Two’s company 2…

Another double review to help clear my backlog, though this particular pair really demand to be reviewed together…

Dialogues of the Dead (Dalziel and Pascoe 19)
by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When an AA man dies after apparently falling from a bridge, it is assumed to be an accident. Then a young musician crashes his car into a tree and dies, again put down to accident. But at the local library, librarians Dick Dee and Rye Pomona are going through the massive pile of entries to a short story competition in the local paper when they come across anonymous stories that show another side to these deaths, and it appears they must have been written before the deaths were reported in the media. As Dalziel and Pascoe begin to investigate, there’s another death, then another, and it appears obvious the team have a serial killer on their hands. The killer is soon nicknamed the Wordman, since each death is accompanied by another short story. Meantime, new member of the team, “Hat” Bowler, is falling in love…

I had forgotten just how good this one is! It’s a wonderful blend of light and dark, and full of Hill’s trademark love of words and wordplay, which this time he puts at the centre of the story by filling the Wordman’s written “confessions” with literary “clues”, and by involving the librarians – Dick Dee especially loves to play word games. There’s a huge cast – essential, since so many of them will be bumped off and there need to be enough left as suspects. It’s mainly set among the self-styled great and good of the town, and Hill has excelled himself in creating characters who stay just the right side of caricature. Dalziel is on fine form, which means the book is full of humour, but Hill is expert at suddenly changing the mask from comedy to tragedy – the murders are dark enough, but the Wordman’s confessions take us deep into a troubled and damaged mind.

The denouement is tense and thrilling, and the solution shocks. And we’re left with the reader knowing more about what happened than Dalziel and Pascoe. They think that everything has finally been wrapped up, maybe not neatly, but securely. However…

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Death’s Jest-Book (Dalziel and Pascoe 20)
by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s impossible to see this one as anything other than as Part Two of Dialogues of the Dead. Unlike many of the books in the series, this one does not stand on its own – anyone trying to read it without having read the one before would probably be completely lost, or at the very least feel as if important stuff had been left out. As a result, I’m not giving a little blurb, since almost anything I say about this one could spoil the last one. I’d also say to anyone who’s reading the series in order, make room to read these two one after the other – they’re both intricately plotted and having the details of the first one fresh in your mind helps when reading the second.

Oddly, although it is a sequel of sorts, this one doesn’t work nearly as well as the first, in my opinion. Hill had obviously become fascinated by the character of Franny Roote over the course of the series – a man who appeared in one of the early cases and reappears in several of the later ones, becoming a kind of nemesis for Peter Pascoe. In this one we get screeds of letters he writes to Pascoe which take up probably around a third of the book, and while they’re interesting, often amusing and, of course, well written, they slow the main plot down to a crawl. I’m afraid I never found Franny quite as entertaining as Hill clearly thought he was, although he provides an interesting study in psychology both of himself and of Pascoe’s reaction to him. I’m not sure the psychology is completely convincing, though.

The other aspect that weakens this one is very hard to discuss without spoilers, so forgive my vagueness. As I said above, at the end of Dialogues of the Dead, the reader knows more than the characters. This continues throughout Death’s Jest-Book, which is basically the story of Dalziel and the team gradually realising that their knowledge is incomplete and trying to fill the gap. Hat’s love story continues too but, knowing what we know, we more or less know how that will work out. So all through we’re watching the characters learning about things the reader already knows. Of course it’s more complex than that makes it sound, and there’s still all the usual stuff that makes Hill so enjoyable – the writing, the language, the regular characters, secondary plots, moral dilemmas – but the pace is very slow, and plot-wise it doesn’t build the same level of tension. It’s good – just not as good as the first part of this story, and being a sequel of sorts it’s impossible to avoid making that comparison.

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In summary, then, together the two books form one massive story – both books individually are chunksters. Dialogues of the Dead is excellent and could be read separately as a standalone, although the reader is likely to feel that there are some loose ends. Death’s Jest-Book is good but with some structural weaknesses, and is very much a sequel or second part. It doesn’t work well as a standalone, and should be read soon after Dialogues of the Dead while the details are fresh.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Dalziel and Pascoe Hunt the Christmas Killer by Reginald Hill

Christmas comes early…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This is a collection of eleven short mysteries from the pen of the supremely talented Reginald Hill, none of which have ever appeared in a collection before. HarperCollins and the Reginald Hill Estate got together to produce it, and Tony Medawar did what he does so well in the Bodies from the Library series – tracked down stories that had appeared over the years in newspapers and magazines, and had then to all intents and purposes disappeared from print. The book is foreworded by Val McDermid who admits to her lifelong admiration for Reginald Hill, and to being inspired by him. She writes knowledgeably, warmly and affectionately, and summarises the book as “the best Christmas present any reader could ask for”. I heartily concur!

The book begins and ends with Christmas mysteries, each starring Dalziel and Pascoe and the team, and both are a festive delight. These most famous of Hill’s characters appear in another couple of stories too, while the rest of the stories are non-series tales, showing off Hill’s imagination, plotting skills and range. McDermid considers him a master of the short story form, a thing I’d never really considered before since I know him best for his two major series, Dalziel and Pascoe and the Joe Sixsmith series, and his standalone thrillers. But again, on the basis of the stories presented here, I fully agree. Every one of these stories is a delight, whether Hill is indulging his humorous side or showing the darker aspects of crime. I restricted myself to reading one an evening, and my excited anticipation each time was fully rewarded.

In such a box of delights, it’s hard to pick favourites, but here’s a flavour of a few that hopefully will give an idea of the variety in the collection:

Market Forces – George has murdered his wife by putting a hatchet through her head. Now he has to consider the task of disposing of the body. Rather unoriginally, he decides to bury her beneath the floor of the cellar. But when he digs down, his spade hits a slab which turn out to be, well, burial size. He exerts his strength and manages to lift it, inadvertently releasing the demon who had been trapped there for many years. The demon can’t be truly free though, until it has granted its saviour one wish. But demons are tricky things, and this one isn’t perhaps the most intelligent demon in the underworld… This is full of humour with an absolutely delicious twist that made me laugh out loud. Great fun!

The Thaw – Carpenter is in his cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, waiting for a thaw. Snow had fallen at Christmas and continued on through the winter so that the ground has remained covered for months. Now, in March, it looks as though finally the weather is getting milder. While he waits, we learn why he’s waiting, and the reason is grim. I don’t want to give spoilers so shall say no more, but this is a bleak story, full of human weakness, guilt and duplicity, and the harshness of the snowbound setting makes it darkly atmospheric.

Reginald Hill 1936-2012

Brass Monkey – A Christmas Dalziel and Pascoe story involving the theft of a Cellini monkey, this is light-hearted fun with a rather emotive edge, in that it reprises the story of the 1914 Christmas truce, when British and German soldiers briefly laid down their arms, sang carols together and played impromptu football matches. All the team is there for this one – Wieldy, Novello, even Hector, and Dalziel is on his best form!

Proxime Accessit – which roughly translated means “nearly made it”. Dennis Platt is a school teacher, greatly respected in his hometown of Dunchester. But Dennis feels he is living the wrong life. His childhood friend, Tom Trotter, always beat him at everything, and now Tom is a famous actor, married to a woman Dennis loved first. He feels Tom has stolen the life that should have been his. When the town council decide to present Dennis with an award, they ask Tom to do the presentation and he, being Dennis’ friend, readily agrees. But Dennis knows that this means all the attention will be on Tom, even on this day which should be Dennis’ day. And so he decides that Tom must be prevented from making the speech. Again this is very well done, and with some humour, but there’s a sad undertone to it in Dennis’ dissatisfaction with a life that, to outward appearances, seems to have been quite successful in its own right.

When the Snow Lay Dinted – another Christmas outing for Dalziel and Pascoe, this time very definitely played for laughs. Peter, Ellie and Rosie are going to a hotel for Christmas and in a moment of weakness, Peter invites Andy along. Partly because he’ll be alone otherwise, with no one to cook for him, and partly because he sees that wine and spirits are included in the price, Andy goes. There is a theft from the hotel and Andy sets out on the trail of footprints, while all the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Peter, of course, follows – in his master’s step he trod, where the snow lay dinted. Well, you get the picture! Lots of fun, and it ends with a lovely interchange between young Rosie and her Uncle Andy which sheds a sweet light on their friendship – sweet, but not saccharin!

Ever since Hill died, I’ve wished there could be just one more book, somehow, sometime. Not one “finished” by someone else, but one written entirely by the master. My wish has been granted! (And I didn’t even have to release a demon…) A wonderful collection!

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

Amazon UK Link

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Shorts November 2022…

A Bunch of Minis…

I’m still battling to catch up with reviews, so here’s another little batch of mini-reviews of books that were mostly middling…

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Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah

🙂 🙂 🙂

A collection of short stories about amateur detective Max Carrados, whose blindness has allowed him to develop all his other senses way beyond the norm, and also well beyond the limits of believability. 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 sensory abilities, such as being able to date an ancient coin by touch alone. There seemed to be something of a fad for detectives with disabilities round about that period – the book was published in 1914 – though sadly not in the sense of creating visibility or understanding for people with disabilities, but rather as a form of entertainment for able-bodied people to wonder over. However, it wasn’t the absence of political correctness that prevented me enjoying the book wholeheartedly – that is of its time and Bramah certainly doesn’t disparage his hero. It was simply that I felt Bramah took the concept too far, making it impossible for me to believe in Carrados’ abilities. The stories I enjoyed best were the ones that relied least on the fact of Carrados being blind. Worth a read, though – I certainly found them more enjoyable than some of the books from this very early period of mystery writing.

Challenge details:
Book: 11
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1914

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Israel Rank by Roy Horniman

😐 😐

This is the book on which the famous film Kind Hearts and Coronets was based so the story will be familiar to anyone who has seen it, although apparently the film had some significant differences to the book. Basically, the narrator in the book, Israel Rank, is the son of a Jewish father and a mother who is distantly related to Earl Gascoyne. Israel finds out that there are eight people in the line of succession between him and the Earldom, and sets out to bump them off one by one. It’s a long time since I watched the film but my recollection is it’s mainly played for laughs. The book attempts black humour too, but for me it didn’t really come off. As well as being a multiple murderer, Israel is a snob, completely convinced of his own superiority, and spends far too much time telling us his lustful thoughts about the various women with whom he gets involved. I found the murders too cruel to be humorous – there is real grief on the part of the victims’ relatives.

There is also an insistence on Jewish stereotyping, with Israel frequently referring to the ‘traits’ of ‘his people’ while trotting out some hackneyed anti-Semitic trope. Martin Edwards suggests, based on what is known of Horniman’s life, that the book is probably intended “as a condemnation of anti-Semitism, rather than some form of endorsement of it” but, while I’m happy to accept that he’s probably right, I’m afraid that’s not how it comes over. I found Israel too unpleasant to like, and certainly had no desire to see him succeed in his aims.

However, all of that I could probably have tolerated – again, it’s of its time – but I fear I also found it rather dull and massively overlong. I gave up about halfway through and jumped to the end to see if he succeeded. I won’t tell you if he did, but I found the ending unsatisfying enough that I was glad I hadn’t ploughed through the second half waiting for it.

Challenge details:
Book: 5
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1907

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Arms and the Women (Dalziel and Pascoe 18) by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 🙂

After the events of the previous book, Ellie Pascoe is indulging in some self-prescribed therapy by writing a never-to-be-published story about the Greeks and Trojans, starring a version of Odysseus who bears a remarkable resemblance to Andy Dalziel. Then two strangers arrive at her door one afternoon and attempt to abduct her. While the police try to find out what’s going on, Ellie agrees to make herself scarce for a bit, and retreats to an isolated house by the sea, owned by her friend Daphne Alderman who accompanies her. DC Shirley Novello, “Ivor” as Dalziel calls her, is sent along as protection, and Ellie takes her young daughter, Rosie. This group is enlarged by the inclusion of a neighbour of Daphne’s – Feenie McCallum, an elderly lady with a mysterious past. Naturally the baddies will find them, and the women will have to protect themselves and each other while waiting for the cavalry, in the persons of Dalziel and Pascoe, to ride to the rescue.

By this late stage in the series Hill is trying new things in each book, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t quite. Here he plays with Ellie’s re-writing of the story of Odysseus and there are large sections of her manuscript interspersed throughout the main story. While these are well written and quite fun, they simply get in the way of the plot, making the book overlong and slowing it down to a crawl. Also he decides to concentrate almost entirely on the women, as the title implies, meaning that Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield are relegated to the sidelines and barely appear. Since those are the three characters who hold the series together this was a brave choice, but from my perspective not a good one. The plot is desperately convoluted too, and goes so far over the credibility line it nearly disappears over the horizon. Lastly, as I’ve mentioned before, I find it irritating that Pascoe has to deal with a family-related trauma in nearly every book at this later stage in the series.

As always with Hill, the writing is a joy, and there’s plenty of humour along with some tense, exciting scenes, so it’s still very readable. But it’s one of my least favourites and I’d really only recommend it to Dalziel and Pascoe completists.

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Onwards and upwards!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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?

Shorts & Abandonments October 2022…

A Bunch of Minis…

Regulars will know I’ve been bemoaning my backlog of reviews for ages now. Reluctantly, I’ve decided I need to take drastic action to clear the decks a bit, by giving mini-reviews to many books that really deserve better. So here’s another little batch of books I loved and books I didn’t…

On Beulah Height (Dalziel and Pascoe 17)
by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Years ago when Dalziel was a young detective, three little girls went missing from the village of Dendale. Their bodies were never found and no one was ever charged with the crime, although the locals felt they had a good idea of who had murdered them. Shortly after, Dendale was “drowned” as part of the development of a new reservoir. Now a long summer drought has emptied the reservoir so that the old village is re-emerging; and another little girl has gone missing…

This is Hill at the absolute peak of his considerable powers. The imagery of the drowned village gives a kind of mythical air to the story, which is magnified by the use of a children’s story about the Nix, a local legend involving a creature who steals children. Pascoe’s little daughter Rosie is seriously ill in hospital for most of the story, and her dreams and delirium add to this somewhat dark, otherwordly atmosphere.

The other aspect that makes this one stand out is Hill’s wonderful use of Yorkshire dialect. Not only for the characters when they’re speaking, but he has one of them translate Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) into the Yorkshire vernacular, and he does it brilliantly. All these things together lift this way beyond being an excellent example of a police procedural, though it is that, into the realms of first-class literary fiction as a meditation on lost children and the grief of those who loved them. I challenge you not to cry, not to laugh, not to find yourself stopping now and again just to admire the superb writing. I have long said that, for me, this is the best crime fiction novel of all time, and my re-read has done nothing to change my opinion.

* * * * *

Honoré de Balzac: My Reading by Peter Brooks

😦

Since I have included my first Balzac, Père Goriot, on my Classics Club list, I thought it might be fun and even useful to read this short book first, since the blurb promises “This volume shows readers how to read, and to love reading, Balzac, and how to engage with his vast work.” I fear this is misleading – in fact what Brooks appears to have done is write out lengthy plot summaries of his favourite books, including endings, and point out all the sexy bits. To be fair I only made it to page 43. At that point, I was eight pages into a ten-page plot summary of A Murky Business and decided to skip finding out the ending, in case the unlikely event ever arises of me wanting to read the actual book. I say unlikely because Mr Brooks has succeeded not only in making me abandon this book – I can read plot summaries on wikipedia if I ever want to pretend I’ve read a classic – but also in making me reluctant to ever read Balzac, who, from what I gather from those 43 pages, seems to be obsessed by sex, the phallus, androgyny, homosexuality, incest and bestiality. Sounds like a barrel of laughs. Think I’ll put Père Goriot back on the shelf for a few years…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford University Press.

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The Colony by Audrey Magee

😦

How to win a Booker…

Pick a subject, any subject, and hide it beneath a ton
of
quirky
style
and lots of lists of words thrown
randomly
red blue
together
fried fish
meaningfully
or meaninglessly, perhaps.
Don’t forget to entirely omit the conventions of grammar and punctuation that have stood generations of great and immortal writers in good stead. Instead of “quotation marks”, for example, why not simply indent the start of the sentence every time anyone is
cabbages
turnips
….speaking?
And to ensure that your readers remember that your character is an artist, as well as randomly listing colours,
beige
fluorescent orange
pink polka-dots
you could have a little quirk like having the character imagine himself ironically as a series of self-portraits.

Self-portrait I: rolling eyes at what passes for literature these days. 🙄

And there you go! Longlisted for sure, almost a certainty for shortlisting and, it being the Booker, quite probably the winner.*

Abandoned at 10%.

* I wrote this before the shortlist was announced. Hallelujah! The successful books surely can’t be worse than this… can they??

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Faber & Faber via NetGalley.

* * * * *

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Dolly Bantry is woken by her hysterical maid one morning with the startling news that there’s a dead body in the library, at first she feels it must be a dream. It’s simply so unlikely! While waiting for the police to arrive, she phones her old friend Miss Marple who, when she and Mrs Bantry sneak into the library to look at the body, agrees that the dead girl doesn’t at all match her surroundings. The first job is to identify her, and news soon comes of a missing girl – young Ruby Keene, a dance hostess at a hotel in the nearby resort of Danemouth. Mrs Bantry persuades Miss Marple to accompany her to the hotel to do a little digging, for as she says…

“What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean.”

But it soon becomes clear to Dolly that unless the murder is quickly solved, popular sentiment will attribute the crime to Colonel Bantry; and he won’t be able to bear such a stain on his reputation…

How I love this book! I have no idea how often I’ve read it, but it must easily be in the double figures. Dolly Bantry is one of my favourite recurring characters in Christie’s novels and this is the one where she gets most space. The plot is great with some wonderful clues that you will almost certainly miss or misinterpret, but Miss Marple will see their significance! It touches on class issues, the changes in society that were already beginning in 1940s Britain, the loneliness that can affect the elderly as their young relatives make lives for themselves, the destructive nature of rumour and gossip, the vulnerability of the young to flattery. And Miss Marple is at her best, using her knowledge of human nature in the pursuit of justice for a dead girl that no one else seems to care much about. Wonderful stuff! If you want to try Miss Marple for the first time, this would be a great place to start!

NB This new edition of the book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

* * * * *

Win some, lose some! 😉

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of themselves inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections. The minutes and hours glided by as in a dream. When the cathedral bells tolled midnight, I barely heard them. Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

~ The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

* * * * *

….“Do you feel like playing mouse in a little game of cat-and-mouse?”
….Bertie polished his eyeglass industriously. “Absolutely, old top,” he agreed. “I’ll play any part you like, you bet I will, if it means hitting von what’s-his-name a wallop.”
….“That’s fine,” returned Biggles. “This is what you have to do. Go to Karga. Tell Angus what’s in the wind. Get all hands working on the Whitley, making it look as much like a civil machine as possible. Then, at dawn, take off and fly it through. You’ll have to work fast. Come over here at about ten thousand, and then head for the danger zone.”
….“Here, I say, what about some guns?” protested Bertie.
….“You can stick as many guns in as you like, as far as I’m concerned,” granted Biggles. “Angus will provide you with some gunners. But don’t go fooling about. You’re not supposed to fight. Leave that to us. We shall be upstairs, waiting for the Messerschmitts. Angus can send out a radio signal that you’re on your way. If von Zoyton picks it up he’ll soon be after you. Is that clear?”
….“Absolutely, yes, absolutely,” murmured Bertie. “What fun! Here I go. See you in the morning. Cheerio, and so forth.”

~ Biggles Defends the Desert by Capt. W.E. Johns

* * * * *

….Hannah crossed the room and sat on the bed, then sank back, pulled a pillow towards her and pressed it to her face. What was she doing? Was this crazy?
….Ever since she had stumbled across the Vanity Fair article two weeks ago and found out exactly what was happening at the University of Virginia, she’d been too caught up in the frantic forward momentum of her plan to have time to think. Except, no… that was bullshit. She’d had plenty of time to think, she just hadn’t allowed herself to. And now she was in Charlottesville, at the point of no return. It wasn’t too late. She could still leave, take her bags, head back to Maine. Except… she’d be going back to what? More of the same? No chance for change, for things to really, truly, get better?
….No. No way. She was here for a reason and no way was she going to chicken out before she’d even got started.

~ The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

* * * * *

….“A child?” said Edwin Digweed. “We are going to have a child?
….“Not as such,” said Edgar Wield.
….“Not as such. As what then? As an entrée at supper fricasseed à la Swift? As a parthenogenetic earnest of Jehovah’s good intentions? As an early entry to some new Dotheboys Hall you are planning to found here in Enscombe to finance your dotage? Or is this infant in fact a Mafia dwarf turned Queen’s evidence for whom you are caring under the witness protection programme?”
….Wield, accustomed to his partner’s blasts of invective fancy, bowed his head meekly before the storm. When it abated, he said, “Pete Pascoe’s lass, Rosie. I promised I’d show her the menagerie.”
….“With a view to joining it perhaps?
….“Eh?”
….“Edgar, since we set up house together, I have put the interests of domestic harmony above my professional calling and pandered to your bibliophobia by making this cottage to all intents and purposes a book-free zone. And what have you brought into our life by way of return? I shall tell you what. First, an aerobatic ape; then, a possibly rabid dog; and now, a female child. What more need I say? I am speechless. I rest my case.”

~ Arms and the Women by Reginald Hill

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 330…

Episode 330

Running late… no time for GIF searching. Just time to say, TBR up 2 to 175! 

Here are a few more I should get to soon… 

Science Fiction

The Origins of Science Fiction edited by Michael Newton

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Another in their lovely hardback series, many of which are anthologies of classic horror or science fiction, all with OWC’s trademark introductions and notes. I’ve loved all the ones I’ve read so far, so have high hopes for this one…

The Blurb says: This anthology provides a selection of science-fiction tales from the close of the ‘Romantic’ period to the end of the First World War. It gathers together classic short stories, from Edgar Allan Poe’s playful hoaxes to Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s feminist fantasy. In this way, the book shows the vitality and literary diversity of the field, and also expresses something of the potent appeal of the visionary, the fascination with science, and the allure of an imagined future that characterised this period. An excellent resource for those interested in science fiction, and also an essential volume for understanding the development of the genre.

In his introduction, Michael Newton draws together literary influences from Jonathan Swift to Mary Shelley, the interest in the irrational and dreaming mind, and the relation of the tales to the fact of Empire and the discoveries made by anthropology. He also considers how the figure of the alien and non-human ‘other’ complicated contemporary definitions of the human being.

Fiction

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley. No reason for this one – I just liked the sound of the blurb. And I love the cover, though of course I’d never be shallow enough to allow that to sway me… 😉

The Blurb says: Cushla Lavery lives with her mother in a small town near Belfast. At twenty-four, she splits her time between her day job as a teacher to a class of seven-year-olds, and regular bartending shifts in the pub owned by her family. It’s here, on a day like any other – as the daily news rolls in of another car bomb exploding, another man shot, killed, beaten or left for dead – that she meets Michael Agnew, an older (and married) barrister who draws her into his sophisticated group of friends.

When the father of a young boy in her class becomes the victim of a savage attack, Cushla is compelled to help his family. But as her affair with Michael intensifies, political tensions in the town escalate, threatening to destroy all she is working to hold together.

As tender as it is unflinching, Trespasses is a masterfully executed and intimate portrait of those caught between the warring realms of the personal and political, rooted in a turbulent and brutally imagined moment of history – where it’s not just what you do that matters, but what you are.

* * * * *

Fiction

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

One obliquely for my Spanish Civil War challenge. I loved the only other book I’ve read by this author – In Diamond Square – and was tempted to add this one by Jane’s review. It isn’t directly about the war but Jane tells us that “the cover blurb says that it can be seen ‘as an allegory for life under a dictatorship’”. It sounds totally weird and possibly wonderful… or possibly not! We’ll see…

The Blurb says: Death in Spring is a dark and dream-like tale of a teenage boy’s coming of age in a remote village in the Catalan mountains; a place cut off from the outside world, where cruel customs are blindly followed, and attempts at rebellion swiftly crushed. When his father dies, he must navigate this oppressive society alone, and learn how to live in a place of crippling conformity.

Often seen as an allegory for life under a dictatorship, Death in Spring is a bewitching and unsettling novel about power, exile, and the hope that comes from even the smallest gestures of independence.

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

Arms and the Women by Reginald Hill read by Jonathan Keeble

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite police procedural series, this is Book 18, and we’re now reaching the later books I’ve only read a couple of times before, so am vague about the plots. I have a feeling this one falls into the lighter category – more humour and less concentration on social issues. But I could be wrong! We’ll see!

The Blurb says: Ellie Pascoe is a novelist, former campus radical, overprotective mother–and as an inspector’s wife, on high alert of suspicious behaviour. When she thwarts an abduction plot, her husband, Peter, and his partner, Andrew Dalziel, assume a link to one of their past cases. An attack on Ellie’s best friend, Daphne, and a series of threatening letters from Ellie’s foiled kidnappers prove them wrong. Packed off to an isolated seaside safe place, Ellie, Daphne, and their bodyguard, DC Shirley Novello, aren’t about to lie in wait for the culprits’ next move. They’re on the offensive. No matter how calculated their plot of retaliation is, they have no idea just how desperately someone wants Ellie out of the picture. Or how insanely epic the reasons are. 

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Wood Beyond (Dalziel and Pascoe 15) by Reginald Hill

Wallowing in the mud…

🙂 🙂 😐

When a group of animal rights activists break into the laboratory of a drugs company where animals are used in experiments, they get more than they bargained for when one of them stumbles into a hole in the muddy grounds of the lab, and falls on top of a pile of human bones. Meantime, Peter Pascoe is mourning the death of his grandmother. She has left Peter her father’s journals and Peter is shocked to discover that his great-grandfather was shot for cowardice during WW1. He finds himself sinking into an obsession with finding out more about his family’s history and what led up to this scandal.

Nestled between two of my favourite Dalziel and Pascoes, Pictures of Perfection and On Beulah Height, comes this one, which is my least favourite of them all by a considerable way – I’d almost go so far as to say I don’t like it. As I’ve mentioned before, Hill often incorporated issues of the moment into his plots and the issue at this moment was the campaign to have those executed for cowardice or desertion in WW1 pardoned. But whereas he usually uses the issue as a base for his stories, here he lets it overwhelm the entire book, and chooses to present an entirely one-sided view of the debate, making the book feel overly polemical. There are endless extracts from the older Pascoe’s journal, with rather unoriginal descriptions of life in the trenches, and especially of Passchendaele. This kind of writing is not Hill’s forte and I fear they feel derivative to me of much better accounts found elsewhere.

That’s only part of the problem, though. The other part is the growing emphasis on Peter’s tendency to become obsessed about things and to spiral into depression. I often feel I have to add a rider to say that I sympathise very much with people in real life who suffer from depression, PTSD or other mental health problems, but, since for me crime fiction is supposed to be an entertainment and an escape from real life, angst-ridden detectives are not what I look for. If I want to be depressed, I read lit-fic! As the series rolls towards its end, Peter spends more time introspectively mulling over his own unhappiness than he does investigating cases. Hill gives him one trauma after another to deal with, and he becomes a kind of pitiable and self-pitying figure, while Wieldy and a series of younger detectives become the more amusing foils for Dalziel. This is the book where that aspect most takes centre stage, and as a result it doesn’t work for me. In later ones, while Peter’s decline as a character continues, it usually doesn’t take up quite so much space and therefore doesn’t overpower the plot to the same degree.

As you can tell, this is all a very subjective objection to the book – many people consider it to be one of the best in the series, mostly for the very reasons that I don’t. I certainly don’t consider it to be a “bad” book – simply not to my taste.

Reginald Hill

There are things in it that work for me, though. The animal rights activists’ storyline is interesting and well done, and the animal experimentation angle is happily kept off-page enough for my squeamish sensitivities to be able to deal with it without much difficulty. The plot, though convoluted, is quite strong. We get to see how Wieldy’s new-found happiness from the last book is playing out as he settles into his new life in Enscombe. And Dalziel finds himself a new romantic partner in Cap Marvell, who will become a recurring occasional character in future books.

I listened to the Audible version, in which Jonathan Keeble takes over the narration. It took me a while to get used to the different voices he gives for the recurring characters, but once I had, I found his narration excellent and look forward to the next few which he also narrates, before it changes again.

Overall, then, not one for me, but plenty to enjoy for readers who don’t share my dislike of angsty self-pitying detectives. Normal service will be resumed in my next Dalziel and Pascoe review!

Audible UK Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….He goes out of the back door, through the yard, across the common. He’s been walking with his daughter often enough to know her favourite route. Soon he is by the dried-up beck and climbing steadily along its bank up the dale.
….After a while when he is sure he is out of earshot of Liggside, he starts calling her name.
….“Lorraine! Lorraine!”
….For a long time there is nothing. Then he hears a distant bark. Tremulous with relief he presses on, over a fold of land. Ahead he sees Tig, alone, and limping badly, coming toward him.
….Oh, now the skylarks like aery spies sing, She’s here! she’s hurt! she’s here! she’s hurt! and the dancing butterflies spell out the message, She’s gone forever.
….He stoops by the injured dog and asks, “Where is she, Tig? Seek!”
….But the animal just cringes away from him as though fearful of a blow.
….He rushes on. For half an hour he ranges the fellside, seeking and shouting. Finally, because hope here is dying, he invents hope elsewhere and heads back down the slope. Tig has remained where they met. He picks him up, ignoring the animal’s yelp of pain.
….“She’ll be back home by now, just you wait and see, boy,” he says. “Just you wait and see.”
….But he knows in his heart that Lorraine would never have left Tig alone and injured up the dale.

~ On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

* * * * *

….Véronique opened a door to reveal what must be the doctor’s workroom, for it was full of lathes, a machine with a large brass disc, some sort of engine, shelves and cupboards stacked with boxes and books. Next to the long window stood a high workbench cluttered with callipers, hacksaws, odd woodhandled tools. Further implements hung from the walls – for clockmaking, she supposed, but some had the nasty look of instruments used for torture. The whole place had a distinctive, unfamiliar smell: part soot, part chemical, part mystery.
….“This is where he creates.” Véronique opened a drawer beneath the workbench and removed a small wooden box. Inside was a silver spider that Madeleine took at first for a brooch, but before she knew what was happening, it was running across the table towards her with the hideous furtive motion of the real creature, thin silver legs rasping on the wooden surface, and it was all she could do not to scream. Abruptly, when it was only a few inches away from her, the thing came to a standstill. Véronique smiled but her eyes remained watchful. “Wonderful, isn’t it? But it isn’t yet finished.”

~ The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola

* * * * *

This was a time when all Britain worked and strove to the utmost limit and was united as never before. Men and women toiled at the lathes and machines in the factories till they fell exhausted on the floor and had to be dragged away and ordered home, while their places were occupied by newcomers ahead of time. The one desire of all the males and many women was to have a weapon. The Cabinet and Government were locked together by bonds the memory of which is still cherished by all. The sense of fear seemed entirely lacking in the people, and their representatives in parliament were not unworthy of their mood. We had not suffered like France under the German flail. Nothing moves an Englishman so much as the threat of invasion, the reality unknown for a thousand years. Vast numbers of people were resolved to conquer or die. There was no need to rouse their spirit by oratory. They were glad to hear me express their sentiments and give them good reasons for what they meant to do, or try to do. The only possible divergence was from people who wished to do even more than was possible, and had the idea that frenzy might sharpen action.

~ Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill

* * * * *

….The brown pebble eyes ever on the alert for a bargain summed up the amazing place as ideal for a select and suitably expensive boarding school – better still a College – for Young Ladies. To the delight of the Bendigo house agent who was showing her over the property she had bought it then and there, lock, stock and barrel, including the gardener, with a reduction for cash down, and moved in.
….Whether the Headmistress of Appleyard College (as the local white elephant was at once re-christened in gold lettering on a handsome board at the big iron gates) had any previous experience in the educational field, was never divulged. It was unnecessary. With her high-piled greying pompadour and ample bosom, as rigidly controlled and disciplined as her private ambitions, the cameo portrait of her late husband flat on her respectable chest, the stately stranger looked precisely what the parents expected of an English Headmistress. And as looking the part is well known to be more than half the battle in any form of business enterprise from Punch and Judy to floating a loan on the Stock Exchange, the College, from the very first day, was a success; and by the end of the first year, showing a gratifying profit.

~ Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 321…

Episode 321

I’ve read very little over the last few weeks so needless to say the TBR has started to climb again… up 2 to 180…

Here are a few more I should reach soon…

Crime

Streets of Gold by Margot Kinberg

Hot off the press, a brand new novella from my friend and fellow blogger, Margot Kinberg! I’m writing this post on the 15th, the book is/was published on the 16th, and depending on when the pre-order turns/turned up on my Kindle, I may well have read it by the time you’re reading this on the 17th! Good luck, Margot – great blurb, great cover . . . can’t wait to get stuck in! 🍾🍾🍾

The Blurb says: Fifteen-year-old Staci Mckinney thought that leaving home would solve her problems. At least it would get her away from her disgusting stepfather, Nick. But it’s not long before Nick becomes the least of her worries. It’s not easy to live on the streets. It’s a daily struggle to find food and a place to sleep, especially during a Philadelphia winter. Things get even harder when Staci witnesses two men dumping a body. When they see her, too, she has no choice but to go on the run.

Philadelphia City Councilman Daniel Langdon thought everything would be alright, even after the ‘road rage’ incident that led to a death. After all, nobody knew what happened. Except some kid saw him and his assistant dumping the body. Now he’s going to have to find the girl before she gets the chance to talk to anyone about what she witnessed.

Fiction

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

For a while it seemed everyone was reading and raving about this one so I acquired it, but of course never got around to reading it. The time has come! I’m hoping it’ll fill a box on my Wanderlust Bingo card…

The Blurb says: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiralling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

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Historical Fiction

The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. This sounds as if it could thrill my Gothic-horror-loving soul or repel my fantasy-hating soul (aren’t I lucky to have more than one soul?), but I did enjoy her previous book The Story Keeper, despite it being full of folklore. So we’ll see! 

The Blurb says: Paris, 1750. In the midst of winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, a new maid arrives at the home of a celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter. But rumours are stirring that Reinhart’s uncanny mechanical creations – bejewelled birds, silver spiders – are more than mere automata. That they might defy the laws of nature, perhaps even at the expense of the living…

But Madeleine is hiding a dark past, and a dangerous purpose – to discover the truth of the clockmaker’s experiments and record his every move, in exchange for her own chance of freedom.

Meanwhile, in the streets, children are quietly disappearing – and Madeleine comes to fear that she has stumbled upon a greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the heart of Versailles…

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill read by Jonathan Keeble

Continuing on my re-read of my favourite crime series, and we’ve reached the book that I have long called my top favourite crime novel of all time. Which makes me nervous to re-read it in case for some unaccountable reason I suddenly don’t like it any more! 😂 Happily, I’ve already started it and it’s still wonderful, and now that I’m used to Jonathan Keeble as narrator, I’m enjoying him very much…

The Blurb says: Into thin air…

Three little girls, one by one, had vanished from the farming village of Dendale. And Superintendent Andy Dalziel, a young detective in those days, never found their bodies–or the person who snatched them. Then the valley where Dendale stood was flooded to create a reservoir, and the town itself ceased to be . . . except in Dalziel’s memory.

Twelve years later, the threads of past and present are slowly winding into a chilling mosaic. A drought and dropping water table have brought Dendale’s ruins into view. And a little girl has gone missing from a nearby village. Helped by Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe, an older, fatter, and wiser Dalziel has a second chance to uncover the secrets of a drowned valley. And now the identity of a killer rests on what one child saw . . . and what another, now grown, fears with all her heart to remember.

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Pictures of Perfection (Dalziel and Pascoe 14) by Reginald Hill

Wicked…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

On the surface, no village could appear more idyllic than Enscombe, nestling in the Yorkshire Dales. But when the young village policeman goes missing, Sergeant Edgar Wield and his superiors, Dalziel and Pascoe, will find that many a secret is lurking below this picture of perfection. And Wield will find himself in danger – of death perhaps, or perhaps of being changed forever by the magical atmosphere he finds there…

This is without exception the most delightful of all the Dalziel and Pascoe books. Though both of them are in it, the starring role goes to Wield who has been steadily developing over the last few books to the point of being one of the main characters – a trio now rather than a duo. Here Hill gives him the chance to find the personal life he has avoided for so long, as he kept his sexuality secret from a society and a workplace that still rejected people like him. Enscombe is different though – here everyone has secrets, and everyone knows each other’s secrets, and so they all accept everyone else, foibles and all, in order to be accepted in turn. Only the incomer is out of the loop, leaving our three detectives struggling to work out why the young PC has disappeared – was it voluntary or has something sinister happened to him? But soon Wieldy will find himself being sucked into the life of the village and gradually his loyalties will subtly shift so that he is as much on the side of the villagers as the law.

The book starts with a terrifying prologue as an unnamed villager wanders along the High Street randomly shooting people, ending up in a scene of carnage at the Squire’s Reckoning – an annual gathering that takes place up at the Hall. These images stay in the mind as we’re then thrust back in time by just a couple of days to learn what led up to them. The cosy feel of the bulk of the book is therefore quite unsettling as we are expecting something awful to happen and, as we spend time with Wield in the village and come to care about all the quirky characters who live there, the tension grows. The plot is complicated – probably too complicated – but it doesn’t much matter because the heart of the book is in the setting, atmosphere and Wield’s budding romance rather than the various criminal activities that are uncovered along the way.

Sharp-eyed Jane Austen fans might have spotted that Enscombe is taken from Emma – it’s the name of Frank Churchill’s estate – and the title is a quote from one of her letters: “Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked”. Each chapter is headed by a further appropriate Austen quote and these add much to the entertainment as Hill matches his wicked sense of humour to hers. The village is a kind of updating of an Austen village, complete with a Squire up at the Hall, some gentry and their various matrimonial entanglements, a soldier or two and a few rustic characters. Wield’s tentative friendship with the local bookseller provides him with an insider view of the village, while also providing the book with a gloriously Austen-esque romance between two characters who happen to be gay. I know I’ve said this before but Hill was in the vanguard of making gay characters openly central and likeable, rather than figures of ridicule or pity, back in the days when this was still quite a risky thing to do in popular culture. Wieldy’s romance is as delightful as that earlier romance between Lizzie and Darcy, and it’s impossible not to be wholeheartedly hoping for just as happy an ending.

Reginald Hill

I don’t want to say more about the plot since it’s fun to read it without knowing too much. But this is one that is also perfect for re-reading once you do know what it’s all about, when you can see how cleverly Hill led you astray first time around. In fact, I defy anyone to get to the end and not immediately want to go back to the beginning and read that prologue again! It would work as a standalone, I suppose, but works ten times better if you’ve already grown fond of Wield from the previous books. One of my top two of the whole series, a true picture of perfection complete with wickedness, and as always, highly recommended!

Audible UK Link

Recalled to Life (Dalziel and Pascoe 13) by Reginald Hill

The last Golden Age murder…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Back in 1963 Dalziel was a young detective, working for a man he respected as a mentor and friend, Wally Tallantire. It was Tallantire who solved what has since been called “the last Golden Age murder” – called that, anyway, by the documentary maker who is casting doubt on the investigation and questioning the verdict. A weekend house party at Mickledore Hall had included a government minister, a diplomat with Royal connections, a CIA officer, a variety of spouses and a couple of nannies, and much bed-hopping had gone on. It all ended with the shooting of one of the wives, and Tallantire’s investigation led to the conviction of the owner of the Hall, Ralph Mickledore, and his lover, the American nanny Cissy Kohler. Mickledore, strangely confident that he would be pardoned, found his confidence misplaced and was hanged. Cissy Kohler, whose confession led to the conviction of them both, has spent thirty years in prison, but is now out and is claiming Tallantire forced the confession out of her. In a bid to protect the reputation of his old mentor, now dead, Dalziel starts to look into the case again. At first he is confident the right people were convicted at the time, but gradually he begins to worry that Tallantire may indeed have cut a few corners…

This is quite an odd one in the series, in that it’s a cold case investigation. As is usual in the UK, another force has been tasked with carrying out the review of the handling of the case and Dalziel is told by his boss to keep out of it, but when does Dalziel ever do what his boss tells him? Soon he has dragged Pascoe into his unofficial investigation, reluctantly since Pascoe is in the unenviable position of being the liaison with the official investigators. Pascoe never knew Tallantire, but his loyalty to Dalziel is stronger than he would like to admit so he understands why Dalziel wants Tallantire’s name cleared.

1963 was the time of the Profumo affair in Britain, which involved the downfall of a government minister, John Profumo, when it was revealed that he had been having an affair with a woman, Christine Keeler, who had also been playing around with a Soviet naval officer. One scandal led to another, and there were all kinds of rumours of men in prominent positions being involved with high-class prostitutes provided by a kind of socialite pimp, who later killed himself. Hill has used this story freely to build his own version of the scandal among the people visiting Mickledore Hall, but with enough differences to keep it interesting. For instance, he has added at least one murder! One of the things I like about Hill is that when he borrows from life or fiction, he makes it very clear that he’s doing so – it is no coincidence, I’m sure, that Christine Keeler and Cissy Kohler share initials, for instance. The title is also borrowed, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in which an innocent man spends many years in prison for the crime of knowing too much about the sordid secrets of the rich and powerful.

However, Cissy is not an appealing character. Whether guilty or innocent of involvement in the murder for which she was convicted, there is no doubt that one of her young charges died while in her care, either through negligence or deliberate design. And during her imprisonment she killed a prison guard. Dalziel feels these actions vindicate Tallantire’s belief in her guilt. But when he comes to suspect that maybe Tallantire did pressure her into a confession, he realises this would mean that the real guilty party got away with murder, and that’s not an idea that pleases him.

When Dalziel is told in no uncertain terms to take a holiday before he gets suspended, he decides to go to America, where several of the original suspects now are, including Cissy herself. Seeing Dalziel blundering about America in his usual blunt, bull in a china shop way is fun – he is as baffled by some aspects of American culture as the Americans are by him.

Reginald Hill

The story in this one is very convoluted, and it seems as if everyone has at least one secret, often more. I think it gets too busy at times, and crosses the credibility line more than Hill usually does. However, he’s great at showing how big a part class played in all aspects of British life in the early ‘60s – it still does, of course, but there’s not the same reverence today as there was back then towards the “well-born” rich and powerful. The death of the child makes it darker than a true Golden Age mystery would normally be, and gives a psychological depth and ambiguity to Cissy’s character that might otherwise have been missing. But there’s also enough humour in it to lift the tone and make it as entertaining as most of these books are. Not one I’d recommend as an entry point for newcomers to the series since I think it works better if you know Dalziel well, but a rewarding and enjoyable read for existing fans.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 308…

Episode 308

Another massive drop in the TBR since I last reported to 182 – down 4! Which is almost exactly the same number as my abandoned heap has grown by. An odd coincidence, eh?

Here are a few more that will discover their fate soon. Exciting, isn’t it?

Christie Shorts 

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another of the HarperCollins series of special edition hardbacks of some of Christie’s short story collections, and again much more gorgeous than the cover pic makes it look. I’ve read this collection before but it must have been a long time ago since I haven’t reviewed it on the blog, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it. I also received a copy of The Tuesday Club Murders, which I’ve quite recently listened to on audio and reviewed, under its alternative title, The Thirteen Problems. So I’ll probably save it for a while before reading it again, but do recommend it – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Blurb says: First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

Contains the stories:
• The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
• The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
• Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds
• The Under Dog
• The Dream

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Vintage Crime

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

Courtesy of the British Library. The last Berkeley novel the BL re-issued was a standalone, but this one stars his regular amateur ‘tec, Roger Sheringham, whom I’ve encountered before in a few short stories. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action in a full length novel.

The Blurb says: Roger and Molly Dane have something of a surprise in their new house. When Roger explores the basement on return from their honeymoon, he discovers something odd with the flooring. Hoping to find buried treasure, he digs up the body of a woman instead. Chief Inspector Moresby and Roger Sheringham are then left with the task of discovering who the lady was, how she came to be there, and who shot her in the back of the head.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This is another of the unsolicited thrillers they send me from time to time, some of which end up quite quickly on the abandoned heap, and some of which I unexpectedly enjoy! I’m hoping this one will fall into the latter category… 

The Blurb says: They thought it was perfect. They were wrong…

A glamorous chateau

Aura and Nick don’t talk about what happened in England. They’ve bought a chateau in France to make a fresh start, and their kids need them to stay together – whatever it costs.

A couple on the brink

The expat community is welcoming, but when a neighbour is murdered at a lavish party, Aura and Nick don’t know who to trust.

A secret that is bound to come out…

Someone knows exactly why they really came to the chateau. And someone is going to give them what they deserve.

The Sunday Times bestseller is back with a rollercoaster read, perfect for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

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Dalziel and Pascoe on Audio

The Wood Beyond by Reginald Hill narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite crime series of all time. A new narrator has taken over, so I’m hoping I’ll like him as much as I’ve grown to like Colin Buchanan who did most of the earlier books. My memory of this one is that I wasn’t as keen on it as most of the others in this middle section of the series, but it’s a long time since I last read it so we’ll see…

The Blurb says: A ravaged wood, a man in uniform long dead – this is not a World War One battlefield, but Wanwood House, a pharmaceutical research centre. Peter Pascoe attends his grandmother’s funeral, and scattering her ashes leads him too into war-torn woods in search of his great-grandfather who fought and died in Passchendaele. Seeing the wood for the trees is the problem for Andy Dalziel when he finds himself fancying an animal rights activist, despite her possible complicity in a murderous assault and her appalling taste in whisky. A mind-bending puzzle leading us on the wild side of the pastoral.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 298…

Episode 298

Another meteoric drop in the TBR this week – down 5 to 190! Still more to do with culling and abandonment issues than reading, I fear, but every little counts! 

Here are a few more that are rising to the top of the heap, and I’m almost certain that none of these will end up on the abandoned pile… 

Vintage Crime Shorts 

Bodies from the Library 4 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. The idea of this series is to bring together stories which have never appeared in book form before. While I very much enjoyed the second book (I haven’t read the first one), in my review of the third one I felt the quality of the stories had dipped and suggested that “there is bound to be a finite number of great stories that fall into that category”. We’ll see if this fourth collection can make me eat my words…

The Blurb says: Mystery stories have been around for centuries—there are whodunits, whydunits and howdunits, including locked-room puzzles, detective stories without detectives, and crimes with a limited choice of suspects.

Countless volumes of such stories have been published, but some are still impossible to find: stories that appeared in a newspaper, magazine or an anthology that has long been out of print; ephemeral works such as plays not aired, staged or screened for decades; and unpublished stories that were absorbed into an author’s archive when they died . . .

Here for the first time are three never-before-published mysteries by Edmund Crispin, Ngaio Marsh and Leo Bruce, and two pieces written for radio by Gladys Mitchell and H. C. Bailey—the latter featuring Reggie Fortune. Together with a newly unearthed short story by Ethel Lina White that inspired Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, and a complete short novel by Christianna Brand, this diverse mix of tales by some of the world’s most popular classic crime writers contains something for everyone.

Complete with indispensable biographies by Tony Medawar of all the featured authors, the fourth volume in the series Bodies from the Library once again brings into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Courtesy of Penguin via NetGalley. I adored Shafak’s last book, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, and fully intended (intend) to read her earlier books. But she’s beaten me to it by producing another new one. My hopes are astronomically high!

The Blurb says: Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. The taverna is the only place that Kostas and Defne can meet in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic and chilli peppers, creeping honeysuckle, and in the centre, growing through a cavity in the roof, a fig tree. The fig tree witnesses their hushed, happy meetings; their silent, surreptitious departures. The fig tree is there, too, when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns – a botanist, looking for native species – looking, really, for Defne. The two lovers return to the taverna to take a clipping from the fig tree and smuggle it into their suitcase, bound for London. Years later, the fig tree in the garden is their daughter Ada’s only knowledge of a home she has never visited, as she seeks to untangle years of secrets and silence, and find her place in the world.

The Island of Missing Trees is a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal, from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.

* * * * *

Fiction

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I can’t remember if I saw a tempting review of this one or if I was just attracted by the blurb, but it sounds like it should be fun! And at last – a short blurb!

The Blurb says: Cornwall, Midsummer 1947. Pendizack Manor Hotel is buried in the rubble of a collapsed cliff. Seven guests have perished, but what brought this strange assembly together for a moonlit feast before this Act of God – or Man? Over the week before the landslide, we meet the hotel guests in all their eccentric glory: and as friendships form and romances blossom, sins are revealed, and the cracks widen … A wise, witty fable, The Feast is a banquet indeed.

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Dalziel and Pascoe

Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill

The 14th book in my slow re-read of my favourite contemporary crime series of all time, and this is one of the very best! Although the blurb doesn’t mention him (who writes these things?), this is the one where Wieldy comes into his own as an equal star of the series alongside Dalziel and Pascoe, and it has one of the most memorable prologues ever written…

The Blurb says: High in the Mid-Yorkshire Dales stands the traditional village of Enscombe, seemingly untouched by the modern world. But contemporary life is about to intrude when the disappearance of a policeman brings Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to its doors.

As the detectives dig beneath the veneer of idyllic village life a new pattern emerges: of family feuds, ancient injuries, cheating and lies. And finally, as the community gathers for the traditional Squire’s Reckoning, it looks as if the simmering tensions will erupt in a bloody climax…

* * * * *

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Bones and Silence (Dalziel and Pascoe 11) by Reginald Hill

Playing God…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Bones and SilenceWhen Dalziel looks out of his window at the house opposite, he sees two men, one woman and a gun. He rushes over but by the time he gets there the woman is dead and the two men are adamant that she shot herself despite their attempts to prevent her. Dalziel doesn’t believe it – he saw the gun in the hand of one of the men. However when Pascoe arrives he’s less convinced – Dalziel has been drinking and how reliable is his evidence? Meantime, preparations are underway for a community performance of The York Mystery Plays, and the artistic director Eileen Chung thinks that Dalziel will be perfect to play the part of God. For the Devil, she wants to cast local builder Philip Swain – the widower of the dead woman and the man Dalziel claims was holding the gun…

For me, this is one of the very best in this great series not so much because of the murder plot, but because of the two side plots. Eileen Chung is a wonderful character, like Andy himself larger than life, glowing with self-confidence, and able to manipulate those around her to do as she wants. She is the focus of the lustful thoughts of most of the men she meets, and knows it, but women are also drawn to her by her kindness. Those in trouble especially seem to find a kind of strength simply from being in her company. Andy and she are like the two greatest gladiators in the arena, battling for supremacy, and it’s not at all clear who will win. Andy agrees to play God but Chung is going to discover that God has his own ideas about how his role should be performed!

The other side plot concerns anonymous letters Dalziel is receiving, probably from a woman, who tells him she plans to kill herself. She doesn’t want him to do anything about it – in fact she’s relying on him not to. She simply feels she wants to tell someone of her intention, and has picked on him as a kind of confessor because she believes his brashness means he won’t feel any responsibility when she dies. And Andy is indeed brash and believes that people are responsible for their own actions. But he passes the letters on to Pascoe, and Pascoe cares, perhaps too much. So while he is investigating the death of Gail Swain, Pascoe is also keeping an eye out for any woman who seems as if she may be at the end of her tether.

The three major characters are all given great parts in this ensemble piece – Dalziel, Pascoe and Wieldy, who by this point has become as essential to the series as the other two. Ellie, after her last outing when she really had taken her feminist stridency too far, to the point where it was endangering her relationship with Peter, has dialled back a bit for this one, becoming again the feisty but good-natured Ellie of old. But there are also lots of very well-drawn secondary characters in this one – Chung, of course, but also dried-up but still lustful Canon Horncastle, whose permission Chung needs to use the Cathedral grounds for her play, and his downtrodden wife, whom Chung quietly sets out to rescue. Philip Swain is one of Hill’s ambiguous possible villains/possible victims, and his secretary, Shirley Appleyard, defies her stolid appearance by having a razor-sharp mind, a tongue to match, and a predilection for discussing classic literature with Peter.

reginald hill
Reginald Hill

This one also has one of the most memorable climaxes of the whole series. The first time I read it I was shocked to my socks, and still find it intensely affecting even after multiple re-reads. I’m not sure that Hill wholly convinces me psychologically, but dramatically and literarily it’s superb. Is that intriguing enough for you to want to read it? I hope so! Although these books do all work better if you’ve read some of the earlier ones and become emotionally attached to the regulars, most of them work very well as standalones too, and this one does, I think. Hill is at the height of his powers by this point of the series, able to juggle humour, drama, pathos and tragedy seamlessly to give a full-colour panoramic view of his characters and the society they inhabit. As always, highly recommended!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 275…

Episode 275

Oh, no, no, no, no! Last time my TBR was at 197 and I swore a private oath (well, I swore, anyway) that it wouldn’t get any higher. But… well, see, it’s not really my fault! Somebody foolishly scheduled a huge factual, a huge fiction and a huge crime novel all to reach the top of my reading list at the same time. So I’ve been reading and reading and reading but not actually finishing any books. Yet new ones keep arriving. Up two to 199… but no way am I going back over 200! This is where I make my stand!

Here are a few more I’ll get to… sometime…

Vintage Crime

Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard

Courtesy of the British Library. Another author I’d never heard of much less read, but I’ve seen a couple of very positive reviews of this one since the BL republished it last month…

The Blurb says: “I should imagine this was murder, too, because it would be very difficult to build yourself into a heap of sandbags and then die…”

In the blackout conditions of a wintry London night, amateur sleuth Agnes Kinghof and a young air-raid warden have stumbled upon a corpse stowed in the walls of their street’s bomb shelter. As the police begin their investigation, the night is interrupted once again when Agnes’s upstairs neighbour Mrs Sibley is terrorised by the sight of a grisly pig s head at her fourth-floor window.

With the discovery of more sinister threats mysteriously signed ‘Pig-sticker’, Agnes and her husband Andrew – unable to resist a good mystery – begin their investigation to deduce the identity of a villain living amongst the tenants of their block of flats.

A witty and lighthearted mystery full of intriguing period detail, this rare gem of Golden Age crime returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1943.

* * * * *

Fiction

A Lonely Man by Chris Power

Courtesy of Faber & Faber via NetGalley. In my bid to read more new fiction this year, this is another I picked purely on the basis of the blurb. Early reviews are a bit disappointing, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says: Robert is a struggling writer living in Berlin with his wife and two young daughters. In a bookshop one night, he meets Patrick, an enigmatic stranger with a sensational story to tell: a ghostwriter for a Russian oligarch recently found hanged, who is now being followed. But is he really in danger? Patrick’s life strikes Robert as a fabrication, but a magnetic one that begins to obsess him. He decides to use Patrick, and his story.

An elegant and atmospheric twist on the cat-and-mouse narrative, A Lonely Man is a novel of shadows, of the search for identity and the elastic nature of truth. As his association with Patrick hurtles towards tragedy, Robert must decide: are actual events the only things that give a story life, and are some stories too dangerous to tell?

* * * * *

Dalziel and Pascoe

Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite contemporary crime series of all time. This is the 11th book and Hill is at his peak by this stage. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions of the last few, but for some reason Colin Buchanan seemed to stop after book 10 and Brian Glover took over for the next couple, unfortunately getting quite poor reviews for his narration. So I’ve decided to go back to paper for this one…

The Blurb says: When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden, he is quite sure he knows who the culprit is. After all, he’s seen him with his own eyes. But what exactly does he see? And is he mistaken? Peter Pascoe certainly thinks so.

To make matters worse, he’s being pestered by an anonymous letter-writer who is planning suicide and has chosen to confide in Dalziel. The local Mystery Plays should provide a welcome distraction as Dalziel’s been cast as God. Unfortunately, the other lead is a local builder who also happens to be the chief suspect in some recent disappearances that might actually be murders…

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Fiction on Audio

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

I loved Harris’ The Observations when I read it a year or two ago, and when I reviewed it several people strongly recommended this one. Anna Bentinck is the narrator – I haven’t listened to her before but she gets a lot of praise… 

The Blurb says: As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame she maintains he deserved.

Back in 1888, the young, art-loving, Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disorientate into mystery and deception.

Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a tour de force from one of the emerging names of British fiction.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Under World (Dalziel and Pascoe 10) by Reginald Hill

Digging deep…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Colin Farr is an angry young man. When young Tracy Pedley vanished some years earlier in the woods around the Yorkshire mining town of Burrthorpe, the townspeople held Colin’s father responsible. Some felt he must have killed her, others that his carelessness led to her disappearance – he had taken the little girl out for a walk and his story was that he then let her return the last part of the journey alone, and she was never seen again. The police, however, blamed a different man but that didn’t stop the gossip, and Colin’s father died in an accident that may or may not have been suicide. Now the cop who was in charge of the case back then has retired and is serialising his memoirs in the local paper, bringing the old story back to the surface and Colin’s anger back to boiling point. And then someone dies down the mine…

The story is set a couple of years after the Miner’s Strike of 1984, while memories are fresh and scars not yet healed. The miners hate the bosses and the feeling is mutual, and those who scabbed during the strike have not been forgiven. But the biggest divide is between the miners and the police, who were used by a heavy-handed government to break the strike, often violently. Hill works all these resentments through his plot, giving the book a real feel for the period and for how devastating the strike and its aftermath were for the mining communities. Although the mine at Burrthorpe is still working, the writing is on the wall for the whole British mining industry and the miners know their way of life is coming to an end. Not that it’s a good way of life – the work is hard and dangerous, and many men who manage to avoid accidents are still struck down by the deadly lung diseases that come with breathing in coal-dust down the pits. But it’s a life that has developed strong ties of community, where trust is an essential component of the job – one careless worker could put everyone in danger.

Another aspect of the strike that Hill uses very effectively is the coming together of the women – the miners’ wives and mothers, struggling to hold their families together with no income, taking on the role of breadwinner sometimes, dealing with the mental health problems and domestic violence that grew in correlation with the desperation (and, in their own eyes, emasculation) of the men. The women built support networks, campaigned for their men and begged for their children, and showed a level of strength and resilience that fed into the wider story of women’s demands to be treated as equals.

As is often the case with Hill, the plot is somewhat secondary to the social aspects and to the further development of the recurring characters in his team. Although it’s a bleak story, Dalziel always adds an element of humour, and his rough uncouthness appeals much more to the miners than Pascoe’s sympathetic attempts to understand their point of view. Dalziel is of them, so understands them naturally, and they him.

Ellie Pascoe, still struggling to finish her novel, takes a part-time job giving classes to the miners and finds herself drawn to the troubled Colin, partly because he shows he has an intelligence she, in her middle-class way, doesn’t expect to find in a miner, and partly becoming attracted to his overt physical masculinity despite her feminist disdain. Ellie doesn’t come out of this novel well – she behaves like a spoilt privileged child and becomes intensely annoying, to the point where it’s hard to understand what Peter Pascoe could possibly like about her. She settles back down a little in future books, but this is not one of her better outings. However, later in the book she comes to know the women of the Burrthorpe support group and has enough self-awareness to recognise that they roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done, rather than pontificating about women’s rights from a lofty academic height. What always redeems Ellie is her willingness to recognise her own faults.

Reginald Hill

Hill gives a very authentic feel to what it was like to work in a mine at that time – the physical demands, the danger, the safety protocols, the reliance on each other. He also shows the do-gooder element of society, visiting the mine in order to get a vicarious thrill, so they can then go off and make political points in their nice clean safe council chambers and middle-class restaurants. The climax of the novel happens below ground, in a tense and thrilling finale which more than makes up for the rather too obvious solution to the central mystery.

Another fine outing for Dalziel and Pascoe, and one of the most realistic pictures of the post-strike-era mining communities I’ve come across in fiction. I listened to the audiobook with Colin Buchanan reading, and now that I’ve got used to his voices for the characters, I enjoy his narrations.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link – sorry, doesn’t seem to be available on the US site. Here’s a link to the Kindle version instead.