24 February 2017

Review: HELLFIRE, Karin Fossum

  • this edition published by Harvill Secker 2016
  • translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson
  • #12 in the Inspector Conrad Sejer series
  • 276 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-846-55940-2
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Penguin Books Australia)

A mother and child are found brutally murdered in an old caravan on a remote piece of land. A bloody footprint is discovered at the scene, and Chief Inspector Sejer is called to investigate.

Meanwhile, another mother, dying of cancer, confesses to her 21-year-old son that he is adopted. The man who abandoned them, whom the boy has become obsessed by, is not his real father.

Why do we lie to those closest to us? Hellfire delves deep into the dark heart of family, and what drives people to commit the most horrific of crimes.

My Take

I'd almost forgotten how very readable this series is.

We see the action of the novel from three points of view: Bonnie works as a home help. She has a small son Simon and is a single mother. Christmas is approaching. Bonnie visits ten homes a week, and there are little vignettes from each of her visits. In the same time frame we meet Mass and her 21 year old son Eddie. Eddie appears to have something similar to Asbergers and is unable to work. He is very anxious to know more about his father whom his mother says died in Denmark some years earlier. But in reality what Mass tells Eddie is a tissue of lies. In the third scenario we jump to Inspector Sejer and the investigation into a double murder six months later.

The interesting thing for me was that this police procedural felt almost pedestrian until the breakthrough came. Sejer fairly quickly discovers the identity of the bodies in the caravan but when he contacts the family they give him edited versions of the facts, leaving out bits they didn't think he needed to know.

The fact that the novel jumps between three narratives and a time frame that spans over six months keeps the reader on their toes. A couple of red herrings are thrown in just to create some false trails.

Easy to see why Karin Fossum is so highly thought of. As you will see from the list below, I generally enjoy her books.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read
BLACK SECONDS
BROKEN
THE WATER'S EDGE
4.9, BAD INTENTIONS
5.0, THE CALLER
4.7, I CAN SEE IN THE DARK
5.0, THE DROWNED BOY

23 February 2017

Reminder: Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

Just a gentle reminder that this blog site (ACRC) still continues with a monthly blog carnival where I collect reviews and other blog posts related to Agatha Christie.

I have completed reading all the Christie novels and short stories myself but have recently begun re-reading selected novels at the rate of one a month.

There are plenty of people reading Christie as you can see by the list of those participating in the challenge.

20 February 2017

Review: THE SILENCE BETWEEN BREATHS, Cath Staincliffe

  • this edition published by Constable 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-4721-1800-4
  • 264 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston have no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.

Holly has just landed her dream job, and Jeff is heading for an interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other. Onboard customer service assistant Naz dreams of better things. And among the others travelling are Nick with his young family; pensioner Meg and her partner, setting off on a walking holiday; Caroline, run ragged by the competing demands of her stroppy teenage children and her demented mother; and Rhona, desperate to get home to her daughter.

And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack....

My Take

Cath Staincliffe takes us onto an ordinary train from Manchester to Euston and introduces us to a selection of passengers, warts and all. There are 8 passengers whom we get to know well. They all have problems but these pale into insignificance against the fact that Saheel, a British born Muslim turned jihadist is carrying a bomb that he intends to let off in Euston station. We, the readers, realise that the train is in danger but only one of the passengers realises that something is wrong.

The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the "incident".
If you think I'm being a bit miserly with details it is because I want you to experience the book for yourself.
Let me tell you though that really did get to the stage that I didn't want to put it down. I wanted to know how things panned out. It will make you think too.

My rating: 4.7

See another review

About the author
Cath Staincliffe's first crime novel, Looking for Trouble, was short-listed for the CWA's best first novel award and was serialized on Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Since then she has written several crime novels, all of which have been very well reviewed. Cath Staincliffe was adopted as a baby in England and has in recent years been reunited with her Irish birth-family. Although Trio is not autobiographical, it contains elements of Cath's own story, and is evidently written from the heart. 

In 2006 Cath was short-listed for the CWA Dagger in the Library.  In 2012 Cath won the CWA Short Story Dagger for Laptop, sharing the prize with Margaret Murphy with her story The Message. Both stories featured in Best Eaten Cold, a Murder Squad anthology.  And in 2014 Cath was short-listed for the CWA Short Story Dagger again for Night Nurse from the anthology Deadly Pleasures.

18 February 2017

Review: THE PALLAMPUR PREDICAMENT, Brian Stoddart

  • this edition printed by Crime Wave Press 2014
  • ISBN 9-789881-351043
  • 271 pages
  • #2 in the Le Fanu series
Synopsis (publisher)

The second Superindentent Le Fanu Mystery sees our intrepid British policeman on the trail of the murderers of an Indian Rajah.

Under pressure from his superiors, pining for his lost love and allergic to the sight of blood, Le Fanu must navigate through a political mine-field of colonial intrigue in 1920s Madras.

As the British tighten their grip on the sub-continent, Gandhi’s peace movement, British secret agents and armed pro-independence rebels complicate Le Fanu’s investigations further and he soon finds himself in a quagmire of violent opposing forces that are unwilling to compromise.

My take

Set two years after the first in the series (A MADRAS MIASMA) this novel does a good job of depicting the ways in which the British Raj is losing control of India. The Rajah of Pallampur, married to an Australian bride, is found dead in his palace. The attack leading to his death appears to have been unusually frenzied. The Rajah was not particularly popular and Superintendent Le Fanu discovers that he has been under surveillance by British intelligence ever since the end of World War One. He appears to have had IRA connections, and was perhaps involved in gun running.

In the background Gandhi's non-violent non-cooperation movement is ramping up but not all of his followers believe that non-violence is the way. Many of the British civil servants do nit understand what a knife edge they are living on.

The novel does a good job as a police procedural and develops the relationships between Le Fanu and his superiors and his colleagues. It is two years since Le Fanu's housekeeper Ro left and he has missed her company more than he likes to admit. During the novel Ro comes back to Madras for a holiday and Le Fanu realises he must make decisions about their relationship. 
 
My rating: 4.3

I've also read 4.6, A MADRAS MIASMA

12 February 2017

Review: WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Dorothy Fowler

  • first published 2009 by Black Swan
  • ISBN 978-1-86979-208-4
  • 279 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (back cover)

Everything leaves a trace. Chloe, a contract archaeologist, is excavating the site of a religious Kaipara Harbour community, which burnt to the ground in the 1880s. As the site is uncovered, what unpalatable truths will be revealed about the events on the night of the fire? Chloe's own family has farmed this land, and she is caught in the conflict as local resistance to the excavation mounts. When Chloe digs up more than shards of pottery, she realises that the site holds secrets that will not stay buried, and their effect on the present is devastating. Moving between a diary written in the 1880s and the current day, this compelling novel has murder, mystery, love, lust - and archaeology.

My Take

A carefully constructed mystery on at least two levels. The historical site that Chloe is investigating has been part of her family for a century. It is about to be sold for land development and so the owner, Chloe's cousin Shane, has commissioned her to do an archaeological survey. Over a century ago this was a reclusive mission station, but then it was burnt down. There are some bodies buried on the site and they need to be found and moved to a nearby cemetery.

Chloe's family seem to have lost whatever they knew about the Mission, and they don't even know where the mass grave is.

The reader has the advantage of being privy to a diary written in the 1880s before the fire and so we chart a mystery on that level, at the same time as participating in Chloe's dig. But there is at least one person who doesn't want the past dug up, and local vandals do their best to impede the progress of the excavation. And there is something more serious than vandalism underneath everything.
 
Dorothy Fowler wrote this novel in 2008 as her coursework for the Master of Creative Writing at Auckland University. 

My rating: 4.5 

See another review 

Review: IMPERIUM, Robert Harris - audio book

  • First published 2006
  • Narrated by: Bill Wallis
  • Length: 13 hrs and 51 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release Date:01-12-15
  • available from Audible.com 
Synopsis (Audible.com)

When Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events which will eventually propel his master into one of the most famous courtroom dramas in history.

The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island's corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Cicero, a brilliant young lawyer and spellbinding orator, determined to attain imperium - supreme power in the state.This is the starting-point of Robert Harris's most accomplished novel to date.
Compellingly written in Tiro's voice, it takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, to describe how one man - clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable - fought to reach the top.

Sometimes it is foolish to articulate an ambition too early - exposing it prematurely to the laughter and scepticism of the world can destroy it before it is even properly born. But sometimes the opposite occurs, and the very act of mentioning a thing makes it suddenly seem possible, even plausible.

That was how it was that night. When Cicero pronounced the word 'consul' he planted it in the ground like a standard for us all to admire. And for a moment we glimpsed the brilliant, starry future through his eyes, and saw that he was right: that if he took down Verres, he had a chance; that he might - just, with luck, go all the way to the summit...'

My Take

We were so pleased with recently listening to the audio version of CONCLAVE that we
decided to follow it up with another by the same author. IMPERIUM did not disappoint.
It is the first of what is now known as the Cicero Trilogy and traces Cicero's rise from lawyer, to senator, and then to consul. At nearly 14 hours it makes a long audio book but it is fascinating listening.
The rest of the series is
2. Lustrum (2009)
     aka Conspirata
3. Dictator (2015) and I can see that we will be following it to the end, and then maybe venturing into some other Harris books.

My rating: 4.8 

9 February 2017

Review: THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM, Greg Pyers

  • this edition published by Scribe 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-925321-97-5
  • 295 pages
  • Review copy supplied by publisher
Synopsis (Publisher)


Based on a true story…

At midnight on 28 December 1864, in the Australian gold-mining town of Daylesford, young newly-wed Maggie Stuart lies dead in her own blood. Rumour and xenophobia drive speculation over the identity of her killer, and when a suspect is apprehended, police incompetence and defence counsel negligence bring yet more distortion to the wheels of justice.

In this climate of prejudice and ineptitude, it seems only Detective Otto Berliner is able to keep an objective mind and recognise that something is terribly wrong. He intends to put matters right, though all the odds are against him.

My Take

The Author's Note says
"This story is based on a murder committed in the gold-mining town of Daylesford, Australia in 1864. The names of some characters have been changed, but all the characters herein are based on real people."

In fact many of the names of the characters are not changed.

The first two thirds of the book deal with the murder and the subsequent 3 day trial.  My research shows that the author relied very heavily on the newspaper records of the time, sometimes using them almost verbatim. This part reminded me very much of what Truman Capote called a non-fiction novel.

At first two suspects are jailed for the murder of Maggie Stuart, but one is eventually released. The other spends 7 months in jail as the police build a case against him. Most of the evidence is circumstantial and some vital evidence is totally missing,

Otto Berliner is an inspector in the Victoria Police, on leave, hoping to set himself up in the near future as a private detective. He does not attend the trial, but a friend does, and he takes notes which Berliner later finds useful.

Berliner goes to New Zealand for some time and returns just a week or so before the convicted murderer is due to be executed. He is convinced that the convicted man is innocent, and so from this time, there is a race against time to see if he can discover the murderer and get a stay of exceution.

I think the structure of the novel worked against the building of real tension until the final few pages. However it does present the case against the police well, as being too quick to adopt an easy solution, and too lazy to ask real questions.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Greg Pyers grew up in the small Victorian town of Daylesford. As a boy, he read the books of Gerald Durrell, and many years later, worked at Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo. Greg became a full-time writer in 1998, following eight years as an educator in zoos, and several years as a post-primary schoolteacher. He went on to write 160 natural history books and three novels for children. Greg Pyers was short listed in the 2005 Children’s Book Council Awards in the non-fiction category. He won a 2004 Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW for Life in a Rock Pool, Gum Tree, Creek, and Desert Dune. In The Wilderness Society’s 2002 Environment Award For Children’s Literature, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to children’s environmental literature. In 2005, Greg won another Wilderness Society Award, this time for non-fiction. The Unfortunate Victim is Greg’s first work of adult fiction.

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