26 May 2016

Review: THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH, Donna Leon

  • this edition published 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-8021-2480-7
  • 292 pages
  • #25 in the Brunetti series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In The Waters of Eternal Youth, the twenty-fifth instalment in the bestselling Brunetti series, our Commissario finds himself drawn into a case that may not be a crime at all. Brunetti is investigating a cold case by request of the grand Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of Brunetti's mother-in-law.

Fifteen years ago the Contessa's teenage granddaughter, Manuela, was found drowning in a canal. She was rescued from the canal at the last moment, but in many ways it was too late; she suffered severe brain damage and her life was never the same again.

Once a passionate horse rider, Manuela, now aged thirty, cannot remember the accident, or her beloved horse, and lives trapped in an eternal youth. The Contessa, unconvinced that this was an accident, implores Brunetti to find the culprit she believes was responsible for ruining Manuela's life. Out of a mixture of curiosity, pity and a willingness to fulfil the wishes of a loving grandmother, Brunetti reopens the case. But once he starts to investigate, Brunetti finds a murky past and a dark story at its heart.

The Waters of Eternal Youth is awash in the rhythms and concerns of contemporary Venetian life, from historical preservation, to housing, to new waves of African migrants, all circling the haunting story of a woman trapped in a perpetual childhood.

My Take

Donna Leon is another one of those authors who will always have a place on my reading lists. Sadly I don't always manage to keep up with her virtually annual publications.

At first glance THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH appears to be a departure from usual Brunetti cases, in that the initial case that Brunetti investigates is a cold case. He does it as a favour to a friend of his mother-in-law who wants to be reassured that she has done all that she can to find out what happened to her granddaughter who was nearly drowned 15 years earlier.

The title has ironic overtones but I'll leave you to work that out for yourself. Brunetti's investigation gets official sanction when he slyly suggests to Vice-Questore Patta that some social doors will open for his wife as a result.

However Brunetti sets a ball rolling when he contacts the man who rescued Manuela from the canal 15 years earlier. Brunetti also discovers that there were elements in the original medical report that should have sparked further investigation. There is a murder with just enough DNA evidence  to identify the murderer if the police could establish a match, but there is no-one on their records. Identification of the culprit comes from a chance meeting, but there were a couple of coincidences that the author let slip which enabled me to identify the murderer one step ahead of Brunetti.

And in the background? Some references to Venice's current problems. A satisfying read.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read
ABOUT FACE
THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
4.4, A QUESTION OF BELIEF
4.5, BEASTLY THINGS
4.4, QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP
3.9, THE JEWELS OF PARADISE
4.8, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS
4.6, DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY
4.7, BY ITS COVER
4.5, THE GOLDEN GOOSE





Review: THE BATTLING PROPHET, Arthur Upfield- audio book

  • Source: Audible.com
  • first published 1956
  • #22 in the Napoleon Bonaparte series
  • Narrated by: Peter Hosking
  • Length: 6 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is on leave, staying with an old friend near Adelaide. Ben Wickham, a meteorologist whose uncannily accurate weather forecasts had helped farmers all over Australia, lived nearby. Ben died after a three-week drinking binge and a doctor certified death as due to delirium tremens - but Bony's host insists that whatever Ben died of it wasn't alcohol...

From Audible
Ben Wickham, a famous meteorologist whose uncannily accurate forecasts have helped famers and graziers all over Australia, has died after a three-week drinking bout.

The doctor certifies that his death was cause by heart failure due to alcoholic poisoning.
But Ben's neighbour and drinking partner, John Luton, is convinced his friends didn't die from too much gin. He manages to lure Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte to his riverside cottage near the South Australian coast, on an unofficial visit for a spot of fishing.

Bony, thinking at first he's on holiday and paying a casual visit, is intrigued and decides to investigate.

My Take

Weather forecasts are extraordinarily important in the driest continent in the world. Farmers and graziers base their activities on them, but if drought is forecast then they will not re-stock their land, nor will they harrow in preparation for seeding. So lots of people stand to lose income if farming activities don't occur.

Ben Wickham tried to interest the Australian government in purchasing his weather predictions in advance and, when they rejected him, then approached overseas governments. Since Wickham died lots of people, not all Australian in origin, have become very interested in finding his will, and the books in which he wrote his predictions for future weather. They are all convinced that his best mate John Luton is hiding something. After Luton takes a beating from some outsider Bony realises that some major steps have to be taken. But someone higher up in government wants Bony off the scene and he is peremptorily recalled Queensland, and even escorted to the South Australian border.

A story with quite a bit of outback humour as well as some serious thought. There are some very quirky characters and the author has tried give us some idea of their colloquial language.

Of particular interest to me is that so many of the Bony stories have a link to South Australia. This one appears to be set somewhere near the River Murray. Ironically the year of publication, 1956, is also the year of the flooding of the Murray, in contrast with the drought conditions of the novel.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES 

23 May 2016

Review: THE KILLING IN THE CAFE, Simon Brett

  • source: my local library
  • # 17 in the Fethering series
  • first published 2015
  • ISBN 978-1-78029-081-2
  • 185 pages
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The wickedly entertaining new Fethering mystery featuring chalk-and-cheese detective duo Carole and Jude

Polly's Cake Shop has been a feature of the shopping parade for many years, but when its owner announces her retirement, the Fethering residents start to worry about the loss of this popular amenity. Alarmed by rumours that the cafe might become a Starbucks, a group clubs together to form the Save Polly's Cake Shop Action Committee.

The plan is that Polly's should become a community venture, managed and run by volunteers from the village. Roped in to help, Jude finds the committee meetings fraught with petty power struggles, clashing personalities and monstrous egos. Matters take a turn for the worse when she and Carole come across a badly-decomposed body on Fethering beach - and uncover a link to Polly's. Not only do the two neighbours have to find out whodunit, they are also faced with the thorny question: is it possible to run a business on that most volatile of commodities - goodwill?

My Take

I always look forward to the next instalment in this series. They are what I call "gentle" cozies. I love their alliterative titles as well as the way they gently explore the relationship between Carole and Jude.

I think over the development of the series there has been a subtle change. While they remain busybodies who poke their noses into local affairs, Jude and Carol are now unashamedly investigators, unpaid private eyes. It seems to go without saying, without official agreement, that they will investigate any "incident", particularly a murder. They don't hesitate to make phone calls to persons of interest, to follow through threads of suspicion, and to ask awkward questions. In general they don't contact the police of their own volition until they have finally solved the case. So I guess they could be charged by a zealous policeman with withholding evidence but that doesn't seem to happen.

What I like about the stories is the gentle humour, the perceptive descriptions of village life, in particular that of retirees.

I think I have remarked before about the strange way the author brings the novel to an end. There is a sort of crystal ball aspect to it all, a summary of what happens to each of the characters, apart from Jude and Carol, in the future. In THE KILLING IN THE CAFE the summary goes as far as 10 years into the future.

So if you are not a reader of this series consider starting at the beginning - I've included the full list below to get you started. You will have a lot of very enjoyable reading ahead.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read
BLOOD AT THE BOOKIES
THE POISONING IN THE PUB
4.4, THE SHOOTING IN THE SHOP
4.3, SO MUCH BLOOD
4.2, A DECENT INTERVAL
4.5, BONES UNDER THE BEACH HUT
4.2, GUNS IN THE GALLERY
4.6, THE CORPSE ON THE COURT
4.3, THE STRANGLING ON THE STAGE
4.2, THE CINDERELLA KILLER
4.5, THE TOMB IN TURKEY
4.4, CHARLES PARIS: MURDER UNPROMPTED
4.2, CHARLES PARIS: CORPORATE BODIES 
 
Fethering (per Fantastic Fiction)
1. The Body on the Beach (2000)
2. Death On the Downs (2001)
3. The Torso In The Town (2002)
4. Murder in the Museum (2003)
5. The Hanging in the Hotel (2004)
6. The Witness at the Wedding (2005)
7. The Stabbing in the Stables (2006)
8. Death Under the Dryer (2007)
9. Blood At the Bookies (2008)
10. The Poisoning in the Pub (2009)
11. The Shooting in the Shop (2010)
12. Bones Under the Beach Hut (2011)
13. Guns in the Gallery (2011)
14. Corpse on the Court (2012)
15. The Strangling on the Stage (2013)
16. The Tomb in Turkey (2014)
17. The Killing in the Cafe (2015)

22 May 2016

Review: CAREER OF EVIL, Robert Galbraith

  • this edition published by Sphere in 2015
  • author also known as J.K Rowling
  • ISBN 9-780751-563580
  • 494 pages
  • source: my local library
  • Also available on Amazon for Kindle
  • Cormoran Strike Book 3
Synopsis (Amazon)

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, Career of Evil is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.

 My Take

Newspaper reports about the arrival of the severed leg have the effect of almost killing Cormoran Strike's detective agency. And then there is the fact that the parcel was in fact addressed to Robin, not to Strike. Strike reports the package to the police and they begin an intensive investigation.

Robin and Strike have just two cases to occupy them, and both require surveillance. Strike is anxious to find out who the severed leg belongs to and who has sent it to him. He has some idea that the cause is embedded in his past in the military police but tracking down the four suspects is not easy. One of them is a man he knows well, his own stepfather, while the other three all have reason to hat Strike.

Simmering in the background is Robin's impending marriage. Her fiancé Matthew is convinced that Robin and Strke have a relationship going and then Robin finds out that Matthew has something to hide. Strike also has a new girlfriend but he is beginning to question where that relationship is headed.

We often see the narration from the point of view of one of the suspects who is not necessarily the serial killer, and it is hard to decide who it is.

I found this book a time consuming read. That is partly because it is long, and partly because it is densely written. There is lot of new background material which fleshes out both Strike's and Robin's characters. A lot of it feels "off topic" but at the same time is giving the central characters a lot more depth. The novel manages to maintain the tension right to the end. I am looking forward to the next in the series.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read
5.0, THE CUCKOO'S CALLING
4.5, THE SILKWORM

Review: MAN OF TWO TRIBES, Arthur Upfield - audio book

  • Available from Audible.com
  • first published 1956
  • Napoleon Bonaparte series #21
  • Narrated by: Peter Hosking
  • Length: 6 hrs
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

With two camels and a dog, Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte sets off across southern Australia's Nullarbor Plain in search of a missing woman. He finds much more than he bargained for. Set in some of the most mysterious and unforgiving territory in the world - the Australian desert - Man of Two Tribes is vintage Upfield.

From Audible:


Myra Thomas, accused of murdering her philandering husband, is found not guilty by a sympathetic jury. But while travelling from Adelaide to Perth on the Transcontinental Railway express, she mysteriously disappears during the overnight journey across the vast, featureless desert.

Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte takes the case and sets off to search for her over the flat wasteland of the Nullabor Plain. At first it seems that the harsh environment will give him no clues, but Bony soon finds more than he bargained for? landing himself in a bigger mystery, and a fight for survival...

My Take

The Woomera Rocket Range, a collaborative effort between a number of International groups including the British and Australia, began immediately after World War II in 1946, with a joint project running until 1960. It is located in north-west South Australia, about 500 km north west of Adelaide. British nuclear tests at Maralinga, a series of seven nuclear tests were conducted within the Woomera area between 1955 and 1963. More recently, the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, a detention centre,  opened nearby in 1999 and operated until 2003.

The focus in the opening pages of the story is a woman, recently acquitted of murder, who has disappeared without trace from the East-West railway travelling from Adelaide to Western Australia. There is some indication that she may have connections with international espionage and Bony is sent out on an undercover mission to see if he can locate her.

There are various Aboriginal legends associated with the Australian outback but here Upfield tells one about a monster, maybe a version of the Rainbow Snake, supposedly occupying the underground limestone caverns of the Nullarbor Plain which the train line traverses. This has the effect of both deterring aboriginal trackers from looking too closely for the missing woman, and also provides an explanation of any strange noises heard at night.

Bony of course is the "man of two tribes", being a half-caste aborigine, but his Queensland tribe has little in common with the Aboriginal people living on the Nullarbor, apart from the markings on his body that show he is a warrior of some note. At the same time he is a very articulate person, highly qualified with a university degree, and a reputation for never failing to successfully conclude a case.

An interesting story but I did feel that it stretched the bounds of credibility. Basing the story around the Nullarbor Plain and Woomera does show how in touch with current events Upfield was. At the time of publication 1956, 8 years before his death, he was 66 years old and there would be another 8 Bony novels.

My rating: 4.0


I've also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY

13 May 2016

Review: DADDY DEAREST, Paul Southern

  • available from Amazon
  • review copy supplied to me by the author
  • File Size: 1806 KB
  • Print Length: 245 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1311840079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1311840073
  • ASIN: B01DC2EPOE
Synopsis (author)

An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her - with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

'My daughter has always had a thing about lifts. There’s something about the thrill of pressing a button and seeing the lift doors close which excites her imagination. It terrifies me. Every time she walks in, I imagine it’s the last time I’ll see her. What if she hits the button before I get there? What if the lift doors close and I can’t get her out? It drives me nuts. There are eight floors in the Sears building, nine if you count the basement, and the lift is fast: more like a fairground ride, really. It does top to bottom in twelve seconds. I’ve timed it. Taking the stairs, I’ve done it in forty-two. That leaves a gap of thirty seconds. You’d be surprised what can happen in that time. I was.'

My Take

The police investigation into the disappearance of a five year old girl in the Sears building has unexpected consequences for a number of the building's residents, as the police investigate them one by one, floor by floor.

Meanwhile the girl's parents appear on television and people reach out in sympathy. But the days pass and she is not found. The parents are obviously both cracking under the strain.

This is really one of those novels where I can't tell you much more of the plot without spoiling your journey of discovery as you read it for yourself. In many ways it is a very sad novel. At least twice events take a grim turn, and in the long run there is only one way for it to end.

My Rating: 4.3

About the author

Following an induced labour some time in the 1960s (due date: Halloween night), I had my subscription to a normal life revoked by itinerant parents, who moved from city to city. Lived in Liverpool, Belfast, London and Leeds, then escaped to university, where I nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. After an unexpected recovery, formed an underground indie group (Sexus). Met the lead singer through standing on a bee. Made immediate plans to become rich and famous, but ended up in Manchester. Shared a house with mice, cockroaches, and slugs; shared the street with criminals. Five years later, hit the big time with a Warners record deal. Concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Melody Maker front cover, Smash Hits Single of the Week, Radio 1 and EastEnders. Mixed with the really rich and famous. Then mixed with lawyers. Ended up back in Manchester, broke. Got a PhD in English (I am the world's leading authority on Tennyson's stage plays), then wrote my first novel, The Craze, based on my experiences of the Muslim community. Immediately nominated to the Arena X Club (the name Arena magazine gave to a select group of creative, UK-based men responsible for shaping the way their readers lived and enjoyed their lives).

Wrote a second book, Brown Boys in Chocolate, which predicted the London bombings. Fell foul of the censors and subsequently gagged by the press. Got ITV interested in a story on honour killings and inter-racial marriages and was commissioned to write a screenplay (Pariah) based on my life story. ITV balked at the content. Subsequently, trod the Wasteland before finding the grail again: a book deal with children's publisher, Chicken House. Killing Sound, a YA horror set on the London Underground, was published by them in September 2014. The book, originally written for older teens (16+) and adults, was censoriously edited by the publishers to fit a much younger demographic, and inevitably failed to reach either market; the grail proved elusive and I returned to writing something it was impossible to dilute. Daddy Dearest, a dark, psychological thriller, will be released in 2016.

10 May 2016

Review: THE LAKE HOUSE, Kate Morton

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1848 KB
  • Print Length: 606 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (November 1, 2015)
  • Publication Date: October 21, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00X74TJ4Y
Synopsis  (Amazon)

A missing child

June 1933, and the Edevane family's country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she's also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn't have. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather's cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family's past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape.

My take

Where do I begin? I suspect this will remain at the top of my "best for 2016" list for a very long time.

The author cleverly weaves a number of strands of mystery together. It is not just what happened on Midsummer's Eve at the Edevane's country house, Leoanneth in 1933, but what actually happened to Alice Edevane's father in World War One to give him recurrent nightmares and to make him a man who is dangerous to his own children. And then there is what Sadie Sparrow actually did to cause her to be sent on an enforced holiday.

The stories are told so cleverly that you feel there is always something new to learn. The characters are so well drawn but even then some are wrapped in mystery.  There are red herrings galore and just when you think you have it all worked out you realise there is something else to consider.

A terrific read!

My rating: 5.0

I've also read THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN

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