Murder Mysteries

When I wrote about the choices for the free book from newbooks magazine Nan asked if the Oscar Wilde book is a mystery, and if so is it the first in a series? She also asked about The Oxford Murders – is that a mystery or a true account?

Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth features, as you would expect, Oscar Wilde, the celebrated playwright, poet and wit. It’™s set in London, Paris and Edinburgh at the end of the nineteenth century. When a series of brutal murders takes place Wilde is determined to solve the murders. Newbooks reports that it is ‘œthe first in a series of classic English murder mysteries in the tradition of Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers. The reviewer writes: ‘œThis book is fun; it is a literary confection with a chewy centre.’ That makes it sound like a sweet ‘“ a caramel maybe. Well, the first chapter is inviting enough for me to decide this is the one I want to read first.

The Oxford Murders is by Guillermo Martinez. This is also a mystery novel set in Oxford concerning the murder first of an old lady who once helped to decipher the Enigma Code, then of other seemingly unconnected murders, accompanied by cryptic notes and coded messages. They are investigated by Arthur Seldom, a leading mathematician, who has written a best seller about serial killers and the parallels between investigation into their crimes and certain mathematical theorems. This sounds complicated but intriguing. It’™s my second choice and one I’™ll look at in future.

As Nan said The Coroner’s Lunch is an intriguing title. She wonders how do those folks face a meal after doing their work? I can’™t imagine it despite watching so many post mortems on TV shows like ‘˜Silent Witness’™ and ‘˜Waking the Dead’™. I certainly don’t have the stomach for the job! Well, The Coroner’™s Lunch by Colin Cotterill is also a crime mystery novel. It is set in Laos in 1976 when the Communists have just taken over. Dr Siri Paiboun, a Paris-trained doctor remains in the country after others have fled and he is appointed state coroner, even though he has no training, experience, and equipment and doesn’™t want the job. The wife of a party leader is found dead and then the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers start coming to the surface of a lake. Siri has to investigate. The reviewer in newbooks writes: ‘œthe doctor enlists old friends, village shamans, forest spirits, dream visits from the dead ‘“ and even the occasional bit of medical deduction – to solve the crimes.’ I can’™t see why it’™s called The Coroner’™s Lunch from the extract in the magazine, but it did make me want to read more; another book to add to the list of books to read, based on what I’™ve read so far, for example this is part of the conversation between the Judge and the Coroner:

‘œ’And what do you put the loss of blood down to?’™ Judge Haeng asked.

Siri wondered more than once whether he was deliberately being asked trick questions to establish the state of his mind. ‘˜Well.’™ He considered it for a moment. ‘˜The body’™s inability to keep it in?’™ The little judge hemmed and looked back down at the report. He wasn’™t bright enough for sarcasm. ‘˜Of course, the fact that the poor man’™s legs had been cut off above the knees might have had something to do with it. It’™s all in the report.’

Chunkster Challenge

I’™ve decided to sign up for another challenge to help me get through my TBR list. It’s to read big, fat books ‘“ or as the Challenge calls them ‘˜chunksters‘™. The books have to have 450+ pages and mine are well over that. The ones I have picked ‘“ but this may change as I like to read as the fancy takes me – are:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusack (584 pages)
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (598 pages)
The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower (575 pages)
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (529 pages)

It is hosted by So Many Books, So Little Time – so true!

Reading and my Favourite Books in 2007

I thought I’d see how many different types of books I’d read this year, so here are a few figures:

Total number of books read: 98

  • Fiction: 88
  • Non-Fiction: 10
  • Books re-read: 2 (I was surprised as I thought I’d read more re-reads)
  • Different books by authors whose books I’ve read before: 14
  • Books borrowed from the library: 52 (thank goodness for libraries)
  • Books borrowed from family/friends: 4 (and for family and friends)

Favourite books 2007

I read so many good books last year that it’™s very difficult to decide which are my favourites. I tried to rate them as I read them but even so I gave nearly half of them the highest rating. I suppose that’™s not so surprising as I don’™t carry on reading a book that I don’™t enjoy.

My favourite book has to be Jenny Diski’™s On Trying to Keep Still. I wrote about it here.

As for the rest I don’™t really like to single any out one more than others but the following books stand out in my mind. I can’™t limit them to 10 and I’™ve listed them in alphabetical author order, as I can’™t decide between them:

Margaret Atwood ‘“ Moral Disorder
Alan Bennett ‘“ Four Stories
Ariana Franklin ‘“ Mistress of the Art of Death
Jane Gardam ‘“ Old Filth
Joanne Harris ‘“ Gentlemen and Players
Mary Lawson ‘“ Crow Lake
Linda Olsson ‘“ Astrid and Veronika
Mollie Panter-Downes ‘“ One Fine Day
Philip Pullman ‘“ His Dark Materials (three books)
Philip Reeve ‘“ Here Lies Arthur
C J Sansom – Sovereign
Wallace Stegner ‘“ The Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety

I must mention D H Lawrence too. I read two of his books as part of the Outmoded Authors Challenge. He shouldn’t be considered “outmoded” – Sons and Lovers and The Man Who Died are great stories.

All in all a fantastic year of reading.

Anticipation – Booking Through Thursday

        • Last week we talked about the books you liked best from 2007. So this week, what with it being a new year, and all, we’™re looking forward’¦.
        • What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’™re planning to read in 2008 that you’™re looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’™re waiting to appear in paperback?

        This is my first post in 2008 – Happy New Year everyone.

        I’m looking forward to reading C J Sansom’s new book Revelation, which will be published in April. This is the fourth book featuring Matthew Shardlake and is set in Spring, 1543, when King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. It’s a time of religious mania when the insane are considered as heretics, imprisoned in Bedlam and burnt at the stake. When an old friend is horrifically murdered Shardlake, a lawer-cum-detective, promises to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to connections not only with a boy in Bedlam but with Cranmer and Catherine Parr and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation. I’ve loved the other Matthew Shardlake books and expect this one will be just as good.

        I’m also looking forward to reading another book not yet published – Nothing to be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes. I read about it in the paper at the weekend. It’s a meditation and memoir, about God, death and art, which sounds fascinating. It’s out in March.

        Then I have lots of books on my wish list and loads on my ‘to be read’ list – plenty to keep me going. Some of these I’ve included in the ‘What’s in a Name’ and ‘Celebrate the Author’ Challenges. I’ve already read two of the books I had for Christmas Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve and The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill, both of which I’ve been looking forward to reading and both were compelling and very enjoyable – worth waiting for. I am now reading a third Christmas present, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I first read this as a teenager, but after all that time it’s like reading it for the first time.

        Books Read in 2007

        So far this year I’ve read 98 books. I didn’t make a century, but then it’s not about numbers, but is about reading and enjoying books. I don’t think I’ll finish any more by the end of this year. The first 30 (or so) books on the list I read before I started to write this blog, so there are no posts about them. I’ve written about most of the books I’d read up to the end of November and I hope to write about some of the ones read in December next year.

        Clicking on the titles that are underlined takes you to my posts on the books.

        98.Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve
        97.Four Stories, Alan Bennett
        96.The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, Chris Ewan
        95.Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates
        94.Old Filth, Jane Gardam
        93.The Owl Service, Alan Garner
        92. The Spoilt City, Olivia Manning
        91.The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
        90.All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West
        89.My Cleaner, Maggie Gee
        88.The Testament of Gideon Mack, James Robertson
        87.The Great Fortune, Olivia Manning
        86.Surveillance, Jonathan Raban
        85.Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
        84.Remainder, Tom McCarthy
        83.Lewis Carroll: a biography, Morton Cohen
        82.The Sidmouth Letters, Jane Gardam
        81.Crossing To Safety, Wallace Stegner
        80.Playing with the Moon, Eliza Graham
        79.One Fine Day, Mollie Panter-Downes
        78.Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke
        77.The Verneys, Adrian Tinniswood
        76.Christine Kringle, Lynn Brittany
        75.Set in Darkness, Ian Rankin
        74.Sons and Lovers, D H Lawrence
        73.The Man Who Died, D H Lawrence
        72.The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
        71.Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
        70.Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
        69.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
        68.Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stott
        67.Crow Lake, Mary Lawson
        66.Speaking of Love, Angela Young
        65.Letters to Malcolm, C S Lewis
        64.Season of the Witch, Natasha Mostert
        63.The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
        62.The House at Riverton, Kate Morton
        61.The Secret History, Donna Tartt
        60.Made in Heaven, Adele Geras
        59.Crooked House, Agatha Christie
        58.Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
        57.The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
        56.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J K Rowling
        55.Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
        54.Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
        53.Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
        52.Theft, Peter Carey
        51.King of the Streets, John Baker
        50.The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl
        49.Digging to America, Anne Tyler
        48.Wilberforce, John Pollock
        47.On Trying To Keep Still, Jenny Diski
        46.Death’s Jest-Book, Reginald Hill
        45.The Woodlanders, Thomas Hardy
        44.Body Surfing, Anita Shreve
        43.The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
        42.Daphne, Margaret Forster
        41.Blessings, Anna Quindlen
        40.The Dawkin’s Delusion, Alistair McGrath
        39.The Giant’s House, Elizabeth McCracken
        38.Pictures of Perfection, Reginald Hill
        37.Keeping Faith, Jodie Picoult
        36.Over, Margaret Forster
        35.Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge
        34.On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
        33.Gentlemen & Players, Joanne Harris
        32.Hallucinating Foucault, Patricia Duncker
        31.Emotional Geology, Linda Gillard
        30.The Secret of the Last Temple, Peter Sussman
        29.When I Grow Up, Bernice Rubens
        28.Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy
        27.Death Minus Zero, John Baker
        26.The Conjuror’™s Bird, Martin Davies
        25.Nights of Rain and Stars, Maeve Binchy
        24.The Devil wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
        23.Stranger on a Train, Jenny Diski
        22.Instances of the Number 3, Salley Vickers
        21.Sovereign, C J Sansom
        20.The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
        19.The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
        18.Only Say the Word, Niall Williams
        17.Learning to Swim, Clare Chambers
        16.A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
        15.Mother’™s Milk, Edward St Aubyn
        14.The Dark Shore, Susan Howatch
        13.Mr Golightly’™s Holiday, Salley Vickers
        12.What Good are the Arts?, John Carey
        11.Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
        10.The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
        9.The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
        8.Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood
        7.Shadows in the Mirror, Frances Fyfield
        6.But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury, Gillian Freeman
        5.The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
        4.Miss Garnet’™s Angel, Salley Vickers
        3.The Christmas Mystery, Jostein Gaarder
        2.The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley
        1.The Waiting Sands

        Happy Christmas

        I’m nearly ready for Christmas, at least the presents are wrapped, just food to prepare and a bit more shopping to do and then I can sit down and relax.

        We’ve not had snow here and the forecast for Christmas Day is heavy rain, so it won’t be a White Christmas. We’re seeing our son and his family for Christmas and my sister over New Year, so as this will probably be my last post for a while I’m wishing everyone who reads this blog

        A Very Happy Christmas

        Books ‘“ buy or borrow?

        I’™ve just received the January/February 2008 issue of newbooks magazine. It is full of information, articles, interviews and so on and so on ‘¦ plus the special offers. In each magazine there is a choice of a free give-away (you pay p & p costs). There are extracts from each book to tempt you into further reading. This month the choice is between:

        On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
        The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies
        The Oxford Murders, Guillermo Martinez
        The Coroner’™s Lunch, Colin Cotterrill
        Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders, Gyles Brandreth

        I’™m not sure which one to pick. It won’™t be On Chesil Beach because I’™ve already got that book. The others all look as though I’™d like to read them, so when I get time I’™ll be reading the extracts, before deciding which one to pick.

        Well, that’™s about free books, but the magazine is packed with details of other books and it’™s simply not possible to buy all or even many of them. This is where the Library is a fantastic service. I borrow more books than I buy ‘“ fortunately says my husband! I have always, as long as I can remember, been a member of a library and for a while I worked as a librarian, so I’™m always enthusiastic about libraries. Where else can you get such a wide-ranging and all encompassing supply of free books?

        Although I’™m extolling the virtues of the library system I also buy books, because there are books I want to read again, books to read at leisure, without being told I’™ve got to return them as someone else has reserved them and books I want to own. I buy books regularly (too regularly my husband says) and from a variety of different sources ‘“ local bookshops, there are several really good ones locally. I prefer to check out the books in the shops where possible but I also buy books from Amazon and other on-line booksellers. So, it’™s a big help to find that BooksPrice now has a UK website that compares prices from on-line booksellers. Next year I’™ll be checking them out before buying a book.