When Will There Be Good News?

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3)
Complex but so very satisfying!  This has had very mixed reviews on Amazon which just goes to show that you have to make up your own mind about a book. I read it very quickly because I loved it. I know I missed bits – just when did Jackson lose his jacket? I’ve tried to track it down but I can’t spot it, so I’m thinking of reading it again before I have to take it back to the library.

It really is a case of bad news all round. To start at the beginning – six year old Joanna witnesses the murder of her mother, older sister and baby brother.  It goes from bad to worse with several interlinking plots (some with convenient coincidences) to keep me guessing what disaster would happen next.Thirty years later the killer is about to be released. Joanna, is now Dr Hunter, and has a baby and an unlikeable husband Neil. She is helped by Reggie, an extremely likeable and resourceful sixteen year old girl. When Joanna goes missing Reggie is the one who insists the police in the form of Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe (not very likable) investigates. Louise has her own problems in the form of a likeable husband. Then there is Jackson Brodie, formerly a police officer and private investigator, who gets involved due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At times the plots got so complicated that I couldn’t quite remember who did what – one problem of reading too quickly. Reggie had to leave school after the death of her mother. She is still doing her A-Levels and is tutored by her former teacher, Ms MacDonald who is suffering from cancer. Her brother Billy and his ‘friends’ threaten both Reggie and Ms MacDonald with unpleasant consequences. Then there is Alison living in dread of the return of  her homicidal maniac of a husband who is on the run, a train crash, and the unexplained murder of two men in a burnt down house – etc, etc.

It seems like a catalogue of disasters but it’s also funny and light at the same time and there are plenty of allusions to keep me working out where they come from. The easiest were the nursery rhymes Joanna sings to her baby and that Kate Atkinson works into the text. It’s set in Edinburgh, a place that is new to me, but as my son and family are now living nearby, of great interest and I could identify some of the locations. There is plenty of action, good  characterisation and dramatisation of how relationships work – or don’t work.

I’ve previously read Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, also featuring Jackson Brodie and I thought I’d read One Good Turn, the second Jackson book – but I haven’t. It’s a toss-up now between re-reading When Will there Be Good News? and One Good Turn (which I own). I just hope no one has reserved the library book!

Sunday Salon – An Ordinary Couple?

Sunday SalonAfter  ploughing my way through White Noise and feeling a bit jaded I turned to an old favourite – Agatha Christie and this week I read By the Pricking of My Thumbs. After such a rambling, verbose book as White Noise it was so refreshing to read this book, posing a mystery to be solved – what had happened in the house by the canal, whose child had died and how, and where was Mrs Lancaster?

pricking-of-my-thumbsThis is the first Tommy and Tuppence story I’ve read, but it’s not the first Agatha Christie wrote – there were earlier ones featuring Tommy and Tuppence, which I’m now going to look out for. Outwardly they are an ordinary couple, pleasant and past the prime of life, just like any other old couple. But appearances are deceptive and in By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tuppence in particular has no hesitation about getting mixed up in dangerous situations. Her daughter wishes that ‘her age she’d learn to sit quiet and not do things.’ There’s no chance of that after Tuppence met Mrs Lancaster in the nursing home where Tommy’s Aunt Ada had died. Seemingly incoherent and rambling Mrs Lancaster referred to ‘something behind the fireplace’ and a ‘poor child’ and when she disappeared after leaving behind a painting of a house by a canal Tuppence sets out to investigate.

As you would imagine from the title of the book (taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth), ‘something wicked’ is afoot, there is evil about and Tuppence’s life is in danger. A dark and sinister tale.

I was still feeling like reading another mystery and picked up Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News? Jackson Brodie featured in the other book by Kate Atkinson that I’ve read – Case Histories – and I was pleased to find he’s in this one too. I read this in a couple of days, finishing it this morning as I just had to find out what happened. My faith in books has been fully restored as this is a very good book, and very satisfying – a complex and complicated plot with lots of action, good characterisation and drama.  More about that in a separate post.

Not Every Book’s a Winner

death-of-a-gossipI’ve read a lot of good books recently so I shouldn’t really be surprised to read one that’s not so good but I was a little disappointed with the last book I’ve read – Death of a Gossip by M C Beaton. I hadn’t read anything before by M C Beaton but I kept seeing her books on display at my local library. The New York Times Book Review quote  on the back cover made this book sound ok: “An enchanting series … M C Beaton has a foolproof plot for the village mystery”, so I thought I’d try it.

This is the first in her Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery series and sadly it’s going to be the only one I’ll read. Despite the interesting quotes at the start of each chapter it’s a bit lightweight. The story is told mainly from one character’s perspective and that is the rather silly 19 year old secretary, Alice, who along with seven other people has enrolled in a fishing class at John and Heather Cartwright’s Lochdubh School of Casting: Salmon and Trout Fishing, staying at Lochdubh Hotel a remote village in the Scottish Highlands. The other “students” include a rich American couple, a “galloping major”, a twelve year old boy and a society widow, Lady Jane Winter. Hamish is the local bobby, apparently slow-witted and oafish, ambling aimlessly round the village.

Lady Jane is a most unpleasant woman who appears to know secrets that all the others would prefer to remain secret. So it is no surprise to find out that she is a gossip columnist and when, as the book title indicates, her strangled body is fished out of the river there is no shortage of suspects. Despite help from detectives from Strathbane CID it is Hamish who solves the case.

There was too much about the techniques of fishing for my my liking. I thought the characters were really just stereotypes, the descriptions of what everyone was wearing became quite tedious and the plot was rather simple. But it is a very quick read when you don’t want anything too challenging.

There is a quote on the inside of the front cover from Anne Robinson and I wondered if this  really was from the icy, sarcastic  presenter of the Weakest Link. It seemed too fulsome:

Sharp, witty, hugely intelligent, unfailingly entertaining, delightfully intolerant and oh so magnificantly non-pc.

Maybe the words “delightfully intolerant” and “magnificantly non-pc” are from the Anne Robinson who upset me by wanting to put the Welsh into Room 101! She’s not been my favourite ever since then, even though I used to like her Saturday morning radio show in the early 1990s.

Book Notes – Crime Fiction

I’ve recently read the following books:

Tiger In the Smoke by Margarey Allingham (first published 1952).  Jack Havoc is on the loose in post-war London, resulting in murder, mystery and mayhem.  I was immediately struck by the imagery – the fog pervades everything. At times I wished there was a bit less description but at other times I was completely caught up in the story and could feel the tension and fear in the characters. I expected Inspector Campion to take the lead but he only appears as a minor character. I thought the attitude to women was a bit condescending, and Meg, the young widow, didn’t really engage my sympathy.  However, Canon Avril is one of the best characters (along with Tiddy Doll), and forms a complete contrast with Havoc – good/evil.  His view of anger is that it is “the alcohol of the body”, which “deadens the perceptions.” And l liked his thoughts on the soul: “When I was a child I thought of it as a little ghostly bean, kidney shaped, I don’t know why. Now I think of it as the man I am with when I’m alone.”  After a slow start I read with increasing anticipation to find out what happened next.

Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer. Published in 1953 a year after Tiger In the Smoke this is a much lighter novel. As the title implies there are many suspects for the murder of Sampson Warrenby, found dead under a tree in his garden with a bullet through his brain and many people all too ready to tell Inspector Hemingway who did it. I was immediately drawn into a world gone by in a small village, with characters such as Mrs Midgeholme with her pack of Pekes, whose names all begin with ‘U’, Mr Drybeck, the old-fashioned solicitor, Warrenby’s long-suffering niece, Mavis, the country squire and his lady-wife, the maiden aunt Miss Patterdale, and the village bobby on his bicycle. A spot of blackmail, and a  number of twists and turns in the plot kept me interested to the end.

I thought A Christmas Visitor by Anne Perry was a little disappointing. The only Christmas connection I could see is that it is set just before Christmas. The good thing about this book is that it is very short (133 pages). The bad thing is that it is rather tedious. It began well set sometime in the 19th century with Henry Rathbone’s visit to the Dreghorn family near Ullswater in the Lake District for Christmas.  Judah, a judge in the local court at Penrith, had been found drowned in a stream, having gone out late at night. It was assumed at first that it was an accident. Antonia, Judah’s widow tells Henry of the death of her husband and then one by one Judah’s brothers, Benjamin, Ephraim and Naomi, his sister-in-law arrive and are met by Henry and he relates the account of Judah’s death to each one and I started to get tired of the repetition. The chief suspect is Ashton Gower, who has just been released from prison, sentenced by Judah to twelve years for forgery. Gower claims to be the rightful owner of the Dreghorns’ house. Not the most riveting of mysteries.

The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards

The Arsenic Labyrinth (Lake District Mystery, #3)

The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards is such a good book that I had to put to one side the other books I was reading in order to concentrate on this one alone. It is a fascinating book. Not only is it set in the Lake District, a beautiful part of the country but it is a mystery of the best kind. Ten years earlier Emma Bestwick had disappeared. At the time there had been no apparent reason why she vanished into thin air but more information is revealed following an article in the local paper appealing for the case to be re-opened on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance. There are many twists and turns as Detective Inspector Hannah Scarlett’s Cold Case Review Team carries out its investigation.

This is the third book in Martin Edwards’ Lake District mystery series but it stands well on its own. I haven’t read the first two yet – The Coffin Trail and The Cipher Garden – but I will. I only wish I’d come across these books before. Martin has a very good website giving much more information – see here.

The central characters are Guy, aka R L Stevenson, (you know someone is not who he says he is when he introduces himself as R L Stevenson and Guy has many secrets!), Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind, a former historian who has left Oxford to live in the Lake District. As Miranda, Daniel’s partner becomes less enchanted with living in the Lakes,  preferring to live in London, the relationship between Daniel and Hannah is resumed (there is obviously some history to their relationship in the earlier books – I think I’ll have to read those books soon). Daniel meanwhile carries on with researching Ruskin’s life and his dread of “industry encroaching on the glory of the Lakes”, but also gets caught up in Hannah’s investigation.

Soon attention turns to the Arsenic Labyrinth, hidden in the hills on Mispickel Scar. The labyrinth was on the ground level with “shafts and tunnels from the mines winding around the length and breadth of the Scar.” (The author’s note at the end reveals that arsenic was never mined in Cumbria.) The arsenic works brought about the ruin of the Inchmore family and Mispickel Scar is said to be cursed.  Alban Clough, the fount of all knowledge on local mythology, is the owner of the Museum of Myth and Legend, where Emma had worked for a while. But just where did the legend  of the curse of Mispickel Scar originate? And what is the connection between the Clough and Inchmore families and Emma’s disappearance? Tom Inchmore, was the only suspect at the time of Emma’s disappearance but he died some years ago – did he kill her? How does her sister, Karen cope with Emma’s death and where do Francis and Vanessa, who Emma lodged with, fit in? To complicate matters it turns out that Vanessa was previously married to Jeremy, Karen’s husband. The overlapping and complex relationships are eventually sorted out, but just when you think you’ve worked it all out there are yet more complications. I never guessed who-did-it until just before the end.

There is mystery upon mystery as the secrets of the Arsenic Labyrinth are revealed. An engrossing book that had me racing through it and itching to get back to it each time I put it down.

A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

A Clubbable Woman (Dalziel & Pascoe, #1)

A Clubbable Woman came out in 1970. It was Reginald Hill’s first published book and the first book featuring Dalziel and Pascoe. I borrowed this book from the library and read it very quickly last week. At times I thought I knew the story as I’ve watched practically all the Dalziel and Pascoe episodes on TV but I couldn’t remember how it ended.

Connon, known as Connie, was set to play rugby for England before an ankle injury ended his career. He is no longer Wetherton Rugby Football Club’s star player but he still plays occasionally. After a match in which he returns home dazed and confused after a blow (was it deliberate?) on the head he finds his wife, Mary watching television, leaving him to get his own meal. Feeling sick he goes upstairs, then passes out. Later he realises that she is still downstairs, apparently still watching the television – then he discovers that she is dead, with a hole in the middle of her forehead.

Dalziel and Pascoe investigate the murder. Dalziel who is a member of the rugby club is on his home ground and knows all the players.  Has Connon killed his wife suspecting that she had been unfaithful? Or could someone at the club have it in for the rugby star and his family? As the mystery unravels, I was just as interested in the characters of Dalziel and Pascoe as in identifying the murderer. My image of Dalziel is inevitably formed on Warren Clarke’s portrayal of him and this fits well with Reginald Hill’s description:

Superintendent Andrew Dalziel was a big man. When he took his jacket off and dropped it over the back of the chair it was like a Bedouin pitching camp. He had a big head, greying now; big eyes, short-sighted but losing nothing of their penetrating force behind a pair of soild-framed spectacles; and he blew his nose into a khaki handkerchief a foot-and-a-half square. … Dalziel sank over his chair and scratched himself vigorously between the legs. Not absent-mindedly – nothing he did was mannerism – but with conscious senuousness. Like scratching a dog to keep it happy, a constable had once said within range of Dalziel’s very sharp hearing. He had liked the simile and therefor ignored it.

He is passionate about rugby and Pascoe (then a Sergeant) responds “with the resigned condescension of one certain of the intellectual superiority of Association Football.” Pascoe’s thoughts about the investigation and about Dalziel are scattered throughout the book:

Do I want to amuse Dalziel? And if I do, is it to keep him sweet so I can manipulate him, like I pretend? or is it because he puts the fear of God into me? Just how good is he anyway? Or is he just a ruthless sucker of other men’s blood?

He calls him “Uncle Andrew”, “Randy Andy” and “Bruiser Dalziel lecturing me on tact and diplomacy. It was like Henry the Eighth preaching about marital constancy”. Pascoe’s degree is the butt of Dalziel’s jokes and Pascoe is offended by Dalziel’s lack of organization. He learns that Dalziel was divorced and his wife had gone off with a milkman, fifteen years earlier. Despite being two such diametrically opposed characters you can trace the growing bond between Dalziel and Pascoe and by the end of the book Pascoe finds himself cast in the role of Dalziel’s confidant and even becoming enthusiastic over a game of rugby.

Reginald Hill has written many Dalziel and Pascoe novels, enough to last me for years. I’ve only read three so far and I’m not going to try to read them in the order they were written, but I’ll be looking out for more of them from now on.

The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

This is the 2007 winner of Long Barn Books First Novel Award. From the back cover of A Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam: Charlie Howard writes caper novels about a career thief. He also happens to be one.
It’s set in Amsterdam, conveying its atmosphere, canals and buildings well for some one like me, who has never been there. He is asked by an American to steal two little monkey figurines to make up the set, ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil‘. They don’t appear to have any value and he has to steal them from two different people on the same night. Then the American is found murdered and at first Charlie is suspected of being the murderer.

From that point on the book moves at a fast pace through all the ins and outs of the mystery – who did murder the American, why, and what is the significance of the monkeys? At the same time he has a problem with a book he is writing and spends time on the phone discussing the difficulties of sorting out the plot with Victoria, his agent in London.

It kept me guessing and amused. The only problem I had reading it was that I raced through it to find out what happens. The three monkeys have always interested me, ever since I was given a small ‘speak no evil’ monkey. It is valuable to me as it was given to me by my favourite aunty. I don’t know where it came from or why there is only one. I always wondered where the other two were. Maybe there is some mystery surrounding this set as well.

There are more Charlie Howard mysteries to come. At the end of the book he leaves Amsterdam for Paris and A Good Thief’s Guide to Paris will be the next book in a series of Charlie Howard mysteries, so I’m looking forward to reading more from Chris Ewan.