25 August 2014

Review: NEMESIS, Agatha Christie

  • first published 1971
  • this edition published in the Paul Hamlyn Agatha Christie Crime Collection 1972
  • 200 pages
  • source: my own collection
Synopsis (Agatha Christie site)

Miss Marple is the recipient of an unusual bequest. Mr. Rafiel, an old acquaintance, has left instructions for her to investigate a crime after his death. The only problem is he has failed to tell her who was involved, or where, or when the crime was committed... She must follow the clues across England to discover the truth of his bizarre request.

Mr Rafiel first appeared in A Caribbean Mystery and struck up a begrudging alliance with Miss Marple in order to solve a multiple murder case. This transformed to respect, which carries on through to Nemesis, despite the fact that it isn’t a sequel. They are partnered novels which complement each other. Written in her eighties, Nemesis is a testament to Agatha Christie's enduring skill at mystery and deception. It was in fact the last novel Christie wrote featuring Miss Marple, although not the last to be published.

My Take

At 81 years, Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976) is nearing the end of her writing life - in fact she will write only two more novels after NEMESIS although four will be published, the last one posthumously.
  • 1971, NEMESIS - Miss Marple
  • 1972, ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER - Poirot
  • 1973, POSTERN OF FATE (Last novel Christie ever wrote) - Tommy and Tuppence
  • 1975, CURTAIN (Poirot's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
  • 1976, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
The novel begins with Miss Marple sitting in her front room, no longer able to venture into the garden. The emphasis is on how much she has aged, as well as how times have changed.
It takes her some little while to identify the name Rafiel that she reads in the death notices, and then things come flooding back about the holiday she spent in the Caribbean and the mystery she became involved in there. (See A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY).
Mr Rafiel, in his bequest gives her the option of staying at home and continuing to do her knitting, or of undertaking a little task on his behalf, in her role as Nemesis, the harbinger of Justice. However she needs to discover for herself what injustice has been committed.

When Miss Marple joins a Famous Homes and Gardens bus tour, ticket organised and paid for by Mr Rafiel prior to his death, she discovers she is one of sixteen passengers. She immediately notices that there are four other "elderly ladies", two in their seventies, more or less her age, and two in their sixties. As I am older than these two I was somewhat amused. Anybody who has been on a similar bus tour will enjoy her observations about the other passengers. Her categorisation of retired people being middle-aged seems a little inconsistent with modern terminology.

There are times in NEMESIS when Jane Marple seems a bit "slow off the mark" but I think Christie does a good job in summarising why Miss Marple has had so many murders fall into her lap. I presume that Christie here had an image of her female sleuth as being just a little younger than herself, although for much of her writing life Jane Marple was actually older. In fact she was old when she first came on the scene, and seems not to have aged that much at all. The question of how old Jane Marple really is, is always an interesting contemplation.

I don't think I have actually ever read this novel right through. I have seen various televised versions, but none quite matched the actual plot of the book. There is a lot of Christie's philosophy about the nature of sin, whether there are any truly unredeemable characters, whether there is a detectable miasma of evil. I came expecting to be a little disappointed with the quality of the writing, expecting Christie to write as an old person who maybe had "lost her marbles", but came away satisfied. Perhaps it did stretch the limits of credibility a little - Mr Rafiel seemed to have thought of everything - but it was a nice swan song for Jane Marple.

My rating: 4.4

I read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. I've now read 63 novels out of an expected 67, mainly in the order in which they have been written.

24 August 2014

Review: HARBOUR STREET, Ann Cleeves - audio book

 Synopsis (Publisher)

As the snow falls thickly, Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter, Jessie, are swept along in the crowd onto the Metro. But when the train is stopped, Jessie notices that an old lady hasn’t left the train: Margaret Krukowski has been fatally stabbed as she sat on the crowded train. 

Arriving at the scene, DI Vera Stanhope is relieved to have an excuse to escape the festivities. Soon Vera and Joe are on their way to the south Northumberland town of Mardle, where Margaret lived. Then a second woman is murdered.... 

My Take

Again Ann Cleeves has written a good 'un. And I love Janine Birkett's voice for Vera. There really isn't anything predictable about this plot and red herrings abound. Perfect travel listening but I'm sure reading the book would be just as good.

Just a note: I'm sure having read the earlier books in the series assists in your appreciation of Vera's  character, but if you start with this one, you will want more.


My rating: 4.9


Other books in the Vera Stanhope series (Fantastic Fiction)
1. The Crow Trap (1999)
2. Telling Tales (2005)
3. Hidden Depths (2007)
4. Silent Voices (2011)
5. The Glass Room (2012)
6. Harbour Street (2014) 


I've also reviewed

RED BONES
TELLING TALES (Vera Stanhope)
WHITE NIGHTS
5.0, BLUE LIGHTNING

5.0, DEAD WATER 
4.3, MURDER IN PARADISE
4.8, SILENT VOICES, (Vera Stanhope)
5.0, THE GLASS ROOM (Vera Stanhope)
4.5, BURIAL OF GHOSTS 

22 August 2014

Review: IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE, Adrian McKinty

  • first published in 2014
  • This edition published by Serpent's Tail 2014
  • ISBN 978-1846688201
  • 326 pages
  • #3 in the Sean Duffy Trilogy
  • borrowed from my local library
Synopsis (publisher)

The third book in the Sean Duffy thriller series.A spectacular escape and a man-hunt that could change the future of a nation - and lay one man's past to rest.

Sean Duffy's got nothing. And when you've got nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. So when MI5 come knocking, Sean knows exactly what they want, and what he'll want in return, but he hasn't got the first idea how to get it.Of course he's heard about the spectacular escape of IRA man Dermot McCann from Her Majesty's Maze prison. And he knew, with chilly certainty, that their paths would cross.

But finding Dermot leads Sean to an old locked room mystery, and into the kind of danger where you can lose as easily as winning.From old betrayals and ancient history to 1984's most infamous crime, Sean tries not to fall behind in the race to annihilation. Can he outrun the most skilled terrorist the IRA ever created? And will the past catch him first?

 My Take

This story focusses on events in 1983 and 1984: first of all the breakout of a number of IRA terrorists from the Maze prison and then the subsequent IRA bombings of 1984.

And along the way, under the guise of investigating cold cases, Sean Duffy begins to investigate the accidental death of Lizzie Fitzpatrick. This is a locked room mystery, but the coroner had not been satisfied that the death was accidental and returned an open verdict. Mary Fitzpatrick has always been convinced it was murder but no one could envisage how it happened. But why was Lizzie changing a light bulb in the dark, balancing precariously on the bar?

The locked room mystery adds an extra filip to this story. In his teens Sean Duffy had been at school with Dermot McCann, and had known the Fitzpatrick family. I also liked the way McKinty has definitely established a setting and time frame.

Sean Duffy will do almost anything to regain his place in CID but how much is he controlling his destiny?

This probably is the best of the Sean Duffy trilogy, but only by a hair's whisker.

My rating: 4.9

I've also reviewed
FIFTY GRAND
4.6, THE COLD COLD GROUND - Sean Duffy #1
4.8, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET - Sean Duffy #2
4.6, FALLING GLASS

About the author
Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He studied politics and philosophy at Oxford University and then emigrated to New York in 1993. He lived in Harlem for seven years working at various jobs, with various degrees of legality, and in 2000 he moved to Denver, Colorado to become a high school English teacher.

In 2008 he emigrated again this time to Melbourne, Australia with his wife and kids. Adrian’s first crime novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. The sequel to that book, The Dead Yard, was picked as one of the 10 best books of the year by Booklist and won the Audie Award for best crime fiction novel. 

The first book in the Sean Duffy series, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award for best novel. The second Sean Duffy book, I Hear The Sirens In The Street was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award.

18 August 2014

Review: CHRISTINE FALLS, Benjamin Black

  • first published by Picador 2006
  • #1 in the Quirke mystery series
  • ISBN 978-1-4472-3731-0
  • 390 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In the Pathology Department it was always night. This was one of the things Quirke liked about his job...it was restful, cosy, one might almost say, down in these depths nearly two floors beneath the city's busy pavements. There was too a sense here of being part of the continuance of ancient practices, secret skills, of work too dark to be carried on up in the light.

But one night, late after a party, Quirke stumbles across a body that shouldn't have been there...and his brother-in-law, eminent paediatrician Malachy Griffin - a rare sight in Quirke's gloomy domain - altering a file to cover up the corpse's cause of death. It is the first time Quirke encounters Christine Falls, but the investigation he decides to lead into the way she lived - and the reason she died - disturbs a dark secret that has been festering at the core of Dublin's high Catholic society, a secret ready to destabilize the very heart and soul of Quirke's own family...

See author website.

My Take

I like to read a series in order but recently I read the latest in the Quirke series, HOLY ORDERS, just because it came to hand. While that title stood quite well as a stand alone, some puzzling fragments that I came away with were made clearer in CHRISTINE FALLS.

This first novel in the series is set in Dublin (Ireland) and Boston (Massachusetts) in the early 1950s and emphasises the strong ties between the two. Wealthy Josh Crawford, living in Boston, has come up with a scheme to guarantee a reward for him in heaven. He is also the father of Quirke's former wife and there are those in Dublin who assist in his scheme. When Quirke begins to investigate the puzzle of what happened to Christine Falls he finds that there are people in Dublin who will go to extraordinary lengths to stop him.

This novel gives the reader a lot of Quirke's background from the previous twenty or so years.
It is also a commentary on the practice of sending Irish orphans to Boston for "adoption" in the 1940s and 1950s. See this newspaper article.

My rating: 4.5

Review: FATAL LIAISON, Vicki Tyley - audio book

  • audible book available from Audible.com
  • review copy courtesy the author
  • Narrated by: Larissa Gallagher
  • Length: 8 hrs and 33 mins 
  • Format: Unabridged 
  • Release date May 2014, from Crossroad Press 
Synopsis (Publisher)

The lives of two strangers, Greg Jenkins and Megan Brighton, become inextricably entangled when they each sign up for a dinner dating agency. Greg's reason for joining has nothing to do with looking for love. His recently divorced sister, Sam, has disappeared and Greg is convinced that Dinner for Twelve, or at least one of its clients, may be responsible.

Neither is Megan looking for love. Although single, she only joined at her best friend Brenda De Luca's insistence. When a client of the dating agency is murdered, suspicion falls on several of the members. Then Megan's friend Brenda disappears without trace, and Megan and Greg join forces. Will they find Sam and Brenda? Or are they about to step into the same inescapable snare?

My Take

The dating agency Dinner for Twelve looks innocuous enough, but it certainly attracts its share of oddball characters. Its clients though don't expect murder to be on the menu, but one of the guests at the first dinner that Brenda, Megan, and Greg attends disappears and is then found dead.

Greg Jenkins employs a rather comic private investigator to assist him in the search for his missing sister. And when her friend Brenda disappears he and Megan become a sleuthing "item".  Greg is pretty sure he knows which of the other Dinner for Twelve clients is guilty, and is exultant when the police detain this person to assist in their enquiries, but bewildered when he is released.

This is a story with many twists and turns, with one that I didn't expect right at the end.

My rating: 4.4

***** I have one copy of the audio version of the book to give away through Audible.com. If you'd like it, let me know through a comment and give me an email address to contact you on. The first person to say they want the audio copy will be the one who gets it. *****

I've also reviewed 4.3, THIN BLOOD - an Amazon 2010 Customer Favorite

About the author
From her website

Mid 2002, I quit my high-pressure management job and moved with my husband to a farm about ninety minutes north-east of Melbourne to write fulltime. Since then, I’ve written five (six if you count my first one, now banished to the bottom drawer never to see the light again) standalone contemporary murder mysteries.

Outside of writing and reading, my main interests are design and photography. I like to laugh, drink coffee, spend time alone, spend time in company, and get close to nature. I dislike crowds, hospitals and offal.

I write fast-paced mystery and suspense novels in contemporary Australian settings. All my books are quick, easy reads with no gratuitous sex or violence – the type of books I enjoy as a reader. However, my characters occasionally swear.

14 August 2014

Review: BUNDORI, Laura Joh Rowland

  • first published in 1996, this edition published by Constable Robinson 2009
  • ISBN 978-1-84529-902-6
  • 409 pages
  • #2 in the Sano Ichiro series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (author site)

In the misty streets and alleys of Edo, Japan's feudal capital, a serial killer lurks. Each victim is rendered up as a severed head, nailed to a plank, offered for public display as a bundori: a war trophy in samurai military tradition.

Detective Sano Ichiro, newly promoted to the new position as the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator, tries valiantly to follow Bushido—the Way of the Warrior—as he strives to bring the killer to justice. Will his attempts be foiled by the villainous Chamberlain Yanagisawa? Or will he succeed through the help of the beautiful and mysterious Aoi, a mystic trained in the ninja arts?

As it becomes obvious that the killer is one of three powerful men, Sano must reconcile his noble heritage with his duty to the shogun. Will trapping the murderer lead to prestige and glory for Sano...or disgrace and forced ritual suicide?

My Take

The setting of this book is historical, and one that I am familiar with: the Tokugawa Shogunate at Edo in Japan, 1689. There are now (2014) 18 titles in this popular series spanning 1689 to 1709. The historical and cultural setting is richly and authentically described. I began with the second in the series as my library does not have the first available. There are references in this title to the events in the first book.

As the number of victims of the Bundori Killer mounts various districts of the capital go into panic and there are fires and vigilantes and the Shogun gives Sano four days to find the killer or face exile himself. Sano constantly reminds himself of the promise he made to his dying father to bring the family name into a position of honour, but for a while it looks as if he will only achieve disgrace.

The Shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa, relies heavily on his Chamberlain Yanagisawa who seems determined to point out Sano's failures. Readers of modern day police procedurals may well reflect that nothing much has changed.

An enjoyable and satisfying read.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Laura Joh Rowland is a detective/mystery author best known for her series of historical mystery novels set in the late days of feudal Japan, mostly in Edo during the late 17th century. Her main protagonist is Sano IchirĊ.

See author website

9 August 2014

Review: SWIMMING IN THE DARK, Paddy Richardson

  • first published in New Zealand and Australia (Pan Macmillan Australia) in 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-74353-120-4
  • 287 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Four women
Four secrets
One promise

In a small New Zealand town, four women find their lives inextricably linked by a secret that could bring about their undoing... or set them free.

Serena Freeman, a once-promising high school student, has started to retreat from life and one night does not return home. Her sister, Lynnie Freeman, is carving out a successful career and is desperate to distance herself from her troubled past. But on hearing of Serena's disappearance, Lynnie is forced to return to the town of Alexandra to look for her.

The only link to Serena's disappearance is Ilse Klein, a quietly dedicated English teacher who longs for her lost childhood in Germany and the sense of belonging it gave her. She lives with her mother, Gerda Klein, who is beset by a devastating depression each winter and plagued by memories of Stasi Germany. The Kleins learned long ago that there is safety in silence, can they break a lifelong habit?

My Take

This really is among the best books I have read this year. I think it is one of those rare ones, where the literary merges with crime fiction. For much of the book you wonder what "the crime" is going to be, although in reality there are many.

The Freeman family is one of those small country town families blighted from the beginning by poverty and social circumstances. Lynnie, the eldest of five, escapes early and heads for the city, eventually making a better life for herself. Serena is the youngest, brighter, but still not protected by her mother, the school, and the authorities in the way they should. And then her mother contacts Lynnie to tell her that Serena has been missing for three weeks. Lynnie comes home.

Serena's favourite teacher is Miss Klein. She and her mother are immigrants from East Germany. Richardson does a wonderful job of describing their background and, for me, sheds light on what life in Leipzig under the Stasi was like.

The plots merge in the present in the small New Zealand town of Alexandra, but the story moves the reader effortlessly through time and location.

A fabulous read.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
Paddy Richardson is the author of six novels and two short story collections. Her fiction has been a finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and short-listed for the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards. She has been the recipient of the University of Otago Burns Fellowship, the Beatson Fellowship, and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award. Four of her novels have been translated and published in Germany. Paddy has lectured and tutored English Literature at university level and taught many creative writing courses. She lives on the Otago Peninsula in New Zealand.

I've also reviewed
5.0, TRACES OF RED

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