Deadheads by Reginald Hill

5 Stars

Deadheads is the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel first published in 1983 and by then Reginald Hill was really getting into his stride and showing his versatility as this book is not a bit like his earlier books. There are deaths, of course, but are they murders? Each one could just as easily be from natural causes or accidents. You think you know from the first chapter who the culprit could be, but I wasn’t really sure – and even by the end I was still wondering if I was right. The police investigation is run mainly by Pascoe and to a certain extent by his wife, Ellie, whilst Dalziel is occupied with other matters, only involved as the mystery draws towards its end.

Blurb

Patrick Aldermann inherits the splendid Rosemount House and gardens on the death of his aunt, and there he is able to indulge his horticultural passions without restraint.

When his boss, Dick Elgood, suggests that Aldermann is a murderer, then retracts the accusation, Peter Pascoe’s detecting instincts are aroused. How did an underachieving accountant make his way to the top of the company so quickly? And why do so many of his colleagues keep dropping dead?

Meanwhile, when not fielding politically incorrect insults from Superintendent Dalziel, Police Cadet Singh—Mid-Yorkshire’s first Asian copper—has dug up some very interesting information about Aldermann’s beautiful wife, Daphne, who’s now firm friends with one Ellie Pascoe…

It’s important to read the first chapter of Deadheads by Reginald Hill very carefully. At first I didn’t, but as I read on I began to think I’d misread it, so I went back to it – and then I understood its significance. It’s a short chapter that sets the theme for the book. Each chapter is named after a particular rose followed by a description of that rose and the first one is called Mischief, a hybrid tea, in which old Mrs Florence Aldermann instructs her great nephew, eleven year old Patrick, how to deadhead roses and explains why it is necessary.

The blurb outlines the plot and to write much more would, I think, mean I’d be giving away too many spoilers. I found the whole book fascinating, written with humour and social commentary on the issues of racism, homosexualty, feminism and marital infidelity. The plot is well executed and Hill’s descriptive writing is, as usual superb, both in terms of the setting and the development of the characters. And I especially liked the ambiguity of the plot and the circularity of the book – ending as it began with Patrick in his rose garden, pruning roses.

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson

Nordic noir, as bleak, cold, snowy and empty as Iceland.

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph/ 30 April 2020/ 320 pages/ review copy/ 4*

About the book

1987. An isolated farm house in the east of Iceland.

The snowstorm should have shut everybody out. But it didn’t.

The couple should never have let him in. But they did.

An unexpected guest, a liar, a killer. Not all will survive the night. And Detective Hulda will be haunted forever.

My thoughts

The Mist is the third novel in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland series, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. The trilogy began with The Darkness in which Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir was on the verge of retirement. The second book, The Island goes backwards in time with an investigation in 1997. The Mist featuring Hulda goes back yet again to 1987 as Hulda is worrying about her daughter, Dimma and her relationship with her husband, Jon. Alongside the story of what is happening in her personal life, she is also investigating the disappearance of a young woman and a suspected murder case, a particularly horrific one in an isolated farmhouse in the east.

I thought the first part of this book, about Erla and her husband, Einar, who live in the furthest reaches of eastern Iceland was completely gripping, especially with the arrival of a stranger lost in a snowstorm. Erla invites him in and the nightmare begins. This is one of those books where to know too much about the plot would really spoil it. All I’m going to say is that it starts slowly, and the tension and suspense gradually rise throughout, with an increasing sense of dread.

I loved the setting, Jonasson’s writing bringing the scenery and the weather to life – you can feel the isolation and experience what it is like to be lost in a howling snowstorm. The emotional tension is brilliantly done too, the sense of despair, confusion and dread is almost unbearable. My only criticism, a small one, is that when I reached a certain point in the novel, quite a bit before the end, it seemed obvious to me what the outcome would be. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, but I would have preferred not to have known and is the reason I’ve given this 4 stars instead of 5.

My thanks to the publishers for my copy via Netgalley.

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Random House Bantam Press| 5 March 2020| 391 pages|e-book| Review copy| 3*

About the Book

Deaths and disappearances have plagued the vast liner from the moment she began her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912. Four days later, caught in what feels like an eerie, unsettling twilight zone, some passengers – including millionaire Madeleine Astor and maid Annie Hebbley – are convinced that something sinister is afoot. And then disaster strikes.

Four years later and the world is at war. Having survived that fateful night, Annie is now a nurse on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, refitted as a hospital ship. And she is about to realise that those demons from her past and the terrors of that doomed voyage have not finished with her yet . . .

Bringing together Faustian pacts, the occult, tales of sirens and selkies, guilt and revenge, desire and destiny, The Deep offers a thrilling, tantalizing twist on one of the world’s most famous tragedies.

My thoughts

I loved The Hunger by Alma Katsu, so I was looking forward to reading The Deep. It began really well and it’s beautifully written. It’s a mix of fact and fiction. It moves between 1912 as the Titanic sets sail on its maiden voyage and 1916, as its sister ship the Britannic, converted to a hospital picks up soldiers injured in the battlefields to take them back to England. There is a large cast of characters, some are real people and others are fictional; the stories on the two ships are told from their different perspectives.

The story revolves around Annie Hebbley, a stewardess on the Titanic and a nurse on the Britannic. It begins in 1916 when she is in an asylum and receives a letter from a friend, Violet Jessop (a real person) who had been on the Titanic with her, asking her to join her as nurse on the Britannic. Annie, however, has a dark secret in her past, which is slowly revealed – most of the time I was reading I couldn’t decide how much was real and how much imaginary. She grew up in Ireland and her mind is full of the fairy stories and superstitions her grandmother had told her. And things start to go wrong as soon as she boards the Titanic.

It didn’t grip me as much as The Hunger, although it’s a very atmospheric novel and I loved the way Alma Katsu has combined fact and fiction. The scenes on the Titanic convey the splendour of the ship, the wealth of the passengers and the contrasting conditions between the different classes of passengers, and the crew. Similarly, the stark conditions on The Britannic and the suffering of its passengers are vividly portrayed. Some of the passengers are convinced that the ship is haunted and there is a genuine sense of menace, of something sinister and supernatural waiting to strike them all. However, I didn’t think the supernatural elements were as convincing later on in the novel and I found the ending confusing.

It’s not a quick read, beginning slowly and, although at first I thought this was going to be a really engrossing novel, my interest began to flag later on. I was actually relieved when I finished it. That maybe because I knew the fate of the Titanic and I didn’t empathise with Annie, the main character. As historical fiction I think it works quite well, but the main focus of the book is not the sinking of the Titanic or of the Britannic – it’s the story of the passengers and crew of both ships. The supernatural elements just confused me – especially the ending, which is so ambiguous – just who was Annie Hebbley? It’s surreal and I suppose you just have to make your own mind up. It’s been in my mind ever since I finished reading.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

This is my first book for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer, and my eighth book for the Historical Fiction Challenge.

20 Books of Summer

For the past few years I’ve taken part in 20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. You simply list twenty books (there are also ten and fifteen book options) and read them during the summer months. It’s not so simple for me though as I’ve never managed to read all the books I list, often changing my mind when it comes to choosing which book to read next. But I’ve decided to have a go again this year.

This event starts today and finishes on 1 September. Here’s my list:

  1. The Deep by Alma Katsu
  2. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslian Charles
  3. The Search Party by Simon Lelic
  4. A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
  5. How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  6. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  7. Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards
  8. How to Save a Life by S D Robertson
  9. The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter
  10. The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson
  11. The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
  12. Deadman’s Footsteps by Peter James
  13. Sleeping Beauties by Jo Spain
  14. The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
  15. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  16. Giant’s Bread by Agatha Christie
  17. Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon
  18. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin
  19. The Cornish Guest House by Emma Burstall
  20. Dead Heads by Reginald Hill

This list is made up of NetGalley books, some of which I should have read well before now and of books from my TBR list – also ones I’ve been meaning to read for ages. There’s a lot of crime fiction!

Some are Kindle books and some – shown in the photo below are physical books:

Fortunately Cathy is is willing to bend the rules so that you can change the list if you want to or simply swap books if you don’t fancy reading the books you’ve listed. And you can drop your goal to either the 15 or 10 book options if you like! I think I’ll be doing one of these options!

Which book would you read first? And are you taking part too?