American imports, Book of the Week, crime, detective, Verity Goes to Washington

Book of the Week: Legwork

After a good week of reading last week I was spoilt for choice forBotW options, but in the end I went for a new to me author and series that I picked up in a secondhand shop during one of my lunchtime strolls through Washington DC.

Paperback copy of Legwork

Casey is a private eye. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for a spell in jail that means that she can’t get a licence in her current home in North Carolina. What she actually is, is the person doing all the hard work for Bobby D, an overweight eating machine who doesn’t want to do anything that means he needs to leave the office. Casey’s current job is some security work for a local senatorial candidate. Mary Lee Masters decided she needed extra protection when she started getting threatening phone calls, so when she finds a dead body in her car it’s Casey she calls for help. Soon Casey is investigating some very seedy dealings and trying to keep the fact that she doesn’t have a licence under wraps from Detective Bill Butler.

Long-term readers may remember me tearing a streak through Janet Evanovich’s back catalogue, in particular the Stephanie Plum series, and that I’m always looking for books and series that scratch a similar itch. I think this might be one of them. Casey is a so much fun to read about. She’s smart and tough and knows what she’s good at – and she’s good at her job. Casey is no damsel in distress who needs rescuing. She’s running away from her past, but she knows she’s doing it and that she’ll have to face up to it some day. The mystery is well plotted and twisty and all the characters are well drawn. I also really liked Southern setting, which is so well described I can almost smell it. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book in the series.

Legwork first came out in 1997 – three years after Stephanie Plum, which makes it another older series which I’ve discovered years after the fact. Clearly I need to do some more research and digging to see if there are anymore unconventional female sleuth series from that era that I’m missing out on.

As I mentioned earlier, my copy was secondhand, but it’s still available in Kindle or in paperback if you want to take a look. In fact the whole series is available for free on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (which I’m not, we all know I’ve got enough access to books as it is and the to-read pile is already massive!)

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, historical

Book of the Week: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace

I treated myself to this the day before my flight, and what greater treat to read for part of my flight (I slept and watched two documentary films* too) than the first Daisy Dalrymple book in quite a while. Long term reader may remember my long time love of Daisy – which has spawned my (mostly unsuccessful) quest for more similar sort of mysteries.

Cover of the Corpse at the Crystal Palace

We rejoin Daisy and her family as they prepare for a visit from the long lost relatives she discovered in a previous book (Heirs of the Body). As part of the visit they make a trip to the Crystal Palace, where they stumble upon a body. Of course Daisy can’t help but get involved in the investigation. Over the course of the investigation there’s nightclubs, showgirls and Russian emigrés. Meanwhile in the background there’s a chance of a promotion for Alec. Can Daisy solve the crime? And is Alec ready for a new job?

It’s always nice to be back in Daisy’s world and this is particularly fun because there’s a lot of familiar faces showing up here from earlier books, some of whom we haven’t seen for a really long time. It’s not my favourite book in the series, but that was mostly because I wanted a bit more from the actual mystery. But as far as historical cozy crime series go, it’s hard to beat Daisy.

You should be able to get this in ebook from all the usual places like Kindle and Kobo, but I suspect the physical book will be harder to find in bookshops unless you order it in. Do yourself a favour though, if you’re new to Daisy and go back at start at the beginning and Death at Wentwater Court. It’s the sort of series where it’s worth it.

Happy reading!

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

Book of the Week: The Mystery of Three Quarters

This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely!  Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.

Cover of The Mystery of Three Quarters

As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder.  Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her.  Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter.  The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters.  So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.

And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.

My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights

With all the holiday excitement over and my reading pretty much back to normal, we’re in the murder mystery end of my reading for this week’s BotW, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights by Ovidia Yu. I picked this up on a whim from a charity bookshop in Westminster on my lunch break from my local elections results shift back in May and I’m really glad I did.  In fact that bookshop trip provided a few books from authors that I hadn’t heard of before that really, really appealed to me.  I think it’s location meant that it had a different selection of books from a lot of the charity shops I’ve been in recently.  And I’m always after new voices and new ideas for reading material!

Cover of Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

When her client and her sick son are found dead in his bedroom during a garden party that she is catering, Aunty Lee finds her food under suspicion. The intrepid widow starts to investigate, but when her restaurant and kitchen are shut down because of the influential connections of the victims, she redoubled her efforts. Meanwhile the police officer in charge of the investigation finds his efforts hampered by an officious and over zealous junior officer as well as political pressure to blame the food and let it go. What really killed Mabel Sung and her son Leonard, how does a dead Chinese man fit in and who is it that is so desperate to cover everything up?

I’ve been describing this to people as Crazy Rich Asians meets cozy crime. It’s got some of the elements of the super rich privileged lifestyle that you find in Kevin Kwan’s novel but also the amateur detective trying to save their business element that I love in so many small town cozy crime novels. Aunty Lee is a great character – an older widow who talks to photos of her dead husband that are on the wall in every room of her house and restaurant, she has an annoying stepson and daughter-in-law and a band of loyal friends. This is the second in the series and I still feel like I’m missing a bit of Aunty Lee’s back story, but I enjoyed this so much I didn’t care!

I hadn’t come across Ovidia Yu before – my copy of this is also clearly a US edition – but having read this I’m really keen to read more from her. This is a well-written page turner with a clever plot and a brilliant cast of characters.  I also loved the setting – Singaporean life and culture is brought to life so vividly in this – with the mix of cultures, backgrounds and languages with a lot of what felt like really good insider detail.

Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights is available on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback – although I suspect it’s going to be an order it in to the bookstore sort of book rather than a find-it-on-the-shelf one.  I’ll definitely be looking for more from Ovidia Yu – there are three other Aunty Lee books and she’s written other books that I like the look of as well, because of course what I need is more books on the to-read shelf…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Strangers in Fleet Street

This week’s BotW returns to my old stomping ground of Girl’s Own fiction.  However it is slightly out of my usual wheel house in that it’s not a school story, but a career book. Compared to my reading of school stories, I haven’t read many career books, but one of my favourite books that my mum passed on from her childhood was Shirley Flight, Air Hostess so a book in a series called Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter definitely appealed to me.  I found it in the Oxfam Bookshop in York (on the same trip that I picked up two Oxenhams and Dorita Fairlie Bruce) and I bought it, because after all, I am a journalist after spending my childhood pretending to be one, so what could be more perfect?!But this is definitely a recommendation for people who are afficiados of the genre – because it has some… let’s call them issues.

Hardback copy of Strangers in Fleet Street

So, Strangers in Fleet Street is apparently the 15th book in the Sally Baxter series and it sees Sally, who is a teenager working as a reporter at a national newspaper, taking charge of a group of foreign readers of the Evening Cry (her paper) who won a competition to spend two weeks in London.  She’s their guide – but she’s also hoping to get some stories from their visit.  Sally soon makes friends with most of the visitors but a series of disappearances – of money, of earrings and of a person – lead to suspicion being thrown on her little group and Sally is determined to unmask the real culprit – not just for the scoop but to save her new friend’s reputations.

This ticked pretty much all of my boxes – it’s got a mystery and a bit of adventure.  It has a fun cast of characters and it has a lead character who is doing an interesting job, in a male-dominated profession.  OK Sally may be on human interest duty in this book, but she’s definitely doing the job and she’s not the only one – there’s a more senior woman reporter too.  Looking at the information about the other titles in the series that I found here, it seems that Sally seems to get a lot of the softer stories – as opposed to crime, trials or politics, but then court rooms and council meetings are hard to make sound exciting – but a lot of it involves globe-trotting.  Even without that list, Sally mentions trips to Hong Kong and North Africa – so it does sound like an exciting and appealing life, which has got to be one of the major aims of a career novel.  My quibbles with it are all around some of the rather old-fashioned (putting it nicely) attitudes.  Sally herself is very fair but the way the young North African boy is portrayed is definitely very stereotypical and of its time.  And the resolution to the mystery involved another trope that I’m not very keen on, but I can’t say more than that because it’s a huge spoiler.  So lets say that I won’t be lending this to my 10-year-old niece.  But if you are a fan of Girl’s Own fiction and know where its weaknesses and blind spots are, this is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  And I’ve already been on the second hand book sites looking for more in the series.

As I mentioned, my book came from a charity bookshop, the secondhand dealers have lots of copies of various books in this series (please don’t beat me to them) but unless this is your secret niche book love, it’s probably not going to be one for you- and if it is, you already know how to source this sort of thing, so no links this week!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, mystery, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Judge Walden – Back in Session

Another change of direction for this week’s BotW pick.  I read a lot last week, and a lot of it was good, but Judge Walden: Back in Session seemed like a fairly obvious pick – even if it is the second in a series, and not just because it is out on Thursday.  And I know I keep saying it, but the summer reading reccs post is coming up, so more of last week’s books may yet get a mention!

Cover of Judge Walden: Back in Session

Back in Session is the second book about Charlie Walden, resident judge (that means he’s in charge) at Berdmonsey Crown Court.  His main aim in life is just to get on with his job – trying criminals – without attracting the attention of either the press or, even worse, the Civil Servants.  He calls them the Grey Smoothies and is constantly on the watch for their latest targets or cost cutting idea.  He also has to manage his three fellow judges – who all have different ideas about the law and how it should be applied and aren’t afraid of expressing them.  Charlie’s wife – a vicar – is also a regular character who offers insight and support depending on what’s going on at court. The book is broken down into a series of cases, each covering one trial but which either have some relevance to wider life at the court or which have something happening in the background at the same time.  Each case is about novella length and as you get to the end of the book all the threads that have been bubbling along build to a satisfying conclusion.

I bought the first book in this series after reading the first case in it (which is free on Kindle) and both the books really, really worked for me.  The characters are interesting, the setting is fun and different and it’s all knitted together so well.  The author is a former resident judge himself and so presumably knows exactly what he’s talking about. As a journalist in my “proper” job,  I’ve done my share of court reporting over the years, and all the court scenes in this really worked for me – except with all the boring stuff taken out!  Because it’s broken down into cases, I think it would make a great book to read on the train or on a plane – it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing the sense of what’s going on.

Back in Session does build on the framework from the first book – so I definitely suggest reading Walden of Berdmonsey first – but if you don’t, I don’t think it would be the end of the world.  My copy of the new book came from NetGalley, but I bought book one on a Kindle deal, so it might be worth adding that to your watchlist as the price may drop when book two comes out.  If you want to get hold of a copy for your very own, Back in Session is available to pre-order in Kindle, Kobo or in paperback from Amazon, your friendly local bookshop or Big Green Books.  The first book is also in all the same places (Kindle/Kobo/Amazon paperback/Big Green Bookshop) or if you want a free taster, you can try Walden’s First Case, but I could only find that on Kindle.  I’m hoping we haven’t heard the last of the Judges of Berdmonsey Crown Court.

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!