Calendar of Crime Challenge 2019

I read a lot of crime fiction so it seems only right to take part in this new challenge for 2019 devised and hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. This is a reading challenge that allows mystery readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2019.

The Challenge runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. All books should be read during this time period and you can sign up on Bev’s blog at any time between now and November 1, 2019.

I have summarised the rules below – for all the details see Bev’s sign up post.

  • All books must be mysteries.
  • Twelve books, one representing each month, are required for a completed challenge. Each month comes with several categories (see chart above) that may be selected to fulfil the month’s reading.
  • The “wild card” book is exactly that.
  • For the category that says “Book title contains a word that starts with the letter A,” the following do not count: “A” and “An.”
  • Books may only count for one month and one category, but they may count for other challenges.
  • Books do not have to be read during the month for which they qualify. So–if you’re feeling like a little “Christmas in July” (or May or…), then feel free to read your book for December whenever the mood strikes.

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

Italian Shoes

I decided to read Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson, after reading After the Fire his second book about Frederick Welin.  The events in Italian Shoes take place eight years earlier and explains in more detail Welin’s background and why he lives in self-imposed exile on an island in the Swedish archipelago. The two books can be read as standalones, but I think it would be better to read them in order to make a complete whole. These books are not Kurt Wallender mysteries but are character studies of a man living on his own, trying to come to terms with his past and reflecting on ageing and death. He cuts a hole in the ice every morning and lowers himself into the freezing water to remind himself that he is alive.

If this description makes Welin sound cold that is because he is a loner and finds it difficult to open himself up to others. He is sixty six, lives alone, apart from his cat and his dog, both of them old and dying, and he has no real friends. There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the  postman who visits daily, but Welin doesn’t like him. He has come to a point in his life when he can’t decide what to do but suspects that his life would continue in the same way and nothing would change.

How wrong he was! That January after a snowstorm he saw a figure standing out on the ice motionless leaning on a Zimmer frame three nautical miles from the mainland. It was Harriet, the woman he had loved and abandoned nearly 40 years earlier, leaving her without any explanation. From that point onwards his life changes dramatically, for Harriet is terminally ill and wants him to take her to a small lake in northern Sweden, hidden deep in the forest; a place Welin’s father took him to once as a boy. But there are more revelations and he is forced to face the mistakes he made in the past.

The book is written in four parts, or Movements – Ice, the winter in which Welin is frozen both in his emotions and feelings, The Forest, the spring as his life and feelings begin to emerge, The Sea as his life begins to change and finally, Winter Solstice as the days start to lengthen and Welin’s new life actually begins.

I was puzzled at first by two things – the title, Italian Shoes, which seemed to be at odds with the book’s description about a man living on his own in the Swedish archipelago. the first clue comes with the quotation at the beginning of the book from Chuang Chou:

When the shoe fits, you don’t think about the feet.

Feet and shoes are mention several times throughout the book – Welin wears cut-off wellington boots most of the time – Harriet used to work in a shoe shop – and an Italian shoemaker who lives in the forest promises to make him a pair of shoes.

The second thing that made me wonder is the presence of a gigantic anthill in Welin’s living room. I do not like ants at all and the thought of an anthill next to a table in the middle of the room, almost as high as the table, swallowing up the cloth hanging down over the edge is horrific. It has been there for eleven years, containing maybe a million or more ants and Welin does not want to part with it – until the end of the book. I decided it symbolised his  inertia during the time it had been growing and he watched the ants at work. Its removal signified the change that takes place in his life.

Although this is a dark and melancholy book, as it progresses Welin begins to come to life again and to interact with others, taking responsibility for his past actions. It’s a beautifully written book, with vivid descriptions of the settings and the weather and I found it absolutely fascinating.

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a nationality in the title. It’s also one of my TBRs.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 783 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099548364
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (2 April 2009)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4*

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

5*

Random House UK Cornerstone|1 November 2018|384 pages|Review copy

Last year when I read The Word is Murder I thought it was a very clever and different type of murder mystery. It features Daniel Hawthorne, an ex-policeman, now a private investigator, who the police call in to help when they have a case they call a ‘sticker’. What I found particularly interesting was the way that Anthony Horowitz inserted himself into the fiction, recruited by Hawthorne to write a book about him and the cases he investigates.

In The Sentence is Death, Anthony appears again as a character, reluctantly, as he had agreed to a three-book contract with Hawthorne. At the start of the book Anthony, who wrote the script for the TV series of Foyles War, is on the set as the opening scenes in the seventh series were being shot. The rehearsal was disastrous, but it came to an abrupt end when Hawthorne interrupted the scenes by driving straight into the middle of the set to tell Anthony there had been another murder and that the police had asked for his help.

Divorce lawyer Richard Pryce was found dead in his home, having been hit on the head by a wine bottle, a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, and then stabbed to death with the broken bottle. There are several clues – there’s the number 182 written in green paint on the wall, the incredibly expensive bottle of wine when Pryce was a teetotaller, a public threat from a well known feminist writer, an unknown visitor the evening he was killed and plenty of other enemies as suspects.  There’s no doubt that Daniel is a brilliant detective, but Anthony finds him trying as he’s uncommunicative, keeping Anthony in the dark most of the time, he swears and he calls him ‘Tony’.

I found it all most entertaining and perplexing, completely foxed by all the red herrings and twists and turns in the plot. But, mainly because I’d read the first book, I loved the interaction between Anthony and Daniel and had no difficulty with the mix of fact and fiction, enjoying the details about Anthony’s life as a scriptwriter as much as the mystery about the murder. I don’t think, however that you need to read The Word is Murder first because as a murder mystery The Sentence is Death works well as a standalone. But to  see how their relationship began and develops it would help to read the books in order.

I loved this book as much or maybe even more than the first one and am delighted that I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Rumpole by John Mortimer

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Rumpole by John Mortimer, one of the recent additions to my TBRs. There are many collections of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories. My copy was published in 1994 by the Folio Society and has ten of the Rumpole stories – they are longish short stories, thirty to fortyish pages long.

Rumpole

I must thank Margot (Confessions of a Mystery Writer)  for reminding me about both the books and the TV series in her In the Spotlight post on Rumpole. The same day I read her post I went to Barter Books in Alnwick and found three books by John Mortimer, including this one, a great find! The collection Margot wrote about includes the first story in my collection, but the rest are different.

Mortimer has chosen ten of his favourite Rumpole stories, saying that they are

the stories I enjoyed writing most, those which made me laugh a little when I was writing them (the only reliable test of a successful piece of work), and which drew some laughter from the actors when they read through the television versions.

It begins with an Introduction:

About eighteen years ago I thought I needed a character, like Maigret or Sherlock Holmes, to keep me alive in my old age. I wanted a sort of detective, who could be the hero of a number of stories but whose personality and approach to life were more important than the crimes with which he was concerned. He would have to be a comic character, as well as being courageous and more than usually astute, because I believe life to be best portrayed as comedy.

and the first story is Rumpole and the Younger Generation, which begins:

I, Horace Rumpole, barrister at law, sixty-eight next birthday. Old Bailey hack, husband to Mrs Hilda Rumpole (known to me only as She Who Must Be Obeyed) and father to Nicholas Rumpole (lecturer in social studies at the University of Baltimore, (I have always been extremely proud of Nick); I who have a mind full of old murders, legal anecdotes and memorable fragments of the Oxford Book of English Verse ( Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s edition) together with a dependable knowledge of bloodstains, blood groups, fingerprints, and forgery by typewriter; I, who am now the oldest member of my Chambers, take up my pen at this advanced age during a lull in business (there’s not much crime about – all the best villains seem to be off on holiday in the Costa Brava) in order to write my reconstructions of some of my recent triumphs (including a number of recent disasters) in the Courts of Law, hoping thereby to turn a bob or two which won’t be immediately grabbed by the taxman, or my clerk Henry or by She Who Must Be Obeyed, and perhaps give some sort of entertainment to those, who like myself, have found in British justice a life-long subject of harmless fun.

Phew! that is just one sentence! The rest of the story is not like that and the narrative moves along briskly and as Margot says in her post there’s a great deal of wit in the stories and courtroom repartee.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Six Degrees of Separation: from A Christmas Carol to No Further Questions

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol cover

I love A Christmas Carol and when I sat down to think about this Six Degrees post I thought I’d be linking up to more books with a Christmas theme, but it didn’t work out like that. Instead what came to mind after the first link to another Dickens’ book is a series of mystery/crime fiction books! These are all books I’ve read, so the links are to my review posts.

The MoonstoneDiamonds Are Forever

  • The Holly Tree Inn by Charles Dickens. This was originally published in 1855, being the Christmas number of Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It was so popular that it was then adapted for the stage. It’s a collection of short stories by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, William Howitt, Adelaide Anne Procter and Harriet Parr, around the theme of travellers and inns.
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – The ‘Moonstone’, a large diamond, originally stolen from a statue of an Indian God and said to be cursed is left to Rachel Verinder. She receives it on her 18th birthday and that night it is stolen from her bedroom.
  • Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming in which James Bond is assigned to infiltrate and close down a diamond smuggling operation, run by the Spangled Mob, operating from Africa to the UK and the USA. It’s run by a couple of American gangsters, the Spang brothers, and the mysterious character known as ‘ABC‘.

The ABC Murders (Hercule Poirot, #13)The House at Sea's End (Ruth Galloway, #3)No Further Questions

  • ABC leads me to The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – one of her best books, I think, in which there’s another mysterious character known as ‘ABC’. Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate a series of murders. An ABC Railway Guide is left next to each of the bodies.
  • The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths – The bones of six people are found in a gap in the cliff, a sort of ravine, where there had been a rock fall at Broughton Seas End. Seas End House, which stands perilously close to the cliff edge above the beach is owned by Jack Hastings. I really, really do wish these books weren’t written in the present tense!
  • No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister – also written in the present tense, but in this book it didn’t irritate me. I was totally gripped by it. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned  and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. I didn’t want to stop reading it and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it, about the characters and their relationships, about how they had got themselves into such a terrible situation. An excellent book, and it is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.

From tales told in an inn, to diamond smugglers, murders connected to a mysterious character, characters called Hastings and books written in the present tense, this chain has once again surprised me at where it has ended up!

Next month (January 5, 2019) the chain begins with another of my favourite books – The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.

 

Books Read in November 2018

This month I read seven books, made up of one review copy that came to me via  NetGalley, two library books and four of my own books (two of these on Kindle). Two of the seven books are non-fiction and the rest are fiction. My ratings range from 5 to 2.5 stars and are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about three of these books (click on the links to read my reviews):

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of ReadingAbsolute ProofIn a Dark, Dark Wood

  1. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill 5*  – in which Susan Hill describes a year of her reading.
  2. Absolute Proof by Peter James 3.5* –  a standalone thriller that is very different from his Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 2.5* – I was disappointed as this book promised to be a psychological thriller but it neither thrilled nor scared me, although it is a page-tuner. Leonora and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. So why has Clare invited Leonora to her hen party held in a glass house in the middle of a wood?

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThe ReckoningThe New Mrs CliftonTombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell 5* – I wrote this Friday post about this book, with two quotations and a summary of the book. It’s a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters of near-death experiences, with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, revealing a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It’s a beautifully written book that I loved.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 5*, about Pete Banning, Clanton’s favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Why did he shoot and kill the Reverend Dexter Bell? And then refuse to say why he killed him? I was intrigued and fascinated by the whole book that went back into Pete’s wartime experiences during world War Two during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan 4* this begins in 1974 with the discovery of a skeleton, the remains of a woman, between twenty-five and thirty, buried beneath a tree in the garden of house in Clapham, facing the Common. Her identity and why and how she was killed is not revealed until very nearly the end of the book.

It then moves back in time to 1945 when Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns to London with Krista, the German wife he married secretly in Berlin. For his sisters, Julia and Tilly, this broken woman is nothing more than the enemy. For Nella, Gus’s loyal fiancée, it is a terrible betrayal. Elizabeth Buchan paints a convincing and moving picture of life in both London and Berlin post-war, highlighting the devastation of the bombing and showing how people have to come to terms with the changes in their lives. All the way through the book I wondered who the killer was and which woman had been murdered.

Tombland by C J Sansom 5* – I wrote this Friday post this book, giving two quotations and a summary of the book. Set in 1549 this is a remarkable and detailed book about the situation as Edward VI is on the throne following the death of his father Henry VIII and his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth. He is employed to investigate the gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother. But the main part of the book is about Kett’s Rebellion – as thousands of peasants, in protest about the enclosures of common land, gather together on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich and battle ensues.

It’s an enormous book and I’m planning to write a longer post about it.

 

 

 

 

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

Nine years ago I read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading, a book in which she wrote about the books from her own collection she’d read or re-read over the course of a year. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books is a similar book in that it follows month by month a year during which she reflects on the books she has read, reread, or returned to the shelves as well as her thoughts on a whole variety of topics.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s full of her observations on the weather, on nature – birds, flowers, trees, moles, eels, egrets and so on – on writers and writing, about religion and fairy tales and many more besides as well as on books. She also writes about herself and notes her obsessions with, for example, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set, Marilyn Monroe, wood engravings, medieval monasticism, Elizabeth Bowen, Benjamin Britten and her collection of Ladybird Books. Some of her observations on other topics are short but conjure up vivid pictures, such as in November she recorded: ‘RAINING. Sky like the inside of a saucepan.‘ (page 208) And in October: ‘THIS GOLDEN OCTOBER continues to drift slowly down like a twirling leaf.’  (page 186)

One of the things I like about this book is the passion with which Susan Hill writes and her strong opinions about books, writers, literary prizes, what makes a good reader and so on and so forth, that she has no qualms about expressing (and why should she?) You are left in no doubt about what she does and does not like. For example she likes Robert Louis Stevenson (so do I) and the way he cleverly and cunningly creates a sense of sinister and evil in his creation of Mr Hyde. She thinks he’s the ‘perfect writer’ (page 188) and describes him thus: ‘Next to Dickens, I think RLS was the greatest writer of his time.’ (page 54) She didn’t like fairy tales as a child (I did), describing fairies as

Wispy, wafty, wish-washy things. Nowhere near on a par with sprites and goblins, witches, wizards, trolls. As a child I lapped up stories about any of these. I can understand why I did not, and do not, have any patience with fairies and their stories. They are so colourless (despite Andrew Lang’s best attempts). So dull. Yes. Just dull. (page 21)

And yet as a child she also liked the Flower Fairies books by Cecily Mary Baker (as did I) and pored over their illustrations, but followed that up by describing them as ‘just an excuse for pretty pastel pictures.

She doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction, although as a child she loved fantasy. She likes, amongst others, Thomas Hardy, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler, Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym, to a certain extent, describing her books as ‘dated, but not dated enough’, but not Jane Austen – oh my, I love Jane Austen’s books:

I read most of the reissued novels [of Pym’s] at the time and never entirely saw the point of the praise, probably because everyone compared them to Jane Austen and that is never a good recommendation to me. (page 200)

She then goes on to change her mind about Pym after reading Shirley Hazzard’s review of Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, which I haven’t read, but after reading her description I think I would like.

She has no interest left in the First World War, particularly in fiction about it (I have) since she wrote Strange Meeting in 1971, but she admires Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but has ‘not even tried Parade’s End‘. She seems to have more time for the Second World War novels, praising Olivia Manning’s novels, the Balkan and Levant trilogies, which reminds  me I still haven’t read the third book in the Balkan Trilogy.

She is scathing about creative writing courses: ‘I don’t suppose anything is obligatory for these courses, which are as thick as autumn leaves on the ground. Writing is the thing. Ye gods.’ (page 189)

There’s plenty more on the same lines about other authors and books – there are many, many more that I could mention – and I found it all fascinating, rambling and chatty, a bit repetitive in parts, but still fascinating. And there is a list of the books she refers to at the end of the book. It’s probably a book that could stand a second reading.

And as she says:

Reading is magic. Books are magic. It starts when we are shown picture books and realise there is another world beyond the everyday one we know. Once we can read ourselves, we live inside the magic. The only problem is that we have to emerge at the end of a book, and we don’t want to return to that dull domestic world we know. The only solution to that problem, of course, is that there is always the next book, and the next and there is bonus magic if it is another in a series we already love, so we are plunging back into a magic other world but one we already know. We feel a lift of the heart, a lurch of the stomach, when we find ourselves in it again. (pages 55 – 56)

Yes, reading is, indeed, magic!

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781781250808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781250808
  • ASIN: 1781250804
  • Source: a library book
  • My Rating: 5*