Library Books

I reserved these books over the last few months and, wouldn’t you know it, they all arrived practically together!

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A Darker Domain by Val McDermid. This is the second Karen Pirie book. I’ve borrowed it because I loved the first one, The Distant Echo. In 1984, in Fife, heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant & her baby son are kidnapped. The ransom payoff goes horribly wrong. She is killed while her son disappears without trace. 2008, Tuscany. A jogger stumbles upon dramatic new evidence that re-opens the cold case. For Detective Sergeant Karen Pirie, it’s an opportunity to make her mark.

Conclave by Robert Harris – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed other books by Robert Harris, so I’m keen to read this one about how a new Pope is chosen as the cardinals meet in the Sistine chapel to cast their votes. This is a novel and Harris depicts the cardinals as holy men – but ambitious and rivals to become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

The Hidden Life of Trees:What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. I read Katrina’s review of this book and immediately thought it sounded an amazing book as I love trees. Wohlleben is a German forester and his book is about his love of trees and why they matter on a global scale. He makes the case that the forest is a social network – I like the idea that they communicate with each other – even if they don’t actually walk and talk like Tolkien’s ents.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry – I loved his book, The Secret Scripture and am hoping I’ll like this one too. Thomas McNulty and John Coles signed up for the US army in the 1850s and fought in the Indian Wars and then in the American Civil War. The book was awarded the Costa Book Award 2016 and won the 2017 Walter Scott Prize. It was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 – not that winning these awards automatically means that I’ll like it and I’m often not keen on books about war.

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

I have only recently started reading Val McDermid’s books and after reading one of her stand-alone books, A Place of Execution, I decided to move on to her Karen Pirie books. The first one is The Distant Echo (first published in 2003) in which Karen doesn’t play a major role – only appearing in Part Two as a Detective Constable.

The Distant Echo

Blurb (Goodreads):

It was a winter morning in 1978, that the body of a young barmaid was discovered in the snow banks of a Scottish cemetery. The only suspects in her brutal murder were the four young men who found her: Alex Gilbey and his three best friends. With no evidence but her blood on their hands, no one was ever charged.

Twenty five years later, the Cold Case file on Rosie Duff has been reopened. For Alex and his friends, the investigation has also opened old wounds, haunting memories-and new fears. For a stranger has emerged from the shadows with his own ideas about justice. And revenge.

When two of Alex’s friends die under suspicious circumstances, Alex knows that he and his innocent family are the next targets. And there’s only way to save them: return to the cold-blooded past and uncover the startling truth about the murder. For there lies the identity of an avenging killer…

My thoughts:

The nightmare began when student, Alex Gilbey found Rosie Duff dying in the snow in the Pictish cemetery in St Andrews. He ran to the nearby housing estate to get help and finding a policeman in his patrol car told him what he had found. By the time they got back to the body, Rosie was dead, despite the efforts of Alex’s friends to keep her alive. He and his three friends were the prime suspects, both the police and Rosie’s thuggish brothers were convinced they were guilty. But DI Barney Maclennan and his team, including DC Burnside, WPC Janice Hogg and PC Jimmy Lawson (the policeman Alex asked for help) were unable to find enough evidence to charge them with the murder.

Nearly half the book concentrates on the crime and the initial investigation, going into detail about each character and the circumstances of the murder, ending dramatically with another death. I felt I knew all the characters but had little idea who had killed Rosie or why. The case lay dormant for 25 years.

In 2003 Jimmy Lawson, now an ACC, is in overall control of the cold cases squad and is keen to enhance his reputation by getting at least one result. He assigns DC Karen Pirie to the Rosemary Duff case and asks her to find the physical evidence, which is missing from the box it’s supposed to be in, before interviewing the original witnesses. A new character comes onto the scene – Graham MacFadyen – with additional evidence that the police were not aware of at the time. The second investigation begins, equally as in depth as the first. The four students, all now with settled careers, are questioned again.

I just couldn’t work out which one of them, if any, was guilty. I couldn’t believe any of them would have murdered Rosie. And then a vague suspicion grew in my mind and I revisited the events immediately after the body was discovered, only to dismiss my idea as fanciful. Val McDermid is so skillful in giving you the clues and then leaving you in suspense (or at least that was my experience). There is a major twist that completely threw me before the dramatic ending when I realised that my initial suspicion was correct after all.

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007344651
  • ISBN-13: 978-000734465
  • Source: library book
  • My rating: 5*

I loved this book and hope to read the next three books in the series as soon as possible. They are:

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

For years I’ve steered clear of reading any of Val McDermid‘˜s books and the reason is that I can’t stand to watch the violence and torture scenes in TV series such as Wire in the Blood, based on her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. But then I thought that maybe I wasn’t being fair to judge a writer’s work on films based on the books, and I read Cleanskin, one of the Quick Reads series, aimed at ‘adults who’ve stopped reading or find reading tough, and for regular readers who want a short, fast read.’ I enjoyed it and I’ve been meaning to read one of her full length books ever since.

There are many to choose from but I decided to read A Place of Execution, one of her standalone books. The book was made into a 3-part TV drama shown on ITV 1 in 2008, which I didn’t see. It is one of my TBRs.

A Place of Execution

Blurb:

In the Peak District village of Scarsdale, thirteen-year-old girls didn’t just run away. So when Alison Carter vanished in the winter of ’63, everyone knew it was a murder.

Catherine Heathcote remembers the case well. A child herself when Alison vanished, decades on she still recalls the sense of fear as parents kept their children close, terrified of strangers.

Now a journalist, she persuades DI George Bennett to speak of the hunt for Alison, the tantalising leads and harrowing dead ends. But when a fresh lead emerges, Bennett tries to stop the story ‘“ plunging Catherine into a world of buried secrets and revelations.

My thoughts:

This is an excellent psychological thriller, full of tension and suspense, set in the Derbyshire village of Scardale, an isolated community of about ten houses, where everyone is related, a place that had a reputation of being a law unto itself. So everyone could tell Detective Inspector George Bennett the time that Alison Carter left home taking her dog for a walk. But despite extensive searches her body is never found, although they do find her dog in the woodland, tied to a tree with elastoplast wound round its muzzle.

A Place of Execution spans the years from 1963 when Alison went missing up to 1998 when Catherine Heathcote, a journalist decided to write a book about the case. It had Bennett’s first major investigation and he’d been determined to find out what had happened to Alison. The majority of the book is about his investigation and the meticulous searches he and his team carried out until the case was resolved. But why in 1998 after going over the details of the case with Catherine did he suddenly write to her begging her to abandon the book?

The sense of place and time is so well done in this book and the characterisation is so good that I felt I knew these people. Even when the case appears to have been resolved there is something more, something hidden that still needs to be revealed. I had an inkling about what it was but I had by no means guessed all of it. But the clues were all there.

There are many layers in A Place of Execution. The villagers are a close-knit community suspicious of outsiders and reluctant to talk to the police. I realised towards the end of the book that the way that Val McDermid has structured the book allows for a great deal of deception and that things are not always what they seem. I loved it and I shall definitely be reading more of her books.

Paperback, 624 pages
Published February 6th 2006 by Harper Collins (first published June 7th 1999)

My Friday Post: A Place of Execution

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

One of the books I’m reading is A Place of Execution by Val McDermid.

A Place of Execution

It begins:

Like Alison Carter I was born in Derbyshire in 1950. Like her, I grew up familiar with the limestone dales of the White Peak, no stranger to the winter blizzards that regularly cut us off from the rest of the country. It was in Buxton, after all, that snow once stopped play in a county cricket match in June.

Blurb:

In the Peak District village of Scarsdale, thirteen-year-old girls didn’t just run away. So when Alison Carter vanished in the winter of ’63, everyone knew it was a murder.

Catherine Heathcote remembers the case well. A child herself when Alison vanished, decades on she still recalls the sense of fear as parents kept their children close, terrified of strangers.

Now a journalist, she persuades DI George Bennett to speak of the hunt for Alison, the tantalising leads and harrowing dead ends. But when a fresh lead emerges, Bennett tries to stop the story ‘“ plunging Catherine into a world of buried secrets and revelations.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

Nothing made sense. If someone was ruthless enough to kidnap a young girl, surely they wouldn’t show mercy to a dog? Especially a dog as lively as Shep. He couldn’t imagine a dog with the collie’s spirit meekly submitting to having elastoplast tightly wound round its muzzle. Unless it had been Alison who’d done the deed.

I’ve read nearly half the book so far and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s a standalone mystery and is compelling reading.

Northanger Abbey

July marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and I’m planning to write more about her other books in later posts. I regularly re-read Pride and Prejudice, but it’s been years since I last read Emma – so that is on my list for later this year. I first read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey when I was at school and reading it again now was like reading it for the first time.

I really wasn’t going to read any of the Austen Project books (a series of books by contemporary authors give their take on Jane Austen’s novels). I’m not at all keen on adaptations, sequels, or prequels, but I’ve been meaning to read Val McDermid’s books for ages and when I saw her version of Northanger Abbey on the mobile library’s shelves I borrowed it. Although now I’ve read it I think it’s probably not the best of her books to start with. I can’t imagine that it’s representative of her books!

Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project, #2)

As it’s been so many years since I’d first read the original by Jane Austen I thought I should refresh my memory and re-read it before tackling Val McDermid’s version.

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen originally wrote the book in 1789-99, then revised it in 1803 and in 1817. Originally called Memorandum, Susan, then Catherine it was first published posthumously along with Persuasion, also previously unpublished, in December 1817, with the title Northanger Abbey, although 1818 is the date on the title page.

Northanger Abbey is a love story about Catherine Morland, a naive and impressionable 17 year-old, whose imagination has been filled with visions of diabolical villains and swooning heroines from the Gothic novels of her day. Childless neighbours, the Allens, take her with them for a six week stay in Bath. Here her eyes are opened to the social complexities of real life. Bath at that time was a thriving spa resort, popular with fashionable society. The place where rich and fashionable people went to take the waters and enjoy the social life, dancing, going to the theatre and concerts, shopping and also to find a husband or wife.

Here, too, Catherine meets the Thorpe family, the insufferable John Thorpe, who she immediately dislikes and his sister, Isabella who she instantly finds to be a kindred spirit – or so she thinks. She also meets and falls in love with clergyman Henry Tilney, whose father, General Tilney owns Northanger Abbey. She is thrilled when Henry and his sister, Eleanor invite her to stay with them at the Abbey, a place she fantasises about, imagining it as one of the romantic buildings full of dark corridors, with remote rooms where females are imprisoned that feature in the Gothic novels she loves.

Even though the Abbey doesn’t live up to her expectations, because although it is part of an ancient building it has been modernised and made comfortable. But that is not enough to prevent Catherine’s imagination running riot, viewing the details of Henry’s mother’s death with great suspicion. The General is a most unlikeable and unpleasant character and she suspects that he could have played a part in his wife’s death – he never talks about her, and shuns her favourite walk in the garden. She imagines all sorts of Gothic horrors.

Northanger Abbey parodies both the Gothic novel and intense female friendships, such as that between Catherine and Isabella as they enthuse obsessively over the horror and romance of the Gothic novel. It’s a book of melodramas and misunderstandings, exposing ambition, greed and the love of power and pleasure mixed with self-interest. Catherine only gradually learns to tell reality from fantasy.

At first I read the two books side by side, a chapter from each. That worked well for a while and it made it easy to see that Val McDermid had followed Jane Austen’s book closely, changing locations and things, such as Edinburgh instead of Bath, the Scottish Borders instead of the Gloucestershire countryside, cars instead of carriages and so on. It’s the style of writing and language that is so very different. I liked the way Val McDermid substituted the Edinburgh Book Festival for Bath – that worked well and also used modern names for the characters – Cat for Catherine, Bella for Isabella and Ellie for Eleanor. And setting  Northanger Abbey in the Scottish Borders is a stroke of genius.

But by the time  I got to the second half of the book where Catherine goes to stay at Northanger Abbey I realised it was Jane Austen’s original that was  appealing more to me, so I finished that first.

I’m not going to go into detail about Val McDermid’s version as she has stuck in the main to the original, that is, until she got to the end. I got tired of the use of modern expressions, tweets, texts and Facebook, and also the silliness of Cat and Bella, and all the vampire nonsense that replaces Catherine’s love of ‘horrid mysteries’. Yes, I could see that it was just as much a spoof on the modern obsession with vampires as Jane Austen’s parody is of the Gothic literature of her day, but I didn’t like it has much as Jane Austen’s version. However, despite that criticism, overall I did enjoy it – it’s light and easy to read.

I was interested in Jane Austen’s list of Gothic novels, which in contrast to the books in Val McDemid’s version, are real books. These are the books that girls and young women were reading in the 1790s and early 1800s (all available today as e-books on Amazon):

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Ward Radcliffe
  • Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
  • Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
  • The Mysterious Warning by Eliza Parsons
  • Necromancer of the Black Forest by Karl Friedrich Kahlert
  • The Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath
  • Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse

Northanger Abbey fulfils the category of ‘a book with a building in the title’ in Charlie’s What’s in a Name Challenge.

Library Loot

The mobile library came yesterday and I borrowed three books:

You Are Dead by Peter James – this is the 11th in his Roy Grace series. I’ve only read two (the first and the third) of the earlier books. I know I should probably read them in order but sometimes you have to take what’s available at the time and fill in the gaps later. I’m hoping it reads well as a stand-alone.

It’s set in Brighton and it’s about current cases of missing women and the discovery of the remains of women who went missing in the past. Are these events connected and if so how?

Duchess of Death: the Unauthorised Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack, drawing on over 5000 unpublished letter, documents and notes. I’m not at all sure I shall actually read this book, but I thought I’d borrow it just to have more time to look at it. I’ve read Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, which is an excellent book that took her 15 years to write, and a few other biographies about her, some better than others.

I don’t like the title, Duchess of Death, which I suppose Hack chose for its alliteration. The jacket cover blurb says it is ‘as full of romance, travel, wealth and scandal as any whodunit she crafted.’ I have a feeling this will not be one of the better biographies.

And finally I borrowed Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, one of the Austen Project series (in which six bestselling contemporary authors write their own take on Jane Austen’s novels). I’ve been wondering whether to read any of these books for some time now and also meaning to read Val McDermid’s books, so when I saw this sitting on the mobile library’s shelves I thought why not at least have a proper look at it.

I first read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey many years ago (it could have been in the second year at Grammar School) and as far as I remember, despite loving Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t too taken with it. I’ve been thinking of reading it again for some while now. I didn’t watch the TV adaptation a few years back, so I’m coming to both books with fresh eyes.

This is my copy with its awful cover:

Crime Fiction Alphabet: V is for Val McDermid

Until now I’ve steered clear of reading any of Val McDermid‘s books and the reason is that I can’t stand to watch the violence and torture scenes in TV series such as Wire in the Blood. But recently I’ve been thinking that maybe I wasn’t being fair to judge a writer’s work on films based on the books. So I decided to check out a Val Mcdermid book from the library to see for myself.

There are many to choose from but I picked the shortest one, thinking if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t waste much time reading it.

Cleanskin is one of the Quick Reads series, aimed at “adults who’ve stopped reading or find reading tough, and for regular readers who want a short, fast read.” 

Summary (adapted from the back cover where Jack Farrell is erroneously called Jack Farlowe!):

When career criminal, Jack Farrell’s body is found washed-up on a Suffolk shore, it looks to the police like a clear-cut case. Broken-hearted at his daughter’s death, he has drowned himself – good riddance and one less crime to solve, according to CID. Then again, maybe not. For, one by one, Farrell’s enemies are being killed. And the horrific manner of their deaths makes drowning look like a day at the beach!

My thoughts:

Val McDermid’s style in this long short story is clear, straight-forward and chatty. The narrator is DCI Andy Martin. He’s the world expert on Jack Farrell, a criminal known as a ‘cleanskin‘ because he had no criminal record:

Farrell’s crew ran just about every dirty racket you could think of: drugs, guns, hookers, porn. You name it they were into it. They bought and sold human lives like they were bargains on eBay. (page 2)

Martin identifies Farrell’s body from the vivid tattoos still visible on his battered and bloated body. Being a novella the action is fast paced, the characters are briefly sketched and although I had worked out some of the mystery, the final dénouement came as a surprise. And there is a certain amount of  graphic description of the gruesome methods of killing and torture, so I’m still not sure about reading any of Val McDermid’s other books.

Can anyone recommend where I should start – bearing in mind that I am squeamish?

Cleanskin:

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; World Book Day edition edition (18 May 2006)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0007216726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007216727
  • Source: Borrowed from the library

A Crime Fiction Alphabet post – for more posts featuring the letter V see Kerrie’s blog.