Friday, 30 July 2010

Review:- Janie BOLITHO – “Lessons in Logic”

Year Published: - 2002
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 0 7540 7486 2
Pages: - 281pp (Large print)
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- Fictional Rickenham Green (S England)
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** **
One sentence summary:- A series of obscene phone calls to a number of women become even more serious wehn one of them is murdered.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- DCI Roper and his team go from investigating nuisance phone calls to a murder; with the threat of more deaths to come. A number of suspects are placed before the police This is the twelfth book starring DCI Roper.

General comments:- A clever plot and well delineated characters make for an enjoyable but not spectacular read.

AUTHOR Notes:- Born in Falmouth, Cornwall, Janie Bolitho enjoyed a variety of careers - psychiatric nurse, debt collector, working for a tour operator, a book-maker's clerk - before becoming a full time writer. Sadly, Janie Bolitho died of breast cancer in 2002.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Review:- Ariana FRANKLIN – “Mistress of the Art of Death”

Year Published: - 2007
Where the book was from:- Pensby library
ISBN: - 9780553818000
Pages: - 507pp
Genre: - Historical crime
Location:- Cambridge 1171
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *****
One sentence summary:- An excellent mystery set in Henry II’s reign as a female doctor from Salerno sets out to investigate the deaths of children which have been blamed on the local Jews.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- In Cambridge a child has been hideously murdered and some others have disappeared. The King of Siciliy sends one of his ‘fixers’ together with a female doctor from Salerno and her Arabic eunuch servant. This unlikely trio join some pilgrims from Canterbury and arrive at Cambridge just as the other children’s bodies are discovered. It is a great crime story, a fine historical tale and a well characterised work. I shall certainly be hunting other Ariana Franklin works. So far there are four books in the series:-

1. The Mistress of the Art of Death (2007)
2. The Serpent's Tale (2008)
aka The Death Maze
3. Relics of the Dead (2009)
aka Grave Goods
4. A Murderous Procession (2010)
aka The Assassin's Prayer

General comments:- This story has a certain basis in fact and I certainly seemed to recognise parts of it. I have a feeling that I have not only read about the events themselves but also another work of fiction with the same subject. Nevertheless, this is a first class work.

AUTHOR Notes:- Ariana Franklin is a pseudonym used by Diana Norman. After working on local newspapers in Devon and the East End of London, Diana Norman became, at twenty years of age, the youngest reporter on what used to be Fleet Street. She married the film critic Barry Norman, and they have settled in Hertfordshire with their two daughters. Her first book of fiction, Fitzempress's Law, was chosen by Frank Delaney of BBC Radio 4's Bookshelf as the best example of a historical novel of its year. She is now a freelance journalist, as well as a writer of biographies and historical novels.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Review - Peter MARREN (author) & Richard MABEY (editor) – “Bugs Britannica”

Year Published: - 2010
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0701181802
Pages: - 512pp (A4 format)
Genre: - Science and nature; invertebrates
Location:- Britain
How I came across it: - Recommended by Amazon
Rating: - ***** *****
One sentence summary:- An eclectic mix of stories, scientific fact and general observations about the invertebrates of Britain.


General comments:-  

Undoubtedly my book of the year.

This wonderful collection does not set out to be a field guide or a comprehensive review of the many species of invertebrate but looks at each group and its relationship to man and his culture. It contains amusing stories; folklore; unusual scientific trivia; wonderful illustrations and is the sort of book you can either dip into or read from cover to cover. In closing their blog which sought contributions, the authors and publishers thanked “our many helpers and contributors who have enlivened the book with fascinating personal encounters with the invertebrate world. Whether or not your stories, anecdotes, poems and pictures appear in the book, we are grateful for them all. Together they indicate that the ongoing relationship of the British and their bugs is based not simply, as in times past, on whether we find them useful or harmful. We have developed a sympathy for other lives and a concern for the shrinking space we can spare for wild land in a crowded island. Your stories also tell of the constant pleasure we take from watching insects, whether it is enjoying the sight of dragonflies hawking over the garden pond, or moths arriving on a brightly lit sheet, or simply hearing the comforting hum of bees on a warm summer afternoon.”

Truly marvelous and a worthy successor to Flora Britannica and Birds Britannica,

AUTHOR Notes:- Peter Marren is the author of The New Naturalists (1995); Nature Conservation (2002); and co-author Art of the New Naturalists (2009).

Richard Mabey (born 20 February 1941) is a naturalist and author. He has been called by The Times 'Britain's greatest living nature writer'. Among his acclaimed publications are Food for Free, The Unofficial Countryside and The Common Ground, as well as his study of the nightingale, Whistling in the Dark. His book about Gilbert White won the 1986 Whitbread Biography of the Year. Richard Mabey devised, researched and wrote the ground breaking bestseller Flora Britannica, which won the British Book Awards’ Illustrated Book of the Year and the Botanical Society of the British Isles’ President’s Award and was runner-up for the BP Natural World Book Prize.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Review:- Catherine AIRD – “Losing Ground”

Year Published: -2007
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 978-0-7490-8050-1
Pages: - 222pp
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- Fictional Calleshire (S England)
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *
One sentence summary:- The theft of an 18th century painting precedes a fire in the building depicted in it causing the Calleshire police to find a very tangled web surrounding the house and some bones that are found in it.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- This is the 21st story starring Detective Inspector Sloan and his colleagues.

General comments:-
I thoroughly enjoyed this story but have knocked it down by two stars because the plot makes an inaccurate assumption that is key to the solution. I can’t say what it is without spoiling the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it but anyone who has worked in local government and as a company secretary will appreciate that what is supposed to have happened would have been extremely unlikely.

AUTHOR Notes:-
Catherine Aird (born 1930) holds an honorary MA from the University of Kent and was made an MBE. In addition to her crime stories she has written a series of village histories.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Review:- P D JAMES – “Innocent Blood”

Year Published: - 1980
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 0 7540 1678 1
Pages: - 427pp (large print)
Genre: - Crime, psychology
Location:- London
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *****
One sentence summary:- An eighteen year old adopted girl decides to find out who her real parents were but the answer is shocking in all senses of the word.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Philippa Palfrey had always fantasized that she was the daughter of an aristocrat and a parlourmaid but the truth is far more shocking than that. And her meeting with her birth mother creates the setting for a potential murder.

General comments:- Probably the best P D James i have read. The characters are all so credible and the plot twists its way through the book towards a finale which can hardly be guessed at. A really 'unputdownable' crime novel.

AUTHOR Notes:-
P D James see The Lighthouse

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Review - Lilian Jackson BRAUN – “The Cat who Talked Turkey”

Year Published: - 2004
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 0 7531 7011 6
Pages: - 172pp (large Print)
Genre: - Weird, cosy crime
Location:- Moose County, USA
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - *****
One sentence summary:- The town of Pickax prepares to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for a new bookstore but Jim Qwilleran knows all is not well when his cat Koko gives a yowl that suggests an untimely death has taken place.

General comments:
- I’m not sure who is more weird – the ‘hero’ Jim Qwilleran – or his cats that have e.s.p. Even though between them they made for a story which I had to finish I’ll not be reading another. I think you have to have a certain sense of humour to get the best out of Braun’s 30 cat novels and I haven’t quite got it.

AUTHOR Notes:-
From Fantastic Fiction:-
The history of Lilian Jackson Braun (b 1913) is perhaps as exciting and mysterious as her novels. Between 1966 and 1968, she published three novels to critical acclaim; The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern and The Cat Who Turned On and Off. In 1966, The New York Times labeled Braun, "the new detective of the year." Then, for reasons unknown, the rising mystery author disappeared from the publishing scene.

It wasn't until 1986 that the Berkley Publishing Group reintroduced Braun to the public with the publication of an original paperback, The Cat Who Saw Red. Within two years, Berkley released four new novels in paperback and reprinted the three mysteries from the sixties.

Even though Braun claims that her cats have never done anything extraordinary, her fictional cats, Koko and Yum Yum, solve crimes and delight fans in book after book. Braun says the reason for her success is that "people are simply tired of all the blood. I write what is called the classic mystery." She says that while "not all mystery fans may like cats, all cat-fanciers seem to like mysteries. That makes for a large audience, since 26% of all American households own 53.9 million cats between them."

Braun was the "Good Living" editor of The Detroit Free Press for 29 years. She is retired from journalism and is currently writing mysteries full-time. She lives with two Siamese cats and her husband, Earl Bettinger, in North Carolina.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Review:- June BARRACLOUGH – “Deadly Grief”

Year Published: - 2006
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 1-84617-438-4
Pages: - 416pp (large print)
Genre: - Cosy Crime
Location:- East Anglia
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** **
One sentence summary:- The occupants of a quiet East Anglian close appear to be a typical bunch of people but an attack on a young girl, followed by a suspicious death leads to the discovery that they nearly all have their secrets.

General comments:-
This cosy crime novel is made a cut above the average by the skifull plotting.:

AUTHOR Notes:-
June Barraclough, born 1930, died in 2006 and this was the last of her 24 fiction books to be published.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Books at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Dunham Massey country house in Cheshire has a wonderful looking library.  Imagine bein able to explore this at length.  (Though I have no doubt a lot of the titles will be boring theological tracts from times gone by.)

And there are, of course, other collections of books scattered around the house like those in this cabinet (by Chippendale?).

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Review – Matthew HART – “The Irish Game”

Year Published: - 2006
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 1 84617 307 8
Pages: - 264pp (Large Print)
Genre: - Non Fiction, Crime, Art
Location:- Ireland, USA, Norway
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- A true story of crime and art including how Vermeer’s “Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid” – on of the world’s most expensive pictures - was stolen twice and recovered by two Irish policemen – a father and son.

“If they lose it again, they can get it back themselves”, said Liam Hogan to his father. Ned Hogan pondered this remark and then amended it, “If we get it back again,” he said, “we keep it”.

Both times it was recovered the art restorers who had it in their hands discovered something new about the painting and the techniques that Vermeer used.

Goya, Rembrandt, Rubens – the Beit art collection was worth millions. For twenty-two years, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit lived peacefully at Russborough House in Ireland. Then people started stealing their paintings. From the burglary at Russborough by IRA-sympathiser Rose Dugdale to the break-in by the Dublin gangster Martin Cahill, Matthew Hart follows the fortunes of Sir Alfred’s stolen paintings. Hart uncovers the webs of intrigue that surround these and other major art thefts, and how masterpieces are used as collateral in multi-million deals by arms and drugs barons.

The story is cleverly put together to give a sequence to a series of separate crimes with separate motives so that a most enjoyable tale emerges. It includes the theft and recovery of The Scream.

Rerview – Ann GRANGER – “Mud, muck and dead things”

Year Published: - 2009
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 978 0 7553 2051 6
Pages: - 281pp
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- Cotswolds
How I came across it: - Continuing to read this author’s works
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- Inspector Jess Campbell investigates the discovery of a dead girl in a lonely and deserted barn while ta the same time coping with a new superintendent, Ian Carter.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Lucas Barton hates the countryside. To him it’s nothing but mud, much and dead things. Unfortunately when he turns up at a lonely barn for an illicit rendezvous he finds out that the dead things can include young girls. He flees the scene but is spotted by Penny Gower, a local stable owner. It isn’t that long before Barton gets a visit from someone he’d rather not get involved with...

General comments:- This new series of Campbell and Carter looks like a worthy partner for the Mitchell and Markby crime novels. Ann Granger is rapidly becoming one of my favourite cosy crime writers.

AUTHOR Notes:- See A rare interest in corpses.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Review:- Nicola UPSON – “An Expert in Murder”

Year Published: - 2008
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: -978 1 40742 904 5
Pages: - 440pp (Large Print ed.)
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- London, 1934, West end theatre world
How I came across it: - Serendipity – noticed the name Josephine Tey (one of my favourite crime writers) on the cover.
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- Josephine Tey travels down from her Inverness home to take the plaudits of her fans as the last week of her play ‘Richard’ commences but one fan gets killed on the train and more look set to follow.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Using the real-life Josephine Tey as a basis for this crime novel the author gives her a fictional friend who just happens to work for Scotland Yard. When a fellow traveller on her train is murdered the connection between Tey’s play and the victim is soon apparent. More villainy soon follows...

General comments:- Well-written, a clever mix of using the real-life Josephine and the real setting of the New Theatre with a plot almost worthy of Tey herself. This has been followed up with a second Josephine Tey novel – “Angel with two faces”.

AUTHOR Notes:- Nicola Upson was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, and is the author of two non-fiction works, and the recipient of an Escalator Award from Arts Council England. She lives with her partner and splits her time between Cambridge and Cornwall, where the next novel in the series is set.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Review:- Ann GRANGER – “A Restless Evil”

Year Published: - 2002
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 0 7472 7472 X
Pages: - 280pp
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- Cotswolds
How I came across it: - Continuing this author’s works
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:- Detective Superintendent Alan Markby and his fiancee Meredith Mitchell go house-hunting only to find themselves embroiled in a twenty year mystery and a much more recent murder.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Markby is foolish enough to house-hunt in the very village which had left him with an unsolved case twenty years earlier. The finding of some old human bones in the local wood lead to death rearing it’s ugly head.

General comments:- A great skill at story-telling combined with a good plot, realistic locations and a likeable pair of sleuths make this a first rate cosy crime novel.

The series so far:-
Mitchell and Markby Village
1. Say It With Poison (1991)
2. A Season For Murder (1991)
3. Cold In The Earth (1992)
4. Murder Among Us (1992)
5. Where Old Bones Lie (1993)
6. A Fine Place For Death (1994)
7. Flowers For His Funeral (1994)
8. Candle For A Corpse (1995)
9. A Touch Of Mortality (1996)
10. A Word After Dying (1996)
11. Call The Dead Again (1998)
12. Beneath These Stones (1999)
13. Shades of Murder (2000)
14. A Restless Evil (2002)
15. That Way Murder Lies (2004)

AUTHOR Notes:- Ann Granger, born 1939, held various jobs in the diplomatic service and now lives near Oxford.