Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: A Presumption of Death

Before we start, another quick reminder of last week’s World Cup avoidance books – which includes Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games, which would totally have been a candidate for BotW if I hadn’t given that accolade to Clean last month.  And I did deliberate for a while about what to pick this week.  I read some really good stuff, but quite a lot of it is already earmarked for other posts and I didn’t want to give up my other plans.  But it does seem in keeping with my long-professed love of Peter Wimsey that I should pick A Presumption of Death, even if I’m a little conflicted about it and it’s a much more qualified review than a whole hearted recommendation.

A slightly battered paperback copy of A Presumption of Death

This is the second novel in the Jill Paton Walsh Wimsey continuations.  I’ve totally read them out of order, so I’ve already read the two that follow it.  This is set just after the start of the Second World War and sees Harriet ensconced at Tallboys with her children and the Parker children and Peter is away on some mysterious war work abroad.  The village is adapting to the new rules of war time – evacuees have arrived in the village, there are land girls working on the farms and people are leaving for factory jobs or the services all over the place.  When one of the land girls is found dead in the street as the village emerges from an air raid drill, Superintendent Kirk asks for Harriets help with the murder investigation.  At first, she finds it a helpful distraction from worrying about what Peter is doing abroad, but soon she’s missing his help as she digs into the possible motivations for the crime.

This feels more like a “proper” Wimsey mystery than the two that follow it, but it’s still Not Quite Right.  I’ve only read Thrones, Dominations (the first continuation) once and it was six years ago, but I’m listening to it on Audible at the moment and I think that is more Sayers than this – but that’s probably unsurprising considering that with that first one Paton Walsh was finishing an unfinished Sayers manuscript, whereas with this just has extracts from The Wimsey Papers (a series of letters, written by Sayers from various of the Wimsey characters, that were published in the Spectator during the war) in it.  In fact I think most of the best bits of the plot come from ideas and information in the Wimsey Papers and most of the bits that I don’t like are the bits that Paton Walsh has done herself.  In fact the more I think about the book to write this, the more problems I have with it.

I did like the mystery and its solution, but I did have some parts of it figured out much earlier on than Harriet did – which is unusual for me in a Wimsey book and reminded me that it wasn’t a “proper” Sayers.  It was nice to see a lot of the characters from Busman’s Honeymoon again, but perhaps because of my extreme familiarity* with the audiobook of that, there were some bits that didn’t ring true to me, although that same extreme familiarity with the Ian Carmichael Wimsey meant that I could practically hear his voice saying some of the Peter lines!  There are some nice Harriet and Peter moments in here too – but the more I analysed them, the more I realised that the best ones were rehashes of earlier interactions from the other Harriet and Peter books.  I think there were probably a few anachronisms of language in here as well – there were a few bits that didn’t seem quite right to me, although I’m not enough of an expert to tell.

I suppose what I’ve worked out in writing this is how much I wish there were more Wimsey books, and how much I want to like the Paton Walsh continuations (even as I find issues with them) because I want there to be more stories about Peter and Harriet for me to read.  I’ve kept hold of my copy of this one for now – and I suspect I’ll come back and reread it after I’ve done another reread of the Peter and Harriet books to see how it holds up when they’re fresh in my mind.  I picked up my copy from the charity shop (as you can probably tell from the photo!), but the Kindle and Kobo editions is 99p at the moment, which is a much better price than it usually is – and so if you’re a mystery fan – and you’re not the sort of reader who is going to have your love for the series proper messed up if you don’t like this – then go for it. The next book in the series – The Attenbury Emeralds – is also 99p at the moment, but be warned, I really didn’t like the direction that that took the series in, so approach with caution.  I’m off to finish listening to Thrones, Dominations and then I’ll go back to Strong Poison and start Peter and Harriet’s story all over again. Again.

Happy Reading!

*As in I listen to it at least once a month – it’s one of my regular late night listens when I’m away from home, as are the other Wimsey audiobooks and some of the BBC Radio full cast adaptations.

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Books to read while the football is on

The World Cup is well underway and although I do like football, I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom two or three matches a day is far too many and will be heartily fed up of the tv schedules being disrupted for 22 men running around after a ball.  And so to help out I’ve got a selection of books for you to read while you’re avoiding the football (or sat on the couch with it on in the background).

I’m going to start off with a sports romance because just because you don’t like football doesn’t mean you don’t like all sports and sometimes you need a sporty hero or heroine can really hit the spot.  I read a lot of winter-sport themed romances in the run up to the Winter Olympics in the hope of writing a post about them, but there weren’t enough that I liked enough to recommend and so it’s the other type of football that I’m going for here.  You may remember that I went on a Susan Elizabeth Philips kick last year and her Chicago Stars series, about an American Football franchise are a lot of fun.  Depending on what your romance genre favourites are, the best fit in the series will be different, but I think mine is Natural Born Charmer which starts with a feisty artist encountering a star quarterback while she’s dressed in a beaver costume.  It’s fun, sparky and flirty.  And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, try Match Me If You Can, which was a BotW last summer.

Hardback edition of The Gender Games

Fed up with laddy banter and jocks?  Try reading Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games to get some facts in your arsenal about toxic masculinity and how everyone – not just transgender people – are having a number done on them by gender.  You might remember that her latest novel Clean was a BotW a few weeks back, but this is nonfiction – part memoir of her own journey to realising who she is and part examination of our society today and its attitude towards gender and gender roles.  I learnt a lot from it and I know I’m going to be lending it and recommending it to people who want to expand the voices and viewpoints they’re hearing – but while the World Cup is on, it’ll also provide you with some handy ammunition next time someone on twitter moans about women commentators or pundits having no place at the tournament…

Cover of Murder in the Telephone Exchange

Want to get completely away from sports?  I can do that for you too. Perhaps some old-school crime fiction might be the thing.  I read June Wright’s Murder in the Telephone Exchange a few weeks back and was absolutely swept up in the world the phone operators in late 1940s Australia.  When Maggie finds one of her unpopular colleagues with her head smashed in, she finds herself drawn into the mystery – not just because she was the person who found the body, but because she’s not sure that the police are on the right track. But soon the danger is increasing and someone else turns up dead.  If you like Phryne Fisher, then this might scratch that itch while you wait for a new book (and we’ve been waiting a while now) or the much promised feature film.  This was a best seller in Australia when it first came out in 1948 and I can totally see why.  I was astonished – and annoyed – that it hadn’t come my way sooner.

The cover of Richardsons First Case

Or you could pick a new series to glom on.  I’m currently working my way through Colin Watson’s Flaxborough series – which are the sort of gentle murder mystery books that these days would be called cozies.  They were written from the late 1950s through to the 1970s, have been a bit forgotten and are in the process of being republished.  The first one – Coffin, Scarcely Used – is only 99p on Kindle at the moment, so that’s got to be worth a punt.  Or I read the first in the Inspector Richardson series a couple of weeks back.  Published in the 1930s, their author, Basil Thomson, was the head of CID at New Scotland Yard for eight years, so the insight into police life may be assumed to be fairly accurate!  The first one – the imaginatively named Richardson’s First Case is also 99p on Kindle at the moment – and so are the rest of the series.  I have book two cued up and ready to go.

The cover of The Wedding Date

How about a non-sports romance? How does a fake relationship that might actually turn into the real thing sound?  In Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Drew and Alexa meet when they’re trapped in a lift together during a power cut.  He needs a date for his ex’s wedding and she agrees to do it.  But when that actually turns out to be a fun weekend they wonder if they should carry on seeing each other.  The only trouble is, his job is in LA and her job is in Berkley.  Alexa is a feisty heroine with a great career, that she’s passionate about and Drew is a caring hero, who is also passionate about his job. AND they get to find romance without compromising who they are in themselves. I liked this so much I’ve already got Guillory’s next book preordered.  This one is £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Paperback copy of Children of Blood and Bone

If you really want a change of scene, how about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.  This is the first in a YA trilogy (I think) and the film is already in development by the people who brought you Twilight and Maze Runner.  Set in a west-African inspired world where magic seems to have been destroyed, it follows a teenage girl who has the chance to bring it back and the crown prince who is determined to stop her.  It’s fast, furious and so, so filled with terror that I found it really hard to read.  This is not my genre and I had to take a lot of breaks because it’s so filled with peril.  But if you want to get swept away to another world, this lives up to all the hype.  But – be warned – if you love it, you’re going to have to wait until next year for the sequel – and until 2020 for the conclusion…

And finally if you do want something football-y but not quite – you could join me as I reread Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals.  I don’t think I’ve read this since it came out, so I’m planning to borrow the copy from dad so I can revisit the world of the Ankh-Morpork football.  I may even treat myself to the audiobook so that I can listen to Stephen Briggs do all the voices as I trot around the park.  Luckily the hardback version of this with the lovely illustrated cloth covers doesn’t seem to be out yet, because I am valiantly resisting starting buying them as we all know that once I get one, I’ll end up with the lot…

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!

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I Love: Daisy Dalrymple

It occurred to me while I was writing last week’s BotW post that I haven’t actually written a proper post about Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series and that I should definitely remedy that.  So here is the latest in my (very) occasional Series I Love series (too many serieses? Sorry.  I’m bad with names and it’s too late to change that).  Anyway, this is one of my favourite interwar-set murder mystery series and it’s long over due a post here on the blog.

At the start of the series, it’s 1923 and Daisy is trying find a way to make her living independent of her family.  She’s an Honorable, but her only brother was killed in the Great War and her father died in the Spanish Flu outbreak, which meant the title, the family home and the family fortune went to a cousin.  Daisy had been engaged during the war – but her fiancé, who was a conscientious objector, died while driving an ambulance in France.  And so she finds herself in the brave new post-war world needing to make her own way in the world and with few options of how to do it.  So she’s trying to make some money writing articles about the stately homes of Britain, using the connections she has because of her family and upbringing.

That’s exactly what she’s doing in the first book, Death at Wentwater Court.  It’s her first assignment for Town and Country magazine, going to a country house party so that she can write an article about the history of the house.  But things are not all sunshine and roses at the house and she stumbles over a corpse.  Armed with her camera and her shorthand skills, Daisy’s soon working alongside the police as they investigate what happened, although Daisy’s friendship with the family means she’s really hoping that it won’t turn out that one of them is the culprit.  It sets up Daisy and her regular gang and introduces Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher and his team from Scotland Yard.  It also has an ending that not everyone will be able to get on board with (although I didn’t really have a problem with it) – but I can’t really explain what the problem is without giving a big old spoiler.

I think my favourite book of the series may be book four – Murder on the Flying Scotsman.  Daisy is off to Scotland on a writing assignment when a murder is committed on the train.  To complicate things, Alec’s young daughter is also on board after running away from home and her grandmother.  The murder suspects are the family of one of Daisy’s old schoolmates, and when Alec is called in to investigate the attraction between him and Daisy comes to a head.  The mystery is good – and if you’ve read the rest of the series, the start of a resolution to Alec and Daisy is delicious to read about.

Daisy makes for an interesting heroine and makes a nice counter point to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher who is at a similar level in society, but with different resources and a different view of the world. Daisy is was brought up to be a good wife to the right sort of nobleman, but realises that the war and her newly reduced circumstances probably mean that her chance of that sort of life has passed her by. Daisy doesn’t get on with her mother, doesn’t want to be dependent on the charity of a distant cousin and has come up with an ingenious way of exploiting her skills and experience to try and gain her independence.  Yes, people seem willing to tell her their secrets on very little acquaintance, but people tell my mum things she doesn’t need/want to know all the time, so I can totally buy into the idea of someone having a sympathetic face!

As the series goes on, Daisy’s life goes down a more traditional route – she gets married and has children, but she’s still trying to maintain her own interests and just can’t stop getting tangled up with murders.  So far (twenty-two books in, with a twenty-third out later in the year after a three year gap) Dunn has also managed to keep Daisy moving around and avoid too much repetition of set ups and avoid Daisy falling victim to the Jessica Fletcher effect.  The books are a great hybrid of the modern cozy crime novel and a Golden Age murder mystery, which make for a really relaxing way to pass time.  Writing this post has made me want to go back and read the series all over again.  In fact I may well do!

If this has inspired you to go and try some Daisy, the first four books are available as an omnibus edition on Kindle – which is how I started out on the series, although I got it for considerably less than the £6.99 it costs at time of writing, so it might be worth adding it to your watch list if you’re on a budget.  They’re also available as paperbacks as you can tell from the pictures – the first few are often available in the crime sections of the larger bookstores, I also picked up mine from a charity shop, which had almost the whole set – requiring a considerable amount of willpower from me to resist going wild.

And if you want to know more about my favourite characters in books, you can read previous installments of Series I Love on Lord Peter Wimsey, and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

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!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

So this week’s BotW is the latest in my quest to find more historical crime series.  As regular readers are well aware by now, if there are two things that I love, in book terms, it’s murder mysteries and the inter-war period.  Witness my previous ravings about my beloved Lord Peter (sidenote, I’ve just treated myself to the Radio play collections from Audible and it is glorious), Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher et al.  So during my Kindle store virtual rummagings I often pick up books that I think might scratch that itch.  This was one such purchase.

Part of the cover of A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia deals with the murder of one Ticky Maltravers.  And never was someone more aptly named.  Ticky is a tick of the highest order.  For although it appears that he’s really popular, underneath the surface something rather unpleasant is going on.  When Ticky drops dead after a meal to celebrate his birthday, newspaper man Freddie Pilkington-Soames finds himself involved – on two fronts.  Firstly his mother was in the taxi with Ticky when he died, and secondly Freddie is chasing the story to try and hold on to his job.

Freddie is Bertie Wooster on the outside, but much, much cleverer on the inside – a bit like Albert Campion in some ways, who is described on occasion as having a foolish face which leads people to underestimate him.  And that makes for an engaging read.  Freddie is straddling the two worlds in the book – the high society trying to hold on to their secretes and the forces of justice and the press.  And because of his job, Freddie has a legitimate reason to be involved in the case which, as I’ve mentioned before, is often a stumbling block for the crime solver in series like this.

I believe Freddie was a side character – a comic one – in Benson’s other series, but although I’ve read one book of hers, it was a while ago and the details have faded.  But based on how much I enjoyed this, I’ve clearly been missing out.  I’ve added the rest of the Freddie books to my Kindle watchlist, and the other series – the Angela Marchmont mysteries – too.  I was really impressed with how good this was – and for a while I thought it might be one of the forgotten Golden Age books that I’ve picked up on offer. I put that down to the fact that it comes across as a mix of PG Wodehouse and one of the Queens of Crime – witty but with a solid, slightly grubby murder.

My copy was on Kindle (I even paid for it)  – and it’s still only 99p at time of writing this – but it’s also available on Kobo or as a paperback, although I suspect that will be a special order job rather than one you can pick up in the bookshop.

Happy reading!

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

Book of the Week: Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

As discussed in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was not a happy camper last week what with being stuck at home (and mostly in bed), laid low with the lurgy.  However, one bright(er) spot in the week was reading the latest Dandy Gilver novel and so it was an obvious choice for my BotW this week.

paperback copy of Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

This is the twelfth book in the series and sees Dandy called in to help out one of her old friends, who is hoping to restore her family’s fortunes by exploiting the potential of the family pile.  The pile in question is a rundown castle, which happens to be located just down the road from a much grander stately home which is due to open for tourist tours shortly.  So Min and the Bewer’s have invited a theatre troupe to their castle to put on some Shakespeare, in the hope of attracting some of the visitors as they pass on their way to their rivals.  Why does Min need Dandy and Alec?  Well, there’s the small matter of a missing jewel, a curse and a long-vanished man that all need ironing out post haste.  And as it turns out there is also a host of secrets and lies lurking just under the surface.

This has got pretty much everything I’ve come to expect from a Dandy mystery – banter and friendly rivalry between Dandy and Alec, a huge (and somewhat complicated) cast of characters and an interesting setting and set up.  It doesn’t have a lot of Dandy and Hugh, which is a shame because they’re often a lot of fun and there’s very little Bunty in this either.  But it does have a mystery which will keep you turning the pages right to the end, even if I did figure parts of it out before the big reveal.  I’ve said before that one of the things that I like about the Dandy books is that although they appear to be a historical cozy crime series, the solutions to the mysteries are often a lot darker than you find in other similar books – and this keeps that trend going nicely.  I’m also impressed that McPherson manages to keep finding fresh settings for these books – I don’t think we’ve really repeated anything much yet through the series.

If you haven’t read any of the previous books, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – although this one doesn’t have a lot of explanation of the backstory to Dandy and her business with Alec.  I know I usually advise that you start at the beginning of a series, but this one did a fair bit of evolving over the first few books and which I don’t think really got going properly and hit its stride until about book five.  If you want to know more – check out my Recommendsday post about Dandy from last year.

You should be able to find a selection of the Dandy books in any large-ish bookshop and my library always has a couple in as well.  The hardback edition of this is available now, but my copy came from Bookbridgr ahead of the paperback release on February 8th, so if you’re an ebook reader it might be worth hanging fire on buying it until after that as the price often drops when the paperback comes out and the Kindle and Kobo versions were an eye-watering £13.99 at time of writing.

Happy reading!