Category: crime

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify her killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath…

I don’t even know where to start with talking about this book.  I don’t know how to convey just how much I *LOVED* this book without just writing “I LOVED THIS – READ IT” over and over again.  It’s strange to have read a book in February and to be absolutely certain that I’ve finished one of my favourite books of 2018.

On the face of it, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (which we’ll now call Seven Deaths) is a classic, ‘Golden Age’ style mystery with a twist. It’s been published beautifully, with a stunning art deco cover and end papers that map out Blackheath in the style of a Cluedo board.  Right from the off, it sounded good and looked even better. I know that it’s a cliché but it really is so much more than it seems.  It is the story of Aiden Bishop trying to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle but it’s also the story of a relationship between Aiden and the mysterious Anna and it’s about sacrifice and whether it’s worth treading on others to succeed.  It’s truly, truly astonishingly good.

I can sense my memories just out of reach. They have weight and shape, like shrouded furniture in a darkened room. I’ve simply misplaced the light to see them by

I am an absolute sucker for time travel stories but they can be really hit and miss.  Some authors try to dodge the complexities of characters coming across themselves in the past by having them go to any lengths to avoid their earlier selves while others clumsily smush plotlines together, requiring a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief.  Seven Deaths manages to properly take on time travel and win.  As Aiden moves between “hosts”, he encounters future hosts and past ones and the weaving together is so deftly done, I was basically in awe of Stuart Turton the whole time I was reading. There are small oddities that are later revealed to be pivotal moments, all tucked around the tangents of the central mystery that slowly but surely come together.  It’s complicated but I never found it confusing, a wonder in itself with eight versions of Aiden Bishop walking around and crossing paths with each other.

To add some slight balance, I wasn’t 100% convinced by part of the very ending.  Not so much that it in any way detracted from how much I adored this book (which is, of course, wholly and completely) but in a way that did give me a slight pause.  The main elements of the ending are perfect (obviously), there’s just a small bit that wasn’t a little less so compared to everything else. There isn’t a lot more that I can say without spoiling things for you. There were so many twists, moments that genuinely unnerved me and moments that completely blew my mind.  Pure genius.

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

Overall:  What else can I say? The plotting is impeccable, the writing is flawless and it’s a beautiful book to own. It’s an absolute masterpiece that I can’t wait to read again one day.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time and I can’t imagine reading anything better than it for quite some time. Apparently Turton is currently writing his second book and I will be preordering that as soon as physically possible.  If it’s even half as good as Seven Deaths, I’ll be a happy reader.

Review: ‘Mystery in White’ by Jefferson J. Farjeon

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Review

I bought Mystery in White in a pique of festivity last year.  I’m led to believe that I’m far from alone in helping this 1930s crime story creep back into the limelight.  It saddens me that this wonderful little book has been out of print for years but I’m so glad that it’s getting a revival.
What I love about books from the glory days of crime writing of Christie and Sayers, and what I loved about Mystery in White, is that the stories are intriguing and can keep you guessing without being so unsettling that you nearly rip your curtains off their poles trying to shut out the world and its darkness.  I’ll admit that the actual mystery part of Mystery in White is a little lacking.  And Then There Were None this is not.  It’s not that there’s no tension (because there is), it’s more that it’s a different type of tension.  It’s never quite clear whether the threat is from outside the house, inside the house or whether it’s something altogether more supernatural and there were moments where I did do a quick nervous check over my shoulder but there didn’t seem to be the sense of urgency that you might expect from a ‘trapped with a murderer prowling’ story.  Perhaps because the characters are quite a stiff upper lip bunch or because the constant drift of snow and the whitewash it leaves breeds a different type of atmosphere.  I absolutely wanted to know what the devil was going on in this mysterious house with seemingly haunted furniture but there was something less stomach-clenchingly nerve-wracking about the experience.  Like murder for the festive season, you might say!
Fear not – what Mystery in White might lack (slightly!) in the intrigue department, it more than makes up for in the charm department.  The writing has a warmth to it that just sings ‘golden age’.  It’s witty and the sense of humour is dry and I enjoyed every single minute I was reading it.  The characters are such a quintessentially British troop – old boreish chap that spent time in India and won’t stop going on about it, a swooning, ankle twisting delicate dancer and an eccentric and super-perceptive psychic investigator.  You might not get to spend too long with them but they’re a heck of a lot of fun all the same.

It’s surprisingly comforting to read a ‘trapped in by the snow’ story without first having to have characters explain away their lack of mobile phones or wireless broadband.  It’s snowing, the trains aren’t running, the main characters aren’t going anywhere and can’t communicate with the outside world so you can just settle in and enjoy.

I don’t want to say too much more.  Everything will be much better if you pick it up, ready to be wrong-footed by the shifting chronology and tangled up in a mystery or two.  When I picked it up, all I knew was what was on the blurb and this delicious quote that was printed on the back of my edition:

The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house” 

Just great stuff all round.

Overall:  If you’re a fan of Christie or Sayers or any other classic mystery writers and you want something festive without anybody falling in love over mince pies, this is the book for you.  At only 256 short pages, I just can’t express how perfect this would be for a snowy evening indoors. 

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Date finished: 09 December 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Fiction; Crime Fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in December 2014 by The British Library
If you’re looking for a bookish treat for yourself or a buddy for this Christmas, you can currently snag 3 of The British Library’s Crime Classics for the price of 2 on their website and purchases will support the British Library – WIN WIN!

Book Club Chatter #2: ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie

Since January, I’ve managed to miss two book club meetings.  I missed the February meeting because I was too busy at work to finish “early” (at 5.15pm…) and go to the meeting.  That was a shame, actually, because the book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and I was curious to see what other readers made of it.  From what I gathered from chatting with other book clubbers after the meeting, the feelings were really positive about the book on the whole but nobody really saw the point of the titular miniaturist.  So pretty much what I thought myself.  I missed the March meeting because I was a month into the War and Peace read-along and didn’t manage to read the book (which was a bit annoying because it’s one I’ve owned for years but not read) – The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.  I’m sure I’ll read it one day.

April’s pick:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
I’ll admit I was relieved when I got the email listing our next few reads and I saw that the book for April was one I’d already read.  If it hadn’t been, I’d have been skipping out on April too because there’s been no time for anything else while I’ve been facing down Tolstoy.  
Five people turned up to the meeting (including me) and I spoke to two people who couldn’t make it but who’d read the book. Out of the seven of us, five really liked it and two weren’t keen.  More surprisingly (to me) was the fact that two readers actually managed to guess the ending.  One other book clubber said that they had suspicions about the ending but that they didn’t actually guess it.  I was completely blind-sided by the ending.  The thing I find with Agatha Christie is that I think that maybe if I really tried one day, I’d be able to fathom out the murderer but, like I said when I was defending my lack of sleuth skills, I don’t think I want to.  Part of the fun of Christie’s books for me is that moment where Poirot or whoever gets everybody in a room and unravels the mystery for me.  I like reading the clues but not really trying to puzzle them out and I get as much enjoyment out of being surprised as I think I would at being proven right.

The readers that thought The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was “just ok” found the mystery aspect got in the way of the portrait of English village life in the 1920s.  It wasn’t Christie they didn’t like per se, just crime fiction generally.  It seems that if you aren’t a crime fan, this isn’t going to convert you, which I found interesting because I thought that if anything could, it would be this book.  What do I know?

There were some big Christie fans among the group (both of whom declared a love for Miss Marple, which I do not get) but also some complete newbies.  It was a nice mix and meant that after we’d all done shock face over the ending and discussed why people did/didn’t like it, we got onto sharing other Christie recommendations.  Obviously I sang the praises of And Then There Were None, which remains hands down my favourite Christie and probably one of my favourite books.  Others shouted (not literally) about the wonders of Murder on the Orient Express, which I read last year and also really liked, but there weren’t any recommendations for stand out novels that I hadn’t already read.  Boo.

May’s pick: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earthby Chris Hadfield

I’m not at all sure about this pick.  I have next to no interest in space travel and the like.  I actually dislike that so much money is poured into sending people off to Mars while there are people that don’t have enough to eat and that are homeless.  So do I want to read about an astronaut’s adventures?  Not especially.  Also, there’s a whiff of self-help in the description: “his vivid and refreshing insights in this book will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth – especially your own“.  Ugh.  I know that the point of a book club is to stretch yourself and read outside your comfort zone but I would never have picked this up on my own.  I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Review: ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Roger Ackroyd knew too much. He knew that the woman he loved had poisoned her brutal first husband. He suspected also that someone had been blackmailing her. Now, tragically, came the news that she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

But the evening post brought Roger one last fatal scrap of information.

Unfortunately, before he could finish the letter, he was stabbed to death…

Review

Agatha Christie’s novels are a recent-ish comfort read of choice for me and it’s led me to a nice little side obsession with adorable little series of food or book-focussed cosy mysteries. For a good third of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, though, I was disappointed and felt as though everything was a bit laboured and quite dry. I forgot that it was Agatha and that she had never let me down before. Then came the ending. But I skip ahead. Let’s go back to the beginning…
This is the second Poirot story that I’ve read and I think I’m starting to understand them a little more now. When I read The Mysterious Affair at Styles (and reviewed it here), I was annoyed because the narrator, Captain Hastings, kept belitting Poirot and being smug despite being quite the idiot. This time around, Dr Sheppard is in charge of relaying events and he was much less irritating than his predecessor. Maybe because he didn’t spend most of the book deriding a man who is quite clearly his intellectual superior. All of which means I’ve done a bit of u-turn and decided that I quite enjoy seeing the enigmatic Poirot through the eyes of different characters because it preserves the mystique shrouding the famous detective.
The fourth instalment in the Hercule Poirot set of mysteries is set in a very British, small village that is alternately brilliant and annoying. Repressed ageing villagers are nothing if not well-practised at concealing secret despairs and loves from the people that they spend their lives in close proximity to so there are plenty of misunderstandings and revelations scattered throughout the story to occasionally offer a moment of relief from the otherwise slightly twee narrative. There was something that grated on me about the nosy, prying, gossiping characters and for some reason I let that lure me into thinking that I wasn’t really enjoying reading about them.

As always, though, much of what I had been taking at face value was not as it seemed and nothing was a wasted detail. There’s a retired elephant hunter, a slightly shifty seeming butler, a swooning young woman, a formidable housekeeper and a victim that had secrets of his own. I made the mistake of thinking that it was business as usual so that you don’t have to. This is a reasonably short book but one that will pay you back in dividends.
Having read about it, it seems that the twist in this tale is not widely appreciated and was the source of much controversy at the time. I thought it was brilliant. I like Agatha Christie because I like not quite being able to trust what I’m reading. I don’t read crime fiction (cosy or otherwise) because I want to get to the end and be able to pat myself on the back for guessing a twist or picking out the murderer; I read crime fiction because I want to be kept on my toes and surprised when things are revealed to not be quite what I thought. I don’t feel “tricked” if I’ve followed the red herrings down the wrong road because it just makes the Big Reveal moment all the more fun. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd would have clocked a mediocre 2.5/3 star rating if it hadn’t had an ending that made me gawp. Gawp-inducing endings are winning endings. Fact.
Overall: I do recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd but only if you trust me. There may well be times when you’re reading it that you think, “This is dull – what was Charlotte thinking in recommending it?” so I only want you to read it on my recommendation if that isn’t going to be your final thought before abandoning reading it entirely. The ending makes everything worth it. Honest.

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Date finished: 01 May 2013
Format: eBook
Source: Borrowed from my library’s eBook site
Genre: Crime fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by William Morrow Paperbacks in February 2011 (Originally published: 1926)

Review: ‘The Gift of Darkness’ by V. M. Giambanco

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Twenty-five years ago in the woods near the Hoh River in Seattle, three boys were kidnapped. One did not come home.

A quarter of a decade later, a family of four is found brutally murdered, the words thirteen days scratched near their lifeless bodies.

Homicide Detective Alice Madison ran away from home as a child, one breath away from committing an unforgivable act; as an adult, she found her peace chasing the very worst humanity has to offer. Madison believes these murders are linked. And she has thirteen days to prove it.

To stop a psychopath, Madison must go back into the woods and confront the unsolved mystery of the Hoh River Boys. She must forget her training and follow her instincts to the terrifying end as enemies become allies and, in the silent forest, time is running out to save another life.


Review

I seem to be making a habit of this crime-fiction-reading malarkey!  This time it was to branch fully out into serial killers, grim descriptions of the murder of a whole family and a glimpse into the inner workings of a psycopath’s mind.  The Gift of Darkness follows Detective Alice Madison and her colleagues as they investigate the murder of a local tax lawyer along with his wife and two young children.  The early parts of the book are pretty full on: there’s very little held back when the detectives are at the crime scene and I was a little bit sceptical about whether or not I’d make it to the end without giving myself horrendous nightmares.

After the initial wave of detail, though, matters move more from the gross to the sinister and, I’ll admit, the downright creepy.  You know in films where there are those *horrible* moments where you’re screaming at the detectives because there’s a killer RIGHT NEAR THEM and they just can’t see them?  I *hate* those moments (even while I love them a little bit).  This story is full of moments like that where the tension ratchets up ridiculously high and I spent a good few mornings and evenings having those “Must. Keep. Reading” moments, gawping at the pages with wide eyes.  Whatever The Gift of Darkness may or may not be, it is definitely a page-turner.  And if you read this at a time/place when unexpected loud noises are likely, you’ll probably have a heart attack.  Just saying.

Without a doubt my favourite thing about The Gift of Darkness was how its blurring of the lines between the “good” characters and the “bad” characters.  Madison is a pretty hard character to get behind because she’s quite detached.  I actually quite liked that about her – she isn’t made out to be a hero just because she’s a woman doing a traditionally masculine job and she isn’t super feminine just to make a point.  She’s just a professional woman going about her job and I felt kind of respectful of her even while I was a little bit neutral.  It’s the ‘bad’ characters that Giambanco excels at writing.  If an author can make me have even one  moment where I have to check myself for starting to sympathise with a serial killer, it would take something pretty catastrophic to sway me away from admiring it.  As always with novels with any kind of twists, it’s hard to tell you much more without giving too much away but be prepared to shift your perspective a few times.  In a good way.

My only gripe with The Gift of Darkness was that the writing style wasn’t always one that I found particularly comfortable to read.  Not in terms of subject matter (my hopelessness at reading anything even remotely gory being well-documented enough), but in terms of style.  The whole story is told in the third person and moves between a few characters.  I don’t have a problem with books written in the third person but there were a few moments where the writing was a bit disjointed.  And there was something…awkward about some of the dialogue.  Maybe I talk in a particularly sloppy manner but when two characters are talking informally, there’s something jarring about them doing so in “proper” English.  There’s a point in the book, for example, where one person is asking another about how well they knew someone and their response is, “We did not go out for food and beer”.  There are quite a few instances like that and every time it pulled me out of what was going on and had me repeating the phrases in my head to try to get them to sound right.  But maybe that’s just me.

Let’s end on a health warning: if you’re wary of blood and gore and the like, you probably won’t be a fan.  Think more CSI Las Vegas than Miss Marple.

Overall:  A clever variation on the good guy v. bad guy theme with more than enough to keep both hardened and fledgling crime fiction fans flipping pages.  With the lights on.  Obviously…

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Date finished:  03 April 2013
Format:  Paperback (ARC)
Source:  Received via The Book Depository’s Affiliates scheme in exchange for an honest review
Genre:  Crime fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Quercus Publishing Plc in June 2013

The Gift of Darkness is due for release on 6th June 2013 – you can pre-order a copy at The Book Depository HERE

Review: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Review

Back in April 2011, I read The Trespass by Rose Tremain and remember thinking that for a book full of characters I hated, I’d enjoyed it a surprising amount.  Gone Girl is the new winner of my Favourite Book Featuring Hateful People award.

Nick is apparently a handsome, down on his luck sort of chap who lost his job as a writer because of the evil Internet and is living out some kind of manly fantasy by running a bar with his twin sister, Margo (‘Go’).  I really disliked him but couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  Sure, he’s whiny and too quick to blame almost everybody else for his problems, seems to feel that he is for some reason entitled to more than those around him and ridiculously ignorant of how his actions/comments will be perceived.  But then, his wife has just disappeared under seemingly violent circumstances so I felt as though I should be giving him a bit of a break.

So the first part of the book follows Nick as he blunders his way through being investigated by the local police as the main suspect for the murder of Amy, his apparently beautiful, charming and devoted wife, while also letting us get to know Amy through her diary.  By itself, that part is good as far as your average ‘Did he? Didn’t he?’ type mystery goes.  It’s the second half that makes Gone Girl stand out.  It’s rare that a book completely blind-sides you, I think, but this is unlike much else that I’ve read before and ridiculously hard to describe to anyone.  I leant my copy to a friend at work (who has incidentally destroyed the poor thing) and after mumbling at her for a bit just had to say, “Just trust me and read it and then you’ll know why I’m recommending it”…It’s definitely chilling, just not in a turn-on-all-the-lights kind of way.  More just a pervasive sense that things aren’t…right and a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I got back to reading.  Except in a good way.  Kind of.

I suppose what it comes down to is that everything is just so bloody clever.  The plot weaves around, about and back on itself so perfectly that by the end, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted from the ending.  With most books, you know who and what you’re rooting for.  With Gone Girl, I hadn’t a clue.  I didn’t know who I liked, what I wanted to happen to them, who I wanted embroiled in whatever was going on or who I wanted to stay relatively clear of blame.  I do know now, however, that the ending I got was the one I didn’t know I wanted and was pretty perfect.  I can imagine it not being wildly popular but I loved it.

Impossible though it would have been, I kind of wish I’d gone into reading Gone Girl without knowing anything at all.  Which actually has made this review REALLY HARD to write in case when all the hype dies down, someone happens across this review and I do to them what I’m bemoaning myself.  So let’s just say that I wish I’d been able to go into this with a simple recommendation.  As it was, I found myself second-guessing everything even more than I knew that I was supposed to be doing and generally trying to prove to myself that watching back-to-back episodes of CSI with Boyfriend had given me some sleuthing skills.  It hasn’t…

I guess all I can really say is: Just trust me and read it and then you’ll know why I’m recommending it.

Overall:  Disturbing. Full of people you wouldn’t ever want to know, going through things you wouldn’t ever want to go through but almost impossible to put down.  If you want a thriller that will consume you and keep you wrong-footed until the end, Gone Girl is your book.  Just don’t come crying to me if you wind up concerned about the state of humanity or something…

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Date finished:  23 January 2013
buy the book from The Book Depository, free deliveryFormat:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Crime fiction/thriller
Pictured Edition Published: by Phoenix in November 2012

Crime Book Review: ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ by Laurie R. King

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis (Courtesy of GoodReads)

In 1915, long since retired from his crime-fighting days, Sherlock Holmes is engaged in a reclusive study of honeybees on the Sussex Downs. Never did the Victorian detective think to meet an intellect matching his own–until his acquaintance with Miss Mary Russell, a young twentieth-century lady whose mental acuity is equalled only by her penchant for deduction, disguises, and danger. 

Under Holmes’s reluctant tutelage, Russell embarks on a case involving a landowner’s mysterious fever and the kidnapping of an American senator’s daughter in the wilds of Wales. Then a near-fatal bomb on her doorstep–and another on Holmes’s–sends the two sleuths on the trail of a murderer who scatters bizarre clues and seems utterly without motive. The villain’s objective, however, is quite unequivocal: to end Russell and Holmes’s partnership–and then their lives.

Review

I’ve had half an eye on this series for a while now but was a little dubious about it at the same time.  Sherlock Holmes is so iconic that playing around with the characters and the stories with which so many people are familiar is always a risky business.  Then it appeared in an eBook sale for £1.99 and my arm was twisted.  Fortunately, King blends just the right amount of the traditional with the new and creates something that is really rather good.

The opening is a little strange and sets up an unnecessary “Oh, look at these manuscripts I have found in this random abandoned trunk – it looks as though they are telling stories about Sherlock Holmes” premise.  Since the rest of the book is told very strongly in Mary Russell’s voice, I just don’t see the point of starting out on such a weak note.  If you pick this up and are put off by the first chapter or so, just ignore it.  It’s not referred to again so you wouldn’t be missing anything at all by skipping it entirely (which is not something that I would usually condone).

So, characters.  A lot of them are obviously familiar – as well as Sherlock Holmes, there are also cameos by Dr Watson and Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft Holmes.  Each of them is subtly different to the “originals”, though, which didn’t bother me because it works and means that King is free to develop her story without trying to stick too rigidly to the Conan Doyle’s outline.  The obvious key addition is Mary Russell.  I loved Mary.  I read one review that criticised her as “too intelligent” – you’re reading a book about Sherlock Holmes! Genius is the whole point!  She stands up to Sherlock Holmes in a way that doesn’t make her seem petty and ridiculous because she’s so intelligent.  Watching an idiot verbally spar with him would just be embarrassing.  She also has a quite sarcastic sense of humour that has her challenging her male counterparts with style.  That reads as though I have a bit of a girl crush on her, actually, doesn’t it…?

The plot wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was a nice surprise.  From the afternoon that Mary trips over Sherlock Holmes while walking and reading at the same time (a feat of co-ordination I will not be attempting!), they strike up a friendship that morphs into an apprenticeship and eventually into partnership.  As Mary is learning from the master, she ends up solving petty crimes and smaller mysteries in her local area under Holmes’ watchful eye.  An over-arching mystery does materialise though, with some neat links to earlier events that keep it from being too much like a series of random events.  Because I am a nerd, I liked reading about the methods of detection and watching the characters and their relationships develop but those of you looking for a more traditional mystery story with just one cheeky villain might be a little frustrated by all of the meandering.

In amongst the fake beards, rogues and adventuring, there is also some lovely writing.  Mary’s narration is completely charming and King has done a really remarkable job of ageing her as the story goes – the tone of the early chapters is that of a precocious teenager and it gradually grows in maturity throughout Mary’s time at Oxford University and beyond.  Younger Mary and Sherlock Holmes banter about in a witty and entertaining fashion, while mature-Mary is a little more introspective and serious:

“The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood.  The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter.  With us will go our memories.” 
[Page 12 in my eBook copy]

Oh, and the more eagle-eyed Sherlock Holmes fans might be wondering how he has managed to retire to keeping bees in the country after the ending of The Final Solution.  It is mentioned and explained after a fashion but the explanation isn’t particularly substantial so if you’re prone to finding such things irritating, you have been warned 🙂

Overall:  So far there are 12 books in this series, all of which I will hunt down and devour  happily if they are as good as this one.  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice maybe won’t sit well with devout Sir Conan Doyle fans but if you can stand to look slightly differently at the famous detective and his friends and family, you’re in for a treat.

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Date finished:  14 October 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Detective fiction; crime/mystery fiction
Pictured edition published: by Allison & Busby in June 2010 (Originally published in 1994)

If you’re feeling in the mood for something a little more traditional, my thoughts on  the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet can be found here

Crime Review: ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ by Agatha Christie


Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars


Synopsis

The famous case that launched the career of Hercule Poirot. When a wealthy heiress is murdered, Poirot steps out of retirement to find the killer. As the master detective makes his way through the list of suspects, he finds the solution in an elaborately planned scheme almost impossible to believe.


Review

Yes, that’s right, more Agatha Christie.  I figured that it was about time I got acquainted with at least one of Christie’s long-standing characters.  Since I’ve never been that keen on the idea of a superior and nosy older lady (Miss Marple, that means you…), I went with Hercule Poirot.

What I had failed to appreciate was that Poirot doesn’t narrate his own stories.  Or at least, he doesn’t narrate this particular story.  Instead of spending time in the mind of a quirky Belgian detective, I was instead subjected to the narrow-minded and jealous musings of Captain Arthur Hastings.  Early on in the novel, the strange blend of first/third person narrative works quite well but before too long, I just wanted Hastings to shut up and go away.

I wanted to be charmed and beguiled by a moustached, suave European.  It turns out that I didn’t really want to be “on the side” of an amateur investigator who spends a large time going through the same thought process:  “Poirot has noticed something that I haven’t – how annoying…Ha – he might have found a clue but he’s clearly gone doo-lally and is interpreting it all wrong…Oh gosh!  He was right!  How foolish I am…”  Rinse and repeat.

Narration aside, the plot is a good old classic mystery.  Locked rooms, mysterious poisons, shifty characters and plenty of misdirection. Something is lost because you miss out on Poirot’s thought processes – every now and then, he’ll find a clue and rush off before coming back for a Big Reveal, which was interesting but didn’t have quite the same mystique.  

If you’re already a fan of Christie’s mysteries, there’s plenty here for you to recognise and appreciate.  If you’re just starting out (which, seeing as I’ve only read three, probably includes me!), you might want to start with a stand-alone like the FABULOUS And Then There Were None (reviewed here).  If you’re desperate to be introduced to Hercule Poirot, just bear in mind that this isn’t Christie’s best.

Oh, and also, I starting out reading the eBook version of this and had to abandon it because it kept referring to pictures, plans and notes that just weren’t there in the eBook.  In this case, traditional paper will serve you better. 

Overall:  I’m happy to put my time on this one down as investment in future books.  Poirot is everything that I wanted him to be – a kooky, eccentric genius (of sorts).  The story isn’t particularly unique and I was disappointed that I didn’t get as much Poirot as I wanted to but it’s a passable way to spend a couple of hours.


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Date finished:  23 June 2012
Format:  eBook/Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library (both formats…)
Genre:  Mystery; Crime
Published: by HarperCollins in June 2004; Originally published in October 1920

Crime/Thriller Review: ‘A Plea of Insanity’ by Priscilla Masters

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

On a late summer Monday, Doctor Claire Roget takes up her new post of clinical psychiatrist at Greatbach Secure Psychiatrist Unit in the Midlands city of Stoke on Trent. Six months ago, her predecessor Heidi Faro was brutally murdered in her office by one of the inmates, Stefan Giulio, who suffers from brain damage. As Claire is adjusting to her new job, she becomes increasingly suspicious that someone else might have been involved in the murder…

Review

I’d had this book on my shelves for years.  It has moved house with me approximately four times.  I couldn’t tell you what finally made me decide to pick it up and read it but I can tell you that I’m glad that I’ve read it…so that I can give it away and clear some room.  Disappointing. 

For me, there’s something darkly fascinating about criminal insanity.  Maybe we all start out the same; maybe we don’t.  Maybe it comes down to our experiences or our development.  Or maybe criminality is innate and just lies dormant in people until some…spark.  Call me morbid, but I could debate myself round in these circles for hours.  Perhaps its a throwback to a Modern Legal Theory module I took back in university.  Whatever it is, it lead me to expect too much from A Plea of Insanity.  That’s not to say that I expect every psychological thriller to be a thesis on criminality but if you choose a psychiatrist for your protagonist and a mental hospital for your setting, I do expect a little more.

So Dr Claire Roget takes up a position at a secure psychiatric unit shortly after her predecessor (and idol) was brutally murdered in the very same office.  The earlier parts of the novel are clearly and sympathetically written.  Dr Roget struggles with living in the shadow of Dr Faro while trying to get to know her patients.  The glimpse into the world of an over-stretched publicly-funded institution and the inevitable pitfalls is initially well-handed.  After the first few atmospheric chapters, though, the strengths deteriorate and the book just made me feel…sad. 

There’s a lot of criticism of the state of our mental welfare system, some of which may be well founded but a lot of which seems sensationalist.  Dr Roget herself is unprofessional and complains regularly about the patients that she is supposed to be caring for.  The first time she meets Jeremy Barclay, the apparent malcontent of the book, she is so hyper-sensitive that she indulges her imagination.  I appreciate that he’s creepy, I really do.  Which is but one of the many reasons that I am not a doctor trained to deal with the criminally insane.   The lack of respect and understanding that Dr Roget displays for her patients made me lose all sympathy for her. After that, the book didn’t hold much appeal.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the romantic side-plot.

Plus sides?  There’s a fair “Whodunnit” element for most of the book and some appropriately creepy moments.

Overall: A solid idea, poorly and prejudicially executed.  The denouement by no means makes up for the damage done along the way and I’m sure that there are far better psychological thrillers that you could spend your time on. 

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Date finished:  20 June 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Crime; Thriller; Mystery
Published: by Allison & Busby  in December 2005

Review Minis: The Mystery Edition

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my Books Read 2012 list over there to the right is increasing at a much higher rate than my reviews are appearing.  That’s in part owing to the fact that getting back into blogging has taken longer than I expected after our accident but mostly to the fact that work is all kinds of busy at the moment.  SO to catch myself up, I’ll be reviewing the books that I’ve read over the past couple of months that I’ve enjoyed but that haven’t completely rocked my world are going to be the subject of little mini-reviews until I get myself back on an even keel. I’m going to at least try to bunch them into genre lumps because that appeals to my overly-organised side!  First up…



The Mystery Edition


Virals by Kathy Reichs (Find it on GoodReads here)

Genetic mutations, eyes that glow in the dark and a bunch of teenagers that run around in the wilderness at night in an attempt to foil a murderer.  I found this in the local library and remembered Ellie’s review at Musings of a Bookshop Girl.  This year has seen me read much more crime fiction than probably any other year ever so this book slotted in nicely. I liked it – it’s a rip-roaring, action-packed way to spend a couple of hours with healthy doses of deserted island atmosphere and grand conspiracy theories to keep things interesting.

That said, it’s very much a YA book.  Tory Brennan is a feisty narrator and has a voice that I’m sure will appeal to other teenagers.  It took me a while to get used to but it does lend a youhful tone to the book that helps it carry off some of the more…erratic actions of its teen cast and I can’t imagine the story working any other way.  Likewise my grumpiness at some of the characters’ decisions – despite the fact that there would obviously be no story but for their independence, sometimes I just wanted to grab the kids’ ears, drag them to their liberal parents and force them to explain their problems and ideas so that they would stop being rash and getting themselves into pickle after pickle, while also making sure they understood the irony of their trying to fight crime by committing their own.  “Be tolerant” is all I can say, folks, it is worth it.

In short, I’m pretty sure that this is what you would get if you crossed the Famous Five with Spiderman; over-enthusiastic youths + animal-related genetic mutations = Virals.  

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 for being fun, frantic and delightfully random.

The Keep by Jennifer Egans (Find it on GoodReads here)

Another library selection and one that’s been on my wishlist for years.  Billed as a ghost story, this is actually more of a twisting story-within-a-story-within-a-story, with each layer eventually colliding in a conclusion that had me staring at the pages in a rather gormless fashion.  Danny is spending some time with his cousin at an abandoned keep in Eastern Europe while he renovates it and creates a luxury hotel amidst some eery goings-on (hence my plonking this in the ‘Mystery Edition’).  The ‘keep story’ is, however, at the whim of its writer, a prison inmate taking a writing class, who is reading it aloud to his fellow inmates and interrupts himself without warning to respond to hecklers or provide some background notes.  There’s also a third story mixed in but I won’t spoil the ending by revealing what that is.  

Ultimately, this is a very clever look at the nature of stories, how they can take on something of their author and how useful literature can be as a source of escapism, with a neat sideline in the modern world’s reliance on technology and social media.  It’s also a genuinely gripping and wonderfully surreal story itself with a potential haunting, damaged  (potentially psychotic) but intriguing characters and a gnarled plot that is extremely difficult to fully  keep a handle on.

Even though I loved it, I will smack a health warning on this reviewlette:  This will most certainly not be for everyone.  Each storyteller is distinctive and compelling in their own way but most are far from likeable.  If you’re the type that has to like or sympathise with a narrator/protagonist, you and The Keep are probably not going to be the best of friends.  There’s also very little in the way of punctuation, which I assume is to keep it true to the ‘prison inmate turned writer’ concept. PLUS, there’s some bad language so if you get twitchy at the F-bomb being dropped, you’re going to be unhappy.

Rating:  4 stars out of 5 for being utterly unique in style and content.

The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan (Find it on GoodReads here)

Yet another library find but one that I’d never heard of and grabbed on the off-chance that it would be a hidden gem.  A mystery of the historical variety, this was a slow-moving one that I fell out of love with somewhere along the way.

Mary Finch is wending her way (oh-so-bravely, apparently) to her Uncle’s estate in order to build some familial bridges.  She definitely isn’t going to visit her rich, elderly relative (of whom she is the only potential heir) because she happens to come from the poor side of the family and is looking to improve her lot.  Sadly, in attempting to convey that (dubious) message, Mary comes across as a little pious and a lot naive.  

In the end, the book was let down by a weak mystery.  It sort of revolved around a man dying in the side of the road holding Mary’s uncle’s pocket watch, a band of smugglers and some spies.  There’s some nifty smuggler code-cracking and some twists and turns that I didn’t wholly see coming but overall I couldn’t help but feel as though the story suffered from being stretched over too many pages.  There was a wishy-washy feel to most of the plotlines that was as irritating as over-diluted squash – it could have been delicious but instead I was left trying to find flavour dampened by too much water.  Rather like an over-stretched juice-related metaphor, you might say!  The writing was also quite repetitive.  If I’d been told one more time about how smart and cute and genteel Mary was, I would have screamed.  As it was, I only got to the stage of sighing dramatically and rolling my eyes.

Also, the ending was twee and predictable.  Enough said.

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars for being an acceptable historical fiction but being tainted by a touch of tedium.