TBR Thursday 241…

Episode 241

Hallo, people! How have you been? Do you still remember me?? My little break seems to be turning into a lengthy sabbatical, so I thought I’d just pop in and say hi. Back soon – I hope you see that as a promise and not a threat! 😉 

Meantime, there’s been a HUMONGOUS drop in the TBR – down NINE to 208! Admittedly, I’ve abandoned seven in the last three weeks, so that may be something to do with it, but there have been a few excellent reads in there too. I’ll tell you all about them just as soon as I remember how to write reviews. 

Here are a few more I got from the prison library while I wait for my reprieve…

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan

When I first posted about my Reading the Spanish Civil War challenge, I mentioned that I wanted to know more about the causes of the war, and was finding it hard to find anything written in English which tries to be objective, since there’s such a strong bias in most British writing towards the Republican side. Spanish buddy José Ignacio of A Crime is Afoot recommended this one, and from the blurb it sounds exactly what I’m looking for…

The Blurb says: Isolated from the rest of Europe politically as well as geographically, Spain is a difficult country for foreigners to understand. Yet when in 1936 the land was divided by the most disastrous civil war of this century, individuals and governments of many nations became involved. This book is an account of how and why things turned out as they did. The answers lie in the labyrinth of Spanish history between 1874 and 1936. Mr Brenan charts this labyrinth, disentangling and identifying the separate forces for disunity; he explains the part played by the Church, the army, and the various political parties – Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists, Carlists and Socialists; and he shows how industrial unrest, unequal privileges, agrarian discontent, and provincial loyalties each had a share in producing a war in which ‘the vanquished were beaten and the victors defeated’.

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Short Stories

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley. I don’t read many non-genre short stories and I don’t know this author at all. I just liked the sound of the blurb… 

The Blurb says: From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Winter Soldier and The Piano Tuner comes a collection of interlacing tales of men and women as they face the mysteries and magic of the world.

On a fated flight, a balloonist makes a discovery that changes her life forever. A telegraph operator finds an unexpected companion in the middle of the Amazon. A doctor is beset by seizures, in which he is possessed by a second, perhaps better, version of himself. And in Regency London, a bare-knuckle fighter prepares to face his most fearsome opponent, while a young mother seeks a miraculous cure for her ailing son.

At times funny and irreverent, always moving, these stories cap a fifteen-year project that has won both a National Magazine Award and Pushcart Prize. From the Nile’s depths to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from volcano-wracked islands to an asylum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, these are lives of ecstasy and epiphany.

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American Classic

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

One from my Classics Club list. This massive Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is probably the one on the American section of my list that appeals most to me, although reading the blurb again now is giving me a mild resurgence of Post-Steinbeck Stress Disorder. I can but hope! I’m also told the film of the book is a noir classic in its own right (the 1949 version), so if I enjoy the book I shall seek out the movie…

The Blurb says: More than just a classic political novel, Warren’s tale of power and corruption in the Depression-era South is a sustained meditation on the unforeseen consequences of every human act, the vexing connectedness of all people and the possibility—it’s not much of one—of goodness in a sinful world. Willie Stark, Warren’s lightly disguised version of Huey Long, the one time Louisiana strongman/governor, begins as a genuine tribune of the people and ends as a murderous populist demagogue. Jack Burden is his press agent, who carries out the boss’s orders, first without objection, then in the face of his own increasingly troubled conscience. And the politics? For Warren, that’s simply the arena most likely to prove that man is a fallen creature. Which it does.

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Cold Kill by Rennie Airth

Courtesy of Severn House via NetGalley. Decades before he started writing his slow and thoughtful historical crime series, Rennie Airth wrote a one-off manic standalone comedy thriller called Snatch, which I loved. It was so different from his later work that I several times wondered if perhaps there were two authors with the same name. Now he’s back with another standalone thriller – not sure it’s a comedy though – and I’m wondering if he can recapture the fast-paced magic after all these years. Must be honest, early reviews are mixed…

The Blurb says: An American actress arrives in London to find herself the target of a ruthless assassin in this compelling standalone thriller.

Actress Adelaide Banks is swapping her native New York for London to spend Christmas with her widowed Aunt Rose. Rose wrote in her note that she was off to Paris for a few days and would be back in time for Addy’s arrival. But when Addy reaches Rose’s Knightsbridge address, no one’s home, and she has two unexpected callers . . .

Where is Rose, and what has she got herself entangled in? Dragged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse on the snowy streets of London, Addy finds herself navigating a dark underworld of ruthless assassins, rogue agents and international crime. Can she survive long enough to uncover the truth?

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Death of Kings (John Madden 5) by Rennie Airth

A new take on the Golden Age…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

the-death-of-kingsWhen retired policeman Tom Derry receives an anonymous letter enclosing a jade pendant that the writer claims belonged to a murder victim, he discusses it with Angus Sinclair, who had worked with him on the original investigation. Sinclair is worried – at the back of his mind he had always had doubts about the guilt of the man convicted and hanged for the crime. Not well enough to look into the matter himself, Sinclair asks his old friend John Madden to check things out.

Now in 1949, Madden is retired too, but he still has contacts in the force, not least Billy Styles who used to be his subordinate but is now a detective inspector. The murder took place back in 1938, when a small-time actress, Portia Blake, was a guest at a house-party. She went out for a walk in the woods, and her body was later discovered, strangled. A man with a previous conviction for attempted rape was in the vicinity and suspicion soon fell on him, and after interrogation he confessed. As a result, the investigation was quickly wrapped up and other possible solutions were never checked. So it’s up to Madden to track down the people who were there that weekend, and see if anyone else had a motive…

I’ve always enjoyed the Madden books, and this is an excellent addition to the series. They are somewhat quieter and slower than most modern crime novels, relying on the quality of the writing and the carefully created post-war setting to carry them. There is most definitely a Golden Age feel to them, quite intentionally, I think, though they are at the more thoughtful end of the Golden Age, or perhaps in the slightly later tradition of PD James.

In this one, we have the country house party, a rather upper class list of suspects, a traditional style of investigation carried out mostly through interviews of the various people who were there at the time, and a restricted time period for the murder, making alibi an important feature. There is also a connection to the Chinese Triads through one of the suspects – a half-Chinese man from Hong Kong. Normally I’d run a mile from a story about the Triads – not my thing at all – but I’m delighted to say that, while it’s an important element of the story, it’s somewhat understated and isn’t allowed to overwhelm the other features. At heart this is a traditional detective story, and the Triad storyline feels realistic within that.

In the last couple of books, I’ve lightly criticised the fact that much of the investigation is carried out off-stage, so to speak, with information being given to the reader via police officers talking to each other. I’m delighted to say this one doesn’t take that approach – it goes back to the, in my opinion, much more satisfying style of Madden actually getting out and about and talking to people himself. This makes the characterisation of the suspects much better developed, which consequently meant I felt more invested in the outcome. It also allows for deepening of Madden’s own character, since we see the investigation proceed from his perspective, though in third person.

The old regulars are here too – Angus Sinclair, curmudgeonly with gout, but his brain still sharp; Billy Styles, still faithful to his old mentor; Lily Poole, the lone female detective in this man’s world. I’ve always liked the way Airth deals with Lily – she is strong and intelligent, but not feminist in the strident sense, and the sexism she encounters isn’t ill-meant – just a true reflection of how things were back then. She realises it’s an unfair world but does her best to progress within the existing rules rather than constantly kicking against them. And Airth always lets her have a major impact on the investigation without it ever feeling forced or unrealistic for the time. Madden’s family is here too – his wife, Helen, able to cast some light on some of the suspects from her days as a society girl, and his daughter, Lucy, now a young woman, constantly sticking her nose in and gossiping about the case, but doing it all with a lot of charm (which manages, just, to stay this side of nauseating).

Rennie Airth
Rennie Airth

The solution relies a little too much on Madden getting a sudden intuition, but otherwise it’s both dark and satisfying. Airth includes the kind of class element that is so often present in Golden Age books, with the rather upper-class old school policemen tending to protect those of their own background; but he has Billy Styles comment on it, suggesting that winds of change are about to shake up the way policing is done in this post-war world. Altogether, an absorbing, rather slow-paced novel, but with excellent timing so that it holds the reader’s attention throughout. This would work fine as a standalone, with enough background given to each of the regulars to let new readers understand how they relate to each other, but as with any series it’s probably best to read them in order, starting with River of Darkness.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Mantle (Pan MacMillan).

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 108…

Episode 108…

Phew! No further increase to the TBR this week, but no decrease either – stable on 194! I’m sure it’ll start to fall dramatically soon…

So here are a few more that should reach the top of the heap soonish…


the-travelers-guide-to-spaceCourtesy of NetGalley. Recent political events at home and abroad have given me an urgent desire to emigrate to another planet, so I’m hoping this book will give me some handy pointers…

The Blurb says: Traveling into space and visiting or even emigrating to nearby worlds will soon become part of the human experience. Scientists, engineers, and investors are working hard to make space tourism a reality. As experienced astronauts will tell you, extraterrestrial travel is incomparably thrilling. To make the most of the experience requires profound physical and mental adjustments by travelers as they adapt to microgravity and alterations in virtually every aspect of life, from eating to intimacy. Everyone who goes into space and returns sees Earth and life on it from a profoundly different perspective. If you have ever wondered about space travel, now you have the opportunity to find out.

Astronomer and former NASA/ASEE scientist Neil F. Comins has written the go-to book for anyone interested in space exploration, including potential travelers. He describes the joys and the dangers travelers will face—weightlessness, unparalleled views of Earth and the cosmos, the opportunity to walk on or jump off another world, as well as radiation, projectiles, unbreathable atmospheres, and potential equipment failures. He also provides insights into specific types of travel and destinations, including suborbital flights (nonstop flights to space and back), Earth-orbiting space stations, the Moon, asteroids, comets, and Mars—the first-choice candidate for colonization. Although many challenges to space travel are technical, Comins outlines these matters in clear language for all readers. He synthesizes key issues and cutting-edge research in astronomy, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology to create a complete manual for those eager to take the ultimate voyage, as well as those just interested in the adventure.

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the-death-of-kingsCourtesy of Mantle. The latest entry in Rennie Airth’s series of thoughtful crime novels set in England just after the Second World War featuring Inspector John Madden (adore that cover!)…

The Blurb says:  On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honour and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads.

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rebeccaFrom my Classics Club list, a much anticipated re-read and an opportunity to do a comparison with the wonderful Hitchcock film… (is this the worst blurb you ever read?? I would never pick this book up on the basis of it – sounds like Barbara Cartland on an off day!)

The Blurb says: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers…

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

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stiff-upper-lip-jeevesJonathan Cecil is brilliant at narrating the Jeeves and Wooster books so this will be delicious fun… (Total count of unlistened-to audiobooks as at today = 78. See how sneakily I snuck that in…?)

The Blurb says: When the news breaks that Madeline Bassett is engaged to Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s relief is intense. But when Madeline attempts to turn Gussie vegetarian, Bertie’s instinct for self-preservation sends him with the steadfast Jeeves on another uproariously funny mission to Sir Watkyn Bassett’s residence, Totleigh Towers.

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

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

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TBR Thursday 102…

The books that aren’t there…

As part of my ridiculous TBR spreadsheet, whenever I give a book 5 stars I add the author’s name to a list to remind me to read either one of their existing books or their next one, if they’re new authors or I’ve already read all of their previous books. Every now and again I check Amazon to see if there’s any sign of the next book coming along, and generally they duly appear within a year or two. But when I last checked, I realised some of these authors had been on the list for a long time with no sign of a new book. Where are they? Are they still writing?

the luminaries blueEleanor Catton won the Booker for The Luminaries, first published in August 2013. I loved it for her careful creation of a town that I came to feel as if I had actually visited. The book was monstrous in size and scope, so perhaps she’s working on another just as ambitious, but I can’t find anything on the web that tells me when we might see a new one appear.

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money treeFor several years, Gordon Ferris was publishing books pretty regularly, every year or two. But it’s well over two years since his last book Money Tree appeared in June 2014. At the time, this was billed as the start of a new series looking at some of the world’s contemporary concerns – a series of standalones but with an overarching theme under a series name of “Only Human”. But since then, nothing – and again I can’t see anything suggesting another book is on the way soon.

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paradeShuichi Yoshida’s Parade, published in translation in March 2014, was billed as a crime book, but I felt it actually fell more into the category of literary fiction. The picture it paints of the lives of young people in Tokyo left me strangely discombobulated, as Japanese fiction often does – it’s a society that always seems in a kind of free-fall. I find Yoshida’s writing compelling, and his characters are always believable even when I don’t fully understand them. Perhaps his long absence is a translation issue rather than a writing one, but no sign of a new one on the horizon.

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after the lockoutDarran McCann’s début After the Lockout, published way back in February 2012, was an intriguing book set in Armagh in the period following the Easter Uprising. Though there was much of politics and religion in it, McCann managed to keep it at a very human level. He’s an author of whom I genuinely expected great things, but again he seems to have disappeared, at least in terms of publishing another novel.

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arzee the dwarfI positively adored Chandrahas Choudhry’s Arzee the Dwarf. Published in December 2009, it’s a deliciously bittersweet tale of one man trying to achieve his dreams in contemporary Bombay – a beautifully written depiction of this vibrant and contradictory city at odds with the picture of unrelieved misery so often given in Indian novels. Years after reading it, I still smile whenever I think of it. And I’m getting extremely impatient for another…

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The good news is that, five long years after his wonderful Last Man in Tower, a new book has finally appeared from Aravind AdigaSelection Day, which I will be reading just as soon as I can.

selection-dayThe Blurb says: Manju is fourteen. He knows he is good at cricket – if not as good as his elder brother Radha. He knows that he fears and resents his domineering and cricket-obsessed father, admires his brilliantly talented brother and is fascinated by CSI and curious and interesting scientific facts. But there are many things, about himself and about the world, that he doesn’t know . . . Everyone around him, it seems, has a clear idea of who Manju should be, except Manju himself.

But when Manju begins to get to know Radha’s great rival, a boy as privileged and confident as Manju is not, everything in Manju’s world begins to change and he is faced by decisions that will challenge both his sense of self and of the world around him.

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And here are a few more long-awaited ones that will be appearing soon (all publication dates are for the UK)…

penancePublication due 5th April 2017 from Kanae Minato, author of the dark and compelling Confessions

The Blurb says: The tense, chilling story of four women haunted by a childhood trauma.

When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emili by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emili is found murdered hours later. Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after the Emili’s body was discovered. Asako, Emili’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.

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the-death-of-kingsPublication due 16th January 2017 from Rennie Airth, author of the Inspector Madden series set in post-war England…

The Blurb says: On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honor and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads.

* * * * *

the-followerPublication due 9th February 2017 from Koethi Zan, author of the dark and disturbing thriller The Never List

The Blurb says… very little: You think she’ll help you. She won’t.

A page-turning thriller about the wife of a kidnapper and her relationship with his last victim.

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the-good-peoplePublication due 9th February 2017 from Hannah Kent, author of the stunning Burial Rites

The Blurb says: Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken…

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So there’s still hope… if you can shed any light on if and when we might see new books from any of these authors, please do so in the comments. Are there any authors who’ve been on your own “avidly awaiting” list for too long?

The Reckoning (John Madden 4) by Rennie Airth

the reckoning rennie airthAftermath of war…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When a retired banker is shot while fishing, it seems to be a bafflingly motiveless crime. The man was a respectable, self-effacing type with no known enemies. Even more bafflingly, elements of the crime mirrored an earlier murder that had taken place hundreds of miles away in Aberdeenshire. Because of these similarities, Billy Styles, now a Scotland Yard inspector, is asked to investigate possible links. And when it is discovered that the second victim had been trying to get an address for John Madden, he is dragged back from retirement and once again becomes involved in the investigation.

This fourth entry in the John Madden series very much follows the pattern of the previous one, The Dead of Winter, which is no bad thing. The Second World War is now over but the country is still suffering the aftermaths. One of Airth’s strengths is in creating an authentic setting and in this one he gives a very credible picture of life under rationing, and London still marked by bombsites and ruined buildings. He tells the story at a leisurely pace with some fine descriptive writing and his characters are, as always, well-rounded and believable. There is a feel of the Golden Age about his writing – the police force is made up of honourable, upright officers from top to bottom, mostly men, but we get to see the beginnings of that changing with Lily Poole now having been promoted to detective constable. Again there’s an authentic feel about Lily’s position – she’s no superhero and the sexism she encounters is simply part of the culture of the society of the time rather than blatant and caricatured (as it so often is in modern crime fiction).

Post-war food rationing...
Post-war food rationing…

As usual, the plot is rooted in the wars that disrupted the first half of the century and Airth shows the after-effects of some of the horrors that took place; but again, he does it with a welcome degree of restraint. I tire easily of the huge piles of fiction that all suggest that everyone who lived through the wars was permanently emotionally damaged – these were the people of my parents’ generation and the vast bulk of them managed to get back to normality fairly quickly and lead as happy and productive lives as earlier or later generations, and Airth’s characters are in the main cut from this cloth. However, as Airth shows, some people were very badly affected, physically or emotionally, and this allows him to build a level of moral complexity into the plot that lifts it above the run of the psychopathic serial killer novel, and makes it a more emotional and thought-provoking read as a result.

My only criticism of this book is the same as I had of the last one – that is, that much of the story is told at second-hand via the device of the policemen and Madden telling each other about their investigations rather than taking the reader out and about with them. This means again that we don’t get to meet many of the witnesses for ourselves and still feels a little like lazy writing to me. However I found the plot of this one much more interesting, with a genuine mystery at its core. I admit, I felt I was way ahead of the investigators for much of the book, but then I have the advantage of having read the previous books so knew what direction Airth was likely to take.

Even chocolate was rationed...barbaric!!
Even chocolate was rationed…barbaric!!

These are thoughtful, intelligent novels that are as much about how the wars affected the society of the time as they are about the specific crimes. With likeable main characters, a good plot and a strong historical context, this one is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates the more traditional kind of crime novel.

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The Dead of Winter (John Madden 3) by Rennie Airth

the dead of winterConvincing war-time setting…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

A young Polish woman is garrotted on a blackout-dark London street. Around her are some burnt matches as if someone had been looking for something. But nothing has been stolen and it appears that the woman was not assaulted prior to her death. When the police manage to identify her, it turns out she was a land girl working for ex-police inspector John Madden, who is still a close friend of the investigating officer Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair. So it seems only natural that Madden should become involved in the investigation. However, it soon becomes apparent that Rosa’s death is just one of many and that the police are hunting a deadly assassin who has pursued his trade in many countries across Europe. But why did he target Rosa? And how will the police track him down?

This is the third in the John Madden series. Airth must be one of the least prolific writers in the world – the first book, River of Darkness, was published in 1999, then came The Blood-Dimmed Tide in 2003, followed by this one in 2009. And the fourth book, The Reckoning, is due out this month. The result of this glacial timescale means that I have completely forgotten everything about the first two books except for a general sense of having enjoyed them. I can therefore confirm that this third one works perfectly well as a standalone.

Set in 1944, we have leapt forward in time some twenty years from the first book. Madden and his wife Helen are still idyllically happy together and both their children are now young adults serving in the war effort. Much of the investigation takes place in London and Airth gives a really convincing picture of the city at the tail end of the war, with everyone waiting wearily for the fighting to be over. The Blitz is long past, but occasional V-2s are still falling, so the blackout is still in place and the exhausted Civil Defence wardens are still patrolling the nighttime streets. Some families are still divided, with wives and children living away from the city for safety. But we also see how people are living in rural areas, as the investigation moves closer towards Madden’s home territory. While the war meanders on, farms and villages are surviving with the help of land girls and volunteers from amongst the women, and Airth shows how a kind of barter-system has sprung up to help the communities deal with the shortage of food.

London 1944 - it wasn't only men who kept a stiff upper lip...
London 1944 – it wasn’t only men who kept a stiff upper lip…

The plot is fairly complex, though not much to my personal taste, to be honest – the international assassin story is not one that interests me much. However there is a more personal element to it too, and a mystery – mainly around why Rosa became a victim. The characterisation of Madden and the various police officers is strong and convincing, in a pleasantly old-fashioned way, much as if the book had been written around the time it was set. Hence, plenty of heroic stiff-upper-lipping and very little angst-ridden emoting – all good, as far as this reader is concerned. And although the ending is thriller-esque, it stays within the overall tone of realism of the book.

Rennie Airth
Rennie Airth

However, there is one major weakness that prevents the book from being as good as it might have been, and that is Airth’s strange decision to tell the reader about the investigation at second-hand, through a series of conversations between the various police officers. Thus, we don’t get to hear directly from many of the witnesses – we just get a report of what they said. It’s an odd device, and means that the book becomes almost monotone. In a less skilled and careful author, I might even say it smacked of laziness. Nevertheless, the quality of the descriptions of England at the end of the war together with some excellent characterisation still mean that the book is well worth reading, despite this peculiar story-telling method. Recommended.

(Semi-interesting factlet: Rennie Airth wrote a wonderfully funny caper novel back in 1969, Snatch, which later became one of my favourite books of all time. In fact, it was the first book I ever reviewed on Amazon UK, back in 2003 when all reviewers were called A Customer. It’s a truly dreadful review, with a glaringly awful grammatical error in the second sentence, but it’s still my baby! And I’m delighted to say that ten people have apparently found it helpful – so that’s nearly one a year! 😉 )

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 24…

Episode 24 – The People’s Choice 2 – The Result!


Now I mean this in the most complimentary way, but…you folks are really quite weird! Of all the books in last week’s poll, I would never have expected the runaway winner, with 40% of all votes cast, to be…

the phantom tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

However, I’m delighted with your choice and will be reading and reviewing the book in the near(ish) future. Thanks to everyone who voted – I hope you enjoy these occasional polls as much as I do.

Thanks again to Vishy for his review of this book!

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I’m also delighted to say that the TBR has dipped to 94 (well, 95 once I add The Phantom Tollbooth…actually 96, since the runner-up The Jewel in the Crown seems to have slipped on there too when I wasn’t looking). In line with my policy of iron self-control (which you can see is really working well), I’m adding nothing (else) this week, so here are a few of the ones that are getting close to the top of the list…

Coming soon…


a dark and twisted tideCourtesy of NetGalley – the next instalment of one of my favourite series. Interesting to see that SJ Bolton has decided to start using her full name – she explains why on her blog.

The BlurbYoung policewoman Lacey Flint knows that the Thames is a dangerous place – after all, she lives on it and works on it – but she’s always been lucky. Until one day, when she finds a body floating in the water. Who was this woman and why was she wrapped so carefully in white burial cloths before being hidden in the fast-flowing depths? DCI Dana Tulloch hates to admit it, but she’s fond of the mysterious Lacey. Even if she keeps on interfering in her investigations, and is meddling with the latest floater case. But now she’s got to break some terrible news to her – news that could destroy Lacey’s fragile state of mind. And Lacey will need to keep her wits about her because there’s a killer that’s lurking around her boat, leaving her gifts she’d rather not receive . . .


the dead of winterThis has been on my wishlist (the hundred or so books that I like to pretend are not part of the TBR) since it was published in 2009. It has now become urgent since the next book in the series is due out this summer. Thank goodness for the occasional incredibly unprolific author!

The Blurb – The murder of a young Polish girl in wartime London puts John Madden on the trail of a ruthless hired killer. On a freezing London night in 1944, Rosa Novak is brutally murdered during a blackout. The police suspect she was the victim of a random act of violence and might have dropped the case if former police investigator John Madden hadn’t been the victim’s employer. Madden’s old colleagues at Scotland Yard are working on it, but their scant clues lead them to Europe, where the ravages of the war halt their inquiries. Madden feels he owes it to Rosa to find her killer and pushes the investigation until he stumbles upon the dead girl’s connection to a murdered Parisian furrier, a member of the Resistance, and a stolen cache of diamonds.
With rich psychological insights and vivid historical details, this riveting third novel in the Madden series promises to expand Airth’s readership among discerning fans of crime fiction.


a fine balanceSanta brought me this one so it’s long past time it reached the top of the pile. Another massive brick but I have very high hopes of this one…

The Blurb – With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.


NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads.

So what do you think? Have you read any of these or do you intend to?