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Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope)
Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope)
by Ann Cleeves
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eat Your Heart out Columbo., 20 Feb 2014
Harbour Street is the 6th in Ann Cleeve's series of crime novels featuring the detective Vera Stanhope, so wonderfully portrayed by Brenda Blethyn in the television series Vera.

The story opens with Detective Joe Ashworth heading home from a carol service with his daughter Jessie. They get on a metro but snow has been falling heavily and due to the bad weather the train stops suddenly in Mardle on the outskirts of Newcastle. They are about to get off when Jessie notices an old lady, Margaret Krukowski, who appears to have fallen asleep on the train. However, it turns out that she has been fatally stabbed and none of the passengers noticed it happening; Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope arrives to take charge of the case and find out why Margaret Krukowski was murdered.

This is a well-written and finely constructed detective story with believable characters. Vera is rather shambolic with a touch of Columbo about her but like the "Rainmac Detective" she gets the job done and I find her quite endearing. Joe Ashworth with his lovely wholesome family is heartwarming and such a nice change from some of the darker individuals that seem to people so many novels in recent years.

I found Harbour Street a particularly enjoyable read; Ann Cleeves has a wonderful ability to flesh out her characters making them all-too-human and managing for the most part to evoke sympathy in the reader. The plot is intriguing and Cleeves never seems to need to resort to merely shock tactics to produce an engrossing story. Yet this alone is not what draws me back to the Vera Stanhope novels again and again but rather the central characters themselves and the author progresses their stories little by little with each successive novel, without feeling the need to rush or push Vera, Joe, et al into bizarre revelations.

I must admit I am fan of Ann Cleeve's books and of the Stanhope series in particular and have no hesitation in recommending this book to fans of detective fiction.

Treat in store.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2014 10:35 PM GMT

Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus 19)
Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus 19)
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rebus and Fox: Formidable Duo., 20 Feb 2014
Saints of the Shadow Bible is the 20th appearance for Inspector Rebus and in the story he is reunited with Siobhain Clarke but this time around he has been demoted and is carrying quite a chip on his shoulder. While investigating a car crash he learns that a 30 year-old case is being reopened. Summerhall CID who investigated the crime was a close-knit circle and were known to each other as The Saints; the young Rebus was drawn into the group. It soon becomes clear that for The Saints the end always justified the means and results were all that mattered and Rankin demonstrates just how corrupt the police force at Summerhall was.

Malcolm Fox of Police Complaints Division is charged with finding out what happened and whether justice was served all those years ago.

Running through the story there is also the question of Scottish Independence and it is not hard to guess where Ian Rankin's sympathies lie.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was particularly engaged by the developing relationship between Rebus and Fox. I am a great fan of Rebus even though or perhaps because he is so inept at handling people, his paperwork is all over the place and he seems to have merely the most rudimentary knowledge of the internet. It is a bonus that Malcolm Fox has joined Rebus in the last two stories as he is also interesting and I feel Rankin has more to tell the reader about this gentleman.

The tale itself is expertly told and certainly held my interest right to the final page. Ian Rankin writes beautiful, clear and concise English, his characters are interesting and have depth and I look forward to the next novel in this marvellous series.

Agatha Christie's Marple - Series 6 [DVD]
Agatha Christie's Marple - Series 6 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Julia McKenzie
Price: £11.76

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spinster Sleuth Supreme,, 20 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I consider the late Joan Hickson to have been the definitive Ms Marple and, while Geraldine McEwan is a most accomplished actress, she was not suited to the role of Jane Marple but Julia McKenzie is a most worthy successor to Joan Hickson.

In terms of sheer escapism I enjoyed the latest series of Agatha Christie's Marple and even though the stories tend towards the far-fetched, the series appears to attract some very fine actors which added to my appreciation of the DVD. Two of the episodes are based on full-length Agatha Christie books while Greenshaw's Folly is based on a short story. In fact, the novel Endless Night did not feature Ms Marple.

The DVD comprises 3 episodes:

A Caribbean Mystery
Ms Marple is staying in a hotel in the Caribbean courtesy of her nephew Raymond when a fellow guest dies apparently of a heart attack. Ms Marple refuses to believe Major Palgrave died of natural causes and sets about investigating his death,

Greenshaw's Folly
The spinster detective helps a young mother and her son by finding them refuge in a country house Greenshaw's Folly, However murder most foul soon occurs and Ms Marple steps in to solve the mystery,

Endless Night
Newlyweds Mike and Ellie decide to build their dream home on a local beauty spot called Gypsy's Acre despite warnings from local gypsy Mrs Lee that the land is cursed. The house is built and when Mike and Ellie are installed tragedy strikes, Enter Ms Marple...

I must say I failed to warm to Mike and Ellie's "Dream House" which appeared to me a bit of an eyesore!

Before We Met
Before We Met
by Lucie Whitehouse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite Forgettable., 19 Feb 2014
This review is from: Before We Met (Hardcover)
There have been so many domestic thrillers published in the past few years and this novel follows the usual format. Hannah is a thirty-something English advertizing executive working in New York where she meets Mark, a fellow Brit, with whom she falls in love and marries in haste. The story opens with Hannah driving to the airport to meet her husband who is due back from a business trip in New York and Hannah is oh-so-happy with her Mr Right! Then the anxiety mounts as Mark fails to turn up and the reader wonders if Mr Right is really Mr Wrong. How well does Hannah know Mark? This forms the basis for the novel and to go into any further detail regarding the plot at this point might risk revealing too much to potential readers.

This is the first Lucie Whitehouse novel I have read and, while far from original, it should still hold the reader's interest. The style is easy and unpretentious but I must confess the story is very forgettable and quite predictable, the plot slightly over-the-top and the characters stereotypical and lacking in any depth. Although I read right to the end without difficulty I was, nevertheless disappointed and underawed by the time I had finished as the plot contained no surprises for me and I found the book too long drawn out.

So if you are interested in an undemanding holiday read this might do the trick.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2014 4:33 PM GMT

Morning Frost: (DI Jack Frost 3)
Morning Frost: (DI Jack Frost 3)
by James Henry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mission Accomplished., 20 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
When R.D. Wingfield died in 2007 it would have been generally assumed that the Frost novels would have died with him and I was therefore intrigued when I saw that James Henry had written a prequel to the Frost series of detective stories featuring a young detective Frost. Writing a prequel to a much-loved and well-established series is an ambitious and challangeing task for any author but James Henry has more than risen to the task. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the author had captured the essence of Frost in his early years in Denton, managing to encapsulate all of his foibles, dishevelled appearance, tasteless and inopportune jokes, combined with a maverick attitude to the job.

This is the third novel in the prequel series and opens on the day that Frost buries his young wife, Mary and, needless to say he gets drunk at the wake and manages to insult Mary's family. As in the Wingfield books, Frost though flawed has always had the affection, loyalty and support of most of his colleagues who look after him on this most tragic of days.

However, life still goes on in Denton and there are many cases for the police to solve such as body parts turning up on a farm, a nightclub owner being shot at outside his club and a hit and run resulting in the death of a local paperboy.

There is also the added complication of DC Sue Clarke's pregnancy as Frost just might be the father. There are many other strands to the crimes taking place in Denton and Henry skillfully weaves them together. The long suffering Inspector Mullet has much to keep him awake at night, not least having the onus on him to promote Frost!

I enjoyed this book just as much as the two earlier novels by James Henry, i.e. First Frost and Fatal Frost, as he keeps all the main characters true to Wingfield's originals, the plots are cleverly developed and the humour mirrors that of the Wingfield books. There is also the sense of wonder as Frost despite, hangovers, sleep deprivation and lack of any order or method succeeds in solving all the cases which come onto his patch.

A most enjoyable detective story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2014 9:29 AM GMT

How to Be a Good Wife
How to Be a Good Wife
by Emma Chapman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Perspective., 10 Dec 2013
This review is from: How to Be a Good Wife (Hardcover)
Marta and Hector have been married for twenty five years and their son has just left home to begin university life. Marta has always tried to be a good wife and on her wedding day her mother-in-law gave her a present of a manual with a set of rules on how to be a good wife! Hector is a lot older than Marta being at least twenty years her senior. When we meet Marta in the opening pages she comes across as emotionally fragile and therefore it is little surprise to learn she is taking pills for her nerves and that Hector personally supervises the daily dosage. Hector reassures Marta that all will be well as long as she continues taking her medication but unknown to Hector Marta has stopped taking the pills several months earlier. Since she stopped taking her medication Marta has been experiencing flashbacks and what might only be termed visions of a young blonde girl along with other images from her past.

The novel is set in an unnamed village in an unnamed Scandinavian country.

How to be a Good Wife starts off quite slowly but quickly gathers momentum and I read it in record time. It is well-written and nicely constructed but I did find the characters one-dimensional and quite predictable. I can also empathize with those readers who found the story too unremittingly dreary and sad.

However, what makes this an interesting read, in my opinion, is Marta's first person narrative, a tool which Emma Chapman applies to maximum effect and which lifts this story above the mundane. The question is whether or not one believes Marta to be a reliable narrator and there are valid reasons to take her account at face value but there are also cogent arguments for taking the opposite view.

While this scenario is by no means new as a plot device, I think Emma Chapman wields the tool with masterly skill and leaves the reader with questions and, following a roller-coaster ride of switching sympathies, the freedom to draw their own conclusions.

A very interesting and well-crafted, if rather depressing, debut.

The Dream of the Celt
The Dream of the Celt
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Celtic Dreams., 9 Dec 2013
This review is from: The Dream of the Celt (Paperback)
The Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa is a remarkable writer who has produced such diverse novels as The Bad Girl and The War at the End of the World, both of which I enjoyed. His latest book tells the story of Roger Casement, an Irishman and patriot who was rightly celebrated for documenting and publicizing human rights abuses in the Congo and in the Peruvian Amazon during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although born in Ulster, Casement worked as a British consul investigating working conditions on rubber plantations in the Congo and Peru. He remained in the service of the British Empire and even accepted a knighthood in 1911, but he had already begun to turn against the British and his experiences in the Congo convinced him that Ireland, in its own way, was just as colonized as the natives in the Congo and he became a dedicated Irish nationalist. Showing a mind-boggling naivite Casement travelled to Germany in an attempt to recruit volunteers and arms for the Irish in their fight against the British. On his return in 1916 he was arrested on Banna Strand. With regard to his Irish nationalism the political background is sketchy and fails to convey the various strands of the very complicated Irish Question of the time.

We first encounter Roger Casement in Pentonville Prison awaiting execution for treason but he is also awaiting the the outcome of an appeal to commute his death sentence. However, due to the discovery of his personal diaries containing graphic details of sexual encounters with very young men, he has little hope of the appeal being successful.

Vargas highlights the chronic ill-health suffered by Casement as a result of his humanitarian efforts and suggests that many of the sexual encounters recounted in the diaries were perhaps exagerrated by the British and in any case, more imagined than real. Although he tries to make sense of Casement's public and private lives and to give voice to his hopes, fears, torments and self-questioning he fails to evoke any deep understanding of this terribly tormented and extremely isolated man.

It is certainly true that the most engrossing parts of the book are set in the Congo and the Peruvian Amazon but perhaps the author goes into too much detail at times. It is worth remembering that this novel is a fictionalized, if mostly true, account of Casement's life and as such any slight inaccuracies might be excused.

The novel benefits from an excellent translation by Edith Grossman and it was easy at times to forget that the book had not been written in English such was the quality of her prose.

I have recently read the marvellous King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, a harrowing and gripping account of King Leopold's reign of terror and greed in the Congo.

Mad Men - Season 6 [DVD]
Mad Men - Season 6 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jon Hamm
Price: £15.20

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Authentically Stylish., 8 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Mad Men - Season 6 [DVD] (DVD)
Mad Men has all the requisites for a hugely enjoyable TV series and from the first episode of Season one I was engaged. For sheer style Mad Men is hard to beat and the attention to detail with regard to the clothes, hairstyles, etc. of the period, as the series moves from the fifties through the sixties against a backdrop of the main political events of the period, is remarkable. The Mad Men of the title refers to the advertising executives working on Madison Avenue and the principal Mad Man, Don Draper worked as creative director and is now junior partner in the firm Sterling Cooper and Partners. While the series focuses on Don and his life both personal and working, there is a wonderful supporting cast including Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell. Joan Holloway and Betty Draper and many other sterling (pun intended) characters.

In season one we learned that Don Draper the successful head of department in Sterling Cooper with the beautiful wife and cute kids, is in reality Jay Gatsby. In effect, Don built his successful career and glamourous lifestyle through personal effort and achievement. He came from a humble and troubled background and even though he has achieved so much he comes across as unsettled and dissatisfied with life.

Over the course of the following seasons we witness the confident serial philanderer begin to lose everything he has worked so hard to build and we are reminded of the opening credits where the man in free fall surely symbolizes Don's steady yet long and slow fall from grace.

Season Six sees Don and his co-stars living through the turbulent events of 1968, a very important year in American politics. Not surprisingly, Don is sailing ever closer to the wind and has embarked on a dangerous liaison with a friend's wife while his ex-wife Betty tries desperately to get her life back to some degree of normality. His present wife Megan has won a part in a soap opera and is poised for success. There are also developments with the other characters i.e. Peggy is coping with a new job and Pete has to deal with the collapse of his marriage but once again Don is the pivotal character, a complicated man who has lived most of his adult life hiding a deep, dark secret. It would be impossible to elaborate on the storylines without giving too much away but this excellent season contains quite a few surprises and plenty of humourous situations.

It feels slightly odd watching most of the main characters smoking like troopers and seeing advertisements promoting smoking as a beneficial habit.

Mad Men is not only notable for its style and authenticity but in particular for the quality of its writing and acting.

While season 5 was disappointing, season 6 has managed to pull its socks up somewhat so all in all, recommended viewing.

The Stone Raft
The Stone Raft
by Jose Saramago
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magic Realism at its Best., 29 Nov 2013
This review is from: The Stone Raft (Paperback)
Jose Saramago is an author whose novels I have enjoyed, particularly Seeing and Blindness and even though The Stone Raft was written almost 20 years ago, I only picked it up recently. This is a fantasy novel with a gripping plot and interesting characters. The basic premise is simple i.e. the Iberian peninsula breaks off from mainland Europe and starts to drift off into the Atlantic. A motley crew comprising 5 humans and a dog set out on this journey together finding many exciting adventures on their way. These characters have experienced extremely odd incidents related to the breaking away of the the peninsula.

The plot of The Stone Raft is undoubtedly outlandish but there are two strands to this novel i.e. the fantastical tale of the drifting peninsula and then the story of the relationships and friendships formed between the five people and the dog; their tragedies and triumphs, the loves they share and the loves they cannot sustain. In a way the latter strand is what goes to the heart of this story and its philosophical musings. After all, is not every story about the characters and their interactions with each other. Too often in tales of magical realism the events are presented as the only remarkable facts and the human elements are neglected but Saramago manages to make his characters matter and their human stories are what set this novel apart from many others in the genre.

Saramago is a gifted and hugely intelligent writer and there are political aspects to this story that I could not begin to unravel; he employs a specific prose style and the many institutions of state e.g., governments, police, armies are portrayed as far from perfect and less than competent or altruistic.

A hugely entertaining and highly recommended read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 17, 2014 2:46 PM GMT

by Toni Morrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Goods in Small Parcels!, 29 Nov 2013
This review is from: Home (Paperback)
Toni Morrison is a recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for literature. Her latest novel Home, like her last Novel A Mercy, is more a novella in terms of length and yet, in a mere 147 pages, Morrison manages to tell the tale of three generations of a family, their traumas, the harshness of their lives and the devastating effects of war on those who fight such wars and live to tell the tale. The story is told in alternating narratives i.e., Frank's first-person narration and a third-person narration, a ploy that allows for some interesting nuances.

Morrison's prose is at times lyrical, always fluid and yet manages to be trenchant as she deals with serious issues of race, gender, the destructive effects of war and man's inhumanity to man.

Her latest novel set in the 1950s, features Frank who has returned from the Korean War to his home in an America riven by racial tension. Frank is obviously suffering from what today would be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress disorder as a result of physical and psychological trauma suffered on the front line. When we first encounter Frank he is incarcerated in hospital wearing restraints; he manages to escape and when he learns that his young sister Cee is close to death he decides he must return to the small town of Lotus in Georgia where he and Cee were brought up . Frank has no love nor feelings of nostalgia for Lotus, a place that holds childhood memories of hardship and deprivation. He is also extremely reluctant to face the families of his two boyhood friends who perished in the Korean war and whose deaths continue to haunt him. Yet he can think of no other place to bring Cee to recuperate.

The story of this brother and sister enables Morrison to deal with larger issues including that of taking responsibility for personal happiness insofar as possible and even touches on abuses of the medical system. Reading this powerful novella one is made very aware that the scourge of racial segregation is not confined to the distant past but was very much present in the recent past and indeed still lingers today. Several incidents in the book highlight the rampant racism prevalent around the time of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the most heart-warming parts of the book is where Cee is nursed back to health by the wonderful Miss Ethel and her coterie of lady friends.

The Home of the title is just as much about Frank rediscovering himself and what home really means as it is about returning to Lotus.

I have no hesitation in recommending this beautifully written and well-constructed novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2013 9:43 PM GMT

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