cozy crime, crime, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Antipodean mysteries

So as you know from the weekly lists, I’m on a big old re-read of Phryne Fisher mysteries at the moment, so I’ve taken my inspiration for this week’s Recommendsday from that!

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

Lets start with something set just after Phryne – the first book in the Rowland Sinclair series is set in the 1930s. Like Phryne, Rowland is spending money and causing scandal – he’s the son of a well-to-do Sydney family – but rather than embracing a life of gentlemanly pursuits, he’s an artist. I’ve only read one of this series, I have the second book on the kindle and a couple more on the physical to read pile (see Books Incoming) but the first one sees Rowland investigating the death of his uncle – the only other Bohemian-y member of the family. This has politics and tensions and you see some of the same factors you see on the rise in Europe at the same time at play in Australia. It’s not witty like Phryne, and it’s further towards the thriller end of the spectrum than the cozy, but I liked it (as you can tell from the fact I have more waiting to be read!

Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright

This was a really interesting murder mystery, written in the late 1940s and set in an Australian telephone exchange: 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. I read this a couple of years ago and loved the setting, liked Maggie, I though the mystery was clever and tense and packed with suspense. I’ve been looking for something else set in a telephone exchange ever since. And then…

A Matter of Love and Death by Carmen Radtke

I read this the other week: and it’s a murder mystery with a telephone exchange! Frances overhears a threatening message while she’s on shift at the exchange and thinks it might be linked to a robbery where a man died that she sees in the paper a few days later. Along with her family’s new lodger Phil and nightclub owner Jack, they decide to investigate. This is the first in a series that has gone through several covers and a change in author name and is trying to do quite a lot, but it was in Kindle Unlimited and wasn’t a total bust!

I’m fairly sure I read a contemporary murder mystery set in the outback not that long ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called or who wrote it, so I can’t look up what I thought of it on Goodreads! And I called this Antipodean mysteries – so I ought to mention a New Zealand-set book or two – so here’s a reminder that Ngaio Marsh set some of the Inspector Alleyn series in her home country. Vintage Murder sees Roderick investigating a murder at a cast party after the first night of a play. He is somewhat taken with the leading lady – which always makes me smile because this is the trip to that he’s on ship home from when he meets Agatha Troy in the next book in the series (Artists in Crime). Marsh sends Alleyn back to New Zealand during the Second World War and that’s where we get Colour Scheme – victim lured into boiling mud (yuck), complete with espionage and counter espionage – and Dyed in the Wool – a country house-style murder mystery but set on a farm and where the victim turns up packed in a bale of wool (also yuck). And even later in the series there is Photo Finish, with an opera diva who is taken to an island by her boyfriend to escape the paparazzi, where she plans a performance of a piece written specially for her by her younger lover and who is then murdered. And an honourable mention should go to A Surfeit of Lampreys, which starts off in New Zealand before the action moves to London and the murder happens, and Opening Night (also known as Night at the Vulcan) where the leading lady is newly arrived from New Zealand.

You’re welcome!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Death of a Bookseller

I know it’s only a few weeks since I did a while recommendsday about British Library Crime Classics, and there was another one in the May Quick Reviews, but I’m back again with another one…

When Sergeant Wigan stops to help a drunken man at the end of a late shift, he makes a new friend and discovers the world of book collecting. Soon he is beginning his own collection, following the advice of Michael Fisk, who makes his living scouring book shops and sales for valuable books. When Fisk is found dead, Wigan is seconded to CID to help investigate and use his newly acquired knowledge of the second hand and antiquarian book trade to track down a killer.

This a great pick for the 100th BLCC book. And not just because it’s about a bookseller and the book trade. The mystery is really good but it also has a side of the murder mystery you don’t usually see – the convicted man and what happens to him. In my beloved Strong Poison you see Harriet Vane in prison on remand, but she is innocent and eventually freed*. But what happens to the man who is convicted? It adds a darker edge and a sense of urgency to the book, and an aspect that is easy to forget now that capital punishment is no longer a thing in the UK.

My copy came via my Kindle Unlimited subscription but you should be able to get hold of this through all the usual sources for British Library Crime Classics – including the British Library Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

* Technically, yes this is a spoiler, but a) Strong Poison was published in 1930 b) Peter is trying to clear Harriet from the start of the book, to the point where it’s in the blurb and c) I refuse to believe that anyone who has been hanging around here for any length of time has missed my whole Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane situation.

mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: More British Library Crime Classics!

One of the consequences of the Great Steam Scald of Sunday was reading some more of British Library Crime Classics while I couldn’t hold a paperback. Of course as soon as I could I abandoned them in favour of Attack and Decay. But I’ve been planning this post for a while and I’ve now finished the other books I wanted to review so here we are!

Post after Post-Morton by E C R Lorac

When a member of a family of writers dies, it is initially thought to be a suicide – until her brother receives a letter from the deceased, which had got delayed in the post. He calls in Superintendent Macdonald to find out the truth behind his sister’s death. I’ve reviewed a couple of Lorax’s books here before (These Names Make Clues, Murder by Matchlight and Murder in the Mill Race as well as Crossed Skis under one of her other pen names ), and this one is right up there. It has plenty of twists and turns as Macdonald tries to prove whether it was murder or suicide.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Fancy a murder carried out with a bow and arrow? Read this! There’s no shortage of suspects either as several residents of the titular square are keen archers and the murdered man is very unpopular. Solving this is Superintendent Meredith (last seen on this blog in The Lake District Murder) helping out a friend while on holiday. The setting is part of the charm of this – you can really picture the houses clustered around the square and their residents and their resentments and jealousies.

Deep Waters edited by Martin Edwards

This is one of the BLCC’s themed collections – all of the stories here have a nautical theme. There are a bunch of names in this who I have read full length novels from, but by a miracle not any of the other three authors in this post! There is also a huge range of styles of mystery – the authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, Christopher St John Sprigg, Edmund Crispin, Michael Innes and more. They also tend towards the shorter end so if you don’t like one it’s over quickly!

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

A blazing body is seen running around in the battlement of Castle Skull near Koblenz – but who did it. The castle is a maze of passages and awash with legends and stories of magic and ghosts. There is a small pool of suspects, and two detectives competing to solve figure it all out. This is the least Verity of all of these – but I include it because although it’s not precisely my thing, it is a good creepy, chillery, thrillery mystery. Atmospheric is probably the word.

All of these were in Kindle Unlimited when I read them, so if you keep a list of books to borrow from that, otherwise the British Library shop is doing Three for Two on the paperback versions.

Enjoy

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Set in Boarding schools

Long time readers of this blog will be aware of my fondness for Girls Own books – particularly those set in boarding schools. I’m fairly sure that I would have hated boarding school in reality but I love reading about them – particularly the ones set in the first half of the twentieth century. A result of this is that I do love an adult book set in a boarding school and showing the other side of things. So for recommendsday today, here are some adult books set in schools of various types.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Let’s start with a classic murder mystery. An exclusive girls school is thrown into chaos when an unpopular games mistress is found shot dead in the sports pavilion. This is a Hercule Poirot novel, but he actually only appears very late on in this – which has school politics and international espionage among the options for the motive for the murder. I remember first reading this as an early teenager – around the same time as I was reading all the Girls Own books and being sort of horrified at the idea of a murder at a boarding school. It’s a much later Poirot novel – for all that I didn’t realise that when I first read it and the TV version of it is really quite different because it had to be moved back to the 1930s. Worth’s look if you’ve never read it.

Poison for Teacher by Nancy Spain

It’s only a few weeks since I picked Death Goes on Skis for a Book of the Week, so it’s perhaps a bit naughty to be picking Nancy Spain again, but I think if anything I liked this even more. Miriam and Natasha find themselves undercover at a boarding school to try to work out who is trying to put the school out of business. But while they are there, a teacher is poisoned and it all gets complicated. This has awful children, horrible teachers, seething rivalries – professional and personal – and a staff play that causes nothing but trouble. It’s really, really funny.

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Also funny, but without any murders is Angela Thirkell ’s Summer Half, which I still think is one of the funniest of all of her Barsetshire books. It has a serious teacher getting himself engaged to featherbrained girl who is clearly going to cause him nothing but problems and everyone in the book is hoping that he’ll some how manage to escape. Schools – and teaching – has changed a lot since this was written but it’s all still recognisable.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Let’s jump forward to the more recent past. Preplis about a scholarship student at a fancy New England Boarding school. Yes, I wanted to smack some sense into Lee for at least the second half of the book, possibly longer but that may have been because I could see some of the elements of my own character in her – the ones that I try hardest to overcome and she’s making no effort to do so, (or because she doesn’t try and make the most of the opportunity that she made for herself) But this did feel like a very realistic and truthful portrait of what life in a modern (ish) co-ed boarding school might have been like – in the time immediately before computers and mobile communication took over. This was Sittenfeld’s debut, and although I’ve enjoyed other books of hers more (the first or hers I read was Eligible, I’ve read almost all of her backlist and buy the new stuff as it comes out) but if you haven’t read it it’s worth a look.

I recently read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English – which is about a scholarship girl at an English country boarding school – which wasn’t for me, but I think others will like it- my problems was around not liking any of the characters enough to go with them while they made stupid decisions all over the place! And to finish I’m going to throw a few mentions in to stuff I’ve written about recently that also fits in here: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust from Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, which sees our heroine stuck in a boarding school in Canada. And then there is Murder in the basement which was a BotW six months ago, and so I can’t really write about at length again – yet!

Happy Wednesday!

mystery, new releases, Young Adult

Out This Week: The Agathas!

I actually read this one earlier this week so wanted to give it a mention today as depending on where you are it is either out today or in the last few days. The Agathas is a YA Murder mystery set in a California town where the citizens are divided between the haves and have nots. Alice is one of the haves, but after she went missing last summer after her boyfriend dumped her, her friends don’t want to know her. Iris doesn’t live in a mansion and her mum works in a bar. She’s been assigned to tutor Alice. Then Brooke, one of the popular girls who used to be Alice’s friends, disappears. Soon the two girls are investigating – Alice because her ex boyfriend is the main suspect and Iris, well because Brooke’s grandmas is offering a reward. Can they figure out what really happened the night that Brooke Donovan disappeared?

I really enjoyed this – it’s a twisty high school Murder mystery with an interestingly flawed cast of characters and a crime fighting duo who bring out interesting sides to each other. Also I’m so glad I’m not a teenager now and that I didn’t go to American high school. It sounds awful.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get it in Kindle or Kobo now or in paperback. And the good news is that it’s listed as the first in a series…

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Lost Heirs part 1

Inspired by the latest Veronica Speedwell, today’s Recommendsday is books featuring lost heirs. They’re a staple of the mystery and romance genres, which as you know are two of my favourites, so I’m splitting the recommendations up and I’ve still had to restrain myself!

And this week we’re starting with mystery novels – where lost heir plots tend to revolve around whether a mysterious or reappeared person is who they say they are or if they are a fake. It’s a think that actually happened in history – Perkin Warbeck for example – but I’m mystery novels it’s usually an inheritance rather than a crown that the possible pretender is about to come into. It’s not a plot you can really do in the age of DNA, or at least it requires some creativity. So let’s start with a Golden Age Classic – Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar. In it a man called Brat Farrar appears and claims to be Patrick Ashby, the eldest son of the Ashby family who disappeared when he was 13 and thought to have drowned. He knows Patrick’s mannerisms and the story of his early life and it seems like he may pull it off, until secrets start to emerge…

Sweet Danger is my favourite of all the Albert Campion books (I think), and I listen to the audiobook or read it at least once a the year. In it Albert is trying to find the lost heir to a tiny Balkan principality and meets the family who claim they’re the rightful heirs. There’s also a ruthless crime Lord, witchcraft and the start of a romantic strand in the series – which I promise is not the main reason I like it! It’s actually a really good adventure caper as well as a mystery – and there’s no actual murder. You could also probably make a case that Agatha Christie’s Nemesis is a lost heir book in a way as well – as the mystery that Miss Marple is trying to solve is whether a a deceased millionaire’s son murdered a young woman or not – the son in question having disappeared.

Most historical mystery series will do a lost heir – or variation thereon at some point. In the Phryne Fisher series it happens fairly early on in the series – within the first half dozen in fact – and as the blurb is a little bit cryptic about it I shall be too, but you can probably work it out. The Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series has one relatively early on too – Justice Hall – the sixth in the series but really to appreciate it you need to have read the previous book O Jerusalem too, and they work really well back to back. In the Daisy Dalrymple books it happens much later in the series – Heirs of the Body is the 21st mystery (out of 23) and the whole plot revolves around finding which of four options is the heir to the viscountcy in Daisy’s family.

I’m fairly sure there are more of them that I’ve forgotten about – I’ve been mulling it over before I fall asleep at night and I’m fairly sure I haven’t remembered all the options I came up with, but that’s always the way with things that come to you as you drop off to sleep! But as I said, I have another post planned, and even if it’s meant to be all romances, I can always throw a mystery in if I remember something amazing…

Happy Wednesday

detective, new releases

Out today: New Rivers of London!

And I’ve already got my copy of Amongst Our Weapons in my grubby little hands as you can seee! I told you that I’d got a signed copy pre-ordered from Big Green Books – and they appear to have some of them left if you’re in the market. As it’s the ninth book in the series, it’d be breaking all my rules if it ends up being a Book of the Week – but I’m not ruling it out, although if previous books are anything to go by, you really need to have read at least some of the others to get the most out of. So instead, I’m going to remind you that I have a Series I Love post about them from two years ago from not long after the False Value came out.

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Twists!

So I started off trying to write a post about books with unreliable narrators, but even that seemed to give too much away. So I’ve refined it to books with twists in them – some of which may be unreliable narrators, some may not be. And I’m not telling you which and equally I’m not telling you which book that I’ve recently read that inspired this because: spoilers. Anyway, this little lot cover a range of genres so hopefully there’s something for everyone.

Anyway, I’m going to start with an all-time classic from the Queen of Crime, which is possibly the first of its type: Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. First published nearly 100 years ago, this was controversial when it was published – and has been described as breaking the rules of the murder mystery genre. If you’ve never read it, you really should – and don’t worry, the rules it break don’t include the one where you have to find out who did it! You could also add Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders and And Then There Were None to the list as well – but I’m sure if you’re hanging around here with me you’ll have read at least one of them, if not all of them.

Also in the classic novel section (although not murder mysteries), are Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca. They are varying degrees of Gothic and thrillers and both have both got under currents going on of various types. People will keep categorising both of these as romances, but do not be fooled – they are dark and creepy. They will leave you befuddled and wondering what just happened to you and how you feel about it all.

Next up Susanne Rindell’s The Other Typist. Set in 1920s New York, it’s about a young typist who works for the Police Department typing up confessions, and who is drawn into the underground world of speakeasies by a new typist who joins the pool. This came out in 2014 and was one of the most befuddling books I have read. Writing this has made me remember how much I enjoyed being perplexed – even if I didn’t love the ending, for reasons that I can’t go in to – so if I’m not careful I’ll end up buying some more of her books and adding further to the tbr pile!

Moving to something much less dark – and involving no murders – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette features teenager Bee discovering her mother’s past life after agoraphobic Bernadette disappears after a a school fundraiser goes awry. it’s funny and unpredictable and disconcerting and engaging and there is a trip to the Antarctic!

On top of these, there are also a few books I’ve written about already that might fit the bill: lets start with two by Taylor Jenkins Reid – both Daisy Jones and the Six and Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo have more going on than meets the eye. And more recently Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs is Jane Eyre inspired, but still surprised me (a lot) when I read it last year.

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, LGTBQIA+, mystery

Book of the Week: Death Goes on Skis

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes it’s cheating. But it is a book set in a ski resort and I spent the part of my weekend that I didn’t spend in London watching the Winter Olympics so I am going with it!

Death Goes on Skis is one of a series featuring Miriam Birdseye, written in the years following the Second World War. Miriam is a revue artist and has a champagne lifestyle and a coterie of hangers on. This is the first in the series that I have come across (and isn’t it gorgeous!) but Good reads tells me it is the fourth in the series. It sees Miriam on holiday in a ski resort popular with Brits. Her fellow travelers include a ballerina and her night club owner husband, a playboy, his wife and their children and their governess and a wealthy couple whose family make their money from perfume. Most of these people are awful, but when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Miriam and her friends investigate. But, crucially, they’re investigating because they are bored and not because they have a burning passion for justice or to see the criminal behind bars.

And that is the difference to other Murder mysteries of the era that I have written about – this is a farce and a (black) comedy and doesn’t quite follow the genres connections that you might expect. Think Evelyn Waugh does murder mysteries. And it works very well. You’re not going to like any of the suspects, and the children are truly awful, but it’s really quite entertaining. It also comes neatly broken up into nice small chunks, which makes it perfect for bedtime reading – which is mostly what I’ve been doing with it, although I did read some of it on the sofa on Monday night because I wanted to finish it!

If the name Nancy Spain sounds familiar, well that may be because she’s one of the women featured in Her Brilliant Career, but in brief she was a great niece of Mrs Beaton (of household management game) she went to Roedean and then became a journalist after being asked to write about women’s sport. She served in the WRNS in the war and afterwards started writing detective fiction. This got her a newspaper column and also turned her into a personality who appeared regularly on TV and radio. Her partner was editor of She Magazine, Joan Werner Laurie and they lived openly together in what sounds like a somewhat complicated household with the rally driver Sheila Van Damme. They were friends with Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich and she was the inspiration for a song. Spain and Laurie died in a plane crash at Aintree in 1964 – they had been travelling there to cover the grand national.

I bought my copy of Death Goes on Skis as a birthday present for myself, and I’ve already ordered another one of them, as Virago have helpfully reissued several of them now, all with delightful covers in this style. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo and in a matching audiobook to this from all the usual vendors.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: March 2021 Mini Reviews

So we made it to the end of a year of the quarantimes. And despite the fact being back in March meant it felt like we’d never left March at all and the world had ground to a halt in 2020 and given us endless March, itwas actually quite a good month in my reading life. Here are a few books I enjoyed that I haven’t told you about yet.

Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara

Hardback copy of Women vs Hollywood

Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara’s new book is an examination of pioneering women through Hollywood history and the ways in which they’ve been left out of the history of the silver screen. It also examines what could be done to help redress the balance and for films to tell some different stories from some different points of view. It’s impeccably researched and well argued and will left me wanting to go out and spend some money at the cinema on female-centric films. As the cinemas are still closed, I contented myself by watching Lady Bird and Emma. and a couple of Katherine Hepburn films.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

Cover of the Consequences of Fear

I’ve written about the Maisie Dobbs series here before. And this is another engrossing and twisty instalment in the series. With long running series it’s always a challenge writing a review that doesn’t give away too much of the plot – or spoil earlier books in the series. But what I can say is that now the books have reached World War Two, Jacqueline Winspear is consistently finding interesting aspects of the conflict to entangle Maisie in, and if a few liberties are taken with the timeline, they are minor and you forgive them because it’s so page-turning and engrossing. This also sees some really interesting developments in Maisie’s personal life too – so all around this is a really good read.

You’re History by Leslie Chow*

Cover of You're History

What’s not to love about a book with a cover as gorgeous as this and I did enjoy it, but that comes with a few caveats. I think I was missing some of the background on some of the songs to get the most out of it. Although the names listed in the blurb are all people you will have heard of – Kate Bush, Nikki Minaj,  Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift and TLC – in quite a lot of cases it’s actually taking quite a deep, in depth dive into their musical back catalogues. Really I think it needs to come with a playlist so you can listen to the songs that are being talked about as you read the book, because unless you’re really, really into music you may get lost here unless you’ve done some prep work. I used to work at radio stations as well as watching a fair few music documentaries both general and artist specific, so I consider myself fairly well across music, and I still had to do a fair bit of googling. I have a goal to try and read more books about music and musicians – because when I do I invariably enjoy that – and this fits in to that but it’s not my favourite of the genre.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker

Cover of Happy Singles Day

This is a sweet, fluffy holiday (by which I mean vacation not Christmas!) romance set on an island off North Carolina, with a widowed hero with a B&B he can’t face running since the death of his wife and the professional organiser who visits for an out of season holiday. Lucas is focussed on raising his daughter and ignoring the bills that are coming due – so his sister relists the B7B without telling him – until Paige is booked and on the way. When Paige arrives, she finds that her accomodation doesn’t quite match the online brochure and decides to return home. But bad weather means the ferry isn’t running and she’s stuck on the island… Nothing revelatory or surprising, but a nice fun weekend read featuring a grumpy hero, a sunny heroine, a bit of forced proximity, a cute kid and some puppies.

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Hardback copy of Flake

So this is a really genuinely charming graphic novel about an ice cream seller and his van and the rivalries and challenges he faces. Low key but remarkably emotional. It had been sat on my shelf for a few months – my friendly local comic book shop had managed to get me a copy just before her last lockdown started again and I had been saving it for a treat. And I was right that it was a treat because it was really, really good.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in March were Wild Rain, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Heroes are my Weakness. And here are the links to the mini reviews from January and February.

Happy Reading!