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!

Authors I love, detective, mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Roderick Alleyn

Now I’ve written about Albert Campion as well as Peter Wimsey, it would be remiss of me not to write about Ngaio Marsh’s brilliant creation, not least because I spend as much time re-reading or re-listening to the Roderick Alleyn mysteries and watching the BBC TV versions while I iron as I do revisiting Wimsey or watching Miss Marple.  And as I have now finished reading the series, having treated myself to the last omnibus in the January sales, this is an even better time to write about them!

Shelf of Ngaio Marsh omnibuses
Omnibus two is on loan to my dad. I think. I hope.

In some ways, Roderick Alleyn is another of the gentlemen detectives so popular in Golden Age detective fiction – he’s a well-educated younger son of a baronet, born in the 1890s and who served in the First World War – but with one major difference: Alleyn is actually a police officer.  At the start of the series, in A Man Lay Dead he’s a Detective Chief Inspector, by the end he is a Chief Superintendent.  A Man Lay Dead was published in 1934, the final novel came out in 1982 and the setting of the series moves with the time period – although Alleyn’s age… doesn’t really.  At the start of the series Alleyn is single, but later marries artist Agatha Troy, who he first met during the course of the case in the sixth book.  Troy, and later their son Ricky, pop up in several more cases, but by no means all of them -his regular companions are Inspector Fox and xxx Bailey.

Most of the books are set in and around London and the south of England, but there are several novels set in Marsh’s native New Zealand.  Marsh was passionate about the theatre and the arts and several of the novels are feature actors as well as the Unicorn Theatre in London and artists and artistic circles.  This means there’s a really nice variety of settings, and combined with the fact that Alleyn is a police detective, helps avoid the series seeming repetitive of like bodies are following Roderick around.  Alleyn is also a more peripheral figure in some of the novels than many of the other Golden Age detectives are.  In A Man Lay Dead, most of the story is mostly told from the perspective of Nigel Bathgate, friend of Alleyn and a guest at the party where a man has been really killed during a game of Murder, A Surfeit of Lampreys is seen through the eyes of Roberta Grey, visiting a family of penniless and eccentric aristocrats when their uncle is killed in a lift and there are more.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve read all the books now, but I’ve watched the early 90s TV adaptation so many times that I’ve had to go back and do some actual re-reading of the novels as the TV versions are colouring my memories of the novels slightly.  There are eight TV Alleyns – and there are a few differences from the book.  The most obvious is probably that Troy is in almost all of them, with the relationship between the two their relationship builds over the course of the series.  The second is the condensing and moving of the timeline – while the series starts before the Second World War and continues in the post-war period, the TV series specifically sets the first case in 1948 and moves on from there.

There are also fairly major alterations to the plots – some have less victims than their book equivalent, others have characters removed and replaced, others have extra subplots added in and others taken out. The other obvious difference for the viewer is that two different actors play Alleyn – Simon Williams in Artists in Crime, the pilot episode and the story where Alleyn meets Troy, and Patrick Malahide in all the others.  Williams’ Alleyn is also a slightly different character – he’s said to have had a difficult war and is seen having some emotional difficulty with the resonpsibilty of the job – generally more Wimsey-ish than when Malahide plays him in the subsequent episodes.  I have reminder set on my TiVo box to record The Alleyn Mysteries and generally have two or three saved at a time for watching while ironing.  My favourites are – bizarrely – the aforementioned pilot and Dead Water  In fact if you fancy it, Alibi are showing two Alleyn’s this weekend and another two the week after.  They all have the added bonus that if you’ve watched any other murder mysteries (or costume dramas to be honest) of the same sort of vintage, you can spot the same people popping up all over the place – particularly the Joan Hickson Miss Marples: Emily Pride in Dead Water is played by Margaret Tyzack who plays Clotilde Bradbury Scott in Nemesis; in Artists in Crime, Rory’s mother Lady Alleyn is played by Ursula Howells who is Miss Blacklock in A Murder Is Announced.  They are not the only ones, but they’re probably the most obvious*.  There’s also cross over with Campion and Poirot as well as the BBC TV Narnia adaptations…

Audible screengrab showing Ngaio Marsh novels

Several of the Alleyn mysteries are on fairly heavy rotation in my audiobook library.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I am Very Bad With Silence and often listen to audiobooks to go to sleep to while I’m away from home.  And the audiobook fan is particularly lucky with this series – there’s abridged and unabridged versions of many of the novels with a variety of different narrators.  Benedict Cumberbatch has done shortened versions of three of them – Artists in Crime, Scales of Justice and Death in a White Tie – but I also like Anton Lesser (who is particularly good at accents).  And if you want something even shorter there are also a few radio plays available on Audible.  My favourites on audiobook are probably the Cumberbatch Scales of Justice and then Lesser’s  Opening Night and James Saxon’s unabridged Final Curtain.

If you fancy trying some Inspector Alleyn, you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily – they are available as ebooks, or as the three novel omnibuses that I have and they’re often in secondhand bookshops (although not usually charity shops, the most recent editions are a bit too old).  I started at the beginning and worked my way through (over the course of just under five years) but I don’t think you need to read them in order to enjoy them.  There is also an unfinished Alleyn, recently finished by Stella Duffy, which is out in paperback next month and which I have on my to read pile to get to sooner rather than later now that I’ve finished the series proper.  If you’re an Alleyn fan, let me know which your favourites are in the comments – and if you’ve read the “new” one let me know what you thought!

Happy Reading!

*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!

Cover of Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: Albert Campion

When I added the Campion Christmas stories to the festive reading blog, I realised that I hadn’t ever written a Series I love post about Margery Allingham’s detective and so one was really somewhat overdue.  So, to start off the new year, I’m putting that omission to rights.

Old Penguin copy of The Beckoning Lady

Albert Campion – not his real name – is a detective and problem solver.  He’s got an aristocratic background that is hinted and and has to be pieced together* – and many sources say he started as a parody of my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey.  Indeed as well as their family history, their physical description is fairly similar – Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses and has a face that is described as bland and inoffensive and as having a deceptively blank expression.  Wimsey by contrast is describes as being fair, average height, with a monocle and with a vaguely foolish face.  You see what I mean?  But as the books go on Albert is definitely his own man and a character in his own right.  He’s more of an adventurer and a man of action than many of his Golden Age Counterparts – and more often on the edge of the law.  Where Wimsey has Bunter – a gentleman’s gentleman with a flare for photography and chemistry – Albert has Lugg, an ex-con with a passion for trying to better himself but constantly being reminded of his past as he and Albert encounter his former criminal associates.  Albert’s friend in the police is the detective Stanislas Oates, who over the course of the series rises through the ranks of The Yard to become its chief.

The Campion stories tend more towards the adventure than straight up detective fiction – for example, my particular favourite is Sweet Danger which sees Albert posing as minor royalty at a foreign watering home and then attempting to outwit a criminal mastermind in the hunt for documents to prove who the ruler of a tiny but oil rich principality is.  There are chases, and a treasure hunt, and evil machinations and attempted witchcraft and it all builds to a very satisfactory conclusion.  The one in the series which gets most attention is The Tiger in the Smoke – which is a thriller not a detective novel – as Albert tries to track down a psychopath in foggy, smoggy London.  I also really like The Fashion in Shrouds, in which Albert’s fashion designer sister (also estranged from the aristocratic family) falls under suspicion after two deaths that are rather convenient for her best friend.

Copies of The Fashion in Shrouds and Flowers for the Judge

The series started in the 1930s and ran through until the 1960s, so I need to add my usual caveat about there being some dated attitudes and language in some of these – particularly the Fashion in Shrouds if I recall correctly – which means that the modern reader needs to approach with slight caution, but I don’t think there’s anything worse here than there is in Christie or Sayers.

There are 19 Campion novels written by Margery Allingham, two more written by her husband (who completed the final Allingham novel after her death) and then another five modern continuations by Mike Ripley.  I’ve read most of the Allingham written stories – although interestingly I think Campion’s first appearance, as a side character in The Crime at Black Dudley, is one of the ones in the series that I haven’t read.  I can almost see your puzzled face at this – but I have an explanation: I discovered Campion when I was living in Essex and on a very tight budget.  I was reading my way through the local library’s detective selection and they had a whole shelf of Campions – because Margery Allingham was a local author.  I promptly read my way through as many as I could lay my hands on – but it was pre-goodreads and I wasn’t keeping track.  I still don’t own many of them – a fact which has hampered me not inconsiderably in putting this post together!

There were also two series of TV adaptations in the early 1990s, starring Peter Davison as Campion, which do occasionally pop up on TV (usually on Alibi or Drama) which are fun if not entirely faithful to the plot and a bit clunking in places.  They’re definitely not as well put together as the Joan Hickson Miss Marples for example, the David Suchet Poirots or the Inspector Alleyn adaptations, but if you like the books then they’re worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

I’ve got a couple of Campions as audiobooks too which has actually been a really nice way to revisit the series.  Once I get my audiobook and podcast backlogs back down and under control, I’m planning to get a few more – and fill in some of the gaps in the series.

If you’ve read any Campion books – or have a favourite – let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading!

*And I can’t remember all the pieces at the moment!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

Revisiting My Big Obsessions of 2017

 

Contemporary Romances

After glomming on Jill Shalvis, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Kristen Higgins in 2017, I’ve continued to expand my contemporary romance horizons in 2018.  I’ve read even more Shalvis, Morgan and Crusie and added Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert to the list.  There no-go tropes are still there – billionaires, biker gangs, secret babies – but there’s plenty that I do like and they make a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of the newsroom after a long day of breaking news.

Crime series

As you’ll see from the 2018 obsessions post tomorrow, I’ve read a whole stack of new crime series this year.   The new Hobson and Choi was a Book of the Week and it’s a bit of a spoiler for my Books of the Year post to tell you how much I liked the new Vinyl Detective book. I’ve also continued to work my way through the Royal Spyness series – which I love, despite the title and the fact that I have to not think too hard about the premise – but some of the other series that I discovered last year have faded a little this year as they’ve got longer and deeper.  I’m not naming names though.

Non fiction

I’ve probably read more non-fiction books this year than any year before.  And yes, a lot of that was preparing for my Washington posting, but I’d already read a fair bit of non-fiction by that point. There was more Mary Roach but also more celebrity memoirs than previously.  I’m continuing to try and expand my world-view and the perspectives that I get on the world through my non-fiction reading and it’s been a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t read a lot of straight up history this year, so I’m hoping to change that a little bit in 2019.

I said in this post last year, that my obsessions tend to be quite consistent – and that I was hoping for something new and random in 2018.  I think I’m still working on similar themes to previous years, but the breadth and variety of my non-fiction reading is helping me from becoming boring in my old age!

 

American imports, Book of the Week, mystery, Young Adult

Book of the Week: A Study in Charlotte

And I just can’t help myself.  For the second time in three weeks, my BotW is a Sherlock Holmes-related novel: Brittany Cavalaro’s A Study in Charlotte.  But this time it’s Modern Sherlock descendants at a New England Boarding School so it is Completely Different from Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women. Even if the titles would lead you to think otherwise.  Honestly.  It really is.  Let me prove it to you…

Jamie Watson has won a rugby scholarship to a prep school in Connecticut.  He isn’t happy about it – not only doesn’t he want to leave London, he doesn’t really like rugby and the last thing he wants is to be closer to his dad and his step-family.  The only bright spot in this whole situation is that Charlotte Holmes also attends the school.  The Holmeses and the Watsons have been intertwined for generations – every since Sherlock solved mysteries and Watson wrote them down.  But Charlotte seems like more trouble than Jamie can (or should) handle:  she arrived at the school in mysterious circumstances, she runs a poker game at weekends and is rumoured to have a drug problem.  But the thing is, the two of them seem drawn to each other nonetheless.  Then a student is killed.  And not just any student – one who Watson had a very public fight with after he hassled Charlotte. And Holmes and Watson are being framed for the crime.  Charlotte may be the only person who can solve the case – but by investigating it may put them in the wrong place at the wrong time and make things even worse for them.

This is exactly my sort of YA.  There’s drama and peril and some angst here, but it’s not end-of-the-world or dystopian or bleak.  There’s school stuff and a mystery, but the issues are slightly more adult (drug addiction, sexual assault, stalkers) than you get in middle grade school stories and mysteries.  Jamie and Charlotte are incredibly engaging characters – and once again I had fun watching and seeing how Cavallaro had woven in the Sherlock-lore into her modern day characters.

I’ve actually had this on my reading wishlist for a while – Goodreads tells me I shelved this in November 2016 – but it’s not available in Kindle in the UK and it hadn’t come my way at the library or in the bookshops.  Or at least not at a point when I remembered to look for it anyway.  Luckily I found it in the library near my flat in the US and it was part of my marathon library book binge last week.  There are two more books in the series that have already come out and a fourth installment due in 2019.  I’m going to be be making proper efforts to get hold of them.  I might add the next one to my Christmas list…

You can get a copy of A Study in Charlotte in hardback or paperback from Amazon, but I’ve had trouble finding it for sale on any other UK-based vendors.  Which is a real shame because it is really very good.  But if you’re heading to the US anytime soon, put it on your to-buy list!

Happy Reading!

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!