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

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life 1

Transworld Digital|March 2013|Print length 477 pages| e-book|5*

I am delighted to say that I loved Life After Life. I wasn’t at all sure that I would as I began reading it soon after I bought it (in 2013) and didn’t get very far before I decided to put it to one side for a while. A ‘while’ became years – and then at the end of 2016 I read A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, and loved it and decided to try Life After Life again. But, even so it has taken me until this September to get round to reading it. I can’t imagine what my problem with it was in 2013, because this time round once I’d started it I just knew I had to read it and I was immediately engrossed in the story.

Ursula Todd was born on 11 February 1910 at Fox Corner during a wild snowstorm. In the first version she was born before the doctor and the midwife arrived and she died, strangled by the umbilical cord around her neck. But in the second version the doctor had got there in time and saved her life, using a pair of small surgical scissors to snip the cord

During the book Ursula dies many deaths and there are several different versions that her life takes over the course of the twentieth century – through both World Wars and beyond. Each time as she approaches death she experiences a vague unease, before the darkness falls. As she grows older she experiences different outcomes to the events that lead up to that feeling of unease, and finds that sometimes she can prevent the darkness from falling. By the end of the book I had a complete picture of a life lived to the full. I loved the way she experiences the same circumstances but because one little thing is changed it completely changes the whole sequence of events.

There is a constant thread throughout the book – the Todd family, Ursula’s mother, Sylvie, her father, Hugh, her aunt, Izzie, and her brothers and sisters, plus the family servants and friends. They all play more or less significant roles throughout Ursula’s life. It’s a large cast of characters but I had no difficulty in distinguishing them – they all felt ‘real’, partly I think because Atkinson is so good at depicting family life and relationships.

I would love to know more about several of the characters – Izzie, for one – Hugh’s wild bohemian sister, who Sylvie called a ‘cuckoo’ and Mrs Glover described as a ‘Flibbertigibbet’. Then there is Sylvie herself, who I found quite a mysterious character – in particular one of the chapters describing Ursula’s birth very near the end of the book set my imagination working overtime- what had Sylvie known and how? There is more about Ursula’s youngest brother, Teddy in A God In Ruins and I think I’ll have to re-read it soon to see what further light it throws on all the characters.

In some ways it is a tragic book – particularly the parts set during the war years. They are brilliantly written bringing the full of horror of war into focus; some of the standout scenes  are those in London during the Blitz. And it’s interesting to speculate how different the history of the twentieth century could have been if Hitler had been assassinated in 1930. The whole book is full of ‘what ifs’ – what if this character had behaved differently, what if that had not happened, what if you’d made a different choice of subject to study or a different career, or married a different person?  

In fact I think the whole book is excellent, well researched and with such a different structure so well done that it kept me glued to the pages. I wish I’d read it earlier – but it obviously wasn’t the right time for me to read it then.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR

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

My Friday Post: The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

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.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley is one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list and it’s also one of my TBRs. I recently finished reading it. It’s the first book in her Seven Sisters series of books based on the legends of the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades. 

seven sisters ebook

I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that my father had died.

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:

‘Presumably, you had a tough night last night, Maia, dealing with Electra’s usual histrionics? said Ce-Ce.

‘As a matter of fact, for Electra, she was relatively calm,’ I answered, knowing there was little love lost between my fourth and fifth sisters. Each was the antithesis of the other: Ce-Ce so practical and loath to show any emotion, and Electra so volatile.

Blurb:

Maia D’Aplièse and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, ‘Atlantis’ – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva – having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue to their true heritage – a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began . . .

Eighty years earlier, in the Belle Epoque of Rio, 1927, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is working on a statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela – passionate and longing to see the world – convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski’s studio and in the heady, vibrant cafés of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.

My thoughts:

I knew very little about this series when I began reading the book, but I was soon caught up in this family saga. It’s not crime fiction but there is plenty of mystery – first of all why are there only six sisters, not seven? Who was Pa Salt and why did he adopt these  girls from the four corners of the globe when they were babies? He has died before the book begins and immediately buried and, as I read a lot of crime fiction, my first thought was –  why was he adamant that as soon as he died his body was to be buried at sea, with none of the girls present? And I wondered if he had really died? Please don’t tell me the answers to my questions – I intend to read all the Seven Sisters books, when I hope all will become clear.

Pa Salt has left clues for each girl so that if they want they can discover who their parents were and the circumstances of their birth. Having introduced all the sisters Maia’s story unfolds and it is an amazing story, taking her back to Brazil, the country of her birth. It’s beautifully written and completely convincing and I raced through it eager to find out the details of Maia’s family history.

I loved all the details about the building of the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain in the Carioca Range, overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro and how Lucinda Riley incorporated it so seamlessly into Maia’s story.

Have read this book? What did you think about it? And if you haven’t, would you keep on reading?

For more about the series see Lucinda Riley’s website, where she explains why she based the books on the legends of The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades and about the details of her extensive research for each story.

I’ll be reading the next book – The Storm Sister as soon as possible. The six books in the series are:

1. The Seven Sisters (2014)
2. The Storm Sister (2015) – Ally (Alcyone)
3. The Shadow Sister (2016) – Star (Asterope)
4. The Pearl Sister (2017) – CeCe (Celaeno)
5. The Moon Sister (2018) – Tiggy (Taygete)
6. The Sun Sister (2019) – Electra

The seventh sister is Merope – in the cast of characters at the beginning of the first book she is described as ‘missing’ …

The Seven Sisters:

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2822 KB
  • Print Length: 641 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Main Market edition (6 Nov. 2014)
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 5*

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

My Friday Post: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is one of my TBRs  and is one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. It’s about Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. I bought it 5 years ago and have started reading it more than once, but have never finished it. But ever since I read and loved A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, I have been meaning to pick it up again.

Life after life

 

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Münchner at leisure – coffee, cake and gossip.

So far, this time round I think this may be the right time for me to read this book.

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:

On the way home, Pamela carried both baby rabbits in her pinafore, holding it out proudly in front of her like Bridget with a tea-tray.

‘Look at you,’ Hugh said when they walked wearily through the garden gate. ‘Golden and kissed by the sun. You look like real countrywomen.’

‘More red than gold, I’m afraid,’ Sylvie said ruefully.

Blurb:

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

If you have read this book I’d love to know what you think about it. And if you haven’t, would you keep reading?

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.