Category Archives: Review

Provenance

That angry feeling you get when someone just turns up and starts helping themselves to your biscuits. You know. How dare they? Without even asking.

Kate Thompson’s new [adult] novel Provenance is set far from her usual Ireland. It’s about Elliot – an English doctor in Australia. After a long ago road trip with a friend, taking the scenic route to Alice Springs he has a fascination for the centre of the Australian continent, and he just can’t let it go.

Elliot wakes up in a hospital bed, and he has very little idea of what has happened to him. A brain injury prevents him from remembering, and the reader discovers alongside Elliot as the tale slowly unravels. A bit like Elliot himself, really.

The plot centres around Aboriginal art, plus Elliot’s fervent wish to drive really deep into the forbidden parts of the country outside Alice Springs. There are so many rules to do with what you are permitted to do, because the people there have rights. Except those rights get ignored by many white people, except for when it suits them to quote the rules back at someone like Elliot, the perennial outsider.

He wants to be liked, so much. And he wants to be a part of the local way of life, so much. At least he thinks he does. He puts up with things that he perhaps ought not to, until the day when someone eats his biscuits, without asking, out on a very big road trip.

But the big question is; what really happened?

Like Elliot, we learn quite a bit about the people there, their art, their wanting toyotas, the importance of initiating the young into the traditional ways, and how the white incomers have cheated them all the way. It’s not surprising things are not going well.

It’s much the same as the issue of taking biscuits that are not yours to take.

This is a well written, interesting story, showing a new Australia to the rest of the world. It’s a colourful minefield; worth visiting, but dangerous, nevertheless.

Last Victim of the Monsoon Express

The fact that I actually bought an ebook is testament to my fondness for Baby Ganesh, my most favourite baby elephant. I discovered that Vaseem Khan had published a novella about Ganesh and his Inspector Chopra, [retired]. And I had to have it. (Took me a while to manage to get it to climb into my Kindle, but that’s my lack of IT skills.)

And it’s set on a train! What could be better? Well, according to Chopra, the size of the dead birds they served for dinner could be greater.

Like the Orient Express, this is luxury train travel, Indian style, and very lovely. Or it is for those who don’t end up murdered, or are suspected of having done the deed. To make up for it, there is of course Ganesh. Because there is nothing strange about taking your elephant on board a train. At all.

An unpleasant man dies. Before too long it seems as though just about everyone on that train had a reason to want him dead. Chopra just has to choose which one it might have been.

An Artful Assassin in Amsterdam

Oh the alliteration in that title! This is Michael Grant’s second thriller featuring his younger alter ego David Mitre, of the symmetrical looks. He’s even given the man an author event at Waterstones. In Amsterdam. It’s as if he knows.

So first someone tries to murder David, and works quite hard at it too. After which more strange stuff happens, and David’s favourite FBI agent – the very special one – turns up and wants him to be useful again.

He obviously has to do what she says, and then he comes up with  ways of embellishing that task a little.

I’m somewhat concerned that a famous Amsterdam museum should be so lax in its security, but perhaps Michael made it up. Every single weakness gets a mention in this novel, so I sincerely hope none of you will want to break the law now.

It’s most satisfying how David plans what has to be done, and how he puts an impromptu team together in order to ‘help’ the Very Special Agent. And Chante is growing on both him, and us, I reckon. Or it’s her cooking.

I could easily read a lot more of these, except I suspect this might be it.

Bury Them Deep

It’s time for the 10th Inspector McLean novel. Or Detective Chief Inspector as we now need to address James Oswald’s Tony McLean. There’s been a promotion or two along the way since we first met him. And in a way, this doesn’t suit our Tony. He’d rather be out doing than dealing with the overtime of others, or for that matter, the politics of getting on with his superiors.

I have missed the last two books due to the fact that James insists on writing new ones every year. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to keep up, but apart from everyone having been promoted since I met them, they are mostly the same. No MacBride, and some of the bosses are retired, but still rootling around in the basement.

It helped that we revisited an old bad guy I’d come across before, and that I remembered both him and one or two other old cases that got a mention. I’m guessing some of the bad guys were so deliciously bad that it was worth going a second round with them. Though my use of the word ‘delicious’ might not be in the best of taste…

Ahem. Well, this is another ghastly tale set somewhere in and near Edinburgh. We meet the victim early on, and when that happens, it usually means they will come to a sticky end, and that we’ll be right there when it comes. There is some supernatural stuff, again, which you just can’t explain.

Ordinary poor thieves might be bad, but they have nothing on the much better off bad guys. The ones who normally get away with it.

And it’s hot. Tony is still badly dressed for what he is doing, but this time it’s not the lack of gloves that gets to him. But it seems that the police mustn’t cavort around in shorts and t-shirts, while others wear nothing at all…

A Sudden Death in Cyprus

I was already a fan of Death in Cyprus, so it’s just as well Michael Grant added two more words to make his thriller A Sudden Death in Cyprus. Just so I can tell him apart from M M Kaye..! That one was rather more clean-living, not to mention romantic, than Michael’s offering sixty years on.

Adult it may be, but it’s still pretty clean, and I’ve learned at least one new use for a toilet. His author [former] crook David Mitre shares a lot of traits with Michael himself, including ‘the girl in the window.’ So Mr ‘Mitre’ may be a mere 42 years old, boasting symmetrical looks (I understand this is good), but he’s an attractive enough reformed villain, with enough brains, and Mr ‘Grant’ has given him a worthy crime to deal with.

Yes, there is death. After all the title suggests it. But mostly it’s a thrilling mystery-solving exercise, and I particularly like it when heroes can cobble together a team on the hop, so to speak; one that works well and gets us all where we want to be. Except possibly for David himself, who’d like to get a bit further with some of the ladies. (I believe it’s good for him to have to wait.)

And he is funny, this David/Michael. Just the right amount of funny. What more can you want apart from the gorgeous actresses, sullen French neighbours, FBI Special Agents, priests, sex workers and refugees? And hamsters.

When he’d solved the problems in Cyprus, I waited all of one day before turning to the next David Mitre story.

Tiger Heart

The young chimney sweep Fly in Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes is almost a Dido Twite. She can cope in the kind of a situation where you find yourself sharing a cage with a tiger. He is, of course, not just any tiger.

Nor is Fly just any girl. They are both magic, and because they can talk to each other, it becomes clear that the tiger believes Fly to be a princess. Well, she knows she isn’t, but she can still make the best of a bad situation. And suggesting making money out of displaying the tiger to the public isn’t that way.

There is much evil surrounding her, but also much love and respect, both from the tiger – once he stops wanting to eat her – and the other creatures kept in cages. Fly also has some truly good friends, the way girls like her often do.

But as I said, there is evil, and it’s hard to go up against it and win.

But you know, any sort of second cousin of Dido’s will try doing just that, and princess or no princess, there is no telling quite how things will turn out.

But you can guess. And having guessed, this tale still makes for a great read; with rubies, elephants, pirates and long lost families.

I loved it.

Highfire

This was lots of fun! It was also rather gory, with not only missing body parts but a fair bit of death and destruction. It’s only what you’d expect when you have a real live dragon in a Louisiana swamp, a cheeky teenage boy plus a pretty crooked cop.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer shows, as did his earlier adult crime novels, that he can be just as funny when writing for grown-ups, but also that he knows plenty of bad language. If it weren’t for the air turning rather blue around Vern, as the dragon calls himself, this would almost suit Eoin’s child fans. Almost.

15-year-old Squib Moreau is working hard, if not legally, to see if he can get himself and his mother out of the swamp, and preferably away from Constable Hooke who wouldn’t mind knowing Mrs Moreau a little better.

And then Vern happens, and when he does, he happens a lot, in an unavoidable fashion. He wants to kill Squib. Squib doesn’t want to be killed, and there we have a problem. But it’s not as big or bad a problem as the one of staying alive when Constable Hooke gets going.

Think Carl Hiaasen and his Florida criminals, except this is a state further west and there is a dragon. Highfire has been labelled fantasy, but it all feels quite normal. There is just a fire-breathing, flying dragon. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Squib is small and human, and Vern is bigger and more dragon-shaped.

As I said, not everyone survives. And it’s hard to work out how Vern can avoid being discovered, but those swamp-dwellers are canny people. Unless they are dead.

Personally I wouldn’t mind more of this. It could be a sequel..? It could, couldn’t it? Or a standalone. As long as there is more.