Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins – James Runcie

Title – Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins

Author – James Runcie

Published – 2016

Genre – Historical crime fiction

This is a book that has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time and part of the reason is that I have the hardback and it’s a VERY pretty book.

I’m familiar with Grantchester because I’ve watched all 5 of the TV series based on the books, consequently my review is more a comparison with the ITV drama than just a review of the stories.

If you haven’t seen or read anything of Grantchester then as a brief overview this is quite gentle period (1950s/60s) crime fiction set around Cambridgeshire with a sleuthing Anglican priest at the centre of the stories.

I was surprised to find that the book was actually a series of short stories but that fits in well with the way that it was adapted for the small screen. Other surprises followed as, although I suspect the two started in the same way, Sidney’s life in print has diverged somewhat on the TV – in the book we’re in the 1960s and he’s married with a small daughter. In one of the late stories in the book, when he was actually moving away from Grantchester, there is a reference to him being in his forties. The supporting characters bear some similarities to the ones I was familiar with but with the exception of Amanda they are more passing caricatures.

The stories themselves are quite gentle, not the death and violence of the TV series (although they aren’t actually very gory or graphic). The plots in this book (no. 4 in the print series) featured a missing painting, a falling piano, an exploding school science lab and poison pen letters. There is also a gentle pace in the telling of the stories and the religious aspects of Sidney’s life play a larger part with more focus on the Right (with an intentional capital) of the situations.

Nostalgic and gentle crime fiction, similar, but not the same as, the TV series.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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A Tomb With A View – Peter Ross

Title – A Tomb With A View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards

Author – Peter Ross

Published – 2020

Genre – Non-Fiction

It’s unusual for me to read a non-fiction book but this is one of two I’ve read so far in 2021 – strange times indeed!

I heard about this book purely through social media although I’m sure the cover would have been enough to seal the deal if I’d been able to browse in a bookshop. It went on my Christmas list and duly appeared under the tree.

I’m quite the taphophile as it happens and already have plenty of reading material about graves and graveyards. This book is a little different to most of those because it’s packed with unusual facts, interesting anecdotes and conversations with those intimately involved in the featured locations. Some of the stories were very personal and touched on aspects surrounding death and burial that aren’t normally talked about.

The short chapters cover the length and breadth of the country and even beyond and a range of cultures and faiths. Those whose graves feature include the well-known, the forgotten, the celebrated and the unknown.

The writing style made this an easy book to read (not something I always feel about non-fiction) and the author captured the sense of place, bringing to life the diverse locations that were featured. He has a deft turn of phrase and treated those sharing their personal stories with great respect – giving an insight into what is still very much a taboo subject.  The people who shared their stories were just as important to the book as the stones.

I do have some quibbles with the book. My first is that there are some notable gaps, it’s surprising not to see Brookwood (London Necropolis) get more than a passing mention – the largest cemetery in the UK, destination of the London Necropolis Railway and the site of the first crematorium in Britain (amongst other notable facts). For me the other omission was a mention of Lutyens – one of three principal architects for the Imperial War Graves Commission, who designed 140 cemeteries in the countryside of Flanders and northern France for soldiers killed in the First World War, whose best know memorials are the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Thiepval Memorial.

I was also felt that there was more about the political divisions in Northern Ireland than was appropriate – but I have learned something, so perhaps it wasn’t there in vain.

An unusual book and a great choice for anyone who has paused in a graveyard to read an inscription.

Now to find a space on my shelf.

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The Museum of Desire – Jonathan Kellerman


Title
– The Museum of Desire

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

I think the last book in the Alex Delaware series that I reviewed was Breakdown (#31). During the first lockdown (as the early part of 2020 is now known) I treated myself to The Wedding Guest (#34) but I must have shelved it without writing a review. I’m still figuring out the gap in the middle…

So here we are at #35 in the series – ‘The Museum of Desire’. The book opens with the discovery of a bizarre display of murder victims in the aftermath of a Beverly Hills party. So it’s no stretch to think that Milo Sturgis is going to ask for the help of Alex Delaware.  And then we’re off!

The investigation moves quite slowly as the pair have very little in the way of clues, no obvious connection between the murder victims and a variety of murder weapons. Despite what felt like slow progress I was still engrossed and cracked through the book. There are a few red herrings thrown in along the way but these felt like less of a distraction than in some earlier titles.

One of the things I always enjoy is the LA setting and one day I will get a map out to trace their movements as they drive backwards and forwards. There was a bit less eating out than there’s perhaps been in other books – always a bit of an insight into the LA life.

A while back I felt disappointed that Delaware had moved from being directly involved in cases through the child psychology angle but as the years have passed it feels more credible that he would perhaps spend less time on those cases and have more ‘free’ time to help Milo. And while he’s called on ostensibly for his psychological expertise I think Milo actually involves him for his abilities with a search engine and his tendency to ‘just drive past’ a location critical to the case – often at just the right moment!

The set up of the murders, although grotesque, also holds the key to their solution and while the usual team is involved in the investigation it’s actually Delaware’s partner, Robin, who finds the essential piece of information. I was surprised by the direction the plot took towards the end and the climax was intense!

I think (after reading 30+ books in the series) that Kellerman has a very individual writing style, something that feels familiar and comforting to me and I still look forward to a new Kellerman more than any other author’s books.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Dying Fall – Elly Griffiths

51MiSv+h+IL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Title – Dying Fall

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

Another book that’s been sitting on my TBR shelves for a while is the fifth in the Ruth Galloway series. I suspect that as this copy is a hardback it may have spent some of the time since we moved to Cirencester in a box and that would certainly explain both why I’ve left it so long to read and how I’ve managed to read the series so completely out of order.

So stepping back in time, after Ruth finds out that Dan, an old friend from college, has died in a house fire she receives a letter from him telling her he has made a huge archaeological discovery. He also tells her that he’s afraid. Ruth accepts an invitation from Dan’s boss to review the discovery and despite some sinister messages directed at her, she heads to Lancashire accompanied by Kate (eighteen months old in this book) with Cathbad as babysitter.

At the same time DCI Nelson has decided to revisit his Blackpool roots for a holiday with Michelle. Of course this has something to do with the fact that Ruth has mentioned Dan’s death and Nelson’s old colleague, Sandy, has suggested that there is something suspicious about it.

The pace feels quite slow but I enjoyed the investigative angle (Ruth seems to become a confidante for some of Dan’s former colleagues) with both the archaeological discover and Dan’s death. Slightly less of a police procedural because Nelson is on the outside of the investigation. The close connection with Pendle allows for some slighty spookier moments and then there is a more prosaic neo-Nazi group.

It’s interesting to look back on this stage of Ruth/Nelson’s relationship and I had a huge revelation at the end of the book that would have been meaningless to anyone reading the books in order. The insight into Nelson, his background and family filled in some gaps for me. There were some exciting scenes towards the climax of the story but knowing the future for the characters meant it lacked the tension I would have got from reading on order.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

Title – The Thursday Murder Club

Author – Richard Osman

Published – September 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

I had this (as a NetGalley) on my Kindle for a while and as a debut that’s hit the top of the bestseller lists I thought I should crack on and see what all the fuss was about.

I found that the beginning of the book really dragged, there were lots of characters who I didn’t yet care about, a lot of scene setting, too many witticisms and the present tense was a bit distracting (more suited to something with more thrills).  At about 10% through I toyed with giving up but it’s really unusual for me to do that so I pressed on. I found I could only continue by skipping over some of the larger blocks of text that seemed irrelevant to the story.

The premise is four elderly friends living in a very up-market retirement village who meet as the ‘Thursday Murder Club’ to help one of the members, a former police officer, solve her old cold cases. Then there is a real case on their doorstep and they step up with the intention of solving it before the police do.

What follows is a modern twist on a cosy crime, where the geriatric investigators attempt to lead the way, bringing their pre-retirement experience to their new role as armchair detectives, lubricated by their tipples of choice.

There’s a mix of third person pov from a number of characters with diary entries for one of the ‘gang’. It jumps around a bit but once I got used to the changes in chapters it was less distracting. But what was with all the dialogue where people kept including the name of the person they were talking to? It really jarred and brought me out of the story, just not how people talk.

There were a number of touching moments as the story includes some of the issues which are inevitable in a retirement village but I did find that this bordered on being overly sentimental.

Too much escapism for me and sentimentality and when the deaths are solved I didn’t find the resolution particularly satisfying.

There has been a huge campaign surrounding this book – the author did the rounds of crime festivals last year, the blurb has quotes from a large range of authors, there’s even been a blog tour – not surprising for a book thought to be the biggest deal for a debut book in a decade. But it can’t be avoided that Osman appears on late-afternoon day-time TV and as such is writing about, and for, a particular audience who seem to be buying they hype. Or perhaps the appeal is a cosy mystery set in some sort of rural idyl when we’re all in the midst of a pandemic.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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All the Best Lies – Joanna Schaffhausen

Title – All the Best Lies

Author – Joanna Schaffhausen

Published – 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

This was a book I received as a physical review copy – possibly the only physical #bookpost I’ve had in 2020.

The blurb tells me that this is the third in the ‘Ellery Hathaway’ series – something I’ll come back to later.

The main characters are FBI agent Reed Markham and his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway. Markham is suddenly presented with the opportunity to work on a cold case that has a very special connection to him. The case is the murder of a young woman who was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while her baby lay in his crib mere steps away. The connection – Markham was that baby.

Markham enlists Hathaway’s help as they decamp to Las Vegas and try to pick up a forty year old trail. The original investigation focused on one potential suspect but Markham and Hathaway quickly manage to expand this to a larger pool as they discover that the original investigation may not have been as thorough as it could have been. Markham and Hathaway have different ideas about the direction they should take and there are some twists and red herrings along the way.

This was as much about family as it was about the investigation, although the rather dramatic nature of both main characters’ backgrounds didn’t make this feel like it offered much in social or psychological commentary.

There are a number of reasons this was a three-star read. I wasn’t paying enough attention and thought that the blurb on the cover about ‘An accomplished debut’ referred to this book, so felt a bit misled. Ellery doesn’t seem to be the main character, despite this being the third in her series. There was far too much reference to previous events – I could understand the plot and backstory without as much description and reference as was included. If you had read the preceding books in the series you might have found this even more repetitive. There was a a lot of focus on the development of the relationship of the two main characters (which related to the backstory) and I wasn’t particularly fussed, I would have preferred less of this and more action.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Scott & Bailey: Bleed Like Me – Cath Staincliffe

Title – Scott & Bailey: Bleed Like Me

Author – Cath Staincliffe

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

My reading is pretty consistent at the moment but I’m moving between new books (mainly birthday gifts), review copies via NetGalley and older physical review copies of books which have been sitting on my TBR for some time. This book is one of the latter – a signed hardcopy that I picked up at a publishing event in March 2013.

I think when I went to the event I had yet to watch any of the Scott and Bailey TV series, so perhaps the delay in reading this book worked out for the best.

As soon as I started reading I was transported straight back to the TV series and its characters. The book is set as a prequel to the second ITV Scott and Bailey series (I had to look that up) but I know that it was somewhere within the series timeline as there were references to incidents I remembered.

The story is more of a thriller than a police procedural – three bodies have been found, stabbed to death in their beds, at The Journey’s Inn, Lark’s Estate, Manchester. The husband and father of two of the victims has fled and his two young sons are missing. There seems little doubt over what may have taken place, the challenge for the team is to find the desperate man but, more importantly, his small sons.

The characters are just as I remembered them but the format of a book over a TV series gives you a bit more insight into the characters and their motivations. It must be a challenge for a writer to mould their work to fit something that already exists but nothing felt out of place and there was a visual quality to the writing that helped support the feeling that this was an extension of what I’d seen on the small screen.

The story itself was a good ‘race against time’ with some red herrings and action but within the confines of a police team in Manchester. The investigation is only part of the story, though, as this is also a story of the three very different, strong women who take the lead.

I really enjoyed this – it took me back to a very watchable TV series, not only reminded me of the characters but added to it by providing a more intimate connection with them.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Quickening – Rhiannon Ward

Title – The Quickening

Author – Rhiannon Ward

Published – 20 August 2020

Genre – Historical crime fiction

While I’ve not suffered the lack of interest in reading that others found during lockdown I have found that the change to my routine has made my blogging even more sporadic than normal. Somehow over the last few years I’ve gone from 50 or 60 posts a year to only 12 so far in 2020 but the latest book from Rhiannon (Sarah) Ward has prompted me to get back to the keyboard.

I had intended getting my blog post out in time for the publication date but it’s taken longer to write than I planned as I’ve deleted around 400 words and started again.

So.

Not only is there a change of name for the author but also a change of publisher and genre (as Sarah Ward she is the author of four DC Childs novels) although keeping the crime/mystery element this is a move to an historical setting – the main part of the story being taking place in 1925.

Louisa is a photographer asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex, where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction before the family move to India. She is surprised by the commission but with a baby on the way she’s keen to take the opportunity to earn some extra money. When she arrives she finds that the house is literally falling apart and its inhabitants seemed to be damaged or weighed down with grief; it’s a dark and tense atmosphere that she’s not comfortable with. She discovers that during her stay at the house an event is planned to recreate an infamous seance that originally took place in 1896.

The setting is atmospheric and there is an underlying tension which builds through the story as the secrets of the house and family are revealed. There is a lot of grief and loss in the book, something which Louisa herself is no stranger to, and this is magnified by the decay of the surroundings and the limited cast of characters.

Louisa makes a great lead, she has some modern sensibilities but the author couches these within the constraints of the period. I was fascinated both by the details around the photographic process of the period as well as those around the everyday lives of the house’s occupants. I have to wonder how on earth you can research these tiny details – if they were made up then they were very convincing!

It’s one of those oddities of publishing that I was sitting in the garden in a heatwave reading this dark and chilling mystery – it will make a great read when the nights draw in. A gothic mystery set in a dilapidated country house with a strong female lead, a mysterious child and a cameo appearance by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – what more could you ask for?

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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Cold Malice – Quentin Bates

Title – Cold Malice

Author – Quentin Bates

Published – June 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

It’s been a while since the last instalment featuring Gunnhildur Gísladóttir and it’s great that Quentin Bates has found the time between his role as a translator of Icelandic crime fiction, to bring us up to date.

If you’re not familiar with her, Gunnhildur is a detective in Reykjavík, trying to balance her chaotic personal life with her dogged determination to get to the truth.

There are two main investigations which from the basis of the book. Gunnhildur is called to the apparent suicide of a successful but reclusive artist, as she tries to establish the circumstances leading up to his death she is drawn to the mystery of his wife’s death some years earlier.

Gunnhildur’s colleague, Helgi, spots a ‘ghost’ as he travels home from his holiday abroad, he sees the face of a man who was declared dead fifteen years previously.

As both detectives try to get to the bottom of their cases we also follow Helgi’s mysterious ghost as he returns to his home for the first time since 2004. Despite the fact that he was able to just turn his back on his family and walk away from them, he’s been following his children’s lives from afar and his return is prompted by his son’s incarceration in prison for murder.

As the detectives pursue their cases we move from the celebrity of the art world to low-life drug dealers, the ups and downs of contemporary Iceland.

The series owes a lot to the sub-genre of ‘Nordic Noir’ – it makes the most of the atmosphere and location of Iceland, and provides a commentary on topical, social issues but it also adds to this by bringing to life a cast of characters, especially Gunnhildur, who are well drawn, developing over the course of the series.

As a fan of police procedurals this series ticks all the boxes for me.

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This post is part of a blog tour to mark the publication of Cold Malice.

Find Her – Lisa Gardner

Title – Find Her

Author – Lisa Gardner

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’d like to think that I will eventually get round to reading and reviewing all the books I have sitting on my TBR pile and as this book’s been on it since late 2015 it’s proof that it’s not impossible. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is quite a difficult book to review without giving too much of the plot away.

I was gripped from the opening “When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening.” With that we learn that Flora is trapped in a coffin-shaped box, trying to figure out the constraints of her prison, not knowing what might happen if the box is opened.

Skip forward and we know that somehow Flora survived because 5 years after her captivity ended she’s developed a nasty habit of finding herself the target of some unwanted attention, attention that she is now more than capable of handling. Her path crosses that of Detective D. D. Warren when a chance encounter in a Boston bar ends with a dead body in a garage. It seems Flora has taken an unhealthy interest in young women who have disappeared.

I was completely gripped, both by the story of Flora and her survival. The book poses the question of whether Flora is a victim, or a vigilante, not something that even Flora can answer. The story of her abduction as a young girl unfolds through the book, with some hard truths that Flora herself can’t face up to. Her abduction changes her, creates a new Flora, and there are many things that new Flora will do that the old one wouldn’t have believed possible.

I enjoyed the balance of thriller/mystery/suspense alongside the development of Flora’s character – how she was broken down but then rebuilt herself and how the new Flora struggled to connect to her old life. The details of the abduction, which didn’t dwell on the sexual aspects, rang true, her experiences seemed credible as did the emotional impact. One of those books that weaves a twisty yarn but also prompts you to think about some of the issues it raises – how do people who have suffered in this sort of attack ever return to a ‘normal’ life – the one which they fought to survive for?

This book is number 8 in the Detective D. D. Warren series, not having read any others in the series wasn’t an issue but perhaps you would get more out of the book if you’re familiar with the character. While her point of view was important to the story and moving the mystery forward, it was Flora who was the star of the piece.

A real page-turner with some incredibly tense scenes and thought-provoking character development. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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