Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer

‘This is not a detective story, this is a story about a detective’

Nothing ventured

Macmillan|5 September 2019|337 pages|e-book|Review copy|3*

Years ago I enjoyed reading a few of Jeffrey Archer’s books, including Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less and Kane and Able. Archer is a prolific author, but I haven’t read any of his later books or his diaries about his time in prison. But I was interested when I saw that he had started a new series about William Warwick – Nothing Ventured. It is the first in the series of books following William’s progress from detective constable to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

It is indeed, a story about a detective, rather than a detective story and as such it is rather episodic, following William Warwick’s career.

William joins the Metropolitan Police force, against his father’s wishes. Sir Julian Warwick QC, had hoped his son would join him in chambers and train to be a barrister, like his sister Grace. He works on the beat in Lambeth before transferring to the Art and Antiques Squad at Scotland Yard, where he becomes involved in a number of cases of fraud and theft, including tracing the whereabouts of a phial of the moon dust brought back from the Apollo 11 mission by Neil Armstrong, and arresting an old man who had forges the signatures of famous authors in first editions. Whilst investigating the theft of a Rembrandt painting, the Syndics of the Cloth Makers Guild, from the Fitzmolean Museum in Kensington, he meets Beth Rainsford, a research assistant at the gallery and they fall in love almost at first sight – but Beth has a secret that she keeps from him. 

The premise is promising, but it’s written in a very straight-forward and factual style and my overall impression, despite the crime elements, is that this is a rather mundane and bland novel. William does this, does that, goes here, goes there, often at a break-neck pace that gives impetus. But the characters are drawn very sketchily with little depth – William is an intelligent young man, precocious and naive, eager to please and to learn, his father, Sir Julian, a suave, elegant and successful QC and Grace, his sister, an up and coming young barrister, and so on.

I suppose it is the base for the rest of the series but I found it too predictable. However, I thought the court scenes and the final little twist at the end enjoyable and I’m wondering if I want to go one to read the next book in the series which focuses on William’s time as a young detective sergeant in the elite drugs unit. I’m not sure that I do want to – there are so many more enticing books to read.

My thanks to Macmillan for an e-book review copy via NetGalley

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

Seagull

Macmillan| September 2017|print length 416 pages|e-book| 5*

The Seagull is Ann Cleeves’ eighth novel in her Vera Stanhope series, set in Northumberland. It begins as Vera visits the prison where ex-Superintendent John Brace is serving time for corruption and his involvement in the death of a gamekeeper. He had been one of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ – Brace, Robbie Marshall, a man known simply as ‘The Prof’, and Vera’s father, Hector Stanhope. Brace tells Vera that Robbie, who had disappeared years ago, is dead and that he will tell her where his body is buried if she will visit his daughter Pattie, who has mental health problems.  She does so, but when the police investigate the location Brace gave her they find not one skeleton, but two. 

Opening up this cold case brings back memories for Vera of her past when she was living at home in a remote cottage in the Northumberland countryside, with Hector, after her mother had died.  The Gang of Four had met at Hector’s cottage when Vera was a teenager. They had traded in rare birds’ eggs and sold raptors from the wild for considerable sums. They were regulars at the (fictional) classy Seagull night club, a sleek Art Deco building built in the thirties in Whitley Bay,  during the town’s glory days. Brace and Marshall had also run a recruitment service providing muscle for hire. And Vera wonders just how much Hector had been involved in the Gang of Four’s illegal activities. 

And just as Vera and her team, Joe, Charlie and Holly – Vera’s own ‘gang of four’ – investigate Robbie’s murder they are faced with a present day murder that looks very much as though it links in with their cold case.

I enjoy watching Vera on TV, but I enjoy the books even more. Brenda Blethyn is very good in the role of Vera, but the Vera in the books is not the same as the TV Verashe is more down to earth, a large woman who wears tent-shaped dresses, has bare legs, wears size seven sandals with rubber soles and Velcro straps and she is none too fussy if her feet are dirty. She is a big woman with a big personality and she knows she is a brilliant detective:

‘Oh, I’m interested in everything, Joe. That’s why I’m a bloody brilliant detective’. She gave him her widest smile, ‘That’s why I’m in charge and you’re sitting there, doing as you’re told.’ (page 45)

She still lives in the cottage in the hills (not on Lindisfarne as in the TV series), which she had inherited from Hector along with a freezer full of animal corpses (Hector had done a bit of taxidermy), but most of the action takes place in Whitley Bay and at St Mary’s Island, a small rocky tidal island, linked to the mainland by a short, narrow causeway which is submerged at high tide.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Seagull and loved the way it reveals Vera’s past and her relationship with her father. At the same time the plot kept me guessing almost to the end and the location, well known to Ann Cleeves as it used to be her home town, is superbly described.

I see on Ann Cleeves’ website that ITV have confirmed that there will be a tenth series of VERA, based on Ann’s characters and settings and starring multi-award-winning Brenda Blethyn. The cast have been filming in the North East through the summer. Four new episodes will be broadcast in 2020.

And she has recently published a new  book, The Long Call, the first in a new series, Two Rivers. It is set in North Devon, where Ann grew up, and introduces the reserved and complex Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, estranged from the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, and from his own family, but drawn back by murder into the community he thought he had left behind.

The Long Call was published in Australia on 27th August, in the US on Tuesday 3rd September and in the UK on Thursday 5th September 2019.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill: Mini Review

An Advancement of learning

An Advancement of Learning is Reginald Hill’s second Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1971. It’s much better than the first one, A Clubbable Woman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s set in a college, Holm Coultram College, where Dalziel and Pascoe investigate the discovery of a body found as an eight foot high bronze statue of Miss Girling, a former head of the College in the grounds is being moved. As the base of the statue is lifted earth falls away together with a shin bone followed by part of a rib cage and then a skull, still with a mop of dark red hair attached. Miss Girling had red hair – but she had died in an avalanche in Austria – so whose body was buried under the statue?

The plot is by no means straight forward and for most of the book continued to puzzle me, even though I thought the ending was rather weak. But the strength of this book is in the writing and the characterisation. It is a character-driven murder mystery, with a cast of characters including Girling, Halfdane, Fallowfield, Cockshut, and Disney, known as ‘Walt’, of course and I had no difficulty in keeping who was who clearly in my mind. It’s interesting to see the early relationship between Dalziel, shown as a rude, boorish character, and Pascoe, the university educated young DS. Dalziel is very much out of his comfort zone with the academic staff and looks to Pascoe to understand how the college operates, whilst mocking him. Pascoe renews his relationship with Ellie Soper, an ex-girlfriend from his university days – a feisty young woman, but a minor character in this book. 

Written in 1971 it is very much a book of its time. I read it quickly, as the two detectives uncover plenty of disagreements and power struggles in both the staff and student bodies – from rivalries to revelries on the beach, and more dead bodies turn up before the mystery is solved.

And reading it has made me keen to get on the next book in the series, Ruling Passion, which I’ve started almost straight away! I’ve been reading this series totally out of order, beginning with some of the later books – much more detailed and complex than the first books.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (25 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780007313037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007313037
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4.5*

Reading challenges: Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, 20 Books of Summer

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

BB bks Aug 2019

Yesterday I brought this little pile of books home from Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop.

From top to bottom they are:

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott, his first novel, first published anonymously in 1814. It is set in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and tells the story of Edward Waverley, an idealistic daydreamer whose loyalty to his regiment is threatened when they are sent to the Scottish Highlands. I’m inspired to read this by a recent visit to Abbotsford, Scott’s home in the Scottish Borders.

The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, the eighth in the Martin Beck series – once more I’ve plunged into a series without reading the earlier books. But it appears that shouldn’t matter as each book is focused on one particular case. I’m not sure what to expect as the blurb on the back says it transforms the police force into the police farce.

The Daughters of Cain by Colin Dexter, the eleventh Inspector Morse mystery. Morse must solve two related murders — a problem complicated by a plethora of suspects and by his attraction to one of the possible killers. I’ve read several of the Morse books, so far, so I was pleased to find another one I haven’t read.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Hitchcock’s 1951 film is based on this book. Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train. Bruno manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. “Some people are better off dead,” Bruno remarks, “like your wife and my father, for instance.” 

Sleeping Beauties by Jo Spain, the third Inspector Tom Reynolds novel set in Dublin and the surrounding areas. I’ve read the fourth book and have copies of the first two to read, so I was pleased to find this book on the shelves. Five bodies are found in woodland and a young woman is missing. A search is under way – can she be found before she too is killed?

The Headhunters by Peter Lovesey, second book DCI Hen Mallin Investigation (I haven’t read the first!)  Mallin and her team investigate the discovery of a dead body, found on the beach at Selsey. Gemma had joked about murdering her boss – and now her boss is missing.

The Vault by Peter Lovesey. I’ve read one of his Peter Diamond books before and enjoyed it. This book is the sixth book in the Peter Diamond series. A skeletal hand is unearthed in the vault under the Pump Room in Bath, England, near the site where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Then a skull is excavated. The bones came from different corpses, and one is modern.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I’d borrowed a copy of this from the library but hadn’t finished it when I had to return it. In 1986, The Panama Hotel in Seattle has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to internment camps during the Second World War. The novel goes back and forth between 1986 and World War Two

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, a book I’ve often wondered about reading. As the title reveals it is about Frank’s music shop, full of records, vinyl, that is. It’s set in 1988 and is a story about love and about how important music is in our lives. When Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music she is not what she seems and for Frank it opens up old wounds from his past.

Operation Pax by Michael Innes

When people disappear, one hears talk of Milton Porcorum

Operation Pax

Agora Books|3 May 2018|384 pages|e-book|Review copy|4*

Operation Pax by Michael Innes, an Inspector Appleby mystery, was originally published in 1951, and in the United States as The Paper Thunderbolt.

I enjoyed Operation Pax much more than I expected I would when I began reading it. Almost the first third of the book is about a petty thief, Alfred Routh, an unpleasant little man, who for much of the time is confused and bewildered by his own thoughts and fears, which plunge him into utter panic. As his fears spiral into a engulfing and terrifying fantasy, he finds himself in the little village of Milton Porcorum and here is where his nightmare really begins. A tall man with square shoulders ushers him within the walls of Milton Manor, a most bizarre place where Routh fears for his life. A place where experiments are carried out in a sequence of laboratories and dangerous animals are kept in enclosures surrounding the house. A place with a mysterious and unnamed ‘Director’ who masterminds the whole operation.

After that rather surreal opening the action moves to Oxford and a rather more normal atmosphere – but strange and disturbing things are happening there too. An undergraduate, Geoffrey Ourglass, has disappeared and both his uncle, a university don and his fiancée, Jane, Sir John Appleby’s younger sister are concerned for his safety. Jane enlists her brother’s help to find Geoffrey – and so begins an adventure involving the dons of St Bede’s college, a group of boisterous children on bikes, European refugees as well as Appleby, Jane and her taxi-driver, Roger Remnant. It takes us from St Bede’s college into the depths of the Bodleian Library, on the trail of clues, around Oxford and out into the surrounding countryside in a thrilling chase against time to rescue Geoffrey. There are strange phone calls and most mysterious of all a formula written on a scrap of paper that threatens the safety of the whole world – it must be found and destroyed.

I loved a number of things about this book – the descriptions of the dons and their ‘erudite’ conversations, the setting in Oxford and particularly in the Bodleian library is brilliant, and the children are lively, argumentative and entertaining, providing comic relief.  It is pure escapism with an incredibly unbelievable plot and strange eccentric characters that wormed their way into my mind and made it a book I just had to finish. Once it got going it is fast- paced and it kept me guessing about the identity of the mastermind behind the threat to mankind – I was completely wrong!

The Author

Michael Innes is the pseudonym of John Innes Mackintosh Stewart (1906 – 1994), a British scholar and novelist. He was born near Edinburgh, the son of a Scottish professor, and attended Edinburgh Academy, then Oriel College, Oxford where he won the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize in 1939 and honours in English. He was a Lecturer, then a Professor in English at different universities, including Adelaide University in South Australia from 1935 to 1945. He became an Oxford fellow in 1949 and finished his academic career in 1973 as a Student (Fellow) at Christ Church Oxford.

As Michael Innes, he published numerous mystery novels and short story collections, most featuring the Scotland Yard detective John Appleby.

My thanks to Agora Books for an e-book review copy via NetGalley

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

Art of Dying

Canongate Books|29 August 2019|416 pages|e-book|Review copy|5*

A Note From the Publisher

 

Many thanks to Canongate Books for an e-book review copy via NetGalley.

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: G, H and I

Once again I’ve been looking at all the forgotten e-books on my Kindle and this is the third instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Go set a watchman

G is for  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, on my Kindle since November 2014. I remembered I hadn’t read this when recently I got a copy of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep, in which she tells the story Harper Lee wanted to write and why she couldn’t after the success of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I loved).

Atticus Finch shot his left cuff, then cautiously pushed it back. One-forty. On some days he wore two watches: he wore two this day, an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch. The former was habit, the latter used to tell time when he could not move his fingers enough to dig in his watchpocket. He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size. He was seventy-two last month, but Jean Louise always thought of him hovering somewhere in his middle fifties – she could not remember him being any younger, and he seemed to grow no older. (page 17)

Go Set a Watchman is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird and is the story of Jean- Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – as she returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Her homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.

I’d dithered over whether to read this and then forgot I had it!

Hidden depths

is for Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, on my Kindle since March 2014. It’s the 3rd book in her Vera Stanhope series, which I have been reading totally out of order. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment, especially as over the years I’ve been watching the TV series and I think I remember seeing the TV version of Hidden Depths years ago.

It’s hot summer on the Northumberland coast and Julie Armstrong arrives home from a night out to find her son strangled, laid out in a bath of water and covered with wild flowers. In the following extract, his mother, Julie is talking to Vera:

Julie was sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chin, her arms clasped around them. She looked up at the detective, who was still watching and waiting. It came to her suddenly that this woman, large and solid like rock, might once have known tragedy herself. That was why she could sit there without making those stupid sympathetic noises Sal and the doctor had made. This woman knew that nothing she could say would make it better. But Julie didn’t care about the detective’s sadness and the thought was fleeting. She went back to her story. (15).

Ann Cleeves is one of my favourite authors and I really should have read this book when I first bought it.

In too deep

I is for In Too Deep by Bea Davenport, on my Kindle since July 2013. I had totally forgotten that I had this book. Five years ago Maura fled life in Dowerby and took on a new identity, desperately trying to piece her life back together and escape the dark clouds that plagued her past. But then a reporter tracked her down, and persuaded her to tell her story, putting her own life in danger once again.

So then as I just get out the shower and the door buzzer sounds, I catch my breath. No-one ever comes to see me, and I don’t receive post unless it’s junk mail. When a man’s voice asks for Maura Wood, I feel a grip on my heart, clenching like a fist. I am frozen with fear.

I shiver involuntarily, goose bumps covering my body like guilty fingers. I haven’t heard that name for almost five years. I pull my towel tighter around me. ‘No, sorry. There’s no-one here of that name.’

But the voice has picked up on my pause. ‘I was told Maura Wood lives here. Is that not you, Maura?’

‘No, I’m not Maura. I’ve told you. Who is that?’

(7%)

Bea Davenport is the writing name of former print and broadcast journalist Barbara Henderson. In Too Deep, was her first crime/suspense novel. Bea spent many years as a newspaper reporter and latterly seventeen years as a senior broadcast journalist with the BBC in the north-east of England. Originally from Tyneside, she lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed, not very far away from me. I haven’t read any of her books.

If you’ve read any of these books please let me know what you think. Or if you haven’t read them do they tempt you?