WWW Wednesday: 12 September 2018

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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?

I’m currently reading:

The Clockmaker’s DaughterI’m reading Kate Morton’s latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter due to be published on 20th September 2018. I’m enjoying it very much so far. It’s set in the 1860s at Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames where a group of young artists led by Edward Radcliffe are spending the summer and also in 2017 with Elodie, a young archivist in London, who finds a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

East of Eden

I’m also reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I like Steinbeck’s writing, particularly the opening description of the Salinas Valley in California, but so far I’ve not found the book as absorbing as The Grapes of Wrath, which I loved, but then I’ve only read up to page 125 (612 pages in total) and am just getting used to the leisurely pace of the novel.

I’ve recently finished:  

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore, non fiction about Mary Eleanor Bowes who was the richest heiress in 18th century Britain. She fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney and found herself trapped in an appallingly brutal marriage, terrorised by violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, and fearful for her life. It’s full of detail and reads more like a novel than non-fiction .

Dead Woman Walking

Another book I’ve finished recently is Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton. I loved it – very clever plotting, great characters and set in an area of Northumberland that I know quite well (a bonus). It begins with a balloon flight that ends in disaster and only Jessica survives as the balloon crashes to the ground, but she is pursued by a man who is determined to kill her. I love this kind of book, full of suspense and surprises and one that draws me within its pages.

My next book could be:

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

Ann Cleeves’ 7th book in her Shetland series, Cold Earth because I really want to read her 8th book, Wild Fire which was published last week, only to discover that I haven’t read Cold Earth yet!

Synopsis

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

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

Looking Forward to Reading …

Some of my favourite authors have new books coming out this year! Here they are in order of publication:

26 July 2018

Careless Love by Peter Robinson – the twenty fifth in his DCI Banks series.

Careless Love (Inspector Banks, #25)

 

‘With a deceptively unspectacular language, [Robinson] sets about the process of unsettling the reader.’ Independent

A young local student has apparently committed suicide. Her body is found in an abandoned car on a lonely country road. She didn’t own a car. Didn’t even drive. How did she get there? Where did she die? Who moved her, and why?

Meanwhile a man in his sixties is found dead in a gully up on the wild moorland. He is wearing an expensive suit and carrying no identification. Post-mortem findings indicate he died from injuries sustained during the fall. But what was he doing up there? And why are there no signs of a car in the vicinity?

As the inconsistencies multiply and the mysteries proliferate, Annie’s father’s new partner, Zelda, comes up with a shocking piece of information that alerts Banks and Annie to the return of an old enemy in a new guise. This is someone who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get what he wants – and suddenly the stakes are raised and the hunt is on.

6 September 2018

Wild Fire (Shetland Island, #8)

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves –  the eighth, and final book,  in her Shetland series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez.

Shetland: Welcoming. Wild. Remote.

Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life.

But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire.

With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case.

Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?

18 October 2018

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Tombland is the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series.

Spring, 1549.

Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth, brings Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding Edith’s death, as a second murder is committed.

And then East Anglia explodes, as peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. The yeoman Robert Kett leads a force of thousands in overthrowing the landlords and establishing a vast camp outside Norwich. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest.

Barak throws in his lot with the rebels; Nicholas, opposed to them, becomes a prisoner in Norwich Castle; while Shardlake has to decide where his ultimate loyalties lie, as government forces in London prepare to march north and destroy the rebels. Meanwhile he discovers that the murder of Edith Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry . . .

Also 18 October 2018

A new Detective John Rebus novel – In a House of Lies – the 22 in his Rebus series.

In a House of Lies by [Rankin, Ian]

IN A HOUSE OF LIES

Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

~~~

I am really looking forward to reading all these books!

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

I first ‘met’ Vera Stanhope in the TV dramatisations of Ann Cleeves’ novels, which I enjoyed. But once I began reading Ann Cleeves’ books I discovered that they are even better than the TV versions! The latest one I’ve read is Harbour Street, the sixth book in the Vera series – it’s fantastic. If you’ve watched On Harbour Street, the TV adaptation broadcast last year, you’ll find that it didn’t strictly follow the book much at all – and you won’t know who the murderer is – it’s a different person in the book!

Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6)

 

This is what I wrote last year about The Glass Room, the fifth Vera book and my thoughts about Harbour Street are just the same:

It’s going to be a contender for my best book of the year, because I loved it. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel – setting, characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings, so that I’d read on without realising their significance.

It’s ten days before Christmas, the Newcastle Metro is packed with shoppers, babies screaming, office workers merry after pre-Christmas parties, teenagers kissing. But when the  train has to stop because of the snow they all pile off the train – except for one old lady, Margaret Krukowski, who was fatally stabbed. No one saw the murder take place even though, or maybe because the train was packed with people, including Detective Joe Ashworth travelling home with his daughter, Jessie, from carol singing in Newcastle Cathedral.

Margaret had lived in a guest house on Harbour Street in Mardle, a coastal town in South Northumberland and it is here that Vera concentrates their investigation with the occupants of the guest house, the Coble, the pub opposite and the Haven, a hostel for homeless women, where Margaret had been a volunteer. It soon becomes obvious that Margaret was a woman with many secrets in her past – stemming from 1970 when her Polish husband Pawel Krukowski had left her.  Then a second murder occurs and an earlier crime comes to light – but who is the killer?

Ann Cleeves is a superb storyteller. Her descriptions get right inside my brain; she has the skill to make the scenes materialise,  in front of my eyes, and not because I’ve seen the TV adaptation which was filmed at a different time of year and in a different place from the location of Mardle in the book. Her characters are fully formed with emotions and feelings, backgrounds and complicated relationships, just as in real life, with all the sights, sounds, sensations and smells. Her dialogue is authentic, never awkward and you are never left wondering who is talking. Her books are deceptively easy to read,  moving swiftly along as the tension rises. They are layered, cleverly plotted and above all convincing. As in her other books I had several suspects in mind but hadn’t realised just how much wool had been pulled over my eyes until Margaret’s killer was revealed.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (31 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447202090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447202097
  • Source: my local library

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month: April

I read three crime fiction books in April: 

  • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers
  • The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones
  • Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves

I’ve already reviewed The Cabinetmaker -based in Glasgow telling the story of a local cabinetmaker, Francis Hare, father of a murdered son, and John McDaid, a young detective on the investigation. It is an intricately plotted book which had me totally gripped.

Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves is a standalone book, not part of either her Vera or Shetland series. Lizzie Bartholomew, a social worker is on leave after a particular nasty episode which has left her traumatised. After a brief holiday affair with Philip Sansom in Morocco, she is surprised when he left her £15,000 in his will. But there are certain conditions she is required to fulfil, which plunges her into a terrifying situation. This is largely a psychological study, focussing on Lizzie, as she relives her past in flashbacks.

CF Pick of the monthAll three books are good reads, but my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month for April is The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers, one of the Golden Age crime fiction writers. It’s a Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery, first published in 1934, by far the most complicated book of the three crime fiction books I read in April and the most fascinating for a number of reasons. It had me completely baffled, first the bell-ringing, and then the twists and turns and all the red herrings.

Wimsey driving through a snow storm ends up in a ditch near the village of Fenchurch St Paul in the Fens and is taken in for the night by the vicar. It’s New Year’s Eve (at some period in the early 1930s) and the vicar has arranged that the bell-ringers will ring in the New Year, involving 9 hours of bell-ringing. As one of the ringers is ill with influenza, Wimsey steps in at the last minute to take his place. I had never realised just how complicated bell-ringing is:

The art of ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears the proper thing to do with a carefully tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations. (page 21)

A few weeks later Wimsey is asked back to Fenchurch St Paul to help solve the mystery of the dead man found by the sexton whilst he was opening up Lady Thorpe’s grave to bury her husband. The identity of the dead man is unknown, his face was mutilated and his hands had been cut off  – who was he, who killed him and why? And what is the significance of the enigmatic note found in the bell-tower? It’s not an easy crime to solve and involves Wimsey in a trip to France as he tries to identify the victim. An added complication is the mystery of the missing necklace, stolen from the Thorpe family but never recovered.

I think one of the things that makes this such a good read is that it’s not just crime fiction, not just solving a puzzle, but it is also a fascinating portrait of the Fens, of their bleakness and isolation; of society in the 1930s with its rigid class divisions into gentry, clergy and villagers. The last part of the book is dominated by the floods as the sluice gates failed to keep back the water flooding all the low-lying ground, despite the new drainage works. It reminded me of the floods in the Somerset Levels this last winter, with various water authorities disputing responsibility for the disaster.

Above all, it is novel in which everything works well together, the characters are individuals, their behaviour is true to their beliefs and passions, and their conversations are realistic. It begins with a leisurely pace, with lots of detail about bell-ringing, which sometimes seemed a bit unnecessary to me, but as the plot unfolded I realised that I was wrong and I needed to pay more attention to the detail. It is essential to the plot. After this leisurely start the pace picks up as Wimsey and the police try to untangle the mystery.

It’s a book that you have to read with care, paying close attention as it is easy to get swept along with Dorothy Sayers’ beautifully descriptive prose and skilful story-telling. This is the sight that greets Wimsey from the top of the bell-tower:

An enormous stillness surrounded him. The moon had risen, and between the battlements the sullen face of the drowned fen showed like a picture in a shifting frame, like the sea seen through the porthole of a rolling ship, so widely did the tower swing to the relentless battery of the bells.

The whole world was now lost in one vast sheet of water. He hauled himself to his feet and gazed out from horizon to horizon. To the south-west St Stephen’s tower still brooded over a dark platform of land, like a broken mast upon a sinking ship.  Every house in the village was lit up:  St Stephen was riding out the storm.  Westward, the thin line of the railway embankment stretched away to Little Dykesey, unvanquished as yet, but perilously besieged. Due south, Fenchurch St Peter, roofs and spire etched black against the silver, was the centre of a great mere. Close beneath the tower, the village of St Paul lay abandoned, waiting for its fate.  Away to the east, a faint pencilling marked the course of the Potters Lode Bank, and while he watched it, it seemed to waver and vanish beneath the marching tide. (page 294)

The Nine Tailors is the first detective book by Dorothy L Sayers that I have read (previously I’d read The Descent into Hell, extracts from her translation of Dante’s Inferno). It’s her ninth Wimsey novel and I intend to read more.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Burial of Ghosts

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Today’s pick is a book that I mentioned in my post the other day on New Additions at BooksPlease. It’s Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves.

It begins:

My nightmares feature knives and blades and blood. I don’t do falling down holes or being chased through deserted streets. And though I usually dream in black and white, the blood is very red, glossy, and it slides out from the rest of the scene, which is flat and dull. The worst thing is that when I wake, I realise it wasn’t a dream at all.

I’m in Blyth. It’s market day and I’m there to shop for Jess. There’s a stall where she buys all her fruit and veg – she knows the bloke who runs it and he always gives her a good deal. It’s mid-morning , with lots of people about. It’s not long before Christmas and everyone’s in the mood when they have to buy, even if the stuff’s crap, otherwise they feel they’re not prepared. A foggy, drizzly day, and cold with it. There’s a raw east wind which cuts into the skin. But it doesn’t draw blood. Not like the scissors I buy in Woolworths. I ask the assistant to take them out of the plastic packet to check they’re sharp. I run my thumb across the blade and there’s a small read line and then tiny, perfectly round red drops like jewels. I fumble with the money when I pay, not because of the cut, which is already healing, but because my hands are freezing.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Burial of Ghosts is a standalone book. It’s not a new book as it was first published in 2003 It’s now available in a new Pan paperback edition, which was published in September 2013.

Note: I see ITV are trailing series four of Vera when the first episode will be an adaptation of Harbour Street, the sixth and latest Vera Stanhope book. I really must read that one soon.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves is the first book in her Vera Stanhope series. I’ve been thinking (and writing) about my difficulties in reading books where I think the detail and description swamp the characters and plot, but I had absolutely no problems with that in The Crow Trap – I think Ann Cleeves has got the balance just right.

It begins with chapters about three of the female characters, Rachael, Anne and Grace all staying at Baikie’s an isolated cottage on the North Pennines whilst they carry out an environmental survey. When Rachael arrives at the cottage she is confronted by the body of her friend Bella Furness, who it appears has committed suicide. I was so drawn in by the character portraits and the vivid descriptions of the setting, that I almost forgot that this is a murder mystery. Then Grace is found dead and the mystery really begins.

There is a full cast of characters, all clearly distinct, and a very intricate and clever plot, with plenty of red herrings subtly masking the important clues. Vera is a great character and even though I do like Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal of her in the TV series, I prefer her as she is in the books –  a woman in her fifties, who looks like a bag lady. Here’s a description of her when she first interviews Rachael and Anne:

She was a large woman – big bones, amply covered, a bulbous nose, man-sized feet. Her legs were bare and she wore leather sandals. Her square toes were covered in mud. Her face was blotched and pitted so Rachael thought she must suffer from some skin complaint or allergy. Over her clothes she wore a transparent plastic mac and she stood there, the rain dripping from it onto the floor, grey hair sleeked dark to her forehead, like a middle-aged tripper caught in a sudden storm on Blackpool prom. (page 230)

And this description too:

Vera was wearing a dress of the sort of material turned into stretch settee covers and advertised in the Sunday papers. (page 406)

The identity of the killer foxed me. I kept changing my mind about who I thought it was and when it was revealed I was surprised, because although I’d worked out the motive, I’d got the circumstances completely wrong!

The My Kind of Mystery theme began on 1 February and this book really is ‘my kind of mystery’. A most satisfying book.

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

The Glass Room is the fifth book in Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope series.

It’s going to be a contender for my best book of the year, because I loved it. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel – setting, characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings, so that I’d read on without realising their significance.

Set in the Northumberland countryside in an isolated country house, a number of aspiring authors are gathered at the Writers’ House, run by Miranda Barton, to work on their novels. It’s an old fortified farmhouse close to the sea, sheltered on the landward side by trees. DI Vera Stanhope’s neighbour, Joanna has gone missing and her husband, Jack is frantic to find her, so Vera, having tracked her down to the Writers’ House goes to see her, only to find that one of the visiting tutors, Professor Tony Ferdinand has been murdered in the conservatory, stabbed with a kitchen knife. And Joanna is the chief suspect.

If you’ve seen the TV series Vera, maybe you’ll have a vision of Brenda Blethyn as Vera, but that image gradually faded as I read this book. Vera is bigger, fatter, and ruder than the TV version, but above all she is a truly convincing character, exasperating and opinionated, and she can be a nightmare boss. She has no compunctions about breaking the rules, or doing things in her own way and she acknowledges that if any of the other detectives went freelance, playing the private eye, as she is doing in looking for Joanna, she’d give them ‘such a bollocking’. She cares deeply about her job and she does have a soft side, even if it is touched with cynicism:

And why had she agreed to do as Jack asked and chase around the countryside looking for Joanna? Because I’m soft as clarts. Because I like happy endings and want to bring the couple together again, like I’m some great fat Cupid in wellies. Because it would be bloody inconvenient living here without them next door. (page 10)

The interplay between the Vera and Sergeant Joe Ashworth is excellent. Joe isn’t as easily managed as Vera would want him to be and yet she likes that in him. And her relationship with the rest of her team leaves much to be desired, but she is human – and she gets results.

Alongside the mystery Ann Cleeves includes a commentary on writing and writers and on creative writing weekend retreats. This particular course shows the writing world in rather a bad light, as a place of people with huge egos, selfish and self- absorbed and with aspiring, insecure would-be-writers:

Writers were like parasites, preying on other people’s stress and misery. Objective observers like spies or detectives  (page 98)

All in all, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and one that kept me guessing to the end.