Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill

Ruling passion

HarperCollins|1993|388 pages|Paperback\ my own copy| 3.5* (rounded up to 4*)

Ruling Passion is Reginald Hill’s third Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1973, in which Pascoe finds his social life and work uncomfortably brought together by a terrible triple murder. Meanwhile, Dalziel is pressuring him about a string of unsolved burglaries, and as events unfold the two cases keep getting jumbled in his mind.

Peter Pascoe is the main character with Dalziel, his boss playing a minor role. Moving on from the second book where Pascoe had renewed his relationship with Ellie Soper, they are now a couple and friends from their university days, Colin and Rose Hopkins have invited them to stay for a weekend in the country at their cottage in the village of Thornton Lacey. They hadn’t seen them for more than five years and the other guests were also old friends, Timothy Mansfield and Charles Rushworth. (References here to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park)

However, Peter and Ellie didn’t arrive until the Saturday morning when they found a terrible scene – Timothy and Charles lying on the dining room floor in a pool of blood, dead from wounds caused by a shotgun fired at close range, and Rose was in the back garden lying dead at the base of a sundial in the centre of the lawn, her face pressed into the grass. Colin was nowhere to be seen – and the police, headed by Superintendent Backhouse, immediately assume he is the murderer. Peter for once is faced with being a witness rather than a detective and he doesn’t find it easy. He and Ellie are both convinced that Colin didn’t commit the murders – it’s a matter of finding him and proving Backhouse wrong.

As in the previous book, An Advancement of Learning, the plot is by no means straight forward and I found it rather confusing for a while, trying to remember who was who and where they fitted into the mystery. It’s not helped by the fact that the action moves between Thornton Lacey, Yorkshire and Scotland. It wasn’t only Peter who muddled the murder mystery with his unsolved burglaries – I did too. But it all became much clearer towards the end of the book as the connections between the storylines were made.

It’s the main characters though that interested me most and the development of their characters – Peter and Ellie in particular. Their relationship has moved on and during the course of the book they realise how deep their feelings for each other are – leading them into considering getting married. Peter recognises that he can be a very solitary man:

Solitariness was not far from loneliness and this he feared. He believed he could recognize similar characteristics in Ellie, but how good a basis for marriage this common area would be he could not speculate. Equally far from contemplation, however, was a life without Ellie. Which is as good a definition of love as I’m likely to get in a police station, he told himself. Motives for marriage are at least as varied and unexpected as motives for murder. That sounded like the kind of cold comfort Dalziel would doubtless offer! (page 325)

Whereas Peter and Ellie have now become more developed characters Dalziel still remains more of a caricature, rude, coarse and insensitive. But as Ellie gets to know him more so he becomes more human – and more likeable, with more understanding than she had previously thought. By the end of the book Peter, having passed his exams, is promoted to Inspector.

Reginald Hill wrote 24 Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I’ve now read the first and the last and some in between. Currently I’m reading my way through the rest of them – so book 4 is next on my list – An April Shroud.

Readers Imbibing Peril XIV Begins …

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are beginning to fall and autumn is definitely on its way. So, it’s no surprise to see that tomorrow the 14th Annual  Readers Imbibing Peril begins, running from 1 September to 31 October.

The aim is to read books in these categories: 

Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural.

rip14

As usual, there are different levels to choose from and I will be aiming for Peril the First, which is:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.

I have plenty of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller and Gothic books on my shelves and Kindle to choose from, including these:

  • The Lying Room by Nicci French
  • Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear
  • A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty
  • Murder by Matchlight by E C Lorac
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
  • Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
  • The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
  • The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine
  • With Our Blessing by Jo Spain

What usually happens when I make a list like this is that I end up reading other books instead. But I like to think I’ll read some of these.

R.I.P. Challenge XII – Completed

The R.I.P. Challenge (1 September to 31 October), hosted by Estella’s Revenge ended a few days ago.

I started at the level of Peril the Third, aiming low – to read just one book and then moved on to Peril the First, aiming to read four books. I’m very pleased to say that I read six books:

  1. A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas
  2. The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
  3. Extraordinary People by Peter May
  4. A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
  5. The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths
  6. Fair of Face by Christina James – review to follow soon

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

A Darker Domain (Karen Pirie, #2)

This is the second book in Val McDermid’s Kate Pirie series, a series that really should be read in order as A Darker Domain reveals one of the outcomes of the first book, The Distant Echo.

Description from Amazon:

Twenty-five years ago, the daughter of the richest man in Scotland and her baby son were kidnapped and held to ransom. But Catriona Grant ended up dead and little Adam’s fate has remained a mystery ever since. When a new clue is discovered in a deserted Tuscan villa – along with grisly evidence of a recent murder – cold case expert DI Karen Pirie is assigned to follow the trail.

She’s already working a case from the same year. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984, pit worker Mick Prentice vanished. He was presumed to have broken ranks and fled south with other ‘scabs’… but Karen finds that the reported events of that night don’t add up. Where did he really go? And is there a link to the Grant mystery?

The truth is stranger – and far darker – than fiction.

My thoughts:

The first thing that struck me when I began reading this book is that is not divided into chapters. Instead the text is divided by date and place, which initially is a bit confusing, moving between the two cases Karen is investigating. However, I soon got the hang of it.

I like the mix of fact and fiction in A Darker Domain, using the Miners’ Strike as the backdrop to the mystery of Mick Prentice’s disappearance. It is intricately plotted, with a large cast of characters and it’s deceptively easy to read – it’s easy to pass over significant facts that you realise later are of importance.

I like Karen Pirie, who had been a Detective Constable in the second part of the first book, The Distant Echo. Now she is a Detective Inspector in charge of the Cold Case Review Team in Fife. She describes herself as

a wee fat woman crammed into a Marks and Spencer suit, mid-brown hair needing a visit to he hairdresser, might be pretty if you could see the definition of her bones under the flesh. (page 6)

In the tradition of fictional detectives she’s an independent character, who takes little notice of her ineffectual boss, who she nicknames the ‘Macaroon’, undermining his authority. But she is hard-working and tenacious.

I like the contrasts Val McDermid portrays, such as the ‘darker domain‘ of the miners’ lives, the rich landowner wanting to find his grandson, and the beautiful setting in Tuscany where the members of a troupe of puppeteers, are squatting in a ruined villa.

I also like the mix of the two cases, which, as this is crime fiction, I fully expected would at some point interlink. The question is how do they interlink? Val McDermid has a neat way of leading you along the wrong lines with her twists and turns, culminating in the final paragraph. But the ending seemed rushed, tacked on, almost as an afterthought, which left me bemused and feeling rather flat. So, not as good as The Distant Echo but still an entertaining book.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Thus edition (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007243316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007243310
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3.5* (rounded up to 4* on Goodreads)

Reading Challenges: my 4th book for R.I.P. XII

I hope to read the next book in the series, The Skeleton Road, before the end of the year.

Extraordinary People by Peter May

Extraordinary People (The Enzo Files, #1)

I loved Peter May’s Lewis trilogy and I also enjoyed his standalone book, Entry Island, so I decided to read Extraordinary People, the first in his Enzo Files series when I saw a copy in a secondhand bookshop (along with the second in the series, The Critic). They are both TBR books.

Set in France the action moves between various locations, but is mainly in Paris, as Enzo Macleod tries to solve a cold case mystery, that of the disappearance and presumed death of Jacques Gaillard, an eminent professor, 10 years earlier. Enzo is trained as forensic scientist, who is now a professor of  biology at a university in Toulouse. He has taken a bet that he can solve seven of the most notorious murders, using modern technology. Journalist Roger Raffin had originally researched the Gaillard case and shares his information with Enzo and accompanies him on the search.

It helps that a metal trunk had been found in the catacombs under the Place d’Italie, containing a skull and a number of apparently unconnected items. Enzo succeeds in establishing that it is Gaillard’s skull and using the items in the trunk as clues begins the search for the rest of his skeleton. This takes the form of internet searches, DNA investigations and leaps of intuition, ending up in a dramatic scene back in the Paris catacombs. Enzo’s own life is in danger and that of his elder daughter, Kirsty.

There is quite a lot about Enzo and his family background. He is of Scottish/Italian parents, with a complicated personal life. He has two daughters, by different mothers. Kirsty refuses to have anything to do with him, whereas Sophie who dotes on him, lives with him, whilst Enzo can’t stand her boyfriend.

I had a couple of small issues with this book. It takes the form of a puzzle and a chase to find the culprit, much in the same vein as Dan Brown’s books. I did find it rather implausible that the murderer would have left such specific clues and although Enzo does raise the question of why anyone would do that, it’s never properly answered (to my mind at least).

I also questioned why the French police ordered him to leave the investigation solely to them without using his obvious skills and knowledge (there is a reason for that, which I quickly surmised).

Another little niggle is the way May interspersed the text with French words for some items, but not others – the word séjour is used a lot but other rooms such as ‘bedroom’, ‘hall’ are in English – a minor quibble I know, but each time I read it I wondered why.

But, having said all that I did like the book, it’s very readable and I learned a lot about Paris and its catacombs.

  • My copy: published in GB in 2014 by Quercus Editions Ltd, 420 pages
  • Source: I bought a secondhand paperback copy
  • My rating: 3* (it would have been 4*, but for the leaps of intuition and other small issues I had with this book)

Reading Challenges: my 3rd book for the RIP 2017 challenge and my 20th book for Bev’s Mount TBR 2017.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

The Taxidermist's Daughter

Publication date: September 2015, Orion Books

Source: my own copy

Rating: 3*

The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a difficult book to review without giving away too much detail particularly about the element that almost made me stop reading and because of that I was in two minds what rating to give it. The main thing that I didn’t like is all the detail about taxidermy – and there is a lot of detail. I found its gruesome application in this book absolutely sickening. But I still read on, such is the strength of Kate Mosse’s ghoulish storytelling.

Blurb (from the back cover):

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years . . .

Connie Gifford is the taxidermist’s daughter and she has grown up learning the art of taxidermy, taking over from her father who is a hopeless drunk. Her mother had died giving birth to her and there had been an accident when she was twelve (ten years earlier), which had almost completely wiped the first twelve years of her life from her mind.

The book began well, full of atmosphere, set in the Fishbourne Marshes and the tidal estuary in West Sussex (where Kate Mosse grew up), with Gothic overtones and hints of dark and terrible secrets and revenge. There is the mystery of the dead woman who has been garroted – who was she? What, or who haunts Connie’s father? What had happened to Connie when she was twelve, and who was the girl Connie vaguely remembers – older than her, with a love of life and a yellow ribbon in her hair? She experiences strange episodes where she feels herself falling out of time, spinning and flying through the air – episodes full of menace and threat.

But it dragged in the middle, with too many indistinct male characters and even though there is a map showing the layout of Fishbourne in 1912 I had difficulty in following the location of the action, nor could I work out how quickly they seemed to be able to travel between the various houses and Chichester.

It ends dramatically in death and destruction, with all the strands of the story coming together, one dark and stormy night. The waters rise, as the banks of the rivers, streams, the mill pond and the sluice gates break, flooding the whole area. Connie’s memories too come flooding back as the wind and rain join the thundering torrent of the flood water.

After a while though too much was foreshadowed and the story became rather predictable, which lessened the tension. Its gruesomeness however will stay with me for quite a while.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2017 and R.I.P. 2017

A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas

A Climate of Fear (Commissaire Adamsberg #10)

A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas (see below*), translated from the French by Siân Reynolds, is her 9th Commissaire Adamsberg book.

I had high expectations for this book and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s as quirky and original as the other Commissaire Adamsberg books I’ve read (I’ve read five of them, including this one). I like Adamsberg; he’s original, a thinker, who doesn’t like to express his feelings, but mulls things over. He’s an expert at untangling mysteries, an invaluable skill in this, one of the most complicated and intricate mysteries I’ve read. He’d compared the investigation right from the start to a huge tangled knot of seaweed, and summed it up at the end:

… you can’t just plunge into a thing like that. We were pulling out tiny little broken fragments, and getting drawn into other traps. We had elements, clues, but they were floating, dozens of them, just under the surface without any apparent connection between them, in a sort of fog. The whole thing had been drowned in confusion by this twisted and determined killer. (pages 393-394)

The ‘tangled knot‘ is most confusing to begin with, made up of a woman found bleeding to death in her bath, having apparently committed suicide, a strange symbol that appears at subsequent death scenes, a secretive society studying and re-enacting scenes from the French Revolution, and two deaths ten years earlier on an isolated island off the coast of Iceland, where the afturganga, the demon who owns the island summons people to their death.

As in earlier books, Fred Vargas brings in elements of the supernatural, of folk tales, myths and legends, all of which is fascinating and intricately woven into the murder mystery. I loved all of it, especially the tense and fraught relationship that developed between Adamsberg and his team as they became increasingly unable to follow Adamsberg’s line of thought. I also enjoyed reading the details about Robespierre and the part he played in the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror, plus the little quirky details such as those about the cat who sleeps on the photocopier and the tame wild boar that guards one of the characters.

All in all, a brilliant book.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (14 July 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910701386
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910701386
  • Source: I borrowed it from my local library
  • My Rating: 5*

These are the other books I’ve read by Fred Vargas:

* Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau.