30 September 2015

Review: AUNT BESSIE BELIEVES, Diana Xarissa

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 791 KB
  • Print Length: 234 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publication Date: July 24, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • #2 in the Isle of Man Cozy Mysteries
Synopsis (Amazon)

Aunt Bessie believes that Moirrey Teare is just about the most disagreeable woman she's ever had the misfortune to meet.

Elizabeth Cubbon, (Aunt Bessie to nearly everyone), is somewhere past sixty, and old enough to ignore the rude woman that does her best to ruin the first session of the beginning Manx language class they are both taking. Moirrey's sudden death is harder to ignore.

Aunt Bessie believes that Moirrey's death was the result of the heart condition that Moirrey always complained about.
The police investigation, however, suggests that someone switched some of the dead woman's essential medications for something far more deadly.
Aunt Bessie believes that she and her friends can find the killer.

But with Doona suspended from work and spending all of her time with the dead woman's long-lost brother, with Hugh caught up in a brand new romance and with Inspector Rockwell chasing after a man that might not even exist, Bessie finds herself believing that someone might just get away with murder. 

My Take

Feel like a bit of light reading? This gentle cozy may be just what you are looking for.

The setting is the Isle of Man, the narrator Aunt Bessie Cubbon. Aunt Bessie has been a refuge for the island's youth for decades, a place where they can go to stay when they have had enough of their parents. And so Bessie has her finger on the pulse of most happenings on the island, and lots of people trust her and owe her favours. She is also part of the island's "skeet" network, a group of friends who are quick to update each by telephone on the latest news and gossip. The local police find her an invaluable source of information and tips.

The author encourages the reader right at the beginning to read these books in order. She explains the origins of the series, which now numbers 7 titles (see Amazon) and the connection of the series to an earlier Romance series. Apparently some of the characters in the Romance series, including Aunt Bessie, have made their way across into the mystery series.The language is British English with some Manx words and terminology interspersed. A glossary is provided in the final pages.

 A delightful read.

My rating: 4.2

About the author
Diana has lived in several US states, the north of England and the Isle of Man. While she is currently in the US, she still misses the stunning scenery, wonderful people and fascinating history that make the Isle of Man so unique.

Michael Robotham wins CWA Gold Dagger

What lovely news to wake up to this morning!

My favourite author Michael Robotham has won the very prestigious British Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger for best crime fiction of the year with LIFE OR DEATH.

The competition was fierce.

My review is here.

Read the news report at Sydney Morning Herald
See the blog report by Craig Sisterson at Crime Watch.

Meet Michael on his website.

Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing, Best Novel, 2005: winner for Lost
Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing, Best Novel, 2007: shortlisted for The Night Ferry
Crime Writers' Association (UK), The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, 2007: shortlisted for The Night Ferry
Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing, Best Novel, 2008: winner for Shatter
Crime Writers' Association (UK), The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, Best Thriller, 2008: shortlisted for Shatter
ITV Thriller Awards (UK), Breakthrough Novelist 2008: shortlisted for Shatter
Crime Writers' Association (UK), The CWA Gold Dagger, Best Crime Novel, 2013: shortlisted for Say You're Sorry
Crime Writers' Association (UK), The CWA Gold Dagger, Best Crime Novel, 2015: shortlisted for Life or Death

My reviews

SHATTER (audio)

28 September 2015

Review: THE GHOSTS OF ALTONA, Craig Russell

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1033 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (June 4, 2015)
  • Publication Date: June 4, 2015
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00TOOS2D0
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Jan Fabel is a haunted man.

Head of the Polizei Hamburg's Murder Commission, Fabel has dealt with the dead for nearly two decades, but when a routine enquiry becomes a life-threatening - and life-changing - experience, he finds himself on much closer terms with death than ever before.

Two years later, Fabel's first case at the Murder Commission comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone's body is found at last, fifteen years after she went missing. Monika - ethereally beautiful, intelligent, cruel - was the centre of a group of students obsessed with the gothic. Fabel re-opens the case. What happened that night, when Monika left a party and disappeared into thin air?

When men involved with Monika start turning up dead, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for revenge and a taste for the gothic. What he doesn't know is that someone has been aiding and grooming a deranged escapee as his own, personal tool for revenge.

A truly gothic monster to be let loose on the world.

Winner of the Scottish Crime Novel of the Year 2015
Read a free chapter here

My Take

The announcement on Crime Watch that this novel is the winner of the Scottish Crime Novel of the Year 2015 reminded me that Craig Russell is an author that I was taken with nearly a decade ago, but I have read only the first two in the Jan Fabel series, and none since I began this blog.  I know I have some hard back copies of at least one or two novels on my shelves somewhere.

So this seemed an opportune moment to do some catching up with Jan Fabel.

What THE GHOSTS OF ALTONA did is convince me that I must read some of the novels I have missed in the intervening years. Jan Fabel has come a long way since the novel I read nearly ten years ago. Two years ago (in "novel time") he nearly died, and his near death experience (NDE) changed his whole approach to life. Not only is he now a member of the Club of the Living Dead, people who have experienced similar NDEs, he is participating in group research into what actually happens as people experience death.

There is a remarkable depth to this novel, a feeling of good research, as the reader meets others who have also had NDEs and reacted quite differently to Fabel. There is also an exploration of Fabel's leadership style, the way he feels as if he is a fatherly figure for his hand-picked colleagues in Hamburg's Murder Commission.

And this is a novel where cold case meets the present day. The discovery of Monika Krone's skeleton under the asphalt of a car park, a murder unsolved for fifteen years, seems to trigger a number of deaths, seemingly unrelated.

Excellent story telling.

I was however struck by plot similarities with a novel I completed last week, SILENT SCREAM by Angela Marsons: where the discovery of a skeleton in wasteland next to an orphanage triggers murders. But in reality the two novels take entirely different paths. THE GHOSTS OF ALTONA features a seasoned investigator, while in SILENT SCREAM we see a career just beginning.

My rating: 5.0

About the author (Fantastic Fiction)
Craig Russell is a British-born novelist and short story writer. His Hamburg-set thriller series featuring detective Jan Fabel has been translated into 23 languages. Russell speaks fluent German and has a special interest in post-war German history. His books, particularly the Fabel series, tend to include historical or mythological themes.
Author's web site:  http://www.craigrussell.com/

In February 2007, Russell was awarded the Polizeistern (Police Star) by the Hamburg Police, the only non-German ever to have received this accolade. In June 2007, Russell was shortlisted for the £20,000 CWA Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger, the world's largest literary prize for crime fiction. He was the winner of the 2008 CWA Dagger in the Library. Russell was a finalist for the 2013 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger for Dead Men and Broken Hearts.

Mini review of BROTHER GRIMM published 2006 (My rating: 4.6)
A girl's body has turned up on a Hamburg beach with a note concealed in her hand. The note gives her name, that of a 13 year old who went missing on her way home from school 3 years earlier. But it is not the same girl. Fabel has worked this out even before her parents come to identify the body and confirm his suspicions. Then two more bodies turn up, posed at a picnic table in the woods, also with notes concealed in their hands. The notes say Hansel and Gretel, in the same tiny, obsessively neat writing.

Jan Fabel series (list from Fantastic Fiction)
1. Blood Eagle (2005)
2. Brother Grimm (2006)
3. Eternal (2007)
4. The Carnival Master (2008)
5. The Valkyrie Song (2009)
6. A Fear of Dark Water (2010)
7. The Ghosts of Altona (2015)

24 September 2015

Review: SILENT SCREAM, Angela Marsons

  • format : Kindle (Amazon)
  • Series: Detective Kim Stone crime thriller series
  • Paperback: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Bookouture; 1 edition (February 20, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190949092X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909490925
Synopsis (Amazon)

Even the darkest secrets can’t stay buried forever…
Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood …

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country. But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed.

D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades. As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?

My Take

I was reminded in reading this novel of the discoveries that have been made by recent government authorities, in this country and elsewhere, of the dreadful way children have been treated by those who were entrusted to their care. In Australia it has resulted in Royal Commissions exposing, among other things, systematic abuse.

D.I. Kim Stone has more understanding than most of how children have been treated in foster homes and orphanages because she has been there. She has a past that her colleagues are not aware of.

In this novel the institution where unspeakable things have occurred is Crestwood in the Black Country. The institution itself has gone, destroyed by fire, but some of the perpetrators of at least one crime live on, some of them waiting in fear for the truth to out. The pact they had made ten years earlier has held strong but is about to crack open. The death of first one then another will ensure that their connection to Crestwood will be seen, what they did exposed.

For the land next to Crestwood is about to become an archeological dig, despite efforts to prevent that happening.

I had read in other reviews that this is a remarkable first novel and I have to agree. Some elements of the plot are a bit standard: a female D.I. who is hard to control, a loose cannon who is too impatient to wait for the paperwork to be approved, a boss who threatens to stand her down but who is also prepared to defend her because she gets results. The superb creation of Kim Stone's character, and the way she interacts with her team, ensures that this is not a pedestrian novel. Far from it. It has a good level of tension that rachets up as the investigation progresses, and there is a lovely twist at the end. I'll be reading the next in the series: EVIL GAMES.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Angela Marsons is the author of Amazon UK #1 Bestseller SILENT SCREAM.
She lives in the Black Country with her partner, their bouncy Labrador and a swearing parrot.
She first discovered her love of writing at Junior School when actual lessons came second to watching other people and quietly making up her own stories about them. Her report card invariably read "Angela would do well if she minded her own business as well as she minds other people's".

After years of writing relationship based stories (My Name Is and The Middle Child) Angela turned to Crime, fictionally speaking of course, and developed a character that refused to go away.
She is signed to Bookouture.com in an 8 book deal. The second book in the Kim Stone series, EVIL GAMES, is released 29th May 2015. 

21 September 2015

Review: GIVE A CORPSE A BAD NAME, Elizabeth Ferrars

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 387 KB
  • Print Length: 164 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1780020279
  • Publication Date: December 1, 2010
    First published 1940
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004GXA5WU
Synopsis (Amazon)

On a cold winter’s night, a man is run over while lying drunk in the middle of a Devon lane. Driving the car is local resident Anna Milne, an attractive widow from South Africa. It could be an unfortunate accident, but strange coincidence hints at more. For the dead man also comes from South Africa. And he has Anna Milne's address in his pocket… In conjunction with the police, it is Toby Dyke, ex-reporter and man of no fixed occupation, who investigates the curious circumstance of the stranger’s death. 

My Take

This is a relatively short Golden Age novel that I've had sitting on my Kindle TBR for some time. I hadn't realised it was the debut title in a series of 6 novels. An interesting feature of the list is that the final title was published over 50 years after the fifth, and only a couple of years before the author's death. Not only that but it appears to have been the first of Elizabeth Ferrars' published work.

The plot is a complex one which poses some intriguing questions. Why does the local lord of the manor claim the dead body is his son whom he hasn't seen for some fifteen years, while Lady Maxwell says that it isn't. And who is sending anonymous letters to Toby Dyke to spur on his investigation?

And does Toby Dyke get it right or wrong at the end? Is he too clever for his own good?

This is a novel that has weathered the test of time quite well.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Elizabeth Ferrars (1907-1995) was one of the most distinguished crime writers of her generation. She was described by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine as 'The writer who may be the closest of all to Christie in style, plotting and general milieu'. Born in 1907 in Rangoon, Burma, the author grew up in Hampshire, England, before studying journalism in London. Her first crime novel, Give a Corpse a Bad Name, was published in 1940. During her career, she wrote more than seventy novels and became immensely popular in America, where she was published as E.X. Ferrars. In 1953, she became a founding member of the British Crime Writers' Association and, in the early 1980s, was awarded its Silver Dagger for a lifetime's achievement. She died in 1995.

Toby Dyke
Give a Corpse a Bad Name (1940)
Remove the Bodies (1940)
     aka Rehearsals for Murder
Death in Botanist's Bay (1941)
     aka Murder of a Suicide
Don't Monkey with Murder (1942)
     aka The Shape of a Stain
Your Neck in a Noose (1942)
Neck in a Noose (1993)

19 September 2015

Marking 100 books read in 2015

Every year I keep track of the books I am reading.

This year I am aiming for 140 titles and earlier this week I reached 100.

Good Reads tells me that I am "ahead of  schedule" but I can tell even now that it will be a close thing.

But the stats are interesting (to me anyway)

  • over one third of the titles (37) are e-books read on my Kindle or iPad (which I synchronise)
  • over one third (39) are British crime fiction
  • nearly one half (48)  are library books
I am really not doing all that well on some of my reading challenges but I guess I still have over three months to complete them.

If  you'd like to see a further breakdown go to my 2015 Reading Challenges Update.

18 September 2015


  • this edition published 1995 by Corgi
  • Originally published 1992
  • #19 in the Wycliffe series
  • ISBN 0-552-14221-2
  • 220 pages
  • source: My Mount TBR
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The body of Cochran Wilder had lain buried in the sand dunes for 15 years. Inspector Wycliffe suspects the involvement of six people, now well-established figures in the Cornish community. All are disturbed by his questioning, and a second murder seems to confirm his suspicions.

My Take

I was familiar with the Wycliffe television series and picked this novel up from a second hand book stall a few years back but have never read it. The title is #19 in the Wycliffe series which eventually had 22 titles, none of which I have read.

Wycliffe, now a Detective Chief Superintendent, is approaching the end of his career, and is finding that it takes a lot to get him enthusiastic. He rarely gets to participate hands on in an investigation but there is something about this case that he finds interesting, especially as it will require a few nights away from home. It is an attractive alternative too to his bending his mind to the exigencies of an imminent restructuring of his section.

When a second murder occurs, Wycliffe has to decide whether the two are connected. He knows there are six people who have lived with the secret surrounding the death of the body found in the dunes for fifteen years. Just the fact that they all see each other frequently is a constant reminder of what they did. And one of them at least is at breaking point.

A very readable but pretty standard police procedural.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

W.J. Burley (1914-2002) started life as an engineer, and later went to Balliol to read zoology as a mature student. On leaving Oxford he went into teaching and, until his retirement, was senior biology master in a large mixed grammar school in Newquay. He created Inspector Wycliffe in 1966 and the series was  televised with Jack Shepherd starring in the title role.

15 September 2015

Review: THE SECRET PLACE, Tana French

  • this edition large print published by Thorndike Press
  • ISBN 978-1-4104-6978-6
  • 842 pages
  • first published 2014
  • #5 in the Dublin Murder Squad series
  • available for Kindle: Amazon
 Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago. The caption says, "I know who killed him".

Detective Stephen Moran hasn't seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she's 16 and she's shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story. Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets.

The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys' school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card. Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn't want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn't want to hear.

From the multi-award-winning author of Sunday Times and New York Times best seller In the Woods, The Secret Place is a searing novel of psychological suspense.

My Take

I must confess that I originally started reading a copy of this from my local library, but at over 800 pages it proved to be a weighty tome, so I bought a Kindle version.

Detective Stephen Moran really wants to move from the Cold Case squad back into the Murder Squad which is why he decides to deliver the card which Holly Mackey has brought him to Antoinette Conway in person. Strictly speaking he should just hand the card over but he is angling for an invitation to sit in on wherever Conway's investigation takes her. Conway is excited with what looks like a breakthrough ina case that has been stagnating for most of a year.

It comes as a surprise to realise that the main events of THE SECRET PLACE take place in the space of a day. That is not entirely true because Chris Harper has been dead a year and some of the narrative predates his death by a further fifteen months or so. The various strands of plot lines are cleverly juxtaposed, almost seamlessly, although the reader is never in any doubt about which time frame they are in. From time to time the reader is told how much longer Chris Harper has to live.

The novel focusses on the girls at Kilda's boarding school who had most to do with Chris Harper. In that sense the questioning covers old ground, looking for something that Conway and her team missed in the days immediately after the murder. Solving the crime is incredibly important to Conway - she feels she is on the brink of being dropped from the Murder Squad. It is important too to Stephen  Moran that he establishes a good working relationship with Conway, and there are times when he fears he has messed up his chance.

The novel too is a study of how the teenage female mind works. It explores the spitefulness of gangs of girls in the closed boarding house atmosphere. It also looks at the damage that the events in the boarding house grounds have already inflicted on the school. But above all - who wrote the card and left it on the noticeboard, and, most importantly, who killed Chris Harper?

A complex and rewarding read.

This novel reminded me that I must read more from the Dublin Murder Squad series.

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed 4.3, THE LIKENESS

Dublin Murder Squad
1. In the Woods (2006)
2. The Likeness (2008)
3. Faithful Place (2010)
4. Broken Harbour (2012)
5. The Secret Place (2014)

14 September 2015

Review: THE GHOST FIELDS, Elly Griffiths - audio book

Synopsis (Publisher)

Norfolk is experiencing a July heat wave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery - a buried World War II plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn't possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea.

When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news. Events are further complicated by a TV company that wants to make a film about Norfolk's deserted air force bases, the so-called Ghost Fields, which have been partially converted into a pig farm run by one of the younger Blackstocks. As production begins, Ruth notices a mysterious man lurking close to the Blackstocks' family home. Then human bones are found on the family's pig farm.

Can the team outrace a looming flood to find a killer?

My Take

These audio books make perfect listening and really present this series well.

Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist from North Norfolk University, is excavating a Iron Age dig when the buried World War II plane is discovered in Devil's Hollow, land that used to be part of the Blackstock Estate, now being "developed". Ruth is called to the site by her friend DI Harry Nelson. She quickly comes to the conclusion that the body in the cockpit was not only murdered but, although it has been dead for decades, has only recently been moved there from its original burial site.

There is quite a lot going on in this novel, including personal developments in Ruth's life.  It does help to have read earlier novels in the series, particular for appreciating the development of recurring characters. A DNA project reveals that one of Nelson's team has Blackstock blood, and then two people are attacked, presumably because they are connected to the Blackstock family.

English weather plays a major part in events too as the July heat wave comes to an end with rain storms and high tides. Blackstock Hall is cut off from the main roads by rising water, and Ruth hears a murderer's confession that puts her in real danger.

Good reading.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
4.8, DYING FALL- audio book

9 September 2015

Review: THE ICE TWINS, S. K. Tremayne

Synopsis (Publisher)

One of Sarah's daughters died. But can she be sure which one? A terrifying psychological thriller that will chill you to the bone.

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives. But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity - that she, in fact, is Lydia - their world comes crashing down once again. As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past - what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died? 

My Take

This was certainly a gripping read, and the reader is never quite sure where the truth lies.

The story is narrated principally by the two parents, Angus and Sarah, and you become aware that each sees what happened the day that Lydia died differently. Angus seems to be shielding Sarah, and she for her part doesn't quite trust him. Both had some sort of breakdown after Lydia died. The story peels back layer by layer.

The locals say that the Moorcroft's new island home is "thin", that is, close to the the line that divides this world from the next. It is possible that the lighthouse keeper's cottage is haunted, and certainly previous residents have found it impossible to stay.

There was always a strong bond between Lydia and Kirstie, they had their own language, and almost telepathic communication. Their parents found it impossible to tell one from the other, and Sarah becomes convinced that they have wrongly identified the one that died.

Highly recommended.

 My rating: 4.6

About the author
S. K. Tremayne is a bestselling novelist and award-winning travel writer, and a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines around the world. Born in Devon, the author now lives in London. S. K. Tremayne has two daughters. This is his first novel as S.K. Tremayne. As Sean Thomas he writes for the Sunday Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail and has published three novels.

7 September 2015

Review: THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, Lawrence Block

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • Series: Matthew Scudder (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Avon (April 30, 2002)
    first published 1976
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038076363X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380763634
Synopsis (Amazon)

The pretty young prostitute is dead. Her alleged murderer—a minister's son—hanged himself in his jail cell. The case is closed. But the dead girl's father has come to Matthew Scudder for answers, sending the unlicensed private investigator in search of terrible truths about a life that was lived and lost in a sordid world of perversion and pleasures.

My Take

It is amazing that I have read as much crime fiction as I have, and never before read a Lawrence Block novel.

In this the debut title, Matt Scudder has recently left the New York Police force, after a decision that he made led to the death of a young girl. He decided that he was no longer able to hold his head up. Scudder is not a licensed PI and does his work for "gifts", and calls in favours from former colleagues and friends. He shows a willingness to go beyond what those employing him might have expected him to do, and in the long run is not afraid to be candid about what he has found out. One of the striking features of this novel is the way the author handles dialogue. The novel sets us up also with lots of background detail on Matthew Scudder.

As The Publisher's Weekly review says, this debut title demonstrates that Block was an excellent writer right from the start.  

My rating: 4.6

About the author
A Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Lawrence Block is a four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. The author of more than fifty books and numerous short stories, he is a devout New Yorker who spends much of his time traveling. Website: http://lawrenceblock.com/

5 September 2015

Review: THREE CARD MONTE, Marco Malvaldi

  • first published 2008 in Italian
  • this edition published byEuropa Editions 2014
  • translated by Howard Curtis
  • ISBN 978-1-60945-205-651600
  • 168 pages
  • #2 in the Bar Lume series
  • source: my local library 
  • Available from Amazon
Synopsis (Amazon)

At the Bar Lume, with the exception of Massimo the bartender and his assistant, the beautiful Tiziana, the youngest regular is seventysomething Aldo. The principal, indeed the only, activity in which the bar's elderly patrons engage is sitting around playing cards and analysing, gossiping and chronicling every event that occurs in their small Tuscan town. They ask Massimo, to investigate a murder and provide a running commentary, playing devil's advocate to all theories about the crime. Their cunning at three card Monte has taught them to see the truth behind appearances.

My Take

The Twelfth International Workshop on Macromolecular and Biomacromolecular Chemistry takes place in Massimo's home town of Pineta in Northern Italy, attracting a number of Japanese delegates, including one very elderly and much revered professor. Massimo and Aldo, one of the pensioners, are to provide catering during its coffee and lunch breaks. There is great excitement and disbelief when the elderly Japanese professor is found dead, and then the police find they are investigating a murder. They need Massimo's help with translation as they interview the delegates one by one.

From Wikipedia: The Three-card Monte game itself is very simple. To play, a dealer places three cards face down on a table, usually on a cardboard box which provides the ability to set up and disappear quickly.The dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card, e.g., the queen of hearts, and then rearranges the cards quickly to confuse the player about which card is which. The player is then given an opportunity to select one of the three cards. If the player correctly identifies the queen of hearts, the player gets the amount he bet (his "stake") back, plus the same amount again; otherwise, he loses his stake. As the character who explains it to Massimo says, the trick is to get the player to focus on the wrong actions.

I didn't really enjoy the novel as much as I expected to although there are some humorous bits and quirky characters. I thought the attempts to make links between the title (and the card game) and the action of the murder mystery were a bit tedious, and although the novel was short, I got to the point where I wanted it to be over. The final explanation for the murder (the motive) was a bit thin.

My rating: 3.8

I've also reviewed

2 September 2015

What I read in August 2015

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month August 2015
Another good reading month, including a couple of books that were not crime fiction.
  1. 4.7, THE BURNING MAN, Christopher Fowler
  2. 4.7, A SIEGE OF BITTERNS, Steve Burrows
  3. 1.5, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, Umberto Eco 
  4. 4.5, SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED, Philippe Georget
  5. 4.5, THE SECRET CHORD, Geraldine Brooks - not crime fiction
  6. 4.3, THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF, Helen Garner - not crime fiction
  7. 4.2, THE SLAUGHTER MAN, Tony Parson - audio book 
  8. 4.5, BURIED, Jussi Adler-Olsen - translated 
  9. 4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES, Michael Robotham - Aussie author 
 My Pick of the Month was CLOSE YOUR EYES by long standing favourite Australian author Michael Robotham.

See what others have chosen this month

Review: BLOOD REDEMPTION, Alex Palmer

  • this edition published by Harper Collins Australia 2012
  • ISBN 0-7322-7131-2
  • 481 pages
  • #1 in the Harrigan and Grace series
  • winner Canberra Critics Circle Award 2002
    winner Davitt Award 2003
    Winner Ned Kelly Award Best First Novel 2003
  • Available for Kindle from Amazon
Synopsis (publisher)

Matthew Liu sees his parents gunned down on a lonely Sydney backstreet. A young woman, the killer, stares him in the face before fleeing the scene. When the police arrive, all they find is the discarded gun.

Detective Inspector Paul Harrigan's unit is pitched into a high-profile investigation with little to go on. Who is the young woman? How can she have vanished into thin air? When DC Grace Riordan follows up a connection between one of the victims and a termination clinic, pieces start to fall into place, but Grace is forced to confront some personal demons.

Harrigan has demons of his own to contend with. Burned badly in the past for refusing to turn a blind eye to police corruption, he suspects that his current team and investigation is being subtly sabotaged. then he discovers that his own son is in email contact with the killer and that the young woman's bloody rampage is far from over. And with a single phone call the killer draws Harrigan and Grace into her trap. 

My Take

For most of the novel the reader knows who shot Matthew Liu's parents, and after the first chapter we are pretty sure we know why.  But we don't know a lot about what drove Lucy, a 19 year old, to commit murder, and the role of others in commissioning this act.

Grace Riordan is a new member of Paul Harrigan's team, and he doesn't know a lot about her, except that she has been recruited through a Graduate Entry scheme. He is amazed when the Assistant Commissioner, "the Tooth", offers to move Grace on into Public Affairs. She has obviously has already touched a nerve, and that makes Harrigan even more determined to keep her, and hope that she fulfills the potential he has already seen.

Paul Harrigan's son is "the Turtle", a teenage boy who suffered oxygen deprivation at birth, and is confined to a wheelchair. Harrigan is horrified to find that Toby has been having a an email correspondence with the killer whom he knows as "the Firewall."

This is a gritty noir novel, set in Sydney, written with an assurance of style unusual in a debut novel, and very readable.

My rating: 4.5


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