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No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rendell Rising., 3 Sept. 2013
I have always enjoyed Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels and the dynamic between Wexford and his friend and sidekick Mike Burdon. One of the most entertaining aspects of these books for me is the ever evolving lives of Wexford and Burden's families. I was, however, very disappointed in Wexford's last two outings i.e. The Monster in the Box and The Vault (which related back to a much earlier novel, A Sight for Sore Eyes). Therefore it was with some trepidation that I decided to buy the latest Inspector Wexford novel but I was pleasantly surprised. While not quite as good as her earliest efforts, No Man's Nightingale is a return to form for Ms. Rendell.

Briefly, Sarah Hussein, a female vicar of mixed parentage who is also a single mother with a teenage daughter, is discovered strangled in the Vicarage, by garrulous cleaner Maxine Sams who works for both Reg and Dora Wexford and Dr. and Mrs. Crocker; while this might bring to mind Agatha Christie's Murder in the Vicarage, there is little, if any, similarity between the two novels. Wexford is quite recently retired and when his friend Burden, now leading the murder inquiry, asks if he might like to assist with the case as an unpaid adviser, Wexford jumps at the chance. Wexford's love of puzzle-solving and his genuine curiosity about people is a decided advantage as he accompanies official police officers in their investigations.

It is true that Wexford does wattle his "unofficial role" to death in his musings but while irritating, this is probably quite realistic as I would imagine anyone in his situation would realize the precariousness of their position and have the unofficial nature of their brief constantly in mind. I found Maxine's malapropisms less convincing and more annoying as, while I have come across people like Mrs. Malaprop, I found the examples in this novel a bit hard to swallow. For example, "anonimal" letters instead of annonymous letters and "ceasers" for seizures and this from a lady who in practically the same sentence has used the word "contusion" for bruise. I have to say that this did not quite ring true with me.

Yet this is just a minor personal quibble and overall the book is a most enjoyable read as even though I found the ending somewhat disappointing I certainly enjoyed the journey to the denouément and that for me is often the most important element of the reading experience. As one has come to expect with Ms. Rendell, the writing is wonderfully clear and concise and the characterisation tight with the result I savoured every word. As with other Wexford stories I found Reg's reading choice i.e., Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, interesting.

This is not germane to the review of No Man's Nightingale, but my favourite Ruth Rendell novel is a stand alone story which does not feature Wexford and is entitled A Judgement in Stone; this book is a veritable gem written many years ago and the most perfect example of a psychological thriller I have ever read - not a whodunnit but more of a whydunnit.

The Stranger You Know: (Maeve Kerrigan 4)
The Stranger You Know: (Maeve Kerrigan 4)
by Jane Casey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Casey on Crime., 22 Aug. 2013
Three women have been strangled in separate incidents in their homes and the crimes are obviously the work of a serial killer who manages to gain the trust of these ladies. In each case there is no sign of forced entry indicating that the women admitted the killer into their homes. This is the latest case for D.I. Maeve Kerrigan who has been drafted onto the team investigating the brutal murders. However, Maeve is shocked to realise that the prime suspect is none other than Josh Derwent who is not only a colleague but also her boss. To complicate matters Maeve has been instructed not to discuss the case with Josh.

Maeve is a complicated lady with quite a few hang-ups but she is also a highly motivated, confident and ambitious police officer with a very keen sense of humour. While Maeve is certainly the main character, Josh has been getting more coverage over the course of the previous books and he is at the heart of this story. Although ostensibly macho and chauvinistic he has an underlying core of decency and integrity and there is certainly no doubting his courage. I have become quite fond of him especially having read The Stranger You Know.

There are many surprises in store for fans of Jane Casey and this book is more than capable of standing alone but I imagine readers who have not read the previous novels in this series will want to get their hands on the earlier novels.

I love Jane Casey's writing as she manages to combine seriously gripping plots with excellent characterization and her style is both fluid and trenchant and totally lacking in affectation.

The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and I am eagerly awaiting developments in the Kerrigan/Derwent saga.

Jane Casey is one of the best writers of detective fiction around today and if only there were a young Helen Mirren available to play Maeve Kerrigan and an enterprising director we might have another Jane Tennison to delight viewers.

I thoroughly recommend this series to readers in general and to fans of the genre in particular.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2013 1:40 PM BST

In Her Shadow
In Her Shadow
by Louise Douglas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shadows in Cornwall., 21 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: In Her Shadow (Paperback)
This story opens in present day Bristol where the narrator, Hannah, who is in her late thirties, works in a museum. One day Hannah catches a glimpse of a childhood friend, Ellen Brecht, and reacts very badly as she believes she is seeing a ghost. The tale is told in alternating chapters by Hannah and flits between the idyllic childhood she shared with Ellen in Cornwall and the present day in Bristol.

This novel is well-crafted and shows how even the closest of childhood friendships can be riven by jealously. When Hannah first encounters Ellen, she is infatuated with her and her parents and their lifestyle - particularly as she finds her own parents, though extremely loving and caring, rather dull and boring. Hannah, Ellen and Jago, Hannah's adopted brother, form a very close friendship and things become complicated when childhood friendship turns to love.

Hannah is fascinated with Ellen who is dramatic, determined and attention-seeking and who brings such excitement into Hannah's previously dull life. I am reluctant to elaborate any further on the plot in case I might spoil the story for other readers and that would be a shame as there are some rather surprising developments.

Louise Douglas is an accomplished writer and her characters are quite well-drawn; some are rather complex and hover between evoking sympathy in the reader and at other times feelings of downright dislike. I enjoyed her descriptions of Cornwall and could almost taste the local cider.

Unquestionably implausible at times, this novel still has the requisites for a satisfying light read i.e. interesting plot, themes of friendship, love, obsession, loss, tragedy and, at least partial redemption.

I would recommend this book as an undemanding holiday read although it is certainly not a story I would be interested in reading again.

Nearest Thing to Crazy
Nearest Thing to Crazy
by Elizabeth Forbes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

46 of 62 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Predictable and Protracted., 18 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Nearest Thing to Crazy (Paperback)
I added this book to an order on foot of the lyrical reviews posted on Amazon. I did not enjoy reading the story as while there is nothing wrong with the writing, I found it unexciting and flat; the plot was neither terribly original nor engaging and the characters were largely stereotypical and failed to evoke sympathy. The book is also, in my opinion, far too long and this tale would have benefited from some radical pruning.

Cassandra and Dan appear to be a fairly happily married middle-aged couple and then new girl Ellie arrives in the neighbourhood and begins to infiltrate Cass and Dan's circle of friends. The plot revolves around Ellie's attempts to persuade Cassandra to believe she is losing her mind by means of a technique known as gaslighting, a term derived from the old film, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the film a husband tries to convince his wife she is losing her mind by attempting to distort her perception of reality.

I know I am going against the flow but I found the plot silly and contrived and the whole book tedious in the extreme. The ending suffered from an attempt to be terribly deep and meaningful, something Elizabeth Forbes didn't quite manage to pull off.

I have, however, learned a valuable lesson and will not be so quick to buy books on Amazon just because Amazon keep advertising them and adding them to my Wish List! I have no desire to buy or even read another book by this author

I appreciate many other readers will enjoy this novel and indeed many have already done so and good for them but, unfortunately, it did not work for me.

I am fully aware that I may receive a plethora of negative votes from fans of this novel and while this is the prerogative of those readers who have enjoyed the book, it does rather take from the whole ethos of these reviews as people differ hugely in what they enjoy as reading material and reviews should reflect individual readers' tastes. I revel in diversity of opinion! After all a review is merely a personal view and I fail to understand how an honestly expressed sentiment could be viewed as "unhelpful". I reserve negative votes for perjorative remarks and ad hominem comments or where the review is so poor it provides little if any information as to plot or the reviewer's opinion on the work in question; consequently I rarely award a negative vote to another's review no matter how much I disagree with the review itself.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2014 3:18 PM BST

The Asylum
The Asylum
by Johan Theorin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping and original Tale., 31 July 2013
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This review is from: The Asylum (Paperback)
I discovered Johan Theorin when I read Echoes from the Dead, the first of the novels in the Oland quartet and loved his understated writing and descriptive powers which evoked perfectly the atmosphere of Oland . Having immensely enjoyed the first, I subsequently bought the second and third books in the quartet and was not disappointed. When I saw a new Theorin novel had been published I assumed it must be the eagerly anticipated fourth book of the quartet but The Asylum is a stand alone novel and quite different from his previous books.

Briefly, Jan Hauger applies for a post at a pre-school called The Dell which is no ordinary educational facility but rather an experimental one, as it is attached to a psychiatric hospital, St. Patricia's. Pupils at the pre-school are, in fact, children of some of the patients in St. Patricia's. There is a subterranean passage linking the school to the hospital and the children have regular access to their parent via this underground passage. It soon becomes clear that while Jan is a bona fide teacher, he has an ulterior motive for wishing to work in The Dell. The reader realizes almost from the outset that all is not well with Jan and I felt he was going through his own Dark Night of the Soul though his ultimate aim was not reunion with God but with a once famous singer.

There are many more elements in this book, including the pivotal story of Jan's past but I would prefer not to elaborate as I am always wary of including potential plot spoilers.

There is a sense of dread and impending tragedy that pervade this story from the beginning and the journeys through the underground passage, in particular, are nerve-wrecking and chilling. Theorin is a master of building haunting tension and terror without resorting to slasher-style violence.

I must confess that Johan Theorin is probably my favourite Swedish crime writer and I found The Asylum to be a white knuckle ride from start to finish. In addition, the book benefits from a first-rate translation.

I found it impossible to put this novel down and would have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of the genre.

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne Novels)
The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne Novels)
by Mark Billingham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.54

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorny Situation!, 25 July 2013
As a result of a bungled hostage situation a while ago, Tom Thorne finds himself no longer part of the Murder Squad but effectively demoted to Uniform Patrol although he does retain the rank of inspector. Tom is not a happy chappy and, not surprisingly, has yet to settle into his less than welcome posting, but he does get along very well with his new female colleague who is in no danger of falling for Thorne's dubious charms!

When there is a spate of suicides in the area Thorne believes the apparently separate incidents are linked and are murders rather than suicides but when he outlines his concerns to the powers that be in his old squad he is told, in no uncertain terms, to butt out. This of course does nothing to deter Thorne and he initiates his own covert investigation in his own time while calling on a few long-suffering and loyal ex-colleagues in the Murder Squad to help him clandestinely.

While there are no real surprises in this novel it is nevertheless gripping and exciting and a compulsive read. I consider Mark Billingham to be a a master of the detective fiction genre and over the course of his previous novels I have become quite fond of Thorne who may be a thorn in the side of his superior officers and a thorny live-in lover(I know awful pun) but still remains dedicated to the job and a very humane and all-too-human person.

This book ends on a bit of a question mark so I hope Mark B carries on where he left off in the next Tom Thorne outing.

I would certainly recommend this novel to fans of detective fiction and/or thrillers.

The Dinner
The Dinner
by Herman Koch
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Black Humour., 15 July 2013
This review is from: The Dinner (Paperback)
There is not much point at this stage going into the finer details of the story which has been very well covered by other reviewers here and this book seems to have polarized opinion! The basic premise is intriguing i.e. two couples meet for dinner in a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam but this is no mere social occasion as both couples have a fifteen-year-old son and their boys have been caught on CCTV camera committing a heinous crime.

The question at the heart of this novel is how far would one go to protect one's children even when they have broken the law.

The fathers are in fact brothers; Serge is a successful politician married to Babette and Paul is a former teacher married to Claire. Initially, Paul comes across as the more sympathetic of the brothers, primarily I would think because politicians are automatically distrusted and disliked as a group. As the evening progresses and the courses are served, it becomes increasingly clear that Paul is an unstable man prone to violence who requires medication to control his outbursts. Since Paul is the narrator and not perhaps the most reliable of narrators, one would imagine the reader should be more drawn to Paul and Claire than to Serge and Babette but this was not the case with me.

I had far more sympathy for Serge and Babette who at least had agonized over and thought about their son Rick's crime and how they should deal with the aftermath. They were extremely worried about Rick who was displaying symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Serge wanted his son to own up to the crime as otherwise his (Rick's) life would always be blighted with guilt. Paul and Claire, on the other hand were prepared to go to any lengths to prevent the truth coming out.

For me Claire is the most morally bankrupt person in this whole sorry saga which is no mean achievement! She believes the victim of the boys' crime was responsible for her own death by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Paul at least suffers from some mysterious genetic psychiatric disorder which predisposes him to violence and from all he reveals about his son Michael, who has shown neither remorse nor reaction to having killed somebody, one can infer that Michael has inherited this disease.

I am inclined to agree with P.J. Menter who points out that readers who loathe this book fail to appreciate that it is black humour at its best. However, I noticed that PJ Mentor has left sarcastic and patronizing comments on most negative reviews of this novel, a practice I find less than engaging! Going back to the story of The Dinner, perhaps I am influenced by the fact that from the moment I encountered Paul, with his quirky personality traits, total selfishness and constant nit-picking with everyone and everything, I had a mental image of Larry David which, try as I might, I could not shift. If you know the actor and the series Curb your Enthusiasm you may see where I am coming from.

While there is a severe dearth of likeable characters in this book, I still enjoyed reading it as it had a strange momentum that propelled me forward and in my mind's eye Larry David's quirky smile encouraged me from the sidelines.

by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably Sad., 15 July 2013
This review is from: Perfect (Hardcover)
The year is 1972 and two seconds were added to time to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. James Lowe and Byron Hemming are both 11 years old and best friends and attend Winston House School "because it was private". While James, described by Byron as the brightest boy in the school, is excited at the prospect of the added time, Byron is very troubled at the thought and becomes obsessed with when exactly the two seconds will be added to time. He actually feels it might be unsafe. Indeed, it is Byron's preoccupation with the two seconds that causes an accident while his mother is taking a shortcut through a local housing estate when dropping Byron and his sister to school. This accident sets in motion a series of events with tragic consequences.

Byron's parents, Seymour and Diana,are dysfunctional but in completely different ways. His father is a distant, cold and controlling husband and father while his mother strives to be the perfect wife and mother but suffers from low self-esteem and seems to have an alcohol problem. Byron has no relationship with his father but is very close to his mother and looks out for his younger sibling Lucy. The marriage is a lot about keeping up appearances i.e. the Hemmings beautiful house, the private school, Diana's Jaguar, her classic and expensive clothes. In other words striving for perfection. But poor Diana is completely under Seymour's thumb and at all times appears emotionally fragile.

There is a second storyline being told in alternate chapters and set in the present day. This is the story of Jim who works in the cafe of a local supermarket cleaning tables, etc. He is a loner who lives in a caravan and, in addition to a stammer, he obviously suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)and his life is marred by exhausting rituals which he feels he must perform to avert disaster - not to him primarily, but to those around him. He has been in and out of psychiatric institutions most of his life and has been subjected to electric shock treatment which has left him with occasional memory loss and confusion. I found Rachel Joyce's description and understanding of Jim's OCD particularly moving as so many people suffer from this debilitating illness. There is a host of other characters such as Eileen, Beverley, Paula, Darren and they all add colour and humanity to this tale.

The only reason I give this book three stars and not four is that it is unremittingly sad and at times I felt too depressed even to cry as I read it. It is true also that, not just Jim, but almost every character in this book suffers from some form of mental illness to a greater or lesser degree i.e. Diana, Seymour, Byron, James.

I was totally engrossed in the story from the beginning as the writing flowed, the characters were interesting and the tale engaging. Ms. Joyce's handling of the twin storylines was very well-executed although I did note the names early on and spotted the red herring almost immediately thanks to a remark from one of the boys to the other concerning a grimace intended as a smile. I am being deliberately very vague here as I would not wish to give too much away to those who have yet to read this novel.

Despite the necessity for a large box of tissues at the ready, I would have no hesitation in recommending this book.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2013 10:20 PM BST

Caleb's Crossing
Caleb's Crossing
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Winner from Ms.Brooks., 12 July 2013
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of Geraldine Brooks' novels and was not disappointed in Caleb's Crossing. This book was inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Noepe who was born around 1646 and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.

The narrator, Bethia Mayfield, is the daughter of a Puritan missionary whose father founded a settlement in Great Harbor, today's Martha's Vineyard and gives a clear account of what life was like for Native Indians and indeed, white colonists in the 17th century on the East coast of America. Bethia writes her story in the form of a diary which is divided into three parts.

The first part of the story is set in 1660 and tells of Bethia's meeting with Caleb, a young Wampanoag Indian and the nephew of the Tribe's leader and how Caleb came to be taken under her father's wing and to learn literature, classical languages and the tenets of Christianity.

The second part is set in 1661 when Caleb has moved to Cambridge along with Bethia's brother, Makepeace and Joel Iacoomis another Wampanoag boy. The three boys continue their studies at Master Corlatt's school and then Caleb and Joel move on to the Indian College at Harvard. Bethia is indentured as a housekeeper to Master Corlett in order to pay for Makepeace's prepatory education. Bethia agrees to this arrangement as she hopes to glean some education from overhearing lessons while working.

The third part of the novel skips forward several years to 1715 when we see Bethia on her deathbed.

As one has come to expect with Ms. Brooks, this book is beautifully written and meticulously researched. The text is rich in Native Indian and archaic words and it is hard to find a page that hasn't at least one previously unencountered word.

Bethia herself is a bit of an anachronism being more of a modern young lady than a woman of her time. She is very intelligent and delights in showing her brother, Makepeace, up in front of their father displaying her superior knowledge and later in Cambridge she is equally outspoken with Master Corlett. Her mother died when she was twelve and since then Bethia has run the household and, as with all women at that time, there was no question of her receiving a classical education notwithstanding the fact that she was far more intelligent and academically inclined than her brother. Bethia has always resented the constraints placed on her and the attitude of the colonists to the Native Indians and their pagan practices although her own father was a far more benign white missionary than most others of his ilk.

Caleb's crossing, ostensibly from the Island to the Mainland, is more tellingly from his Native Indian culture to the educated elite of colonial society and goes to the heart of this wonderfully told tale.

Highly recommended!

Spiral Series 3 [DVD]
Spiral Series 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Caroline Proust
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stylish and Gripping., 9 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Spiral Series 3 [DVD] (DVD)
I love everything about Spiral (Engrenages in the original French title), from the Paris setting to the characters with their sometimes particularly French quirks, the plots and the format. There are certainly points of similarity with HBO's The Wire where the action takes place in Baltimore, Maryland as both deal with political, civic and police corruption at the highest levels. As with the Danish series The KIlling, the central character in Spiral is a dedicated female detective, Laure Berthaud, obsessed with her job and someone who may sail close to the wind at times, but always with a view to the greater good. She has a certain incorruptible integrity and is fiercely loyal to her colleagues.

Along with Laure there is a host of regular characters i.e. Judge Francois Roban who applies the rule of law to the letter but at the same time aims to eradicate corruption in high places even at a cost to his personal happiness. Then there is the young and handsome Pierre Clément, an ambitious but high-minded prosecutor who early on crosses swords with Joséphine Karlsson, an even more ambitious and beautiful but hard-edged lawyer who is quite ruthless in her defence of clients.

As with The Killing, each series deals with one central murder investigation and I will not go into the finer details of the plot of Series 3 but suffice it to say that it concerns sex-trafficking and a prostitution ring run by East European criminals and the fallout of the original botched investigation coupled with corruption and moral compromise; it is peopled by some charismatic, some interesting and some quite loathsome characters.

I would say this series is not to be missed and is definitely recommended to fans of gritty police dramas but not for the squeamish! I am looking forward to viewing Series 4, not least to see how the situation between Karlsson and Clément progresses.

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