Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

Vintage Digital/ 2010/ e-book/ Print length: 216 pages/ My own copy/ 4*

Stamboul Train was first published in the UK in 1932 and was renamed Orient Express when it was published in the USA. My copy is an e-book, with an Introduction by Christopher Hitchins.

I read it in February and didn’t find time to write about it then, so this is just a mini review that really only skates over the surface of the novel. I enjoyed it, set in the early 1930s, about a three day journey on the luxurious Orient Express travelling from Ostend to Constantinople (Instanbul or Stamboul), via Cologne, Vienna and Belgrade.

Greene weaves a web of subterfuge, murder and politics around his characters, including Carleton Myatt, a Jewish businessman, who trades in currants; Coral Musker, a dancer, a chorus girl on her way to join the Dunn’s Babies dance troupe in Constantinople; a journalist, Mabel Warren, a lesbian who drinks too much; Dr Czinner, a Yugoslavian on his own mission of revolution (as Hutchins describes it), a dissident communist leader, travelling under the name of schoolteacher Richard John – Mabel has recognised him as Dr Czinner and is after a scoop from him for her newspaper; and Josef Grünlich, a murdurous burglar. .

It’s a dismal book in some respects. Written in 1931, it reflects the anti-Semitism of the period, although I think Greene’s description of Myatt’s generosity towards Coral in giving her his berth in a first-class sleeping compartment shows some sympathy towards Jews. Having said that, I also think the characters as a whole are stereotypical, but the tension that he builds around them is palpable.

Greene’s storytelling saved the book for me, with descriptions of the train itself and the glimpses of the countryside as the train speeds along – as well as Myatt’s dramatic car journey through the snow-laden countryside to and from the railway station at Subotica on the Yugoslavian border. Written just as the Nazi party was preparing to take power in Germany there is a sense of unease throughout the novel.

The Drowned City by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 1 April 2021| 495 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

1606. England stands divided in the wake of the failed Gunpowder Plot. As a devastating tidal wave sweeps the Bristol Channel, rumours of new treachery reach the King.

In Newgate prison, Daniel Pursglove receives an unexpected – and dangerous – offer. Charles FitzAlan, close confidant of King James, will grant his freedom – if Daniel can infiltrate the underground Catholic network in Bristol and unmask the one conspirator still at large.

Where better to hide a traitor than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel goes to Bristol to investigate, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

My thoughts:

I didn’t realise when I began reading The Drowned City that K J Maitland is Karen Maitland, an author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past. It is the first book of a new series featuring Daniel Pursglove, set in Jacobean England under the reign of James I of England and VI of Scotland. It is an historical thriller set in 1606, a year after the Gunpowder Plot failed.

It begins dramatically as a huge wave surges up the Bristol Channel, flooding the surrounding countryside in south-west England and parts of South Wales causing devastation and loss of life. The drama continues with Daniel Pursglove’s arrival in Bristol sent on the orders of King James to find Spero Pettingar, one of the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. King James is fearful of his life as there are rumours of more Catholic uprisings and plots to assassinate him, especially if the flood is taken as a sign of God’s anger, revenge for the executions of the conspirators.

Daniel is an interesting character, but there is a mystery about him. He was in Newgate prison at the start of the book, but no details are given about what crime he had committed, and little is given about his family background. He is offered his freedom if he finds Spero, or torture and death if he doesn’t. King James is an expert on witchcraft and also fears the flood was caused by enchantments, by witches and sorcerers paid by Jesuits to wreck the King’s ports and open the country to an invading army.

Daniel’s real name is not Pursglove. He’s skilled at opening locks, described as a ‘crossbiter’ meaning a trickster, and hints are given about his origins – we know he had been educated as a nobleman and brought up to act the lord, but without money, title of position, raised in Lord Fairfax’s Catholic household. He is also a most determined and courageous investigator and he needs all his skills during his visit to Bristol, as his life is in danger more than once.

I like description in a novel but it is excessive in the this book, so much so, that it slowed down the narrative almost to a standstill in places and I had to really concentrate to keep track of who was who and even what was actually going on. The detailed description makes it a long book.

There is an extensive Glossary at the end of the book that explains many of the terms that puzzled me and was unable to find in a dictionary – I wish I’d discovered it when I began the book, rather than in the middle. Maitland’s historical research is impressive but at times I felt I was reading a history book rather than a novel. However, overall I enjoyed reading it and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series, The Traitor in the Ice.

Library Books 24 February 2022

I love libraries – here are some of the books I have on loan at the moment. I had made a few attempts to take a photo of these books and wasn’t happy with any of them. I’d left the books in a pile on the floor and was delighted to see this photo that my husband had taken – much better than any of my attempts.

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz – because I enjoy his books, but I’m not sure I’ll like this one as much as his crime fiction books. It’s a James Bond thriller set in 1957 re-inventing the golden age of Bond, incorporating previously unseen Ian Fleming material.

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell, a Wallender thriller, again because I’ve enjoyed other books by him. This is a novella in which Wallender makes an offer on a house, and then discovers the skeleton of a middle-aged woman in the garden. What a nightmare!

Prague Nights by Benjamin Black. Black is the pen name of John Banville, another author whose books I like. This is historical crime fiction set in Prague in 1599, when the mistress of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, is killed and her body found thrown upon the snow in Golden Lane.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, the first book in his Kindle County series, because I enjoyed the last book in the series, The Last Trial so much. This is a courtroom drama in which prosecutor Rusty Sabich stands accused of killing Carolyn with whom he had been having an affair.

Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow, historical fiction set in World War Two, described on the front cover as ‘part mystery, part thriller, this is a quietly powerful piece of fiction.’ A courtroom journalist researches the experiences of his grandfather during the War.

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

Harper Collins| 27 May 2021|474 pages|Review copy| 5*

I love Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, police procedurals, fast-paced novels, with intriguing and complex plots and developing the relationships between the main characters. So, when I saw that she has written a standalone novel, The Killing Kind I was keen to read it. It is a psychological thriller – and it is so, so very good. I was totally engrossed in it right from its opening page all the way through to the end. It’s a mix of courtroom scenes, police interviews and terrifying action-packed scenes.

The main character is Ingrid Lewis, a barrister, who successfully defended John Webster, who was on trial for stalking. But he then went on to stalk her, ruining her peace of mind and her life. He not only harassed her, but sent her multiple emails and texts, and uploaded YouTube videos destroying her reputation. Her relationship with her fiance, Mark Orpen, was ruined and her home was burnt down – all of which she was sure was down to him.

She took out a restraining order against him and thought she was free of him. But when the order expired she became convinced he was back in her life when one of colleagues, Belinda Grey, was killed in a road accident. Belinda had borrowed Ingrid’s red umbrella and Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim, when she sees the umbrella at the scene. Later a friend staying in her flat is brutally stabbed to death – again she is convinced Webster is behind her murder. But Webster insists he is innocent and that he is the only one who can protect her.

Ingrid doesn’t know who to believe and who she can trust – her life becomes a nightmare. Webster is clever, cold and an expert manipulator and Ingrid becomes putty in his hands. In despair she turns to DC Adam Nash for help and protection. It moves from past to present and in between the chapters there are sections in which three unnamed people exchange emails about Ingrid’s situation and I was intrigued trying to work out their identities- I was nearly right. I loved it.

With my thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Private Moscow by James Patterson & Adam Hamdy

Cornerstone Digital| 3 September 2020| 464 pages| Review copy| 4*

Description:

An invitation from an old friend draws Jack Morgan into a deadly conspiracy

On a cold January morning, Jack Morgan stands on a podium inside the New York Stock Exchange alongside his friend and former US Marine comrade whose company is being launched onto the market. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the moment the opening bell rings. But that moment never arrives. An assassin’s bullet rips through the air and finds its mark.

In the aftermath of the murder, Jack is approached by the victim’s wife. She needs him to find the killer. As the head of Private, Jack has at his disposal the world’s largest investigation agency. He accepts the case, but what Jack will discover will shake him to his core.

Jack identifies another murder in Moscow that appears to be linked. So he heads to Russia, and begins to uncover a conspiracy that could have global consequences

With powerful forces plotting against him, will Jack Morgan make it out alive?

My thoughts:

Private Moscow is the 15th book in James Patterson’s Private series, his latest one published – the 16th book, Private Rogue will be published in July 2021. He has written numerous books and series but Private Moscow is the first one I have read. Adam Hamdy is a British author and screenwriter. He is the author of the Pendulum trilogy, an epic series of conspiracy thriller novels.  James Patterson described Pendulum as ‘one of the best thrillers of the year’, and the novel was nominated for the Glass Bell Award for contemporary fiction, and chosen as book of the month by Goldsboro Books.  Pendulum was also selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. 

Private Moscow is a change from the type of books usually read – an action packed, fast paced mystery thriller. Although it’s the 15th book in the series, I think it reads well as a standalone. The action never lets up as Jack Morgan, the head of Private, a detective agency with branches across the globe, sets out to hunt for the killer of his best friend and former marine, Karl Parker. Meanwhile in Moscow Dinara Orlova, an ex FSB agent in the Moscow office of Private and her colleague, Leonid Boykov an ex police detective, are investigating the murder of Yana Petrova, who was killed in an explosion at the Boston Seafood Grill. When it becomes apparent that the two cases are linked Jack flies to Moscow to join forces with Dinara and Leonid.

After a slow start, the pace picked up dramatically as the danger intensified and I was gripped right up to the final high octane ending. The short chapters emphasise the speed of the action. There spectacular car chases, with violent shoot outs, miraculous escapes and fight scenes, and intense danger throughout as intrigues, conspiracies, old secrets and deep-cover agents are revealed. It’s told through Jack’s perspective in the first person narrative alternating with the third person of the other characters. It’s far-fetched, but also entertaining, like watching a fast paced spy movie/thriller and although I have never been to New York or Moscow I had no difficulty in visualising the locations. Pure escapism!

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

I haven’t read anything set in Romania before and so when fellow blogger Marina Sofia, who has translated Sword from Romanian, told me about this book by Bogdan Teodorescu, a journalist and political analyst, I was keen to read it. Unusually it is crime fiction in which a serial killer is on the loose, but with a difference – it’s a complex novel, a political thriller focusing on the political and social dimensions of the racial conflict between the Romanians and the Roma or ‘gypsies’. The killer is hunting down his victims from the minority Roma community. As the racial conflict continues the ethnic tension rises highlighting the corruption and manipulation by the politicians and by the mass media in particular.

The book opens with a scene in Bucharest’s Obor Market as The Fly, a con man, playing his card and shell games, is killed by a person who suddenly appeared, brandishing a sword which he then plunged into his throat. This is followed by more killings – all of them of gypsies. Despite the number and method of the murders it is not gory or too graphic.

Written in a clear, journalistic style, there is a large cast of characters, listed at the end of the book including politicians and their advisors, journalists and media moguls, victims and police. The narrative moves between them as they give speeches, discuss the situation in numerous meetings, phone calls and media broadcasts. It reveals how Romania had moved on since Ceaușescu‘s Communist reign overthrown by the 1989 Revolution. In places I found the amount of dialogue and speeches slowed the narrative down more than I preferred.

At 272 pages it is not long, but it is not a quick read, partly because of the large cast and partly because it took me a while to sort out the unfamiliar names and partly because of the number of speeches. That said, I throughly enjoyed Sword, especially the setting and the unique (for me at least) focus on the political and cultural scene in Romania – and the murder mystery.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 908 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Corylus Books Ltd (8 May 2020)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • My Rating: 4*

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox

The Sleepwalker Knox

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox is the third Detective Aidan Waits novel. It has to be the most complicated book that I’ve read in a very long time. Two years ago I read the second book, The Smiling Man, even though I hadn’t read the first one, Sirens, and loved it, so I was keen to read the third one. It certainly didn’t disappoint me and although I think the books read well as stand-alones, it would probably be best to read them in order. To say that Waits has troubled background is an understatement. He is a disturbed and complex character, other police officers don’t trust him or want to work with him.  He plays very close to the edge and has little regard for his own safety. 

The Sleepwalker is dark, violent and absolutely brilliant. I just didn’t want it to end and at the same time I just had to know what happened next. There are so many strands that you have to keep in mind, so many characters to sort out where they fit into the story and it’s all so cleverly linked together. You think you have it sorted and then you realise there’s more to come. It’s perfectly paced throughout, culminating in an astounding and shocking conclusion that had me reeling.

Quite simply, I loved it.

My thanks to Transworld Publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

 

The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

Nordic Noir – dark, chilling and utterly gripping

The Island (Hidden Iceland #2)

Penguin UK Michael Joseph|4 April 2019|313 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Island by Ragnar Jónasson from the publishers.  

This is my first book by Ragnar Jónasson. I discovered after I’d read it that it’s the second in his Hidden Iceland series – but I had no difficulty reading it as a standalone novel. It begins with a Prologue that indicates that the main story has elements of horror as well as mystery. It’s unsettling and sinister.

Four friends visit the isolated island of Elliðaey off the coast of Iceland, ten years after the murder of a fifth friend, Katla, but only three of them return. One of them, Klara, fell to her death from a cliff – but did she jump or was she pushed? Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate. She realises that there are similarities with the death of Katla. A suspect had been charged, but had committed suicide before the verdict was announced and the case had been closed. But are the two murders connected, even though they are ten years apart?

Hulda is an interesting character, with a back story that is only partly revealed in this book. Her name means ‘hidden woman‘. The first book in the series dealt with her later life, with this second book going back in time to her earlier life. In The Island she lives alone, her mother having recently died and there is a mystery about her father. She only knows that he was an American soldier and part of the novel records her search for him. It’s a police procedural, so Hulda’s somewhat fractious relationships with her colleagues also form part of the story.

The narrative also switches between the deaths of the two young women ten years apart, told from the various characters’ perspectives. They present an intricate mystery that Hulda gradually unravels, sifting through the lies that the suspects tell her. It’s not a fast-paced novel, but it is full of suspense and foreboding, set against the beautiful and dramatic Icelandic landscape. One by one I suspected each character, unsure who to believe. I loved it!

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister

A brilliant psychological thriller

The Evidence Against You

Penguin Michael Joseph|18 April 2019|432 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister from the publishers.  And as soon as I began reading it I knew I was going to love it and I just didn’t want to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s the third book I’ve read by her (her earlier books I’ve read are Everything But the Truth and No Further Questions). 

Gabe (Gabriel) English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. Izzy, his daughter, now 36, is dreading his release. Following the death of her mother she had lived with her maternal grandparents until she married Nick, a police analyst and had carried on running her mother’s restaurant on the Isle of Wight.

Her childhood had been a happy one until the murder. The judge said it was an open and shut case and he had sentenced Gabe to life imprisonment. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Izzy had thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

This is a brilliant book that had me guessing all the way through. I was hoping for Izzy’s sake that Gabe was telling the truth even though the facts didn’t seem to back him up. Prison had changed him – he is angry, bitter and resentful – and Izzy is full of doubts about him and about her parents’ relationship. She questions her memories – what had seemed straight forward and certain to her before, now appears in a different light. But Paul, her father’s friend believes him, telling Izzy that some of the evidence was circumstantial, so she gives him the chance to explain, especially when Paul tells her that there was a witness who could have given Gabe an alibi if the police had found him.

It’s a character-driven story of conflict, of broken lives, of the destruction of families, and of devastating trauma as secrets from the past come to the surface; a story full of twists and turns that left me hoping so much that Gabe was innocent and wondering if he hadn’t killed Alexandra who had and why.

As well as the mystery it’s also about the catastrophic effects of being accused of a crime and being imprisoned long enough to become institutionalised, particularly on release from prison. Gabe finds simple things like shopping difficult and as well as being angry and bitter he is anxious and fearful, struggling with making decisions without the rules and discipline of being in prison.

It’s a tense, tightly plotted book and completely compelling reading.  The ending did take me by surprise, although looking back I can see that it was lightly foreshadowed and I just hadn’t noticed. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. 

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

Absolute Proof by Peter James

3.5*

Pan Macmillan|4 October 2018|570 pages|Review copy

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter nearly didn’t answer the phone call that would change his life – and possibly the world – for ever. ‘I’d just like to assure you I’m not a nutcase, Mr Hunter. My name is Dr Harry F. Cook. I know this is going to sound strange, but I’ve recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence – and I’ve been advised there is a writer, a respected journalist called Ross Hunter, who could help me to get taken seriously.’

What would it take to prove the existence of God? And what would be the consequences?

This question and its answer lie at the heart of Absolute Proof, an international thriller from bestselling author Peter James.

The false faith of a billionaire evangelist, the life’s work of a famous atheist, and the credibility of each of the world’s major religions are all under threat. If Ross Hunter can survive long enough to present the evidence . . .

Absolute Proof is a long book and at times I struggled to carry on reading as, although for the most part it is fast-paced, it is slow going in parts. And it certainly tested my ability to suspend my disbelief several times. I’ve only read two of Peter James’ books previously, both crime fiction set in Brighton featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Absolute Proof is a standalone thriller and is very different from the Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.

Ross Hunter is married to Imogen and they are expecting their first child – however he has serious doubts about his marriage and suspects Imogen of cheating on him. The story of their marriage unfolds, underlying the main plotline.  Dr Harry  F Cook, a former RAF officer and  retired history of art professor, contacts Ross and drip feeds him information that Cook claims proves that God exists.

The grid references Cook gives Hunter takes him to various places including Glastonbury, where he visits the Chalice Well in search of the Holy Grail, and Egypt in search of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. All the time he is in danger of death as he is pursued by those who do not want Cook’s claims to be made public. It’s a dramatic and hair-raising story that made me want to know what happened next at the same time as it made me question its credibility. It is certainly thought provoking and entertaining.

One of the things that intrigued me was that in his Acknowledgements Peter James explains that the book began with a phone call he received in 1989 from someone who did indeed claim that he had been given absolute proof of God’s existence and that he had been given Peter James’s name as an author who would help him to get taken seriously. This started James’s ‘journey of exploration into what might be considered absolute proof – and just what the consequences might be.’ During the intervening years he has talked to many people from different faiths and had discussions with scientists, academics, theologians and clerics. He has certainly done his research and gives a long list of the people who have helped him, plus a list of his sources of reference, giving me yet more details of books I’d like to read.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.