Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon: Book Review

doctored-evidenceDoctored Evidence is the first book by Donna Leon that I’ve read. Maybe I should have started with the first Commissario Brunetti book, Death at La Fenice, because I felt as though I’d walked into a room where everyone else knew each other and I didn’t.

It started off well with the murder of the most unlikeable character Maria Battestini. At first Flori, her Romanian maid is suspected of her murder but it is clear from Signora Gismondi’s evidence that the maid could not have had time to kill the old woman. What follows is the investigation of the murder by Commisario Brunetti aided by Signorina Elettra and Inspector Vianello.

It was going well and then I began to get a bit bored as it became bogged with lots of possiblities for who killed Battestini. At the end when the murderer was revealed I only had a vague impression of the character and had to go back to read various scenes again. For me the minor characters were all a bit vague, with the exception of Signora Gismondi who came across very clearly. I would have liked more about her.

I liked Brunetti; he seems to be a maverick character. I think a Commissario is in charge of a police station or division or something similar, but at one point I wondered if his boss was Signora Elettra, only to discover that she works for Brunetti’s boss Vice-Questore Patta. Maybe this would all be clearer to me if I began with the first Brunetti book.

I liked the scenes with Brunetti’s family, his conversations with his wife and the descriptions of their meals. At one point when he tells his wife he won’t be home for a meal she replies “Wonderful”, because she can read while she eats. I also liked the way their discussion about the Seven Deadly Sins influences how he tries to work out the motive behind the murder and that he picks the wrong sin. The scenes with Lieutenant Scarpa, a most unlikeable character, where his antagonism towards Brunetti and the way Brunetti eventually deals with him are among the most vivid in the book.

In a way I was a bit disappointed with Doctored Evidence but overall I liked it enough to look for another book by Donna Leon.

This is the 17th library book I’ve read this year contributing to the Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge 2009.

Sunday Salon

tssbadge1It’s the May Bank Holiday weekend and for once the sun is shining, but rain is forecast for tomorrow, so it’s not really a day for spending much time reading – the garden is calling. But I’m currently well into Ian Rankin’s first Rebus book – Knots and Crosses – and I would love to finish it today. I think I know who the murderer is.

I’m reading it in the omnibus edition which contains the first three Rebus books so I’ve got Hide and Seek and Tooth and Nail to read after Knots and Crosses.

In Knots and Crosses one we learn about Rebus’s life before the police force when he was in the army, about his brother, Michael and about his ex-wife Rhona and his daughter Samantha. Rebus receives cryptic anonymous letters containing pieces of string tied in a knot and matchstick crosses. It’s all a play on words – knots/noughts and crosses and acrostic puzzles added in too.

So far I think I’ve worked it out, now I’m off to see if I’m right.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie: Book Review

body-in-library001I wrote some initial thoughts about The Body in the Library in my Sunday Salon post.  This is the mystery of who killed Ruby Keene. Ruby was eighteen, a professional dancer employed at the Majestic Hotel Danemouth as a dance hostess. Her body was found  in the Bantrys’ library at Gossington Hall. Then the charred body of another girl is found in an abandoned quarry. Who killed these girls and why?

The police are investigating the murder, including Inspector Slack, who is anything but slack, an energetic man, with a bustling manner. The police investigation is reinforced by the retired head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry Clithering, whilst quietly in the background Miss Marple, at the request of Mrs Bantry, is also looking for the murderer.  I had little idea who it was even though I read the book very carefully. I had my suspicions and was completely wrong.

There are various suspects – Colonel Bantry, because the body was found in his library, Basil Blake who is connected with the film industry, has loud, drunken parties, George Bartlett, a rather dim-witted chap who is a guest at the Majestic, apparently the last person to see Ruby alive, and the Jefferson family – Conway Jefferson confined to a wheelchair, who was proposing adopting Ruby as his daughter, Mark, his son-in-law and Adelaide his daughter-in-law. Ruby was hired by the hotel as a dance hostess to partner Raymond Starr (also the tennis coach) after Josie Turner had sprained her ankle.

This is a satisfying murder mystery in that all the clues are there and when Miss Marple reveals who the killer is it is so clear that I don’t know why I hadn’t realised pages earlier, but that is Agatha Christie’s skill. A quick and enjoyable read.

For more reviews of Agatha Christie’s books have a look at the Agatha Christie Challenge.

Sunday Salon

tssbadge1Today I’ve been reading Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. I’ve been reading it carefully, concentrating on the characters and trying to work out who killed Ruby and deposited her body in the Bantrys’ library at Gossington Hall. I’ve got up to the point where Miss Marple has decided she knows who the murderer is, but has not let on, because she says there’s a long way to go yet and there are a great many things that are quite obscure. She must be a most frustrating friend – Mrs Bantry is desperate to know who it is because everyone is saying it must be Colonel Bantry because the body was found in their house.

body-in-the-libraryI have no idea who the murderer is – all the likely suspects have alibis for the time that the murder was committed, so either I’ve missed someone, or the timing is wrong, or something! The only thing to do is to read on and find out. I dislike it when it turns out that a new person is the murderer. I feel cheated, having spent time working it all out, so I hope this isn’t one of those books!

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie: Book Review

agatha_christie_rcYears ago I read as many of Agatha Christie’s books as I could find, but I don’t remember ever reading Dead Man’s Folly before. This one features Hercule Poirot and Mrs Ariadne Oliver.  There is of course a murder with a most unlikely victim. It kept me guessing to the end as there is such a misleading tangle of evidence.

Mrs Ariadne Oliver has devised a Murder  Hunt for Sir George Stubbs at the Fete to be held at Nasse House, a big white Georgian house looking out over the river (based on Agatha’s own house Greenway in Devon). She has a feeling that something is wrong and summons Hercule Poirot to join her, ostensibly to present the prizes.

I did find the number of characters a bit bewildering – there are so many, including the bluff Sir George and his exotic and beautiful, if simple wife, Hattie; Miss Brewis (Sir George’s secretary); Mrs Folliat whose ancestors had lived at Nasse House for generations; a Member of Parliament and his wife; an atomic physicist and his wife; an architect; the butler; Lady Stubbs’s cousin; and a couple of girl hitch hikers in shorts who cause Poirot to shut his eyes in pain and reflect

 … that seen from the back, shorts were becoming to very few of the female sex. Why, oh why, must young women array themselves thus? Those scarlet thighs were singularly unattractive!

dead-mans-folly001

The Murder Hunt goes badly wrong when the young Girl Guide, Marlene playing the part of the murder victim, is discovered in the boat house garotted with a piece of clothes line. Just who could possibly have a motive for killing Marlene? And what is the significance of the little white “Folly”, set high in the woods above the river?

The police have no idea and even Poirot is baffled for a while. The chief constable thinks he may have been “a little Belgian wizard in his day – but surely, man, his day’s over. He’s what age?” 

In the end, of course, it is Poirot who makes sense of it all.  I didn’t think this was as good as some of Agatha Christie’s other books, but it was still enjoyable.

To read more reviews of Agatha Christie’s books visit Kerrie’s Agatha Christie Reading Carnival.

Book Review:The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun was on display in my local library. It caught my eye both by its title and its cover. I hadn’t come across any of the “Cat” books before, although I’ve since discovered that there are a lot of them. I like “whodunnits” and cats so I thought it might be entertaining.

Then I read that Zetor had found it “disappointing”, which put me off a bit. I can see what she means. It is rather slow – nearly halfway through the book before the murder – and no the cat can’t read and is as she says pretty average for a feline. But I liked it.

Briefly the book is about Joe Qwilleran, a newspaper reporter assigned to be an art writer, even though he knows little about art. There is a feud between the paper’s art critic, George Bonifield Mountclemens III, and local artists and when Earl Lambreth, who runs the art gallery is found murdered there are plenty of suspects. Qwilleran who used to be a crime reporter gets involved.

 I liked the slowness of it, the humour and above all Koko, the Siamese cat. The cover disappointingly shows a black cat not the beautiful Siamese with a “voice like an ambulance siren” and when Qwilleran first meets him he sees him  in bright daylight which

… emphasized the luster of the pale fur, the richness of the dark brown face and ears, the uncanny blue of the eyes. Long brown legs, straight and slender, were deflected at the ends to make dainty feet, and the bold whiskers glinted with the prismatic colors of the rainbow.

Later on in the book, when Koko is frolicking on the staircase his

… slender legs and tiny feet looking like long-stemmed musical notes were playing tunes up and down the red-carpeted stairs.

I found the art snobbery amusing. For example, an exhibition of a local artist’s watercolours of sailboats is described by Mountclemens by detailing the fine craftsmanship of the picture frames, and dismissing the paintings by saying that they “do not  detract from the excellence of the moldings.”

What I didn’t like was the ending, with the introduction of a new character at such a late stage; most disappointing. Will I read any more of The Cat Who … books? Maybe, if I find them in the library, but I won’t be buying them.

Book Review: The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards

cipher-garden001The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Set in the Lake District this murder mystery has everything – a beautiful setting captured so well by Martin Edwards, believable characters, and an unsolved murder with a good mixture of mystery and suspense. It’s a well paced, intricate and tense drama that kept me gripped right to the end.

Daniel Kind (see also The Coffin Trail and The Arsenic Labyrinth, my reviews are here and here) joins forces again with DCI Hannah Scarlett (in charge of the Cold Case Review Team) in investigating the murder of Warren Howe, brutally killed in the peaceful village of Old Sawrey, close to Near Sawrey the home of Beatrix Potter. There are plenty of suspects as Warren was a “serial philanderer “ who made scores of enemies and never worried if he trod on people’s toes. An anonymous tip-off to the police and a series of poison pen letters trigger the investigation and long-buried sins are brought to light before the killer is revealed.

Daniel is also tracking down the history of Tarn Cottage, which he and Miranda are renovating. The cottage garden poses a mystery – it is an ” old and melancholic private garden, mysterious and overgrown”, known locally as the Cipher Garden. The original owners and builders of Tarn Cottage, Jacob and Alice Quillers, died of broken hearts on the same day, one year exactly after the death of their son at the end of the Boer War in 1902. Not only is the layout puzzling with its tangled mess of paths meandering aimlessly leading nowhere, false turns and dead ends but the plant choice is also odd- mandrake, hellebore, foxgloves, belladonna and monkey puzzle trees.  

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

The gathering dusk had become a favourite time for Daniel. He wandered outside the cottage and savoured the scent of old roses, and the colours mingling on the fell, tints of blue and indigo deepening as the sky grew dark. The slopes looked so rich and sensuous that if he could only brush them with his fingertips, it would be like touching velvet. (page 45)

Marc Amos’s bookshop flirted with the senses. If the whiff of old books and background Debussey were insufficiently seductive, the casual visitor would be lured from the craft shops in the courtyard by the rich aromas wafting from the cafeteria. It shared the ground floor of the old mill building with a maze of ceiling-to-floor shelves. Leigh Moffat’s succulent home-based desserts had found fame beyond this corner of the South Lakes and as many people gorged on her lemon cake and Death by Chocolate as on the tens of thousands of books in the store. (page 69)

Your husband has vanished and you come home from work one day to find that the bloke you hired to sort out your garden has been scythed to death and deposited in a trench he excavated himself. But that’s not all. He wasn’t some boring stranger, he was an ex. Someone you got over in your teens, someone you still pass the time of day with. There’s always the tug of nostalgia, if hardly romance. How do you think it made me feel, Chief Inspector? (page 144)

Martin is working on the fourth book in his Lake District Mystery series – The Serpent Pool, which he is aiming to publish in 2010.  I’ll be looking out for that one! He also writes a Crime Writing Blog – Do You Write Under Your Own Name? and has a website Martin Edward’s Books.

For another review see Dorte’s blog.