TBR Thursday 367…

Episode 367

Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!!! Okay, well, I’ll just say it fast and get it over… *deep breaths*… the TBR has leapt up by 5 to 175!! What shall I do?? What shall I DO?!?

Maybe I could get the cat to read these ones while I lie down in a darkened room…

Winner of the People’s Choice

The Third Man and The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene

Well, there was never any doubt about the winner this month! Graham Greene raced into the lead within the first hour and never looked back, finally winning with a huge margin over the other three also-rans. An excellent choice, People – it will be an April read!

The Blurb says: The Third Man is Graham Greene’s brilliant recreation of post-war Vienna, a ‘smashed dreary city’ occupied by the four Allied powers. Rollo Martins, a second-rate novelist, arrives penniless to visit his friend and hero, Harry Lime. But Harry has died in suspicious circumstances, and the police are closing in on his associates…

The Fallen Idol is the chilling story of a small boy caught up in the games that adults play. Left in the care of the butler and his wife whilst his parents go on a fortnight’s holiday, Philip realises too late the danger of lies and deceit. But the truth is even deadlier.

* * * * *

Crime

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

First up for my brand new Looking Forward challenge is this Scandi crime from an author whom I’ve enjoyed very much in the past, sometimes, while at other times she has become far too gruesome for my wimpy taste. There is one particular murder method she invented that I truly wish I could scrub from my mind! The blurb of this one looks dark…

The Blurb says: At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim’s family isn’t convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Guðmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn’t long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student’s obsession with Iceland’s grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems…and no one can be trusted.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Death of an Author by ECR Lorac

Courtesy of the British Library. Always happy to see the wonderful Lorac pop up the BL’s Crime Classics series…

The Blurb says: ‘I hate murders and I hate murderers, but I must admit that the discovery of a bearded corpse would give a fillip to my jaded mind.’

Vivian Lestrange – celebrated author of the popular mystery novel The Charterhouse Case and total recluse – has apparently dropped off the face of the Earth. Reported missing by his secretary Eleanor, whom Inspector Bond suspects to be the author herself, it appears that crime and murder is afoot when Lestrange’s housekeeper is also found to have disappeared.

Bond and Warner of Scotland Yard set to work to investigate a murder with no body and a potentially fictional victim, as ECR Lorac spins a twisting tale full of wry humour and red herrings, poking some fun at her contemporary reviewers who long suspected the Lorac pseudonym to belong to a man (since a woman could apparently not have written mysteries the way that she did).

Incredibly rare today, this mystery returns to print for the first time since 1935.

* * * * *

Hard to categorise…

The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. Not quite sure what this is – thriller? Dystopian? Science fiction? Speculative fiction? I picked it mostly because I enjoyed his first book, The Last Day, but also because the blurb sounds intriguing. Hopefully by the time I’ve read it I’ll know where it belongs!

The Blurb says: In a disintegrating and increasingly lawless Britain, a young man is travelling north.

Ben is a young painter from the crowded, turbulent city. For six months his fiancée Cara has been living on a remote island known as Sanctuary Rock, the property of millionaire philanthropist Sir John Pemberley. Now she has decided to break off their engagement, and stay there.

Ben resolves to travel to the island to win Cara back. But the journey there is a harsh and challenging one, and when he does arrive, a terrible shock awaits him.

As Ben begins to find his way around the island, he knows he must also work out – what has made Cara so determined to throw her old life away? And is Sanctuary Rock truly another Eden – or a prospect of hell?

By the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Last Day, this high-concept thriller will intrigue and haunt you as you too work to find out what secret is buried on the island.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Two’s company 3…

Two for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge this week. One of these I expected to love and didn’t; the other I expected not to love and did. So much for judging books by their covers!

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club

Thirty-nine…

😦

While out fishing on the local river, Neddy Ware sees a rowing boat floating upstream on the tide. He manages to hook it and bring it to the bank, where he discovers it contains a dead body. Admiral Penistone, the corpse, is a newcomer to the area so no one knows much about him or his niece, Elma, who lives with him. It’s up to Inspector Rudge to find out who could have had a motive to kill him. He’ll be helped or hindered in his investigation by the eleven Golden Age mystery writers, all members of the Detection Club, who wrote this mystery, one chapter each and then forwarding it on to the next author to add their chapter, with no collusion as to the solution. Some of the true greats are here, like Christie and Sayers, and lots of others who have been having a renaissance in the recent splurge of vintage re-releases.

Challenge details:
Book: 27
Subject Heading: ‘Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!’
Publication Year: 1931

Lovely idea. I fear I found it a total flop. The first several writers repeat each other ad nauseam, each adding a few more clues or red herrings as they go. Poor Rudge never gets a chance to investigate anything, since each new writer wheels him around and sends him off in a different direction. I was determined to persevere, mainly because it has inexplicably high ratings on Goodreads, but by halfway through I was losing the will to live. Then Ronald Knox decided to use his chapter to list thirty-nine questions arising from the previous chapters, all of which needed to be answered before we could arrive at the solution. Thirty-nine! I gave up. I tried flicking forward to the last chapter as I usually do when abandoning a book mid-stream, only to discover the last chapter is about novella-length (unsurprisingly, really, since I suppose it has to address those thirty-nine questions plus any more that had been added in the second half). I asked myself if I would be able to sleep at night without ever discovering who killed the Admiral, and while pondering that question quietly dozed off, which I felt was a fairly effective answer. I also tried reading the various other solutions from some of the other authors which are given as an appendix, but the first couple were so ludicrous I gave up. Clearly many people have enjoyed this, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. Oh well!

Amazon UK Link

* * * * *

The Medbury Fort Murder by George Limnelius

Sex in the Golden Age??

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Lieutenant Lepean is found with his throat cut and his head nearly severed from his body in a locked room at the isolated Medbury Fort on the Thames, it soon becomes clear he was justifiably disliked by a whole host of his colleagues. Four in particular had good reason to hate him – two he was blackmailing, one whose family he had dishonoured, and one whose girlfriend the lascivious Lepean was pursuing. But first Chief Inspector McMaster and Inspector Paton will have to work out how someone managed to get into his locked bedroom…

Despite the locked room aspect – never my favourite style of mystery – there’s actually much more in this one about motivation than means. First published in 1929, Limnelius is remarkably open about sex, acknowledging unjudgementally that sex happens outside marriage, that lust does not always equate to love, and that sexual jealousy rouses dangerous passions. The sexual elements are viewed largely from the male perspective, but the women are not all simply passive recipients of male desire – he makes it clear that women are sexual beings too. All very different from the usual chaste Golden Agers, although still couched in terms that are far from the graphic soft porn that some writers tend to go for in these degenerate days!

Challenge details:
Book: 30
Subject Heading: Miraculous Murders
Publication Year: 1929

However, just as I was going to hail Limnelius as a man before his time, he reassured me that while he may be forward-thinking about sex, he’s conventionally Golden Age when it comes to class…

In the history of crime there is no single case of a murder of violence having being committed by an educated man. The sane, educated mind is not capable of the necessary degree of egotism combined with ferocity.

Hmm, tell that to Lord Lucan!

It’s very well written and, classism notwithstanding, I found the psychology of the various characters convincing. The solution shocked me somewhat, not because it’s particularly shocking in itself, but merely that the motivation seemed far too modern for a book of this era, and probably more realistic as a result. I enjoyed it very much. I believe he only wrote a handful of novels, but I look forward to reading more if I can track any down.

Amazon UK Link

TBR Thursday 366 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 366

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, People, time for another batch of four, all from 2021. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be an April read. Mystery at Lynden Sands by JJ Connington is one for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I added The Brownie of Bodsbeck after enjoying James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Graham Greene’s two-novella volume, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, is on my Classics Club list. And I added Hemingway’s Complete Short Stories because it came up as a Kindle sale! It’s a strange batch this time, I think!

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Vintage Crime

Mystery at Lynden Sands by JJ Connington

Added 19th April 2021. 88 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.08 average rating. 294 pages.

The Blurb says: In the fourth Sir Clinton Driffield mystery, the detective finds himself up against a missing heir, an accidental bigamist, a series of secret marriages and impersonations and an ingenious scientific murder. Aided by his wit and powers of reasoning, as well as Wendover, his very own Watson, Sir Clinton once again succeeds in piecing together a solution as the novel reaches its thrilling climax.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Brownie of Bodsbeck by James Hogg

Added 22nd May 2021. 7 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.29 average. 203 pages.

The Blurb says: “Walter’s blood curdled within him at this relation. He was superstitious, but he always affected to disbelieve the existence of the Brownie, though the evidences were so strong as not to admit of any doubt; but this double assurance, that his only daughter, whom he loved above all the world besides, was leagued with evil spirits, utterly confounded him.” (Extract)

(FF says: I can’t find a proper blurb for this one, but apparently it’s about the persecution of the Covenanters by the Royalists led by Claverhouse in late 17th century Scotland, if that means anything to you!)

James Hogg (1770-1835) was a Scottish poet, novelist and essayist who wrote in both Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Third Man and The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene

Added 6th June 2021. 2,750 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.74 average. 146 pages.

The Blurb says: The Third Man is Graham Greene’s brilliant recreation of post-war Vienna, a ‘smashed dreary city’ occupied by the four Allied powers. Rollo Martins, a second-rate novelist, arrives penniless to visit his friend and hero, Harry Lime. But Harry has died in suspicious circumstances, and the police are closing in on his associates…

The Fallen Idol is the chilling story of a small boy caught up in the games that adults play. Left in the care of the butler and his wife whilst his parents go on a fortnight’s holiday, Philip realises too late the danger of lies and deceit. But the truth is even deadlier.

* * * * *

Short Stories

Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Added 27th June 2021. 35,296 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.29 average. 676 pages. 

The Blurb says: This stunning collection of short stories by Nobel Prize­–winning author, Ernest Hemingway, contains a lifetime of work—ranging from fan favorites to several stories only available in this compilation.

In this definitive collection of short stories, you will delight in Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved classics such as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and discover seven new tales published for the first time in this collection. For Hemingway fans The Complete Short Stories is an invaluable treasury.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 365…

Episode 365

Reading-wise, this year has got off to a terrible start – I just haven’t been in the mood, for some obscure reason. So I haven’t finished a book this week, but fortunately I also haven’t received any. The TBR is staying balanced on 170!

(Yeah, I’ve used that gif before, but it’s too good to only use once!) Anyway here are a few more I should get to soon…

Factual

The Life of Crime by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of HarperCollins. An unsolicited one, and a giant tome. To be honest, much though I enjoyed Martin Edwards’ much shorter delve into the history of mystery writing, I’m not sure I’m interested enough to read over 600 pages on the subject. But I’ll dip in and see – I suspect this may be a book more intended for dipping than reading straight through anyway. I’ll soon find out!

The Blurb says: In the first major history of crime fiction in fifty years, The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators traces the evolution of the genre from the eighteenth century to the present, offering brand-new perspective on the world’s most popular form of fiction.

Author Martin Edwards is a multi-award-winning crime novelist, the President of the Detection Club, archivist of the Crime Writers’ Association and series consultant to the British Library’s highly successful series of crime classics, and therefore uniquely qualified to write this book. He has been a widely respected genre commentator for more than thirty years, winning the CWA Diamond Dagger for making a significant contribution to crime writing in 2020, when he also compiled and published Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club and the novel Mortmain Hall. His critically acclaimed The Golden Age of Murder (Collins Crime Club, 2015) was a landmark study of Detective Fiction between the wars.

The Life of Crime is the result of a lifetime of reading and enjoying all types of crime fiction, old and new, from around the world. In what will surely be regarded as his magnum opus, Martin Edwards has thrown himself undaunted into the breadth and complexity of the genre to write an authoritative – and readable – study of its development and evolution. With crime fiction being read more widely read than ever around the world, and with individual authors increasingly the subject of extensive academic study, his expert distillation of more than two centuries of extraordinary books and authors – from the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann to the novels of Patricia Cornwell – into one coherent history is an extraordinary feat and makes for compelling reading.

* * * * *

Fiction

Edith and Kim by Charlotte Philby

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another unsolicited one, but one I would have picked for myself even if I hadn’t been sent a copy. I’m intrigued by the fact that it’s written by Charlotte, granddaughter of probably the most famous British traitor of the last century, Kim Philby. Whether that will give her any additional insight is a rather moot point as far as I’m concerned, since Philby ran off to his masters in the USSR in 1963 and died in 1988. But we’ll see!

The Blurb says: To betray, you must first belong…

In June 1934, Kim Philby met his Soviet handler, the spy Arnold Deutsch. The woman who introduced them was called Edith Tudor-Hart. She changed the course of 20th century history.

Then she was written out of it.

Drawing on the Secret Intelligence Files on Edith Tudor-Hart, along with the private archive letters of Kim Philby, this finely worked, evocative and beautifully tense novel – by the granddaughter of Kim Philby – tells the story of the woman behind the Third Man.

* * * * *

Historical Crime

The Bookseller of Inverness by SG MacLean

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I’ve had a mixed reaction to MacLean’s books – her Seeker series didn’t really work for me, but I did enjoy one of her Alexander Seaton books. This one is set in the aftermath of Culloden, which gives it the advantage that I will be familiar with the historical background, and the disadvantage that I’m bored with the Scottish obsession with the Jacobites. So it could go either way! Fingers crossed…

The Blurb says: After Culloden, Iain MacGillivray was left for dead on Drumossie Moor. Wounded, his face brutally slashed, he survived only by pretending to be dead as the Redcoats patrolled the corpses of his Jacobite comrades.

Six years later, with the clan chiefs routed and the Highlands subsumed into the British state, Iain lives a quiet life, working as a bookseller in Inverness. One day, after helping several of his regular customers, he notices a stranger lurking in the upper gallery of his shop, poring over his collection. But the man refuses to say what he’s searching for and only leaves when Iain closes for the night.

The next morning Iain opens up shop and finds the stranger dead, his throat cut, and the murder weapon laid out in front of him – a sword with a white cockade on its hilt, the emblem of the Jacobites. With no sign of the killer, Iain wonders whether the stranger discovered what he was looking for – and whether he paid for it with his life. He soon finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit and a series of old scores to be settled in the ashes of war.

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

Good Morning, Midnight by Reginald Hill read by Shaun Dooley 

Continuing my re-read of my favourite police procedural series via audio, this is the 21st book. While I’ve been irritated by the constant changing of the narrator in the later books, I did quite enjoy Shaun Dooley’s rather understated narration of the last book, once I got used to it. 

The Blurb says: Like father like son. But heredity seems to have gone a gene too far when Pal Maciver’s suicide in a locked room exactly mirrors that of his father ten years earlier.

In each case accusing fingers point towards Pal’s stepmother, the beautiful enigmatic Kay Kafka. But she turns out to have a formidable champion, Mid-Yorkshire’s own super-heavyweight, Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel. DCI Peter Pascoe, nominally in charge of the investigation, finds he is constantly body-checked by his superior as he tries to disentangle the complex relationships of the Maciver family.

At first these inquiries seem local and domestic. What really happened between Pal and his stepmother? And how has key witness and exotic hooker Dolores, Our Lady of Pain, contrived to disappear from the face of Mid-Yorkshire?

Gradually, however, it becomes clear that the fall-out from Pal’s suicide spreads far beyond Yorkshire. To London, to America. Even to Iraq. But the emotional epicentre is firmly placed in mid-Yorkshire where Pascoe comes to learn that for some people the heart too is a locked room, and in there it is always midnight.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

A New Challenge for 2023…

The Looking Forward Challenge

Last year I did a series of eight Looking Forward posts where I looked back at old reviews which I finished by saying something along the lines of “I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work/this series/his books in the future” to see if I actually did read more and, if I did, did I like the ones I looked forward to as much as the ones that made me look forward to them. My success rate at following up on these authors was higher than I anticipated, but there were some that had slipped through the net completely or who still have books I haven’t read and would like to. In some cases I’d actually bought the relevant book or books and then left them lingering unread in the dark recesses of the TBR, sometimes for years.

It seems a bit pointless to do the Looking Forward posts unless it actually inspires me to finally fill those gaps, so over the last few months I’ve been trying to fit some of them into my reading schedule. However, since challenges always motivate me, I decided to create a little challenge to read a book from each of the remaining authors in 2023 – that is, those authors who featured on a Looking Forward post in 2022 as having slipped through the net and/or whose books are still stuck on my TBR.


Turns out there are fourteen of them, and I already have books from ten of them on my TBR. Here they are, in no particular order, with the books I’m planning to read. The links on the book titles will take you to Goodreads if you want to find out more about them…

Gillian White – Refuge

Jane Casey – The Close

Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room

Tom Vowler – Every Seventh Wave

RJ Ellory – City of Lies

Hari Kunzru – The Impressionist

Lexie Conyngham – A Knife in Darkness

Camilla Läckberg – The Preacher

Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Last Rituals

Douglas Watt – Death of a Chief

Colm Tóibín – The South

Ken Kalfus – 2 A.M. in Little America

Chris Grabenstein – Tilt-a-Whirl

Jude Morgan – The Taste of Sorrow

I’m planning to do more of the Looking Forward posts this year, so the challenge may turn into a cyclical thing where each year I try to catch up on the books I’ve reminded myself about the year before! Of course the problem is, if I enjoy these books I’ll probably finish my review by saying I’m looking forward to more…
#neverendingtreadmill #toomanybooks #firstworldproblems

Have you read any of the books on my list? Are there authors you’re looking forward to catching up on in 2023?

Wish Me Luck!

TBR Thursday 364…

Episode 364

Well, after boasting last week about my amazing success in reducing the TBR, I don’t know how to break the news that it’s gone up in the first five days of the year – by 6! Now at 170.

The only solution is to read these ones at warp speed. Engage!

Winner of the People’s Choice

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

There was never any doubt about the winner this month! In This House of Brede leapt into a commanding lead with the first few votes and continued to pull further ahead all the way through, eventually winning by what I think may be the biggest ever margin. ECR Lorac made a valiant effort to catch up, but never even got within touching distance. An excellent choice, People – it will be a March read!

The Blurb says: ‘The motto was Pax but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort . . .’

Bruised by tragedy, Philippa Talbot leaves behind a successful career with the civil service for a new calling: to join an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns. In this small community of fewer than one hundred women, she soon discovers all the human frailties: jealousy, love, despair. But each crisis of heart and conscience is guided by the compassion and intelligence of the Abbess and by the Sisters’ shared bond of faith and ritual. Away from the world, and yet at one with it, Philippa must learn to forgive and forget her past.

A vivid and exceedingly insightful portrait of religious community, In This House of Brede is the second instalment in Godden’s acclaimed ‘convent novels.’

* * * * *

Short Stories

The Virgin of the Seven Daggers and Other Stories by Vernon Lee

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. The porpy and I thought we’d reached the end of this year’s mammoth batch of spooky collections and anthologies, but when I saw that OWC and one of my favourite editors, Aaron Worth, were issuing a new collection, how could I resist? We’ve started it already, and even the porpy thinks this one is well worth delaying hibernation for!

The Blurb says: Vernon Lee was a polymath whose copious writings include deeply learned studies of art, music, literature, and history, but also a small but exquisitely crafted group of Gothic tales, most of which first appeared in fin de siècle periodicals including the iconic Yellow Book. In these stories of obsession and possession, transgressive desire reaches out from the past — through a haunting portrait, a murdered poet’s lock of hair, the uncanny voice of a diabolical castrato — dragging Lee’s protagonists to their doom. Among those haunted by Lee’s ‘spurious ghosts’ was Henry James, who praised her ‘gruesome, graceful…ingenious tales, full of imagination’.

This new edition includes Lee’s landmark 1890 collection Hauntings complete, along with six additional tales and the 1880 essay ‘Faustus and Helena’, in which Lee probes the elusive nature of the supernatural as a ‘vital…fluctuating…potent’ force that resists definite representation. Aaron Worth’s contextual introduction, drawing upon Lee’s newly published letters, reassesses her place in the pantheon of the fantastic.

* * * * *

Thriller

Hunting Time by Jeffery Deaver

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. Having thoroughly enjoyed Deaver’s Colter Shaw trilogy, I was pleased and not terribly surprised to discover there would be a book four after all! Wonder how it will work now that the trilogy’s background storyline has been completed…

The Blurb says: THERE ARE TWO FUNDAMENTAL RULES OF SURVIVAL.
#1: NEVER BE WITHOUT A MEANS OF ESCAPE.
Allison Parker is on the run with her teenage daughter, Hannah, and Colter Shaw has been hired by her eccentric boss, entrepreneur Marty Harmon, to find and protect her. Though he’s an expert at tracking missing persons–even those who don’t wish to be found–Shaw has met his match in Allison, who brings all her skills as a brilliant engineer designing revolutionary technology to the game of evading detection.

#2: NEVER BE WITHOUT ACCESS TO A WEAPON.
The reason for Allison’s panicked flight is soon apparent. She’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Jon Merritt. Newly released from prison and fueled by blinding rage, Jon is a man whose former profession as a police detective makes him uniquely suited for the hunt. And he’s not alone. Two hitmen are also hot on her heels–an eerie pair of thugs who take delight not only in murder but in the sport of devising clever ways to make bodies disappear forever. Even if Shaw manages to catch up with Allison and her daughter, his troubles will just be beginning.

SHAW IS ABOUT TO DISCOVER RULE #3:
NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING.
As Shaw ventures further into the wilderness, the truth becomes as hard to decipher as the forest’s unmarked trails…and peril awaits at every turn.

* * * * *

Shardlake on Audio

Lamentation by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

Continuing my re-read of this great series via audiobook. Rumour is there’ll be a new book next year – hope so, since I’ll soon run out of re-reads! I won’t be reviewing this one since I already have.

The Blurb says: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry’s successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry’s sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by events aboard the warship Mary Rose the year before, is working on the Cotterstoke Will case, a savage dispute between rival siblings. Then, unexpectedly, he is summoned to Whitehall Palace and asked for help by his old patron, the now beleaguered and desperate Queen. For Catherine Parr has a secret. She has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King’s attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down.

But, although the book was kept secret and hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen’s private chamber, it has – inexplicably – vanished. Only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Shardlake’s investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet print shops of London but leads him and Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of the politics of the royal court. Loyalty to the Queen will drive him into a swirl of intrigue inside Whitehall Palace, where Catholic enemies and Protestant friends can be equally dangerous, and the political opportunists, who will follow the wind wherever it blows, more dangerous than either.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Wandering again…

Wanderlust Bingo 2023/4

I love having a challenge on the go that reminds me to get out of my insular British comfort zone and look for books that take me to different places and cultures. So having finally finished the first Wanderlust Bingo challenge, I’ve decided to do it all again! There are some slight differences – I got rid of a couple of the boxes that I found really hard to fill, and have split some of the larger geographical areas up a bit more; so, for example, Oceania has been split this time into Australia and Polynesia. So here it is – the second Wanderlust Bingo card…

The other major change I’m making is to make it a two-year challenge this time! Trying to do it all in one year last time was far too pressured. Two years should be easy-ish, but I’m not really bothered about a deadline – if it takes less or more time than I’m anticipating, that’s fine! It will all depend on what books come my way.

My plan is that for the first year I’ll just wait and see what boxes I can fill from my general reading, and then in the second year I’ll frantically try to find books to fill in any missing squares! Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. A country can only appear once and a book can only fill one box, and my home country of Scotland now gets its very own box. Do you have a favourite book that you feel would fill one of my boxes? All recommendations welcome!

If you fancy joining in, I’d love to follow your journey! Otherwise, I’m hoping you’ll give me the pleasure of your company as I travel. 😀

Wish Me Bon Voyage!

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. However, I have had a stonking reading year this year, beating all previous records in terms of quantity and doing pretty well in terms of quality too! So we may be in for a surprise! Fortify yourself with the last of the Christmas eggnog, have some medicinal chocolate close to hand and let’s begin! 

The 2022 Results

I continued to plan much of my reading at the beginning of the year, as I have done for a few years now, leaving space for new releases or impulse buys along the way. I never stick to the plan rigidly but it does mean that I remember to make progress towards all of my various challenges… in theory. 

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 72 books that I already owned as at 31st Dec 2021. I fully read 57 of these – my highest total since records began – and partly read and abandoned another 20. Mathematicians will be able to work out that this is a total of 77! (I count the abandoned ones because they are now off my TBR, which is the purpose of the target.) So for the first (and quite probably the last) time ever, I…

b) 12 books from the People’s Choice Polls, where I reveal a few of the oldest books on my TBR and You, the People, choose which one I should read. Success! I continue to love this challenge (and hope you do too), and have read (or abandoned) all twelve of your choices, and reviewed them all! I’ve discovered that the longer books lie around unread, the more likely I am to abandon them (I haven’t quite worked out why this is so, but ’tis so!), so anything that helps remove these older books from the TBR is a Good Thing, and also means I…

c) 18 books from my Classics Club list. I read 19! This included the last five from my first list and 14 from my new list. I also read several other classics that weren’t on either list – classics have been the backbone of my reading this year, giving me a great deal of pleasure and rating consistently higher than most other books I read. So I…

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. I said I didn’t expect to achieve this since the later books get longer and longer, and I’m so slow at listening to audiobooks. But I read four and had the added joy of also reading a new collection of his “forgotten” short stories, so I feel as if I succeeded even though I…

e) 10 books for the Spanish Civil War challenge. I planned to read all the remaining books on my TBR or wishlist for this challenge and then call it quits. But I got fed up after a little spate of disappointing ones, so decided just to read the ones I already owned and stop acquiring more. The end result was that I only completely read four (I abandoned a few too), but I did finish the challenge! Not sure whether that counts as a Pass or a Fail really, but since I enjoyed the challenge overall and had some great reads, I’m going to declare that I…

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. Ooh, so close! I read (or abandoned) 11! The closest I’ve ever got to succeeding, but I can’t disguise the fact that I…

g) 8 books for the Wanderlust Bingo challenge. I finally finished this one-year challenge in just under two years! But last year’s failure doesn’t count and, by reading 8 books this year, I…

h) 24 books first published in 2021/22 (minimum). Oh, dear! I tried! But contemporary fiction/crime fiction and I just aren’t getting along these days! I blame the books, regularly, and I abandoned an astonishing 12 of them this year, some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed, and most of them lauded around the blogosphere, Goodreads and even by the judges of various awards, so I accept that it’s me that’s out of tune. (Although I still blame the books!) In the end, I only managed to finish 23 of them, and even then some of them came in for pretty hefty criticism in my reviews. So, although I feel it’s not really my fault (I blame the books!), there’s no way round it – I… 

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed to reduce the TBR by only twenty-nine this year to get down to a nice round figure, and I actually increased the target for the combined TBR/wishlist because of all the books I added when planning my new Classics Club list. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 150

Result: 164

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 280.

Result: 277

This despite the usual flurry of additions at the end of the year when all your Best Of lists tempt me to forget my iron willpower! Unbelievably, and I think for the first time ever, I…

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 62 which was down on the previous year but still higher than I’d like. A lot of them have been unsolicited again this year though that seems to have reduced dramatically in the last few months. I’m pretty strict now about not automatically adding them to my TBR if they really don’t appeal, but again this year I’ve had some fab reads and been introduced to some great new authors from the unsolicited pile, so I hope they don’t dry up completely! I’ve been extremely strict with myself about NetGalley requests, only requesting books from tried and true authors or on the basis of recommendations from trusted fellow reviewers. The number of unread review books at the end of the year is at its lowest level in years – 16 – and that’s about where I’d like to keep it.

Overall I read 135 books, the highest total since I began recording my reading on Goodreads in 2013! More importantly, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading again. After The Year of the Great Slump (2020) and The Year of the Lesser Slump (2021), 2022 will henceforth be known as The Year of the Great Comeback!

* * * * * * * * *

Resolutions for 2023

Before setting a new bunch of targets, I’d like to emphasise that I don’t care whether I succeed or fail! They are merely to give me a kind of plan for the year, but if I get fed up with any or all of the challenges I set myself, I shall toss them aside and do something else instead! Mostly all these targets just give me a great excuse to play with my  cherished spreadsheet. 😉 There’s a lot of crossover in these targets which means they’re not as ridiculous as they first look…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 72 books that I already own as at today. Again I’m going to try to get rid of a good number of the older books this year, so that the remaining books will be mostly recent acquisitions. I achieved this target this year, so can I do it again? Lots of the books in the targets below are included in the 72, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 12 books from the People’s Choice Polls, where I reveal a few of the oldest books on my TBR and You, the People, choose which one I should read. I already have the last three you picked lined up to be read in the first three months of the year. 

c) 16 books from my Classics Club list. My enthusiasm for my new list remains high, so this one should be easy! 

d) 4 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. There are only four books left to go in my re-read, or re-listen, of this favourite series, so although some of them are seriously long, this should be easily doable…

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’m sticking with 12 even though I have never achieved this target. This may be the last year of this challenge, since I’m running out of books that are easily acquirable at reasonable prices, and I’m not enthusiastic enough to search out pricey second-hand copies of the missing ones.

f) 13 books for the New Wanderlust Bingo challenge. There will be a brand new Wanderlust Bingo card coming along soon, and this time I’m going to be more realistic and plan to do it over two years rather than one!

g) 14 books for the Looking Forward challenge. I’m planning a new challenge based on the series of Looking Forward To posts I did this year (and plan to do again next year) – details to follow soon!

h) 30 books first published in 2022/23 (minimum). Given my abject failure to achieve a target of 24 this year, I have no idea why I’m increasing the target to 30 this year! Masochism, perhaps? In reality, it’s that I feel I’m getting seriously out of touch with new releases, so I’m going to work hard to hunt down some shiny gems that will re-inspire my enthusiasm! 

2) Reduce the TBR

As I mentioned, I’ve discovered that the longer the gap between acquisition and reading, the higher the chance of abandonment. I suspect I enjoy books more while my enthusiasm is fresh. So while having a huge TBR/wishlist is fun, it really doesn’t work well for me, so I’m going to continue gradually trying to reduce it without going as far as having a complete ban on new acquisitions. Ideally I’d eventually like to get back to reading books within a few weeks or at most months of acquiring them, as I used to do before I allowed my TBR to spiral out of control. So I’m aiming to reduce the TBR by another 24 at least this year, though hopefully more, and the combined TBR/wishlist by 27, to get down to nice round numbers. 

Target for TBR: 140

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 250.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy… 

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

TBR Thursday 363 and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

I usually include a summary of how I’m progressing (or not) towards the targets I set myself for the year, but since I’ll be looking at my New Year’s Resolutions old and new tomorrow, I’ll leave that for then. So just a round-up of the books I’ve read and reviewed for my various ongoing challenges this time.

* * * * * * *

The Classics Club

I’ve read another two from my list this quarter, but haven’t reviewed either of them yet. And I had three still to review from the quarter before and have reviewed just one of them! So four outstanding – must do better…

10. The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler – This ‘thriller’ completely failed to thrill, becoming bogged down in turgid descriptions of obscure Eastern European politics that may have interested a contemporary audience but didn’t interest me. I said “Have never been quite so bored in my entire life, except possibly during the whale classification sections of Moby Dick.” Abandoned at 30%. 1 star.

Oh dear! A pity, since I enjoyed all four of the ones I haven’t reviewed! 😉

10 down, 70 to go!

* * * * * * *

Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve read four for this challenge this quarter and had another two left still to review from the quarter before, and have reviewed five, so just one left outstanding…

54. Calamity Town by Ellery Queen. A slightly weak plot, perhaps, and could have done with some trimming of the length. But the depiction of the town and the characterisation of the family and townspeople are excellently done and the writing is great. 5 stars.

55. Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah. A collection of short stories about blind amateur detective Max Carrados. The stories are well written and some of the plots are interesting, though others are pretty dull, but I tired very quickly of Carrados’ superhuman compensating sensory abilities. 3 stars.

56. Israel Rank by Roy Horniman. I could probably have tolerated the anti-Semitism as of its time, but I found the book dull and overlong, and eventually abandoned it halfway through. It’s the book that the film Kind Hearts and Coronets is based on, and my advice is forget the book and watch the film! 2 stars

57. The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh. A revisit to an old favourite series, which happily I found has stood the test of time well despite some of the usual Golden Age snobbery. Alleyn is quite a cheerful detective, who enjoys his job and has a keen sense of justice, so the books fall neatly into that sweet spot that is neither too cosy nor too grim. 4 stars.

58. Death on the Down Beat by Sebastian Farr. The murder of a conductor mid-performance provides a unique little puzzle that’s told almost entirely through letters and documents related to the case, including newspaper clippings,  a chart of the orchestra and even four pages of the score of the relevant part of the music being played at the time of the victim’s demise! I loved the sheer fun and novelty of the musical clues, which allowed me to overlook the book’s other weaknesses. 5 stars.

As has been the case throughout this challenge, a mixed bunch, but more good than bad this time!

58 down, 44 to go!

* * * * * * *

Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

I read and reviewed the final two books for this challenge, and posted my wrap post yesterday…

12. The Gate of the Sun by Derek Lambert. This is a long book which covers the years from the early stages of the war, 1937, by which time the International Brigades were active, to 1975, the year of Franco’s death. Lambert’s desire to paint a panoramic picture of Spain’s development over forty years sometimes took him too far from the personal stories which turn history into novels. But for the most part I found the book absorbing, very well written and deeply insightful about the war-time conditions, its aftermath and the impact on some of the people caught up in events. 4 for the novel, 5 for the accuracy of and insight into the historical setting, so overall 4½ stars.

13. Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom. 1940, and four people, all British, play out their own drama in a Madrid still wrecked and reeling, its people starving and afraid. Well written as any book by Sansom is, grounded in accurate history but seen through an obvious left-wing lens, and more of a slow thoughtful look at the period than a fast-paced political or action thriller. 4 stars.

Two good books to finish off this challenge triumphantly!

13 down, 0 to go!

* * * * * * *

The People’s Choice

People's Choice Logo

I read three this quarter and had two still to review form the quarter before. I’ve reviewed all five and am up-to-date! So did You, The People, pick me some good ones…?

August – The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. Sadly it fared no better as a People’s Choice than it did as a Classic! 😉 1 star.

September – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. While willing to accept that this is probably a good depiction of a time and a place, I fear I never get along with plotless novels, and by 20% of this long book no plot had begun to emerge. Abandoned. 2 stars.

October – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Probably best described as a literary science fiction set in a dystopian world but in our own recent past, this is not about a struggle against injustice, a battle for rights – it is a portrait of brainwashing, and of a society that has learned how to look the other way. I found it thought-provoking and quietly devastating, and sadly all too relevant to the world we live in. 5 stars.

NovemberThe Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. A raid by Barbary pirates results in a group of Icelanders being taken to a life of slavery in Algiers. The historical aspects are interesting and, I assume, accurate. But I found the central romance between slave and slave-owner outdated and rather nauseating. 2 stars.

DecemberThe Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. Poirot and Hastings on the trail of a murderer in France. An early one from when Christie was still developing her characters and her style, but already her trademark plotting skills are evident in this entertaining mystery. 4½ stars.

So a mixed bag to finish the year, but the couple of great books well outweighed the rather less stellar ones. Good work, People! Possibly my favourite challenge since I never know what You will choose! Let’s do it all again next year!

12 down, 0 to go!

* * * * * * *

So a few duds this quarter, but many really excellent books too! I’m still a mile behind with reviews, especially of Classics, but hopefully I’ll get on top of the backlog in the New Year. Thanks as always for sharing my reading experiences!

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 362 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 362

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, People, time for another batch of four, all from 2021. I’m early this month because Santa will be here soon! Again these are all ones I really want to read from authors I’ve previously enjoyed, so you can’t go wrong whichever one you vote for. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a March read. I added See You in September by Charity Norman after enjoying her later book, The Secrets of Strangers. Philip Roth’s The Human Stain will complete my re-read of Roth’s brilliant American Trilogy. ECR Lorac is one of my favourite vintage mystery writers, which is why I acquired Rope’s End, Rogue’s End. And I added Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede to my Classics Club list after enjoying Black Narcissus.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Thriller

See You in September by Charity Norman

Added 1st February 2021. 2,870 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.24 average rating. 413 pages.

The Blurb says: It was supposed to be a short trip – a break in New Zealand before her best friend’s wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they’d see her again.

Having broken up with her boyfriend, Cassy accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Overcome by the peace and beauty of the valley and swept up in the charisma of Justin, the community’s leader, Cassy becomes convinced that she has to stay.

As Cassy becomes more and more entrenched in the group’s rituals and beliefs, her frantic parents fight to bring her home – before Justin’s prophesied Last Day can come to pass.

A powerful story of family, faith and finding yourself, See You in September is an unputdownable new novel from this hugely compelling author.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Added 3rd February 2021. 38,416 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.90 average. 361 pages.

The Blurb says: The American psyche is channelled into the gripping story of one man. This is the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Philip Roth at his very best.

It is 1998, the year America is plunged into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president. In a small New England town a distinguished professor, Coleman Silk, is forced to retire when his colleagues allege that he is a racist. The charge is unfounded, the persecution needless, but the truth about Silk would astonish even his most virulent accuser. Coleman Silk has a secret that he has kept for fifty years. This is the conclusion to Roth’s brilliant trilogy of post-war America – a story of seismic shifts in American history and a personal search for renewal and regeneration.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Rope’s End, Rogue’s End by ECR Lorac

Added 18th February 2021. 364 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.06 average. 192 pages.

The Blurb says: Wulfstane Manor, a rambling old country house with many unused rooms, winding staircases and a maze of cellars, had been bequeathed to Veronica Mallowood and her brother Martin. The last time the large family of Mallowoods had all foregathered under the ancestral roof was on the occasion of their father’s funeral, and there had been one of those unholy rows which not infrequently follow the reading of a will. That was some years ago, and as Veronica found it increasingly difficult to go on paying for the upkeep of Wulfstane, she summoned another family conference – a conference in which Death took a hand.  Rope’s End, Rogue’s End  is, of course, an Inspector MacDonald case, in which that popular detective plays a brilliant part.

* * * * *

Classic Fiction

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Added 2nd March 2021. 5,461 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.34 average. 392 pages. 

The Blurb says: ‘The motto was Pax but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort . . .’

Bruised by tragedy, Philippa Talbot leaves behind a successful career with the civil service for a new calling: to join an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns. In this small community of fewer than one hundred women, she soon discovers all the human frailties: jealousy, love, despair. But each crisis of heart and conscience is guided by the compassion and intelligence of the Abbess and by the Sisters’ shared bond of faith and ritual. Away from the world, and yet at one with it, Philippa must learn to forgive and forget her past.

A vivid and exceedingly insightful portrait of religious community, In This House of Brede is the second instalment in Godden’s acclaimed ‘convent novels.’

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 361…

Episode 361

I’m stuck in the middle of four chunky books this week, so no movement in the TBR – still on 162! I have a horrible feeling more books will be arriving soon though…

It’s getting close to Santa time, so I’m sorting out some festive reading this week…

Vintage Crime

The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson

Courtesy of the British Library.  This sounds perfect for Yuletide reading! Carter Dickson is a pseudonym of John Dickson Carr, who’s become one of the authors I look forward to in the BL’s Crime Classics series. I haven’t read him in this incarnation though, so I’m intrigued to see if he uses a different style. 

The Blurb says: James Bennett has been invited to stay at White Priory for Christmas among the retinue of the glamorous Hollywood actress Marcia Tait. Her producer, her lover, the playwright for her next hit and her agent are all here, soon to become so many suspects when Tait is found murdered on a cold December morning in the lakeside pavilion. Only the footprints of her discoverer disturb the snow which fell overnight – and which stopped just shortly after Marcia was last seen alive. How did the murderer get in and out of the pavilion without leaving a trace?

When Bennett’s uncle, the cantankerous amateur sleuth Sir Henry Merrivale arrives from London to make sense of this impossible crime, the reader is treated to a feast of the author’s trademark twists, beguiling false answers and one of the most ingenious solutions in the history of the mystery genre.

* * * * *

Short Stories

The End of the Tether and Other Stories by Joseph Conrad

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classic. Not obviously festive, I admit, but I can’t imagine much better than curling up with hot chocolate, mince pies and a new collection of Conrad’s stories! The blurb suggests I might need the porpy’s support for these…

The Blurb says: ‘(Conrad) thought of civilised and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths’
~ Bertrand Russell

This selection of four tales by Conrad is about radical insecurity: lone human beings involuntarily forced into confrontation with a terrifying universe in which they can never be wholly at home. It leads with ‘The End of the Tether’ and includes also ‘ The Duel’, ‘ The Return’, and ‘Amy Foster’ – Sailor, Soldier, Rich Man, Immigrant. These powerful shorter works remind readers that Conrad is not just the teller of sea stories and tales of imperialist action, and not only the author of the ubiquitous ‘Heart of Darkness’. This is the Conrad who is master of the terror element – global crisis, individual test, and personal trauma – in modern literature.

* * * * *

Crime

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

I usually read Bolton’s new releases more or less as soon as they come out, but for some reason this one slipped past me and has been lingering on my TBR for so long that the sequel is now out! I can’t pretend this one is Christmassy, but I’m looking forward to it as much as to Christmas cake!

The Blurb says: Old enemies… New crimes

Thirty years ago, WPC Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she arrested coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook for three shocking murders.

Larry confessed; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past are repeating themselves.

The town Florence left behind still has many secrets. Will she finally uncover the truth? Or will time run out for her first?

* * * * *

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

No Christmas would be complete without Dickens! This year’s re-read is one of his shorter books so I’ll have to read it slowly to savour it for longer. I chose it because I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South this year, and they share the “industrial” theme, so I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast, as the old exam questions used to say. I’ve still to review North and South though. (Note to self: stop procrastinating!)  

The Blurb says: Thomas Gradgrind is the guiding luminary of the Coketown school, stern proponent of the Philosophy of Fact, whose ill-conceived idealism blinds him to the essential humanity of those around him, with calamitous results. His daughter Louisa becomes trapped in a loveless marriage and falls prey to an idle seducer, and her brother Tom is ruined thanks to their father’s pet theories. Meanwhile Sleary’s circus offers a vision of escape and entertainment, a joyful contrast to the dreariness of life in Coketown. The hardship of the workers and the victimization of Stephen Blackpool are set against the exuberance of the circus people in Dickens’s much-loved moral tale. Gradgrind is forced to reconsider his cherished system when he realizes that ‘Facts alone’ are not, after all, enough.

* * * * *

Gothic Horror on Audio

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker read by Simon Vance 

How could I possibly celebrate Christmas without some spine-chilling Gothic horror? The porpy would never forgive me! Bram Stoker is sometimes too dark for me, often concentrating on real horrors like rats and humans, which I find far scarier than the supernatural! But this sounds delightfully creepy – who doesn’t love ancient Egyptian curses?

The Blurb says: “Hither the Gods come not at any summons. The Nameless One has insulted them and is forever alone. Go not nigh, lest their vengeance wither you away!”

The warning was inscribed on the entrance of the hidden tomb, forgotten for millennia in the sands of mystic Egypt. Then the archaeologists and grave robbers came in search of the fabled Jewel of Seven Stars, which they found clutched in the hand of the mummy. Few heeded the ancient warning, until all who came in contact with the Jewel began to die in a mysterious and violent way, with the marks of a strangler around their neck.

Now, in a bedroom filled with ancient relics, a distinguished Egyptologist lies senseless, stricken by a force that challenges human understanding. From beyond the grave Queen Tera is reaching out for the mysterious jewel that will bring her 5,000-year-old plan to fulfilment.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?
What’s on your Christmas TBR?

TBR Thursday 360…

Episode 360

Despite having a little book-buying splurge last weekend the TBR has gone down again – 1 to 162! What’s going on??

Here are a few more that will be flouncing off the TBR soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

A clear winner this month. Archangel made a valiant attempt to keep up in the early stages but soon fell back into the pack as Tinker, Tailor sped into an unassailable lead! Excellent choice, People – it will be a February read!

The Blurb says: The first part of John le Carré’s acclaimed Karla Trilogy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sees the beginning of the stealthy Cold War cat-and-mouse game between the taciturn, dogged George Smiley and his wily Soviet counterpart.

A mole, implanted by Moscow Centre, has infiltrated the highest ranks of the British Intelligence Service, almost destroying it in the process. And so former spymaster George Smiley has been brought out of retirement in order to hunt down the traitor at the very heart of the Circus – even though it may be one of those closest to him.

* * * * *

Vintage Horror

The Horned God edited by Michael Wheatley

Courtesy of the British Library. Another from the Tales of the Weird series. I wonder if Machen knew he had themes of “queer awakening” or if that would have come as as big a surprise to him as it did to me! Hopefully the stories will be better than the blurb… 😉

The Blurb says: In 1894, Arthur Machen’s landmark novella The Great God Pan was published, sparking a resurgence of literary fascination with the figure of the pagan goat god.

Tales from a broad spectrum of writers from E M Forster to prolific pulpsters such as Greye Le Spina took the god’s rebellious and chaotic influence as their subject, spinning beguiling tales of society turned upside down and the forces of nature compelling protagonists to ecstatic heights or bizarre dooms.

Selecting an eclectic cross-section of tales and short poems from this boom of Pan-centric literature, many first published in the influential Weird Tales magazine, this new collection examines the roots of a cultural phenomenon and showcases Pan’s potential to introduce themes of queer awakening and celebrations of the transgressive into the thrillingly weird stories in which he was invoked.

* * * * *

Thriller

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva

Courtesy of HarperCollins. An unsolicited one, this, from an author I’ve never heard of. So I was shocked to discover it’s the 22nd book in a very popular series! Not sure that jumping in this late on in a series is wise, but we’ll see. It sounds as if it might be fun…

The Blurb says: Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon has at long last severed ties with Israeli intelligence and settled quietly in Venice, the only place where he has ever truly known peace. His beautiful wife, Chiara, has taken over the day-to-day management of the Tiepolo Restoration Company, and their two young children are discreetly enrolled in a neighborhood scuola elementare. For his part, Gabriel spends his days wandering the streets and canals of the watery city, bidding farewell to the demons of his tragic, violent past.

But when the eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood asks Gabriel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the rediscovery and lucrative sale of a centuries-old painting, he is drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse where nothing is as it seems.

Gabriel soon discovers that the work in question, a portrait of an unidentified woman attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck, is almost certainly a fiendishly clever fake. To find the mysterious figure who painted it–and uncover a multibillion-dollar fraud at the pinnacle of the art world–Gabriel conceives one of the most elaborate deceptions of his career. If it is to succeed, he must become the very mirror image of the man he seeks: the greatest art forger the world has ever known.

Stylish, sophisticated, and ingeniously plotted, Portrait of an Unknown Woman is a wildly entertaining journey through the dark side of the art world–a place where unscrupulous dealers routinely deceive their customers and deep-pocketed investors treat great paintings as though they were just another asset class to be bought and sold at a profit. From its elegant opening to the shocking twists of its climax, the novel is a tour de force of storytelling and one of the finest pieces of heist fiction ever written. And it is still more proof that, when it comes to international intrigue and suspense, Daniel Silva has no equal.

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

Death’s Jest-Book by Reginald Hill read by Shaun Dooley

Getting towards the end of my long-running re-read of all the Dalziel and Pascoe books. Yet another change of narrator for this one, which means getting used to a whole different bunch of voices for the recurring characters… *sighs*

The Blurb says: Three times DCI Pascoe has wrongly accused dead-pan joker Franny Roote. This time he’s determined to leave no gravestone unturned as he tries to prove that the ex-con and aspiring academic is mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Meanwhile, Edgar Wield rides to the rescue of a child in danger, only to find he has a rent-boy with a priceless secret under his wing. DC Bowler is looking forward to a blissful New Year with the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately, her dreams are filled with a horror too terrible to tell . . .

And over all this activity broods the huge form of DS Andy Dalziel. As trouble builds, the Fat Man discovers (as have many deities before him) that omniscience can be more trouble than it’s worth and that sometimes all omnipotence means is that you can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 359 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 359

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, People, time for another batch of four – ending 2020 and moving into 2021. At this stage I was obviously making a determined effort to stop adding random books on a whim, so most of these are books I’m really keen to read. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a February read. I’ve read lots of Robert Harris and loved most of them, so added Archangel to my list. With John le Carré, I’ve only read one before, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and also loved it, so added Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I haven’t read any James Robertson which is a real omission since he’s one of the major contemporary Scottish authors. I’ve acquired a couple of his books, and Joseph Knight is the first. Over Her Dead Body is the exception – I don’t know AB Morgan at all and can’t remember why I added this one. Perhaps it was a Kindle deal? Sounds like it could be fun though.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Thriller

Archangel by Robert Harris

Added 1st December 2020. 10,773 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.81 average rating. 438 pages.

The Blurb says: Deadly secrets lurk beneath the Russian ice.

Historian Fluke Kelso is in Moscow, attending a conference on recently unclassified Soviet papers, when an old veteran of the Soviet secret police visits his hotel room in the dead of night. He tells Kelso about a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin, stolen on the night of his death.

Though Kelso expects little, he agrees to investigate. But in the new Russia, swirling with dark money and falling into the grip of anonymous oligarchs, a man seeking the truth is a dangerous quantity. Eyes are turning his way.

Kelso must survive the violent political intrigue and decadence of Moscow before he can venture to the icy north. There, in the vast forests surrounding the White Sea port of Archangel, Kelso’s quest soon becomes a terrifying encounter with Russia’s unburied past – and Stalin’s last secret.

* * * * *

Spy Fiction

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré

Added 12th December 2020. 86,643 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.05 average. 416 pages.

The Blurb says: The first part of John le Carré’s acclaimed Karla Trilogy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sees the beginning of the stealthy Cold War cat-and-mouse game between the taciturn, dogged George Smiley and his wily Soviet counterpart.

A mole, implanted by Moscow Centre, has infiltrated the highest ranks of the British Intelligence Service, almost destroying it in the process. And so former spymaster George Smiley has been brought out of retirement in order to hunt down the traitor at the very heart of the Circus – even though it may be one of those closest to him.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Joseph Knight by James Robertson

Added 29th December 2020. 417 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.07 average. 372 pages.

The Blurb says: Exiled to Jamaica after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Sir John Wedderburn made a fortune, alongside his three brothers, as a faux surgeon and sugar planter. In the 1770s, he returned to Scotland to marry and re-establish the family name. He brought with him Joseph Knight, a black slave and a token of his years in the Caribbean.

Now, in 1802, Sir John Wedderburn is settling his estate, and has hired a solicitor’s agent, Archibald Jamieson, to search for his former slave. The past has haunted Wedderburn ever since Culloden, and ever since he last saw Knight, in court twenty-four years ago, in a case that went to the heart of Scottish society, pitting master against slave, white against black, and rich against poor.

As long as Knight is missing, Wedderburn will never be able to escape the past. Yet what will he do if Jamieson’s search is successful? And what effect will this re-opening of old wounds have on those around him? Meanwhile, as Jamieson tries to unravel the true story of Joseph Knight he begins to question his own motivation. How can he possibly find a man who does not want to be found?

James Robertson’s second novel is a tour de force, the gripping story of a search for a life that stretches over sixty years and moves from battlefields to the plantations of Jamaica, from Enlightenment Edinburgh to the back streets of Dundee. It is a moving narrative of history, identity and ideas, that dramatically retells a fascinating but forgotten episode of Scottish history.

* * * * *

Mystery Thriller

Over Her Dead Body by AB Morgan

Added 6th January 2021. 101 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.40 average. 356 pages. 

The Blurb says: Gabby Dixon is dead. That’s news to her…

Recently divorced and bereaved, Gabby Dixon is trying to start a new chapter in her life. As her new life begins, it ends. On paper at least. But Gabby is still very much alive. As a woman who likes to be in control, this situation is deeply unsettling.

She has two crucial questions: who would want her dead, and why?

Enter Peddyr and Connie Quirk. husband-and-wife private investigators. Gabby needs their help to find out who is behind her sudden death.

The truth is a lot more sinister than a simple case of stolen identity.

Over Her Dead Body is a ‘what if’ tale full of brilliantly drawn characters, quirky humour and dark plot twists.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 358…

Episode 358

A huge drop in the TBR this week – down 4 to 163! I’m getting seriously worried now. I just can’t imagine where all the books are disappearing to…

Here are a few more that should fly off the shelf soon…

Vintage Crime

Final Acts edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. The porpy’s beginning to look in need of a little break, so I’m detouring briefly away from horror to another of the BL’s anthologies of vintage crime. Theatrical settings are always fun because they’re so… theatrical!

The Blurb says: Behind the stage lights and word-perfect soliloquies, sinister secrets are lurking in the wings. The mysteries in this collection reveal the dark side to theatre and performing arts: a world of backstage dealings, where unscrupulous actors risk everything to land a starring role, costumed figures lead to mistaken identities, and on-stage deaths begin to look a little too convincing. . .

This expertly curated thespian anthology features fourteen stories from giants of the classic crime genre such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Julian Symons and Ngaio Marsh, as well as firm favourites from the British Library Crime Classics series: Anthony Wynne, Christianna Brand, Bernard J. Farmer and many more.

Mysteries abound when a player’s fate hangs on a single performance, and opening night may very well be their last.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom

The very last book in my Spanish Civil War challenge! I read this years ago and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Sansom’s other novels, which I put down to my lack of knowledge regarding the SCW. So this is a kind of test – will all my reading on the subject now enable me to appreciate this one more? We shall see!

The Blurb says: 1940: The Spanish Civil War is over, and Madrid lies ruined, its people starving, while the Germans continue their relentless march through Europe. Britain now stands alone while General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett: a traumatized veteran of Dunkirk turned reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of old school friend Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman, Harry finds himself involved in a dangerous game – and surrounded by memories.

Meanwhile Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own – to find her former lover Bernie Piper, a passionate Communist in the International Brigades, who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. I’ve had a rather mixed reaction to Erin Kelly in the past, but when she’s good, she’s very, very good. So fingers crossed for this one…

The Blurb says: Summer, 2021. Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.

The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse.

But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose.

* * * * *

Wodehouse on Audio

Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse read by Jonathan Cecil

So far I’ve been sticking to the Jeeves and Wooster books in my audiobook listens to Wodehouse, but it’s time to try something fresh! I haven’t read all the Blandings books before but I’ve dipped in and out of them, and while I miss Bertie, they still have the unmistakeable Wodehouse charm. This is the first in the series, happily all narrated by the wonderful Jonathan Cecil, who has become THE voice of Wodehouse for me…

The Blurb says: ‘Without at least one impostor on the premises, Blandings Castle is never itself’

Welcome to the world of the delightfully dotty Lord Emsworth, his bone-headed younger son and his long-suffering secretary.

Having returned home with a valuable Egyptian amulet, Lord Emsworth finds his home contains not one but two imposters intent on taking it off his hands. But with no real sense of how the amulet came to be in his pocket in the first place, things get a lot more complicated very quickly…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 357…

Episode 357

A few books in and a few books out in the couple of weeks since I last reported. Result – the TBR remains stuck on 167!

Here are a few more that I should pull out soon…

Vintage Horror

Our Haunted Shores edited by Emily Alder, Jimmy Packham and Joan Passey

Courtesy of the British Library. Next up in my bumper crop of anthologies is this one from the BL’s Tales of the Weird series. This sounds like it’s going to be a mix of real horrors – shipwrecks, etc – alongside the usual spooky fare…

The Blurb says: From the unsettling expanses of mud flats to foreboding cliffs and treacherous reefs, the coasts of the British Isles have provided inspiration for storytellers for millennia, creating a rich literary and cultural significance for these spaces in between the land and sea. The shoreline can be a destination for pleasure, but it is also the rife with peril. In this new collection, the founders of the Haunted Shores Research Network have curated a chilling literary tour of the coasts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including tales of woeful shipwreck, lighthouse terrors and uncanny revenants amid the bustle of the harbourside.

* * * * *

Fiction

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Courtesy of Canongate via NetGalley. This is one of the couple of remaining books that have been sitting for years on my NetGalley shelf, back from when my self-control collapsed and I requested far more books than I could possibly read – in this case it’s been there since 2016! I acquired it after enjoying Rash’s The Cove, though since then I’ve had a much less positive experience with his Serena. So this one will be the decider…

The Blurb says: Nothing else comes so I set the notebook beside me. What else is here? I ask myself and listen. This section of stream purls and riffles amid small stones. What word might be made for what I hear . . .

Above the Waterfall is the story of Sheriff Les Clary. A man on the verge of retirement, he is plunged into deep and dangerous waters by one final case. A case that will draw him to the lyrical beauty of his surroundings and, in doing so, force him to come to terms with his own past.

Echoing the heartbreaking beauty of William Faulkner and the spiritual isolation of Michel Faber, Above the Waterfall is as poetic as it is haunting.

* * * * *

Spanish Civil War Thriller

The Gate of the Sun by Derek Lambert

I’m determined to finish the last two books for my Spanish Civil War challenge before the end of the year, which will be harder than it sounds since they’re both stonking doorsteps! I’ve enjoyed a couple of Lambert’s politically-tinged thrillers before, written under his pseudonym Richard Falkirk, so I have high expectations for this one.

The Blurb says: On the bitter battlefields of the Spanish Civil War, an unlikely friendship is forged. Tom Canfield and Adam Fleming are from different countries and on opposing sides, yet they have one thing in common – a passionate love for Spain…

With a fervour to match their own, a woman is battling in the same bloody struggle. She is Ana, the Black Widow; young, beautiful, bereaved – and a dangerous freedom fighter.

The end of the armed conflict will not end the conflicting emotions that draw these people together. For over forty turbulent years, from the dark days of Franco’s victory to the birth of modern Spain, they will be bound together in an intricate web – of love, betrayal, ambition and revenge…

Derek Lambert, who knew and loved Spain for many years, uses his unique understanding of Spanish history and character in this sweeping novel which encompasses some of the most crucial events of twentieth-century Europe, creates characters of extraordinary depth and humanity, and tells a story of compelling power and vitality.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières read by Michael Maloney

There was a time when everyone was reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – except me! Time to find out what I missed…

The Blurb says: It is 1941 and Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to the Greek island of Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. At first he is ostracised by the locals, but as a conscientious soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilised, humorous – and a consummate musician. When the local doctor’s daughter’s letters to her fiancé go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. But can this fragile love survive as the war gets closer and the lines are drawn between invader and defender?

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Wanderlust Bingo Challenge

Journey’s End…

Well, the one-year challenge that I started in January 2021 took two years to complete, but I’ve finally made it! I’ve visited 24 nations spread across every populated continent (that’s my way of saying I haven’t visited Antarctica). I’ve climbed mountains and sailed seas, I’ve walked and cycled and travelled by road and train, I’ve crossed deserts, explored forests, and navigated rivers. I’ve stopped off in villages, towns and cities, and had a little vacation at the beach. I’ve even been into space!

Along the way, I’ve travelled with spies and murderers and actors, battled cholera epidemics, fished for herring, listened to Māoris and met the Sami people. I’ve been frozen half to death in Icelandic snow, nearly drowned in the North Sea, contracted sunstroke on an Australian beach and been half-eaten alive by insects in the Congo. I’ve flown Spitfires in WW2 and been on a forced march through Malaya alongside prisoners of the Japanese, I’ve endured deprivation during the Spanish Civil War, made it out of Vietnam just in time, been caught up in the Biafran war and survived a siege in the Raj. After all that, it’s hardly surprising I had to spend some time undergoing psychotherapy in an Austrian sanatorium!

(The three orange boxes are the final books I’ve reviewed since the last time I did an update.)

I’ve also had the pleasure of being joined along the way by blog friends: Christine, who sped ahead of me and finished the journey long ago; and BookerTalk and Margaret at BooksPlease, who joined in later and are following along at their own pace. ‘Tis better to journey hopefully than to arrive! Many others have joined in by reading and commenting on my reviews and round-ups. And several of you read my Scottish choice, The Silver Darlings, along with me. Thanks to you all for travelling with me in spirit – it’s never a lonely planet when you’re around!

And lastly (and you’ll never know how hard this was to achieve!) I’ve filled every box with a book I’m happy to recommend!

* * * * *

Here’s the final list with links to my reviews:

North America (Canada) – Still Life by Louise Penny

Small Town (England) – The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Island (Iceland) – The Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk

Train (Turkey) – Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

Far East (Hong Kong/China) – The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

Indian Subcontinent (India) – The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

Village (Sweden) – To Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi

Oceania (New Zealand/Aotearoa) – Pūrākau (anthology of Māori authors)

Forest (Germany) – Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome

Space (Universe) – Spaceworlds (anthology of SF stories)

Mountain (Austria) – Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

South America (Peru) – At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

Free Square (Gibraltar) – Killing Rock by Robert Daws

River (Congo) – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Polar Regions (Greenland) – Seven Graves, One Winter by Christoffer Petersen

Desert (Sahara/N. Africa) – Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt WE Johns

Walk (Malaya) – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Southeast Asia (Vietnam) – The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Africa (Biafra/Nigeria) – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Beach (Australia) – The Survivors by Jane Harper

Road (USA) – The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Europe (France) – The Man from London by Georges Simenon

Sea (Scotland) – The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

Middle East (Israel) – The Twisted Wire by Richard Falkirk

City (Barcelona/Spain) – In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda 

* * * * *

 And now, the question is… will I do it all again next year?

Watch This Space!

TBR Thursday 356…

A fourteenth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

This is a challenge to read all 102 (102? Yes, 102) books listed in Martin Edwards’ guide to vintage crime, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. (100? Yes, 100.) Because of all the other great vintage crime being republished at the moment, I’m going very slowly with this challenge and they’ve proved to be a bit of a mixed bag so far, especially recently. However I still have several books for it on my TBR, so I shall struggle womanfully on! Here’s the third batch for 2022 and the fourteenth overall…

The Rasp by Philip MacDonald

An author unknown to me, and the blurb has appealing aspects, like the murdered politician (it’s been a tough few weeks here in the UK! 😉 ), and bits that thrill me less, like the emphasis on alibis. However it has reasonably high ratings on Goodreads, so we’ll see. 

The Blurb says: A victim is bludgeoned to death with a woodworker’s rasp in this first case for the famed gentleman detective Anthony Gethryn.

Ex-Secret Service agent Anthony Gethryn is killing time working for a newspaper when he is sent to cover the murder of Cabinet minister John Hoode, bludgeoned to death in his country home with a wood-rasp. Gethryn is convinced that the prime suspect, Hoode’s secretary Alan Deacon, is innocent, but to prove it he must convince the police that not everyone else has a cast-iron alibi for the time of the murder.

Challenge details

Book No: 20

Subject Heading: The Great Detectives

Publication Year: 1924

Martin Edwards says: “The zest of MacDonald’s prose contributed to the book’s success, and compensated for flaws such as Gethryn’s very lengthy explanation of the mystery at the end.”

* * * * *

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh and Henry Jellett

I enjoyed Ngaio Marsh back in the day but haven’t revisited her in years. But her plots were always fun, and the audiobook narrator, Philip Franks, sounds good. Another murdered politician and this one is the Home Secretary! I shall preserve a tactful silence, but my UK friends will know what I’m thinking… 😉

The Blurb says: Ngaio Marsh’s bestselling and ingenious third novel remains one of the most popular pieces of crime fiction of all time.
Sir John Phillips, the Harley Street surgeon, and his beautiful nurse Jane Harden are almost too nervous to operate. The emergency case on the table before them is the Home Secretary – and they both have very good, personal reasons to wish him dead.

Within hours he does die, although the operation itself was a complete success, and Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn must find out why…

Challenge details

Book No: 55

Subject Heading: Playing Politics

Publication Year: 1935

Edwards says: “Marsh undertook her one and only collaborative novel in partnership with a doctor. While undergoing surgery in her native New Zealand she had been attended by Henry Jellett, an Irish gynaecologist who became a friend. She started work on the book during her convalescence with Jellett supplying the necessary technical expertise.

* * * * *

The Duke of York’s Steps by Henry Wade

To the best of my recollection I’ve never come across this author before. Not sure the blurb appeals much, but it has pretty good ratings from the few people who’ve reviewed it on Goodreads. Dead banker this time… *zips lips*

The Blurb says: A wealthy banker, Sir Garth Fratten, dies suddenly from an aneurysm on the Duke of York’s Steps. His doctor is satisfied that a mild shock such as being jostled would be enough to cause Sir Garth’s death. It all seems so straightforward, and there is no inquest.

But Fratten’s daughter Inez is not satisfied. She places an advertisement in the London newspapers that comes to the attention of Scotland Yard, and Inspector John Poole is assigned to make enquiries.

Poole’s investigation leads him into a world of high finance where things are not as they seem; a sordid world in which rich young men make fools of themselves over chorus girls.

Challenge details

Book No: 61

Subject Heading: The Long Arm of the Law

Publication Year: 1929

Edwards says: “Poole is familiar with the detective work of Holmes, Poirot and Hanaud, but regards the approach of Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French as much more ‘true to life’. Crofts’ influence on Wade is reflected in the careful unravelling of an ingenious conspiracy, but even at this early stage in his career, Wade displays more interest than Crofts in bringing his characters to life. 

* * * * *

Death on the Down Beat by Sebastian Farr

This was one I was having difficulty finding, but happily the British Library have just published it as part of their Crime Classics series. The plot sounds interesting, but Martin Edwards’ comments on it have me worried – see below!

The Blurb says: As a rousing Strauss piece is reaching its crescendo in Maningpool Civic Hall, the talented yet obnoxious conductor Sir Noel Grampian is shot dead in full view of the Municipal Orchestra and the audience. It was no secret that he had many enemies – musicians and music critics among them – but to be killed in mid flow suggests an act of the coldest calculation.

Told through the letters and documents sent by D.I. Alan Hope to his wife as he puzzles through the dauntingly vast pool of suspects and scant physical evidence in the case, this is an innovative and playful mystery underscored by the author’s extensive experience of the highly-strung world of music professionals. First published in 1941, this new edition returns Farr’s only crime novel to print to receive its long-deserved encore.

Challenge details

Book No: 90

Subject Heading: Singletons

Publication Year: 1941

Edwards says: “Farr choose the epistolary form for an unusual story in which the loathsome conductor of the Maningpool Municipal Orchestra is shot dead during a performance of Strauss’ tone poem “A Hero’s Life”. Instead of a floor plan of a country house, the reader is provided with a diagram showing the layout of the orchestra, and no fewer than four pages of musical notation – all of which contain information relevant to the plot.”

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 355…

Episode 355

My reading has slowed to a crawl this month, due to the exciting soap opera our politicians are kindly providing for us to take our minds off imminent economic collapse, social chaos and the destruction of the world by climate change. Some people think they should spend their time doing something about these things, but that would be so dull! Much better to change Prime Minister every week and have each one totally reverse the policies of the one before! It may not make things better, but it’s certainly exciting! Since they’re bound to run out of politicians soon, I’m getting ready for the phone call to tell me it’s my turn to be PM for a week – I may finally get the chance to put in place my policy for all women to be entitled to a free weekly chocolate allowance!

Larry, the Downing Street cat, holds the official title of
Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
and has now served under five Prime Ministers. So far…

Anyway, despite this, somehow the TBR seems to have gone down again, by 3 to 167! Here are a few more that will be coming out of the cabinet soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes

Gosh, it was a close race this month! The Master and Margarita, Arabella and In a Lonely Place slugged it out for the top spot, first one leading then another. Poor old Maigret lagged far behind from the beginning and never picked up pace. Then late votes changed the picture, as they often do, and in the end In a Lonely Place cantered into a comfortable lead. I’m glad – it would have been my choice too! Well done, People – it will be a January read!

The Blurb says: Dix Steele is back in town, and ‘town’ is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside.

* * * * *

Horror

Silverweed Road by Simon Crook

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Although I read quite a lot of vintage horror, I generally steer clear of the modern kind since it tends to be too grim and gruesome for my taste. However, the lovely people at HarperCollins have sent me a copy of this new release of a collection of horror stories on a theme. So I might love it, or I might abandon it by about page 10. Only time will tell!

The Blurb says: A collection of chilling and weird stories all set on one (seemingly) everyday suburban street in the UK.

Behind each door lies something strange and terrifying. Here, the normal is made nightmarish, from howls of were-foxes to satanic car-boot sales. Creepy, terrifying and witty by turn, Silverweed Road deals in love, loss, isolation, loneliness, obsession, greed and revenge. As the screw turns with each story, Crook creates a world of pure imagination, constantly surprising, in a setting that is instantly recognisable but otherworldly at the same time.

This is fun British suburban horror at its best, with nods to M.R. James, Angela Carter, Roald Dahl and echoes of Inside No. 9, Stranger Things and Black Mirror.

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe

Dialogues of the Dead by Reginald Hill

Next up in my long-running re-read of the complete Dalziel and Pascoe series – this is Book 19 and for some unknown reason not available as an audiobook. So I’ll be reverting back to paper reading and to be honest I’m rather looking forward to that!

The Blurb says: In the Beginning was the Word…

And the Word was Murder.

A motorist dies after plunging off a bridge…. A motorcyclist is found dead after a fatal encounter with a tree. Two apparently innocuous tragedies … until two Dialogues are submitted to a local literary competition, claiming responsibility for the deaths. But has anybody heard the Word?

When a beautiful, unscrupulous journalist meets her Maker in fact, and then in fiction, as victim of The Third Dialogue, Dalziel and Pascoe take note and find themselves involved in a deadly duel of wits against an opponent known only as the Wordman: a brilliant sociopath who leaves literary clues in his wake … and who hides in plain sight.

* * * * *

Du Maurier on Audio

Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier read by Valentine Dyall

Full-on spooky season now, so two horror entries this week. I’ve read most of these before, but thought it might be fun to listen to them while the spirits roam abroad and the porpy shivers by my side…

The Blurb says: Echoes of the Macabre features five of Daphne du Maurier’s most thrilling short stories:

‘Don’t Look Now’: a couple who are grieving their child’s death end up encountering two old women who supposedly have second-sight while on a break in Venice. What ensues is a heart-wrenching series of strange events that eventually turn violent.

‘Not After Midnight’: a schoolteacher becomes obsessed with a wild man he encounters on the island of Crete.

‘The Birds’: a disabled farmer tries to protect his family from the onslaught of birds that try to invade his home. He learns from the radio and what he has seen himself that the birds will stop at nothing and will attack without mercy.

‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’: a young man is smitten with an usherette and decides to sit with her on a late-night bus – only she has a dark secret.

‘The Old Man’: a man watches the daily life of his neighbour that he has nicknamed, ‘The Old Man’, but then ‘The Old Man’ commits a despicable crime.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 354 – The People’s Choice…

Episode 354

(A reminder of The People’s Choice plan. Once a month, I shall list the four oldest books on the TBR, then the next four, and so on, and each time you will select the one you think I should read, either because you’ve read and enjoyed it, or because you think the blurb looks good. And I will read the one you pick within three months! If I begin to fall behind, I’ll have a gap till I catch up again. In the event of a tie, I’ll have the casting vote.)

* * * * *

OK, People, time for another batch of four – still in 2020, and a mixed bunch, though mostly from the lighter end. I like to run three months ahead with these polls, so the winner will be a January read. Georgette Heyer is comfort reading for me but I don’t know why Arabella specifically made it onto my TBR! The Master and Margarita is on my Classics Club list – I loved Bulgakov’s The White Guard but feel this one may veer too much into fantasy for my taste. I pick up any Simenons that turn up as Kindle deals, hence Maigret and the Informer. And In a Lonely Place is also on my Classics Club list, due to many enticing reviews of Dorothy B Hughes’ work around the blogosphere over the years.

I’m intrigued to see which one you pick…

Historical Romance

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Added 1st May 2020. 18,619 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.08 average rating. 322 pages.

The Blurb says: A dashing and thrilling romance from one of our best-known and most beloved historical novelists.

An enchanting debutante and the eldest daughter of an impoverished country parson, Arabella embarks on her first London season. Armed with beauty, virtue and a benevolent godmother (as well as a notoriously impetuous temper) she quickly runs afoul of Robert Beaumaris, the most eligible Nonpareil of the day. When he accuses her of being yet another pretty female after his wealth, Arabella allows herself to be provoked – into a deceitful charade that might have quite unexpected consequences…

* * * * *

Fiction

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Added 2nd June 2020. 300,325 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.30 average. 464 pages.

The Blurb says: Nothing in the whole of literature compares with The Master and Margarita. One spring afternoon, the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow. Mikhail Bulgakov’s fantastical, funny, and devastating satire of Soviet life combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with historical, imaginary, frightful, and wonderful characters. Written during the darkest days of Stalin’s reign, and finally published in 1966 and 1967, The Master and Margarita became a literary phenomenon, signalling artistic and spiritual freedom for Russians everywhere.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Maigret and the Informer by Georges Simenon

Added 18th July 2020. 504 ratings on Goodreads, with a 3.76 average. 162 pages.

The Blurb says: The body of a well-known Parisian restaurateur turns up on Avenue Junot in Montmartre, seemingly having been killed elsewhere. Inspector Maigret is on the case, and soon discovers that the murder may be gang-related after a colleague working in the red-light district receives a tip from an anonymous informer.

* * * * *

Classic Noir

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes

Added 18th September 2020. 5,593 ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.11 average. 192 pages. 

The Blurb says: Dix Steele is back in town, and ‘town’ is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

VOTE NOW!

(Click on title and then remember to also click on Vote, or your vote won’t count!)

* * * * *

TBR Thursday 353…

Episode 353

Books have been flooding in faster than they’ve been trickling out this week, so the end result is that the TBR has increased – by two to 170!

Here are a few more that should float past soon…

Fiction

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Courtesy of John Murray via NetGalley. I loved Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno a few years ago, but as usual have never got around to reading anything else by him. So despite my attempts to stay away from NetGalley temptations, I couldn’t resist requesting his new one. The blurb is so long, though, I’m wondering what can possibly be left to discover in the book!

The Blurb says: The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles.

Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father’s arrest.

Fifteen years later, on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won’t speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese-American actor, can’t escape the studio’s narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria’s only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.

Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father’s past threatens Maria’s carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father’s fate–and her own.

Written with intelligence, wit, and an exhilarating sense of possibility, Mercury Pictures Presents spans many moods and tones, from the heartbreaking to the ecstatic. It is a love letter to life’s bit players, a panorama of an era that casts a long shadow over our own, and a tour de force.

* * * * *

Crime

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I loved the first two books in Elly Griffiths’ new Harbinder Kaur series so I’m delighted to have acquired this third book from NetGalley. Each of the first two worked as a kind of pastiche of a genre style – gothic horror in the first, and vintage mystery in the second. So I’m intrigued to see what she does with this one…

The Blurb says: Is it possible to forget that you’ve committed a murder?

When Cassie Fitzgerald was at school in the late 90s, she and her friends killed a fellow student. Almost twenty years later, Cassie is a happily married mother who loves her job–as a police officer. She closely guards the secret she has all but erased from her memory.

One day her husband finally persuades her to go to a school reunion. Cassie catches up with her high-achieving old friends from the Manor Park School–among them two politicians, a rock star, and a famous actress. But then, shockingly, one of them, Garfield Rice, is found dead in the school bathroom, supposedly from a drug overdose. As Garfield was an eminent–and controversial–MP and the investigation is high profile, it’s headed by Cassie’s new boss, DI Harbinder Kaur, freshly promoted and newly arrived in London. The trouble is, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that one of them has killed again.

Is Cassie right, or was Garfield murdered by one of his political cronies? It’s in Cassie’s interest to skew the investigation so that it looks like it has nothing to do with Manor Park and she seems to be succeeding.

Until someone else from the reunion is found dead in Bleeding Heart Yard…

* * * * *

Thriller

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I’m ashamed to admit that this one has been sitting on my TBR since 2018 – one of the last small batch still remaining from when I fell badly behind with review copies. I’m determined to clear all these old ones off before the end of the year! I love Harlan Coben although I find if I read too many of his books too close together they can begin to feel a bit same-ish. It’s been quite a while since I last read one, though, so I’m looking forward to this…

The Blurb says: The brilliant new novel from the international bestselling author of Home and Fool Me Once. Mistaken identities, dark family secrets and mysterious conspiracies lie at the heart of this gripping new thriller.

Fifteen years ago in small-town New Jersey, a teenage boy and girl were found dead.

Most people concluded it was a tragic suicide pact. The dead boy’s brother, Nap Dumas, did not. Now Nap is a cop – but he’s a cop who plays by his own rules, and who has never made peace with his past.

And when the past comes back to haunt him, Nap discovers secrets can kill…

* * * * *

Christmas has come early!

Dalziel and Pascoe Hunt the Christmas Killer & Other Stories by Reginald Hill

This one just popped through my letter-box, courtesy of the lovely people at HarperCollins, and I’m so excited I simply had to add it immediately! No way is this one waiting in a queue to be read! In fact, I may have read it by the time you read this! I didn’t know he’d written lots of short stories for papers and magazines, and I’m so thrilled that HC and Tony Medawar have hunted them down and collected them. An early Christmas present – all those notes I send up the chimney every year – “Dear Santa, please may I have just one more book by Reginald Hill?” – have paid off!

The Blurb says: A vicar nailed to a tree in Yorkshire.
The theft of a priceless artefact during a fire.
A detective forced to tell the truth for 24 hours.
A body hidden in a basement.

From the restless streets of London to the wilds of the Lake District, displaying all his trademark humour, playfulness and clever plotting, this landmark collection brings together the very best of Reginald Hill’s short stories for the first time, complete with a foreword from Val McDermid.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?