Category Archives: Crime

The Pearl Thief

Reading the prequel to the second best book of all time can be nerve-wracking. But for those of you who have also read Code Name Verity, you know why it has to be a prequel, and you will bless the opportunity to see more of Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart. Or Julie, if you don’t want to be too formal.

And you don’t, because Julie is fun and brave and outspoken, even at [barely] sixteen. The first chapter had me slightly confused while I worked on working out what kind of story this was going to be. It’s 1938 and no WWII yet, and Julie has just escaped early from school. That’s boarding school in Switzerland; not one just round the corner from her Scottish home.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

This is a romantic crime novel, featuring a girl who might have read too much Harriet Vane, and which is very much in the vein of Mary Stewart. It’s wonderful.

The danger of returning home early and unannounced is what might happen if something happens. As the title suggests, there is a pearl thief around, somewhere close to where Julie and her mother and grandmother are sorting out her late grandfather’s estate. Everyone else thinks it was the travellers. But the Stuarts know this is most unlikely, and Julie tries to find out what happened.

Her brother Jamie shows up (I love Jamie!) and there is much scope for romantic entanglements of various kinds. But who can you trust? I quite like the unreal Davie Balfour.

We learn a lot about Scottish Earls and Scottish pearls. We learn more about Julie’s mother and grandmother; both of whom we met in Code Name Verity. The international/French aspect of who they are is better explained.

Much of this adventure takes place at a thinly disguised Innerpeffray Library, making it all the more interesting for me.

And there is much kissing.

And kilts.

Kid Got Shot

Oh, Garvie Smith how I love you! (At least from a distance. Your mum loves you too, but I think we are both a bit exasperated by now.)

Simon Mason, Kid Got Shot

Simon Mason’s Sherlock/Cumberbatch crime-solving hero is back with another school murder mystery. It is still the exam period, so the deaths at Garvie’s school are coming hard and fast. And how could anyone sit exams, or revise for them, when there is a death to investigate?

Not Garvie. He sacrifices most of his GCSE exams for this unknown boy with Asperger Syndrome who has just been found shot. Pyotor was ‘known’ to everyone, while still not known by anyone, because he didn’t socialise or even talk to people at school. So how come this stickler for routine who spoke to no one was found dead in the middle of the night, close to a well known criminal?

Well, Garvie just has to find out. His old police pal DI Singh, who is in disgrace after ‘working’ with Garvie on the last murder, is the one who discovers the body, and this time the two do talk rather more easily, but poor Singh isn’t getting on too well with his colleagues.

Grown-ups are often stupid and can’t see what this lazy teen genius is doing (other than missing or failing his exams), but the reader knows Garvie will get there in the end.

Don’t miss this perfectly written, light but serious, and occasionally humorous crime novel. It’s the kind of book YA was invented for.

Hazardous

A nice bit of gossip is always, well, nice. At the weekend I fed the holiday Bookwitch Towers neighbour some tea and tosca (from Börje’s, so it was almost as good as Gösta’s) and learned that the chap across the road is dead. We’d thought not, as the place – still – looks like a tip, and had assumed it was only an obstinate man clinging on to life that would prevent the place being sold and made presentable. Preferably by razing the house to the ground.

The neighbour had witnessed the [much earlier] emptying of said house, with the people doing it wearing hazmat suits as they removed the piles of newspaper, the countless old fridges and the rats. I had previously believed it was mainly the outside that had been adorned by dead fridges and even deader cars, but it appears his collection was vast. His heir seems incapable of doing anything, so who knows how long this state of affairs will continue?

You could write a crime novel about it. The dead man arrived virtually overnight. (That’s back when he wasn’t dead, obviously.) We always wondered what happened to the family of seven who used to live there. Seven people don’t just get up and go in the middle of the night.

And the man’s ‘wife’? Or maybe she was the maid? She didn’t last long, and when she disappeared their son remained with his father, who spent years shouting at the poor boy.

There used to be an enormous lorry parked outside, and I’m fairly certain it wasn’t just the goods he officially delivered that travelled in the back. On at least one occasion I saw a small car being driven in and out of the lorry. Getaway car? Getaway from what? I had a theory once, after reading about something or other in the paper.

I had hoped that with his father finally dead, the son would stand a chance of a normal life, but it seems not.

Speaking of sons, Son has always said he’d like to live there. I think – hope – after the razing to the ground and rebuilding, but I can’t be sure. Even derelict it’s probably worth a fair bit.

And you want to be careful in case any old henchmen, or worse, suddenly were to materialise outside your front door.

Post kill

Please don’t send me more chocolate! It won’t make me love you or your book any more than not sending it will do, and I can’t eat it. In fact, I’m increasingly surrounded by people who will not be having any of the book chocolate I receive.

What to do with it?

It’s quite attractive when someone has had a bar of chocolate designed to match the book cover. I appreciate the idea. But I will still have to get rid of it.

And then there are the smaller, anonymous, pieces of – what looks like – chocolate. And other small sweets, which I won’t eat either. Recently there was a recipe and part of what was needed to make something, which I won’t identify here, as it was pretty specific.

Some of these books I will read and like. Some I will not. I will neither like nor dislike the book because of the freebie.

And then my mind goes off in another direction. If the blank chocolates appeared in a crime novel, alongside a book, addressed to a book reviewer… Well, there are certainly possibilities there! And, you know, if that book when sent out to reviewers were to be accompanied by chocolate… Well.

Sara Paretsky once had VI Warshawski in desperate need of something to write on, and furnished her heroine with the backs of press releases of books for review, which VI came across, for whatever reason. I quite liked that. I do all my Bookwitch planning on the backs of them.

But they are not going to kill anyone.

Closed Casket

I must admit I can’t work out what the four words are. Having finished reading Sophie Hannah’s second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, I remembered her saying at the Edinburgh launch that four words describe the whole thing. You know, something like ‘the butler did it.’ Except he didn’t. I mean, maybe he did. I’m saying nothing.

There is an outlandish character in Closed Casket, but one I had no trouble believing in, as I’ve met someone like that myself. I wonder if there is one like that in most people’s lives?

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casket

In this second Poirot outing we meet an Enid Blyton kind of children’s mystery author. Very rich and famous, this woman changes her will, leaving everything to her dying secretary, which is a weird thing to do. And from that we have our mystery. Who will die, and who murdered them and why?

More so than in Sophie’s first Poirot novel, I felt this one gave more space to Poirot’s Scotland Yard friend Catchpool, letting Poirot work around him. They have been invited to the author’s home in Ireland, and while the house itself is fancy, the surroundings seem less attractive than we are used to in Agatha’s own books. Much less vicarage chintz for the blood to spill on, so to speak.

There is a whole cast of likeable – and less likeable – characters, and it really was difficult deciding who must have dunnit. In fact, I didn’t. I just let myself  float along, happy to let any of them be the bad guy.

Invisible

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Swiss Lady, sounding confused. So I tried again, describing the – occasional – advantages of invisibility. Not so much when you are trying to order at the bar, but the ability to walk down the street and not be noticed, is useful. Unless a car runs you over.

I tried spelling it out, saying that when you reach that old, grey, uninteresting and unimportant stage, this can be a blessing. Pushing a toddler in a pushchair was my last encounter with ‘not really being there’ and it was all right. If necessary you can always accidentally shove the pushchair into people’s shins.

But no, Swiss Lady had never come across this phenomenon. She is older than I am, but better looking and so vivacious that invisibility has obviously not set in.

It’s not just me, though. A well known crime writer described her recent wine buying experience, where the young shop assistant stopped halfway through checking her bottles out to chat to someone equally young, but not spending money. When our author inquired if he’d prefer for her to come back later, he managed to return to the task at hand. Before leaving she told him what happened in ‘the episode in Frankie and Grace where Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda get so annoyed at being invisible in the liquor store that they steal what they want — and even then the clerk doesn’t notice them.’

Ignore us at your peril.

Night Watch

Commander Vimes’s mushroom must be a little stronger than mine, which falls apart if I as much as look at it. That aside, I heartily approve of the use of such a normal tool for tasks it wasn’t exactly intended for. It proves how grounded Terry Pratchett was, and shows that Sam Vimes is adaptable, as well as polite. Not so much for bopping someone on the head with said mushroom, but more for how he came to own one in the first place.

Reading Terry’s Night Watch made me miss old-fashioned, decent behaviour. While there is much that isn’t in Night Watch, there is also a lot in there which is. Sam Vimes is a very decent man, as was his creator.

Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

In Night Watch Vimes is subjected to a spot of time travel, and contrary to the rules of such things, he actually interacts with his younger self, without Discworld exploding any more than you’d expect it to.

Time travel is interesting. Do you in fact change the past by going back, so that when you return to your present your past is a new past, or the one you always had, because you did what you did? Because you were always meant to go back?

There’s a revolution happening in Ankh-Morpork, with grannies on barricades and the lot. They are ruled by a bad man, and then they get, well, a different bad man. The way you do. The young Vetinari is there, and I liked getting more of an understanding of who he was, before he became what he is now.

Seamstresses and younger versions of Vimes’s current City Watch, including a clueless Sam Vimes, provide much background to the Ankh-Morpork of today. And I loved the young Nobby Nobbs!

You can’t easily summarise a Pratchett novel, and most of you have probably read it already. Let’s just say it was exactly what I needed in today’s climate of madness.