Category Archives: Crime

Rain Dogs

Another mid-January, another Duffy review. This is a tradition I’ll happily keep going for much, much longer. I could have sworn Adrian McKinty intended Duffy to be a trilogy. Or perhaps I only imagined it. Suffice to say, when I opened the package and found the fifth Duffy novel inside, I was one happy witch.

Duffy has just been abandoned by his live-in partner (I had a moment of fear that I’d forgotten someone so significant in his life, but she was new, and is already leaving. Because Duffy is too old…), and he has also just shaken the hand of Muhammad Ali (fictitious, but realistic, visit to Northern Ireland by the great man), when he is faced with his second locked-room mystery. This seems like too much of a coincidence, for one policeman, in such a short time. In Carrickfergus.

It is.

He is up against more evil and cunning criminals. In fact, the murderer is who you’d expect, except it’s so obvious, but you can’t work out how it could be possible. And Duffy continues to look for bombs under his car.

Adrian McKinty, Rain Dogs

Our detective travels to Liverpool and to London, as well as to a snowy Finland where the sea freezes over and the policemen don’t talk. He meets Jimmy Savile, who’s nowhere near as friendly off-camera as he seems on television…

McCrabban is a rock as always, and Lawson, the newbie from last year’s book, looks promising, if only Adrian will let him live.

Towards the very end I feared for Duffy’s safety. I could see how his creator might want to finish him off (despite giving him a cat), but luckily he didn’t, so I live in hope of book six. And perhaps even books ten or twelve?

(For probably the first time in my crime-reading life I could tell how the murderer got out of the locked room.)

Floods

The Retired Children’s Librarian phoned to ask if we had been flooded. She and her sister had discussed this after seeing the news. I said we were all right.

She asked after everyone in the family, finally checking if I was out meeting authors all the time. (As if.)

Then she said ‘You know the one who wrote Harry Potter [she hasn’t read the books], who has now written some other books? What do people think of them? Because I like them.’

I replied that people who feel they must dislike J K Rowling on principle won’t have much good to say about her Galbraith crime novels, but that those who are not thus afflicted tend to say they like the books. She was a bit surprised that there are people who can’t stand fame and riches in others. And I admitted to not knowing J K personally and that she’s definitely not one of the authors I might see, frequently or otherwise.

Her next question was whether the press here had reported on Henning Mankell’s death, and I said they had, as he’s quite big here. She was a bit surprised, especially when I went on to mention the number of people who try to, or want to, learn enough Swedish/Danish to watch crime on television without subtitles. (I didn’t mention that I think they are doomed.)

Knowing we are safe from the rivers, she hung up, because she needed to phone to order a bus timetable. The internet is so taken for granted in Sweden that they feel passengers can look up their next bus there. Or travel to Stockholm to pick one up. Which would be easy enough if it wasn’t 70 kilometres and almost an hour away by bus. And if you had a timetable.

Let them read crime novels instead.

Traitor’s Purse

A S Byatt has a lot to answer for. I’ve now come across several reviews of Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, where the reviewer only read the book after her article in the Guardian last year.

Personally, I wanted to remind myself of the plot, so went to our Allingham shelf to reacquaint myself with the book, only to discover we didn’t have a copy. Hence its appearance on my Christmas wish list, and because it was the only item on the list issued to the Resident IT Consultant, I wasn’t massively surprised to receive a copy. Which, had been my plan all along. [Don’t give them a choice.]

Margery Allingham, Traitor's Purse

It’s been years since I read Margery Allingham’s Campion books. I loved them, and I rather loved him as well, being much more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey. And I obviously would have loved to be Lady Amanda; the girl who decided she was going to marry him.

In Traitor’s Purse, set in 1941, Campion has had a knock on the head and doesn’t even remember her, or his manservant Lugg, or who he himself is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing. (Saving the country is what.)

Being a man, he doesn’t start asking useful questions like ‘Who am I?’ but sets about quietly grappling with each thing as it comes along. He makes the mistake of thinking Amanda is his wife, and his private fears about maybe losing her are wonderfully described. You take a girl for granted for years and…

This is a great detective trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. He works out who is good and who is bad, and almost what the problem is, but hasn’t got a clue what to do.

After this long away from Campion’s world, I noticed the social aspects much more. But it’s a marvellous story and the writing is as good as ever, and you have to overlook the fact that occasionally the upper classes are portrayed as more reliable than the rest of us. It’s the way it was.

But behind it all is the usual humour and courage and an exciting plot. ‘Good lord, he could climb like a cat!’ This is a handy discovery when you are forced to flee over the rooftops. Most of us will already know whether a route like that is likely to be successful, but Campion hasn’t got any idea of what he can and can’t do. He just knows he has to try.

My thanks to A S Byatt. I hadn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. Might be time to return to more old diamonds.

A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation

This is India’s answer to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Vaseem Khan has written a sweet and funny crime novel about Inspector Chopra, who is forced to retire on health grounds from the police in Mumbai. In his early fifties, he is an honourable man who has always tried to do the right thing, and who could never be bribed.

In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra we meet him on his last day, as he agonises over what will become of him, now that he no longer has a job to go to. His wife, Poppy, is rather pleased he will be staying at home, but of course he ends up doing no such thing.

Vaseem Khan, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

First there is the baby elephant. His uncle has sent this large gift for a reason. It’s just that ex-Inspector Chopra can’t work out what that is. And on his last day in the office he meets the distraught mother of a murdered young man, and rashly takes on the task of finding the murderer.

Chopra is a brave and determined man, who will let neither a bad heart or old colleagues stop him from doing what’s right. And then there is Ganesha, the baby elephant. The Chopras live in a tower block, so keeping even a small elephant is tricky, but Poppy is as determined and fierce as her husband is honourable. There is a priceless scene when she and Ganesha sit down in the living room to watch Bollywood films together while snacking on goodies!

The murdered young man leads Chopra to many bad and seemingly impossible discoveries. And who can he trust, when everyone can be bought?

This is a nice, comfy kind of whodunnit, set somewhere exotic to the European reader, and very satisfying. Described as a Baby Ganesh Agency story, I wonder if there will be more? There certainly could be. Elephants are as loyal and dependable as the former Inspector Chopra.

(And the food! Poppy prepares the most wonderful dishes for her husband. He has little time to eat while out solving crimes, but oh, how delicious it sounds.)

Bookwitch bites #133

I have allowed a certain amount of channel surfing over Christmas. It’s not something I do myself. Much. I’m actually never quite sure how to change television channels, and I tend to stick with a few programmes, and don’t generally have enough time to sit and pick the least bad thing to watch.

When I saw that David Walliams was going to present Britain’s Favourite Children’s Book on Boxing Day, I decided to boycott the programme. Which is why I ended up catching a bit of favourite Disney songs instead. That was nice enough, and I always enjoy the Bare Necessities, even if I’m not allowed to wriggle my behind the way Baloo does.

And when the singalong ended, I inevitably found myself in the company of David Walliams anyway. He did the job competently enough, but I wish a more ‘ordinary’ author could have been given the task. It was fun to see how many former children’s laureates they were able to dig up to come and talk about their popular books.

The selection of books was good. But did they actually say how they had been chosen, or by whom? The children they had on the programme were well read, and amusingly precocious, but they weren’t exactly Winnie the Pooh fans. So what made this bear the best?

Then we moved on to – the planned – watching of And Then There Were None. It’s good. I read the book so long ago, that not all the facts remain as fresh in my memory as they should. But this isn’t going to end well. (Unlike the stage production I saw in 1970 where they decided to go for a happy ending…) And I vaguely recall a creepy film version from maybe forty years ago. I think.

I wonder what Agatha would have said about the bare chests?

All of them

‘You must read a lot of books?!’ people say when we meet.

Well, I don’t know. How long is a piece of string? Who am I comparing myself to? You? Them? My own wishes? My past reading habits?

I don’t always count the number of books I read in a year, but I have just done so. 146. Is that a lot? Or perhaps a disappointingly low figure? 37 were picture books, so around a quarter. Eleven non-fiction books and ten adult books; mainly crime.

Quite clearly I am not someone who has a review up every day. Not even every other day. My gut instinct has always told me that I might average three book reviews a week, and that seems to hold. Meaning that four days a week I have to make something up.

Maybe not really. There are events. Perhaps I should count those? (I just did. 44 of my own, plus a few by others.)

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Interviews (4) and the odd guest blog. Eight profiles, and – sadly – five author death announcements.

Actually, 2015 will be more than 146. I still have a few books coming. In contrast, Christmas means much more making stuff up and writing very little, hoping that no one will notice. After all, you are face down in mince pies and turkey stuffing, aren’t you?

That last sentence presumably counts as either one of my opinionated posts, or as one of my ‘musings,’ rather like what I’m doing now.

There are awards, shortlists and longlists, cover images, other photos, travelling. Stuff.

Do I read a lot?

Shetland Noir – the stories

They really went to town with their misused kitchen utensils. I’d say, never encourage a professional killer. They have enough horror to offer as it is.

I would like to say I enjoyed the little leaflet with the top three stories from the Shetland Noir writing competition. But enjoy isn’t quite the word I’d use.

Runners-up Matthew Wright and Marina Marinopoulos went for very bloody scenarios indeed. Kitchen utensils make you think kitchens, and from there it’s not far to food, and… Well, you get the picture.

Whereas winner Helen Grant was more restrained, if only by comparison. She has a gory corpse. She has made ‘good’ use of her kitchen utensil. I’ll say that for her. And I could sort of see where this story must go, which isn’t a bad thing. It built up the suspense quite nicely.

The Beach House, as her story is called, is all about death in a beautiful place. That makes it worse. I can visualise where the house is, and I can see the corpse, even though I’m trying not to. I’ll have to work on unseeing this at some point.

DSC_0869

If Helen were to change paths and kill in the adult world from now on, I reckon she’d do it well.