Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin:Book Notes

I included Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin in a Weekly Geeks post on unreviewed books and Deb asked: Is ‘Knots and Crosses’ the first Rebus novel you’ve read? How important is it to you to read such a series in order? Does it matter? The Rebus novels, to me, are as much about Rankin’s development of his character as they are puzzles/crimes to be solved.

Eva asked: Is Knots and Crosses more of a mystery or a thriller?

Knots and Crosses is the first of the Rebus books, but it is not the first one I’ve read. I’ve also watched many of the TV dramas, although I don’t remember this one. I think it is better to read them in the order they were written because the character of Rebus evolves throughout the series. In Knots and Crosses various facts about his past are revealed, which helped me understand events in the later books. And it’s definitely more of a mystery than a thriller.

Briefly it’s about the search for the killer of young girls, set in Edinburgh. Rebus receives anonymous letters containing knotted string and matchstick crosses – a puzzle that is connected with his time in the SAS, that only he can solve. It’s fast paced and I did work out who the killer is before the end of the book, but that only added to my satisfaction.

Knots and Crosses is in an omnibus edition, Rebus: the Early Years, containing the first three Rebus books and a short introduction in which Rankin explains how he came to write the Rebus books:

I wanted to update Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to 1980s Edinburgh. My idea was: cop as good guy (Jekyll), villain as bad guy (Hyde). So I wrote Knots and Crosses. I was living in a room in a ground-floor flat in Arden Street, so my hero, John Rebus, had to live across the road. When the book was published, I found to my astonishment that everyone was saying that I’d written a whodunnit, a crime novel. I think I’m still the only crime writer I know who hadn’t a clue about the genre before setting out.

I’m now reading the second Rebus book –  Hide and Seek.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone: Book Review

Weekly Geeks asked participants to list books they have read but not reviewed and then invite others to ask questions about these books. The idea was to help us catch up on our reviews. I listed A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell as one of those books and Sherrie who writes A View of My Life blog had a question for me. She asked as this is a modern mystery did it keep my attention through the whole book?  Well, it did – once I’d started I just had to keep on reading.

Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. She writes traditional detective stories, mainspring novels and crime fiction concentrating on one character.

I’ve known of Ruth Rendell’s books for years and watched the TV versions of her Inspector Wexford books and other books too. But I don’t think I’ve ever read any of them before. As well as A Judgement in Stone I’ve also recently read The Birthday Present (Rendell writing as Barbara Vine). Both are quite disturbing books.

a-judgement-in-stoneA Judgement In Stone portrays Eunice an illiterate woman and a psychopath who does anything to stop anyone from finding out that she can’t read or write.  The opening sentences sets it out clearly:

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. There was no real motive and no premeditation; no money was gained and no security.

Her ingenuity and resourcefulness is amazing. She blackmails people and killed her father. I found the whole premise of such a damaged person apparently functioning normally in society scary.  She is employed by the Coverdales as their housekeeper and in the interests of having their house kept clean and tidy they tried to make her comfortable. But part of the problem was that they looked on her as little more than a machine, not as a person. They meant well, wanting to make other people happy, but they were interferers, they didn’t understand that

… selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

Things went from bad to worse when Eunice met Joan, who was completely unstable, in fact she was insane. Joan is a religious fanatic, a sinner who delights in telling people of her past sins and wanting them to seek God’s forgiveness.  Their friendship ends in tragedy.

Illiteracy is essential to the novel. I felt helpless whilst reading this, desperately wanting the Coverdales to realise Eunice’s problems, but they were blind to the fact that Eunice was illiterate and although they tried to prevent her meeting Joan they were unaware of the danger they were in.  This inflamed Eunice and pushed her into taking the actions she did.

Although Eunice’s crime is known right from the start, that does not detract from the suspense. It actually makes it worse – you know that the murder is going to happen and as  the reasons why it happens become clear, the tension builds relentlessly.

Library ChallengeNote: this is the 19th library book I’ve read this year qualifying for the Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: Book Review

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Peril at End House by Agatha Christie was first published in 1932.  For once I wasn’t totally bemused and I was doing well, following the clues, or so I thought because I did solve some of the puzzles before Poirot revealed the culprit. But I hadn’t got the final solution!

Poirot is on holiday in Cornwall and boasting of his modesty to Captain Hastings, who is the narrator of this story. In his own words he is happy to be in retirement:

To sit in the sun – what could be more charming? To step from your pinnacle at the zenith of your fame – what could be a grander gesture? They say of me: “That is Hercule Poirot! – The great – the unique! – There was never any one like him, there never will be!” Eh bien – I am satisfied. I ask no more. I am modest.

But when he meets Nick Buckley who tells of her “accidental brushes with death” he just cannot resist investigating who is her would-be killer. Nick treats it all as a joke but Poirot is convinced that she is in grave danger. Indeed it seems as though he is right, especially when her cousin Maggie, wearing Nick’s shawl is shot.

But why would someone want to kill Nick? She lives at End House, badly in need of repair and “mortgaged up to the hilt”. Could it be Ellen, the housekeeper, or one of her friends – the languid, affected and mysterious Frederica known as Freddie, or her cousin Charles, who will inherit the house if she dies. Or maybe it’s the Australian couple renting the lodge house from Nick, who knew her father when he was in Australia. And what is the significance of the secret panel in the house – if it really exists?

There are plenty of twist and turns as usual with an Agatha Christie plot and not everyone is who they seem to be – identity plays a large role in this complicated mystery. I enjoyed it very much, not least because of Captain Hasting’s comments on Poirot’s outrageous vanity, such as this one:

His fame and reputation meant nothing to her – she was of the generation that knows only the great names of the immediate moment. … He was to her only a rather comic elderly foreigner with an amusingly melodramatic mind.

And this attitude baffled Poirot. To begin with, his vanity suffered. It was his constant dictum that all the world knew Hercule Poirot. Here was someone who did not. Very good for him, I could not but feel – but not precisely helpful to the object in view!

agatha_christie_rcHave a look at the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Carnival for more posts on her books.

Teaser Tuesday and Where Are You?

teaser-tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from €¦ that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

a-judgement-in-stoneMy teasers today are from page 29 of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone:

She was the strangest person they were ever likely to meet. And had they known what her past contained, they would have fled from her or barred their doors against her as against the plague – not to mention her future, now inextricably bound up with theirs.

tuesdaywhereareyou

I’m in Suffolk, at Lowfield Hall, a large 1930-ish house on the outskirts of Stanwich, with the Coverdale family and their new housekeeper Eunice Parchman.

This is a chilling tale full of psychological insights into the mind and motives of a killer.

For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading.

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.