Mount TBR 2019 Final Checkpoint

Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge has come to an end. My aim was to get to the top of Mont Blanc, which was to read 24 of the books that I’d owned prior to January 1, 2019. I did that by June and continued climbing, conquering Mt Vancouver (36 books) and making strides up Mount Ararat with a total of 41 TBRs read, just 7 books short of the peak.

Bev has set an additional challenge – to complete this list of Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR of familiar proverbs and sayings by using the titles of the books I’ve read this year on my journey up the Mountain. 

A stitch in time…[saves] The Shadow Puppet

Don’t count your chickens… [under] The Wych Elm

A penny saved is…. An Advancement of Learning

All good things must come.. (to) The Seven Sisters

When in Rome…  [beware of the] Blood on the Tracks

All that glitters is not… Wild Fire

A picture is worth… Cold Earth 

When the going gets tough, the tough get … Mary Barton

Two wrongs don’t make … Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

The pen is mightier than …  The Seagull

The squeaky wheel gets…  Life After Life

Hope for the best, but prepare for… The Rúin

Birds of a feather flock… [to] The Man on a Donkey

 

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)

Two Crime Fiction Titles

I’m behind with reviewing the books I’ve read, so here are short reviews of two crime fiction novels I’ve read recently:

Broken ground

Broken Ground by Val McDermid, the 5th Karen Pirie book. 4*

This begins in 1944 when two men bury a couple of wooden crates in a peat bog in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands. Seventy four years later Alice and her husband Will are on a treasure hunt, following a map Alice’s grandfather had left her. But they are astonished when discover the body of a man in the peat bog together with one of the crates. Perfectly preserved it appeared at first that this was a case for Karen’s friend Dr River Wilde, the forensic anthropologist. But the fact that the man was wearing a pair of Nikes, dating the body back to the 1990s ruled out that idea, which made it a case for Karen Pirie and her Historic Cases Unit.

This is a very readable book, moving swiftly along, that I really enjoyed. Karen has to cope with the unwelcome addition to her team of DS Gerry Mcartney. The ACC, Ann Markle and Karen just don’t get on and Karen suspects Markle is using McCartney to keep tabs on her and find a way to close the Unit down. It is a complicated case as attention switches back to events in 1944, the 1990s and the present day, although the actual murder mystery isn’t that difficult to work out.

Not Dead EnoughNot Dead Enough by Peter James, the 3rd Detective Superintendent Roy Grace book. 4*

It’s set in Brighton and begins with the murder of Katie Bishop. The immediate suspect is her husband Brian, but it appears that he couldn’t be the murderer unless he could have been in two places at once. Then Sophie Harrington is killed. She had been having an affair with Brian thus intensifying the police investigation into his movements and background.

Grace’s wife, Sandy, had disappeared nine years earlier and he is still wondering what happened to her even though he is now involved with Cleo Morey, the Chief Mortician and he takes a quick trip over to Munich when his friends tell him they had seen her there.

This is a re-read. I first read it in January 2014 and it was only when I reached the part about Sandy that I realised I had read it before. I think that this is because the two murders are particularly gruesome and either I’d scan read them before or had blocked them out of my mind. Apart from the gruesome murders I enjoyed this book and intend to carry on reading the Roy Grace books.

D H Lawrence: The Life Of An Outsider by John Worthen

D H Lawrence

Penguin Books|2006|518 pages|5*

In April I began reading  D. H. Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, a biography. It is one of my TBRs as I bought it in 2008 when I visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham.

He was born in 1885 in a row of miners’ houses, a two up, two down redbrick house. The adjoining end terrace house is now a museum and shop (where I bought the book).

I find writing about biographies difficult. This book, in particular, is hard to summarise. I read the book slowly in short sections, reading it most days. It’s a detailed portrait of his life from his birth in 1885 in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44 in 1930. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family, or his work colleagues, or the literary elite of the times.

By 1908 writing had become a necessity to him – writing poetry, but he was too insecure to send any of it to a publisher. At that time he was working in Croydon as an elementary teacher. He began writing his first novel, which by October 1910 he was calling ‘Paul Morel‘ . It later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’  It was in 1912 that he first met Frieda Weekley, whom he later married. She was then married to Ernest Weekley, a Nottingham University professor of modern languages.

Once he had left Eastwood he travelled in search of a place where he could be himself, but despite staying in different places, with friends, in hotels and in rented accommodation he felt he was really unable to find a place of his own. The maps at the beginning of the book illustrate this with maps of Lawrence’s Eastwood, of the places he lived in England, in Italy and in America and Mexico. Part of his need to find a place of his own was purely physical – he suffered from tuberculosis and he was searching for a climate where he could breathe easily. His final months were full of pain and suffering and he died in Bandol, France on 2 March 1930.

Worthen writes in depth about Lawrence’s personal life, his relationship with his family and in particular with his mother, Lydia and then his wife, Frieda, as well as his numerous friends and acquaintances, because although he thought of himself as an outsider he needed his friends. Lawrence was prolific, writing novels, short stories, plays, poems, letters, essays, nonfiction books, travel literature, and so on, as well as producing numerous paintings (some of which were on display at his Birthplace Museum).

D H Lawrence photos

Worthen writes in great detail about his work, quoting from original sources, and tracing his development as a writer. There are 38 photographs, the first taken c.1886 of Lawrence as a baby in a pram to a photo of a clay head of him made in 1930 by Jo Davidson. I found it all fascinating, giving a portrait of a man often misunderstood by his contemporaries and criticised for being sexist, racist, a misogynist, a fascist and a colonialist. Worthen, however, writes:

He was in reality generous to women and men alike, and to all races and colours. He wrote wonderfully all his life about his experience of the natural world; he was more perceptive than almost any writer, before or since, about the effects of civilisation upon instinct and desire. He has constantly been attacked because his writing constantly thought things through in public. But it is, uncannily, as if Lawrence knew where both his contemporaries and those after him would be most sensitive and anxious, and concentrated his writing on those very subjects: sex, gender roles, the exercise of power. He intuitively worked his way into the concerns and anxieties of his contemporaries, though by doing so he also confirmed his alienation from his own age and (now) perhaps from ours. (pages xxv – xxvi)

I have read just a few of Lawrence’s novels – Women in Love, Sons and Lovers, The Virgin and the Gypsy, St Mawr, and The Man Who Died. I haven’t read Lady Chatterley’s Lover yet, but when I do I’ll look back at Worthern has to say about it.

About the author:

John Worthen  taught at universities in North America and Wales before becoming Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he remains Emeritus Professor. His career as Lawrence’s biographer began in the 1980s, resulting in the first of a three-volume Cambridge biography – D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885 – 1912. In 2001 Yale University Press brought out his group biography The Gang: Coleridge, the Wordsworth and the Hutchinsons in 1802. His newest biography is a life of the great German composer Robert Schumann, while he also plans to write a biography of Frieda von Richthofen, concentrating wholly on her life before she met D. H. Lawrence.

An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

April Shroud

HarperCollins|2011|326 pages|Paperback|my own copy| 3* 

An April Shroud is Reginald Hill’s fourth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1975, in which Dalziel is on holiday and Pascoe is on his honeymoon.

From the back cover:

Inspector Pascoe may take holidays but Death never does – and neither, it seems, does Superintendent Dalziel. A watery accident on a solitary country holiday leads to the Fat Man drying off in Lake House, a nearby mansion well past its prime.

The same cannot be said for its owner, the fulsome Mrs Fielding. She has only recently buried her husband, but seems more concerned with her future. Dalziel’s curiosity is aroused – purely professionally of course – and by the time Pascoe’s honeymoon is over, there have been several more deaths and Dalziel might have compromised himself beyond redemption …

Whereas in the previous book, Ruling Passion Dalziel’s character was more of a caricature, on An April Shroud Hill develops his character more fully, in fact I think the book is primarily a superb character study of Dalziel.  He is rude, coarse and insensitive, but his capacity for getting to the bottom of a mystery is shown to be immense.

Although on holiday he cannot help but ferret out what really happened to Conrad Fielding, when he meets the Fielding family on their way back home after Conrad’s funeral. He was rescued by them when his journey south was brought to an abrupt end by floods. The police had decided that Conrad’s death had been an accident – he had fallen off a ladder onto the drill he had been using and it had pierced his heart. Mrs Fielding invites Dalziel to stay at their home, Lake House, where it soon becomes apparent to him that the family have plenty of secrets they would rather he didn’t discover.

I couldn’t easily distinguish who was who in the family, except to realise that they were all rather odd. The plot seemed over complicated and in parts I thought I was reading a farce as more bodies turned up dead. I had little idea who was guilty and the identity of the culprits took me by surprise. Dalziel’s ‘interlude’ with the widow, Bonny Fielding, was entertaining as well as revealing about Dalziel’s personal life – he is sensitive and vulnerable beneath his boorish exterior. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book, although for me it was far from Hill’s best Dalziel and Pascoe book and I’m looking forward to reading book 5, A Pinch of Snuff, as I know that the later books are much better. Reginald Hill wrote 24 Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I’ve read some of them and currently I’m reading my way through the rest.

These are the Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read so far:

1. A Clubbable Woman (1970) 
2. An Advancement of Learning (1971)
3. Ruling Passion (1973)
4. An April Shroud (1975) 
8. Exit Lines (1984)
11. Bones and Silence (1990) 
14. Pictures of Perfection (1993) – read, no post
17.On Beulah Height (1998) 
20. Death’s Jest Book (2002) 
21. The Death of Dalziel (2007)

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2019 (a book I’ve owned for four years) and the Calendar of Crime 2019 challenge (for the month of April – a book with the month in the title).