A Pinch of Snuff by Reginald Hill

A Pinch of Snuff

HarperCollins|2003|362 pages|Paperback|my own copy|4* 

A Pinch of Snuff is Reginald Hill’s fifth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1978. It was televised in 1994 by Yorkshire Television, two years before the BBC series began. The characters of Dalziel and Pascoe were played by comedians Gareth Hale and Norman Pace, with Christopher Fairbank as Sergeant Edgar Wield. It was not a success and Reginald Hill was said to have been unhappy with the series. Subsequently the Dalziel and Pascoe books were adapted for BBC television from 1996 to 2007 with the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles.

I finished reading A Pinch of Snuff just before Christmas and didn’t have time to review it then, so these are just a few notes of what I thought about it. It is better than the earlier books, almost as good as the later books and I enjoyed it very much. It begins as Jack Shorter, Pascoe’s dentist, tells him that he thinks that in one of the blue movies shown at the Calliope Club, an actress wasn’t acting but that she really was beaten up and that her teeth were actually broken. However, when Pascoe begins to investigate his dentist’s allegations it seems that the dentist’s fears were unfounded as the actress in question assures Pascoe that she was acting and certainly wasn’t hurt. But then the cinema is wrecked and its owner killed. Shorter, meanwhile, is accused of molesting an underage patient and is allegedly responsible for getting her pregnant.

All in all, this is a complicated book involving child abuse, pornography, violence towards women and snuff films. It starts slowly, but as the various twists and turns crop up the pace quickens. The events are shown through Pascoe’s eyes and we see his relationships with Dalziel and Sergeant Wield develop.  Elly, Pascoe’s wife, still doesn’t get on with Dalziel, and her feminism comes to the fore in her antagonism against him. 

The 6th book in the series is A Killing Kindness and I shall be reading that very soon.

These are the Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read so far:

1. A Clubbable Woman (1970) 
2. An Advancement of Learning (1971)
3. Ruling Passion (1973)
4. An April Shroud (1975) 
8. Exit Lines (1984)
11. Bones and Silence (1990) 
14. Pictures of Perfection (1993) – read, no post
17.On Beulah Height (1998) 
20. Death’s Jest Book (2002) 
21. The Death of Dalziel (2007)

My Friday Post: The John Lennon Letters edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m reading The John Lennon Letters edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies.

John Lennon

The reaction of John Lennon to most things, whether joy or anger, fear or loathing, fun or fury, was to write it down. He responded with words, not just music.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

An organized Beatles’ fan club existed long before they had received any national attention or had even produced a record, which is surprising, but shows the extent of their success and popularity when on paper they had achieved so little. From 1962, they were writing lots of letters on fan club notepaper.

Blurb:

A lifetime of letters, collected for the first time, from the legendary The Beatles musician and songwriter John Lennon

John Lennon is one of the world’s greatest-ever song writers, creator of ‘Help!’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘Imagine’ and dozens more. Now, his letters have been collected and published, illuminating as never before the intimate side of a private genius.

Hunter Davies, author of the only authorised biography of The Beatles, has tracked down almost three hundred of Lennon’s letters and postcards – to relations, friends, fans, strangers, lovers and even to the laundry. Some of the letters are tender, informative, funny, angry and abusive, and some are simply heart-breaking – from his earliest surviving thank-you note, written when he was ten, to his last scribbled autograph given on 8 December 1980, the day he was shot, aged forty.

~~~

A trip down memory lane!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

Lady of the ravens

Harper Collins|9 January 2020|400 pages|e-book via NetGalley|Review copy|5*

Publishers’ Description:

Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry the VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the imposing walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

My thoughts:

The Lady of the Ravens opens in 1485 just weeks after Henry Tudor had taken the throne to become King Henry VII of England and Lord of Ireland. This is historical fiction about the early years of Henry’s reign as seen through the eyes of Joan Vaux, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage in 1486 to Henry united the Houses of Lancaster and York after the end of the Wars of the Roses.

Henry comes across as a competent king, which is really all I knew of his reign before reading this book. I’ve read Joanna Hickson’s earlier book about him, The Tudor Crown, which is about his early life and how he gained the English throne. Joan Vaux also features in a small way in this book. In The Lady of the Ravens he is shown to be determined to hold on to his throne, dealing with several Yorkists’ claims to the throne, in particular those of Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin, and Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, who was the second son of Edward IV, Elizabeth’s brother, one of the so-called Princes in the Tower. It is also about his family life – his marriage to Elizabeth,,the births of their children (three of them died in childhood), and his concern for his subjects – for example both he and Elizabeth were present at Joan’s wedding and we also see him enjoying dancing at court.

Joan Vaux is also a real historical character – her mother, Katherine was French and had been a lady-in-waiting to the former queen Margaret of Anjou (the wife of Henry VI).. Joan had served Elizabeth as a woman of her bedchamber before Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry and, after her own marriage to Sir Richard Guildford, as a lady-in-waiting. And before that she had been brought up in the household of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother. Joan became a good friend and confidante of Elizabeth, even after her marriage and the birth of her son Henry, known as Hal, who also became a good friend to the young Prince Henry.

The fictional element is in the story of Joan’s fascination for and care of the ravens of the Tower of London firmly believing in the legend that should the ravens leave the Tower for good then the crown will fall and ruin will return to the nation. I came to really like Joan, a warm and caring woman. Joanna Hickson goes into detail describing the traumatic birth of her son and the lives of ordinary people outside the royal court. It is a rich and vibrant novel, full of action and political unrest.

I particularly like the glimpses we see of the ill-fated Prince Arthur and his bride, Katherine of Aragon. And I was especially delighted by the portrait of Prince Henry (who later became Henry VIII) as a young charismatic child of nearly three. His father was  furious about the imposters’ claims to the throne and had decided the best response was to invest his younger son as the trueborn and genuine Duke of York. Little Henry, with his bright red Tudor hair, was mounted on a gleaming black warhorse strapped into a specially made high-backed jousting saddle and escorted by his great-uncles, the Yeoman of the Guard and the King’s Archers as they processed around the streets of London to Westminster.  He was in his element, waving to the crowd who cheered and threw flowers as he went by.

This novel is beautifully written, grounded in its historical context, full of colour and life. I loved all the descriptions of the various settings, especially the Tower of London, and the ravens. My grasp of English history in this period was very hazy and I learned a lot reading this book, especially as the characters came to life on the pages, but most of all I loved the portrayal of Joan Vaux, Lady Guildford. And I see from the Author’s Note at the end of the book that there is more to come about her, including a mystery, her second marriage and her close relationship with Katherine of Aragon and the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. I’m looking forward to reading that!

The Author:

Joanna Hickson became fascinated with history when she studied Shakespeare’s history plays at school. However, having taken a degree in Politics and English she took up a career in broadcast journalism with the BBC, presenting and producing news, current affairs and arts programmes on both television and radio. Now she writes full time. The Lady of the Ravens is her sixth novel. 

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is:  The Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020. Some are the next books in series that I’ve been reading and some are books by authors who are new to me.

Mirrot and the light

The Mirror and the Light (The Wolf Hall Trilogy) by Hilary Mantel – March – the final years of Thomas Cromwell’s life. I loved the first two books and am expecting this one to be just as good. Her books bring 16th century England to life in vivid colour and I have become very fond of Cromwell.

False Values

False Value (Rivers of London 8) by Ben Aaronovitch – February –  the latest book in this series that follows Peter Grant, an ordinary constable turned magician’s apprentice, as he solves crimes across London in a sensational blend of inventive urban fantasy, gripping mystery thriller, and hilarious fantasy caper. I’ve only read the first book in the series that I thought was absolutely fascinating.

Animals at Lockwood Manor

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey (March) – I haven’t read anything by her before. At the start of WW2 Hetty Cartwright, a museum curator in London in charge of the mammal collection is evacuated to Lockwood Manor, a creepy gothic house. When some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

Last Protector

The Last Protector (James Marwood and Cat Lovett, Book 4) by Andrew Taylor –  (April)  following James Marwood and Cat (Catherine) Lovett. I loved the first three, set in Restoration England. This one sees the return of Oliver Cromwell’s son, Richard.

Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – (March) a novel inspired by Shakespeare’s son this is the story of the heartbreaking loss which inspired his play, Hamlet. Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors.

A thousand moons

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry – (March) this is a follow-up novel to Days Without End, a book I loved. It’s about Winona, a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole.

Remain silent

Remain Silent by Susie Steiner – (May) this is the third DI Manon Bradshaw murder mystery. I loved the earlier books in the series, both hugely gripping murder mysteries. In this book Manon investigates the death of a young migrant who is found hanging from a tree.

Hitler's secret

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements – (January) I’ve read Corpus, the first book in his Tom Wilde series and this is the fourth, so I have some catching up to do. This is a spy thriller set in 1941, when Cambridge professor, Tom Wilde is asked to smuggle a secret  package out of Germany.

The last day

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray – (February) his debut novel. This is set 40 years into the future after the planet’s rotation has slowed to a halt, resulting in half the earth facing the constant light of the sun while the other half lives in an endless, frozen night.

The Deep by Alma Kastu – (March) I thought her earlier book, The Hunger, was an outstanding book and this new one looks just as impressive. It’s about the sinking of the Titanic and the ill-fated sail of its sister ship, the Britannic.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie Lee

John Murray|17 October 2019|341 pages|e-book via NetGalley|Review copy|4*

Description extracted from the publishers’ blurb:

It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother – and then vanishes.

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. 

My thoughts:

I loved Searching For Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok.  I enjoyed reading its beautiful descriptive language and the mystery of what had happened to Sylvie. I think the characterisation is very good, the three main characters, Sylvie, her younger sister Amy and their mother Ma are each clearly recognisable by the way they speak. The story alternates between the two sisters and their mother’s perspectives, as the details of what happened to Sylvie are revealed.

Sylvie had left her home in the USA to visit her dying grandmother in the Netherlands where she had lived until she was nine. After the funeral she was supposed to return home, but she never arrived. Amy and her parents are distraught and she flies to the Netherlands to find out what had happened to her.

This is a mystery full of suspense and it is also a story about family relationships, about secrets and the barriers that language can raise – Amy’s dominant language is English, whereas her mother and father, Chinese immigrants living in America, have just a basic grasp of English and still speak Chinese. Sylvie also speaks Dutch as until the age of nine she had lived with the Tan family, Chinese immigrants living in the Netherlands. It’s not just the language but also the different cultures and the racism they experienced that separated the characters.

I had realised quite early on what the family secret was and what had happened to Sylvie, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book. My only criticism is that in the latter part of the book, particularly as Sylvie describes her visit to Venice I thought that the book veered offline. Although the episode is essential to the plot the detailed description took away the momentum of the mystery and my attention wandered a bit. But the ending made up for that!

The Author:

I would like to read more of Jean Kwok’s books. She is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She currently lives in the Netherlands. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world.  

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Daisy Jones and The Six to Thirteen

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.

Daisy Jones

This month the chain begins with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid,  a novel about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s rock band inspired by Fleetwood Mac.

There are always several ways to go when compiling these Six Degree chains and at first my mind went blank  but looking at the books we got for Christmas I decided that Face It: a Memoir by Debbie Harry was just the right book for my first link, a book about a real rock band. Debbie Harry is the best known face of Blondie; she and the band forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae and hip-hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time.

The Ballad of Jethro Tull: The official illustrated oral history is another book we got for Christmas. It’s Jethro Tull’s story told by Ian Anderson, band members past and present and the people who helped Tull become one of the most successful bands in rock history.

And then I thought my chain needed a change of genre, but sticking with the word ‘ballad’ I thought of Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro: Book 1 by James Oswald, a magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro, inspired by the language and folklore of Wales. It follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men.

For the next link I turned to crime fiction and to one of James Oswald’s Inspector McLean novels, set in Edinburgh – The Hangman’s Song. It’s a dark, tense novel with elements of the supernatural  and parapsychology thrown in. It’s not a book for the faint-hearted or the squeamish as there are details of some gruesome deaths, murders and beatings that the characters go through. 

James Oswald is a Scottish author and so my last link is to another Scottish author – Chris Brookmyre, who has written The Way of all Flesh, under the pseudonym of Ambrose Parry with his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman a consultant anaesthetist. It is set in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform. It combines fact and fiction most successfully, the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into the plot. It was on the Longlist for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

But the winner was Thirteen by Steve Cavannagh, an Irish author. It’s the fifth book in the Eddie Flynn series of crime thrillers, ‘serving up a delicious twist to the traditional courtroom thriller, where in this instance the real killer is not the one on trial, but a member of the jury!’ I have a copy but haven’t read it yet. And quite by chance I see that it also links back to Daisy Jones and the Six as it has a number in the title.

From a fictional rock band to two real rock bands my chain also links up books of ballads and three crime fiction novels.

Next month (1 February 2020), we’ll begin with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

My Friday Post: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

There are so many books I want to read right now and The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is just one of them.

The Music Shop

 

There was once a music shop.

From the outside it looked like any shop, in any backstreet. It had no name above the door. No record display in the window. There was a homemade poster stuck to the glass. For the music you need!! Everyone welcome!! We only sell VINYL!

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Vivaldi was so famous he was like a film star. There was a time everyone wanted to hear Vivaldi, but when he died, they’d all moved on. He had nothing at the end. Do you know the saddest thing?

No, Peg.

No one went to his funeral. There was no music for Vivaldi at the end.

Blurb:

1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …

~~~

One of the quotes on the back cover says that this is ‘a beautiful novel, a tonic for the soul and a complete joy to read.’ I really hope it will be just that.

Have you read this book? What did you think?