Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: The Division Bell Mystery

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.

Copy of The Division Bell Mystery

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.

Happy Reading!

*Previous BotW’s from the series include: The Sussex Downs Mystery, Death of an Airman, and The Cornish Coast Murder – all of which you can see in the photo of the Heffers display and Silent Nights, which I don’t think you can!

Shelf of British Library Crime Classic books and other mysteries

 

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Crime at Black Dudley

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.

Cover of The Crime at Black Dudley

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!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Money in the Morgue

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!

Cover of the Money in the Morgue

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.

Happy Reading!

 

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!

mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Charles Paris

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.

Cover of A Deadly Habit

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.

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!

Book previews

Books I’m looking forward to in 2019

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!

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!