Foreign Bodies (British Library Crime Classics) edited by Martin Edwards

Poisoned Pen Press|6 March  2018 |288 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

There are fifteen stories in this collection of vintage crime fiction in translation,  written by authors from Hungary, Japan, Denmark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and France. Some are detective stories in the same tradition of  Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, or in the same style as Agatha Christie; there are ‘locked room’ mysteries and stories mixing mystery and horror. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as, unsurprisingly, the authors were all new to me, with the exception of Anton Chekhov (although I haven’t read any of his works).

Edwards presents the stories in approximately the chronological order of their publication from 1883 to 1960 and notes that these authors were writing in the same styles at much the same time as Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime fiction writers.

When I began reading I was disappointed as I didn’t enjoy the first few stories. Short story collections are often a mixed bag and some stories are better than others, so after putting the book aside for a while I carried on reading. Some are very short and are predictable and really easy to see where they will end, but others are much more satisfying.

The ones that appealed to me the most are (in the order I read them):

The Spider (1930) by Koga Saburo who founded the Mystery Writers of Japan in 1947. His work was very popular in Japan and he wrote in the traditionalist style, favouring the puzzle element of a mystery. Edwards writes that it ‘is a pleasing fusion of macabre fiction and the classic detective puzzle‘, which explains why I like it. It’s set in a bizarre laboratory in a nine metre high round tower in which a professor is carrying out research on spiders. One night another professor visited him and fell to his death from the tower having been bitten by a poisonous spider. The circumstances of his death, however are not at all straightforward and are most ingenious. Probably my favourite story.

Murder a la Carte (1931) by Jean-Toussaint Samat, born in the Camargue, a journalist and writer of crime and adventure novels. This story is about a case of poisoning, but poisoning with a difference. A guest at a dinner party explains how to get away with murder – by using a non-poisonous substance. It’s one of the shorter stories that I did find satisfying.

The Venom of the Tarantula (1933) by Sharadindu Bandyopadhya from Bengal, educated in Calcutta, whose crime writing is similar to that of Arthur Conan Doyle. A writer called Ajit  and detective Byomkesh Bakshi join forces to investigate what is an apparently ‘impossible crime’ featuring an ingenious poisoning.  Nandadulalbabu is a hypochondriac who is writing fiction using black and red ink. He is addicted to venomous ‘spider juice’, extracted from tarantulas. His family have prevented him from getting the juice but somehow he is able to trick them and is still  getting his fix. Although I was able to work out the solution it’s still a satisfying and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Green Room (1936) by Pierre Véry from France. This story is dedicated to the memory of Gaston Leroux, and plays on the events in his story, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907), which I haven’t readanother ‘locked room’ whodunnit.  I enjoyed this one , particularly where the private investigator points out to the detective the similarities between the yellow room mystery to this one, the green room mystery – this is an ‘open-room’ mystery as opposed to a ‘locked-room’ puzzle.

John Flanders, born in Ghent was one of the pen-names of Jean-Raymond-Marie De Kremer. He wrote imaginative and fantastical stories and Kippers, originally written in Flemish is one of his many short stories. It’s one of the shortest stories in the book and entertained me in a very different way – it is not a puzzle or even really a mystery story, but is focused on one of Flanders’ fictional preoccupations with food and drink and as the title indicates it is a story about

Kippers, delectable, salmony kippers, smoky as a chimney, dripping with fat, one for each of us, of course, the real thing.

Even Bertie the cabin boy got one.

A sinister tale about a shipwrecked crew on a desert island that ends in horror.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

1

which for me is Greenmantle by John Buchan. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2019.

Greenmantle

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916. I’ve read the first, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Richard Hannay is tasked to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world and takes off on a hair-raising journey through German-occupied Europe to meet up with his old friend Sandy Arbuthnot in Constantinople, where they must thwart the Germans’ plans to use religion to help them win the war. Set during World War I, Greenmantle is a contraversial meditation on the power of political Islam (it was pulled from Radio 4’s schedule at the time of the 7 July bombings).

I’m really pleased this book came up in the Spin for me as it will fit in with my reading about World War I.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.

But something goes wrong.

Very wrong.

And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.

I featured In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware in this Friday Post on book Beginnings and said that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it having been disappointed  by the only other book by her that I’ve read, The Woman in Cabin 10.  But as some people commented that they had enjoyed it and as it has good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I decided to read on. It promises to be a psychological thriller – a scary book – but maybe I’ve read too many psychological thrillers as I didn’t find it thrilling or scary. It’s mystery novel that slowly reveals why Leonora, known either as Lee or Nora or Leo, and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. That was also when Nora’s heart was broken when her relationship with James came to an abrupt end. She had never come to terms with their break up.

I thought the setting was good – the hen party is held in a glass house in the middle of a wood in Northumberland. The mobile phone signal is practically nonexistent and they are cut off from the outside world and isolated when the snow sets, in cutting off the landline. But the characters are stereotypes – a new mother pining for her baby back home, a gay male actor, a gay female doctor (who is in my opinion the most sensible of the group), the dippy devoted friend of the bride who has organised this terrible hen party, the bride, self-obsessed, selfish and manipulative as well as Nora, who can’t move on from her past. The outcome is predictable when footprints appear in the snow, the backdoor that was supposed to be locked is found open and the hen party keep arguing and antagonising each other. It’s obvious from the start that something terrible had happened when Nora wakes up in a hospital bed and realises that she can’t remember what had happened … or what she had done.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is Ruth Ware’s debut novel and the film rights have been optioned  by New Line Cinema.  I can imagine that a film would be much more terrifying than the book – it should be, the potential is there. I don’t like being critical of a book, but I can’t recommend this book.

 

More New-to-Me Books

A visit to Barter Books  at Alnwick this week has added 4 books to my TBRs.

 I usually steer clear of books about kidnapped or missing babies/children, so I’m not sure about the first two books shown below. But I’ve read books by both authors before and enjoyed them so I’m hoping they’ll be OK – or at least not too heart-wrenching:

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid – a standalone psychological thriller beginning with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Blurb

Stephanie Harker is travelling through security at O’Hare airport with five-year-old Jimmy. But in a moment, everything changes. In disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of the gates, hysterical with worry.

The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun. By the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone.

But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems. There are many potential suspects for this abduction. With time rapidly running out, how can Stephanie get him back?

A breathtakingly rich and gripping psychological thriller, The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid’s most accomplished standalone novel to date, a work of haunting brilliance.

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain – a murder mystery and another book about mothers and babies in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums.

Blurb

1975
A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.

2010
The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.

Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is on the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

The Visitor by Lee Child – a Jack Reacher – I’ve read one of the Jack Reacher books and did enjoy it but looking at the reviews of this book it seems a lot of readers weren’t keen on it whilst many others were. A marmite book, maybe. 

Blurb

Sergeant Amy Callan and Lieutenant Caroline Cook have a lot in common. High-flying army career women, both are victims of sexual harassment from their superiors; both are force to resign from the service.

And now they’re both dead.

Their unmarked bodies are discovered in their homes, naked, in baths filled with army-issue camouflage paint. Expert FBI psychological profilers start to hunt for a serial murderer, a smart guy with a score to settle, a loner, an army man, a ruthless vigilante known to them both.

Jack Reacher, a former US military cop, is a smart guy, a loner and a drifter, as tough as they come. He knew both victims. For Agent-in-Charge Nelson Blake and his team, he’s the perfect match. They’re sure only Reacher has the answers to their burning questions: how did these women die? And why?

A Foreign Field: a True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War by Ben Macintyre – nonfiction – because I’m interested in reading about World War One in both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed reading his book Operation Mincemeat so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.  

Blurb

A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War, from the bestselling author of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ and ‘Agent Zig-Zag’.

Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. Unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret, where they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers, including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.

The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the 20-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors, and in November 1915 she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.

Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and, most movingly, the soldiers’ last letters, Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinary story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?’ In this new updated edition the mystery is finally solved.

Which one would you recommend I read first?