Thursday, 31 July 2008

Simon Brett – “The Stabbing in the Stables”

Publ: 2006 ISBN: 978-0-330-42697-8
Rating - ***

Another Fethering Mystery starring Carole and Jude.
SIMON BRETT – see The Body on the Beach

M.C.Beaton – “Death of a Gentle Lady”

Publ: 2008 ISBN 978-1-84529-648-3
Rating - ****

A Hamish Macbeth murder mystery. Inspired by all the Agatha Raisin books I’ve read recently I tried a Hamish Macbeth one. Very similar style of happy murder mystery. In this case the setting is Hamish’s little Highland village. Most enjoyable and probably the first of many – assuming I can get hold of them.
I haven’t previously mentioned the art on the covers of the books I read but in some cases it is excellent. I like the style of the M C Beaton ones. In this case the jacket design is by and the painting by Fascinating that we are no longer known by our names but by our website names!!!
M C BEATON see Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Geraldine Brooks - "The People of the Book"

Publ: 2008; ISBN 978-0-00-717743-1
Rating - ****

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding - an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair - she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, selectively tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.

Inspired by a true story and brilliantly researched, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.

I commented in relation to the last book I read - Felix Holt - that "I had failed to realise Christians were forbidden by Canon Law from money-lending and that is how the Jewish predominance in that field first arose." I discovered in reading this book that in Venice in 1516 (and no doubt many other places and times) Jews were only allowed to pursue three trades - import / export from the Levant; buying and selling used goods; and pawnbroking. I do love novels with lots of new facts in them. It makes me feel less quilty as I read so much fiction.

GERALDINE BROOKS was born in 1955 and raised in Australia. After moving to the USA she worked for eleven years on the Wall Street Journal, covering stories from some of the world's most troubled areas, including Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, was set during the English plague year of 1666, and became an international bestseller. She lives with her husband and son in rural Virginia and is currently a fellow at Harvard University.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

George Eliot – “Felix Holt”

ISBN-10: 0460876872
ISBN-13: 978-0460876872

I commented in relation to John Updike’s ‘Terrorist’ that a sentence of 157 words was the nail in its coffin. I noticed while reading ‘Felix Holt’ that there were four consecutive sentences of 78, 13, 100, and 64 words. The difference is that in 1866 George Eliot wrote perfect prose, properly punctuated and capable of being understood and enjoyed despite the sentence length. The whole book is a clever, frank portrayal of the 1832 election when England ( I use the specific advisedly) was in the middle of Reform. As is to be expected with George Eliot there is an element of romance, pathos and moralising but the less than happy endings found in some of here books has been left aside for once.
Thoroughly enjoyable.
I can recommend the Everyman edition which has footnotes to help with some of the more obscure classical or contemporary references and words which are now obsolete like ‘megrims’. A delightful little word, meaning whims or fancies, I wonder what poor little megrims did to fall into disuse! Similarly, ‘opodeldoc’ – a medical plaster or liniment (not linement as Everyman’s editor spelled it) of soap, opium and herbs is a wonderful word. I wish I had a chance to drop that into the conversation.
As always with Victorian novels I learn a lot about the social life and times and sometimes I am surprised by simple little things. I had, for example, always assumed that the use of the word Jew as synonymous with money-lending was simply because of their predominance in that field. What I had failed to realise was that Christians were forbidden by Canon Law from money-lending and that is how the Jewish predominance in that field first arose.
As with many of the best books the number of quotations I could have included here are legion but I will settle for a couple of the shorter ones:-
“These social changes in Treby parish are comparatively public matters, and this history is chiefly concerned with the private lot of a few men and women; but there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life, from the time when the primeval milkmaid had to wander with the wanderings of her clan, because the cow she milked was one of a herd which had made the pastures bare.”
“Esther was a little amazed herself at what she had come to. So our lives glide on: the river ends we don’t know where, and the sea begins, and then there is no more jumping ashore.”

GEORGE ELIOT – see Daniel Deronda

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Tom Holt – ‘Grailblazers’

Fifteen hundred years have passed and the Holy Grail is still missing, presumed ineffable. The knights have dumped the quest and now deliver pizzas, while the sinister financial services of the lost kingdom of Atlantis threatens the universe with fiscal Armageddon.
Some quotations:-
“It is quite some storm. It had started out with a perfectly ordinary squall on the strings, but then the brass had joined in, followed shortly afterwards by the entire woodwind section, and now the tubas and the double-basses are in full cry, with the trombones in the background doing the lightning effects. It is also slashing down with rain.”
“...although unicorns are by no means common, there are other species rare and more elusive still. Thus there is only one sure-fire way of catching a maiden of unspotted virtue. It requires a unicorn and six feet of rope.”
“...a real kangaroo... was bounding happily along, its mind occupied with the one great mystery which obsesses the consciousness of the species; to the extent that it has stopped them dead in their evolutionary tracks and prevented them from developing into the hyper-intelligent super-lifeforms they would otherwise have become. Namely; how come, no matter how careful you are about what you put in your pockets, in the end you always find two paperclips, a fluff-covered boiled sweet and a small, worthless copper coin at the bottom of them.”

TOM HOLT see ‘Overtime’

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Tom Holt – “Overtime”

Apart from Robert Rankin I can think of no author whose work is like that of Tom Holt. It is probably an acquired taste being silly, comic fantasy / adventure,
Guy, a World War II Mosquito pilot, is surprised when his dead co-pilot seems to start speaking to him as they fly over Northern France. And before long Guy is caught up in time and travel, a search for Richard the Lionheart, and a beautiful damsel.
Some of my favourite quotations:-
in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. and God saw that it had potential, if it was handled properly... The problem was the Eden (Phase II) Area Plan, and it was the same old story all over again. You hire an architect... ... in other words, the earth’s temporal system, which was installed on the afternoon of the fifth day by a team of contractors found by God in the Golden Pages under the trading name of Cheap ‘n’ Cheerful Chronological Engineers, is a classic example of a Friday afternoon job, and fundamentally unstable.””
(On the subject of time travel) – “Very volatile stuff, history. Give you an example. You tread on a fly. The fly is therefore not available to walk all over your great-great-great-great-grandfather’s breakfast, and so he fails to die of food poisoning. Your family therefore does not sell up and move from Cheshire to Norfolk, with the result that your great-grandfather doesn’t meet your great-grandmother at a whist drive, and you don’t get born. That means you never existed, so you can’t travel back through time and squash that fly in the first place. Result: your great-great-great-great-grandfather gets food poisoning, the family moves from Norfolk to Cheshire... and you become a temporal anomaly, zipping in and out of existence like the picture on a television screen, thousands of time a second...”
“Experience the psychologists say, is like a man who walks into a lamppost, knocking himself out. When he comes round, the blow has caused a partial memory loss, which means that the victim forgets, inter alia, that colliding with lampposts causes injury. He therefore continues walking into lampposts for the rest of his unnaturally short life.”
“You know how, as you get older, the beer never tastes as good, the policemen get younger every year, that sort of thing. Now I do my return visits in reverse chronological order whenever I can, so I get the opposite effect; yummy beer, geriatric policemen, and the last time I was here it was thirty pence a pint more expensive.”
“ was like watching a woodlouse climbing a wall, listening to Marco doing joined-up speaking...”
“In any military force, there are always a select body of men whose job it is in the event of an ambush to clutch their sides, scream convincingly and fall off their horses. It’s a lousy job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

TOM HOLT was born in 1961, and produced his first book, Poems by Tom Holt, at the age of thirteen. He began writing his distinctive brand of comic fantasy while at Oxford, and has also written two well-recieved historical novels, as well as collaborating on the (unauthorised) biography of Margaret Thatcher, I, Margaret. He is married, and lives in Chard, Somerset, "just downwind of the meat canning factory".
I have read a number of his works -
Lucia in Wartime (1985)
Lucia Triumphant: Based on the Characters Created by E.F. Benson (1986)
Expecting Someone Taller (1987)
Who's Afraid of Beowulf? (1988)
Flying Dutch (1991)
Ye Gods! (1992)
Here Comes the Sun (1993)
Overtime (1993)
Faust Among Equals (1994)
Grailblazers (1994)
Djinn Rummy (1995)
Odds and Gods (1995)
My Hero (1996)
Paint Your Dragon (1996)
Open Sesame (1997)
Bitter Lemmings (1997)
Wish You Were Here (1998)
Alexander at World's End (1999)
Only Human (1999)
Snow White and the Seven Samurai (1999)
Olympiad (2000)
Valhalla (2000)
Nothing But Blue Skies (2001)
Falling Sideways (2002)
Little People (2002)
Song for Nero (2003)
Barking (2007)
The Better Mousetrap (2008)
May Contain Traces of Magic (2009)

Friday, 18 July 2008

Sam Bourne – “The Last Testament”

First class thriller which is set during peace talks between Israel and Palestine and involving the discovery of a significant clay tablet, apparently thousands of years old.

SAM BOURNE is a pseudonym for the award-winning journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland (born 1967). He writes weekly columns in both the Guardian and the London Evening Standard, as well as a monthly piece for the Jewish Chronicle. He also presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series, The Long View. The author of Jacob's Gift and Bring Home the Revolution, Freedland, named by the Financial Times as one of the world's most influential commentators, lives in London.

Simon Brett – “The Hanging in the Hotel”

Another Fethering mystery.

SIMON BRETT see The Body on the Beach

Monday, 14 July 2008

Reginald Hill - "The Roar of the Butterflies"

Normally I cannot stand Gumshoe type novels but Joe Sixsmith is a bit different to the American variety. He works in Luton. He's middling aged, middling waisted, and middling bald. The Roar of the Butterflies (2008) is the fifth book in the Joe Sixsmith series. The action is constant and the humour reminiscent of P G Wodehouse (helped by the golfing theme). Having said all that I'm not sure I'd read a second Reginald Hill. One was enough, fun though it was.
"Luton in the grip of a sweltering summer is a pretty sedentary place - which is bad for the private detective business. Thieves, fraudsters and philanderers take the month off and the only swingers in town are the ones to be found on the 19th hole of the Royal Hoo Golf Course. The civilized reputation of the “Hoo” is in trouble, however. Shocking allegations of cheating have been directed at one of its leading members, Chris Porphyry. When Chris turns to Joe Sixsmith, PI, he's more than willing to help. . .well, he hasn't got any other clients…only Joe hadn't counted on being charmed, kissed and then dangled out of a window all in the same day!"

"...he recalled Aunt Mirabelle saying something like, lawyers do favours like cats take mice for a walk."
"Joe had put Spain to the back of his mind, which was an area of the Sixsmith intellect so crowded that a Health and Safety Inspector would have condemned it out of hand. All kinds of stuff got dumped there and much of it was never reclaimed."
"There's one or two (of them) who'd forge their own wills," said Bert.

REGINALD HILL (born 1936) was brought up in Cumbria, and has returned there after many years in Yorkshire. With his first crime novel, A Clubbable Woman, he was hailed as 'the crime novel's best hope' and twenty years on he has more than fulfilled that promise. His pseudonyms include Dick Morland, Patrick Ruell, and Charles Underhill

Lissa Evans - "Spencer's List"

Spencer’s List does as it says on the box – “Funny, warm-hearted and intellkigent”. Spencer, Fran and Iris have something in common: the feeling that life is passing them by. Spencer's lost his lover, who bequeathed him a list of things to do; Fran shares a run-down house in London with her oddball brother; whilst Iris spends her time cleaning up after her two teenage sons... This is a wonderfully funny tale of life lived on the edge - of reason, of failure and of (just possibly) a brighter future.
Fran works on an urban farm and one of my favourite quotes from the book comes when she finds a pig has been loose overnight:-
A row of pumpkins looked like the aftermath of an alien road accident and the ground was sprinkled with a few tiny, saliva-flecked pieces of carrot.
Another quote regards Iris’s fashion sense...
“Does that mean its been unfashionable for the whole time I’ve been wearing it?”
Fran had hesitated, “Not so much unfashionable as -“. She’d struggled for a description.
“No, more... afashionable.”
It was a scientific distinction that Iris could appreciate, describing not so much the opposite of fashion, as the total absence of it...

LISAA EVANS – After a brief career in medicine, and an even briefer one in stand-up, Lissa Evans became a comedy producer, first in radio and then in television. She co-created Room 101 with Nick Hancock, produced Father Ted and co-produced and directed The Kumars at Number 42. Novels include Spencer’s List and Odd One Out. Lissa Evans lives in north London.

Lissa Evans answers our probing questions and speaks to us on everything from her hatred of losing things to the annual 'We miss Lissa Evans' parade she's planning for after her death.

For a super interview with her see the Penguin site.

What’s your earliest memory?
Getting stuck in the mud while on a boat trip off the coast at Cromer. We had to walk back to the hotel across the mudflats, holding our shoes, and when we arrived, my mother threw open the door of the dining room and proclaimed ‘We got stuck in the mud!’ to the assembled guests. So, actually, my first memory is of my mother embarrassing me. She’s been doing it ever since.

How would you like to be remembered?
By the annual ‘We miss Lissa Evans’ parade, held on the anniversary of my death, and marked by the release of thousands of doves, and dawn-to-dusk recitals of my complete works.

What makes you angry?
Losing things. I like to think that I’m tremendously organised, so a lost object is a personal insult.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Double”

When I looked up Oxford Double on the Fantastic Fiction site what should be the ‘Similar book by different author’ but one by Simon Brett - this is getting creepy – a bit like the murders in Oxford Double that novelist Kate Ivory sets out to solve. This is the ninth in the Kate Ivory series:-
1. Death and the Oxford Box (1993)
2. Oxford Exit (1994)
3. Oxford Mourning (1995)
4. Oxford Fall (1996)
5. Oxford Knot (1998)
6. Oxford Blue (1998)
7. Oxford Shift (1999)
8. Oxford Shadows (2000)
9. Oxford Double (2001)
10. Oxford Proof (2002)
11. Oxford Remains (2004)
12. Oxford Letters (2005)
13. Oxford Menace (2007)

VERONICA STALLWOOD was born in London, educated abroad and now lives near Oxford. In the past she has worked at the Bodleian Library and more recently in Lincoln College library.

Simon Brett - "The Torso in the Town"

I haven't read the second one in the series because it's not in Pensby Library. Another series to search for in the charity shops. Funnily enough, the wonderful site Fantastic Fiction has a 'similar author / book' slot and for this book the recommended one was an Agatha Raisin mystery - how co-incidental is that!

1. The Body on the Beach (2000)
2. Death On the Downs (2001)
3. The Torso In The Town (2002)
4. Murder in the Museum (2003)
5. The Hanging in the Hotel (2004)
6. The Witness at the Wedding (2005)
7. The Stabbing in the Stables (2006)
8. Death Under the Dryer (2007)
9. Blood At the Bookies (2008)

Amateur sleuths Jude and Carole take on their third case when a terrible discovery is made in the cellar of a grand old house. Grant and Kim Roxby had hoped that their first dinner party at Pelling House would make an impression with their new neighbours. And the next day it's certainly the talk of the town of Fedborough. For their guests - including the couple's old friend Jude - had been enjoying a pleasant meal before they were rudely interrupted by a gruesome discovery. A human torso hidden in the cellar. Jude races home to Fethering and her friend Carole with the news. And soon the pair are back in Fedborough, questioning the locals. But they can't help but wonder why a town so notoriously distrustful of outsiders is proving so terribly amenable to their enquiries...

SIMON BRETT - see previous entry.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sunday, 6 July 2008

M C Beaton – “Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet”

I discovered Agatha Raisin at GB’s and have been delighted to find that Pensby Library has a few of her adventures in crime solving in her little Cotswold village. Outspoken, occasionally coarse and far from a Miss Marple but nonetheless a delightful character.

This is the second in the series – looking forward to the next one already.
Agatha Raisin
1. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992)
2. Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (1993)
3. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (1994)
4. Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (1995)
5. Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (1996)
6. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (1997)
7. Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (1998)
8. Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (1999)
9. Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden (1999)
10. Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam (2000)
11. Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (2001)
12. Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came (2002)
13. Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (2003)
14. Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (2003)
15. The Deadly Dance (2004)
16. Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon (2005)
17. Love, Lies and Liquor (2006)
18. Kissing Christmas Goodbye (2007)
19. Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison (2008)

“...No one here was obviously feeling the recession, for no one had ever got to any point from which to recess to.”
“Who was it who said that the reason the puritans were against bear-baiting was not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the crowd?”
“I’ve not time for Americans....” said Miss Webster. “It’s not their fault.” said James, “ They feel that they have to protect themselves. a lot of people think American tourists are made of money. Now that couple saved all their lives for this one trip. They have to budget very carefully, and they’ve probably been told back home that all foreigners are out to cheat them.” “But we’re not foreigners,” said Miss Webster. “We’re British.”

M.C. BEATON is a psudonym used by Marion Chesney - see my earlier blog posting.

Friday, 4 July 2008

John Sandford – “Invisible Prey”

Good American detective story. Worth my while trying to find some more of his work. Since this is the seventeenth crime novel with the same hero, Lucas Davenport, it is safe to assume I may find one around somewhere..
Lucas Davenport
1. Rules of Prey (1989)
2. Shadow Prey (1990)
3. Eyes of Prey (1991)
4. Silent Prey (1992)
5. Winter Prey (1993) aka The Iceman
6. Night Prey (1994)
7. Mind Prey (1995)
8. Sudden Prey (1996)
9. Secret Prey (1998)
10. Certain Prey (1999)
11. Easy Prey (2000)
12. Chosen Prey (2001)
13. Mortal Prey (2002)
14. Naked Prey (2003)
15. Hidden Prey (2004)
16. Broken Prey (2005)
17. Invisible Prey (2007)
18. Phantom Prey (2008)

JOHN SANDFORD is a pseudonym of John Camp, born 1944, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

NOT READ - John Updike - "Terrorist"

It is not often that I start a book and don't finish it. When this happens I don't usually bother mentioning it in this blog. Perhaps I should. Perhaps it could be seen as a service to others to warn them what to avoid!
I gave up on this book on page 21 of 310. Perhaps it was something to do with the 157 word sentence that I had just read. At least, I think it was 157. It rather depends up whether hypenated words (since when has teenager been hypenated!!!) count as one or two...
Let this be a warning to you...

Simon Brett - "The Body on the Beach"

A wonderfully elegant English murder mystery. Not the most imaginative of plots in the whodunnit sense (I guessed fairly early on) but more than made up for by its two contrasting heroines, its humour and its terribly British South Coast setting. Simon Brett introduces a sparkling new crime series starring the redoubtable Carole Seddon and her worldly wise accomplice, Jude.
Very little disturbs the ordered calm of Fethering, a self-contained retirement settlement on England's southern coast. Which is precisely why Carole Seddon has chosen to reside there. So the last thing Carole expects to encounter in Fethering is a new neighbour with but one name and an obviously colourful past. 'Jude' was not really Fethering . . . but neither was the body Carole found on the beach. A body, it has to be said, that has disappeared by the time the police arrive. Only Jude is ready to believe what her neighbour says she saw - and from that moment on, the two women are resolved to turn detectives. This is one of a series of ‘Fethering’ novels. I must find more...

SIMON BRETT – Brett, born 1945, was a radio and tv producer before taking yup writing full time. He lives in an Agatha Christie style village on the South Downs. As well as the Fethering Mysteries series, he is also the author of the TV series ‘After Henry’, the radio series ‘No Commitments’ and ‘Smelling of Roses’, and the best-selling ‘How to be a little sod’. His novel ‘A shock to the system’ was filmed starring Michael Caine.

Some quotes...
....Fethering is its own little world of double-glazed windows and double-glazed minds.
...Allinstore had become an outlet for the National lottery, thus enabling the residents of Fethering to shatter their hopes and dreams on a weekly basis.
The architect who’d designed the new supermarket (assuming such a person existed and the plans hadn’t been scribbled on the back of a n envelope by a builder who’d once seen a shoebox) had placed two wide roof-supporting pillars just in front of the main tills.
...The room was like the nest of a kleptomaniac magpie.
...The local news had just started. It was fronted by the kind of gauche female newsreader who makes you realize that, bad though network presenters may be, there remain unimaginable depths of the television barrel yet to be scraped.