Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves

Wild Fire

Macmillan|6 September 2018|417 pages| paperback|4*

Wild Fire is the 8th and last book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series. I have loved this series ever since I read the first book, Raven Black, back in 2010. And because I began reading the books before they were televised my picture of Inspector Jimmy Perez is drawn from them rather than from the dramatisations. There are some significant changes  between the TV dramatisations and the books – notably in the characters of Cassie, Fran’s daughter who is still a child in the books is older in the TV stories, and the relationship between her father, Duncan Hunter and Perez is different. And Douglas Henshall, who plays the part of Perez, is not physically like Jimmy Perez – Perez has long dark hair with Spanish ancestry in his blood, whereas Douglas Henshall is a redheaded Scot.

It’s not necessary to have read the earlier books in the series as each one works well on their own, but I think it helps enormously if you have as the personal stories of the main characters form a continuous thread.

Wild Fire is set in Deltaness, an invented village in Northmavine where the Fleming family, Helen, a knitwear designer, her architect husband, Daniel, and their children, autistic Christopher, and Ellie,  have recently relocated from London. They are finding it hard to settle and matters were only made worse when the previous owner of their house is founding hanging in their barn. But they have made friends with the Moncrieff family, Belle, her husband Robert the local doctor and their four children – the eldest two,Martha and Charlie are teenagers, with a younger brother and sister. 

Things go from bad to worse for the Flemings when Christopher discovers the hanged body of the Moncrieff’s nanny, Emma Shearer in the barn. Suspicion immediately falls on Daniel and Helena as the rumours spread like wild fire that Emma and Daniel had been having an affair. Chief Inspector Willow Reeves, Jimmy’s boss returns to Shetland to lead the investigation and it is immediately obvious that they have personal issues to resolve as well as finding the murderer.

But of course it is not that straight forward. Emma comes from a dysfunctional family and has issues of her own to work through, and the Moncrieffs are also suspects. In fact there are plenty of people who bear grudges against the incomers and they become a focus of resentment and jealousy. Emma’s boyfriend Magnie Riddell and his mother Margaret are two more people whose motives and movements come under suspicion.

The main interest for me is the relationship between Jimmy and Willow and how Jimmy reacts to her news. It causes him to question what he really feels and what form his life will take for the future. I don’t think it is giving away any spoilers, as this is the last book in the series, to say that things are about to change for them both. As in all the Shetland books it is Ann Cleeves’ beautiful descriptions of the islands that stand out – that and the characters themselves who have become like real people to me and I shall miss reading about them. But then, I can always re-read the series!

Reading Challenges – Calendar of Crime (the main action takes place in May), and Mount TBR 2019 (a book I’ve owned for 2 years)

As it is the last day of the year, this is my last post in 2019 (you may have noticed that I’ve written three posts today to complete my entries in the two Reading Challenges above).

And now I’m looking forward to the start of a new decade and lots of books to read.

 

The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon

The Shadow Puppet

Penguin Classics|2 October 2014|160 pages|Paperback|4*

Georges Simenon wrote his 13th Maigret book, The Shadow Puppet in December 1931 at the villa Les Roches Grises at Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes) on the French Riviera. It was first published in 1932 under the title L’Ombre chinoise. 

It’s the second Maigret book I’ve read in the last two days and I think this is better than the other one I read, The Saint-Fiacre Affair. It is a more typical murder mystery – a man is shot dead in his office in the Place des Vosges in Paris and Maigret uncovers a tragedy involving desperate lives, unhappy people, addiction and an all-consuming greed. He gets to the truth through careful examination of the facts, questioning those involved and applying his knowledge and understanding of human nature.

One evening Raymond Couchet, the owner of a serum company in the Place des Vosges, was shot dead, seated at his desk, and the safe behind him was empty, the 3600 francs that should have been there have gone. The building contains Couchet’s medical laboratory  as well as residential apartments, set around a central courtyard. Called to the scene Maigret notices the shadowy figures in the lighted windows of the building and suspects that the murderer could be one of the residents of the apartments where Couchet’s first wife, Juliette Martin and her husband live. Then there is his son, Roger, a drug addict living in the Hôtel Pigalle, and in the next room to him, Couchet’s girlfriend, Nine Moinard, a dancer at the Moulin Bleu.

It is an entertaining mystery and Maigret finds himself getting to really like Couchet as the details of his life emerge – and equally disliking both his son and his bitter ex-wife. What I like about these Maigret books are that they are concise and tightly structured yet convey such convincing characters and depths of perception. In this particular book Maigret comes across feelings of enmity, greed, class distinction, hatred and paranoia in the course of his investigations.

Reading Challenges – Calendar of Crime (the setting is a place of employment), and Mount TBR 2019 (a book I’ve owned for 2 years)

The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon

The Saint-Fiacre Affair

Penguin Classics|6 November 2014|160 pages|Paperback|3*

The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon was first published in January 1932, under the title Maigret Goes Home. My copy is one of the Penguin Classics publications in new translations.

Saint-Fiacre is where Maigret was born and grew up. His father had been the steward of the château there for thirty years. So when an anonymous note predicting a crime during All Souls’ Day mass at the church is handed in to the Moulins police office, Maigret went back there for the first time since his father had died. It is a melancholy visit for as well as a death to investigate, Maigret finds so much had changed and the atmosphere was oppressing him – he had never imagined that he would find the village in such a sorry state.

The predicted death took place in the church whilst Maigret was attending the the first Mass on All Soul’s Day – the old Countess of Saint-Fiacre died during the mass, of heart failure.  But Maigret soon discovers that the heart attack had been brought on when the Countess read a fake newspaper story of her son’s suicide that had been planted in her missal. Maigret suspects a number of people could have been responsible – her son, Maurice, her secretary/lover, Jean, the steward, Ernest and his son, Emile.

I enjoyed this book, although I found it rather disjointed and at times couldn’t follow very easily who was speaking, so it was a bit difficult keeping track of what was going on – maybe that was my problem, I’m not sure. But I thought the melancholy atmosphere and the descriptions of the chateau and Maigret himself were well done and it is packed with drama and tension. The denouement in which Maigret reveals the truth reminded me of the way Poirot rounds up all the people involved and explains who had done the deed and why, and why it was a crime that was not punishable by the law. 

 Reading ChallengesCalendar of Crime (winter scene on the cover), and Mount TBR 2019(a book I’ve owned for 2 years)

Fell Murder: a Lancashire Mystery by E C R Lorac (British Library Crime Classics)

‘…this crime is conditioned by the place. To understand the one you’ve got to study the other.’

Fell Murder

Poisoned Pen Press|6 January 2020|223 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

Six Degrees of Separation: from Sanditon to The Lambs of London

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Sanditon

This month the chain begins with December 7, 2019), we’ll begin with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon. I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it very much.  It’s the last fiction that Jane Austen wrote, beginning it in January 1817, the year she died. She was ill and the subject of health is one of its themes, but not in a serious or gloomy way. It has a lively, bright and humorous tone, with three of the characters being hypochondriacs, wonderfully satirised by Jane Austen.

My first thought was to link to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel. But I’ve already used it in an earlier Six Degrees post and I don’t like to use the same book twice in these posts, so my first link is to Castle Dor, which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch had started to write  but had set aside unfinished before his death. His daughter asked Daphne du Maurier to finish it. It retells of the legend of the tragic lovers, Tristan and Isolde, transplanted in time and place to the early 1840s in Cornwall. 

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart also retells a legend, that of King Arthur and Merlin. It’s the third book of the Arthurian Saga, a book of myth and legend and about the conflict between good and evil.

My third link is King Arthur in King Arthur’s Bones by the Medieval Murderers, a group of five authors, all members of the Crime Writers’ Association. The book consists of five stories with a prologue and an epilogue tracing the mystery of Arthur’s remains. The legend is that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping with his knights ready to return to defend his country in a time of great danger. One of the stories is set in the 17th century involving William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund who discovered a long thigh bone and a murder in the Tower of London in one of the compartments of the Lion Tower where the king kept lions and tigers. 

Another of Shakespeare’s brothers, Richard, appears in Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. It’s 1595 and the players are rehearsing a new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Richard is longing to play a male role, but so far has only been given female roles. There is little brotherly love between the brothers and Richard is tempted to leave the Lord Chamberlain’s Men when Langley, the producer at the Swan in Southwark offers him a job, providing he will steal two of William’s new plays.

This brings me to Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of Shakespeare.  It is full of detail about the theatrical world, how the actors worked, about their patrons and managers, how Shakespeare interacted with other writers, and how his work was received by the public and the monarchy.

And so to my final link, another book by Peter Ackroyd, The Lambs of London, historical fiction based loosely on the lives of Mary and Charles Lamb. It also is a link to Shakespeare as Mary buys  a book from William Ireland, an antiquarian, a book that it is said once belonged to Shakespeare.

My chain is linked by unfinished books, books about legends, Tristan and Isolde and King Arthur, about Shakespeare and his brothers and books by Peter Ackroyd. It includes both crime and historical fiction and a biography.

Next month ( 4 January 2020), we’ll begin with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I’ve never heard of before. 

My Friday Post: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Murder in the afternoon

Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody is the 3rd Kate Shackleton Mystery. It begins with a Prologue dated Saturday 12 May 1923 Great Applewick:

Harriet held the cloth-covered basin in her thin hands, feeling the warmth.

followed by Chapter One dated Monday at Pipistrelle Lodge, Headingly:

The railway carriage lurched, flinging me forward. Bolts of lightning  struck as the carriage toppled. Gasping, I grabbed for something to hold onto. The screech of brakes jerked me awake. I opened my eyes to find myself in bed, the journey from Kings’ Cross to Leeds completed hours ago, and safely.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘Won’t you at least cordon off the mason’s hut, in case this does turn out to be a murder enquiry?’

Blurb:

Dead one minute …

Young Harriet and her brother Austin have always been scared of the quarry where their stonemason father works. So when they find him dead on the cold ground, they scarper quick smart and look for some help.

Alive the next …

When help arrives, the quarry is deserted and there is no sign of the body. Were the children mistaken? Is their father not dead? Did he simply get up and run away?

A sinister disappearing act …

It seem like another unusual case requiring the expertise of Kate Shackleton. But for Kate this is one case where surprising family ties makes it her most dangerous yet – and delicate – yet …

~~~

I’ enjoyed the first two Kate Shackleton Mysteries, set in Yorkshire in the early 1920s and two of the later books as well. There are 11 in the series, plus Kate Shackleton’s First Case and the 12th book coming in October 2020.

Have you read any of these books? Do let me know.

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories edited by Martin Edwards (British Library Crime Classics)

Here is another collection of short stories from the Golden Age of Murder edited by Martin Edwards: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories.

Christmas Card Crime

Poisoned Pen Press, in association with the British Library|1 October 2019|Print length 240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

There are eleven stories all set during the Christmas season in this collection and an introduction by Martin Edwards. In it he points out the differences between a short story and a novel. It’s not just the length, but it is also the fact that in a short story there is little space to develop the characters in depth or for lengthy descriptions, so ‘every word must be made to earn its keep‘. He has also prefaced each story with a biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me.

The mysteries range in date of publication from 1909 up to 1965. I’ve read stories by some of the authors before, such as Baroness Orczy, John Dixon Carr, Ronald Knox, E C R Lorac, John Bude and Julian Symons, but others were new to me. The ones I enjoyed the most are:

The Motive  Ronald Knox. This story first appeared in The London Illustrated News in November 1937 and is about an attempted murder in a smart hotel on the English Riviera, by a character named ‘Westmacott’ (a pen name used by Agatha Christie).. On Christmas Day after a party the guests decided to play a version of ‘blind man’s buff’ in the swimming pool, which didn’t go as planned.

Another version of ‘blind man’s buff‘, this time called ‘blind man’s bluff‘, is played in the next story also with disastrous consequences.

Blind Man’s Hood by John Dickson Carr writing as Carter Dickson. This first appeared in the Christmas edition of The Sketch in 1937 and is a story inspired by the unsolved Peasonhall murder case of 1902. It is a strange tale about a young couple arriving to spend Christmas with friends, only to find the house empty – except that is for a young woman carrying a white bag, who tells them about a game of ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ that went very wrong, years ago. It’s a variation on a locked room mystery, with a touch of the supernatural.

Crime at Lark Cottage by John Bingham – this first appeared in the 1954 Christmas Number of The London Illustrated News. Bingham was the 7th Earl of Clanmorris, a journalist who was recruited into MI5, where he worked with David Cornwell, who later wrote spy novels under the name of John Le Carré. This story and the next are my two favourites in the book. It is the story of an escaped convict and an isolated country cottage occupied by a young woman and her little daughter one snowy Christmas. Very atmospheric and tense with an unexpected ending. I’d like to read more of John Bingham’s work.

‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip by Julian Symons – this first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in January 1965). Longer than the other stories in this collection it is the tale of Mr Rossiter Payne, a meticulous bookseller who plans a perfect robbery – to steal the jewels, that had once belonged to the Russian royal family, on display in a London department store at Christmas. But Mr Payne had made an uncharacteristic error …

Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection, with a mix of excellent short stories and some that I thought  were too short and had disappointing or predictable endings.

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.