31 December 2011

Farewelling 2011

This post is becoming an annual event  and so you may notice some similarities between this post and previous New Year's Eve ones.

Time to ring out the old year and welcome the new.
Where does time go?

MiP (MYSTERIES in PARADISE) will have been around for just on 4 years in a couple of days time.

I created it as the result of a resolution on New Year's Eve 2007.

Some statistical reflections.
  • I've read 160 books this year, quite an increase over last year's 136, and bringing my total since I have begun to keep records (1975) to an even 3160 in the last 37 years.
  • I've written 450 blog posts on MiP this year, an decrease of about 25% on last year. I reached some milestones: 500 book reviews added in 4 years, 2000 blog posts, and 7000 comments.
  • According to my main counter about 85,000 visitors have come to my blog this year, still about 2,000 a week, but a bit of a drop from last year.
    I have installed a number of different counters this year and they all tell different stories. I guess it doesn't matter a tinker's curse really - the blog gives me great satisfaction to write.
  • I dropped out of a couple of memes like Sunday Salon and Weekly Geeks mainly because there seemed to be so few crime fiction readers participating. However I have kept up with Friday's Forgotten Books and the Book Bloggers Review Carnival.
  • I ran a couple of memes myself this year: the Crime Fiction Alphabet attracted a goodly number of participants each week, as did the shorter Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass. I'll run another round of the CFA at least in 2012.
  • I also continued with my Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and the monthly Agatha Christie Blog Carnival 
  • I've completed a number of reading challenges this year, and yesterday wrote a reflective post on what you get out of participation. I did worry that I had taken on too much, but I think it paid off, even if I did only get the final 2 books read this week. I thought that the challenges would help me out by reducing Mt. TBR but unfortunately it is still growing.
So if you are a visitor to my blog, regular or not, thanks for coming; and if you've left comments, thanks for the encouragement. I hope to hear again from you in the new year.

So farewell the old year with gusto, and think about those New Year's resolutions!

But please, if you drink, don't drive!

30 December 2011

Reading Challenges Update 2011

I joined quite a number of reading challenges this year (16)and worried about whether I had taken on too many.
I hoped the challenges would achieve a number of things:
  • push me to read beyond my usual boundaries
  • help me reduce the number of books waiting on TBR which had grown by the beginning of this year to alpine proportions
  • by joining participating communities, I would learn of new books and titles that I should hunt down.
I kept a running record of my progress on Reading Challenges Update 2011
You can see from the general summary below that I completed all the challenges at the original levels that I signed up on. I'm feeling very happy with my achievements.
I did allow challenges to overlap, i.e. I could count a book for more than one challenge, although I did restrict myself to crime fiction titles. I did treat audio books as books read.
See what I've read.

Some of the challenges such as "translated" and "new to me" were personal challenges to exceed a level from the previous year.

I do think the challenges achieved what I wanted them to do, with the exception of reducing my TBR.
They did also reveal a lot about my reading choices.
For example, I was surprised that nearly one third of my reading was British crime fiction, but on reflection a number of those were audio books. I much prefer British narrators. I also have a fondness for British police procedurals.

I have decided that in 2012 I need to target more American crime fiction - those titles don't appear very often in my reading choices, more Australian, more New Zealand, and much more from my TBR both paper and e-book.

I may just focus on setting myself targets in 2012 rather than joining challenges. I haven't really decided.
Although I will be hosting the 2012 Global Reading Challenge and also the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

29 December 2011

Canadian Reading Challenge update, December 2011

I've embarked on the Canadian Book Challenge run by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set for the second year in succession and am happy to report that I am on target.

The Canadian Book Challenge is an online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. 

I can now join other participants at LAC MISTASSINI (7 or more books read)
  1. 4.6, BAD BOY, Peter Robinson
  3. 4.4, A BREWSKI FOR THE OLD MAN, Phyllis Smallman
  4. 4.8, THE SUSPECT, L.R. Wright
  5. 4.2, IN DESPERATION, Rick Mofina
  6. 4.4, ACTS OF MURDER, Laurali R. Wright
  7. 4.4, SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET & Other Creepy Stories, Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Review: BAD BOY, Peter Robinson

  • published by William Morrow (Harper Collins) 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-06-136295-8
  • 341 pages
  • Source: review copy supplied by Random House Australia
Publisher's blurb (author website)

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks faces his most challenging, personal, and terrifying case yet when his own daughter crosses paths with a psychopath...

A distraught woman arrives at the Eastvale police station desperate to speak to Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. But since Banks is away on holiday, his partner, Annie Cabbot, steps in. The woman tells Annie that she’s found a loaded gun hidden in the bedroom of her daughter, Erin—a punishable offense under English law. When an armed response team breaks into the house to retrieve the weapon, the seemingly straightforward procedure quickly spirals out of control.

But trouble is only beginning for Annie, the Eastvale force, and Banks, and this time, the fallout may finally do the iconoclastic inspector in. For it turns out that Erin’s best friend and roommate is none other than Tracy Banks, the DCI’s daughter, who was last seen racing off to warn the owner of the gun, a very bad boy indeed.

Thrust into a complicated and dangerous case intertwining the personal and the professional as never before, Annie and Banks—a bit of a bad boy himself—must risk everything to outsmart a smooth and devious psychopath. Both Annie and Banks understand that it’s not just his career hanging in the balance, it’s also his daughter’s life.

My take

I've followed the Alan Banks series for a number of years and so have a nodding acquaintance with the background to this story. I think however you could probably read BAD BOY as a stand alone because the author does give the reader snippets to fill in the holes.

As a character Banks doesn't come out of BAD BOY particularly well. True, he's had a tough life, but the fact that he's been a neglectful father rebounds on him when his daughter Tracy at the age of twenty four decides to choose her own path. As second in command of the Western Area, Banks is used to everyone working for his good and over the years that has made him rather self-centred, and to my mind, rather pre-occupied with his own well-being. Mind you, he is surrounded by some female characters, terrifically drawn, such as Annie Cabbott and Winsome Jackman , and even his boss DS Catherine Gervaise, who seem to always anticipate his needs. As a result Alan Banks tends to choose his own path rather than follow protocols.

If you enjoy British police procedurals then you will enjoy BAD BOY despite the fact that Peter Robinson is a Canadian author. (I chose to read this for the Canadian Book Challenge run by John Mutford). Robinson is yet another of those non-British authors who have set their novels in Britain, like Elizabeth George and Deborah Crombie.

BAD BOY isn't the best in the Alan Banks series but don't let that put you off.

My rating: 4.6

Other reviews on MiP

Australian crime fiction I read in 2011

My count this year of crime fiction by Australian authors was 16, despite my determination this time last year to attempt to read more.

So among my New Year's resolutions is of course that I will try to read more in 2012. It is not that there aren't plenty on offer!

I've linked each title to my review. (and you'll notice they are not in rating order.)
  1. 4.6, WATCH THE WORLD BURN, Leah Giarratano
  2. 4.8, WHISPERING DEATH, Garry Disher
  3. 4.3, RING OF FIRE, Peter Klein
  4. 4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE, Katherine Howell
  5. 4.4, BEREFT, Chris Womersley
  6. 4.8, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL, Geoffrey McGeachin
  7. 5.0, THE WRECKAGE, Michael Robotham
  8. 3.9, DIAMOND EYES, A. A. Bell
  9. 4.8, COLD JUSTICE, Katherine Howell
  10. 4.3, THE SERPENT AND THE SCORPION, Clare Langley-Hawthorne
  11. 4.2, DARK WATER, Georgia Blain
  12. 4.7, WYATT, Garry Disher
  13. 4.4, D-E-D DEAD! Geoffrey McGeachin
  14. 4.4, THE PERICLES COMMISSION, Gary Corby 
  15. 4.7, PRIME CUT, Alan Carter 
  16. 4.5, THE HALF-CHILD, Angela Savage
I joined the Aussie Author Challenge so I could be in touch with other readers.

If you are interested in ramping up your Australian crime fiction reading here are 4 places you might be interested in:

28 December 2011

My New Zealand Reading Challenge

I never did get around to finding an "official" New Zealand crime fiction reading challenge to join.

However I did set myself a target of  reading 4-6 books by New Zealand authors in 2011 and I achieved that this week:

  1. 4.2, MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW, Bev Robitai
  2. 4.3, BOLD BLOOD, Lindy Kelly
  3. 4.3, DIED IN THE WOOL, Ngaio Marsh
  4. 4.8, BOUND, Vanda Symon
It is not that there is a lack of NZ authors to read, or even a lack of suggestions thanks to Craig Sisterson at CrimeWatch, just a lack of time!

27 December 2011

Review: MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW, Bev Robitai(lle)

  • published as an e-book on Smashwords June 2010
  • I purchased it and read it on my Kindle
Author's blurb

There are many things that can go wrong between casting a show and Opening Night.  Finding a body in the second row is just one of them.

Jessica Jones is well aware that the old Regent Theatre is at crisis point.  As theatre manager she is responsible for most of the productions staged there, and this show is the last chance to prove that the place can make enough money to be worth saving.  (more)

My take

Many thanks to Craig Sisterson at CrimeWatch for pointing to this debut novel by New Zealand author Bev Robitai.

In the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book Robitai writes
    To all those who toil tirelessly in theatres everywhere, especially the past and present members of Nelson Repertory Theatre Inc. and the Theatre Royal Trust. 
    I’ve borrowed many of your finer attributes for the most likeable characters in this book. The nasty ones are of course entirely fictional. (And remember, I had to save some good characters for future books.) 
    The story is made up but the setting is the real Theatre Royal just as she was before the latest refurbishments, with all her quirky little nooks and crannies.
Like many amateur theatre groups the Whetford amateur dramatic society decides to stage a play that will have wide appeal, written by a "classic" author. Their choice is APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH by Agatha Christie which they hope will be popular.

Right from the start there appears to be someone who is determined that the show will not go on. The theatre itself is under threat by a local property developer who goes into print emphasising the antiquated nature of the building. Somebody keeps shoving cryptic notes on purple paper through the side door and even attempts to burn the building down.
None of the incidents are potential show stoppers until the death in the second row.

I enjoyed the bits of humour, the touches of romance, and the occasional "tributes" to Agatha Christie.
    'Yes, right under our noses. Haven't you noticed how Gert looks just like Miss Marple? She may not hail from St Mary’s Mead but I bet she has a shrewd grasp of human nature.' 'Better her than that bloody little Belgian git. Hercule Poirot always annoyed the hell out of me,' said Gazza. 'Such a smug, self-righteous windbag.' .... 
    'Well, most of the old girl's murders were motivated by sex or passion, weren't they?' said Howard. 'Human nature hasn’t changed much since she wrote her novels, just the world around us. Fewer servants, for one thing.' ..... 
    'Forget C.S.I., give me good old Agatha Christie. Leave it with me, Jack – I shall apply my little grey cells to the problem and try to come up with a solution for you some other way. It'll be the human element that's the key, you know. Motive is everything.'
MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW which appears to be sub-titled "Are you sure we can’t advertise for a tart?" is an enjoyable read made all the more so by the fact that it is carefully constructed and filled with interesting characters.

A good read for those of you who like a good cozy and have an e-reader.

My rating: 4.2

There were two things I kept thinking about as I read MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW.
The first was Simon Brett's Charles Paris series, murder mysteries set in the theatrical world.
The second was STAGESTRUCK by Peter Lovesey, one of my best reads for 2011.

I can see another crime fiction title by Bev Robitai on Smashwords: 22 WAYS TO GET REVENGE
This one is set in Canada.
When a charming conman steals your father's money and gets away with it, what do you do? You hunt him down and do whatever you can to make his life hell. Robyn Taylor knows a few payback tricks. She tracks down Colwyn Symons with the help of hunky investigator Mike Kent, but her survival skills are tested to the limit when Colwyn fights back unexpectedly.

Read another review on Reactions to Reading.

Find out more about the refurbished Theatre Royal in Nelson, New Zealand.

26 December 2011

Review: EDGE, Jeffery Deaver - audio

Publisher's blurb

Detective Kessler, a Washington DC cop working on a seemingly insignificant case, is targeted by a 'lifter' - a person who 'lifts' information from people. Yet this lifter is different from others: he kidnaps and endangers his target's family to give himself the "edge". The task of safeguarding Kessler falls to expert in personal security, Corte, as the FBI race to try and find out what has made someone so uneasy they've called in a 'lifter'...

My take

Henry Loving is a ruthless "lifter" who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to acquire the information that his contract requires. In the past he has even tortured and killed federal agents who've got in the way.

Loving is an expert at infiltrating organisations like the FBI that should be secure, planting moles, so that you are never really sure that everyone is who they purport to be. He operates on the idea that everyone has a price.

Deaver tries to base this novel on game technology - rock, paper, stone - but frankly that left me a bit cold. Agent Corte tries to work out why Ryan Kessler is being targeted by Loving, what information he has, and on the face of it there seem to be plenty of reasons. But then it seems that Kessler will give Loving the "edge" over another family member. The other important part of what Corte needs to find out is who has employed Loving.

I got a little tired of this plot being recycled as we worked our way through one after another of the family working out who is the real target. Corte frequently takes his eye off the ball, gets himself into yet another tight situation, and makes yet another mistake.

All of this gives Deaver the opportunity, and the excuse, to explore a bit more detail, another scenario, to expand the book. I came away with the feeling that it could have done with quite ruthless editing.

Skip Sudduth does an excellent job with the narration, but even with that, I was dying for at least the last 2 CDs for this story to get to an end. Nearly 15 hours is a long time.

My rating: 4.2

24 December 2011

The Luck of the Irish - Ireland Reading Challenge Roundup

Today I completed the Ireland Reading Challenge for 2011 at the Luck o' the Irish level (4 books)
Click on the links for full reviews.

5.0, THE RULE BOOK, Rob Kitchin
This was a very ambitious first novel. So much action occurs in just 12 days, so much blood is shed, and from a writer's point of view, so many threads to be tracked, so many characters to be fleshed out. And for me, this was the best novel I read in January. An excellent read, one you must add to your list.

4.3, THE BURNING, Jane Casey

I wouldn't yet put THE BURNING into the top drawer of police procedurals but Jane Casey is certainly an Irish author worth following.

4.3, THE LIKENESS, Tana French

A very long book, but the plot is intriguing. A fictitious undercover "personality" backfires in the way its creators could never have predicted.

4.7, WINTERLAND, Alan Glynn

A thriller set in Dublin with a very contemporary feel. Politics, a flagging economy, and ambitious men result in the murders of two men with the same name.

Review: WINTERLAND, Alan Glynn

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 626 KB
  • Print Length: 318 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0312539223
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber Ltd (November 5, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought it
Product description (Amazon)

The worlds of business, politics and crime collide in contemporary Dublin when two men with the same name, from the same family, die on the same night - one death is a gangland murder, the other, apparently, a road accident. Was it a coincidence? That's the official version of events.

But when a family member, Gina Rafferty, starts asking questions, this notion quickly unravels. Devastated by her loss, Gina's grief is tempered, and increasingly fuelled, by anger - because the more she hears that it was all a coincidence, that gangland violence is commonplace, that people die on our roads every day of the week, the less she's prepared to accept it. Told repeatedly that she should stop asking questions, Gina becomes more determined than ever to find out the truth, to establish a connection between the two deaths - but in doing so she embarks on a path that will push certain powerful people to their limits...

My take
Dublin docklands

There is a very contemporary feel to WINTERLAND enhanced for me by a flying visit we made to Dublin in the middle of this year. On the first day of our tour we were taken to the regenerated docklands, the setting of this book.

Knowing something of Ireland's descent into the economic dumps added to understanding too.

The Richmond Centre, a new multi-storey building on the docklands will be a sign to the world that Ireland has beaten off its economic woes, and will also bring with it a great partnership with a wealthy American corporation. So there are lots of hopes riding on it, not the least those of Larry Bolger, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, hoping to rise to Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of Ireland. He hasn't always been squeaky clean so it is very important to him that nothing blots his copybook now. However one of his close associates, Paddy Norton, solves most problems by outsourcing the solutions to a "security" firm. Paddy Norton has a long standing interest in the completion of the Richmond Centre, so nothing must get in the way,

But Larry Bolger only entered politics when his brother was killed in a car accident twenty five years earlier, the same crash that took the lives of Mark Griffin's parents and sister. Mark has never thought about whether it really was an accident, not until Gina Rafferty, raw from the recent death of her brother in a similar accident, suggests it might have been otherwise.

Alan Glynn has an interesting style in WINTERLAND, moving seamlessly from present to past tense. It seemed to me that most of the novel was written in the present tense, with past tense being used for reflection.

WINTERLAND is a great page turner. I read it to complete my final book for the Ireland Reading Challenge

My rating: 4.7

Read another review on Reactions to Reading

23 December 2011

Review: ECHOES OF THE DEAD, Sally Spencer

  • Published by Severn House 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-7278-6980-7
  • 218 pages
  • source: my local library
Publisher's blurb

When a recently released prisoner claims in a deathbed confession that he is innocent of the rape and murder of a young girl for which he was convicted twenty-two years earlier, DCI Monika Paniatowski is tasked to lead an unofficial investigation into his claims.
At first she is reluctant, but when she learns that her old mentor Charlie Woodend was the lead detective in the case, she knows she must do everything she can to protect his reputation . . .

My take

I have been rationing myself with Sally Spencer titles this year. As you can see from the list of reviews below I have read a few of them. ECHOES OF THE DEAD is #3 in the Monika Paniatowski series and now I'm really looking forward to #4.

A large part of ECHOES OF THE DEAD is a recap of the events of 22 years earlier, Charlie Woodend's first case as a Scotland Yard investigator. He is called in to investigate the death of 13 year old Lilly Dawson, raped and strangled, and his judgement is impaired by a number of things: the fact that his own daughter is of a similar age, his sergeant Bannerman is so keen to get a result quickly and to begin climbing the promotions ladder, the local plods seem to have done such shoddy work in the few days they had the case missing all sorts of clues to the killer's identity.

Monika realises that she needs to confront Charlie himself, now retired in Spain, and I enjoyed the interplay between these two characters. Charlie is sure he couldn't have made a mistake, but then doubts being to creep in. Could he have been duped? It certainly looks as if Charlie will have to wear the blame if the Chief Commissioner admits the wrong man was convicted. Can Monika and Charlie work out who really did kill Lilly?

Very good reading for those who like nice solidly plotted police procedurals with the occasional excursion into what makes people tick.

My rating: 4.6

Other reviews of Sally Spencer titles on MiP

DCI Monika Paniatowski series (from Fantastic Fiction)
1. The Dead Hand of History (2009)
2. The Ring of Death (2010)
3. Echoes of the Dead (2010)
4. Backlash (2011)

22 December 2011

Announcing the 2012 Global Reading Challenge

In 2012 the home of the Global Reading Challenge will be here and is now open for registration.

Use this challenge to expand your fiction reading horizons, whatever genre you read.

There are 3 challenge levels: Easy, Medium and Expert and you can choose to read 7, 14, or 21 books during the calendar year 2012.

You don't need to nominate the books you will read in advance, just follow your fancy, but you'll find yourself looking for books that fit your level of the challenge.

If you decide to join the challenge you can write a post on your blog like this one declaring your commitment, displaying the logo, and linking back to the Challenge page.

Finding relevant fiction is often easier than you think it is going to be.
Fellow challenge participants will enter links to what they have read and there are lists from previous years that you can consult.

21 December 2011


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 480 KB
  • Print Length: 364 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0752897136
  • Publisher: Orion (April 15, 2010)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (from author's site)
When a traveling puppet show sets up on the village green in Bishop’s Lacey, death stalks the little stage. Flavia goes behind the scenes to learn the craft (so to speak) in order to catch an ingenious killer.

From Scribd
Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over — until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing,and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve — without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?

My take

Hanging out in the company of a precocious nearly-eleven year old whose passions are death, chemistry, and poisons won't be every crime fiction reader's cup of tea. In fact anybody in the company of Flavia de Luce has to be very careful of what you eat and drink.  But having said I wasn't sure of Flavia in my review of #1 in the series THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE I have to say now that I am hooked. 

There is something very engaging about all that precociousness and enthusiasm. Alan Bradley could easily have written these novels using a more conventional sleuth but Flavia manages to go places that adults simply couldn't or wouldn't go and assemble information in a way they couldn't. Flavia, despite her precociousness, doesn't always understand what she's learnt, and that is where the reader with (our) superior life experience comes in.

THE WEED THAT STRINGS is really a light yet quirky cozy read. Sure there is a murder mystery to be solved and plenty to exercise the brain that likes puzzles, but there is really no blood and gore. There's a taste of village life in Britain in the 1950s, with a German ex-prisoner of war who fell in love with the Brontes, a glimpse of the beginning of popular television, alongside manorial society struggling to survive.

A very enjoyable read. My rating: 4.5 

Alan Bradley talks about how he found Flavia (or did she find him?)
The Flavia de Luce website

Other reviews to check:
Next in the series:
#3 A Red Herring Without Mustard (2010)
#4. I Am Half Sick of Shadows (2011)

20 December 2011

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival, December 2011

The final ACRC blog carnival for 2011 is now published.
Check here.

There are 10 bloggers and 23 items in the carnival this time ranging from Christmas items to posts by people just beginning their journey.

You can now join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge for 2012 too, so just click on the link and sign up. Read at your own pace, write a review on your blog, go to the Carnival collecting space and put in the URL, your details, and a comment about the post.

19 December 2011

Review: THE BLACKHOUSE, Peter May

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 505 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1849163842
  • Publisher: Quercus (February 3, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004MYF4SS
  • Source: I bought it - however a review copy was also sent to me by Pan Macmillan Australia.
Product description (Amazon)
The Isle of Lewis is the most remote, harshly beautiful place in Scotland, where the difficulty of existence seems outweighed only by people's fear of God. But older, pagan values lurk beneath the veneer of faith, the primal yearning for blood and revenge.
When a brutal murder on the island bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. But since he himself was raised on Lewis, the investigation also represents a journey home and into his past.
Each year the island's men perform the hunting of the gugas, a savage custom no longer necessary for survival, but which they cling to even more fiercely in the face of the demands of modern morality. For Fin the hunt recalls a horrific tragedy, which after all this time may have begun to demand another sacrifice.
The Blackhouse is a crime novel of rare power and vision. Peter May has crafted a page-turning murder mystery that explores the darkness in our souls, and just how difficult it is to escape the past.

My take

It does not surprise me that THE BLACKHOUSE has won two French literary awards. The book is compelling reading and the story is delivered in an unusual style.

And yet it was a novel that took me a little effort to break into. A prologue contains the hook: a young couple discover an eviscerated body hanging in a boat shed in the harbour. Once we are into the book proper it takes a while to piece together the tragedy that struck Fin and Mona MacLeod only four weeks earlier and that is now steadily coming between them. In the mix are nightmares that Fin barely remembers and does not understand. A recurrent nightmare from childhood.

The murder on the Isle of Lewis seems to have the same MO as the Leith Walk case in Edinburgh Fin had been investigating before tragedy struck. Now his boss is insisting Fin return to work, and the HOLMES computer has tagged Fin as a person to be attached to the Lewis enquiry. It is 18 years since Fin left Lewis to go to University in Glasgow and going back will mean letting his past catch up with him, and indeed Fin catching up with his past. The fact that he is an "insider" allows Fin to ask questions that an incoming investigative team would not even have thought of.

I was particularly struck by the structure of THE BLACKHOUSE. The author uses two "narrators". There is the third person narration where events involving Fin are described from an outsider's viewpoint, and then Fin's reminiscences and memories which are recounted in the first person. This division is particularly effective in giving the story pace at the same time as giving us Fin's life story.

This is a book where the setting almost becomes another character - whether it is the Isle of Lewis which seems remote enough for me, or the even remoter An Sgeir, three hundred feet of storm-lashed cliffs rising out of the ocean fifty miles to the north-north-east of the tip of Lewis, where the annual guga hunts take place. And yet there is something attractive about the author's description of these wind-swept locations that makes you want to see for yourself.

My rating: 4.7

Peter May's website tells us this is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to the next. So here is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. I suspect reading THE BLACKHOUSE will be important to reading the next.

Another review to check: Amanda Gillies on EuroCrime who seems to have matched my delight in this book.

Other reviews on MiP of Peter May books

18 December 2011

ACRC Update - final for 2011

If you look at this blog page, you will note that I have created some additional pages to enable me to more easily maintain my updates.
You will see these pages:
As I read another book, I will update these pages.

I have managed to stay on target this year, reading 12 novels and one short story collection during the year, so that currently my count is 34 novels and 12 collections of short stories.  My calculation is that there are 87 titles altogether so at 53% I am now a little over half way on my journey.

The short story collection page also lists the stories I've read in the order of publication:  so far 131 of them. I have no real idea of how many there actually are. Many of the stories appear in more than one collection, which complicates the stats a bit.

    Review: THE UNDER DOG, Agatha Christie

    Synopsis from the Christie website:

    The Under Dog and Other Stories contains works from the early days of Christie's career, all featuring Hercule Poirot.
    All the stories were published in British and American magazines between 1923 and 1926.
    The title story appeared in book form in England for the first time in the 1960 collection, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
    The other stories were to appear again in 1974 in the British and American collections, Poirot's Early Cases.

    Not published in the UK, this short story collection contains:
    The Under Dog,
    The Plymouth Express,
    The Affair at the Victory Ball,
    The Market Basing Mystery,
    The King of Clubs,
    The Submarine Plans,
    The Adventure of the Clapham Cook,
    The Cornish Mystery,
    The LeMesurier Inheritance.

    My take

    Many of the stories in this collection were "new to me", or perhaps it was that I didn't remember them very well from previous readings.

    The Under Dog, first published 1926
    This one is almost a novella, being about 70 pages long and occupying about one third of the novel.
    There is a discrepancy between the synopsis published on the Christie site which says Poirot is invited to dine with Sir Rueben Astwell who then becomes a murder victim, and the version I have in which Sir Rueben was murdered ten days before, and Poirot is summoned by his grieving widow.
    It seems that there may be two versions of this story.
    I also have a copy of THE ADVENTURE OF THE CHRISTMAS PUDDING and the version of the story that appears in that printing does not coincide with the synopsis on the Christie site either.

    The remaining 8 stories are all relatively short and include Captain Hastings, and sometimes Inspector Japp. Poirot's interest in the psychology of criminal activities is often flagged.
    These 8 stories were first published in the US in the monthly Blue Book Magazine
    They were also re-published in Poirot's Early Cases published in 1974.

    The Plymouth Express, published 1924
    This short story was also included in Poirot's Early Cases, and was later reworked to become THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN. The method of disposal of the body is a little clumsy (stuffed under a seat for another passenger to discover)
    There is an interesting suggestion by the editors about 2 pages before the end that "the reader pause in his perusal of the story at this point, make his own solution to the mystery - and then see how close he comes to that of the author".

    The Affair at the Victory Ball, published 1923
    This story is set immediately after World War One and begins with Hastings reflecting on how Poirot came to England and what brought them together. It also creates an unforgettable image of a young generation that celebrates with lavish parties and cocaine taking, and a society in which the class barriers have already collapsed. In this one the editors also suggest the reader comes up with a solution and then compare it with Poirot's.

    The Market Basing Mystery, published 1925
    Hasting, Japp, and Poirot are having a weekend off, brought to an abrupt end when a local gentleman appears to have committed suicide. The holiday makers are drawn to the murder site like bees to honey, all thoughts of a weekend off gone.

    The King of Clubs, published 1923
    Poirot has been contacted by Prince Paul of Maurania to investigate a murder case connected to the dancer he is proposing to marry. Poirot discovers Valerie Saintclair has not been entirely truthful to the prince about her origins.The case very nearly defeats Poirot, except for a "lucky accident", and we see another characteristic of his - he has a soft spot for beautiful young ladies, and also a tendency to trim the truth for his audience.

    The Submarine Plans, published 1925
    This one reflects English preoccupation with subterfuge, espionage, and state secrets. The plot to deceive an undercover agent almost backfires when the plans to Britain's latest submarine go missing. The story also affirms for us that Poirot is often consulted by heads of governments, and British Prime Ministers in particular are in his debt.

    The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, published 1925
    I must confess that the plot of this one, with a missing bank clerk who appears to have absconded with a small fortune in negotiable securities, and a cook who disappears on her day off and then sends for her trunk which has already been packed and roped up, becomes so intricate that I am still not sure whether I understood it all. It certainly defeated Hastings. It was a case that Poirot was originally disinclined to dismiss as a domestic incident and he says it became one of his most interesting cases.

    The Cornish Mystery, published 1925
    Mrs Pengelly has been told by her doctor that she has acute gastritis but she has noticed her husband has recently bought a can of weed-killer, and she suspects him of an affair with his dental assistant. Poirot decides to take on her case and to travel to Cornwall to visit but arrives too late. Poirot blames himself for her death.

    The LeMesurier Inheritance., published 1925
    The curse says that no LeMesurier first born son shall ever inherit.  History shows that the curse has run to form for centuries, but can the curse continue in the twentieth century or has it run out? The current LeMesurier Hugo was the youngest of five sons, and he himself has two sons. Mrs Lemesurier consults Poirot when her eldest son seems to be prone to life threatening accidents. Poirot of course does not believe in the efficacy of curses.

    I have a soft spot for Agatha Christie's short stories. These, in particular, flesh out the character of Hercule Poirot, highlighting characteristics that will be later focussed on in longer novels: his care of his appearance, his interest in the "psychological", his weakness for beautiful young women (although most of them don't respond in any emotional sense), his liking for the final denouement in which he assembles the characters and gives his verdict, Christie's little word pictures of a social structure that was really dealt a death blow by the the Great War, and much more,

    Many thanks to Bev for sending this to me.
    My rating: 4.4

    15 December 2011

    Forgotten Book: THE UNDER DOG, Agatha Christie

    This is my contribution this week to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books.
    It just happens to be what I am currently reading. It was kindly sent to me by Bev at My Reader's Block.
    This post is not a review, that will come in a day or two.

    Synopsis from the Christie website:

    The Under Dog and Other Stories contains works from the early days of Christie's career, all featuring Hercule Poirot.
    All the stories were published in British and American magazines between 1923 and 1926.
    The title story appeared in book form in England for the first time in the 1960 collection, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
    The other stories were to appear again in 1974 in the British and American collections, Poirot's Early Cases.

    Not published in the UK, this short story collection contains:
    The Under Dog,
    The Plymouth Express,
    The Affair at the Victory Ball,
    The Market Basing Mystery,
    The King of Clubs,
    The Submarine Plans,
    The Adventure of the Clapham Cook,
    The Cornish Mystery,
    The LeMesurier Inheritance.

    The edition sent to me by Bev was published in 1971 by Dell.

    The little green book
    Friday's Forgotten Books. is taking a 3 week break and so my contributions will resume on the 3rd Thursday of January 2012. Patti Abbott tells me the meme has been running for four years now. I haven't been contributing all that time, but my stats tell me this is my 159th post with this label, and that my first was at the beginning of August 2008.

    The majority of my contributions have come from my "little green book", a rather dilapidated affair dating back to 1975 in which I have recorded 3152 titles, authors and dates of completion.

    Review: BOLD BLOOD, Lindy Kelly

    • Harper Collins New Zealand, 2010
    • ISBN 978-1-86950-733-6
    • 288 pages
    • Source: I borrowed it
    Publisher's blurb 

    The phone call ended seven years of exile, but was a catalyst for murder . . .

    When Dr Caitlin Summerfield took the message, her satisfying life included a rich, sexy boyfriend, an exciting career and, best of all, she was free of the emotional maelstrom that characterised her disastrous relationship with her mother.

    Her father and brother are both long dead, and reluctantly Caitlin returns home when her mother is left in a coma after a riding accident. Someone has to look after her mother’s horses. But instead of the well-run training business she expects, she finds financial chaos and a dangerous mystery.

    As the tension mounts, Caitlin begins to realise her mother’s accident was something far more sinister. Bold Blood, a fast-paced contemporary crime novel set within the world of horses and eventing, is a compelling and powerful debut novel for an exciting and talented writer.

    Read an extract here

    My take

    BOLD BLOOD is an assured debut crime fiction novel by an established New Zealand children's writer.
    Essentially it is a good read, with a well constructed plot, and authoritative and authentic feeling background. As I read I couldn't help comparing it to works of English writer and Australian writer . It is probably an unfair comparison but one that readers of equine crime fiction will inevitably make. And BOLD BLOOD is very passable. I thought too that Lindy Kelly brought a female voice to this aspect of the genre. The character of Kasey the strapper/stable hand is particularly well drawn.

    The cast of characters is a striking one, but I'm not sure I really believed in the "big contract" that caused all the mayhem. I think also Kelly ended up killing too many characters off and Dom's reaction to the death of his own father is rather flat.

    While there is plenty of room for a sequel, Caitlin and Dom having plenty of issues to resolve, I don't think that I can see this as the beginning of a series starring these main protagonists. Caitlin Summerfield I think would have considerable difficulty in maintaining any objective interest in a criminal investigation. Perhaps Kelly will just let her go back to being a doctor.

    Nevertheless a good read. If you like crime fiction relating to horses then you'll like this one.

    My rating: 4.3

    BOLD BLOOD was one of the nominations for the Ngaio Marsh Award for New Zealand crime fiction in 2010

    Read another review on Reactions to Reading

    About the author

    Lindy is an experienced journalist and the author of many short stories, poems and plays. She has been published in New Zealand, Australia and the USA and has won, or been commended in 29 awards. Her stories have been broadcast on National Radio and she is the author of 20 books for children and adults. Lindy teaches creative writing at the Nelson Women’s Centre, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and Nayland Adult Education classes. She lives on a farm in Nelson and loves children, (is the mother of six and grandmother of four) animals, the New Zealand bush, gardening, swimming and of course writing.

    13 December 2011

    Review: WATCH THE WORLD BURN, Leah Giarratano

    • published by Bantam 2010, Random House Australia
    • 388 pages
    • ISBN 978-1-74166-814-8
    • source: borrowed
    Synopsis (publisher's)

    Miriam Caine, aged seventy, is dining with her son when she bursts into flames in the restaurant of a five-star hotel. The restaurant’s manager, Troy Berrigan, is first to her aid, but the woman later dies of her injuries. When investigators find accelerants on the victim’s face and clothing, the incident becomes a police matter, and attention is turned to Berrigan, a fallen hero cop, who fits the arsonist profile. Berrigan knows he’s not the killer, but he also knows that at the time of the incident, he was the only person close enough to have set her on fire. When he’s connected to another death, Troy must do all he can to discover what really happened to Miriam Caine.

    Her death preludes a spate of apparently unconnected acid and arson attacks around Sydney. Is it the beginning of an orchestrated campaign of terror? And is Troy Berrigan the perpetrator or an innocent bystander caught up in a terrible train of events?

    While on study leave, Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson becomes caught up in the investigation. Working with Federal Agent Gabriel Delahunt, she is determined to find out what happened to Miriam Caine, because this case for her is not only about murder and maiming in Sydney: this case will change Jill Jackson’s life forever.

    My take

    WATCH THE WORLD BURN was one of those books that I enjoyed more, the more I read. The opening "hook" was great though - an elderly woman bursts into flame, just when the manager, aboriginal ex-cop Troy Berrigan, was standing right next to her, but not looking at her.

    WATCH THE WORLD BURN is full of intriguing little stories, starting with the one about why Troy Berrigan is no longer a cop. Then there is also the continuing story of Jill Jackson, the thread that connects all Giarratano's novels so far. And then the story of politician Erin Hart campaigning for the installation of CCTV in public places such as railway stations. Underpinning it all is the ongoing investigation into Miriam Caine's not-so-spontaneous combustion, and questions that elude answers.

    This is a book that keeps the reader on their toes, testing out hypotheses. For me the final answer came out of left field, but then I could see that the clues had been there all along.

    My rating: 4.6

    If you are new to Giarratano, then I agree with Bernadette that you could begin your reading here. There is enough back story from earlier novels.

    If you have an e-reader Amazon has all titles for your Kindle and Random House Australia can help you with all the e-pubs.

    Earlier titles in the series - linked to my reviews
    VOODOO DOLL (2008)
    BLACK ICE (2009) 

    12 December 2011

    Christie at Christmas

    I have chosen 4 Christie stories to highlight at this time of the year.
    In general Christmas is not a time when Christie's sleuths were active and we must assume that they, like the general population of readers, celebrated Christmas without a lot of interruption by murder or theft.

    As Christmas approaches we look forward to a season of happiness and festivity but the season is dampened when a death occurs.

    THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY was actually first published (1931) in the US under the title of THE MURDER AT HAZELMOOR.

    Christmas is approaching. Snow has fallen in England over the last four days and the landscape on the fringe of Dartmoor at Sittaford House is several feet deep in snow. To all intents and purposes the tiny village of Sittaford is almost completely cut off.
    The winter tenants of Sittaford House, Mrs Willett and her daughter Violet, are entertaining the residents of the nearby estate cottages to afternoon tea. To pass the time the group tries a spot of table turning. When the table spells out the message "Captain Trevelyan ... dead... murder", one of the party, Trevelyan's lifelong friend Major Burnaby decides to make the six mile trek into the village on foot, just to check his friend's welfare.

    All of the people who were in Sittaford House that afternoon have something to hide, and so the story is rather liberally sprinkled with red herrings, and with sub-plots, including a breakout from a nearby prison on Dartmoor which reminded me a bit of the plot from Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is a basic assumption that the murderer had either to be from Sittaford House itself or from one of the cottages. Christie plays a little with the reader through the dual investigations, and it means that we don't actually have all of the facts at our disposal.

    In HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS (1938) Simeon Lee gathers his family around him for Christmas, including his black sheep of a son Harry, whom everyone had assumed (or hoped) was either dead or in gaol somewhere. His granddaughter Pilar, whose mother had died the previous year, turns up as does the son of his old mining partner in South Africa.

    On Christmas Eve Simeon Lee signs his death warrant by telling his collected family that he is about to change his will.
      "Your mother had the brains of a louse! And it seems to me that she transmitted those brains to her children!". He raised himself up suddenly. A red spot appeared on each cheek. His voice came high and shrill. "You're not worth a penny piece, any of you!  I'm sick of you all! You are not men! You're weaklings - a set of nanmby-pamby weaklings. Pilar's worth any two of you put together! I'll swear to heaven I've got a better son somewhere in the world than any of you, even if you are born on the right side of the blanket. "
    This is a locked room mystery. There are plenty of suspects. Simeon Lord is found with his throat cut on the other side of a door with the key on the inside.

    The third story is a Miss Marple from THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS, a collection of short stories published in January 1930. The story is called A Christmas Tragedy.

    While visiting Keston Spa Hydro, Miss Marple meets Mr and Mrs Sanders. Certain that Mr Sanders plans to kill his wife, Miss Marple does everything she can to protect the innocent woman. Despite Miss Marple’s best efforts poor Mrs Sanders is killed but her husband has an alibi – could the amateur sleuth have made a mistake? Could Miss Marple have prevented the murder?

    The short story collection WHILE THE LIGHT LASTS contains a story, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, about a stolen ruby. This was published in a number of short story collections and was also titled A Christmas Adventure.

    When a priceless ruby, belonging to a Far Eastern prince, is stolen from him whilst he is on a visit to England, Poirot is asked to make a quiet investigation. The ruby was destined for the prince’s bride-to-be and a scandal must be avoided.

    Do you have a favourite Christie that you read at Christmas?

    Have I missed any Christie stories related to Christmas?

    11 December 2011

    The gingerbread house queens strike again! 2011 houses

    Aren't these houses lovely!
    Daughter Alison and her friends have an annual day or two when they turn her family room into Mrs Christmas's gingerbread house workshop and the results this year are stunning! (see last year's)

    9 December 2011

    Another celebration of numbers!

    CELL 8, Roslund & Hellstrom  was my 500th review posted on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.
    For the full list see All Reviews (ranked) or Authors A-Z

    It was also my 150th book for this year: 2011 Reviews

    8 December 2011

    Review: CELL 8, Roslund & Hellstrom

    • published by Quercus 2011
    • ISBN 978-1-84916-147-3
    • translated from Swedish by Kari Dickson
    • 460 pages
    • source: review copy sent to me by Pan Macmillan Australia
    Publisher's blurb

    A cheap crooner by the name of John Schwarz earns his keep on a ferry between Sweden and Finland, singing evergreens for drunken passengers. One night, he loses his temper with a man harassing women in the crowd, beating him unconscious. As drunken brawls are commonplace on the Baltic cruising ferries, no one raises an eyebrow.

    No one, that is, but Detective Ewert Grens. Concerned by the details of the case report, Grens can't help but think someone capable of such violence must have a history of it. As a precaution, he orders Schwarz arrested: one that is seemingly justified when Schwarz provides such resistance that he has to be sedated.

    Suspicion turns to shock when Grens discovers that John Schwarz does not exist. When he learns that the man in his custody is in fact John Meyer Frey – an American citizen from Marcusville, Ohio – he is even more astonished. John Meyer Frey cannot be sitting in front of him: John Meyer Frey died on Death Row over six years before.

    This mystery will initiate the most remarkable criminal investigation of Ewert Grens' career, the reverberations of which will reach the highest tier of international politics, and blow the worldwide debate on the death penalty wide open.

    My take

    My research shows CELL 8 is yet another example of a translated crime fiction title released in English out of order of original publication.
    Here is the list I've worked out with original Swedish publication dates:
    • THE BEAST (2004)
    • BOX 21 (2005)
    • REDEMPTION aka CELL 8 - original title Edward Finnigans upprättelse - (2006)
    • THREE SECONDS (2009) - my review
    Check the list for yourself on the author's website.

    The method by which John Meya Frey cheats Ohio's Death Row does strain the bounds of credibility a bit but the conundrum of whether a man who has already been certified as dead can be executed again is a nice one. As is whether a country like Sweden which has abolished the death penalty, and is party to an EU agreement that states that no member country will extradite a person to face a death penalty, can carry out such an extradition.

    Ewart Grens carries his own burdens which leak over into this case. Lurking in the background is his own relationship with a former colleague Anni, now a brain damaged resident in a nursing home. Grens is responsible for her condition and it affects his judgement in the case of John Schwartz. He is zealous for the apprehension of Schwartz and brings him in on a charge of attempted murder when the passenger he kicked in the face on the ferry hovers between life and death in hospital.

    CELL 8 is well constructed and well paced book. 17 year old John Meya Frey always protested his innocence in the murder of his 16 year old girlfriend. It seems that because he was a minor the police were only too willing to believe in his guilt and no-one really looked for an alternative answer. The reader is given a sniff of who the real killer might have been, early on, but I misinterpreted the tip.

    There is an interesting irony played out in the latter pages of the book too.

    My rating: 4.5

    Other reviews to check

    7 December 2011

    Review: ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - audio

    • available from Audible.com
    • Narrated by Tom Weiner and translated from Swedish by Lois Roth
    • length: 6 hours 35 mins
    • source: I bought it
    • Originally published 1965, the first of ten books in the Martin Beck series.
    • also available in Kindle edition from Amazon 
    Publisher's Summary (Audible)
    On a July afternoon, the body of a young woman is dredged from Sweden's beautiful Lake Vättern. Three months later, all that Police Inspector Martin Beck knows is that her name is Roseanna, that she came from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that she could have been strangled by any one of 85 people.

    As the melancholic Beck narrows down the list of likely suspects, he is drawn increasingly to the enigma of the victim, a free-spirited traveller with a penchant for the casual sexual encounter, and to the psychopathology of a murderer with a distinctive - indeed, terrifying - sense of propriety.

    With its authentically rendered settings, vividly realized characters, and command over the intricately interwoven details of police detection, Roseanna is a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.

    My take

    I have been promising myself to read this, the first in the Martin Beck series. I have read a number of the series (see the list below) and enjoyed them. Fifty six years on from the publication of ROSEANNA, it would be easy to dismiss the signals in the book that crime fiction was embarking on a new style of police procedural, one that not only focussed on the crime committed but also on the way the policeman felt about his job, the way the investigation gnawed at the detective's consciousness,  affected his family life, and even how well he felt.

    The introduction to both the Audible and Kindle versions is the same, written by Henning Mankell who pays tribute to how the authors thought they could use "crime novels to form the framework for stories containing social criticism. ... They wanted to use crime and criminal investigations as a mirror of Swedish society... Their intent was never to write crime stories as a form of entertainment."

    In ROSEANNA Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo experimented with a number of formats. Parts of the novel are simply narrative while in other sections we have verbatim transcripts of interview.

    In 2009 an article in The Guardian titled The queen of crime said
      When Maj Sjöwall and her partner Per Wahlöö started writing the Martin Beck detective series in Sweden in the 60s, they little realised that it would change the way we think about policemen for ever.
    Tom Weiner does an excellent job of the audio version. (Just a personal anecdote - about two chapters before the end, my iPod ceased to work, and I was forced to read the last two chapters on my Kindle.)

    My rating: 4.7

    The Martin Beck series (courtesy Fantastic Fiction)
    1. Roseanna (1965) - rated: 4.7
    2. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (1966) - my review: rated 4.7
    3. The Man on the Balcony (1967) - mini-review: rated 4.8
    4. The Laughing Policeman (1968) - mini-review : rated 4.7
         aka Investigation of Murder
    5. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (1969) - review: rated 4.5
    6. Murder at the Savoy (1970)
    7. The Abominable Man (1971)
    8. The Locked Room (1972)
    9. Cop Killer (1974)
    10. The Terrorists (1975)
    I now have the remainder of this series on my Kindle and may set myself a mini-challenge in 2012 to complete reading it.

    I am also making this post my contribution to this week's Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books

    6 December 2011

    Review: THE LIKENESS, Tana French

    • Format: Kindle Edition
    • File Size: 900 KB
    • Print Length: 708 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0340924799
    • Publisher: Hodder (September 4, 2008)
    • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B002V092CY
    • Source: I bought it

    Publisher's blurb

    Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover. She's transferred out of the murder squad and started a relationship with Detective Sam O'Neill, but she's too badly shaken to make a commitment to him or to her career. Then Sam calls her to the scene of his new case: a young woman found stabbed to death in a small town outside Dublin. The dead girl's ID says her name is Lexie Madison - the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective - and she looks exactly like Cassie.

    With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie's real identity, Cassie's old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn't fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim's identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

    As she is drawn into Lexie's world, Cassie realizes that the girl's secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students live in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie's growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk. Another gripping psychological thriller featuring the headstrong protagonist we've come to love, from an author who has proven that she can deliver.

    My take

    No review could ignore the fact that this is an extremely long book, and that it really took me about 10 days to read, which is a very long time for me.

    Part of what makes the book so long is that we are given an immense amount of back-story for all the main characters. However I did feel that in one relationship at least, the one between Cassie and her former boyfriend Rob, we were not given enough back-story. I think we were meant to have remembered what happened in the first title IN THE WOODS, and that would have been fine if I had read THE LIKENESS while the earlier book was fresh in memory. As it was, I floundered.

    The plot of THE LIKENESS is an intriguing one on two levels - first of all it is a murder investigation into the death of a girl who is calling herself Lexie Madison, an identity created by Cassie Maddox and her boss at the time Frank Mackey. Not only is she using that name, but she is the spitting image of Cassie herself.

    The second intriguing plot line is the decision to plant Cassie as Lexie in the house where Lexie has been living with four other students from Trinity College. Cassie's under cover preparation is reminiscent of the preparation of a spy, and there remains the question of whether she will be strong enough and disciplined enough to carry out her assignment to find out who killed Lexie without becoming emotionally involved. There are bets on whether she will last. How long Cassie stays under cover will be determined by how quickly she solves the murder.

    I found reading the book slow, but not particularly heavy, going. There is no doubt that it is well written. I just became impatient for the break to come. However the breakthrough comes and still the book doesn't end. I think the purpose of the final two chapters is to make the reader question whether we have actually got the story correct, and to send us back through the book to check aspects of the plot. This is not an easy thing to do on a Kindle, and my attention was a bit half-hearted towards the end.

    My rating: 4.3

    Other reviews to check
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