Death at the President’s Lodging (Inspector Appleby 1) by Michael Innes

I simply Kant take any more…

😖

When Dr Umpleby, the President of prestigious and ancient St Anthony’s College, is found murdered, Inspector Appleby of the Yard is rushed to the spot, as the local plods will clearly not be well educated or cultured enough to deal with such a sensitive affair. Fortunately Appleby can quote major and minor philosophers with the best of them and has more than a passing knowledge of all the arcane subjects covered in a classical Oxbridge education, all of which will no doubt help him to uncover who killed the President and why.

The tone of my introduction may have been somewhat of a spoiler for my opinion of the book, so I may as well jump straight to the conclusion – I abandoned this at just under 40%, finally throwing in the towel when one of the characters hinted that the clue to the mystery might be found in an anecdote about Kant quoted in a book by De Quincey. This, only a couple of pages after the following passage…

And he [Inspector Appleby] sipped his whisky and finally murmured to Titlow [a suspect], with something of the whimsicality that Titlow had been adopting a little before, “What truth is it that these mountains bound, and is a lie in the world beyond?”

There was silence while Titlow’s eye dwelt meditatively on the policeman conversant with Montaigne. Then he smiled, and his smile had great charm. “I wear my heart on my wall?” he asked. “To project one’s own conflicts, to hang them up in simple pictorial terms – it is to be able to step back and contemplate oneself. You understand?”

I couldn’t help but feel it might have been more useful had Appleby asked whether Titlow had crept into the college garden in the middle of the night and shot the President, or searched his rooms for the gun, but each to his own, I suppose. And certainly, my method wouldn’t have allowed Innes to show his vast erudition and superior intellect, which appears to be the main purpose of the book.

Challenge details:
Book: 52
Subject Heading: Education, Education, Education
Publication Year: 1936

The actual plot is based on there being a limited number of people, almost all academics, who could have had access to Dr Umpleby’s rooms at the time of the murder. Sadly, this aspect becomes tedious very quickly with much talk of who had or didn’t have keys, where rooms are in relation to each other, where walls and passages are. I felt a desperate need for a nap… oops, I mean a map… after the first several dozen pages of description. Oddly enough, Innes claims Appleby is happier dealing with problems on a “human or psychological plane” and then proceeds to have this great intellectual wandering around in the (literal) dark, playing hunt the missing key. By 40%, only one possible motive had emerged, largely because Appleby seems more interested in listing the academic tomes on the suspects’ bookshelves than in trying to find out where they had been at the time of the crime.

Michael Innes

This is one of Martin Edwards’ picks in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and I’ve seen several positive reviews of other books of Michael Innes’ recently, so I’m willing to accept that my antipathy to this style of writing isn’t universal, or perhaps Innes improved in later books – this, I believe, was his first. However, the only emotions it provoked in me were tedium and irritation at the perpetual intellectual snobbery. Having been made to realise my own status as dullard, I shall take my inferior intellect and defective education off into the dunce’s corner now… but don’t feel too sorry for me, for I shall take with me an ample supply of chocolate and some books by authors who may not have achieved a First in Classics at Oxbridge but who nevertheless seem to have grasped the definition of the word “entertain”…

In truth, I think my rating of this one is harsh – had I been able to convince myself to struggle through it, it may have earned three stars for the quality of the writing and plot. But since I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, I fear I can only give it one.

PS Appleby and Umpleby? Seriously??

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Ipso Books.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The TBR Book Tag 2017

The truth, the whole truth…

I first did this tag back in 2015, and then last week Cleo reminded me of it when she brought her own one up-to-date. So I thought I’d do it again and see what, if anything has changed…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I have the same spreadsheet as I had back then, but it’s got even more complicated now! As well as sections for the TBR, the GAN Quest, lists of reviews, outstanding review copies, books that aren’t yet published, 5-star authors, etc., etc., plus the all-important reading schedule for the next three months, I now have lists for my four challenges too: Reading the Russian Revolution; Murder, Mystery, Mayhem; the Classics Club; and Around the World in 80 Books. Oh, and then there’s a separate spreadsheet for audiobooks. Frankly it’s a full-time job keeping it all up-to-date – no wonder I need to eat so much chocolate!

You have to admire the colour-coding though, eh?

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

It’s still mostly e-book, though I’ve been enjoying getting back to paper books a bit more recently. I vastly prefer factual books in paper – it’s so much easier to flick back and forwards to notes, maps etc. But I’ve rediscovered my love of reading crime and fiction in paperback too. However, my Kindle Fire is still my most prized piece of technology, full of NetGalley stuff, Complete Works collections of zillions of classic authors, books bought at bargain prices on offers from Amazon, and audiobooks.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I have to try to juggle the review copies with my various challenges, so at the end of each month I spend a couple of hours planning three months ahead. I don’t stick rigidly to it if something comes along that I can’t resist but it does keep me vaguely on track. I still have the same problem of too many review copies though – some things never change!

A book that’s been on your TBR the longest?

The Observations by Jane Harris. I am deeply ashamed to say that I bought it on 20th June 2011, and yet somehow haven’t managed to fit it in during the last six years. I’d feel better about it if it was the only one from 2011, but sadly not. No Name by Wilkie Collins is lingering there too. In my defence, it only went on my actual list a couple of years ago when I trawled through all my Kindle books and found loads I had bought on 99p deals in my first flush of Kindle enthusiasm and never read…

The Blurb says: Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her past, Bessy Buckley takes a job working as a maid in a big country house. But when Arabella, her beautiful mistress, asks her to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, Bessy begins to realise that she hasn’t quite landed on her feet. In one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years, Jane Harris has created a heroine who will make you laugh and cry as she narrates this unforgettable story about secrets and suspicions and the redemptive power of love and friendship.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I’m super enthusiastic about my most recent addition – it will be one of the final books for my Russian Revolution thing, and I think it sounds great.

The Blurb says: In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader.

The story revolves around Iván Cárdenas Maturell, who in his youth was the great hope of modern Cuban literature—until he dared to write a story that was deemed counterrevolutionary. When we meet him years later in Havana, Iván is a loser: a humbled and defeated man with a quiet, unremarkable life who earns his modest living as a proofreader at a veterinary magazine. One afternoon, he meets a mysterious foreigner in the company of two Russian wolfhounds. This is “the man who loved dogs,” and as the pair grow closer, Iván begins to understand that his new friend is hiding a terrible secret.

Moving seamlessly between Iván’s life in Cuba, Ramón’s early years in Spain and France, and Trotsky’s long years of exile, The Man Who Loved Dogs is Padura’s most ambitious and brilliantly executed novel yet. This is a story about political ideals tested and characters broken, a multilayered epic that effortlessly weaves together three different plot threads— Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis—to bring emotional truth to historical fact.

A novel whose reach is matched only by its astonishing successes on the page, The Man Who Loved Dogs lays bare the human cost of abstract ideals and the insidious, corrosive effects of life under a repressive political regime.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

Nope – I can only repeat my answer from 2015. I do like covers but am never influenced by them alone, good or bad, though if they’re especially good, they might at least tempt me to look at the blurb. I love the British Library Crime Classics covers though…

…and the Agatha Christie covers that Audible is currently using…

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

No… not really… well… I admit… some of those 99p bargains I mentioned above have lost a lot of their appeal over the years, but I periodically trawl through and delete any that I really don’t want to read, so theoretically at least I plan on reading everything on my current list…

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I’ve been trying not to acquire so many advance copies so I don’t have many unpublished books on the TBR at the moment. But this is one I picked purely on the basis of the blurb and publisher – Canongate are one of the leaders in promoting quality Scottish fiction writers. I’m hoping it’ll be as good as it sounds…

The Blurb says: Shetland: a place of sheep and soil, of harsh weather, close ties and an age-old way of life. A place where David has lived all his life, like his father and grandfather before him, but where he abides only in the present moment. A place where Sandy, a newcomer but already a crofter, may have finally found a home. A place that Alice has fled to after the death of her husband.

But times do change – island inhabitants die, or move away, and David worries that no young families will take over the chain of stories and care that this valley has always needed, while others wonder if it was ever truly theirs to join. In the wind and sun and storms from the Atlantic, these islanders must decide: what is left of us when the day’s work is done, the children grown, and all our choices have been made?

The debut novel from one of Scotland’s most exciting new literary voices, The Valley at the Centre of the World is a story about community and isolation, about what is passed down, and what is lost between the cracks.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

So, so many now that I’ve joined the Classics Club! But the one that stands out most is Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – EVERYBODY has read it! And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I too will have read it before spring is sprung!

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Hmm… probably the one that has been most often recommended to me over the years is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – I can’t understand why I’ve never read it. And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I will have read it before spring is sprung! (But I’m not specifying which spring…)

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

About 90% of them, which is a lot! But here are a few that I’m absolutely determined to read soon!

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

None! I don’t use it – I only list books I’ve read or am reading on Goodreads. However, here are the dreaded figures from the spreadsheet…

So… up by 62 since 2015! But considering I added zillions when I joined the Classics Club, and zillions more when I started the 100 Classic Crime novels challenge, I think that’s pretty good! It’s only 4 years worth, after all! In fact, I might have to think about topping it up soon…

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Of course, I haven’t included the audiobooks…

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Go on – I tag you! Reveal all…

TBR Thursday 141…

Episode 141…

A massive drop in the TBR this week! Down 2 to 217! Well on the way to single figures, see? I may have to stock up on a few more books before I run out…

This might be the last TBR post before Christmas, since the annual FictionFan Awards will be kicking off soon, so here are a few that I’m determined to fit in before year end… somehow or other!

Dickens for Christmas

I’ve had a tradition for many years of reading Dickens over Christmas, which is why I included five of his novels on my Classics Club list. This will be a re-read of one that I love for all the weird and wonderful characters…

The Blurb says: When Nicholas Nickleby is left penniless after his father’s death, he appeals to his wealthy uncle to help him find work and to protect his mother and sister. But Ralph Nickleby proves both hard-hearted and unscrupulous, and Nicholas finds himself forced to make his own way in the world. His adventures gave Dickens the opportunity to portray an extraordinary gallery of rogues and eccentrics: Wackford Squeers, the tyrannical headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, a school for unwanted boys; the slow-witted orphan Smike, rescued by Nicholas; and the gloriously theatrical Mr and Mrs Crummles and their daughter, the ‘infant phenomenon’. Like many of Dickens’s novels, Nicholas Nickleby is characterised by his outrage at cruelty and social injustice, but it is also a flamboyantly exuberant work, revealing his comic genius at its most unerring.

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Crime

I have a lot of very talented blog buddies, which is great for me but a killer for my TBR! Angela Savage is one of them and I’ve been intending to read this, her debut novel from before I ‘met’ her, for ages. She’s written another two in the series and is currently working on a non-series novel, so I better get a move on!

The Blurb says: Thirty-something Australian Jayne Keeney works as a PI in Bangkok. Shaken by a serious incident, she heads north to visit her close friend Didier in Chiang Mai, though there’s no relief for her there.

Murder is in the air and the police, led by Lieutenant Colonel Ratratarn, have no interest in justice. But Jayne does. With some help from Arthur Conan Doyle, she digs deep – past the tacky glamour of the city’s clubs and bars, arrogant expats, corrupt officials, and a steamy affair – to find out just what happened behind the Night Bazaar.

Angela Savage has brought the streets of Thailand vividly to life. In Jayne Keeney she has created a gutsy heroine. This is an unforgettable debut novel and the start of an exciting new series.

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Factual

Courtesy of NetGalley. When The Graduate came out in 1967, I was too young to see it, but I did watch it several times in the following decades. It didn’t have quite the impact on me that this book claims it had on those who saw it when it came out, but nonetheless there are some scenes that are etched indelibly in my memory. And of course, there’s the music…

The Blurb says: When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story–a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends–would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.

The film catapulted an unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman, to stardom with a role that is now permanently engraved in our collective memories. And just as it turned the word plastics into shorthand for soulless work and a corporate, consumer culture, The Graduate sparked a national conversation about what came to be called “the generation gap.”

Now, in time for this iconic film’s fiftieth birthday, author Beverly Gray offers up a smart close reading of the film itself and vivid, never-before-revealed details from behind the scenes of the production–including all the drama and decision-making of the cast and crew. For movie buffs and pop culture fans, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson brings to light The Graduate’s huge influence on the future of filmmaking, and it explores how this unconventional movie rocked the late sixties world, both reflecting and changing the era’s views of sex, work, and marriage.

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Crime

I have a lot of very talented blog buddies, which is great for me but a killer for my TBR! No, you’re not suffering from déjà vu – this is another one! Caleigh O’Shea is the pen name of my blog buddy Debbie who blogs over at Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom, and this is her newly-released debut novel…

The Blurb says: Texas journalist Josh Griffin lives for scoops, but he’s never faced real danger to get one. Nor has he ever been emotionally drawn into his stories. Then he gets an anonymous tip that teenaged golf superstar Lexi Carlisle has been kidnapped, and Josh embarks on an investigation destined to change his life forever. Lexi Carlisle is the daughter of Josh’s college sweetheart; watching Amanda agonize over her missing daughter while refuting police insinuations that she had something to do with the crime is more than Josh can handle. And when he unravels the web of lies spun by Lexi’s crazed kidnapper — who has killed once and isn’t afraid to do so again — Josh realizes the story takes second place to the girl’s rescue.

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Christmas Crime on Audio

Narrated by Jenny Agutter and Daniel Weyman, doesn’t this sound like perfect festive fun?

The Blurb says: A collection of four short stories from P. D. James, published together for the first time.

As the acknowledged “Queen of Crime”, P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write special short stories for Christmas. Four of the very best of these have been rescued from the archives and are published together. P. D. James’ prose illuminates each of these perfectly formed stories, making them ideal listening for the darkest days of the year.

While she delights in the secrets that lurk beneath the surface at enforced family gatherings, her Christmas stories also provide enjoyable puzzles to keep the reader guessing. From the title story about a strained country-house Christmas party to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder and two cases for James’ poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh, each treats the reader to James’ masterfully atmospheric storytelling, always with the lure of a mystery to be solved.

The four stories are: The Mistletoe Murder; A Very Commonplace Murder; The Boxdale Inheritance; The Twelve Clues of Christmas.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Six Degrees of Separation – From Ellis to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money– a place devoid of feeling or hope.

…which sounds remarkably like the only one of his books I have read…

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The blackest black comedy I have ever read, the author lays bare the shallow and self-obsessed world of ’80s yuppie culture and does so superbly. The violence is indeed graphic and gets progressively more extreme as the book goes on. However, given the theme of excess in all things that runs through the book, I felt it stayed in context. In fact, it eventually became so outrageous that, for me, it passed from being shocking to being, in a strange way, part of the humour of the book.

The office Halloween party was at the Royalton last week and I went as a mass murderer, complete with a sign painted on my back that read MASS MURDERER (which was decidedly lighter than the sandwich board I had constructed earlier that day that read DRILLER KILLER), and beneath those two words I had written in blood Yep, that’s me and the suit was also covered with blood, some of it fake, most of it real. In one fist I clenched a hank of Victoria Bell’s hair, and pinned next to my boutonniere (a small white rose) was a finger bone I’d boiled the flesh off of. As elaborate as my costume was, Craig McDermott still managed to win first place in the competition.

Less humour and less graphic gore, but just as much violence and horror for my next link to…

Psycho by Robert Bloch. When Mary Crane, driving through a downpour with the $40,000 she has just stolen, takes a wrong turning and finds herself lost, she makes a big mistake by deciding to spend the night at the Bates Motel. Norman Bates is pretty creepy, but not nearly as creepy as his mother… 😱The film is scarier, but the book has more psychological depth making it more substantial than a mere shocker. But all the famous scenes are still there…

The film of the book was of course directed by Hitchcock, which reminded me of…

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes – another terrifying tale that Hitch turned into an equally great film even if he changed the story pretty dramatically. When Mr and Mrs Bunting take in a new lodger, he seems a kindly, quiet gentleman, if a little eccentric. Meantime, London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. Gradually the Buntings begin to wonder if their lodger could possibly be the murderer, but with no proof, what should they do? What if they go to the police, and it turns out he’s innocent? He’ll leave, of course, and they desperately need the money he pays for rent. But what if he’s guilty and they do nothing – does that make them guilty too? It really is brilliantly done – great characterisation and totally credible psychologically. And in the film, Ivor Novello might be scary, but he’s also yummy…

Lucky June Tripp as Daisy Bunting. He can’t be a murderer! Can he??

The Lodger is set in turn of the century London, and Marie Belloc Lowndes makes great use of the notorious London fogs, which leads me to my next book…

London Fog by Christine L Corton. Corton sets out to tell the two stories of the fog – the actual one of what caused it and how it was eventually defeated, and the artistic one, of how it was used atmospherically and metaphorically in the literature and art of the period. While I found the tale of trying to get Parliament to act to clean up the air somewhat tedious, I loved all the stuff about how writers and artists had used the fog. Of course, Dickens was one of the greatest writers to use it…

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds…

… And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

And Monet one of the greatest artists…

Waterloo Bridge Sunlight Effect No. 4 by Claude Monet

One of the fascinating factlets in the book is that the term “pea-souper” to describe the thick London fog was coined by none other than the author of my old adversary…

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Our narrator (call him Ishmael) signs up for a voyage aboard the whaling ship Pequod, only to find that the Captain, Ahab, is pursuing a personal vendetta against the whale which caused him to lose his leg – Moby-Dick. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Proving conclusively that more is required to make a good book than an intriguing blurb. The book may have been tedious, but the film is great…

…and provides two links to my final book. Firstly, one of the ships the Pequod meets with on its journey is called the Rosebud, and secondly, Orson Welles appears in a cameo role as the preacher. All of which made me think of…

Citizen Kane by Harlan Lebo. Lebo takes the reader through the entire process of the making of Kane in painstaking and pretty geeky detail. But geeky in a good way – written so that even I, who wouldn’t recognise a movie camera if I tripped over it, was able to easily understand. No detail is too small, no aspect too obscure to be included here, from budgeting, casting, direction, production, even what days particular scenes were filmed on. Sounds dreadful, huh? And yet, I found it increasingly fascinating…

Lebo explains how the newspapers were produced and translated into various languages, with ‘real’ stories even though they mostly can’t be read except in stills…

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So Ellis to Lebo, via Bret Easton Ellis, psychos, Hitchcock, fog, pea-soupers and Orson Welles!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

NetGalley Says Yes!

Mutual approval…

Last week, I posted about my NetGalley rejections, so this week I thought I’d talk about why I love NetGalley nearly as much as chocolate…

Of the 402 titles I’ve been approved for since I joined NG in 2013, I’ve sent feedback for 373 books (the rest are still on my TBR) and have posted reviews for 302 (though for a few I only posted a brief review on Goodreads). The others I abandoned, either because they weren’t for me or because they were too badly formatted to be enjoyable reading. Of the ones I’ve reviewed, roughly 65% were either 4 or 5 stars reads for me – pretty good, huh? Not quite as high as my ratings for books I buy, but then I’m more likely to take a chance on new or new-to-me authors through NG.

Narrowing my best picks down to a reasonable number would be nearly impossible, so instead I’ve decided to list a few of the authors I was introduced to by NG who have now become firm favourites – most are established authors but were new to me. So, in no particular order, here they are – my…

NETGALLEY HALL OF FAME

(Click on the author’s name to see my reviews.)

Robert Harris

Robert Harris

My introduction to Robert Harris came through An Officer and a Spy, a wonderful fictionalisation of the Dreyfus affair in 19th century France. Since then I’ve read every new book he’s released, plus I’ve started on his back catalogue, and I’ve loved every one. However I have loads more to go – he’s quite prolific! Next up will be his Cicero trilogy. He achieves the perfect marriage of research, plotting and excellent writing – great stuff!

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HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft

Given how much I’ve talked about various stories being Lovecraftian in my horror slot, it’s strange to think that I’d never heard of him till I read an Oxford World’s Classics collection called The Classic Horror Stories, with a very informative introduction by Roger Luckhurst (another entry to the Hall of Fame – I now look out specifically for books he introduces). I don’t altogether love Lovecraft – too long-winded, too racist – but I recognise absolutely the huge influence he has been on the ‘weird’ story and on horror in general. Since that first meeting, he’s made an annual appearance in my Tuesday Terror! slot.

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SC Gwynne

SC Gwynne

I was so blown away by SC Gwynne’s brilliant biography of Stonewall Jackson, Rebel Yell, that I gave it the FF Award for Book of the Year in 2014. The prize for this prestigious award is that I guarantee to read the author’s next book, even if I have to buy it myself! Imagine my… ahem… delight, then, when Gwynne’s next book was The Perfect Pass – a book about American Football, a subject in which my interest and knowledge tie for last place. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it! Proof that a good writer can bring any subject to life. Oh, and I didn’t have to buy it – NetGalley gave me that one too.

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John Gaspard

John Gaspard

I’ve loved every book in John Gaspard’s Eli Marks series, all of which I’ve been given via NetGalley. A little too dark to be cosies, these are plotted in Golden Age style but with a contemporary setting. Eli is a stage magician and each book is set around a particular trick. Gaspard is brilliant at bringing the magic to life on the page, while following the magician’s code of never revealing how it’s done. I still laugh every time I remember how he managed to read my mind during a trick in book 1! His next book is due this month – can’t wait! And I’ve also bought an earlier book of his that predates this series – The Ripperologists – which sounds like fun too.

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Ken Kalfus

The first new-to-me author to whom NetGalley introduced me, when I fell in love with the cover of Equilateral and took a punt on it. He’s now a firm favourite – a writer who gets a lot of critical attention but still doesn’t seem to get the public readership and recognition I feel he deserves. I’ve read and loved a few of his books since then, old and new – only a couple more to go as he’s not nearly prolific enough! He spent several years in Russia so a lot of his books are directly or indirectly about life under the Soviets – he’s one of the inspirations behind my current fascination with that regime.

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Arthur Herman

Arthur Herman

Arthur Herman has firmly established himself as my favourite historian, despite some stiff competition in what has been a golden age for history books over the last few years. My first introduction to him was The Cave and The Light – a comprehensive look at the competing influences of Plato and Aristotle over the last 2,500 years of philosophy. Phew! Not an easy read, but a brilliant one. Since then, I’ve read all his new books and most of the ones that interest me from his back catalogue. And I’m super excited that he’s bringing out a new one on the Russian Revolution this month – the perfect way to end my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge.

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William McIlvanney

William McIlvanney

As probably the most influential Scottish crime writer of all time, known as the Father of Tartan Noir, I’m ashamed that I had never read any McIlvanney till NetGalley offered a new edition of his 1977 book, Laidlaw. I was blown away by the quality of the writing, his brilliant use of Glaswegian dialect and the total authenticity of his portrayal of the city at the time of my own youth in it. I have gone on to read the rest of the Laidlaw trilogy and one of his fiction novels, and am looking forward hugely to gradually working my way through the rest of his stuff. For McIlvanney alone, NetGalley has been a wondrous thing for me.

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So there they are – seven great authors I may never have read had it not been for NetGalley. And that’s not to mention all the wonderful books I’ve had from existing favourites like Jane Casey, Sharon Bolton, Belinda Bauer, etc., etc. All I can really say is…

THANKS, NETGALLEY!

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What about you? If you’re a NetGalley member have you found new favourites through them? If so, I’d love to hear – either in the comments or in a post of your own.

TBR Thursday 140…

Episode 140…

The bad news is that the TBR hasn’t gone down this week. The good news is it hasn’t gone up either! Staying stable on 219 – or to be more detailed – three out, three in.

Last week every book I listed was over 90 years old, so in the spirit of balance, here are some of the new releases that I will be reading soonish…

Crime

Courtesy of the publisher, Saraband. Having thoroughly enjoyed His Bloody Project, I was delighted to be offered Burnet’s new one. It sounds very different. However I note it says it’s a follow-up to an earlier book… hmm! Hopefully it will work even though I haven’t read that one…

The Blurb says: The methodical but troubled Chief Inspector Georges Gorski visits the wife of a lawyer killed in a road accident, the accident on the A35. The case is unremarkable, the visit routine.

Mme Barthelme—alluring and apparently unmoved by the news—has a single question: where was her husband on the night of the accident? The answer might change nothing, but it could change everything. And Gorski sets a course for what can only be a painful truth. But the dead man’s reticent son is also looking for answers. And his search will have far more devastating consequences.

The Accident on the A35 is the spellbinding follow-up to Graeme Macrae Burnet’s debut noir novel The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau.

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NB A Verboballistic Invention – talking of His Bloody Project, the editor of the book, Craig Hillsley, popped into the comments section of my review to say “For those discussing the authenticity (or not) of Roddy’s voice, you might find it interesting to look up the real life case of Pierre Rivière.” I did, and it’s an intriguing story… here’s a link.

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Historical Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. Having enjoyed Cornwell’s Viking sword-and-sandals novel, The Last Kingdom, I’m intrigued at what seems to be something of a departure for him…

The Blurb says: Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

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Thriller

Courtesy of the publisher, Saraband, who kindly popped a couple of extras in along with the new Burnet. It sounds dark

The Blurb says: Life and death played out over 48 hours. A father intent on being with his young son escapes from a secure psychiatric hospital, knowing he has just one chance for the two of them to start a new life together. Sweet William is a breathtakingly dark thriller that spans forty-eight hours in the life of a desperate father and a three-year-old child in peril. Brilliant and terrifying, this is a debut novel that will stay with its readers long after they finish turning the pages.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the publisher, The British Library. The latest in their collection of anthologies of short stories, as always edited by the wonderful Martin Edwards. This one has a twist though – these are all translated… sounds fab!

The Blurb says: Today, translated crime fiction is in vogue – but this was not always the case. A century before Scandi noir, writers across Europe and beyond were publishing detective stories of high quality. Often these did not appear in English and they have been known only by a small number of experts. This is the first ever collection of classic crime in translation from the golden age of the genre in the 20th century. Many of these stories are exceptionally rare, and several have been translated for the first time to appear in this volume. Martin Edwards has selected gems of classic crime from Denmark to Japan and many points in between. Fascinating stories give an insight into the cosmopolitan cultures (and crime-writing traditions) of diverse places including Mexico, France, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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NetGalley Says No!

Rejection Blues!

Several people have been owning up to their saddest NetGalley rejections recently, so I thought I’d confess to mine. I got the idea from the lovely Annie at themisstery.com, so thanks Annie!

I’ve been with NetGalley since February 2013, and in that time have been rejected 92 times! (I’ve been approved for 402 – no wonder my TBR’s in the state it’s in!) Sometimes I know why. I frequently request books from outside my geographical area on the off-chance, and while sometimes this works, it often doesn’t. I’ve also discovered that if I request a book late I’m rejected far more often than if I request it as soon as it’s listed. But sometimes the reasons for rejection are a total mystery to me – keeps me on my toes, though!

A quick look through the 92 shows me that I later acquired 20 of them, either from a different publisher or region on NetGalley, direct from the publisher, or even actually *gasps* buying them. Intriguingly when I look through the rest, very few still excite me. But here are the ones – only seven of them – that I would still like to read. The titles link through to Goodreads if you want to know more about them.

Dear Mr M by Herman Koch – Although I enjoyed The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool, I’ve a feeling Koch’s books might start to feel a bit samey after a bit, but I’d still like to read this one.

The General vs The President by HW Brands – this history of Truman, General MacArthur and the debate over using nukes during the Korean war seems to have even more relevance now than it did when I was rejected.

Dictator by Robert Harris – This is book 3 in Harris’s Cicero trilogy. Book 1 – Imperium – is on my TBR, so I’ll almost certainly get to this one at some point.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann – I loved Let the Great World Spin, and the premise of this one still appeals, so I guess it has to go on the wishlist.

Hide and Seek by Jane Casey – the third and final book in Casey’s Jess Tennant series. This fell off my radar when I got rejected, but I really must read it – although it’s aimed at the YA market, this crime series works fine for…ahem… OAs too.

All the Rage by AL Kennedy – I suspect I might hate this, but I feel I should read something by AL Kennedy at some point.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – almost everybody raved about this and, although the premise still doesn’t hugely appeal to me, everybody can’t be wrong. Can they?

So what about you?
If you’re a NetGalley member, what rejections do you regret?

TBR Thursday 139…

Episode 139…

I think the whole idea of trying to reduce the TBR is silly, really. I don’t know why you all obsess about it so much. I mean, in the great global scheme of things, does it really matter whether the TBR goes up or down? Does it? Of course not!

OK, OK! It’s gone up! By 3 – to 219! But I’m sure it’s just a temporary blip – I’ve got loads of time to meet my New Year’s Resolution to get it down to 150 by the end of the year. Stop laughing. STOP LAUGHING!!!

Here’s are a few more I should get to soonish…

Fiction

For the Classics Club. I don’t know why I haven’t read more Robert Louis Stevenson than I have, but it’s time to do something about that…

The Blurb says: Set in 18th-century Scotland, this brooding historical romance unfolds amid the Jacobite Rebellion. A struggle between good and evil begins in the old Scottish castle of Durrisdeer — the ancestral home of the Durie clan — where James Durie, Master of Ballantrae, persists in his lifelong rivalry with his younger brother as well as his relentless quest for the family fortune.

From Durrisdeer, the fast-paced adventure shifts to sea voyages and encounters with pirates, intrigue at the French court and in India, and an attempt to recover buried treasure in New York’s Adirondack Mountains — all leading to a shocking climax in the American wilderness. An engrossing tale played out against the backdrop of three continents, The Master of Ballantrae stands among the most vivid and exciting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales.

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Crime

For the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem Challenge. A Dr Thorndyke mystery, first published in 1911. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Thorndyke short stories, but this will be my first full-length novel…

The Blurb says: After the great success of his latest expedition, the brilliant archaeologist John Bellingham returns from the sandy tombs of Egypt with enough ancient treasures to fill a wing at the British Museum. He visits a friend for dinner and is told to wait in the study. When the friend arrives, he finds the study empty; Bellingham has vanished into thin air.

When Bellingham does not reappear, the police assume he has met with some fatal accident. Because his will cannot be discharged until the time and place of his death are known, Bellingham’s family calls on the eminent Dr. Thorndyke, whose mastery of the medical arts is second only to his brilliance for crime solving. As he searches for the true reason for Bellingham’s disappearance, Thorndyke discovers a mystery as deep as any pharaoh’s tomb.

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Sci-Fi

For the Classics Club, but I’m hoping this might also fit into the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge.

The Blurb says: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. Citizens of the tyrannical OneState wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the ‘norms’ of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.

The failed utopia of We has been compared to the works of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It was the first novel banned by the Soviets in 1921, and was finally published in its home country over a half-century later.

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Horror on Audible

Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. This is a special Hallowe’en package from Audible, bundling together three classics each with highly-rated narrators. I’m currently listening to a different (brilliant) version of Frankenstein, so will probably pick Greg Wise reading Dracula for my spooky delight… or maybe Richard Armitage reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde! Just to mention – when the blurb says “three for the price of one” they are talking about members who will get the collection for 1 credit. For non members, this is more pricey – three for the price of three, really.

The Blurb says: Audible presents a special edition of three Gothic tales for the price of one: a brand-new Audible Exclusive recording of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bursting with intrigue, suspense and malice, they resurrect the deepest and darkest of all our fears: that a monster lurks, and it lurks within us.

Introduced by Dr Maria Mellins and Dr Peter Howell, Senior Lecturers in Gothic literature at the University of London, this collection offers additional insight into the three audiobooks, their authors and their legacies.

Starting with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, Richard Armitage tells the story of a conflicted man who seeks a remedy to free the monster inside him from the clutches of his conscience. Following his celebrated performances of David Copperfield and David Hewson’s Romeo and Juliet for Audible, Armitage delivers another powerhouse performance as the narrator of this Gothic tale.

Shilling shocker enthusiast Stevenson was celebrated throughout his life. In contrast to Mary Shelley, who was often overshadowed by her husband’s work, Stevenson lived comfortably by his pen.

It was only with the release of Frankenstein that Shelley finally distinguished herself. Frankenstein was groundbreaking in its ability to fuse passion and romance with gore and horror. Narrated by Dan Stevens, who rose to fame through Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast and Legion, the story of science student Victor Frankenstein has been artfully retold. Testing the limits of science, Frankenstein fashions a living being from the conjoined body parts of rotting cadavers. Horrified at the end result, he abandons his monster, leaving him to endure a life of isolation and loneliness. A poignant example of human weakness and our inability to take responsibility for our actions, Frankenstein is both moving and terrifying.

That leads us to the gruesome tale of Count Dracula, the bloodthirsty father of the undead. Narrated by Greg Wise, star of Effie Gray, The Crown and Sense and Sensibility; Greg depicts a young lawyer whose services are hired by a sinister Transylvanian count. Releasing Dracula 80 years after Frankenstein, Bram Stoker was greatly influenced by Shelley’s writing style and similarly propels the story along through diary entries, letters and newspaper cuttings. Possessed of grisly imagery and unexpected twists, it’s no wonder that Dracula still manages to shake us to our very core.

All that remains is to offer a note of caution: this collection is not for the fainthearted. Old as these tales may be, do not mistake the unsettling nature of their content.

Grab some popcorn, turn the speakers up and enjoy. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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(Goodness! I’ve just realised these are all ancient! I’ll try to include something from the 21st century next week… 😉 )

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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TBR Thursday 138…

Episode 138…

Aha! The Big Drop has begun! The TBR has fallen by an astonishing 2 this week to 216 – see? Totally under control! I don’t know why you ever doubted me…

You’re still judging me, aren’t you?

Here’s the next lot that will move to the Read shelf soon…

Factual

All my Russian reading has led me to think that I really ought to get to know Rasputin better – he sounds like such a fun guy! And this biography is being hailed as pretty much the definitive one…

The Blurb says: A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra’s confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet.

But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true story of Rasputin’s life and death has remained shrouded in myth. A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history’s most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity–man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.

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Thriller

Courtesy of NetGalley. As if the British Library wasn’t doing enough damage to my TBR with its Crime Classics series, now it appears to be doing a series of Classic Thrillers too…aarghhh!!!

The Blurb says: Leo Selver, a middle-aged antiques dealer, is stunned when the beautiful and desirable Judy Latimer shows an interest in him. Soon they are lying in each other’s arms, unaware that this embrace will be their last.

Popular opinion suggests that Leo murdered the girl, a theory Leo’s wife – well aware of her husband’s infidelities – refuses to accept. Ed Buchanan, a former policeman who has known the Selvers since childhood, agrees to clear Leo’s name. Selver and his fellow antique dealers had uncovered a secret and it is up to Ed to find the person willing to kill in order to protect it.

This exhilarating and innovative thriller was first published in 1976.

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Sci-Fi

Courtesy of NetGalley. From the guy who wrote the fabulous The Martian – need I say more?

The Blurb says: Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of Jazz’s problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself – and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even more unlikely than the first.

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Audible Original Drama

Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. Audible are spoiling me rotten at the moment with these dramatisations of some of my favourite novels – how could I possibly resist this one? It’s due out on 1st November…

The Blurb says: What begins as a routine journey on the luxurious Orient Express soon unfurls into Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery. Onboard is the famous detective Hercule Poirot and one man who come morning will be found dead, his compartment locked from the inside.

This Audible Original dramatisation follows the train as it is stopped dead in its tracks at midnight. The train’s stranded passengers soon become suspects as the race to uncover the murderer begins before he or she strikes again.

This all-star production features lead performances from Tom Conti (The Dark Knight Rises, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) as Hercule Poirot, Sophie Okonedo (After Earth, Hotel Rwanda and Ace Ventura) and Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, V for Vendetta and Hancock) plus a full supporting cast and even sound effects recorded on the Orient Express itself.

Full cast of narrators includes Walles Hamonde, Paterson Joseph, Rula Lenska and Art Malik.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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TBR Thursday 137…

Episode 137…

Well, last time I admitted that my TBR had gone up to a horrifying 212, and cheered myself up by saying it could be worse.

How right I was! It’s now at 217 218!

Still, could be… aaaarghhhhhh!!! Noooo!!!!! Help Me!!!!!!

Oh, I beg your pardon! I’ll be fine once I’ve had my medicinal chocolate. Meantime, here are a few that are at the front of the pack…

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. The latest entry in Elly Griffith’s Stephens and Mephisto series, set in the rather seedy world of seaside variety theatre in post-war Brighton…

The Blurb says: What do a murdered Brighton flowerseller, the death of Cleopatra and a nude tableau show have in common? One thing’s for sure – it could be the most dangerous case yet for Stephens and Mephisto.

Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ current case of the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred…

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of NetGalley. I loved Banville’s sparkling prose in his last book, The Blue Guitar, so am hoping I’ll love this just as much…

The Blurb says: A rich historical novel about the aftermath of betrayal, from the Booker prize-winning author.

‘What was freedom, she thought, other than the right to exercise one’s choices?’

Isabel Osmond, a spirited, intelligent young heiress, flees to London after being betrayed by her husband, to be with her beloved cousin Ralph on his deathbed. After a sombre, silent existence at her husband’s Roman palazzo, Isabel’s daring departure to London reawakens her youthful quest for freedom and independence, as old suitors resurface and loyal friends remind her of happier times.

But soon Isabel must decide whether to return to Rome to face up to the web of deceit in which she has become entangled, or to strike out on her own once more.

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. This is one of the books for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I seem to have been seeing a lot of reviews for Michael Innes’ books recently – there seems to be something of a revival of interest in him. Time to find out why…

The Blurb says: The members of St Anthony’s College awake one bleak November morning to find the most chilling of crimes has happened in their quiet, contained college. Josiah Umpleby, President of the college, has been shot in his room during the night.

The college buzzes with supposition and speculation. Orchard Ground and the lodgings are particularly insulated: only a limited number of senior staff have access and even fewer have their own keys.

With the killer walking among them, Inspector John Appleby of the New Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. As tensions rise and accusations abound, can Appleby determine which of the seven suspects had motive and malice enough to murder a colleague in cold blood?

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Audible Original Drama

Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. Having loved Audible’s dramatisation of Treasure Island so much, I couldn’t resist trying their new dramatisation of Northanger Abbey. Being an out-of-touch old codger, I don’t recognise most of the young cast, but the linking narration is done by the wonderful Emma Thompson…

The Blurb says: A coming-of-age tale for the young and naïve 17-year-old Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey takes a decidedly comical look at themes of class, family, love and literature. Revelling in the sensationalist – and extremely popular – Gothic fiction of her day, the story follows Catherine out of Bath to the lofty manor of the Tilneys, where her overactive imagination gets to work constructing an absurd and melodramatic explanation for the death of Mrs Tilney, which threatens to jeopardise her newly forged friendships.

This Audible Originals production of Northanger Abbey stars Emma Thompson (Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy and BAFTA winner, Love Actually, Harry Potter, Sense and Sensibility), Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Snow White and the Huntsman, St. Trinian’s), Douglas Booth (Noah, Great Expectations, The Riot Club), Jeremy Irvine (Warhorse, The Railway Man, Now Is Good), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark, The Illusionist, Alice in Wonderland) and Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Never Let Me Go, Kick-Ass 2), amongst others.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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TBR Thursday 136… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year I added up the full extent of the horror of the TBR, including the bits I usually hide. So time for another count to see how I’m doing…

Okay, now, I know it doesn’t look good. But there are extenuating circumstances! I recently started my new challenge to read 102 Classic Crime novels, which meant adding roughly 80 books to either the TBR or the wishlist. (The other twenty are out of print at the moment.) So you see, if you strip those out, really the overall figure has gone down! It’s purely an optical illusion that makes it appear as if it’s gone up. It’s like when your government keeps telling you your taxes have gone down and yet you seem to keep having to pay more – it’s simply a quirk of mathematics.

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in June, and I haven’t travelled very widely since then…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

I’ve had two trips to Moscow – a luxury stay at the Metropol Hotel in the company of Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, and a rather more traumatic trip with Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Although I enjoyed the Towles more, Doctor Zhivago is by far the better book in terms of what it has to say about post-revolutionary Moscow, so it wins the slot on my detour list. My only other foreign trip was to the Sioux lands, one of the stops on the main list of places featured in Jules Verne’s original Around the World in 80 Days. This trip was made in the company of Sebastian Barry in his Days Without End, and sadly we spent most of our time at war with the Sioux. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and see if we can’t smoke the pipe of peace…

This challenge has fallen by the wayside a little recently because of my Russian challenge, but I’ll pick it up again properly in the New Year.

To see how I’m doing on the Main Journey plus all the detours so far, click here.

37 down, 43 to go!

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The Classics Club

classics club logo 2

Four off my Classics Club list this quarter, so still behind on this one but beginning to get into a rhythm that should allow me to gradually catch up over the remaining four years of the challenge. These have undoubtedly been some of my best recent reads…

11. The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison – 5 stars for this Scottish classic that has similarities to the writings of Jane Austen, but with a darker tone. Deserves a much wider readership than it has.

12. She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac – 4½ stars. A fascinatingly dark study of a character whose own actions send him on a spiral into delusion, depression and perhaps even insanity. And a decent mystery too.

13. Cop Hater by Ed McBain – another 5 star read for this first in the long-running 87th Precinct series. The combination of noir and police procedural and the excellent quality of the writing make this a true classic of crime fiction.

14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 5 stars, of course, for this classic story about poverty, justice and race in small-town America in the 1930s. Some of its attitudes may be outdated but it still has much to say about the problems facing contemporary America.

14 down, 76 to go!

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Reading the Russian Revolution

Another two reviews from the main list this quarter, one biography and one classic of fiction. I’ve also read another non-fiction from the original list, The Unwomanly Face of War, but not yet reviewed it. This challenge is drawing close to its end, and the list has changed a bit over the year, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying my revolutionary immersion and hope to fit in at least two or three more before I finish. To see the full challenge, click here.

6. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak – a flawed work in terms of plot, structure and characterisation but with the saving graces of some fine descriptive writing and occasional insights into Russian society before, during and after the Revolution. I’d recommend it more in terms of its historical significance than its literary worth and, on that basis, I’m glad to have read it. 3 stars.

7. Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen – an approachable and very readable account, lighter in both tone and political content than some of the massively detailed histories of the period, but giving enough background to set Lenin’s life in its historical context. 4 stars.

I’m also adding two more that weren’t on the original list:-

8. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths edited by Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia – issued to go alongside this summer’s British Library exhibition on the Revolution, this works very well as a substitute for those of us who weren’t able to attend. It’s beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated, and the balance between text and illustrations is excellent, making it a substantial history as well as a visual feast. 5 stars.

9. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – this tale of Count Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow soon after the Revolution, is an entertaining and enjoyable read for the most part, but in the end it feels oddly off-kilter, lacking any real profundity or depth. 3½ stars.

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

My brand new challenge, only started a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve only read 1 so far (as at 30th Sept) to add to the five I had already read and reviewed before I started. But I’m looking forward to making these classic crime novels a regular part of my reading diet. To see the full challenge, click here.

6. Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate – I thoroughly enjoyed this – excellent writing, great characterisation, insightful about society, lots of interesting stories within the main story, and a realistic if somewhat cynical look at the strengths and shortcomings of the process of trial by jury. 5 stars and a great start!

6 down, 96 to go!

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A good quarter’s reading – I feel Darcy would be proud of me!

Thanks for joining me on my reading journeys! 😀

 

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

In the bleak midwinter…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Every Christmas, the Gray family gather at the home of their elderly father, Adrian Gray – a rather unpleasant, miserly sort of man who has produced an equally unpleasant bunch of children on the whole. This Christmas, in 1931, only a couple of the children are there out of any feelings of affection – most are trying to screw money out of the old man.

There’s Richard, a politician who desperately wants a title, but feels he needs to put on a show of wealth to impress the people who could grant his wish. Eustace is a son-in-law, married to Adrian’s daughter Olivia – a dodgy financier, his whole reputation is on the line if he doesn’t manage to raise a substantial sum of money urgently. Brand is the most wayward of them all, having run off in his youth to try his hand at being an artist. Despite his talent, he’s now working as a low-paid clerk and wants money so he can take off back to Paris to try to revive his career as a painter. Daughter Amy has never left home and has to find ways to run the house on the meagre allowance her rich father allows her. Isobel is home again after her marriage failed – she seems to have faded into a ghostlike presence, but are there passions burning beneath? Only Ruth seems happy, married to a man who seems quite content with what he’s got and wants nothing from the old man. As Christmas Eve fades into Christmas Day, one of these people will murder Adrian…

In fact, we find out quite early on who murders Adrian and why. This is an “inverted mystery” where the bulk of the story rests on whether and how the murderer will be caught. It’s also a psychological study of the murderer and of all the other people in the house. Most of the book is in the third person, but we are allowed inside the murderer’s head as the crime is committed and as s/he attempts to cover his/her traces – and it’s a scary place to be. This murderer has a philosophy of life that puts little value on anything except the achievement of her/his desires – and the death of his/her father is a small price to pay. But s/he doesn’t want to pay the larger price of being caught and punished, so s/he’s more than willing to sacrifice another family member to the inevitable meeting with the hangman.

Well, I think that’s more than enough his/hers and he/shes for one review, so I’ll leave you to find out the rest of the plot by reading the book. However, the story also has a lot to say about the society of the time, some of it intentional and some perhaps more inadvertent. The Gray family were once landowners but the old gentry are fading now and they have gradually had to sell most of their land. Meredith strongly suggests a matching moral decay in the gentry class – in the Grays specifically, but one feels she’s making a wider point. Through Eustace, the financier, we see the rise of the new rich and their morals don’t seem much better. Unfortunately Eustace is also the subject of a rather unpleasant undertone of anti-Semitism – not unusual for the time, of course, but somehow it seems a little worse than usual in this one, with several glancing but rather offensive references to physical as well as moral deficiencies. Richard is the social climber, and his story also shows the subtle ways men could be cruel to their wives in the days when divorce was still scandalous. To be fair, though Eustace comes off worst, none of Meredith’s characters are shown in a wholly shining light.

Challenge details
Book No: 78

Subject Heading: Inverted Mysteries
Publication Year: 1933

There’s quite a lot of moral ambiguity in how the story plays out and again I felt only some of this was intentional, while the rest felt like Meredith’s own prejudices peeping through. But that doesn’t make it any the less absorbing – after a slowish start when I wondered whether it would grab me, I found myself increasingly reluctant to put the book down. It’s not really because of any great suspense – it’s relatively obvious what direction the story will take. But the interest is in the slow reveal of the mind of the murderer and in the attitudes of the other characters towards him/her and each other. There’s no excess padding here and no reliance on dramatic, incredible twists. Instead, there’s excellent writing and a believable study of a mind that may not follow normal conventions but has a kind of compelling logic of its own. And the deliberate unpleasantness of both the victim and the person the murderer chooses to take the rap means there’s a kind of debate as to whether the murderer is actually the worst of them in moral terms. Fascinating stuff – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

* * * * *

The book itself is lovely – a special hardback edition to celebrate this being the 50th in the British Library’s Crime Classic series, and this year’s Christmas issue. As well as the usual informative introduction from Martin Edwards, it also contains an interesting short essay from him on the history of Christmas related crime fiction. It’s the perfect Christmas gift for the crime fan in your family – especially if that happens to be you! (It’s also available in the usual paperback and Kindle versions though, if you prefer, though I’m not sure that they include the Christmas essay.)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 135…

Episode 135…

My TBR has dropped massively this week – down 2 to 212! I’ll be back under that 200 mark before you know it! Unless I acquire any of the zillions of books on my wishlist(s), of course. And we all know about my willpower issues…

Still, could be worse!

So, while I contemplate the great tragedy that I will never know the joy of chewing my own ear (hmm… unless I cut it off first, of course… hmm…), here are a few that should reach the top of the heap soon…

Factual

Courtesy of Princeton University Press. I have this theory that Princeton have a spreadsheet entitled ‘Reviewers who Can’t Resist all the Weird Books Nobody Ever Requests for Review’ and that the single entry on it reads ‘FictionFan’. Why else would they keep offering me books like this?

The Blurb says: In 1953, a man was found dead from cyanide poisoning near the Philadelphia airport with a picture of a Nazi aircraft in his wallet. Taped to his abdomen was an enciphered message. In 1912, a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich came into possession of an illuminated cipher manuscript once belonging to Emperor Rudolf II, who was obsessed with alchemy and the occult. Wartime codebreakers tried–and failed–to unlock the book’s secrets, and it remains an enigma to this day. In this lively and entertaining book, Craig Bauer examines these and other vexing ciphers yet to be cracked. Some may reveal the identity of a spy or serial killer, provide the location of buried treasure, or expose a secret society–while others may be elaborate hoaxes.

Unsolved! begins by explaining the basics of cryptology, and then explores the history behind an array of unsolved ciphers. It looks at ancient ciphers, ciphers created by artists and composers, ciphers left by killers and victims, Cold War ciphers, and many others. Some are infamous, like the ciphers in the Zodiac letters, while others were created purely as intellectual challenges by figures such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman. Bauer lays out the evidence surrounding each cipher, describes the efforts of geniuses and eccentrics–in some cases both–to decipher it, and invites readers to try their hand at puzzles that have stymied so many others.

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. I have loved Jane Robins’ true crime books (here and here), so am hugely excited to read her first venture into fiction…

The Blurb says: Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies–or was he murdered?

* * * * *

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. I’m possibly even more hugely excited about this one! The second novel from Jane Harper following her brilliant debut, The Dry. Will it be the tricky second novel? Or will I have to start doing meditation classes to get my excitement under control?

The Blurb says: Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.

* * * * *

Horror/sci-fi/fiction on audio

A re-read for my Classics Club challenge. I decided to go with the audio version because it’s the wonderful Derek Jacobi doing the reading, possibly my favourite narrator of all time! I think his voice will suit this story perfectly…

The Blurb says: Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation, genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate

According to the evidence…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

A trial is about to commence and the jury is being sworn in. A death has occurred in unusual circumstances and a woman has been charged with murder. But the evidence is largely circumstantial so it will be up to the jury (and the reader) to decide whether the prosecution has proved its case…

The book has an unusual format, almost like three separate acts. As each jury member is called to take the oath, we are given background information on them; sometimes a simple character sketch, at others what amounts to a short story telling of events in their lives that have made them what they are. These introductions take up more than a third of the book before we even find out who has been murdered and who is on trial. When the trial begins, the reader is whisked out of the courtroom to see the crime unfold. Finally we see the evidence as it is presented at the trial and then follow the jury members as they deliberate. Despite this odd structure, I found it completely absorbing – each section is excellent in itself and together they provide a fascinating picture of how people’s own experiences affect their judgement of others.

In that sense, it’s almost like a precursor to Twelve Angry Men, although the comparison can’t be taken too far – in this one, we spend more time out of the jury-room than in, and the crime is entirely different. But we do get that same feeling of the jurors having only the limited information presented to them on which to form their judgement, and of seeing how their impressions of the various lawyers and witnesses affect their decisions. And we also see how, once in the jury room, some jurors take the lead in the discussions and gradually bring others round to agree with their opinion – a rather cynical portrayal of how the evidence might be distorted in either direction by people with strong prejudices of their own.

Challenge details:
Book: 65
Subject Heading: The Justice Game
Publication Year: 1940

What I found so interesting about the first section is that Postgate uses his jury members to give a kind of microcosm of society of the time, The book was first published in 1940, but feels as if it’s set a couple of years before WW2 begins. Instead, the war that is mostly referred to is WW1, showing how the impact of that conflict is still affecting lives a couple of decades later. Postgate also addresses some of the issues of the day, lightly for the most part, though he does get a little polemical about the dangerous growth of anti-Semitism in British society – very forgivably considering the time of writing. A jury is an excellent device to bring a group of people together who would be unlikely to cross paths in the normal course of things – here we have a university professor, a travelling salesman, a domestic servant, a pub landlord, etc., all building up to an insightful look at the class structures within society. But we also see their interior lives – what has formed their characters: success, failure, love and love lost, greed, religious fervour.

I was also surprised at some of the subjects Postgate covered. One of the jurors allows him to give a rather more sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality than I’d have expected for the time. Another juror has clearly been used and abused by older men in his youth and has learned the art of manipulation and blackmail as a result – again in a very short space Postgate gives enough information for us to understand even if we can’t completely empathise with the character. There is the woman whose character was formed early by her hideous parents and a state that was more concerned with making her a valuable worker than a decent person. Each character is entirely credible and, knowing their background means we understand how they come to their individual decisions in the jury room.

Raymond Postgate

The crime itself is also done very well. I’ve not given any details of it because part of the success of the story comes from it only slowly becoming obvious who is to be the victim and who the accused. It’s a dark story with some genuinely disturbing elements, but it’s lifted by occasional touches of humour. Again characterisation is key, and Postgate provides enough background for the people involved for us to feel that their actions, however extreme, are quite plausible in the context. After the trial, there is a short epilogue where we find out if the jury, and we, got it right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this – excellent writing, great characterisation, insightful about society, lots of interesting stories within the main story, and a realistic if somewhat cynical look at the strengths and shortcomings of the process of trial by jury. Easy to see why it’s considered a classic – highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

 

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….He was an old man, slight, with white hair and bowed head, and with a professional caressing voice. His practice had shrunk, and his bills to Mrs. van Beer were large and paid without question. He was not dishonest or in any way a dishonourable man. Later events threw an unkindly brilliant light upon him. But he was an averagely diligent G.P., with a professional equipment which had been moderately good in 1889, the last year in which he had attempted to learn anything, with failing eyesight and memory and with an increasing difficulty in concentrating. Lack of any other resources forced him to go on practising when he should have retired. He had to live, and for that reason, someone else was to have to die.

* * * * * * * * *

I met Victory Day in East Prussia. For two days it was quiet, there was no shooting, then in the middle of the night a sudden signal: “Alert!” We all jumped up. And there came a shout: “Victory! Capitulation!” Capitulation was all right, but victory – that really got to us. “The war’s over! The war’s over!” We all started firing whatever we had: submachine guns, pistols… We fired our gun… One wiped his tears, another danced: “I’m alive, I’m alive!” A third fell to the ground and embraced it, embraced the sand, the stones. Such joy… And I was standing there and I slowly realised: the war’s over, and my papa will never come home. The war was over… The commander threatened later, “Well, there won’t be any demobilisation till the ammunition’s paid for. What have you done? How many shells have you fired?” We felt as if there would always be peace on earth, that no-one would ever want war, that all the bombs should be destroyed. Who needed them? We were tired of hatred. Tired of shooting.

Valentina Pavlovna Chudaeva, Sergeant, Commander of Anti-Aircraft Artillery

* * * * * * * * *

….Mrs Swettenham was once more deep in the Personal Column.
….Second hand Motor Mower for sale. Now I wonder… Goodness, what a price!… More dachshunds… “Do write or communicate desperate Woggles.” What silly nicknames people have… Cocker spaniels… Do you remember darling Susie, Edmund? She really was human. Understood every word you said to her… Sheraton sideboard for sale. Genuine family antique. Mrs Lucas, Dayas Hall… What a liar that woman is! Sheraton indeed…!’
….Mrs Swettenham sniffed and then continued her reading.
All a mistake, darling. Undying love. Friday as usual. – J… I suppose they’ve had a lovers’ quarrel – or do you think it’s a code for burglars? … More dachshunds! Really, I do think people have gone a little crazy about breeding dachshunds. I mean, there are other dogs. Your Uncle Simon used to breed Manchester Terriers. Such graceful little things. I do like dogs with legsLady going abroad will sell her two piece navy suiting… no measurements or price given… A marriage is announced – no, a murder. What? Well, I never! Edmund, Edmund, listen to this…

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

….‘What an extraordinary thing!’

* * * * * * * * *

….He stood at the window with a tumbler of whisky, smoking a cigarette, and watched the last traces of the sun disappear behind the trees of Ludwigkirchplatz. The sky glowed red. The trees looked like the shadows of primitive dancers cavorting around a fire. On the radio, the opening of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture signalled the start of a special news bulletin. The announcer sounded half-crazed with excitement.
….“Prompted by the desire to make a last effort to bring about the peaceful cession of the Sudeten German territory to the Reich, the Führer has invited Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian Government; Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Great Britain; and Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister, to a conference. The statesmen have accepted the invitation. The discussion will take place in Munich tomorrow morning, September 29th…”
….The communiqué made it seem as if the whole thing had been Hitler’s idea. And people would believe it, thought Hartmann, because people believed what they wanted to believe – that was Goebbels’s great insight. They no longer had any need to bother themselves with inconvenient truths. He had given them an excuse not to think.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

….In those early visits it was as though we were building something sacred. We’d place words carefully together, piling them upon one another, leaving no spaces. We each created towers, two beacons, the like of which are built along roads to guide the way when the weather comes down.

* * * * *

….Already the mountain grass is fading to the colour of smoked meat, and the evenings smell of burning fish oil from lamps newly lit. At Illugastadir there will soon be a prickle of frost over the seaweed thrown upon the shore. The seals will be banked upon the tongues of rock, watching winter descend from the mountain.

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 134…

Another batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

It’s as much of a surprise to me as I’m sure it is to you to know that my TBR has only gone up by 1 this week – to 214! (I accidentally mistyped that as 2114 and considered leaving it like that to allow room for growth… but my better angels prevailed.) I wasn’t intending to do another batch of books for my new challenge till I’d read most of the first batch, but lucky me – I’ve acquired a few as review copies from various obliging sources, so they’ll have to be shoved onto the priority list.

So here goes for the second little batch…

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace

I’m pretty sure I read this back in my youth when I used to filch books off my sister’s bookshelf, but that was… ahem… a few years ago now, so I remember nothing about it.

The Blurb says: When the Foreign Secretary Sir Philip Ramon receives a threatening, greenish-grey letter signed FOUR JUST MEN, he remains determined to see his Aliens Extradition Bill made law. A device in the members’ smokeroom and a sudden magnesium flash that could easily have been nitro-glycerine leave Scotland Yard baffled. Even Fleet Street cannot identify the illusive Manfred, Gonsalez, Pioccart and Thery – FOUR JUST MEN dedicated to punishing by death those whom conventional justice can not touch.

Challenge details

Book No: 2

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1905

Edwards says: “Wallace’s thriller was not only highly topical at the time it first appeared, but also, more than a century later, seems strikingly modern in its concerns – immigration and international terrorism.”

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Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

Courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley. A stonkingly good cover, a murder set in the world of theatre, and a bit of humour – joy!

The Blurb says: When Douglas B. Douglas – leading light of the London theatre – premieres his new musical extravaganza, Blue Music, he is sure the packed house will be dazzled by the performance. What he couldn’t predict is the death of his star, Brandon Baker, on stage in the middle of Act 2. Soon another member of the cast is found dead, and it seems to be a straightforward case of murder followed by suicide.

Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard – who happens to be among the audience – soon discovers otherwise. Together with Derek, his journalist son, Wilson takes charge of proceedings in his own inimitable way.

This is a witty, satirical novel from the golden age of British crime fiction between the world wars.

Challenge details

Book No: 47

Subject Heading: Making Fun of Murder

Publication Year: 1934

Edwards says: “As Sayers said, Melville looks on ‘all this detective business as a huge joke’, but not only does he sustain the joke to the end of the book, his humour has also survived the passage of time.”

* * * * *

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Since MidasPR very kindly gave me some Audible credits to pick any books I liked for review (woohoo!), and since I have previously enjoyed a Gareth Armstrong reading of a Maigret novel, I decided to go for the audio version of this, the first in the Maigret series.

The Blurb says: A gripping new translation by David Bellos of the first novel in the famous Inspector Maigret series.

Who is Pietr the Latvian? Is he a gentleman thief? A Russian drinking absinthe in a grimy bar? A married Norwegian sea captain? A twisted corpse in a train bathroom? Or is he all of these men? Inspector Maigret, tracking a mysterious adversary and a trail of bodies, must bide his time before the answer comes into focus.

Challenge details

Book No: 97

Subject Heading: Cosmopolitan Crimes

Publication Year: 1930

Edwards says: “His genius as a detective is unglamorous but effective: ‘what he waited and watched out for was the crack in the wall. In other words, the instant when the human being came out from behind the opponent.'”

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Portrait of a Murderer (A Christmas Crime Story) by Anne Meredith

I am ridiculously excited about this one! I was lucky enough to be promised a copy by the British Library and expected the usual lovely paperback. But when it arrived, it’s a gorgeous hardback! Apparently it’s a special edition to celebrate the fact that it’s the 50th in their Crime Classics series and it’s bee-yoo-tee-full – the same picture on the slipcover, a lovely smart spine that will look great on the bookshelf, and…wait for it… wait for it… a red ribbon bookmark! THE perfect Christmas gift! (Hehe – the BL obviously think so too, since they sent it to me wrapped in Christmas paper. 😀 ) I wonder if they’ll do more hardbacks – I’m drooling at the thought of a shelf full of them…

The Blurb says: ‘Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931.’

Thus begins a classic crime novel published in 1933 that has been too long neglected – until now. It is a riveting portrait of the psychology of a murderer.

Each December, Adrian Gray invites his extended family to stay at his lonely house, Kings Poplars. None of Gray’s six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead. The family gathers on Christmas Eve – and by the following morning, their wish has been granted.

This fascinating and unusual novel tells the story of what happened that dark Christmas night; and what the murderer did next.

Challenge details

Book No: 78

Subject Heading: Inverted Mysteries

Publication Year: 1933

Edwards says: “Depriving herself of the opportunity to engage readers through a complex whodunit puzzle or an elaborate police investigation, Meredith concentrates on exploring the psychology of her characters, and incisive social comment.”

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK. The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

* * * * *

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….…at night, coming down the River Highway, you were caught in a dazzling galaxy of brilliant suns, a web of lights strung out from the river and then south to capture the city in a brilliant display of electrical wizardry. The highway lights glistened close and glistened farther as they skirted the city and reflected in the dark waters of the river. The windows of the buildings climbed in brilliant rectangular luminosity, climbed to the stars and joined the wash of red and green and yellow and orange neon which tinted the sky. The traffic lights blinked their gaudy eyes and along the stem, the incandescent display tangled in a riot of color and eye-aching splash.
….The city lay like a sparkling nest of rare gems, shimmering in layer upon layer of pulsating intensity.
….The buildings were a stage set.
….They faced the river, and they glowed with man-made brilliance, and you stared up at them in awe, and you caught your breath.
….Behind the buildings, behind the lights, were the streets.
….There was garbage in the streets.

* * * * * * * * *

December 25, 1942… Our division no. 333 of the 56th Army occupied an elevation on the approach to Stalingrad. The enemy decided to take it back at all costs. A battle began. Tanks attacked us, but our artillery stopped them. The Germans rolled back, and a wounded lieutenant, the artillerist Kostia Khudov, was left in no-man’s land. The orderlies who tried to bring him back were killed. Two first-aid sheepdogs (this was the first time I saw them) crept toward him, but were also killed. And then I took off my flap-eared hat, stood up tall, and began to sing our favourite pre-war song: “I saw you off to a great deed,” first softly, then more and more loudly. Everything became hushed on both sides – ours and the Germans’. I went up to Kostia, bent down, put him on a sledge, and took him to our side. I walked and thought: “Only not in the back, better let them shoot me in the head.” So, right now… right now… The last minutes of my life… Right now! Interesting: will I feel the pain or not? How frightening, mama dear! But not a single shot was fired…

Maria Petrovna Smirnova, Medical Assistant

* * * * * * * * *

….He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars. Travel through ordinary space could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light (a bit of scientific knowledge that belonged among the items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), and that would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Through hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time.
….Gaal had waited for the first of those Jumps with a little dread curled gently in his stomach, and it ended in nothing more than a trifling jar, a little internal kick which ceased an instant before he could be sure he had felt it. That was all.

* * * * * * * * *

….Time passed. I acquired a girlfriend, lost her, acquired another, lost her as well. My secret movie script, my most demanding lover, disliked my attempts at these misconceived relationships with human beings, and sulked, and refused to yield up its secrets. My Late Twenties were steaming toward me, and I like a swooning nickelodeon hero lay helpless across the tracks. (My literary parents would no doubt have preferred that I refer, instead, to the climactic railway-tracks scene in Forster’s The Longest Journey.) The Gardens were my microcosm, and every day I saw the creatures of my imagination staring back at me from the windows of houses on both Macdougal and Sullivan, hollow-eyed, pleading to be born. I had pieces of them all but the shape of the work eluded me. At #XX Sullivan Street, on the first floor, with garden access, I had placed my Burmese – I should say Myanmaran – diplomat, U Lnu Fnu of the United Nations, his professional heart broken by his defeat in the longest-ever battle for the post of Secretary-General, twenty-nine consecutive rounds of voting without a winner, and in the thirtieth round he lost to the South Korean.

* * * * * * * * *

….“…they call me Barbecue.”
….“Barbecue? Why’s that?”
….“Oh, you don’t want to hear. It’s a sad story . . . we’d barely rounded that great jut on the French coast when we got shipwrecked. On the island of Ushant, hiding in all them jagged barren rocks from the French troops, having to fend for ourselves on starvation rations till we could hail the next British ship sailing by. What food we had was running low and so, Jim, what could I do but make a sacrifice for my own shipmates?”
….“A… a sacrifice?”
….“We’d saved from the wreck some of my cooking equipment, including a great chopping knife – like this one here. And with the edge of that knife, why, I sawed off my own leg.”
….“S…sawed…?”
….“What else could I do? And then I cooked it.”
….“Cooked…?”
….“The flesh off my calves made a fine pair of fillet steaks. The blood I drained for a kind of sauce. I screwed the marrow out of the bones to make a brand of paté, and I even boiled my bony old foot for soup. And I said to my starving shipmates ‘Take! Eat! This is my body. This is my blood. Which I ask you to eat and drink in remembrance, should I not survive, of your old shipmate John Silver. And d’ye know what happened next, Jim?”
….“What?”
….“Why, they all choked to death on that rotten meat and I got all the good grub to myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha-a-a! I’m joking! Jim! Joking! Storifying!”

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

The Five Flaming Hotties Tag

Hotties? Moi?

One half of the @2ReelQuirkyCats, Thoughts All Sorts, has tagged me to list my five favourite hotties from the worlds of film/TV/sport etc. Me? Why, I simply don’t understand – as if I’d ever be so shallow as to post pictures of hunks men just because they happen to be gorgeous! No, no! It’s their talent I admire. I mean, these are the heroes who most often appear on my blog and surely nobody could think it’s simply because of their looks…

However, in the spirit of the thing, I’ve selected five extremely talented individuals who’ve never appeared on the blog before. Are they Flaming Hotties? I’ll let you decide… 😉

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The rules are simple (to keep it clean)…

  1. Mention the name of the Blog you were tagged by. Also mention Realweegiemidget Reviews and Thoughts All Sorts. Link back to all Blogs involved.

  2. List five of your greatest hotties from TV and/or film i.e. crushes/objects of your affection. If you want to (I know some of you who do), musicians and sports stars can be included.

  3. Tell us how you were “introduced” to them and why you like them/what appeals (keep it clean).

  4. Add some pictures (once again, keep it clean. Strictly no nudity. Nice pictures.).

  5. Tag seven bloggers for their Five Flaming Hotties.

  6. Oh…and post the rules…

* * * * *

Don Johnson

Aah, Don! Oh, your wonderful acting in Miami Vice! That sockless pastel look! Philip Michael Thomas! The shades! The cars! Edward James Olmos! The music! The ultimate sexy exoticism of it all! How I loved that show, and mostly just to watch you!

I truly believed that watching you as Sonny Crockett was the ultimate pinnacle of earthly joy… until I saw you, all moody and magnificent, in The Long Hot Summer! How my little heart beat! Now I think about it, must get the DVD so it’s on hand for emergency resuscitation…

* * * * *

Johnny Depp

My sister and I argued for years over Mr Depp. She held the opinion that his fine cheekbones made him one of the most wonderful actors who ever lived, while I felt in truth that he wasn’t quite hunky enough as talented as some others.

But then he became a pirate and the scales fell from my eyes – his true talent was revealed to me in all its glory! He’s not ageing quite as well as some, (and frankly he’s a bit of a self-obsessed idiot), but we’ll always have the images to remind us of his glory days…

* * * * *

Tom Brady

Now it has to be said that I’m more of a tennis fan than an American football fan – primarily because one game is excellent and the other is kinda silly. But due to a certain blog buddy of mine, I have been turned into a New England Patriots fan, pretty much against my will, and am now totally au fait with the strange way Americans spell offense and defense, not to mention the esoteric joys of the passing game. One of the things that has reconciled me to this journey into the arcane rituals of our trans-Atlantic neighbours is Tom Brady, the Pats’ legendary quarterback. Look – isn’t he extraordinarily talented?

* * * * *

Vince Carrola

As a little interlude, here’s a treat from that very blog buddy who first introduced me to the delights of Tom Brady, the wonderful Vince Carrola aka Professor VJ Duke. I’m not including him as one of my hotties because a) he’s appeared on the blog before and b) he’d kill me and then die of embarrassment, so I shall simply say he’s an extremely talented musician, and leave you to judge for yourself…

* * * * *

Jason Momoa

I love almost everything about Stargate Atlantis. Next to Star Trek TNG and Voyager, it’s my top fave sci-fi series. And it has to be said that a major reason for that is Jason Momoa. There’s something about the way his hair whips round him as he battles bad guys often with no more than a stick. (I did hear that in fact he got whiplash from the weight of his hair during the series, so had to have it cut off and replaced with a wig, but we’ll quickly gloss over that little factlet…) He’s good with guns too, though…

It’s the humour in the show that makes it for me and Jason Momoa always has a wicked twinkle in his eye. I’ve never actually seen him in anything else, and am not sure I’d want to – to me he IS Ronon Dex and always will be.

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Robert Downey Jr

I watched Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man just a week or two ago and it reminded me of how much I love and adore his perfect face admire his great acting talent. I actually first “met” him when he appeared as Ally McBeal’s love interest.

I adored everything about that show, though I can never bring myself to re-watch it. I imagine it’s horribly dated now – it was of its time and aimed at a certain generation – i.e., mine. And we’ve all aged since then, but Robert, like fine wine in casks of oak, has aged deliciously…

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So what do you think of my selection? I’m supposed to tag seven other people but I’m a wild rebel, so instead I’ll just tag anyone who wants to join in. And meantime, do advise me in the comments below which hotties very talented people you think I should check out…

TBR Thursday 133…

Episode 133…

Well! What can I say? Obviously starting a new challenge to read 102 classic crime novels was bound to be somewhat injurious to the old TBR. So I might as well just get it over with – it’s gone up by 18 to 213! The wishlist has gone through the stratosphere, but fortunately I only own up to that at the end of the quarter, by which time I’m sure it will all be back under control. Well, almost sure…

Meantime my reading slump seems to be finally wearing off a little, and hopefully these will help me recover my enthusiasm…

Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley – apparently in the US it’s called Beartown. Couldn’t resist this one after reading Keeper of Pages‘ great review…

The Blurb says: Beartown is a small town in a large Swedish forest. For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart. Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. Change is in the air and a bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear. No one can stand by or stay silent. You’re on one side or another.

Which side will you find yourself on?

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Spies

Courtesy of the publisher, Hutchinson. Robert Harris has become one of my must-read authors and this one sounds fab…

The Blurb says: September 1938. Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there. Munich.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Fürher’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries; Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now, as the future of Europe hangs in the balance, their paths are destined to cross again.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

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Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley. First up for the Murder Mystery Mayhem Challenge and it looks like a goodie to start with…

The Blurb says: A woman is on trial for her life, accused of murder. The twelve members of the jury each carry their own secret burden of guilt and prejudice which could affect the outcome.

In this extraordinary crime novel, we follow the trial through the eyes of the jurors as they hear the evidence and try to reach a unanimous verdict. Will they find the defendant guilty, or not guilty? And will the jurors’ decision be the correct one?

Since its first publication in 1940, Verdict of Twelve has been widely hailed as a classic of British crime writing. This edition offers a new generation of readers the chance to find out why so many leading commentators have admired the novel for so long.

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Yo-ho-ho! And a bottle of rum!

Courtesy of Audible via the lovely people at MidasPR. I love Treasure Island so how could I possibly resist this? (I’ve actually already started it since I prepared this post and it’s stonkingly good so far!)

The Blurb says: Audible Originals takes to the high seas to bring to life this timeless tale of pirates, lost treasure maps and mutiny, starring BAFTA-nominated Catherine Tate (The Catherine Tate Show, The Office, Doctor Who), Philip Glenister (Outcast, Life On Mars), Owen Teale (Game of Thrones, Pulse, Last Legion) and Daniel Mays (The Adventures of Tintin, Rogue One, Atonement), amongst others.

When weathered old sailor Billy Bones arrives at the inn of young Jim Hawkins’ parents, it is the start of an adventure beyond anything he could have imagined. When Bones dies mysteriously, Jim stumbles across a map of a mysterious island in his sea chest, where X marks the spot of a stash of buried pirate gold. Soon after setting sail to recover the treasure, Jim realises that he’s not the only one intent on discovering the hoard. Suddenly he is thrown into a world of treachery, mutiny, castaways and murder, and at the centre of it all is the charming but sinister Long John Silver, who will stop at nothing to grab his share of the loot.

One of the best-loved adventure stories ever written, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 novel introduced us to characters such as the unforgettable Long John Silver, forever associating peg-legged pirates with ‘X marks the spot’ in our cultural consciousness. Following the success of the double Audie Award-winning Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories, Audible Originals UK are excited to announce this reimagination of Stevenson’s coming-of-age story that will captivate all of the family.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Bookish Newsweek…

3rd edition of the bookish “newspaper”

Click on the book titles for the full reviews.

HURRICANES CAUSE HAVOC

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José continue to dominate the headlines as they cause devastation across the Caribbean and parts of the USA.

Days of Fire by Peter Baker

Concentrating on the relationship between President George W Bush and Dick Cheney, the book is an extremely thorough and detailed account of the workings of the White House during a presidency hit by catastrophe and disaster – from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to the economic meltdown. While not whitewashing some of the more dubious decisions of the Presidency, the author takes a somewhat sympathetic approach to his subjects and as such the book is a good reminder of how we ask people to perform impossible jobs and then criticise them for mistakes or failures. Bush and Cheney made some serious mistakes, not lightly forgotten or forgiven, but this book gives a revealing picture of the almost intolerable pressures they had to deal with, and of the toll it took of them.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The unnamed narrator marries Maxim de Winter, a widower who lost his first wife Rebecca in what appears to have been a tragic drowning accident. But somehow Rebecca still seems to inhabit the great house of Manderley, infusing every room with the strength of her personality. Beautiful and vibrant, no-one who knew Rebecca remained untouched – it seems to the second Mrs de Winter that everyone adored her, some to the point of obsession. Gradually Mrs de W2 begins to think that Maxim made a mistake in marrying her – that he’s still in love with Rebecca. And then one day, a huge storm at sea leads to the discovery of Rebecca’s lost boat, and suddenly everything Mrs de W2 thinks she knows about Rebecca and her husband is turned on its head…

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Back in the 12th century, there are slits between the world of the jinn and our own world, and the jinn sometimes interfere with humanity, often wickedly. Centuries later, not far in the future from our own time, the slits between the jinn world and our own have been lost for many years. But after a great storm lashes the world, strange things begin to happen – people finding their feet no longer touch the ground, people being struck by lightning and finding themselves afterwards possessed of strange powers, people suffering from what are either terrifying hallucinations or perhaps even more terrifying reality. It appears the jinn are back…

Djinn by jwilsonillustration via deviantart.com

In this book, Rushdie has created a brilliant satire of politics, totalitarianism, world financial institutions and so on and, on a more intimate level, of love, sex, and human relationships in general.

…for a period of time variously described by different witnesses as “a few seconds” and “several minutes”, the clothes worn by every man in the square disappeared, leaving them shockingly naked, while the contents of their pockets – cellphones, pens, keys, credit cards, currency, condoms, sexual insecurities, inflatable egos, women’s underwear, guns, knives, the phone numbers of unhappily married women, hip flasks, masks, cologne, photographs of angry daughters, photographs of sullen teenage boys, breath-freshening strips, plastic baggies containing white powder, spliffs, lies, harmonicas, spectacles, bullets and broken, forgotten hopes – tumbled down to the ground.

(Scene from John Huston’s wonderful Key Largo, where the old man (Lionel Barrymore) describes the hurricane of 1935 to a somewhat less than heroic Edward G Robinson…)

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OPENING OF QUEENSFERRY CROSSING

This week the Queen opened the new road bridge over the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, the Queensferry Crossing.

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall

Humber Boy B is an eighteen-year-old, now called Ben. Eight years earlier he and his older brother were convicted of killing another ten-year-old boy by throwing him off the Humber Bridge. Now Ben has been released and must learn to live in a world that he has never known except as a child. But the mother of the victim, Noah, is horrified that he has been released and has set up a Facebook page pleading with the public for help in finding him. She says she’s not looking for revenge – she just wants to ask him the one question that was never answered – why did they kill her son?

Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton

Lacey Flint’s third outing shows Bolton at her best – inventive plotting, great characterisation, plenty of humour, much of it black, and a sense of tension that builds throughout to a thrillingly dramatic climax. The book starts with the discovery of the body of twins under Tower Bridge, the most recent victims of a serial killer who steals young boys and cuts their throats. The MIT squad, still led by Dana Tulloch, is getting nowhere fast – these murders don’t fall into the normal pattern as there’s no sign of a sexual angle. Dana and the squad are already feeling the pressure and it’s going to get worse…

Rabbie Burns’ Tam o’Shanter and his brave mare Maggie fleeing the witches…

Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle—
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain gray tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

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Britain put aside its political differences for 10 seconds to give vent to a communal “Aww…” as young Prince George set off for his first day at school. Then the anti-Royalists swiftly put their grumpy faces back on and pretended they hadn’t joined in…

(Mummy couldn’t take him because, in case you’ve been under a stone all week, Mummy’s pregnant again (hurrah!) and suffering from severe morning sickness (aww!)… )

 

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Let’s hope he finds the school locker room as inspiring as the one in A Separate Peace

No locker room could have more pungent air than Devon’s; sweat predominated, but it was richly mingled with smells of paraffin and singed rubber, of soaked wool and liniment, and for those who could interpret it, of exhaustion, lost hope and triumph and bodies battling against each other. I thought it anything but a bad smell. It was pre-eminently the smell of the human body after it had been used to the limit, such a smell as has meaning and poignance for any athlete, just as it has for any lover.

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

…and that all the school speeches he has to listen to are as much fun as the one a drink-befuddled Gussie Fink-Nottle gave to the boys of Market Snodsbury Grammar School…

“Well, boys,” resumed Gussie, having shot his cuffs and smirked horribly, “this is the end of the summer term, and many of you, no doubt, are leaving the school. And I don’t blame you, because there’s a froust in here you could cut with a knife. You are going out into the great world. Soon many of you will be walking along Broadway. And what I want to impress upon you is that, however much you may suffer from adenoids, you must all use every effort to prevent yourselves becoming pessimists and talking rot like old Tom Travers. There in the second row. The fellow with a face rather like a walnut.”

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THE US OPEN

And the winner of the 2017 US Open Men’s Singles Championship is…

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

VAMOS, RAFA!

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