New Additions

We went to Barter Books in Alnwick yesterday and I came home with this pile. I didn’t realise until I took this photo that they’re all a variation on a black/white colour scheme! It wasn’t intentional.

I go armed with a notebook listing books and authors to look for and so I was delighted to find two books by Truman Capote as I enjoyed reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s recently and am keen to read more of his books – and two more of Reginald Hill’s books that are on my list of his books to find.

BB bks March19

From the bottom up they are:

  • The Collaborators by Reginald Hill, a standalone novel of wartime passion, loyalty – and betrayal. Set in Paris from 1940 to 1945, when Janine Simonian stands accused of passing secret information to the Nazis that led to the arrest and torture of several members of the French Resistance.
  • A Pinch of Snuff by Reginald Hill – the 5th of his Dalziel and Pascoe novels, this was first published in 1978. When Peter Pascoe’s dentist suggests that one film in particular shown in the Calliope Club is more than just good clean dirty fun, the inspector begins to make a few discreet inquiries and ends up with a homicide to investigate.
  • Beneath the Surface by Jo Spain, the second novel in the Inspector Tom Reynolds series. I’ve read three of her books and am always on the lookout for more of hers. Set in Dublin, DI Tom Reynolds and his team investigate the murder of Ryan Finnegan, a high-ranking government official in Leinster House, the seat of the Irish parliament.
  • Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas. I’ve read two of her books previously and loved them. This one is about the disappearance of twenty-one year old Sophie Collier. Twenty years later a body has been found and her friend Francesca goes back to her home town to discover the truth about what had happened to Sophie.
  • The Weight of Angels by Catriona McPherson. I’ve read several of her Dandy Gilver books and enjoyed them. This book is a standalone psychological thriller, in which Alison McGovern takes a job as a beautician in a private psychiatric facility near her rented cottage and the ruins of Dundrennan Abbey.  A body is discovered in a shallow grave by the abbey on Ali’s first day at work.
  • Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote, a collection of his writings, both fiction and nonfiction – a book of reminiscences, portraits and stories, including ‘A Beautiful Child’ an account of a day with Marilyn Monroe and ‘Handcarved Coffins: a Nonfiction Account of an American Crime’.
  • In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences by Truman Capote, probably one of the best known ‘true crime’ books. Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers of four members of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.

~~~

So, seven more books added to my TBRs and I’d love to start reading them all – now!

Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

New To Me Books

This post is about the books I’ve recently added to my TBRs and about the library books I’ve recently borrowed.

Paperbacks from Barter Books in Alnwick:

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Earth and Heaven by Sue Gee.  I’ve only read one of her books, The Hours of the Night, and that was years ago, and pre-blog, when I just noted that it was ‘good overall’ and ‘could be shorter’. But the blurb interested me – set in the aftermath of the First World War it’s ‘about life’s fragility, and the power of love and painting to disturb, renew and reveal us to ourselves.

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly, based on the story by series creator Chris Chibnall. i loved the TV series, so I’m hoping I’ll love this too. I’ve only read one other book based on a TV series and that was Tenko broadcast in the 1980s (about women in a Japanese prisoner of war camp). The book was terrible, such a let down as I had loved the TV series.

Die Trying by Lee Child, the second Jack Reacher thriller. I haven’t read the first one yet, but I’ve found it’s best to get the books from Barter Books when I see them – they might not be there next time I go. I enjoyed the only Jack Reacher book I’ve read, The Midnight Line and have decided to read the earlier books.

Library books:

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Goodbye Piccadilly: War at Home 1914 by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. I’ve been seeing her books in libraries and bookshops for years, but have never read any. This is the first in a series about the First World War – I decided to start with this rather than her Morland Dynasty series (now 34 books).

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and I’m expecting this to be just as good! It’s described on the back cover as ‘a deeply moving epic of heartache, hope and, above all, the unbreakable bonds of love.

Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson – historical crime fiction. I’ve read a few of the Dandy Gilver books and enjoyed them. This one is set in 1930s Scotland – in a fishing village on the Banffshire coast where unusual items are turning up in the herring barrels.

I’m looking forward to reading these books in the coming months!

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2012 – Letter C

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is run by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This week’s letter is the letter C.

C is for Catriona McPherson, who writes the Dandy Gilver Mysteries. She is a Scottish author who was born in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. Until 2010 she lived in Galloway and now lives in Northern California. Catriona, by the way, is pronounced Kuh-TREE-nuh (just like the hurricane). In addition to her website she has a blog, sitting typing alone in a room, where she writes about being a writer, gardening on her farm in North California, and reading.

Her favourite books include Rebecca, The Water Method Man, The Pursuit of Love, Agent to the Stars, The Bean Trees, Jane Eyre, After These Things, Wolf Hall, The World’s Wife, Oryx and Crake, The Handless Maiden,The Testament of Gideon Mack. (copied from her facebook page)

The first Dandy Gilver novel was short-listed for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger 2005 and the second was long-listed for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award 2007.There are currently six Dandy Gilver books available with the seventh due out in July:

(Links are to my posts)

1. After the Armistice Ball (2005)
2. The Burry Man’s Day (2006)
3. Bury Her Deep (2007)
4. The Winter Ground (2008)
5. The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains (2009)
6. Unsuitable Day for a Murder (2010)
7. Bothersome Number of Corpses (2012)
After the Armistice BallThe Burry Man's DayBury Her DeepThe Winter Ground
The Proper Treatment of BloodstainsUnsuitable Day for a MurderBothersome Number of Corpses

My favourite of the series is The Burry Man’s Day.

She has also written a non-fiction book: Existence and Truth in Discourse. Catriona has an MA in Language and Linguistics and a PhD in Semantics.

and two books, writing as Catriona McCloud:

Growing Up Again (2007)
Straight Up (2008)

May’s Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I read a lot in May – well I read and listened, because three of the books were audiobooks, which was quite a novelty for me. In total I ‘read’ 11 books and 9 of them were crime fiction. So far I’ve only reviewed 4 of them.

This is what I read –  the links are to my posts on the books and * indicates crime fiction:

  1. Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley* 4/5
  2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene 3/5
  3. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie* 3.5/5
  4. The Redeemed by M R Hall* 4.5/5
  5. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves* 4/5
  6. The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett * (library audiobook) 2/5
  7. Fatherland by Robert Harris* 5/5
  8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 4/5
  9. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle* 3/5 (library audiobook)
  10. The Coroner by M R Hall* (library book) 4/5
  11. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson* 3/5 (advanced reading copy)

I’m aiming to review the rest of the books, but for now here are notes on them.

Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley is set in Penzance in Cornwall. Matthew Glynn, a bookseller,is found bludgeoned and strangled, which sets Chief Superintendent Wycliffe a difficult mystery to solve. The answer lies in the past and in the Glynn family’s background. I enjoyed this book, which I read quickly, eager to know the outcome, but the ending was a let down.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. I always like Agatha Christie’s books and although I don’t think this is one her better books, it was a satisfying read. It’s a closed room type mystery. Who killed Louise, the wife of the celebrated archaeologist leading the Hassanieh dig? Only the people at the dig could have done it, but which one – they’re all under suspicion? Poirot doesn’t appear until quite late on in the book, but, of course, works it all out.

The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett (audiobook). This is the fifth of the Fethering Mysteries, in which Jude and her friend Carole investigate the death of one of the guests at the local country house hotel, following the dinner attended by the all-male members of the Pillars of Sussex the night before. It looks like suicide but Jude thinks it can’t be. I got rather tired listening to this book as Jude and Carole endlessly (or so it seemed) went over and over the events and questioned the suspects.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to Wolf Hall. This book certainly deserves a post of its own. Here I’ll just comment that this chronicles the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and Cromwell’s part in satisfying Henry’s wishes. I don’t think it’s quite as captivating as Wolf Hall, but it does show just how devious Cromwell could be.

My Crime Fiction Book of the Month is a close call between  Fatherland by Robert Harris  and The Redeemed by MR Hall, both of which had me engrossed.

Fatherland is a fast paced thriller, set in a fictional Germany in 1964, a Germany that had been victorious in the Second World War. It begins with the discovery of the body of one of the former leading members of the Nazi party, who had been instrumental in devising ‘the final solution’. It’s a complex book and leads police detective Xavier March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth.

The Redeemed by MR Hall is by contrast not about a police investigation but is the third book in which Jenny Cooper, a coroner investigates the death of a man discovered in a church yard, the sign of the cross carved into his abdomen. At first it looks like a horrific suicide, but as Jenny delves deeper during her inquest she finds links to yet more deaths. This is the third book in M R Hall’s Jenny Cooper series and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately borrowed the first book, The Coroner, from the library. They do stand well on their own but I think it helps to read them in sequence. In The Coroner Jenny begins her career, having been a solicitor for fifteen years. She obviously has devastating events in her personal life that she has to deal with.

May’s reading has been exclusively fiction, so I’m looking forward to reading some nonfiction in June. I’m feeling like reading a biography or two.

See the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ choices of book of the month for May ‘“ and add your favourite May read to the collection.

Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!

(from Sir Walter Scott: Marmion Canto VI, XVII)

I wasn’t very far into reading Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder when this quotation (above) came into my mind. This is a remarkably complicated plot, with the most difficult family relationships that I’ve ever come across. Fortunately there are two family trees in the opening pages of this book that go some way to sorting it all out.

This is the sixth Dandy Gilver Murder Mystery book:

When the heiress to a department store goes missing, Dandy is summoned to Dunfermline, where two warring families run rival stores. As Dandy starts to unravel family secrets, she begins to discover disturbing connections and it’s not long before she’s in over her head.

(extracted from the summary on the back of my advanced reader copy)

This summary says it all really. It’s set in Dunfermline in 1927 and the two families are the Aitkens and the Hepburns. At the beginning of the book Mirren Aitken and Dugald Hepburn, the two youngest offsprings of the families have disappeared. Rumour has it that they have eloped and both families are dead against their marriage.

But is there more to it than commercial rivalry? Dandy thinks so and when Mirren is discovered dead on the attic floor of Aitkens’ Emporium, apparently having shot herself, she is even more convinced. Added to that on the day of Mirren’s funeral Dugald is found dead on top of the lift up to the Aitkens’ attic. Together with Alec Osborne, her sleuthing partner, she sets about unravelling the truth even though this is against both families’ wishes.

There are things I like about this book. The setting in Dunfermline is convincing, the descriptions of both stores provide fascinating details of the 1920s department stores. In a note at the beginning of the book Catriona McPherson acknowledges that she has used what she describes as, ‘the insanely detailed and unexpectedly riveting‘ book From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the Nineteenth Century by Lee E Gray (2002).

I liked the puzzle aspects of this book, even though I failed to work it out completely. But I thought that most of the characters were difficult to distinguish, partly because their names were too confusing, with alternative names – Mary Aitken, also known as Mrs Aitken and Mrs Ninian Aitken or Mrs Ninian. There is also Arabella Aitken, also called Mrs Aitken, Mrs Jack Aitken, Mrs Jack or simply Bella (I liked that version best). I even found the men’s names troublesome, what with Robert and Robin, Mr Hepburn, young Mister Hepburn and Master Hepburn – I could go on. Dandy and Alec are similarly confused.

It’s a very detailed book (and not just about the lift) and at times that became confusing too so that I had to keep flipping backwards to go over passages making sure I understood it. It has a heavy sombre tone and there is quite a lot of repetition as Dandy and Alec keep reviewing what they have discovered and wondering what it all means. For me it could have been much more succinct. Despite these misgivings I did like this book, but not as much as the earlier Dandy Gilver books that I’ve read.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (22 May 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1250007372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250007377
  • Source: Advance Reader Copy
  • My Rating 3/5

After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

After the Armistice Ball is the first book in the Dandy Gilver series. I’ve read a couple of the later books in the series and had to read this one in order to find out how Dandy (short for Dandelion) first became an amateur detective, or Society Sleuth, as she is called on the book cover.

It all began when there is an alleged theft of Lena Duffy’s jewels at Daisy Esslemont’s annual Armistice Ball in 1922 and Daisy asks Dandy to find out what really happened. Dandy is a bored wife, whose husband, Hugh is the ‘hunting, shooting and fishing’ type. The theft of the jewels is rapidly pushed to the sidelines after the death of Lena’s daughter, Cara in a lonely beach cottage in Galloway. Accompanied by Cara’s jilted fiancé, Alec Osborne, Dandy is faced with the puzzle of Cara’s death. Was she killed, or did she commit suicide? She had died in a fire, whilst on her own in the cottage – why was the cottage always kept so hot, so hot that the coal that was supposed to last all winter had been finished in one week?

The setting in the 1920s is convincing, the sense of dislocation after the First World War, the class divide and the contrast between the idle rich and the poor. The locations are beautifully described, and the characters are lively and come to life, particularly Dandy, although Hugh does seem to be a cardboard cut-out, but the book dragged in the middle as Dandy and Alec went over and over, and over the events and theorised about what had happened and why.

I too puzzled over the mystery and I did find the ending rather confusing, so much so that I had to re-read parts of the book to sort out what I thought had happened. I’m still not sure, but I think I know. Having said all that, I did enjoy the book, and apart from the middle section I raced through it and that’s probably where I missed some salient points.

My Rating: 3/5

I borrowed the book from my local library

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It is hosted by Kathy, over at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

My words this week come from After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson, set in 1922.

  • jounced – ‘Alec increased the speed again as we passed the sign for Reivers Rest and we jounced over the close-cropped turf faster and faster until the car rounded the last of the gorse into the open and skidded to a slithering halt.

I could tell from the context what ‘jounced’ means, but it’s a word I’ve not come across before. Looking it up I found it does mean just what it sounds like – ‘to jounce is to move or cause to move with bumps and jolts’ (from The Free Dictionary).

I like the Wikipedia definition of jounce – ‘in physics, jounce or snap is the fourth derivative of the position vector with respect to time, with the first, second, and third derivatives being velocity, acceleration, and jerk, respectively; in other words, the jounce is the rate of change of the jerk with respect to time.’ As I said, just what I thought it was!

  • Thawpit – ‘I should begin calmly but ready to dissolve into tears if the occasion arose and a corner of my handkerchief was soaked in Thawpit to help with the dissolving.’

I had no idea what Thawpit was – and amazingly discovered that it was a a stain remover, a solvent that containing carbon tetrachloride. It’s no longer available, presumably because of the danger of sniffing it etc. No wonder Dandy Gilver (the amateur sleuth in the book) ‘succumbed to a fit of weeping’ when she ‘dabbed her eyes’ with the Thawpit soaked hankie.

  • chafing-dish – ‘I trigger no obvious trip-wire en route from my bedroom to the ground floor, but every morning Pallister appears with a chafing-dish just as I’m sitting.’ He then cooked Dandy’s eggs.
An old woman poaching eggs in a glazed earthenware chafing dish over charcoal

A chafing-dish is a new term to me. Wikipedia explains that it is ‘a kind of portable grate raised on a tripod, originally heated with charcoal in a brazier, and used for foods that require gentle cooking, away from the fierce heat of direct flames.’