Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith: A Christmas Crime Story (British Library Crime Classics)

Poisoned Pen Press|3 April 2018|240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Portrait of a Murderer was first published in 1933. Anne Meredith is one of the pen names used by Lucy Beatrice Malleson (her other pen names are Anthony Gilbert and J Kilmeny Keith). This Poisoned Pen Press edition has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It is crime fiction where you know who the murderer is and the motive and how the victim was killed quite early on in the book.

On Christmas Eve 1931 Adrian Gray was violently murdered by one of his six adult children. The murderer had acted on impulse in a fit of rage. Adrian had not got on with any of his children and they all wanted him to lend them or rather give them money for one reason or another. From then on it is a character study of the family and of the murderer in particular, who works out a plan to put the blame on one of the other family members. The setting at Christmas seems to be purely because this family don’t get on and it was only at Christmas that they gathered together at the Gray family home.

It begins slowly and I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to finish the book, but I found I was thinking about it when I wasn’t reading and wondering whether the plan would work. As the suspense increased I realised that I was hooked and couldn’t wait to get back to the book to find out. Will the wrong person be convicted or will justice be done?It’s an excellent character study, told in the first person by the murderer and in the third person by the other characters.

I was also fascinated by the picture Meredith paints of the society and culture of the 1930s. It’s set in the Depression and the Grays had come down in the world, no longer the owners of a large landed property. This was accompanied by a steady deterioration in character as their point of view changed and they aspired to possessions and a place in society with authority, consumed by jealousy and criticism of others.They are an unlikeable set of characters and probably one of the reasons this book works so well is that each one is described with precision and insight, so that they come across as recognisable people and not as caricatures.

I also enjoyed reading about life in London in the 1930s, with descriptions of the River Thames, the traffic and the talk of electricity and speed, ‘the age’s God‘, and the desire for cars resulting in air pollution from the petrol fumes. The newly rich are financiers, such as Gray’s financial adviser and son-in-law, Eustace Moore. Although his appearance isn’t that of the traditional conception of a Jew, Meredith reveals the casual and nasty anti-semitism typical of the period in referring to his race. In addition she shows society’s attitude to women from the unmarried daughter expected to act as housekeeper and look after her father, to the scandal attached to divorce.

From a slow and unpromising start Portrait of a Murderer developed into a fascinating novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My Week in Books: 18 April 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve made some progress with Little Dorrit, my Classics Club spin book. I’ve met the Meagles family with their spoiled daughter, Pet and her maid and companion, the wonderfully named Tattycoram, and also Arthur Clennam, recently returning to England from China. Arthur goes to his family home, a dark decrepit house in London where his mother lives, his father having recently died. But I haven’t met Little Dorrit yet – still a long way to go in this book.

Little Dorrit

I’m also reading Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith, which is what it says in the title. I’ve nearly finished this book, which is fascinating, even though it is so long winded.

Description:

‘Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931.’

Thus begins a classic crime novel published in 1933 that has been too long neglected – until now. It is a riveting portrait of the psychology of a murderer.

Each December, Adrian Gray invites his extended family to stay at his lonely house, Kings Poplars. None of Gray’s six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead. The family gathers on Christmas Eve – and by the following morning, their wish has been granted. 

This fascinating and unusual novel tells the story of what happened that dark Christmas night; and what the murderer did next.

I’ve recently finished  A Dying Note by Ann Parker, her latest book in the Silver Rush Mysteries, which was published on 3 April 2018.

I loved this book, set in the autumn of 1881 in San Francisco, where Inez Stannert is making a new start in life, managing a music store. All is going well until the body of a young man, Jamie Monroe, is found washed up on the banks of Mission Creek canal.

I posted my review on Monday and gave it 4 stars.

What do you think you’ll read next:

Will it be Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, which was published on 5 April 2018 and in last week’s post was the book I said I might read next? Or will it be something else? I still don’t know.

Description:

‘One of France’s most ingenious crime writers’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘Bussi breaks every rule in the book’ JOAN SMITH

It is summer 1989 and fifteen-year-old Clotilde is on holiday with her parents in Corsica. On a twisty mountain road, their car comes off at a curve and plunges into a ravine. Only Clotilde survives.

Twenty-seven years later, she returns to Corsica with her husband and their sulky teenage daughter. Clotilde wants the trip to do two things – to help exorcise her past, and to build a bridge between her and her daughter. But in the very place where she spent that summer all those years ago, she receives a letter. From her mother. As if she were still alive.

As fragments of memory come back, Clotilde begins to question the past. And yet it all seems impossible – she saw the corpses of her mother, her father, her brother. She has lived with their ghosts. But then who sent this letter – and why?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

A Dying Note by Ann Parker

Poisoned Pen Press|3 April 2018|319 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

Harper Collins UK|5 April 2018|448 p|e-book |Review copy|5*

My Friday Post: A Dying Note by Ann Parker

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.

This week’s book is A Dying Note by Ann Parker, her latest book in the Silver Rush Mysteries, which was published on 3 April 2018. I’ve just finished it, so my review will up soon.

 

It begins:

Not my hands!

Throat crushed, blood gurgled, words choked so they screamed only in the mind.

A dramatic opening to this novel set in 1881.

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.
  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.

56%:

Inez allowed herself to consider what life might have been like if she, her then-husband Mark Stannert, and their business partner, Abe Jackson, had come all the way to San Francisco as originally planned. Perhaps they would have built a drinking and gaming establishment to capture some of the fortune from gambling fever that clutched the golden city.

But that was not what happened. Seduced by the possibilities in the silver mining boom town of Leadville they had lingered in the city in the clouds, then settled in.

Description (Goodreads):

It’s autumn of 1881, and Inez Stannert, still the co-owner of Leadville, Colorado’s Silver Queen saloon, is settled in San Francisco with her young ward, Antonia Gizzi. Inez has turned her business talents to managing a music store, hoping to eventually become an equal partner in the enterprise with the store’s owner, a celebrated local violinist.

Inez’s carefully constructed life for herself and Antonia threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up on the filthy banks of San Francisco’s Mission Creek canal.

~~~

This is a fascinating historical mystery – I loved it.

What do you think? Have you read it – or are you planning to read it?

My Week in Books: 11 April 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m reading three, Little Dorrit, Saint Thomas’s Eve, but my main book – the one I’ve been read most of the time this week is

 A Dying Note by Ann Parker, her latest book in the Silver Rush Mysteries, which was published on 3 April 2018

Description:

It’s autumn of 1881, and Inez Stannert, still the co-owner of Leadville, Colorado’s Silver Queen saloon, is settled in San Francisco with her young ward, Antonia Gizzi. Inez has turned her business talents to managing a music store, hoping to eventually become an equal partner in the enterprise with the store’s owner, a celebrated local violinist.

Inez’s carefully constructed life for herself and Antonia threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up on the filthy banks of San Francisco’s Mission Creek canal. Inez and Antonia become entangled in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to expose Inez’s notorious past. And they aren’t the only ones searching for answers. Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, “finder of the lost,” has also been tasked with ferreting out the perpetrators and dispensing justice in its most final form. Leadville’s leading madam Frisco Flo, an unwilling visitor to the city with a Leadville millionaire, is on the hook as well, having injudiciously financed the young musician’s journey to San Francisco in the first place.

Time grows short as Inez and the others uncover long-hidden secrets and unsettled scores. With lives and reputations on the line, the tempo rises until the investigation’s final, dying note.

I’ve recently finished 

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor, published on 5th April 2018

Description:

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…

The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.

James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?

Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

I’ll post my review soon – I loved this book, following the story that began with The Ashes of London.

What do you think you’ll read next:

Now the difficult part – what to read next! I say difficult because I often change my mind when the time comes to start another book. At the moment I’m thinking it could be:

Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, which was published on 5 April 2018

Description:

‘One of France’s most ingenious crime writers’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘Bussi breaks every rule in the book’ JOAN SMITH

It is summer 1989 and fifteen-year-old Clotilde is on holiday with her parents in Corsica. On a twisty mountain road, their car comes off at a curve and plunges into a ravine. Only Clotilde survives.

Twenty-seven years later, she returns to Corsica with her husband and their sulky teenage daughter. Clotilde wants the trip to do two things – to help exorcise her past, and to build a bridge between her and her daughter. But in the very place where she spent that summer all those years ago, she receives a letter. From her mother. As if she were still alive.

As fragments of memory come back, Clotilde begins to question the past. And yet it all seems impossible – she saw the corpses of her mother, her father, her brother. She has lived with their ghosts. But then who sent this letter – and why?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Six Degrees of Separation from Memoirs of a Geisha to …

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.

This month the chain begins with Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, a book I haven’t read.

Memoirs of a Geisha

It’s described on Goodreads as the extraordinary story of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window into a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. A young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Japan is the first link in my chain with An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.

An Artist of the Floating World (Faber Fiction Classics) by [Ishiguro, Kazuo]

It is set in 1948 as Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War Two. The celebrated artist, Masuji Ono, fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson. He spends his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars. But his memories continually return to the past – to a life and career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism  and a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.

The word ‘world‘ takes me to the next link – Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World a novel about Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester’s journey in 1885 from Perkins Island up the Wolverine River in Alaska. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy. It’s a book full of love, the love of Allen and Sophie, his wife, and the love of the country, the landscape and its people.

A Cold Day for Murder (Kate Shugak #1)

Also set in Alaska is A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow, the first in her Kate Shugak series. This is crime fiction in which Kate Shugak returns to her roots in the far Alaskan north, after leaving the Anchorage D.A.’s office. Her deductive powers are definitely needed when a ranger disappears. Looking for clues among the Aleutian pipeliners, she begins to realise the fine line between lies and loyalties–between justice served and cold murder.

Silver Lies (Silver Rush, #1)

The next link is also to crime fiction – Silver Lies by Ann Parker, historical fiction set in 1879/80 in the silver-mining town of Leadville, Colarado in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Leadville was a colourful place, a boom-town, bustling with life -everything is there – the Silver Queen saloon and the Crystal Belle Saloon, Leadville’s leading parlor house, a brick built opera house, whose patrons ‘swelled the after-midnight crowds’ in the Silver Queen saloon, five banks and a small white church with a steeple.

Pompeii

Pompeii by Robert Harris is also historical fiction, set in August AD 79, recounting the eruption of Vesuvius destroying the town of Pompeii and killing its inhabitants as they tried to flee the pumice, ash and searing heat and flames. My favourite character is the hero of the book, engineer Attilius. Before Vesuvius erupted he realised the danger when the aqueduct Aqua Augusta failed to supply water to the people in the nine towns around the Bay of Naples, and attempted to repair the aqueduct.

Part of the book’s appeal to me was because I visited Pompeii and had a trip up to the summit of Vesuvius some years ago and so I could easily picture the location.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower (Victor Legris, #1)

This leads me on to Murder on the Eiffel Tower by  Claude Izner because this is also a place I’ve visited. It’s also historical fiction featuring a crime – that of the murder of Eugénie Patinot when she takes her nephews and niece to the newly-opened Eiffel Tower in 1889. She collapses and dies, apparently from a bee-sting. This book is full of historical detail but the mystery element is not really convincing.

My chain this month has a lot of crime fiction and historical fiction, but it has travelled through time and space from the first century AD to the 20th century through Japan, Alaska, Canada, Italy and France. It has followed artists, explorers, silver miners and detectives and looked in on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the opening of the Eiffel Tower.

Next month  (April 7, 2018), we’ll begin with Barbara Kingsolver’s bestselling novel, The Poisonwood Bible.