Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Gone Gull

A quickie and a bit of a cheat for this week’s BotW – I’ve been busy writing the Christmas gift posts and reading the books to put in them.  I’ve written about Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series before, although it’s the first time I’ve made one Book of the Week – mostly because the point when I was glomming on the early series was before I started writing BotW posts the way that I do now.

Cover of Gone Gull by Donna Andrews

Anyway, Gone Gull is the 21st book in the series and sees Meg and her family spending the summer at her grandmother’s newly established craft centre.  Meg is teaching blacksmithing, her husband is teaching acting and helping look after the children, her grandfather is teaching ornithology and her dad is on hand two.  But it looks like someone may be trying to sabotage the centre and then one of the teachers is found dead.  Soon Meg is investigating and trying to work out who has it in for Biscuit Mountain.

One of the joys of this series is the crazy extended family and almost all the regular characters in the series are here – there’s not much of Meg’s mum or brother, but that’s fine because it’s nice to get to know Meg’s Grandmother Cordelia better.  The problem for a lot of long running murder series is that often it seems like the detecting character is the harbinger of doom (aka don’t be friends with Jessica Fletcher or you’ll end up dead) but one of my favourite things about this series is the way that Andrews manages to find different locations to take her characters so that it doesn’t feel quite so dangerous in Meg’s home town! It was also really nice to see Meg back at her anvil – her blacksmith business was prominent in the early books in the series, but had faded into the background somewhat while the twins were little.

These books fall at the humorous end of the cozy crime spectrum – they’re not laugh a minute, but as the pun-based titles suggest there’s plenty of fun in these – with eccentric characters and strange set ups.  I’m nearly up to date with the series now – I thought I was bang up to date, but the Christmas book (How the Finch stole Christmas) came out at the end of October, although I suspect it’ll take a while before I can justify buying it.

As always with posts about series, I think you’re best starting at the beginning – a Murder with Peacocks is the first one and although it’s out of print new, there are secondhand copies on Amazon and it’s under £4 on Kindle as I write this. But actually, these are stand alone – the thing you miss by not going back to the start is the building of the cast of characters and Meg’s relationship.  As well as meeting her ever expanding extended family over the course of the books, Meg doesn’t hurry into marriage – or into having children – which makes for a really fun journey for her and for the reader.  I think a reader could have fun wherever they start the series – so what ever you decide:

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Young Adult

Book of the Week: A Spy in the House

This is quite a short post this week, because I’ve been busy with those #Noirville entries, but what could be more up my street than a Victorian-set adventure mystery with a feisty teen girl as a heroine? Not a lot, and that’s why Y S Lee’s A Spy in the House is this week’s BotW pick!

Paperback copy of the Agency

Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows by a school for girls that’s actually cover for a female spy agency.  At 17 she gets her chance to prove herself when she’s sent to help with an investigation by taking a job as a paid companion to the daughter of a shipping magnate. Once she’s in the house though she ends up getting more involved than she’s meant to and soon she may be in over her head. On top of all this, there are secrets in Mary’s past which seem like they may be linked to the mystery.

Mary is an interesting and feisty heroine and the story is fast-paced and exciting. I think this is aimed at a YA audience and it would make a great next step for teens who’ve outgrown (or want the next step) from the Wells and Wong series or the Sinclair mysteries and who aren’t quite  ready for full on-adult mysteries yet. This has a developing love interest, but nothing too full on or adult-contenty if you know what I mean.

This is the first in a series and I’ll definitely be looking out for the others.  You should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual sources (like Big Green Bookshop)- and it’s available on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: First Grave on the Right

Ok, so this week’s BotW post is a little cheating – because I actually finished this on Monday.  But in my defense, I was going to have to break the (my self-imposed) rules this week whatever happened, because it was either pick this, or have a Sarah Morgan book as BotW for the second week in a row.  So I chose this, because it was my favourite book I started reading last week, so it’s only fair.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Another book on the train picture, but I do spend a lot of time there…

First Grave on the Right is the first in the Charley Davidson by Darynda Jones.  Charlie is a private investigator with a secret – she’s a grim reaper.  It’s actually the secret to her success as a PI – after all, what better way to solve murders than to ask the dead person who did it?  She’s also a consultant to the local police force – where her uncle is a cop.  Her mysterious (to everyone else) ability to solve crimes has raised more than a few eyebrows over the years, but Charley is used to that.  What she’s not used to is the mysterious presence that’s haunting her dreams and the effect that it’s having on her.  And when three lawyers end up dead on the same she’s got a high profile case to solve – if she can just keep one step ahead of the Bad Guys.

I’ve been hearing about this series for ages, but it’s taken me a while to get hold of the first book at a reasonable price.  And it lived up to the hype.  Charley is a kick ass heroine with a complicated backstory, a big secret (from most people at any rate), a difficult family life and a great gang of friends.  The various mystery plots are clever and well written and Charley’s inner monologue is a joy.  I’m already annoyed that I’m meant to be avoiding buying books which means I can’t immediately buy book 2 (although to be fair it’s over my price limits at the moment any way).  If I was trying to do an elevator pitch for this, I think the closest I can get is Steph Plum meets Sookie Stackhouse, but in a good way.  It sits in the cross section of murder mysteries, thrillers, supernatural and romance – it’s not hard-boiled, there’s some violence but it’s not too graphic and there’s definitely a fair bit of heat going on in the romance stakes.  All of which is right in my wheelhouse – and if anyone has any recommendations for similar books, please do let me know.

Books with supernatural elements are a bit of a hazy area for me, as long time readers will be aware.  When they work for me, they really work and I love them; but when they don’t it’s horrid.  And I’m still incapable of working out what makes some books work, while others don’t.  The closest I can get is that they have to be part of a well worked out world, with definite rules and that the supernatural element shouldn’t be fetishised in anyway.  And if there can be punning and wise cracking that helps too.

Anyway, I raced through this – if I hadn’t been working at the weekend it would definitely have been finished before Monday morning!*  I suspect you may need to order a copy of First Grave on the Right if you’re in the UK – I certainly haven’t seen it in the supermarkets, although I haven’t had a chance to check the bookshops to see if they have it.  I’m sure Big Green Books would be able to get hold of it if you asked them.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo for £.399 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

*I do hate it when real life gets in the way of my reading time.

Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!

 

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: Rush Jobs

This week’s Book of the Week is more of  a series recommendation.  I read two Hobson and Choi books last week practically one after the other and  I was going to save my ravings for a Recommendsday post, but I didn’t anything I liked better last week, so it seemed churlish not to pick one of them for my BotW, so I chose Rush Jobs.

The Cover of Rush Jobs
I love the tube line theme to the covers for this.

The set up: John Hobson is a private detective with a Past.  Angelina Choi is his work experience intern.  In the first book, she starts her two week placement by tweeting that they’re going to solve a high profile murder case.  #HobsonvsWolf goes viral and soon Hobson has to try to solve a case he’s not being paid for and possibly face off against a giant wolf.  In Rush Jobs, we rejoin the duo at the start of Angelina’s second and final week of her work experience. And after all the online buzz from the last case, they’re in demand.  This leads to a lot of smaller crimes to solve (or not) along with some running story lines from the first book.  I can’t really say too much more about the plot because it gives away too much* but it’s a lot of fun.

I raced through this – and then immediately bought book three.  It’s dark and seedy but very funny which takes the edge off the grim bits.  Hobson is an intriguingly flawed character – we’ve found out a few bits about what he has going on in his past and it’s not pretty.  Choi is young and idealistic and although she has reasons of her own for taking an internship at a detective agency, she’s still quite innocent and some of the goings on in Hobson’s world are a bit of a shock to her.

I’ve mentioned cozy crime adjacent novels before – and this is another of them. Theses aren’t psychological thrillers, or gore-fests, or chillers and they have some things in common with classic detective stories of the Golden Age. But if you need your detectives to always do the “right” thing, the legal thing, to have no darkness in their pasts then maybe don’t read these. But if you like stories where things can’t be tied up neatly in a bow at the end and handed over to the police to unwrap and where your detective inhabits a slightly shaky middle ground between the law and the criminals then try this series.

I picked up the first book as an actual book from The Big Green Bookshop, but have read the other two on Kindle. I have book four lined up for my train journeys home from work this week. But do start at the beginning. It’ll make more sense that way.

Happy Reading!

*NB this is why I usually talk about first books in mystery series because you have more to say without ruining running storylines for people who haven’t already read the series!

 

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Death around the Bend

It’s renovation chaos here: half of the contents of our house is in storage and we’re camped out in one room.  So this week’s BotW is going to be short and sweet I’m afraid.

The cover of Death around the Bend

Death around the Bend is the third in the Lady Hardcastle cozy crime murder mystery series by T E Kinsey.  I read the first one a few weeks back and picked up the third on a Kindle deal, and read it on the commute last week.  The set up for the series is that Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a somewhat more exciting past than is usual in the Edwardian era.  She and her trusty maid Florence have moved to the English countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and relaxation but don’t seem to be getting much of it.

In book three, Emily and Florence have been invited to a friend’s estate for a weekend of racing – but it’s car racing, not horses.  Lord Ribblethorpe has gone mad for motor cars and has set up his own racing team, complete with a track in the grounds of his estate.  When a driver is killed during a race, the police think it’s an accident but Emily and Florence aren’t convinced and can’t help but try and solve the crime.  With Emily asking questions above stairs, Florence is sleuthing below stairs.  Then another body is found.

This is fun and fast moving (and not just because of the cars).  I like the dynamic between Emily and Florence – and particularly that the story is told by Florence.  I picked up the first one as part of my ongoing quest to find other series that scratch my Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple itch and it does this quite nicely – although it’s set earlier than either of those two series.  Unfortunately there are only three books in the series (at the moment at least) so I only have one left to read, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.

All three Lady Hardcastle mysteries are on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (I’m not) but the two I’ve read have come around on discount deals at various points too (that’s how I got them!). You can find them all here.

Happy reading!

Author Interviews

Interview: Derek Farrell

You may remember that the Danny Bird series made it on to my Books of the Year post and I’ve been lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the latest book ahead of the crowd.  You can read that review tomorrow – which is when Death of a Devil comes out – but today I have an extra treat – an interview with the author, Derek Farrell.  So, here we are, and it has book recommendations, so I apologise if this is about to cost you money…

Hi Derek and welcome to the blog!

Can I just say thanks for asking me here today?

I’ve been a reader of VerityReads for ages, and love how the site reflects the books you love regardless of genre, or of what we ‘should’ be reading.

My whole life I’ve read what I like to read, and finding a place on the web that celebrates that – and then being asked to actually talk about what I do – is amazing, So thank you.

Stop it! You’re making me blush! So first of all, where did the idea for Danny come from?

I think he came from my wanting to write a story about a bloke who wasn’t perfect, but who was trying. And who wouldn’t be cowed by the curves life threw at him.

From wanting to make a character, to be honest, who was a lot like me, only better: Smarter, funnier, fitter, younger, and with fewer hangups.

So – and God, I’ll be killed for this – I guess Danny is a sort of wish fulfillment. Only, of course, he now has a life of his own and a readership that means he now gets to dictate his world, not me.

Danny’s got his own posse – a sort of found family – did you always have that in mind or did it just happen?

Always, right from the beginning.

As a kid, I was, like many writers, sort of solitary. I observed, and I read, and I was never unhappy on my own.

But I think, if I’d stayed like that, I’d be a dead man by now.

My family – the one I was born with, the one I inherited when I met my husband, and the one I made for myself – is everything to me.

I wanted Danny to have a family and a set of friends (and sometimes not friends) that he would belong to and with. I wanted him to be part of something, not some faceless gunslinger who walked into town, fixed problems, and left without making any connections.

So I created Ali, the world’s most miserable bar maid; Danny’s (to date unnamed) Dad – a Cabbie with the knowledge of the universe at his fingers; Nick, the pretty but too-nice-for-his-own-good copper; and Chopper Falzone, the part local gangster, who’s a cross between the Werthers Grandpa and Hannibal Lecter.

I also gave him Ray and Dash, Danny’s sort-of-nephews, who are collectively referred to as The ASBO Twins, These two appeared in my original notes as a couple of minor-to-the-point-of-extras characters, but suddenly, when they hit the page, took on a life of their own, and became solid parts of the gang.

But the Queen of the Gang – the woman without whom Danny would be lost – is his best friend in the whole wide world: Caz. Or – to give her full name – Lady Caroline Victoria Genevieve Jane De Montfort, only daughter of the thirteenth Earl of Holloway.

Caz, again, was a ‘friend’ for Danny who – as I wrote her – became more solid, more complex, to the point where people have actually written in to the publisher asking for a standalone Caz series.

But then, we’ve also had people asking for a standalone ASBO twins book, so who knows: Maybe the Danny Universe will expand. I quite like the idea of an ASBO Twins Graphic novel, and a Lady Caz Musical.

So this is the third book featuring Danny – did you always plan it as a series and if you did has it gone to plan or taken on a life of its own?

I honestly can’t remember. I think it started off as a standalone. One I was, to be frank, writing for myself, cos I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to publish a detective novel about a gay bloke that took place in the backstreets of South London and had no sex or open violence in it.

But as I created the backstories for my characters, carved out the universe they lived in and finally realized that this was a world I was excited by and proud of, I finally realized I had enough ideas for more books. And for books that I actually wanted to write.

I know that by the time I had finished the first draft of Death of a Diva, I had started plotting book two, Death of a Nobody, as well as making sketches for what would become Death of a Devil, and the book after the next one.

I think, to be honest, the characters made it a series: They came to life. They had stories to tell, and they didn’t fit in to one book.

So when a pub-full of characters are each shouting “Remember the time I…” it becomes – at the risk of applying for Pseuds corner – the writer’s responsibility to tell those stories.

Plus: I am so much in love with this gang. Who’d want to leave them?

I think I’m in love with them too, although I’m not sure I’d survive a night out with Caz!  Does this mean we can expect a fourth Death of… book?

Damn straight.

Last month I sequestered myself, my two best mates, two liters of gin, two liters of vodka, a case of chardonnay, two botltles of vermouth, twenty four pullet’s eggs, eight avocados (avocadae?) three bottles of prosecco six bottles of Shiraz, a decent Calvados and a stocky block of fur and love called Ellie (part Staffie, part Labrador; totally Danny) away in a cottage in a valley in Wales.

And – in between walking Ellie to the local pub (amazing cider, lovely regulars, barmaids that were aiming for Ali’s crown and a cottage pie I’d sell my soul for – if my publisher didn’t already have an option on same) ordering my mates to make me a drink, and lying in the blazing sunshine reading, listening to music and remembering what LIFE feels like – Danny4 was plotted.

Seriously: Even I was amazed – especially after a pretty dark time last year trying to figure out how to make funny stuff in a world filled with grimness – at how easily it came.

But even better was the fact that the weeks before, and a trip to the ENO rehearsal space in North London, had given me an idea for Danny 5.

Of course, the ideas are easy. The writing is hard. The editing? Well, I shall simply point out that I consider a back sack ‘n’ crack wax – something I have experienced only once, and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy – as preferable to editing.

If Danny’s adventures were turned in to a movie or a TV series, who would you like to see in the cast? 

Ah, now that’s a tricky one.
I have some people in my head, but I’d rather hear what you or your readers think: Who – when you read the books – is Danny? Who would you cast as Caz? Ali? Ray and Dash? Chopper?

All I’ll say is that one third of my cast list are dead; one third are too expensive; and the remaining third are currently serving me with restraining orders, so best we stay schtum.

But seriously: Who do YOU think should play the characters?

I’m not telling!  I think some of mine are dead too though.  Now as you probably know, I read a lot of cozy crime books – and I think of Danny’s stories as sort of cozy-adjacent, but I think they would the spot for cozy readers looking for something a bit different.  So what would your elevator pitch be to people who are more used to crafters, coffee shops and pastel colours on the cover?

The Danny Bird Mysteries were born from a love of Cozys.

I was raised on Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, M.C. Beaton and Rhys Bowen.

The coffee shop, in the Danny Bird books, is a run-down, faded, frankly grim pub in a back street in South London. But it has – as much as any coffee shop, bookstore, or cat hotel – a character of it’s own.

The crafters, in the Danny books, are the denizens of the pub: Ne’er-do-wells, dodgy geezers, lairy birds and penniless toffs.

And as to the pastel colours – well, have you seen the absolutely gorgeous covers?

Of course, none of that is an elevator pitch, is it? So I’d say: If you adore the well- plotted, character-driven books of the golden age, and love the quirkiness and humour of the modern cozy; and if a few well-chosen profanities are unlikely to send you off in a fit of the vapours, then The Danny Bird Mysteries might be very much up your cul-de-sac.

Danny’s obviously a gay guy, living his life and doing his thing – how important is it to have representation like that in books – especially where the fact that Danny’s gay isn’t key to the plot or the most important thing about him.

This is my all-time favourite question. Thank you.

It’s  absolutely vital, I think.

With Danny, I wanted a character where his sexuality was not the primary source of the drama.

Stuff happens to Danny, and it could happen to him if he were straight.

That said, I think his worldview and the fact that all LGBT people tend to get used to viewing the world on a simultaneous micro and helicopter view makes him a more natural observer and commentator.

What was especially important to me was that his family – from his parents through to his siblings and on down to the ASBO twins – be completely accepting. There’s some badinage – the twins refer to him as a “Shirter” in the first book – but it’s a family filled with Love, as was my own, and I wanted that to come through as often as possible. This is drama featuring a man who is gay, not drama caused by the sexuality of the protagonist.

But the reality is that Hate crimes  against LGBT people are rising in the UK, as our government continues to enter into trade agreements with countries where people like Danny – and people like me – can be put to death.

The world is still an uncertain – not to say, a sometimes, terrifying – place for anyone who is less than “Perfect” in an increasingly narrow definition of the phrase.

So The Danny Bird Mysteries are about celebrating people in all their variety.

In Death of a Devil a Trans woman – who is one of my favourite characters ever – is abused and has her home vandalized just because she’s living her life honestly. That shit is happening today, and it makes me furious and sad at the same time.

Frankly, as far as representation goes, I say: Fuck Tolerance. Fuck acceptance. Fuck The Right Thing. Let’s Party.

And now I have a (large) T-Short slogan and an X-Rated interview.

Sorry.

No, that’s absolutely fine by me.  I’m with you.  So, finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to recommend – once people have read Danny’s latest adventure obviously!

Oh, now we are in trouble…

I read a ton of stuff, so apologies if some of this is a bit random, but of late I have read and enjoyed

Helen Cadbury – Bones in the Nest & Race to the Kill

Death of a Devil is dedicated to Helen. When I met her she was an already established crime writer, yet she welcomed me – at a conference in Iceland – with hugs, love, laughs and a genuine interest in Danny & co.

Her own books – I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-release glimpse of Race to the Kill, which is out in September and is Brilliant – are interested in the same things that mine are: The marginalized, the way people get on with their life; the joy to be found amongst the hardships of modern life. And Sean Denton – another everyman with a differentiator he refuses to allow define him – is one of my favourite discoveries in a long time.
Helen died as I was finishing Death of a Devil, and though we knew each other for the blink of an eye, her loss – and the loss of all the brilliant stories and poems she would have given us –hit me hard. Perfect for loves of urban grit with heart.

Jo Perry – Dead is Good / Dead is Best / Dead is Better

I’ve described these books as like Crime novels by Samuel Beckett, and I stand by that. They’re told by a dead man who is accompanied in his attempts to fix the messes the living make by a mute, yet unbelievably simpatico Red Setter (also dead). They are filled with humanity, beauty, and an at times hard-to-take sadness at the horrible things we do to each other. Highly recommended for anyone who loves mystery, literature, dogs humour and – because I imagine him soundtracking the movie – Randy Newman.

Peter Ackroyd – Queer City: The often hidden Gay History of London.

A city I have adopted as my own. A history I feel steeped in. It’s funny, gossipy, heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely human. As all the best histories are. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand how we got to where we are.

Aleksander Crapanzo – The London Cookbook

BIG foodie here. Huge. Seriously: I don’t have a collar size so much as a post code. But this – Current and past London eateries share their best recipes, most of which you can make at home – is brilliant. And I’m claiming it as research for Mr Bird’s future adventures in gastronomy. Get this one if you love London, Food, Restaurants, or books that are nice to finger of an evening. Which sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t. Honest.

Duncan MacMaster – Hack

I hate Duncan MacMaster. He’s on the same publisher as me, only he’s funnier. I don’t know why I’m recommending his book, only it’s a genius blend of the dream all writers have – invited to ghost-write a book with a movie star so famous he only needs one name – with the nightmare we all share – murder, finger-pointing, and assasins shooting at you – makes for one of the funniest romps I’ve enjoyed in ages. Witty and clever. Perfect beach read.

I think that list may turn out to be expensive for me, but I’m totally with you on the Duncan MacMaster – I loved Hack when it came out (there’s a review here) and I interviewed him too (you can read our chat here) – and Jo Perry, she’s on my summer reading suggestions.  Thanks again for talking to me Derek, it’s been a pleasure.  The new Danny Bird book, Death of a Devil is out tomorrow (that’s Monday), when I’ll be reviewing it.  In the mean time, you can preorder it here or start at the beginning of the series and buy yourself Death of a Diva – which is 99p on Kindle at the moment.