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.

Yesterday’s Papers by Martin Edwards

Yesterday’s Papers is the 4th book in Martin Edwards’ Harry Devlin book in his Liverpool series, first published in 1991 and it’s the first one I’ve read. There are eight books in the series. My copy is a paperback edition, published in 2013 and it is one of my TBRs.

About the book

On Leap Year Day in 1964, an attractive teenager called Carole Jeffries was strangled in a Liverpool park. The killing caused a sensation: Carole came from a prominent political family and her pop musician boyfriend was a leading exponent of the Mersey Sound. When a neighbour confessed to the crime, the case was closed. Now, more than thirty years later, Ernest Miller, an amateur criminologist, seeks to persuade lawyer Harry Devlin that the true culprit escaped scot free. Although he suspects Miller’s motives, Harry has a thirst for justice and begins to delve into the past. But when another death occurs, it becomes clear that someone wants old secrets to remain buried – at any price…

My thoughts

I’ve enjoyed Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries, so I was expecting to enjoy his Liverpool novels, featuring solicitor Harry Devlin, and I’m glad to say that I did enjoy this one. The titles of the books are all taken from songs – Yesterday’s Papers is a song by the Rolling Stones from their 1967 album, Breaking the Buttons. In this book Harry is investigating a crime dating back thirty years to the 1960s, the period of Beatlemania, with the focus on the sixties music scene. It has a great sense of place – Martin Edwards obviously knows Liverpool very well.

Although I wanted to know more about Harry Devlin, this does work well as a standalone as there is enough information to get some idea about his character and personal life – his wife, Liz, died – murdered – ten years earlier; he has no family and lives alone. (I must read the first book, All the Lonely People to find out what happened to Liz. ) He is in partnership with Jim Crusoe. Thirty years ago when Edwin Smith was charged with murdering Carole Jeffries Tweats had been his solicitor, so when Crusoe and Devlin had taken over Tweats’ practice the case files, including that of her murder, were handed over to them. Harry is intrigued when Ernest Miller is convinced that Smith was innocent and when Smith is found dead, possibly murdered too, he decides to look into the case.

I like Harry. He is thorough and is not easily deterred, even though it’s difficult to get to the truth after the passage of thirty years, especially when Carole’s father had died and her mother is extremely reluctant to talk to Harry. Needless to say, this proves to be a complicated case and I had little idea what the outcome would be. I had my suspicions, but was wrong and only worked it out just before the end of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed Yesterday’s Papers and am keen to read more about Harry Devlin!

The Liverpool series:

  • All the Lonely People (1991)
  • Suspicious Minds (1992)
  • I Remember You (1993)
  • Yesterday’s Papers (1994)
  • Eve of Destruction (1996)
  • The Devil in Disguise (1998)
  • First Cut is the Deepest (1999)
  • Waterloo Sunset (2008)

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.

Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

I haven’t read anything set in Romania before and so when fellow blogger Marina Sofia, who has translated Sword from Romanian, told me about this book by Bogdan Teodorescu, a journalist and political analyst, I was keen to read it. Unusually it is crime fiction in which a serial killer is on the loose, but with a difference – it’s a complex novel, a political thriller focusing on the political and social dimensions of the racial conflict between the Romanians and the Roma or ‘gypsies’. The killer is hunting down his victims from the minority Roma community. As the racial conflict continues the ethnic tension rises highlighting the corruption and manipulation by the politicians and by the mass media in particular.

The book opens with a scene in Bucharest’s Obor Market as The Fly, a con man, playing his card and shell games, is killed by a person who suddenly appeared, brandishing a sword which he then plunged into his throat. This is followed by more killings – all of them of gypsies. Despite the number and method of the murders it is not gory or too graphic.

Written in a clear, journalistic style, there is a large cast of characters, listed at the end of the book including politicians and their advisors, journalists and media moguls, victims and police. The narrative moves between them as they give speeches, discuss the situation in numerous meetings, phone calls and media broadcasts. It reveals how Romania had moved on since Ceaușescu‘s Communist reign overthrown by the 1989 Revolution. In places I found the amount of dialogue and speeches slowed the narrative down more than I preferred.

At 272 pages it is not long, but it is not a quick read, partly because of the large cast and partly because it took me a while to sort out the unfamiliar names and partly because of the number of speeches. That said, I throughly enjoyed Sword, especially the setting and the unique (for me at least) focus on the political and cultural scene in Romania – and the murder mystery.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 908 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Corylus Books Ltd (8 May 2020)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • My Rating: 4*

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Blurb from Amazon:

First published serially between January and December of 1878 in the sensationalistic monthly London magazine “Belgravia”, Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is the author’s sixth published novel. Set in Egdon Heath, an area of Thomas Hardy’s fictionalized Wessex known for the thorny evergreen shrubs, called furze or gorse, which are cut there by its residents for fuel.

When the story begins, on Guy Fawkes Night, we find Diggory Venn, a merchant of the red mineral called reddle which farmers use to mark their sheep, giving aid to Thomasin Yeobright, whom he is in love with but has unsuccessfully wooed over the preceding two years. Diggory is helping Thomasin, who is in distress having left town with Damon Wildeve under the false promise of matrimony, return home to her aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. Damon has rebuffed Thomasin in favor of the beautiful young Eustacia Vye.

However when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris, Eustacia loses interest in Damon, seeing a relationship with Clym as an opportunity to escape the Heath in favor of a more glamorous and exciting locale. A classically modern novel, “The Return of the Native” presents a world of people struggling between their unfulfilled desires and the expectations of society. 

My thoughts:

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors and I throughly enjoyed The Return of the Nativewhich I think is one of his best books. I loved the setting on Eldon Heath, which is based on the small heath by Hardy’s childhood home, but is much larger. The ancient round barrows named Rainbarrows, and Rushy Pond, which lie immediately behind Hardy’s childhood home, form the centre of the fictional heath. Hardy’s description of it is detailed, poetically lyrical and beautiful. 

It’s a dramatic and tragic love story. It has a large cast of characters, with lovers who change their affections throughout the novel and it’s full of intrigue with striking moonlit scenes, disputes, heated quarrels and misunderstandings, along with rustic characters and traditional celebrations, for example Guy Fawkes night, May Day and a Mummers’ play at Christmas.

It was first published in 1878 in three volumes with revisions at later dates. The revision I read was published in 1912. Hardy’s Preface establishes that the events described took place between 1840 and 1850. ‘Egdon Heath’ is a combination of various heaths that were later ploughed or planted to woodland. He liked to think of it as the ‘heath of that traditionary King of Wessex – Lear’. The Return of the Native is a complex novel, shocking to its contemporary public because of its depiction of passionate and illicit sexual relationships (tame by today’s standards).

It begins with a description of Egdon Heath, a sombre isolated place, loved by some and hated by others, some regarding it as a prison. Along the ancient highway that crossed the heath the solitary figure of an old man sees a cart ahead of him in the long dry road. Both the driver, who walked beside it, and the cart, were completely red – he was a reddleman, who supplied  farmers with redding for their sheep. He plays an important part in the novel, appearing at significant times and places to great effect on the course of events. 

It’s not a book to read quickly and it transported me back to a time that ceased to exist before I was born, where time moved more slowly, ruled by the seasons and the weather, and with a clearly defined social hierarchy. And yet, I was surprised to find that youngsters were scribbling graffiti on ‘every gatepost and barn’s doors’, writing ‘some bad word or other’ so that a woman can hardly pass for shame some time.’ Learning to write and sending children to school was blamed:

’Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school these days! It only does harm. … If they’d never been taught how to write they wouldn’t have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn’t do it, and the country was all the better for it.’ (Page 108)8

Quite simply – I loved it. It’s a love story full of depth, atmosphere and passion, but also of tragedy  and a mix of darkness and light.

An Air that Kills by Andrew Taylor

An Air That Kills is the first book in Andrew Taylor’s in his Lydmouth crime series. I’ve read several of his other books and thoroughly enjoyed them, but none in this series.  It has a slow beginning but once it had established the characters and set the scene the pace picks up. The setting is Lydmouth, a small market town on the Welsh/English border just after the end of the Second World War.

It begins as journalist, Jill Francis arrives to stay with her friends, Philip and Charlotte in Lydmouth, to recover from a bad experience – the details are are only revealed later in the book.  Also new to the town is Inspector Richard Thornhill, who is finding it difficult to adjust to working in the local police force. There’s been a spate of burglaries and there are whispers that a black marketeer is heading to their area. So there is plenty going on and then workmen digging out a drain discover a wooden box containing baby’s bones, an old brooch and some scraps of yellowed newspaper. When Major Harcutt, the local historian was consulted he found that there could be a connection to an old murder trial. 

Harcutt is elderly, living on his own and estranged from his daughter, Antonia. But when he is involved in a road accident and is then burgled Charlotte contacts Antonia and she reluctantly returns home to help him. Meanwhile, Jill is persuaded to help Inspector Thornhill in his investigation into the mystery of the baby’s bones.

It’s a good mix of police investigation, and personal stories, including those of Richard and Jill, of Jill and Philip and Charlotte, of Harcutt and his daughter, and the burglar and the black marketeer.  There is a strong sense of time and place – I thought the 1950s setting was well done. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and and will definitely read on in the series to see how the relationship between Jill and Richard develops.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1382 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; New Ed edition (13 Sept. 2012)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 4*

Remain Silent by Susie Steiner

‘The dead cannot speak. But they still have a story to tell.’

I’ve enjoyed two of Susie Steiner’s earlier books so I was keen to read her latest book, Remain Silent and once more I was totally immersed in the story. It’s the 3rd Manon Bradshaw book and I loved it.

Remain silent

The Borough Press | 28 May 2020 | 368 pages | review copy | 4*

‘By turns warm and witty, gripping and terrifying, heartbreaking and uplifting, Susie Steiner’s fourth book is both a literary tour de force and one of the finest crime novels of recent years.’ (extract from the publishers’ blurb)

My thoughts:

This is not just a police procedural and a gripping mystery it is a tragedy, a scathing look at modern life, centred on the exploitation of immigrant labour, racism and abuse that some of the foreign workers have to endure.

Manon Bradshaw is a Detective Inspector, a working mother with a young toddler, Teddy, her adopted teenage son, Fly and her partner, Mark Talbot who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She is working in the Major Crime Unit on cold cases on a part-time basis and is not getting on well with her new boss, Detective Superintendent Gloria McBain. Despite that when she finds the body of Lukas Balsys hanging from a tree with a note attached saying ‘The dead cannot speak’,  McBain puts her in charge of the investigation into his death – did he commit suicide or was he murdered?

The story, as in the earlier books, has a complicated plot. This one revolves around the plight of a group of Lithuanian immigrants living and working in terrible conditions under a cruel gang master, Edikas. There is a large cast of characters –  as well as the Lithuanians and the police there is a local racist group leading a campaign of hatred with protest marches and the threat of violence.  All come over as incredibly real people, with the star characters being Manon, Lukas, his friend Matis and Elise who falls in love with Lukas, despite her racist father’s hatred of the immigrants.

This has all the ingredients of a successful crime novel for me. Although it starts off slowly building up a picture of the characters and their situation, it is gripping and intense, dealing with problems of prejudice and downright hatred and xenophobia – a most thought-provoking and shocking novel.

The Author

Susie Steiner is a novelist and freelance journalist. She began her writing career as a news reporter first on local papers, then on the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. In 2001 she joined The Guardian, where she worked as a commissioning editor for 11 years. In May 2019 she was diagnosed with a brain tumour (Grade 4 Glioblastoma) and spent most of 2019 undergoing treatment: six hours of brain surgery, chemo radiation, and six cycles of chemotherapy. My best wishes for her recovery. For more information see her website, susiesteiner.co.uk

The Guardians by John Grisham

The guardians

From the inside flap:

He was framed for murder.
Now he needs a miracle.

22 years ago Quincy Miller was sentenced to life without parole. He was accused of killing Keith Russo, a lawyer in a small Florida town. But there were no reliable witnesses and little motive. Just the fact that Russo had botched Quincy’s divorce case, that Quincy was black in a largely all-white town and that a blood-splattered torch was found in the boot of Quincy’s car. A torch he swore was planted. A torch that was conveniently destroyed in a fire just before his trial.

The lack of evidence made no difference to judge or jury. In the eyes of the law Quincy was guilty and, no matter how often he protested his innocence, his punishment was life in prison.

Finally, after 22 years, comes Quincy’s one and only chance of freedom. An innocence lawyer and minister, Cullen Post, takes on his case. Post has exonerated eight men in the last ten years. He intends to make Quincy the next.

But there were powerful and ruthless people behind Russo’s murder. They prefer that an innocent man dies in jail rather than one of them. There’s one way to guarantee that. They killed one lawyer 22 years ago, and they’ll kill another without a second thought.

My thoughts:

Years ago I read as many John Grisham books that I could find – I loved them. So I was delighted to find that The Guardians, his latest book is really good too, even though it is written in the present tense. I often find that style irritating but in this case I was gripped by the story and the tense didn’t trouble me in the slightest.

The book is based on a real story and a real person, which gives it a really authentic feel. Guardian Ministries is based Centurion Ministries founded by James McCluskey, working to prove the innocence of convicted criminals, convinced of their innocence. The narrator, Cullen Post, a lawyer who is also a priest, is working on behalf of several prisoners. The book opens dramatically as Duke Russell is having his last meal before being executed. But the main part of the story is centred on Quincy Miller who maintains he was framed for the murder of lawyer Keith Russo and has been in prison for 22 years.

The only small criticism I have is that at first several minor characters are introduced which muddied the waters a little but once I got further into the book it became clear that there were major miscarriages of justice that Post was investigating, as he concentrates on Quincy’s case. It’s an easy read but packed with detail, a lot of it quite shocking. I enjoyed it immensely, especially learning about the US legal system.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; 01 edition (15 Oct. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1473684439
  • ISBN-13: 978-1473684430
  • Source: I bought the book

My rating: 4*

 

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

London, 1668 – A dangerous secret lies beneath Whitehall Palace…

The Last Protector

HarperCollins|2 April 2020|419 pages|ebook |Review copy via NetGalley|4*

The Last Protector is the fourth book in Andrew Taylor’s series featuring James Marwood, a government agent and Cat (Catherine) Lovett, set in Restoration England. The year is 1668 and the exiled Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, heavily in debt, has returned in disguise to England.

Charles’ extravagant life style and licentious behaviour has now lost him the support of the people and many are hankering after the old days under Oliver Cromwell and then his son, Richard as Lord Protectors. He needs Parliament to vote him the funds to pay off his debts, maintain his court and fund the expansion of the navy and is relying on the Duke of Buckingham for support. However Marwood’s masters suspect that Buckingham is secretly conspiring against the King and assign him to spy on him. 

Cat, a regicide’s daughter, is married to Simon Hakesby, an elderly and ailing surveyor and architect. She knew Richard’s daughter Elizabeth as a child and finds herself drawn into the Cromwells’ plan to recover a package Richard’s mother had hidden in the Cockpit in the gardens of the Palace of Whitehall just before her death; a package Richard hopes would be sufficient to clear his debts. He turns to the Duke of Buckingham for support in gaining access to the Cockpit. Buckingham is keen to use Richard in his plans to gain power. Cat, who now is unhappy in her marriage, resentful of Simon’s demands on her, is reluctant to get involved but unfortunately for her Simon is eager to help, and they soon find themselves in great danger. She is reluctant to ask for Marwood’s help fearing they could be charged with treason.

Like the earlier books in the series this is a gripping story, full of historical detail, complications, intrigue and danger. The characterisation is brilliant with memorable characters such as Ferrus, a mazer-scourer’s labourer, who lives a terrible life, forced to sleep in a kennel with Windy, a vicious dog that guards the kitchen yard at the Cockpit. Treated brutally by his master, Ezra Reeves, his job is to clean the sewers. He is starved so he can squeeze himself down unto the foul stinking mess of the sewers, bending his long thin arms and legs. The stench of London comes across very vividly in this novel. Then there is Chloris, the kind-hearted prostitute, who helps Marwood. 

This is a book full of action too, with a swiftly moving plot and a climatic ending. It is full of suspense and surprises. Andrew Taylor is a supreme storyteller, combining fact and fiction – his novels are full of historical details that slot seamlessly into his stories.

I’ve read all  the earlier books and loved them too – The Ashes of London (set in 1666, six years after Charles II was reinstated as King) and The Fire Court (set in 1667, eight months after the Great Fire of London), and The King’s Evil (set seven months later). It is not necessary to read the earlier books as I think they all work well as standalones, but I think it really helps if you do.

Many thanks to the publishers, HarperCollins for my review copy.