Teaser Tuesday:Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri

teaser-tuesdayI’m just going to write a short note about Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri because it’s a library book and I’m going to return it this afternoon in one of my last trips to my local library.

This is the fifth Inspector Montalbano mystery but the first one I’ve read. My impression of the book as a whole is that it is well constructed, with plenty of colourful characters, and the mystery kept me guessing to the end. Montalbano investigates the death of a young man, Nene Sanfilippo and the disappearance of an elderly couple, the Griffos. They had lived in the same apartment building, but at first this seems to be merely a coincidence. Montalbano is soon plunged into the dangerous world of Sciliy’s “New Mafia”. (This much is revealed on the back cover).

I particularly liked the way Montalbano’s thoughts are revealed and his relationship with his bosses. He’s another detective who works well on his own and with his own team independently of his superiors. He loves food and there are various desciptions of the meals he savours with great relish. He is also a bit of a philosopher – sitting in an old olive tree whilst musing on life and his work:

Straddling one of the lower branches, he would light a cigarette and begin to reflect on problems in need of resolution.

He had discovered that, in some mysterious way, the entanglement, contortion, overlapping, in short, the labyrinth of branches, almost mimetically mirrored what was happening inside his head, the intertwining hypotheses and accumulating arguments. And if some conjecture happened to seem at first too reckless or rash, the sight of a branch tracing an even more far-fetched path than his thought would reassure him and allow him to proceed.

Ensconced among the silvery-green leaves, he could stay there for hours without moving. (pages 99 – 100)

At times this book reads like a comedy, with some of the police talking in dialect before plunging back into the dark criminal world. I couldn’t work out what was behind the crimes at all, which for me was immensely satisfying. When you can see the end coming chapters away and have worked out who “did it” I sometimes feel let down – not so with this book.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: G is for A Good Hanging

My choice for the letter G in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is  A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin. I first wrote about this book when I read it in April 2008. It was one of the first books by Rankin that I had read, although I was familiar with Rebus from the TV series.

A Good Hanging is a collection of twelve short stories featuring Inspector John Rebus, set in Edinburgh. All the stories are concise and I think convey the character of Rebus; he is cynical and analytical, a lone worker, who drinks and smokes too much. None of the stories pose complex mysteries and are easily solved by Rebus.

A Good HangingFirst published in 1992 it’s one of the earlier Rebus books. The first story in this book is called ‘Playback‘. It’s a bit dated now with Rebus impressed by being able to phone your home phone ‘from the car-phone’ to get ‘the answering machine to play back any messages.’ As the title indicates, solving the crime in this story hinges on phone messages. The police receive a phone call from the murderer confessing his crime. He panics and tries to flee, only to be caught as the police arrive on the scene of the crime. He then insists on his innocence. Rebus disentangles the puzzle even though this seems to be ‘the perfect murder’.

In ‘The Dean Curse‘ Rebus is reading Hammett’s novel ‘The Dain Curse‘, which he tosses up into the air disgusted by how far-fetched and melodramatic that book was, piling on coincidence after coincidence ‘corpse following corpse like something off an assembly line’, when he receives a phone call with news of a car bomb that had just gone off in Edinburgh. He cannot believe it has happened. It seems as though this is the work of terrorists, the bomb having all the hallmarks of an IRA bomb and it had gone off seconds after the car had been stolen. It seems to Rebus as if the coincidences in the Hammett story have nothing on his case. But there is more to this case than at first meets the eye.

My favourite in the book is the title story ‘A Good Hanging‘ in which Rebus solves the crime through his knowledge of ‘Twelfth Night‘. It’s set during the Edinburgh Festival period, when the city is full of young, theatrical people. A Fringe group, comprising a number of students are staging a play called ‘Scenes from a Hanging’ promising a live hanging on stage. The story starts with the discovery of a young man found hanging from the stage scaffold in Parliament Square. It appears to be suicide according to the note in his pocket ‘Pity it wasn’t Twelfth Night’. But Rebus investigates and finds that all is not as it seems.crime_fiction_alphabet

The other stories involve the discovery of a skeleton buried beneath a concrete floor, a Peeping Tom, and blackmailers. One story I particularly like is ‘Being Frank‘ about a tramp who overhears two men talking about a war that’s coming. He is well known for making up stories and informing the police of numerous conspiracies so they just laugh at him. But fearing the end of the world Frank confides in Rebus who eventually begins to suspect that this time Frank is not lying.

Book Notes

I’ve read a few books recently and not written about them.They’re library books and due back very soon so  I thought I’d jot down a few notes about each one.

  • Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell (audio book)
  • Dave and I listened to this in the car whilst travelling to Northumberland and back. This is an Inspector Wexford mystery – a man taking his dog for a walk discovers a severed hand, which turns out to be part of a skeleton wrapped in a purple sheet. The police have to discover the identity of the victim – and of the body of a second corpse found in a nearby house. Both have been lying undiscovered for at least ten years. I’m not used to listening to books and I did find it a bit difficult to follow. Of course, the sat nav and traffic news kept interrupting which didn’t help, but even so I did get confused. There were too many people and sub-plots. Maybe I should read the book.

    It seemed overlong. I thought it would have been improved if it had been shorter and less rambling. It was narrated by Christopher Ravenscroft who plays Mike Burden in the Wexford TV series. He took Wexford’s voice so well I could almost imagine it was George Baker reading that part.

  • Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
  • I loved this memoir. Diana Athill comes across as an honest writer, not afraid to say what she thinks, now she is no longer an editor. As the title indicates, she writes about what it is like getting towards the end of her life. At the time of writing she was 89 years old and looking back on her life with few regrets. This is a book I may well buy to re-read at leisure.

  • All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson 
  • I have mixed feelings about this book, parts of it really interested me, but I could have done without the terrorist attack and involvement of MI5 and MI6. This is only the 2nd Inspector Banks book I’ve read and it’s the 18th in Robinson’s series. I think that doesn’t matter as I had no difficulty in sorting out his relationships and although other cases are referred to this reads OK as a stand-alone book. What I did have difficulty with was believing the spy stuff – one of the victims had been a spook. What I do like is Robinson’s descriptive writing eg:

    It was after sunset, but there was a still glow deep in the cloudless western sky, dark orange and indigo. Banks could smell warm grass and manure mingled with something sweet, perhaps flowers that only opened at night. A horse whinied in a distant field. The stone he sat on was still warm and he could see the lights of Helmshore beneath the tree, down at the bottom of the dale, the outline of the sqaure church tower with its odd round turret, dark and heavy against the sky. Low on the western horizon, he could see a planet, which he took to be Venus, and higher up, towards the north, a red dot he guessed was Mars. (page 224)

  • Murder in the Museum by Simon Brett
  • This is the fourth in Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries series. It’s set in Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, the former home of Esmond Chadleigh, a celebrated poet during his lifetime. The house is about to be turned into a museum, although not all the Trustees agree. Carole Seddon has been co-opted onto the Board of Trustees and when a skeleton is discovered in the kitchen garden she soon becomes involved in solving the mystery. Then Sheila Cartwright, the bossy domineering former Director of the Trustees is shot, and Carole finds her own life is in danger.

    I haven’t read any of the other Fethering mysteries so have yet again  jumped into the middle of a series. In this case I think it would have helped to read the earlier ones. Carole and her neighbour Jude obviously have acted as sleuths in the past. I liked this book, once I’d read a few chapters and thought Carole and Jude’s relationship was well described. Carole likes everything cut and dried and out in the open with her friends. She cannot understand and resents Jude’s reticence. I’m going to look out for more of Simon Brett’s books.

    Teaser Tuesday – All the Colours of Darkness

    teaser-tuesdayTeaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

    I haven’t finished reading All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson but I thought I’d quote a few sentences from it as a “teaser”. Robinson is a “new to me author”, but by no means a new author. He’s written many books and received numerous awards, all listed on his website.

    All the Colours of Darkness is the eighteenth book in his Inspector Banks series. Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are investigating the deaths of Mark Hardcastle, found hanging from an oak tree in Hindswell Woods, and his partner Laurence Silbert found battered to death in his house in the Heights, the ‘posh’ part of Eastvale (a fictional Yorkshire town).

    It looks like a textbook case of murder-suicide, a crime of passion. But somehow I have my doubts as this is set out in the first few chapters. This seems to be confirmed in the chapter I’m currently reading when Banks is interviewing Laurence’s mother Edwina, now in her eighties, the owner of the enormously successful Viva boutique chain in the 60s:

    ‘Edwina’, Banks said in exasperation. You’re keeping something from me. I can tell. You were doing it last night and now you’re doing it again. What on earth is it? What are you holding back?’

    Edwina paused and sighed.’Oh, very well. It is naughty of me, isn’t it? I suppose you’d find out sooner or later, anyway.’ She stubbed out her cigarette and looked Banks in the eye. ‘He was a spy, Mr Banks. My son, Laurence Silbert. He was a spook.’ (pages133-4)

    There are theatrical references as Mark was a set and costume designer for a production of Othello at the Eastvale Theatre and the epigraphs at the beginning of the book are from Shakepeare’s Othello and Puccini’s Tosca. So it’s promising to be a mix of different elements – jealousy, murder, revenge, envy and ambition.

    Crime Fiction Alphabet: Featuring the Letter ‘E’

    crime_fiction_alphabetInstead of concentrating on one book or one author I’ve picked a mixture of books and authors for this week’s featured letter E in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet Community Meme.

    First up is Martin Edwards, who is one of my favourite authors and bloggers (click on the links to go to his website and blog). I  ‘discovered’ him when he commented on one of my posts. I’m so glad he did.  He’s written several novels, short stories and non-fiction books as well as edited a number of anthologies. Click on the titles to see my posts on his Lake District series:

    Another author who used to be a great favourite of mine is Ed McBain. I haven’t read anything of his for many years.  He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino in 1926 and changed his name to Evan Hunter, writing under the pseudonym Ed McBain from 1956. He died in 2005. He wrote an enormous number of books – from 1958 until his death he wrote one or two books a year as Ed McBain. The first one in his 87th precinct series is Cop Hater. You can read the beginning of chapter one on the Ed McBain website. Writing under his own name Evan Hunter, he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s short story (which is very different from the film). I think it’s time to re-read some Ed McBain books!

    Then there is Ellery Queen – who was actually two people writing pseudonymously. They were  cousins Daniel (David) Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee. They also used the pen name Barnaby Ross. Ellery Queen was also the chief character of their novels. A list of their books can be found on the Fantastic Fiction website. I first read Ellery Queen and Ed McBain as a teenager when I found them on my parents’ bookshelves and devoured them after I’d read all the Agatha Christie books I could find.

    Umberto Eco wrote one of my favourite books The Name of the Rose. I read this when I was working in the Archives of the local County Council. It was recommended by one of the archivists and we spent many happy tea breaks discussing this novel. It is set in the Middle Ages in Italy, in which Brother William a Franciscan monk, aided by Adso a novice,  investigates several strange deaths. It’s a wonderful mix of detective fiction, historical fiction and religious history rolled into one, involving solving cryptic clues, secret codes and puzzles. 

    Finally some books beginning with the letter E:

    And on that note I shall end this look at the letter E in crime fiction.

    Sunday Salon

    tssbadge1I thought I would remind myself of the concept of the Sunday Salon. So I’ve copied this from the Sunday Salon home page  – imagine yourself in some university library’s vast reading room. It’s filled with people–students and faculty and strangers who’ve wandered in. They’re seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they’re all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they’ll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon’s literary intake….

    That’s what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it’s all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week’s Salon get together–at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones–and read. And blog about their reading.

    It’s grey outside and it’s raining, so I have some time today to sit and read and then write, even though I should really be sorting out what to pack, what to throw away, and what to take to the charity shops in preparation for moving house.

    Today so far I read over my breakfast a few chapters from All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson. This is the second Inspector Banks mystery I’ve read and I’m only at the beginning of this one. So far two bodies have been discovered. One is the body of theatre set designer Mark Hardcastle and appears to be a suicide. But when the second body is found Inspector Banks is dragged back from leave to head the investigation because a senior and experienced officer has to be seen to be in charge. I’ve just made the mistake of glancing at some reviews on Amazon, in which some people have said how disappointing this book is and not up to Robinson’s usual standard. Not everyone agrees of course and I’ll wait until I’ve read it before passing judgement.

    I wanted a break from reading crime fiction and wondered what to pick up whilst having a cup of coffee (I’m on my second cup of the day now). I had started Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat yesterday but it didn’t match my mood this morning. I didn’t feel like a sentimental read, so instead I read some more from Karen Armstrong’s book The Case for God. This is non-fiction indeed – although some may argue that religion is fiction! Any attempt by me to summarise this book would be futile. Basically it’s a run-through of the ideas people have had about ‘God’ over the centuries.

     I like to know an author’s background and qualifications when I’m reading a book like this. I  know that Karen Armstrong became a nun in the 1960s and then left her order and eventually became a writer and broadcaster. According to the information on the book jacket she is also a passionate campaigner for religious liberty, and was awarded the Franklin J Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal in 2008  for her work. I’ve seen her in discussions on TV and respect her views and way she puts them forward, but I would like to know more about her own personal beliefs.

    The Case for God seems to me to be an objective account, mainly concerning the monotheistic faiths, Christianity in particular. This morning I read the chapters on The Enlightenment and Atheism. I have studied the Enlightenment period in the past so I found this chapter easy to read. It contains brief summaries of the various theologians and philosophers of the 18th century both in Europe and America. She writes about Hegel (I know nothing about him, so this was interesting) and points out that

    In a way that would become habitual in the modern critique of faith, he had presented a distorted picture of ‘religion’ as a foil for his own ideas, selecting one strand of  a complex tradition and arguing that it represented the whole.

    I’ve yet to read what she says about Richard Dawkins, that comes later in the book – should be interesting too.

    I haven’t decided yet what I’ll be reading later today. I think I’ll listen to Jerry Springer on Desert Island Discs on the radio this morning. There is a new series on BBC tonight that looks as though it should be good – Garrow’s Law . This is set in the late 18th century – a young, idealistic barrister, William Garrow, is given his first criminal defence case at the Old Bailey by attorney and mentor, John Southouse. So it’s back to crime fiction. It’s based on real cases and William Garrow was a barrister who revolutionised the legal system. So I may not read any more today – other than other Sunday Salon posts that is.

    Crime Fiction Alphabet:Death of a Chief by Douglas Watt

    Letter DThis week’s letter in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet is D:

    Douglas Watt is a historian, poet and novelist. Death of a Chief is his first novel.

    From the back cover:

    The year is 1686. Sir Lachlan MacLean, chief of a proud but poverty-stricken Highland clan, has met with a macabre death in his Edinburgh lodgings. With a history of bad debts, family quarrels, and some very shady associates, Sir Lachlan had many enemies. But while motives are not hard to find, evidence is another thing entirely. It falls to lawyer John MacKenzie and his scribe Davie Scougall to investigate the mystery surrounding the death of the chief, but among the endless possibilities, can Reason prevail in a time of witchcraft, superstition and religious turmoil?

    Death of a Chief is set in pre-Enlightenment Scotland – a long time before police detectives existed.

    I seem to be reading a lot of crime fiction set in Edinburgh recently with Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, but Death of a Chief is set in a different period and at times, it seemed, a different place!  One location that puzzled me was the Nor’ Loch below Castle Rock, where a second body is found – that of James Jossie, the apothecary – I just couldn’t picture a loch actually within the city. I found the answer in Wikipedia  – this area is now occupied by Princes Street Gardens, between the Royal Mile and Princes Street. How different it was before it was drained in 1759, with its muddy shoreline, and its dark dank water in the shade of the black mass of the Castle Rock!

    Although I know very little about 17th century Scotland it seemed to me that this book brought that time and place to life well.The differences between the Highlanders and Scots Lowlanders are highlighted. Scougall a devout Presbyterian Lowlander has been brought up believing the Highlands to be a barbaric place ‘roamed by bands of murderers and in the grip of Popery’. The difficulties of  language also confront Scougall – he can’t speak Gaelic. As MacKenzie and Scougall travel into the Highlands to attend Sir Lachlan’s funeral and search for Campbell of Glenbeg, a notorious drunkard and gambler and a suspect for the murders, it seems that Scougall’s fears are justified when they are attacked by a group of “caterans”, men without a clan who were hired to kill them.

    Although the locations are well described and MacKenzie (based on a real historical figure) and Scougall are well drawn some of the other characters are a bit sketchy and I had a little difficulty identifying them as I read. I had to backtrack to remind myself who they were. But I liked Watt’s style of writing. I enjoyed the book’s historical background and  the way he portrayed the political and religious conflict. The tension is well paced and the mystery is intriguing. I just had to keep turning the pages to find who was the culprit and I didn’t work it out until just before the denoument.