is one of those characters who you really don’t want to like – he’s drunk, he’s unfaithful, he’s more than a bit disreputable at times – but somehow you really do. Sometime he’ll make you scream with rage as he messes up an opportunity or backslides in his promises, but you always hope that next time he’ll do better.
Over the course of the series Charles works in pretty much every branch of the acting profession which means that there’s plenty of variety and helps stop the series feeling same-y. Simon Brett was a radio and television producer before he became a fulltime writer in the late 70s and – particularly in those early novels – his experience of the industry shines through. Regular readers will know that I’m a journalist in my day job and worked in radio before moving behind the scenes in TV and online video and I really got a kick out of comparing how things used to be to how things are now. There’s a lot less drinking than there used to be – but I did recognise a few gripes that I still hear around the industry today.
A couple of the novels have also been adapted for radio – some back when they first came out, but more recently with Bill Nighy playing Charles – which is totally inspired casting. I think I’ve listened to all of them – and Jeremy Front, who adapts them for radio, has tweeted that a new series has been completed and will be coming up soon, which is going to be a total treat. I am waiting with bated breath.
The new series of Charles Paris is in the can! Starring the regular cast: Bill Nighy, @suzysalt Suzanne Burden and Jon Glover with guest appearances to be announced. Directed by the excellent @marypeate and produced by the indomitable @salavens. More to come. #Charlesparis
I really enjoyed reading these – as you can tell by the pace that I went through them – and am hoping there’ll be another one or two yet. The good news for me though is that Simon Brett has written more than a hundred books so there are several more series from him for me to try out yet. If you want to try some Charles Paris, you may need to check your local library because the early ones are out of print physically, but they are all available as ebooks or you can try secondhand. Here’s a link to the search results on Amazon to help you on your way.
Happy reading – and I’ll try and remind you all when the new radio plays are due to go out on Radio Four!
Happy New Year everyone. I hope you had a good night last night and are able to relax and unwind today. I’m working this New Years Day, so think of me if you’re cozy at home and if you’re also working, you have all my sympathy! The final stats post of 2018 is coming tomorrow, but instead of a Book of the Week post today, I’ve got a look ahead at some of the upcoming books that I can’t wait to read in 2019.
I’m a sucker for a novel based on real events and real people when they’re done well (see my love of Gone with the Windsors) and I’ve heard a lot of good things about A Well-Behaved Woman by Theresa Anne Fowler. It follows Alva Smith – better known as Alva Vanderbilt as she navigates her way through Gilded Age society. The Kindle edition is out now in the UK with the paperback coming at the end of January and I have an advance copy sitting on my kindle waiting for a quiet afternoon in front of the fire…
Another one sitting on the Kindle waiting for me is the Sidney Chambers prequel The Road to Grantchester which comes out in March. I was sad when the series proper ended (the books, not the TV series – I gave up on that during the 3rd season), so the idea of a look at how Sidney came to be in Grantchester really appeals to me.
Also in March is Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. About the events leading up to the unexplained break-up of a hugely successful band in 1979, it’s already been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. I have a mixed record with stories about bands – but enough of them have ended up being Books of the Week that I’m optimistic about this one.
Even further into 2019 is The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal, which is being billed as being a historical novel about art, obsession and possession – when an aspiring artist become the model for a pre-Raphaelite artist. It’s out at the start of May and is getting a lot of buzz – so I’m looking forward to reading it, but I’m a little worried it might be too dark and scary for me!
I loved Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient in 2018, so I’m very excited for the follow-up The Bride Test which is also due in May and looks like a twist on the marriage of convenience/mail order bride trope with another neurodiverse leading player. I can’t wait!
And halfway through the year, in June, is Montauk by Nicola Harrison, which tells the story of a summer by the Long Island seaside in 1938. We all know that I love a rich people problems historical novel, and this looks like it could be spot on for me. According to the blurb, Beatrice is hoping that the summer at the beach will help her revitalise her marriage. But instead she’s stuck in a huge hotel with people she’s never fit in with while her husband is back in the city. Instead she’s drawn to the year-round community and a man who is very unlike her husband.
And finally, this is not quite a next year book – as it cames out here on December 27th – and I don’t really do business improvement/self-help books but after hearing about it in an email Karen Wickre’s Taking the Work Out of Networking Connections: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count sounds like something I could really use. I am not a naturally outgoing person – I’m very bad at networking and making connections and use social media as a crutch to get over the fact that I just can’t bring myself to call people I haven’t spoken to in ages just for a chat and a catch up. Perhaps 2019 is the year to change that?
Let me know what you’re looking forward to reading in 2019 in the comments!
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.