30 October 2008

Big Wheels

Because I am currently reading THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY by Siobhan Dowd I decided to do some research into just how big these "Millenium Wheels" actually are.

They vary in height. The largest is the Beijing Wheel, which was supposed to open in time for the Olympic Games this year - I presume it did?
I found a great site with lots of pictures, that lists 10 of the largest of them.

Beijing's 208m-high Ferris wheel is more than 50% taller than the 135m-high London Eye, and designed by the same people. The 198m-diameter Beijing wheel will rotate three times an hour, with each of its 48 capsules carrying 40 passengers. Like the London attraction, the 2,800-tonne wheel will be turned by 32 tyres running along its rim, powered by an almost maintenance-free hydraulic power system. Unlike the London wheel, passengers will be able to board from both sides of the Beijing attraction. They will climb aboard from platforms moving at the same speed as the turning wheel. The company building the Beijing Wheel, the Great Wheel Corporation, is looking at around 20 similar projects around the world.

But is the London Eye that I am most interested in, because that is where the book is set.
height: 135m
capsules: 32 carrying 25 passengers each
rotation speed: about 30 minutes/revolution
maximum capacity: 1600 passengers/hour
location: London, Great Britain
opening: December 31, 1999

29 October 2008

Review: BROKEN, Karin Fossum

Harvill Secker, 2008, ISBN 978-1-846-55061-4, 264 pages.
Translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund.
Published in Norwegian in 2006

The author sits at her desk staring out at the long queue of people waiting on the drive outside her house. They stand there in the shadows, waiting to become characters in her book, for their stories to be told. That night, while she sleeps, one of the characters jumps the queue, enters her house, and sits in the chair by her bed.

The author agrees to tell his story next. She gives him a name, and begins to tell his story. But the reader knows Alvar has no story until the author creates it. Alvar Eide is forty-two years old, a bachelor, who works in an art gallery. His father had lived to only fifty-three and Alvar imagines that he himself has only eleven years to live. Alvar is a little old-fashioned both in his attitudes and his appearance about which he is fastidious. He doesn't relate to people very well, which is why he doesn't know how to handle the young girl, a homeless drug addict who works out how to get him to give her money. She steals a door key from him so she can let herself in and out of his house whenever she wants to.

The novel is told on two levels. Alvar visits the author whenever he feels that he isn't coping, or when he doesn't feel she is carrying out her part of their relationship properly. Ultimately the author is the one who has control over what happens to Alvar. She says early on that she is not god, but in terms of Alvar's life she is. Alvar knows that the author's computer is full of drafts, of stories lying incomplete and he is frightened that she will forget about him. She on the other hand creates situations that will test Alvar and some of these tests he fails miserably.

In BROKEN Karin Fossum plays with the reader's mind. We wonder how much free will Alvar really has. The idea that he is a fiction of the author's creation is a challenging one, even though we know it to be true. Fossum dabbles in metaphysics, with the very nature of Alvar's existence. We know that authors create their characters, but how real are they to the author who created them? The author and Alvar even discuss the methods by which he might die. We see some of the dilemmas that an author faces in bringing a novel to publication, how she lives and breathes through the characters that she creates, how they take on a life of their own.

For those who have enjoyed Fossum's Inspector Sejer series, this stand-alone is very different. Although someone does die, some would not label it crime fiction. For that reason some Sejer fans will be disappointed. For my part, I prefer the Sejer series. BROKEN made me feel as if I was performing mental gymnastics.

My rating: 4.3

The Inspector Sejer novels from the Norwegian "Queen of Crime" are
1. Don't Look Back (2002)
2. He Who Fears the Wolf (2003)
3. When the Devil Holds the Candle (2004)
4. Calling Out For You (2005)
aka The Indian Bride
5. Black Seconds (2007)

Probably because of the connection established between the author and the characters of the story, BROKEN reminded me of a book I read years ago: THE ATHENIAN MURDERS by Jose Carlos Somoza.
The synopsis below is courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.
In ancient Athens, one of the pupils of Plato's Academy is found dead. His idealistic teacher Diagoras is convinced the pupil's death is not as accidental as it appears, and asks the famous Heracles Pontor, the "Decipherer of Enigmas," to investigate. As the death toll rises, the two men find themselves drawn into the dangerous underworld of the Athenian aristocracy, risking their own lives to solve the riddle of these young men's deaths. Simultaneously, a second plot unfolds: that of the modern-day translator of the ancient text, who, as he proceeds with his work, becomes convinced that the original author has hidden a second meaning in the text, one that can be interpreted through certain repeated words and images. As the story advances, however, the translator is alarmed to discover references to himself, which seem to address him personally in an increasingly menacing fashion.

What's on your nightstand?

I'm very pleased to report that what was on my nightstand last month (on the 4th Tuesday in the month - OK! I know I'm a day late) all got read and reviewed!

Then I listed
COLD IN HAND, John Harvey

Last night I finished BROKEN by Karin Fossum and tonight's little job is to write my review. So I'll do that later.

In the next month I'm planning to read
A MAN LAY DEAD, Ngaio Marsh
DEAD I WELL MAY BE, Adrian McKinty
THE UNQUIET NIGHT, Patricia Carlon
PLAY DEAD, Richard Montanari
THE DYING BREED , Declan Hughes
OVERKILL, Vanda Symon
DEAD HEAT, Dick & Felix friancis

plus a couple to still come from the library
THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT, Agatha Christie for my Agatha Christie Reading Challenge
A HOLLY, JOLLY MURDER, Joan Hess for oz_mystery_readers

oh and
THE 19TH WIFE, by David Ebershoff for my face to face book group.

and I'm trying another "graphic novel"
THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, Agatha Christie (adapted by Francois Riviere)

and I'm listening to
  • audio book - THE LORD'S DAY, Michael Dobbs
  • and - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, up to ch. 26 (about 7 chapters behind)
Just as well I have a long plane trip to Singapore and back coming up!

Thanks Marg at Reading Adventures for the timely posting, otherwise I would have forgotten.
Visit 5 Minutes for Books to see what others have on their nightstand this month.

27 October 2008

Forgotten Books: Collected Short Stories, W. Somerset Maugham

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

It may come as a surprise to some to find me including Somerset Maugham in my crime fiction blog, but my vague memories of the collected short stories shown to the right is of twist-in-the-tail stories, crimes perpetrated and gone unsolved, and even without detection.

These days people would talk about cross-genre writers, as if a "literary writer" can't at the same time write "real" crime fiction.
In fact ASHENDEN, a collection of short stories about a gentlemanly, sophisticated, aloof spy, based on his own experiences, is listed by the Mystery Writers of America (1995) at number 64 in their top 100 Mysteries of All Time. The volume is thought to have influenced the Ian Fleming James Bond series.

If you'd like to try a Maugham story for yourself, you can read Rain online. That one will give you an example of what I mean by the twist-in-the-tail stories.

There are some Maugham works available free for download through Project Gutenberg.
Some more
And then Bookyards ( a blog) is a wonderful source of information and more links.

26 October 2008

Review: WATERLOO SUNSET, Martin Edwards

Allison & Busby, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7490-8053-2, 392 pages

Crusoe and Devlin, Liverpool solicitors, have only just moved into their new premises in John Newton House, when the note arrives announcing Harry's sudden death in five days' time, on Midsummer's Eve.

In Harry's fertile imagination there is no lack of suspects, but then again, perhaps it is a joke. Harry's partner Jim Crusoe is inclined to think it is. A throatily whispered message on the answering machine at home is enough to convince Harry that someone really has it in for him.

Harry's past seems to be cluttered with people less than satisfied with his services. First of all there is Tom Gunter who has anger management issues, and Aled Borth who is convinced his mother was murdered for her money by the doctor in charge of the nursing home in which she died, and then Juliet May, once a lover, but now the ex-wife of Casper May, the owner of John Newton House.

On the second day of Harry's wait for his impending death, Liverpool is gripped by the horror of a possible serial killer. For the second time, the remains of a young woman has been found on a beach near Liverpool. Rumours are suggesting there may be connections.

Well, that's all I'm going to reveal of the story of this cleverly constructed mystery. Although this is the 8th of Martin's Edwards Harry Devlin series, it is nine years since Harry had an outing, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since his last. I've never come across Harry before although I have read a couple of titles in the Lake District Mysteries. I think the earlier novels in the series will be worth looking for.

I did like the way WATERLOO SUNSET was constructed. There was good tension between the serial killer strand, which rather inevitably Harry Devlin becomes involved in, and Harry's own quest to find out who is threatening him. I liked also the characters who populate this story, particularly Harry himself, Gina Paget, and Amazing Grace.

My rating: 4.5

Earlier this year I reported that Edwards had won a Gold Dagger Short Story Award for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice".

Other Links:

Harry Devlin series
1. All the Lonely People (1991)
2. Suspicious Minds (1992)
3. I Remember You (1993)
4. Yesterday's Papers (1994)
5. Eve of Destruction (1996)
6. The Devil in Disguise (1998)
7. First Cut Is the Deepest (1999)
8. Waterloo Sunset (2008)

Lake District Mystery
1. The Coffin Trail (2004)
2. The Cipher Garden (2005)
3. The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)

My earlier reviews:
Oxford historian Daniel Kind and partner Miranda make a spur of the moment decision to give up their city life styles and move to Tarn Fold in the Lakes District. The cottage they buy near the coffin trail has a history for Daniel: it is where a boyhood friend lived. His friend was also widely thought to have been the culprit in an unsolved murder. When DCI Hannah Scarlett's new team begins its cold case review, including a review of this particular case, locals are none too happy. This is a well structured story, and seems likely to be the beginning of a series.


Read more about everything Martin is involved in at his site http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/index.htm
Follow his blog at http://www.doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/

Barossa Band Festival 2008

Yesterday was the Barossa Band Festival and Enfield Brass not only won their C grade section, but also the street march, and the best drum major trophy.

This is the same band that will appear in the Adelaide Christmas pageant in a couple of weeks' time and plays as the Klemzig Oompah Band at the Schuetzenfest in January every year. A versatile band that contains 3 generations of the Magin family, and my husband, younger daughter, and her husband.

Sunday Salon #31 - 26 October

This week I have fallen victim to one of the things I warn people about.
I have begun reading WATERLOO SUNSET by Martin Edwards, while in the car I am listening to THE LORD'S DAY by Michael Dobbs.

My problem? In both the central character is called Harry. Their surnames are different, the stories are different, but that didn't stop my brain from having a problem thinking about which one I was "thinking" about. I've think I've got it all straightened out now, but it was touch and go for a while.

I seem to have done a lot of blogging this week and some other things like reading have taken a bit of a back seat. I find my blogging isn't something I do very quickly. Many of my posts need some research. I've only reviewed one book for example.
I've also had a lovely time wandering around commenting on the posts of others. So I'm putting Sunday Salon together relatively quickly and then I'm going to get on with some reading.

This week's posts:
Currently reading:
  • now - WATERLOO SUNSET, Martin Edwards
  • next - BROKEN, Karin Fossum
  • audio book - THE LORD'S DAY, Michael Dobbs
  • also listening to - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, up to ch. 26
Last week's poll:
The question: When was the book you are currently reading published?
    16 people took the poll
    2008 - 6
    2007 - 2
    2000-2006 - 3
    1990-1999 - 1
    1980-1989 - 1
    1970-1979 - 1
    1950-1969 - 1
    1900-1949 - 0
    before 1900 - 1
What did surprise me was that 50% of the books were published in the last 2 years.

This week's poll:
What Nationality is the author of the book you are reading?
Do pop into my blog and take the poll. It is in the blocks at the side.

25 October 2008

Seven Random Things, a meme

My "friend" Marg, over at Reading Adventures tagged me in her meme to tell the world 7 random things about myself.

All seven things happened to me in 1975.
  1. I have been to Hell. I have a stamp in my passport to prove it.
  2. I have ridden an elephant through the "eye of the needle". There is a gateway into the Red Fort at Agra in India called the "eye of the needle" and I took an elephant ride into the Red Fort through it.
  3. I have kissed the Blarney Stone. No mean feat for a person who is vertically challenged because you lean over backwards down a cavity to kiss it. Perhaps that has finally blessed me with the eloquence you now see in my blog.
  4. I have been through the Khyber Pass. I was on a bus trip with 45 others from Kathmandhu to London and the Khyber pass bit was rather scary.
  5. A test that I failed miserably was one that was supposed to bring wealth or wisdom or something. Just south of Delhi is Qutb Minar where there is an iron pole supposedly 1500 years old. You back up to the pole and wrap your arms around it so your hands meet on the other side. Vertically challenged people don't have long arms either!
  6. I have been to Mandalay - the one in Burma not the house in Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA. Spent 7 days in Burma travelling on the smell of an oily rag!
  7. This particular year also saw the beginnings of me keeping records of the books that I read. They are kept in a battered green note book. In the front I wrote:
    I have a theory that the books you read are somehow a reflection of your own mental state and so I have resolved to keep such a list. The 1975 list is probably not complete as that was the year I was travelling.
    I recorded a mere 43 books for 1975 and it was pre my current addiction to crime fiction. But look at some of the titles and consider their significance in a year spent travelling the world and visiting some of the places I mentioned above.
      CARAVANS, Jame Michener
      JULIAN, Gore Vidal
      DON'T LOOK NOW, Daphne du Maurier
      THE DUBLINERS, James Joyce
      THE DON FLOWS HOME TO THE SEA, Mikhail Sholokhov
      ENGLAND MADE ME, Graham Greene
      VANISHING CORNWALL, Daphne du Maurier
      BURMESE DAYS, George Orwell
One thing that will please you, dear reader, is that I'm not going to "tag" anyone with this meme.

But I invite you, if you've a mind to pick up the gauntlet, to voluntarily make a post on your website with the same subject, and then to come back here and leave a comment about your post. Please link to my post in yours. You can make up your own mind about whether you tag any of your friends.

How do you know what to read next?

I'm really never at a loss for what to read next.
In fact I've always got too many books lying around, just waiting for their chance to hop into my hands.

Part of the secret is to monitor the blogs of people like me who review books.
This morning for example, I read blog postings from Poisoned Fiction Review, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, and Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books, and they all sent me off to the online catalogue of my local library to see if I could find the books were referring to. The library is my first port of call, because it saves me money and I'm not precious about having to keep the books I read.

If you are not sure about what blogs to follow, have a look at the list I have on my blog roll. There's a link up at the top of the page called Blogs I'm watching. They are all generally there because they talk about books, and nearly all of them get me several good titles to follow up every week. They are also on there because they talk about crime fiction, murder mysteries and the like, which is the genre that I read almost exclusively.

You might also like to browse my books reviews which is a ranked list of books I have written about on this blog this year. They are listed as Smik's Reviews, and you will find that link also at the top of the page. Smik's Reviews has an RSS feed that you can add to your PageFlakes or whatever so that when I add a new book you get an alert.

Apart from the books I review, I also sometime write, as I did yesterday about books that are selling well in Australia, or if you are looking for crime fiction by Australian authors, you could check the postings that are marked Australian author, or go back to the Carnival of Criminal Minds posting where I was the host site.

Of course you could always choose to get the postings of MYSTERIES IN PARADISE by email or RSS. There are also links to them in the top menu bar. The one I particularly like is FeedMyInbox which sends out a daily digest of postings on this blog.

I do read a lot of recently published crime fiction, but you'll note that occasionally an older book crops up. For example I write about Forgotten books, and I am reading for my own Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. You'll find references to them in the blocks in the right hand margin.

S.S Van Dine's Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories

S. S. Van Dine (1888 - 1939) was the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.
Van Dine was born in Charlottesville, VA. He worked as a literary and art critic for newspapers and magazines. He suffered from poor health, had a severe breakdown in 1923 and was confined to bed for two years. During these years, he read detective stories and amassed a large collection. He then decided that he could write a better story than he was reading. His first Philo Vance book, The Benson Murder Case, was published in 1926. His books were exceptionally popular, and Van Dine became quite wealthy.

In 1936, S.S. Van Dine (author of the Philo Vance mysteries) published an article titled "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories." Some of his rules are a bit archaic, but it seems to me that they are still worth thinking about.
However even the great have some times flouted these rules (and gotten away with it).

1) The reader should have the same opportunity as the detective to solve the crime.

2) No tricks can be played to mislead the reader unless it is also done to the detective by the criminal.

3) The detective should not have a love interest.

4) Neither the detective nor one of the official investigators can turn out to be the criminal.

5) The villain must be found by logical deduction, not luck, accident, or un-motivated confessions.

6) The story must have a detective who also solves the crime (by detection).

7) It must be a murder mystery ("the deader the corpse the better").

8) The solution must come by "naturalistic means"; e.g., no ouija-boards.

9) There can be only one detective; not a team.

10) The villain has to be someone who plays a prominent part of the story.

11) The culprit can't be a servant (none of this, "The butler did it.").

12) There can only be one murderer. The villain could have a helper or "co-plotter," but only one is going to get the ax in the matter.

13) No secret societies ("mafias, et al"). The murderer, too, needs a sporting chance to outwit the detective.

14) The method of the murder must not be beyond plausibility. No super-natural means, nor the introduction of a fictional device or element ("super-radium, let us say" is not fair).

15) The truth of the solution must be apparent. The reader should be able to pick the book upon completion and see that the answer was in fact starring at him all the time.

16) The detective "novel" must be just that, no side issues of "literary dallying" or "atmospheric preoccupations." These devices interfere with the purpose of detective fiction, "which is to state a problem, analyze it" and solve it.

17) The culprit must be an amateur, not a professional criminal.

18) The solution must never be an accident or suicide.

19) Motives for the crime must be personal, not political or professional.

20) All of the following tricks and devices are verboten. They've been done to death or are otherwise unfair.

a) Comparing a cigarette butt with the suspect's cigarette.
b) Using a séance to frighten the culprit into revealing himself.
c) Using phony fingerprints.
d) Using a dummy figure to establish a false alibi.
e) Learning that the culprit was familiar because the dog didn't bark.
f) Having "the twin" do it.
g) Using knock-out drops.
h) If the murder is in a locked room, it has to be done before the police have actually broken in.
i) Using a word-association test for guilt.
j) Having the solution in a coded message that takes the detective until the end of book to figure out.

Mystery Novels of the Golden Age
S.S. Van Dine's 20 Rules for Writing Detective Stories

PD James:

What is the difference between the detective story and the crime novel?

I see the detective story as a subspecies of the crime novel. The crime novel can include a remarkable variety of works from the cosy certainties of Agatha Christie, through Anthony Trollope and Graham Greene, to the great Russians. The detective story may be considered more limited in scope and potential. The reader can expect to find a central mysterious death, a closed circle of suspects each with credible motive, means and opportunity for the crime, a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it, and a solution at the end of the book which the reader should be able to arrive at by logical deduction from clues presented by the writer with deceptive cunning but essential fairness. What interests me is the extraordinary variety of talents which this so-called formula is able to accommodate.

24 October 2008

Crime Fiction top sellers in Oz

The crime fiction best sellers listed on Angus and Robertson currently are

VODKA DOESN"T FREEZE by Leah Giarratano.
What a coup for Leah, as an Australian author, to be right at the top of the list!

My mini review last year, giving it a rating of 4.2.
Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson of the New South Wales Police force based in Sydney has a deep hatred of paedophiles and the “squirrels” who procure children for them. When Jill was twelve years old she was abducted and held in a basement for 3 days during which time she was abused by men who were never caught. After the kidnapping Jill experienced considerable trauma including a phase of self-mutilation. Even now over twenty years later she has recurrent nightmares, and unpredictable panic attacks. She is very security conscious and has also developed techniques for dealing with unwanted memories. Exhaustive exercise is one of her strategies. Jill’s colleague Scotty Hutchinson is as committed as Jill to hunting down paedophiles. David Carter, paedophile and voyeur, is killed in the sand dunes when he is watching a young couple. There have been two other bashing deaths with similar MOs in the Sydney metropolitan area. Jill and Scotty believe there are connections, perhaps even a serial killer who is hunting down paedophiles.

BONES TO ASHES by Kathy Reichs.
I haven't read this one yet, so here is the blurb from the website. It is a Tempe Brennan book.

The skeleton is that of a young girl, no more than fourteen years old - and forensic anthropologist Dr Temperance Brennan is struggling to keep her emotions in check. Coroner Yves Bradette is being evasive, insisting the bones are ancient and of no interest. But it doesn't quite add up, and a frustrated Tempe is convinced that Bradette is hiding something. It's not Tempe's case; she's overwhelmed with more urgent work in the lab. But the nagging in her subconscious won't let up. A memory triggered, deep in her hindbrain - the disappearance of a childhood friend; no warning, no explanation. Working on instinct, Tempe takes matters into her own hands. But she couldn't have predicted where this case would lead, or the horrors it would eventually uncover.Can Tempe maintain a professional distance as the past catches up with her in this, her most deeply personal case yet?

I recently reviewed BENEATH THE BLEEDING and gave it 5.0.
THE WIRE IN THE BLOOD is actually #2 in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, published in 1997, and I'm pretty sure I have read it, but my database of mini-reviews only goes back 4 years.
Strangely the A&R site doesn't have a synopsis of the story, so here is the one from Fantastic Fiction.
Taut, suspenseful and ferociously readable thriller featuring psychological profiler Dr Tony Hill. 'A terrific chiller from Manchester's answer to Thomas Harris' Guardian Nobody moves around inside the messy heads of serial killers like Dr Tony Hill. Now heading up the recently founded National Profiling Task Force, he sets his team an exercise: they are given the details of thirty missing teenagers and asked to use their new techniques to discover whether there is a sinister link between any of the cases. Only one officer, Shaz Bowman, comes up with a concrete theory, but it is ridiculed by the rest of the group until someone murders and mutilates one of their number. Could Bowman's outrageous suspicion possibly be true? For Tony Hill, the murder of a member of his team becomes a matter for personal revenge. Aided by his previous colleague, Carol Jordan, he embarks upon a campaign of psychological terrorism -- a game of cat and mouse where the roles of hunter and hunted are all too easily reversed.

BURNT HOUSE by Faye Kellerman.

I haven't read this one either, so again, the synspsis from Fantastic Fiction.
At 8:15 in the morning, a small commuter plane carrying forty-seven passengers crashes into an apartment building in Granada Hills, California. Shock waves ripple through Los Angeles, as L.A.P.D. Lieutenant Peter Decker works overtime to calm rampant fears of a 9/11-type terror attack. But a grisly mystery lives inside the plane's charred and twisted wreckage: the unidentified bodies of four extra travelers. And there is no sign of an airline employee who was supposedly on the catastrophic flight.

Decker and his wife, Rina, have personal reasons for being profoundly shaken by the tragedy, since the "accident" occurred frighteningly close to their daughter Hannah's school. Luckily, their child and her schoolmates escaped unscathed. But the fate of the unaccounted-for flight attendant—twenty-eight-year-old Roseanne Dresden—remains a question mark more than a month after the horrific event, when the young woman's irate stepfather calls, insisting that she was never onboard the doomed plane. Instead, he claims, she was most likely murdered by her abusive, unfaithful husband. But why, then, was Roseanne's name included on the passenger list?

Under intense pressure from the department to come up with answers, Decker launches an investigation that carries him down a path of tragic history, dangerous secrets, and deadly lies—and leads him to the corpse of a three-decades-missing murder victim. And as the jagged pieces slowly fall into place, a frightening picture begins to form: a mind-searing portrait of unimaginable evil that will challenge Decker's and Rina's own beliefs about guilt and innocence and justice.

CLEAN CUT by Lynda La Plante.
I read this last year and gave it 4.6
Here is my mini review.
The sequel to THE RED DAHLIA. In the intervening time DI Anna Travis and DCI James Langton have become lovers. They no longer work together and endeavour to keep their working and private lives separate. When Langton is horrifically injured in a murder arrest that goes wrong, Anna becomes vital to his recovery. While Langton is still in hospital, Anna is assigned to a new case where a librarian is found dead by her twelve year old daughter returning from school. The suspect in this case is yet another violent rapist released from prison far too early. And then, perhaps a little predictably, the case Anna is working on and the one Langton was working on when he was attacked become linked. This a long and complex novel, with an ending that ensures there will be yet another sequel.

CLEAN CUT IS #3 in the Anna Travis series, and My advice would be to try to read them in order.
1. Above Suspicion (2004)
2. The Red Dahlia (2006)
3. Clean Cut (2007)

23 October 2008

The seal of approval from Library Thing!

Many thanks to Mack Lundy of Mack Captures Crime for letting me know that Library Thing has apparently decided that I am a "vetted" reviewer.
Library Thing has introduced a feature called Library Thing for Libraries. Basically selected reviews are being poured into library catalogues. So that when some one in those libraries searches the catalogue for a book, they can also see "vetted" reviews from Library Thing.

Mack did a search for Robert Fate, author of a book he has himself recently reviewed, and up came my review of BABY SHARK.
So I have searched for WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? and NO TIME FOR GOODBYE and my reviews for them are both there.

I have been a member of Library Thing since April 2007, and in that time have added 255 books to my catalogue. My rule is that if I add a book I add my review as well. Some of the reviews I have added pre-date my blog and so some of those are a bit light. But all the reviews I've added since I have begun blogging, and also those that I have also submitted to Reviewer's Choice are all a pretty good length.

Library Thing says that there are currently 200,000 vetted reviews available and the service has been taken up by three libraries.

Check it out. Three libraries are currently showing reviews, together with the other LibraryThing for Libraries enhancements--similar books, tags and other editions and translations. Click on the reviews wording (see above) to launch the reviews "lightbox."More information for interested libraries available here.
It seems that already another 70+ libraries are using LTFL in some way.

To say I am chuffed is an understatement!

22 October 2008

Forgotten Books - QUIET AS A NUN, Antonia Fraser

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

I imagine this photo of Lady Antonia Fraser was taken decades ago as she was born in 1932, so that makes her just a little bit younger than Ruth Rendell, and about 12 years younger than P.D. James.

I don't know whether I first came across her as a historian or as a mystery writer, but it is her crime fiction that I am going to talk about here. Between 1977 and 1994 she wrote a series of 8 novels that featured television reporter Jemima Shore. The early ones were adapted into a television series in 1983.

QUIET AS A NUN, published in 1977, begins with the death of a nun, Sister Miriam, who apparently starved herself to death in a ruined tower, known as the Tower of Ivory, which adjoins the grounds of the Convent of the Blessed Eleanor, a nunnery and girl's school. This was the school that Shore herself had attended, and the nun had been a former school friend. The tower has specific significance to the order, as it was the original convent building, and is thought to be haunted by the Black Nun, a malevolent spectre reputed to appear whenever a death is about to take place within the grounds, and is seen just prior to Sister Miriam's death. Jemima Shore is invited by the headmistress to investigate what made her friend take her own life.

I don't think I have read all the Jemima Shore books, but have certainly read a number of the short stories that feature her.

The Jemima Shore series (courtesy of Fantastic Fiction)
1. Quiet As a Nun (1977)
2. The Wild Island (1978)
aka Tartan Tragedy
3. A Splash of Red (1981)
4. Cool Repentance (1982)
5. Oxford Blood (1985)
6. Your Royal Hostage (1987)
7. The Cavalier Case (1990)
8. Political Death (1994)
Jemima Shore's First Case: And Other Stories (1986)
Jemima Shore At the Sunny Grave: And Other Stories (1991)
Quiet as a Nun / Tartan Tragedy / Splash of Red (omnibus) (2005)
Jemima Shore on the Case: Cool Repentence / Oxford Blood / Your Royal Hostage (omnibus) (2006)

What I remember about the Jemima Shore books was how readable they were. There were a number of women writers at this time who produced a similar style of books: Victoria Holt (who wrote also as Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr), with a historical background, that diverted off into murder mysteries. Certainly in Fraser's style her gift for telling the story, shown so clearly in her very readable historical non-fiction, comes through in the lighter Jemima Shore novels.

In 1996, she also published a book entitled The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605, which won both the St Louis Literary Award and the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Non-Fiction Gold Dagger.

Antonia Fraser, a daughter of the 7th Earl of Longford, and therefore Lady Antonia in her own right, was made CBE in 1999, and awarded the Norton Medlicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000. Her second marriage was to the playwright Harold Pinter and she lives in London.

21 October 2008

ACRC: #4 The Man in the Brown Suit

Published in 1924, Agatha Christie's 4th novel, new characters: Anne beddingfield and Colonel Race

I'm borrowing my copy from the local library but haven't got it yet.

If you'd like to join a few of us in a challenge to read the Agatha Christie novels in order (at a leisurely pace I might say, maybe a couple a month), please feel free to do so. We are not far on our journey, so you won't have to jog very hard at this stage to catch up.

Don't feel you have to read them in order, or be part of the challenge, to comment on any of my postings. One of the pleasures of any journey is who you meet on the way.

Check the opening blog of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here.
  2. 1922, THE SECRET ADVERSARY- finished
  3. 1923, THE MURDER ON THE LINKS - finished
  5. 1924, POIROT INVESTIGATES (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)

Review: ACRC: #3, THE MURDER ON THE LINKS, Agatha Christie

Originally published in 1923, I read an Agatha Christie Signature Edition published in 2001. ISBN 0-00-711928-3. 319 pages.

Having recently transacted some business in Paris, Arthur Hastings is returning to London, to the rooms he is now sharing with Belgian ex-detective Hercule Poirot, by the morning Calais express. He shares a compartment with a young woman who introduces herself as Cinderella.

On the following morning in London Poirot receives a letter from France, from someone who says he is desperate need of the services of a detective. The letter is written in a "bold characteristic hand", with a hastily scrawled line at the bottom, "For God's sake, come!" Poirot and Hastings set out straight away for Dover and then Calais. When they arrive at their destination they discover that the writer of the letter has already been murdered. His brutally stabbed body is discovered face down in a bunker on a nearby golf course, clad in its underwear and an extremely long overcoat.

This is Agatha Christie's third novel, her second to feature Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. Although this is only the second time we have seen Poirot in action, Hastings implies they have worked other cases together since THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. In a reference to Inspector Japp from Scotland Yard in the opening pages, Hastings says that he had "more than once introduced us to an interesting case."

The police have already been called to the murder scene by the time Poirot arrives and he is delighted to discover the police commissary is an old acquaintance whom he last saw in Ostend over a decade before. The commissary is able to introduce Poirot to the examining magistrate and the victim's doctor. After Poirot has inspected the scene and between them they have interviewed some of the household, a stranger turns up. He proves to be Monseiur Giraud from the Paris Surete, a much younger man, a "modern" detective, arrogant, self-assured, and only about thirty years old.

From this point on the action becomes a competition between Poirot and Giraud to solve the case. Poirot and Giraud constantly refute each other's theories, and Hastings typically is ready to see Poirot as a quibbler, and indeed at one stage goes out of his way to deceive Poirot and thus lets him down. Giraud disparages Poirot's deductive methods, preferring to use more scientific evidence such as the new art of fingerprinting. Poirot makes no secret of the fact that he believes Giraud is not nearly observant enough.

In addition Hastings loses his impartiality by falling head over heels in love with one of the suspects. It will be interesting to see if she appears in a future book.

The plot is quite a complex one, and indeed I feel that the complexity actually became a little difficult for Christie to sustain. The reader is required to accept a considerable degree of coincidence, straining the credibility of the plot just a bit.

There's quite a lot of description of Poirot and we have a really good idea of what he looks like. Hastings, through whose eyes we see the action of the novel, says "An extraordinary little man. Height, five feet four inches, egg-shaped head carried a little to one side, eyes that shone green when he was excited, stiff military moustache, air of dignity immense! He was neat and dandified in appearance." There is a scene however at the end of the novel which is a bit at odds with that description. Look out for it and see what you think.

"Dashing forward, he [Poirot] battered wildly on the front door. Then rushing to the tree in the flower-bed, he swarmed up it with the agility of a cat. I followed him, as with a bound he sprang in through the open window". Sedate, dapper, neat little Poirot climbs a tree? Never!

Just as in the earlier two books, there are quite large sections of denouement, when Christie makes sure that the reader understands the complexity of the plot and the cleverness of her carefully woven webs. Almost 80 pages before the end Poirot begins his exposition designed to make things clear for the thick Hastings. Hastings thinks all is resolved and Poirot reminds him there is yet one more murder to be solved.

My verdict. THE MURDER ON THE LINKS has stood the test of time quite well. Red herrings abound. Hercule Poirot changes his mind several times, and so did I.
My rating: 4.2

Interestingly MURDER ON THE LINKS contains a dedication "To My Husband a fellow enthusiast for detective stories and to whom I am indebted for much helpful advice and criticism."
Agatha has been married to Colonel Archibald Christie since 1914, and her marriage, although apparently an unhappy one, will survive until their divorce in 1928.

You might enjoy seeing the comic strip version. Browse inside MURDER ON THE LINKS: Comic Strip version. Sample below.

19 October 2008

Sunday Salon #30 - 13 October 2008

Apparently last week the Yahoo Pipe had a little choke on my Feedburner feed of this blog, so some of you may not have seen my Sunday Salon posting.
Let's hope this is no longer a problem otherwise once again some of you may miss seeing my words of wisdom.

I'm actually itching to get on with the next title in my self-imposed Agatha Christie Reading Challenge - see the block in the right hand column of my blog.
This week I've posted some book reviewing guidelines that you might like to comment on.

This week I've finished THE VOWS OF SILENCE by Susan Hill, THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS by Alexander McCall Smith, and THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon. I've decided to add Susan Hill to my favourite authors block.

So far I've managed to keep up with a daily dose of CORDUROY MANSIONS, billed as "the first online novel" by Alexander McCall Smith. We are up to chapter 25. I'm not sure why I am "reading" it (actually listening to the lovely voice of Andrew Sachs read it to me), or whether I'll hang in for the whole 20 weeks.

For the last 2 weeks I've had a poll running.
It asked Where do the books you read generally come from?
15 kind souls participated with the following results:
    5 - a library
    4 - new from the book shop
    2 - ARC or review copy
    1 each - used book shop, from a friend, Book Mooch, other
Somebody did comment it was unfair to have to choose because she used many of them.
If you were a participant, many thanks.

This week's little poll (this is just to give you something to do in your visit) asks When was the book you are currently reading published?

Currently reading:
  • now - BROKEN, Karin Fossum
  • next - THE MURDER ON THE LINKS, Agatha Christie
  • audio book - THE LORD'S DAY, Michael Dobbs
  • also listening to - CORDUROY MANSIONS, Alexander McCall Smith, up to ch. 25
This week's posts
Breaking News

18 October 2008

What's in a Book Review?

This post owes its life to a question Mack Lundy of Mack Captures Crime (previously Mack Pitches Up) asked of Petrona, whose reviews are always wonderful. She replied here.

So I decided to see whether I could analyse what I do, and perhaps come up with my own set of "book review guidelines." I'm sure there are people out there who've had much more training than I have and there are some wonderful review writers out there. You know, you read their review, and you wonder why it never occurred to you to say what they did.

Anyway, for what they are worth, here are some of my internal guidelines, which I mostly try to follow. I'll follow up with some general Q&A. Feel free to comment, what have I missed? Have you already covered this in a post of your own?

The general mechanics
  • As I read the novel, if there is something I want to remember, an incident, a quote, I will use a post-it note to mark the place. I find though if there are too many of these, they are of no help at all.
  • Sometimes I write a blog posting which I call a progress report. That seems to help me clarify my ideas about what I've read so far. I follow that up with a full review after I've finished the book.
  • I try to write the review almost as soon as I've finished the book. I have a wonderful forgettery that sieves detail out pretty quickly, so the sooner the better. I probably couldn't write a review 2 or 3 weeks after reading a book without a quick re-read.
  • I only read one book at a time. It helps me focus on that particular book. I'm not sure that I would be able to think clearly about one book if I had several working their way around in my brain.
  • I write reviews for all the books I read, whether I like them or not, even when I can't finish the book - unless I didn't read few more than a few pages.
  • I rate all the books I read.
    I have a rating scale of 0-5 and it is possible to score anything in that range.
    My general benchmarks are
    • 5.0 Excellent
      4.0 Very Good
      3.0 Average
      2.0 Poor
      1.0 Did Not Like
      0 Did Not Finish
  • I keep records in a database, write my book reviews as blog postings, list them on Smik's Reviews, put them up on Library Thing, and store selected ones on Reviewer's Choice and Australian ones on AustCrimeFiction.
  • I belong to a small Yahoo group that critiques reviews if I submit them. I don't submit all my reviews for critique but the process is often useful.
  • I always do some research about the author, find lists of books previously written, author website etc. I'm not always precious about reading reviews that others have read. It's often interesting to see what about the book they chose to highlight but what they've said is unlikely to influence my take on the book. I do include some of the research links in my review.
The structure of the review
  • I include publisher, year of publishing, ISBN number, and number of pages at the top of the review.
  • The first two paragraphs are about the beginning of the book, but based on the principle that I rarely include anything from the story that comes after page 50. I don't want to spoil the experience for the reader, just whet their appetite. Blurbs that you find on the book itself often reveal more than I do. The rule is no spoilers ever.
  • Then I talk about the structure of the book - whose point of view was it written from? themes that emerged. Strong characters, historical settings
  • Next comes how I felt about the book. What I liked, disliked, what narked me beyond belief. Not just what but why.
  • Where does this book fit? A debut novel? Part of a series? Where can the reader find more about the author or other books? Anything other interesting titbits my research has revealed.
  • My rating.
Other Q & A

Q: Why do you write a review?
A: It helps me clarify my own feelings about the book. I'm also writing for others who might want to read it. And then finally, sometimes, as feed back to the author.

Q: How long does it take to write a review?
A: At the very minimum an hour to get my ideas down and organised. Longer if you include the research time. If it goes through the critique process, then you have to be more patient, because getting feedback from others can take days.

Q: Are you a real reviewer?
A: Well, I'm not a journalist, if that's what you are asking. But I have degrees, have taught English, and have been reading crime fiction for about 40 years. But you don't need the first two to write a book review. I'm an amateur, but an amateur who knows what she likes to read, and one who can usually pick a good book from a bad one.

Q: Could I write a review?
A: Yes, you could. But you need to be prepared to do more than just copy the book's blurb and says "I liked it". Initially I found writing the first 2 paragraphs, introducing the story, incredibly hard to do. It always seemed that the original blurb had said it all. That's why often my "blurb" takes a very different tack. I start with an entirely different view of the book. Then you need to think about what you liked about the book (or didn't like). I find the process of giving the book a rating helps clarify my ideas too and for me it is an indispensible part of the process.

Q: How long does my review need to be?
A: My reviews are usually about 500 words. I don't think people want a review they have to struggle through.They basically want to know whether they will enjoy the book or not.

Review: THE VOWS OF SILENCE, Susan Hill

Chattow & Windus, 2008, ISBN 978-0-701-17999-1, 328 pages

Now that their honeymoon is over Craig Drew has had to return to work. But his new wife Melanie has a couple more days off, unwrapping the wedding presents, writing the thankyou letters, clearing the spare room of boxes, and setting their house up. Tonight she's making a Thai chicken recipe that she knows Craig will love. But Craig never gets to eat it. When Melanie returns to the house after shopping for ingredients someone follows her.

When the death of young Melanie Drew is followed by the shooting of two girls attending a hen's night, it occurs to Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler that the events may be connected, but just what is the thread?

THE VOWS OF SILENCE is #4 in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series, and will not disappoint those who are already fans. If you've not read any of the series before, by all means go ahead and find this one, but I warn you, you will be adding the other three to your "wanted" list.

As with the earlier books in the series there is plenty going on in THE VOWS OF SILENCE apart from the murder mystery thread. Throughout the book we on occasion see the world through the mind and eyes of the murderer, but I really didn't pick up on clues about who he was. Perhaps a more discerning reader would. I'm sure Hercules Poirot would have known!

Then there's another thread that weaves it's way and holds the novel together. A lonely woman looking for a soulmate finds just what she is looking for through an internet dating agency. This story is counterbalanced by that of Richard Serrailler. Simon's father, whose wife died only a year ago, has found a new woman. In both cases the "children" have mixed reactions to these burgeoning romances. There's more, but you'll have to read them for yourself! Enjoy the sens of family and community that Susan Hill has created around her central character, Simon Serrailler.

Last week I struggled my way through the book I was reading. But there was no struggle with THE VOWS OF SILENCE. Susan Hill has a style that flows, so easy to read, my reading "soul" felt it had come home! I haven't yet tried any of her non crime novels (see the list at Fantastic Fiction). Perhaps I should, but then if I'm not reading crime fiction, a little voice keeps saying why are you doing this when there are so many good crime fiction books waiting?

The Simon Serrailler series in order:
THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN (2004), my rating: 4.6
THE PURE IN HEART (2005), my rating: 4.7
THE RISK OF DARKNESS (2006), my rating: 4.7
THE VOWS OF SILENCE (2008), my rating 4.7

Her website is at http://www.susan-hill.com/ but sadly her blog has disappeared. The website is looking rather neglected too which is a pity.
Below is a promo for The Man in The Picture, a ghost story.

I'm a happy little blogger!

Earlier this week somebody at Blogger made my day.
A couple of months ago a robot decided that my blog was a spam blog.
I was never sure what the criteria being used was, but then Blogger told me that I had been wrongly identified and someone would look at my blog and restore my "rights".
Ironically other blogs that I wrote, Smik's Reviews, and Smik's Learning Space, were unaffected.

Anyway it had 2 major effects on me as a blogger
  • every time I wanted to save a post I had to jump a word verification hurdle. I frequently failed it because not only did it change font and style but also the letters were often run into each other.
  • along with that was the fact that autosave was turned off. I lived in constant fear that my computer or browser would crash and my posting would be lost.
The only court of appeal that I discovered was that each week I could complete a special word verification that sent a message to Blogger that I was not a spam blogger. So every Monday for about 8 weeks I dutifully sent off the special message. Meanwhile I had discovered that while there is a forum you can lodge a posting in, and discover that many others have the same problem, seemingly unanswered, and there are messages that come from Blogger with the names of people as the signatory, there is no human you can actually email. Funny that.

Then on Monday night this week I noticed that my purgatory was over. Perhaps the fact that I had created yet another related blog Crime Fiction Journeys had bumped me up the priority list, or perhaps there really was a person, poor thing, wading through a visual verification list.
Anyway I'm back to normal! Just for the record, it began on 3 August. Since then I've written 96 posts.

Friday's Forgotten Books

For over 2 months now I have been participating each week in a project being run by Pattinase called Friday's Forgotten Books in which a bunch of bloggers reminisce about books published some time ago that we think are worth revisiting. You'll see I have a side block on the right where my 5 most recent posts are listed. Look for the bookcase image.

My forgotten books have been coming from my "little green book", a record I began keeping in 1975 that shows title, author, and date when I completed reading the book. On 1 January 2000 I graduated to a little red book because the bindings that held the green book together were disintegrating. By the end of this year the two books between them will hold list about 2,800 books read over a period of 34 years. I read more now than I used to. That has a lot to do with the little birds having flown the nest. What I can also track from the records is my growing interest, indeed passion, for reading crime fiction, and the authors who have been most influential in shaping my reading tastes.

In my blog postings I use the tag Friday's forgotten books, and clicking on the link will generate all my postings, but here is a list of them.
Today Pattinase has listed those who have contributed this week and you might like to check them out.
If you'd like to join the project, I'm sure you would be welcome. It has been running now for about 6 months so if you visit the Pattinase lists, you are sure to be reminded of books you've forgotten.

17 October 2008

Review: THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS, Alexander McCall Smith

From the book of the same title published 2008
ISIS AUDIO BOOKS, 7 Compact Discs, 6hrs 40mins, Product code ICD080615, ISBN 978-0-7531-2792-6
An unabridged reading by Adjoa Andoh.

Precious Ramotswe, that traditionally built Botswanan lady, receives nasty threatening letters, and Mma Makutsi and her fiance buy a bed. The events narrated in these books are deceptively simple but they are full of human interest and little mysteries. An orphan asks the agency to find her family and Mma Ramotwe's husband, Mr J.L.B Matekoni, looks for a miracle for their crippled foster daughter Motheleli. The voice characterisation by Adjoa Andoh is excellent and makes listening a delight.

If you have never read one of these, then you will enjoy this if you like "cozies".

My rating: 4.5

But my advice would be NOT to start here, but at the beginning of the series.
Here is a list
No 1 Ladies Detective agency
1. The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (1998)
2. Tears Of The Giraffe (2000)
3. Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001)
4. The Kalahari Typing School for Men (2002)
5. The Full Cupboard of Life (2003)
6. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (2004)
7. Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006)
8. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007)
9. The Miracle at Speedy Motors (2008)

and good news! Another title early next year!
10. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built (2009)

Early this year, Alexander McCall Smith had 3 titles in the top 10 Amazon UK Crime Fiction best sellers list, a mean feat for any writer. Check my other postings this year that feature McCall Smith titles.


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