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.

It’s Autumn: Time for the R.I.P. Challenge

It’s that time of year for the R.I.P. Challenge (1 September to 31 October), hosted by Estella’s Revenge, the aim being to read books in the categories of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural.

I wasn’t going to join in this year as I’ve been cutting back on the number of challenges. But the emphasis in R.I.P. is not on the word ‘challenge’, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood. I’ve also realised that the book I’m currently reading is one that easily fits into more than one of those categories. It’s The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

The Taxidermist's Daughter

It’s set in 1912 in the Sussex salt marshes and is full of mystery, suspense with Gothic overtones and a menacing atmosphere.

Dead for all these long and many years. The smell of sulphur and the grave. The smell of rotting and unpreserved flesh. The darkening glass. They sullied the beauty of the place. Destroyed all that was wonderful and made it dark. (page 63)

Old sins have long shadows.

In the next few weeks I’ll probably read a few more books that fit into the categories. Looking at some of my TBRs I have Extraordinary People by Peter May (another book I’ve just started to read), The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine, and The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell, to name but three.

So, I’ve decided that I shall join in, and for the time being I’ll be participating at the level of Peril the Third, which involves reading at least one book from the above categories. If I read more than I’ll move on to Peril the First, which involves reading at least four books from the above categories.

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents Happen is one of my TBR e-books that I’ve had for a couple of years. It’s described as a ‘gripping psychological thriller where one woman’s streak of bad luck may be something far more sinister’, so I thought it would be just the right sort of book to read for this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI.

It begins well with a strange, scary episode about a child waking up to the sight of something slithering, full of threat, not sure what it was but terrified as it was angry with a gaping mouth revealing a tiny white spot, where the poison came from.

Episodes like this are interspersed between the chapters of the story, each one more terrifying than the rest. These are actually much more scary than the main story, which is about Kate, a widow and her young son Jack.

Blurb:

Kate Parker has had so much bad luck in her life, she’s convinced she’s cursed. But when she tries to do her best to keep herself and her son safe, people tell her she’s being anxious and obsessive.

Just when her life starts to spin completely out of control, an Oxford professor she meets offers to help. But his methods are not conventional. If she wants to live her life again, he will expect her to take risks.

When a mysterious neighbour starts to take more than a passing interest in her, Kate tries to stay rational and ignore it.

Maybe this, however, is the one time Kate should be worried.

My thoughts:

Kate’s husband had died 5 years before the book starts and Kate is obsessed with statistics, so much so that they are now ruling her life – statistics about all the things that go wrong, or could go wrong. And this is preventing her from living a normal life – the lengths she goes to are extreme and they are affecting her Jack, her son. As readers we know that some of Kate’s fears are real, but she doesn’t focus on those, although they do bother her. I began to feel something was wrong. And when she met Jago, an Oxford professor my feelings intensified – there was definitely something suspicious going on. Why was he getting her to take such risks and putting herself into such strange situations?

At first I was enjoying this book – it’s very readable, although the concentration on Kate’s fears got a bit repetitive – but increasingly as I read on I just couldn’t believe what was happening. For me the tension that had been building up just disappeared. I didn’t think it was plausible and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

I think I’m in the minority about this book as it has more favourable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge and R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI.