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Ford County – John Grisham

61avjhwpgxlTitle – Ford County

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2009

Genre – Legal

Ford County is the setting for a number of Grisham’s trademark legal thrillers, including A Time to Kill, and in this case provides the location for a series of short stories.

Following quickly on the heels of 20th Century Ghosts this was another disappointing collection of short stories. I had expected that because the stories shared the same setting that they would have something in common –  a location, a character or similar thread providing a connection, but no. In fact the setting didn’t seem particularly important and if they had been set in a number of different locations I’m not sure it would have made any difference.

The stories themselves were based around a legal premise although not all involved lawyers but for the most part they seemed to lack much in thrills, or legal twists. At best focussing on the characters in the stories and often delivering a moral message these weren’t engaging and I felt as if they were working towards some sort of climax but they failed to carry through.

Not a collection I would recommend.

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And Then You Die – Michael Dibdin

717lXEZgjoL-2Title – And Then You Die

Author – Michael Dibdin

Published – 2002

Genre – Crime fiction

Like most other bloggers, I started  my  blog with reviews of books I already owned and while it’s lovely to be given review copies, I’m still buying and being given books as presents that I  want  to read. So for September I’m skipping review copies and catching up on my own books.

One (of many) series that I am behind on are the Italian-set books by Michael Dibdin featuring Inspector Aurelio Zen. And Then You Die is the eight book in the series which started with CWA Gold Dagger winning Ratking in 1988. Despite his English roots Dibdin set the series in Italy and Zen is by birth a Venetian who has spent most of the series living and working in different areas of Italy. In Blood Rain, which preceded And Then You Die, Zen had been in Sicily and attracted the ire of the Mafia, ending in a devastating explosion.

And Then You Die opens in the coastal town of Versilia where Zen is both recuperating and lying low, but while he is trying to remain inconspicuous and blending in with the locals on the beach, a fellow sunbather is discovered dead. Those trying to ensure his protection in advance of a Mafia trial decide to move him and the first half of the book sees him relocated several times, with some more seemingly coincidental calamities wherever he goes. While the story is quite entertaining it’s not exactly gripping.

Finally, he is able to return to Rome where he is invited to head up a new specialist division and offered the opportunity to return to Versilia prior to taking up this role. This enables Zen to follow up on a love interest that had been hinted at during his earlier stay. Before he can become too involved, a face from the past returns and many of the loose ends from Blood Rain are tied up. This latter half of the book has more action, but still there’s nothing what I would recognise as a typical police procedural and felt more like a farce. I guess it didn’t help that it was some time since I had read Blood Rain and I don’t remember the story in enough detail to be overly worried by the previous events. Returning to the series Zen seems a somewhat diminished character and the book lack the dark humour I remembered from the before – or perhaps I’m just remembering it fondly…

At just 279 pages the book is more of a novella than a full length novel. For me, what it lacked in pages it also sadly lacked in plot. A disappointing read.

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Payback Time – Geraint Anderson

Title – Payback Time

Author – Geraint Anderson

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

This was a review copy from Headline Books. This is the second novel by the author, perhaps better known as City Boy, who was an anonymous columnist for The London Paper in 2008.

The story features a group of university friends who all work, in some way, in the City. Not long after Bridget is sacked by the bank she and Steve work for she is seen plummeting to her death from her high-rise flat. Initially distraught, the gang are determined to take revenge on the bank by a complicated plot to devalue the bank and pocket millions for themselves.  There is a second part to the story when they realise that perhaps Bridget’s death might not have been the suicide that it appeared and the group falls apart as they begin to doubt each other.

I was told that if you can’t say anything nice, then you shouldn’t say anything at all. But I’ve never been very good at doing the right thing, and in this case I really can’t find a positive. Except perhaps that the book was blessedly quite short.

The characters have no redeeming features, not one between them. They are incredibly crass, obnoxious, self-centred, and hypocritical.  The plot is weak. Some of the financial aspects confused me and with half a degree in economics and 10 years working for pension fund I have a better idea than most what they were talking about.  The coke snorting, and drinking to excess were reminiscent of stories from the 80’s and don’t make for pleasant reading.

Perhaps this is crime fiction for readers of FHM, but not for me!

You can see another review of this at Bookgeeks.

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Past Caring – Robert Goddard

Title – Past Caring

Author – Robert Goddard

Published – 1986

Genre – Crime fiction

This was my second choice of title in “The Great Transworld Crime Caper”, a challenge to review three books from a list of first crime novels. I chose this as my second book as I’ve never read any Robert Goddard and with over 20 books published I thought this would be a great introduction. Sadly found reading this book a huge chore and it was a challenge to get to the end.

Why should distinguished Edwardian Cabinet minister Edwin Strafford resign at the height of his parliamentary career? Why does the woman he loves so suddenly and coldly reject him? Why, seventy years later, should people go to such lengths – even as far as murder – to prevent the truth from being revealed?

Martin Radford, history graduate, disaffected and unemployed, leaps at the chance to get to the island of Madeira and begin the hunt for a solution to the intriguing secret of Edwin Strafford’s fall from grace. However, his seeming good fortune turns to nightmare as his investigation triggers a bizarre and violent train of events which remorselessly entangles him and those who believed they had escaped the spectre of crimes long past but never paid for…

Opening in 1977 we follow Martin, an unemployed history teacher, who accepts the offer of a trip to Madeira to visit an old friend. While on the island he is approached by Leo Sellick, an influential man in the community, to carry out some research into the previous occupant of his house, Edwin Strafford. This felt very similar to a number of books I’ve read recently, using a memoir as  device to tell a story from the past, in this case Strafford’s story from the early part of the 20th century.

When Martin returns to England to carry out this research he finds that there are people still alive who have a great (and very serious) interest in what he’s doing. There follows a convoluted plot which revolves around a mystery in 1910.

I’m sure that Robert Goddard is a very accomplished author – you must be doing something right if you have 20 odd books published. Here comes the “but” – but I thought this was dreadful. If the book had been a third of the length (it was a hefty 622 pages) it might have been better, but as it was the story dragged on and on. I found the lead character completely unsympathetic. He was sacked as a teacher, didn’t really treat any of his friends well, and didn’t even like his own daughter. As soon as a woman appeared in the story he was willing to drop all his principles in order to gain her approval. Perhaps the point was that he should be unlikable, but ‘came good at the end’, but that doesn’t make for an enjoyable book. I would have been pleased if someone had bumped him off!

Although the book was originally published in 1986 and the edition I was reading was published in 2010, it was full of errors, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with so many typos. While it didn’t stop me following the plot, it was distracting.

Needless to say I failed the Transworld challenge – I took far too long to finish this book, so sadly I never made it to my third & final choice of book – The Business of Dying Simon Kernick. So the question is – should I go out & buy it anyway?

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Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Title – Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Author– Kate Atkinson

Published -1995 (paperback)

Genre – Contemporary fiction

It has been hard to miss this novel in the shops since it was published in 1995 and in a book-purchasing binge I bought a copy. This book is the perfect lesson in why I really should read all that blurb by the publishers!

Ruby Lennox was conceived grudgingly by Bunty and born while her father, George, was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a woman in an emerald dress and a D-cup that he wasn’t married. Bunty had never wanted to marry George, but here she was, stuck in a flat above the pet shop in an ancient street beneath York Minster, with sensible and sardonic Patricia aged five, greedy cross-patch Gillian who refused to be ignored, and Ruby…Ruby tells the story of The Family, from the day at the end of the nineteenth century when a travelling French photographer catches frail beautiful Alice and her children, like flowers in amber, to the startling, witty, and memorable events of Ruby’s own life.

This was Kate Atkinson’s first novel, and it was the winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year 1995. A book outside my normal reading list, and one which I really struggled to finish. Although the story is told by Ruby we also follow, through footnotes (what other writers call chapters), three generations of Ruby’s ancestors. To be honest I think it was three – but I did get pretty confused. While the story of Ruby’s life was chronological and dated, the other stories didn’t seem to be and I found myself suddenly plunged backwards in time without much of a clue as to when I was. I do remember the book touching on several wars, although I can’t be sure which ones. I couldn’t remember which aunt was which or when. It was more convoluted than many thrillers! And of course I was expecting something about a museum – so I should learn not to take titles too literally. I found this a frustrating read although I know I will be disagreeing with a lot of people about this. Not sure if I would try another of Kate Atkinson’s books, although they do have covers which suggest I would enjoy them!

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A Place of Secrets – Rachel Hore


Title – A Place of Secrets
Author – Rachel Hore

Published – 2010 (paperback)

Genre – Contemporary Fiction

Another Richard & Judy bookclub book, and as with Sister, I was also given this for free.

The night before it all begins, Jude has the dream again …Can dreams be passed down through families? As a child Jude suffered a recurrent nightmare: running through a dark forest, crying for her mother. Now her six-year-old niece, Summer, is having the same dream, and Jude is frightened for her. A successful auctioneer, Jude is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband. When she’s asked to value a collection of scientific instruments and manuscripts belonging to Anthony Wickham, a lonely 18th century astronomer, she leaps at the chance to escape London for the untamed beauty of Norfolk, where she grew up. As Jude untangles Wickham’s tragic story, she discovers threatening links to the present. What have Summer’s nightmares to do with Starbrough folly, the eerie crumbling tower in the forest from which Wickham and his adopted daughter Esther once viewed the night sky? With the help of Euan, a local naturalist, Jude searches for answers in the wild, haunting splendour of the Norfolk woods. Dare she leave behind the sadness in her own life, and learn to love again?

This really does fall outside my comfort zone and isn’t the sort of book I would normally choose, but I was happy to try it. While the story felt very escapist, as the main character headed off to her Norfolk roots from her humdrum London life, it really went too far for my liking. The discovery of old manuscripts leads Jude to follow two stories based in the 18th century – one about the family who originally lived at Starbrough Hall and the other about the astronomical discoveries of the time. And while all this is going on she has her niece’s nightmares and her own love life to worry about.

Thankfully the author makes a point of wrapping up every possible loose end, but unfortunately this does mean using some mystical means as well as an unbelieveable number of coincidences. I struggled to feel any empathy with the characters and didn’t care too much what happened to them. It’s certainly an easy read and probably great for the beach, as long as you are prepared to suspend your disbelief.

Score – 2/5