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Some notes about the first six fiction reads for #20BooksofSummer – the two non-fiction books I read as part of this challenge can be found over here.

 

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

Opening on the eve of the millennium, when the world as we know it is still recognisable, we meet the nine-year old narrator as he flees the city with his parents, just ahead of a Y2K breakdown

The novel is made up of a number of connected stories that take us through the life of this boy as he grows up and makes his way in a world that has changed in unspecified ways. By that I mean that although at each stage we are clear what particular issue he is dealing with, we don’t actually know what happened to leave the world in this state, which is a shame for me because I love all that detailed disaster stuff, but to be fair isn’t an issue for the story which I found very readable. Apparently it’s now taught in Australian schools which I found fascinating.

It’s always interesting to see references to Y2K in works of fiction; I spent a lot of my time at work leading up to the end of 1999 coming up with contingency plans should everything go pear-shaped, and we sometimes forget how much we worried given that everything turned out Ok in the end.

Anyway, this is worth reading if like me you can’t resist the post-apocalyptic thing.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The online blurb for this is as shouty as you can get without being all caps:

the best-selling mystery from the author of the Magpie Murders, you’ve never read a crime novel quite like this

Oh wait, it does get the all caps treatment int he very next paragraph:

SHE PLANNED HER OWN FUNERAL. BUT DID SHE ARRANGE HER OWN MURDER?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the wrong question. The right question is did she know she was going to die imminently. This is a very good whodunnit with the quirk that the author is himself is a character in his own novel because he is writing a book about the lead detective, who is of course a maverick. Your feeling about this will depend on whether you like Mr Horowitz or not; I do, so all was fine. Some nice red herrings and a murderer and motive that I just didn’t see co,ing, so all very satisfying. Hoping this will become a series.

The Summer Children by Dot Hutchinson

Book 3 in the Collector Trilogy (although I think there might be a fourth on the way next year)

When Agent Mercedes Ramirez finds an abused young boy on her porch, covered in blood and clutching a teddy bear, she has no idea that this is just the beginning.

I loved the first two novels in the Collector trilogy (which I read last year but didn’t review because I wasn’t really reviewing anything for a significant period), partly because it wasn’t a standard trilogy – although many of the participants are the same the cases covered were entirely different, though just as creepy as each other. I devoured them all ūüôā

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Book 1 in the Wayfarer series, and shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want.

Are you waiting for the but?

..She gets more than she bargained for.

Ta dah!

Such a good story, wonderful characters, believable world building and so well written. I like the mix of races, and spent a lot of time trying to imagine what some of the alien species actually looked like (and failed because my imagination is rubbish). A book with real heart and I am looking forward to reading the next two (already loaded on my kindle). Sci-fi at its best.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A brilliant original high concept murder mystery from a fantastic new talent

and

Gosford Park meets Inception by way of Agatha Christie and Black Mirror

That’s ….. quite a pitch. I really liked this book, a mixture of sci-fi and crime novel with a clever concept and an intriguing mystery at the centre. Som of the characters are really horrible but they kind of have to be, and the protagonist has an agenda of his own which only becomes clear at the end and was somewhat of a surprise. One of those stories where it pays to just go along for the ride and not try to think about it too hard. Great fun.

I already know that I won’t read all of the books on my list, but I’m OK with that ūüôā

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I have only covered five books above. That’s because although I also read¬†You Were Never Really Here, I want to watch the film version and do a combined review. (Spoiler alert – the novella is awesome).

So to make it up to you here are my thoughts on a book that I had completely forgotten about, which os surprising because I loved it.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

A femme fatale with an appetite for cruelty that will be difficult to surpass.

Our hero is in law enforcement and gets attacked as he faces down the serial killer, but she lets him live, though mutilated in body and messed up in mind. Our heroine is a young reporter brought in to cover a serial killer case. Our antagonist is a beautiful, intelligent and utterly cruel serial killer who manipulates everyone around her.

I liked her. Apart from the excessively gruesome violence of course.

So that’s my round-up. I hope to do individual reviews for the remaining books.

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24343739I have taken quite a while to get round to writing about They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper because it’s really hard to know quite where to start. To help set some context I was going to quote from the blurb on the book’s Amazon page but I got quite cross reading the thing because it makes some claims (especially about the scholarship involved) that I don’t think really hold up. It’s basically a bonkers book.

What’s it all about?

So Bruce Robinson, former actor and most notably director of Withnail and I, has spent at least fifteen years researching the case of Jack the Ripper and this enormous book is the result of his labours. And it really is a huge thing so I’m glad I had the Kindle version (you may have read in one of my Sunday Salon posts that I saw this in a book shop teetering on the edge of a shelf, only just managing not to plummet to the floor due to its sheer size). Robinson has a preferred suspect and his book is all about proving he’s right, why the guy did it and how he managed not to get caught.

Why did I want to read it?

I will put my hand up and admit that I’ve long been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, though I am well aware that it is all petty lurid stuff. I’ve read enough to be clear that a lot of the ‘facts’ out there are just theories, and some of those are fairly crackpot. So I was interested to see what this latest one would reveal. Also it was longlisted¬†for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction which gave it a certain additional interest.

What did I think of it?

Well. I’ve always been a great believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think plots¬†and conspiracies can happen; they manifestly have, and some of have been very¬†successful. But to my mind those are the exceptions, and so when it became clear right from the very beginning of this book that the identity of Jack the Ripper was protected by a consipracy that is so enormous that¬†it would collapse under its own weight I felt a familiar sinking feeling.

Robinson identifies the Ripper as Michael Maybrick, a surname that may be familiar to some of you because of the Ripper diaries that were floating around some years ago where James Maybrick was outed as (potentially) being Jack, having been (allegedly) murdered by his wife. The diaries were eventually discredited, but the theory here is that Michael was Jack, murdered his brother and set him up to be the Ripper, and because he was that kind of guy, framed his hated sister-in-law Florence for the killing, with the collusion of the police and the judiciary, because *gasp* Freemasonry.

Yes, it’s the Freemasons what done it, or at least covered it all up. Knew who it was all along etc. and sacrificed the truth to protect the establishment.

I don’t think this holds up because it simply doesn’t make sense, and there¬†is a definite air of selecting material to support¬†a theory and ignoring the bits that don’t fit.¬†Perhaps the Ripper sections¬†on their own, though fairly potty, make some sort of case, but the mashing¬†together with the Florence Maybrick case (which was a clear miscarriage of justice and Robinson is right to be angry about it), just doesn’t work¬†IMHO.

The book is exhausting to read because the author is so angry about everything; it felt like the man was writing the whole thing with his CAPS lock on. It was like being shouted at constantly. His obsessions and prejudices shine through and his language is crude and at times inappropriate to my mind, and that really jars.¬†There were a number of “wow – did he really just say that” moments

But…..

Having said all that, it’s also quite entertaining – even funny in places – and he makes some very good points about the Ripperology industry. BI certainly never consdered abandoning the book at any point. But having dumped all this information and conspiracy theory stuff on his readers, the whole thing gets a bit rushed and then. Just. Stops. A bit like Jack the Ripper himself.

A real oddity of a book.

24381307What’s it all about?

DI Antonia Hawkins is recovering from the events of her first outing (The Advent Killer which I reviewed here) and her anxiety to get back to work has her returning earlier than she probably should and straight into what rapidly becomes a new serial killer investigation, this time starting on yes, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day.

Why did I want to read it?

I enjoyed the first novel and wanted to see what the author would do with the characters. And I like nothing more than a good serial killer novel. Which sounds a bit creepy but you know what I mean. I hope.

What did I think of it?

It took me a month to finish this novel, some of which was to do with the reading slump I’ve been in for several months but a lot to do with the fact that although this is a solid read I felt that it did have some problems. Not insurmountable problems, but they stuck out for me nonetheless.

So to start with Antonia, her paranoia was really jarring to me; I get that she has issues about whether she will get her position permanently but it’s worth noting that some of those are down to how she handles the job in the first place. At least in this story there is some justification for her concerns as a high-flyer is lurking around making an impression on her superiors. The problem for me here was that what appears to be a significant subplot just sort of disappears without a proper resolution towards the end of the story.

Then there’s the title. Apart from the first body being found on the day itself the Valentine thing doesn’t really have much to do with the unfolding serial killer plot line so I thought that was a bit of a swizz (and possibly a marketing ploy); although it’s irrelevance is dealt with fairly early on it was still an¬†annoyance.

I’m also getting a tiny wee bit bored with angst-ridden police officers. I know there needs to be drama but I would have thought the murders themselves would have provided that and we could connect with the main characters in a different way. It stuck out for me particularly because I’ve been catching up on an ITV series, Unforgotten, which has police officers whose private lives are there to show them as rounded human beings but don’t actually intrude into the story (I thought it was excellent by the way, you should check it out).

But having said all that, I did persevere with the novel and I’m glad I did because suddenly, about three-quarters of the way through, the story and pacing kick up a gear and I read that last chunk in a single sitting, and it was very satisfying. I had worked out who at least one of the people involved was likely to be quite early on, and I did wonder what if the purpose behind the murders was what it turned out to be (if that makes sense and avoiding spoilers), but it was more interesting than that, and all rather sad to be honest.

So, patchy but glad I read it and I will pick up¬†further books in the series, but please give Antonia a break from the angst, she’s a good detective!

18751801What’s it all about?

Two women have been murdered. Different methods, but both around 1 am on consecutive Sunday mornings. Seems to be coincidence until a third body turns up and the police can’t avoid the fact that they are connected which of course = Serial Killer. The events take place on the three Sundays before Christmas so obviously the press dub said murderer The Advent Killer.

As panic spreads across London, DCI Antonia Hawkins, leading her first murder investigation, must stop a cold, careful killer whose twisted motives can only be guessed at, before the next body is found

Thus endeth the blurb

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I must have read something about this somewhere or had it recommended by someone because I put it on my Christmas list and lo and behold, it turned up under the tree. And was devoured, mostly on Boxing Day. I like a good serial killer. In fiction obviously, not real life, though I did work with someone who was booked to go on a civil service training course with Dennis Nielsen. But that’s another story.

What did I think of it?

Like I said above, I read most of it in one day; it’s ideal for curling up under a blanket on the sofa, if you like that sort of thing which I of course do. It’s a fairly undemanding read in many respects but none the worse for that. A solid police procedural with a likeable lead character and all the things I have come to expect in this sort of story:

  • a detective out of their depth, with a complicated personal life and occasional flashes of intuition, in this case made more interesting by the detective being female and apparently the victim of institutionalised¬†misogyny
  • sidekick, with whom lead detective has History of some kind, is brought in to assist once the out of depthness has been recognised by those Higher Up,
  • time pressures – this case must be solved by X otherwise Y will happen (or not happen)
  • a killer with a Mission which makes sense only to them (even after we all know what it is)
  • the Red Herring
  • and of course, it all gets Personal

All of which is done really well and the story moves at pace and you really do want to find out what it’s all about.

Except I actually guessed (and it really was a guess) who the murderer was within the first 90 pages, just because I’ve read and/or watched loads of these things and I just though “I wonder if it might be…..” It didn’t spoil the book for me because I couldn’t actually believe I was right and even if I was I wasn’t sure how it was actually possible (you find out in an aside quite late on in the story) but the Motive was revealed slowly throughout the book and I did want to know what that was all about. Poor thing, no wonder things turned out the way they did…

Anyway, I liked DCI Hawkins a lot, so much so that I’ve ordered the sequel. It’s called My Bloody Valentine. I think I see a pattern here…..

IMG_0153What’s it all about?

Tried to pull together a synopsis of¬†the plot for this novel but can’t do much better than the blurb:

Life isn’t easy for Detective Inspector Bobby Maiden. Death is even harder. When Maiden is revived in hospital after dying in a hit and run incident, his memories are not the familiar ones of bright lights and angelic music, only of a cold, harsh place he has no wish to revisit…ever. But his experience means that Bobby Maiden may be the only person who can reach The Green Man, a serial murderer the police don’t even know exists…a predator who returns to stone circles, burial mounds and ancient churches in the belief that he is defending Britain’s sacred heritage.

There is also an additional plot involving an American journalist, Grayle Underhill, who specialises in New Age matters and has arrived on the Welsh borders to find out what has happened to her sister who has gone missing after becoming involved in research around Stone Age mysteries.

And of course the two stories will inevitably come together.

Why did I want to read it?

I have read a few¬†of Rickman’s early horror stories, and have most of his Merrily Watkins books though I’m working through those extraordinarily slowly. I hadn’t come across this one before until it appeared on Kindle, largely because it was originally written under a the pseudonym Will Kingdom. It sounded right up my street.

What did I think of it?

Gosh this was grim, but I have often found that with Rickman’s books even as (or perhaps because) he has moved away from pure horror into what the “About the Author” note calls “realistic crime with a subtle element of the paranormal.”

I personally¬†consider this to be a mainly a horror novel; yes there’s a serial killer with a weird fixation but the supernatural element is so strong and certain scenes and events are so nasty (in a non-pejorative sense) that it gave me the creeps as only the best horror can; quite disturbing. As I’ve often¬†found with his work the darkness of tone means I tend¬†to read them¬†over a fairly lengthy period of time in manageable chunks, and this was no exception though it’s fair to say that the experience is always rewarding as the novels are so well written, and in this case about two-thirds of the way into the book something clicked and I did another marathon staying up into the wee small hours to finish it.

So a strong story with flawed but believable characters and a very interesting serial killer whose identity I sort of¬†guessed but not that far¬†in advance of the protagonists so can’t claim much there. I will pick up others in this series and am also looking forward to dipping my toe into his series about John Dee, one of my favourite Elizabethans.

This was my fourth read for RIP IX and means I have met Peril the First!

20140728-175313-64393728What’s it all about?

Savage Magic is the third in Lloyd Shepherd’s series about London’s River Police which started with The¬†English Monster (which I reviewed here) and continued with The Poisoned Island which was my first read of this year, and to (for?) which this novel is something of a sequel, as the starting point for several of the characters is a direct result of¬†the events of the previous novel. So although you don’t need to have read that first, it will all make a bit more sense if you have.

Unofficial plug over.

But what of the plot? Well….

It’s 1814 and London’s Covent Garden is at the centre of a dark trade, enticing rich and poor alike with a cocktail of gin and beer and sex. In the surrounding parishes a group of aristocratic young men are found murdered, all of them wearing the mask of a satyr, all of them behind locked doors with no sign of entry.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are¬†also accusations of witchcraft in the countryside outside London which need to be looked into ….

Why did I want to read it?

I am a great fan of this series and had pre-ordered this as soon as I knew it was coming out. It’s a period of London history that I don’t know very much about and I have become fond of the main characters, particularly Abigail Horton, the wife of our main protagonist, so picking this up was a no-brainer for me.

What did I think of it?

As I’ve already said I enjoy this series very much but I think this is the best so far, which is interesting given that at least one of the main characters from previous volumes (Harrington) is offstage through illness for most of the narrative and the others (Abigail, her husband Charles and Aaron Graham) are apart for most of the novel for very good and important-to-the-plot reasons. In fact I became very anxious indeed about Abigail’s situation…..

The other interesting thing is that very little of the story has anything to do with the Thames at all, though convict transport to Australia and return to England do feature. What we do have is a thoroughly absorbing story which touches on the treatment of the insane (hint – it isn’t good, especially for female patients), the sex trade and in particular the debauchery of the wealthy (which seems in this case to have very few if any limits) and witchcraft and superstition, alive and well in rural parts even post-Enlightenment. I do enjoy a good-locked room mystery, and I also like to see how the various plot strands come together as they inevitably do. Very ingeniously done in this case, with a whiff of the not entirely natural which has been a theme of the series.

It’s also great fun to read about an area that I know pretty well given that when I’m working in London I’m based on Kingsway, just round the corner from Graham’s home in Great Queen Street and a stone’s throw away from Covent Garden.

The reading experience was an unusual one for me in that I started the novel some time ago and then a combination of increased workload before holiday (never a good time to read anything that requires attention in my experience) and the previously mentioned anxiety about what the author was going to put Abigail through meant that it languished on the TBR pile until I found myself in a hotel in the south-west of Scotland where I could give it the attention it deserved, and I read the last third in a single sitting late into the night. And very satisfying it was too.

If you haven’t given this series a try then you really should, whether it’s for the historical setting, the supernatural stuff or a good novel of detection. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

This was my third read for RIP IX. It is also the book that got me to my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, so everything I read after that is a bonus!

IMG_0120What’s the book about?

Broken Monsters finds us¬†in Detroit where¬†there has been an unpleasant and unusual murder (young boy mutilated and found in the company of animal remains, let’s not go into the gruesome details here) and we follow motley group of characters (the lead detective, her daughter, some homeless people, a local artist, a journalist and his girlfriend) who all clearly have some involvement with the death. A death which is of course the first but not the last.

Why did I want to read it.

I loved The Shining Girls (which I read last year and reviewed here) and was keen to read Lauren Beukes next novel to see if it was as good. And it is a serial killer novel so therefore falls into crime month territory.

What did I think of it?

Gosh this is grim. The Detroit location is a grubby and effective backdrop to a nasty set of murders with a side order of mental breakdown, poverty, journalists on the make¬†with no thought to the consequences and the perils of social media for young people. You know that every one of the characters are going to get sucked into the story but not exactly how. I enjoyed it in the way that I enjoy quite a lot of horror that I read and at least one reviewer I’ve seen makes a link to the work of Stephen King which I don’t entirely agree with but can see where it’s come from (and isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I love King) but it’s worth saying that Beukes style is very much her own and I read the last third in one major chunk.

I think I still prefer The Shining Girls, which was so astonishing, but this is a worthy successor.

Oh, but it’s dark so be warned.

 

Scan 32What’s the book about?

Mr Mercedes is a proper crime thriller from the pen of the great master of horror Stephen King. It starts with a retired police detective, Bill Hodges, who is in a bit of a state, without any purpose in life now that he is no longer serving. He gets a letter from the perpetrator of one of the cases he never solved, that of a number of people killed when a Mercedes was driven into a queue of unemployed people outside a job fair. The letter is taunting Bill with his failure, but instead o driving him to suicide it gives him a new lease of life and he is determined to track the killer down.

Why did I want to read it?

King is one of my favourite authors, I’ve reviewed a number of his book on this blog and have been reading him since I was 15 (but I’m not going to labour the point – I just think he’s great). He’s often underrated as a writer because his preferred genre is seen as horror although I’ve always been clear in my own mind that he has drifted into other genres at various points in his career. I will admit that I pre-ordered the automatically before I knew what it was actually about but was excited about trying something a little bit different.

What did I think?

This was really I had a great time reading this. I’ve always been quickly drawn in by King’s prose style which is deceptively easy to read but has real pace and verve. I liked the structure of the book; we find out extremely early on who Mr Mercedes actually is and the book alternates between him and Bill as the former’s plans careen out of control and the latter works with some unlikely helpers to track the killer down. There are a couple of points where King tries to lead us a little bit astray which I found great fun. I liked Bill very much; I was sorry that one of the plot strands didn’t work out for him at the same time that I could see why it obviously couldn’t (speaking us someone still bearing the scars of ‘Salem’s Lot many years afterwards) but it’s a crime thriller so there is peril and racing against time and a satisfactory resolution. Spent time between reading sessions trying to cast the movie. Brilliant stuff.

Scan 4What’s the book about?

Directly from the blurb:

Paris. 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, his current assignment is a private investigator’s dream – he’s getting paid to trawl the cafes and bars of Montparnasse , looking for a pretty young woman.

This is the background to Laurie King’s second novel involving Stuyvesant and his friend Bennett Grey, following on from the events of Touchstone (which I reviewed here); although I don’t think you need to have read that first it makes the relationships between the three main characters easier to understand. Stuyvesant is being paid to look Philippa Crosby who just seems to have vanished without trace, and in doing so he begins to realise the unpleasantness that lies underneath 1920s Paris and the fact that there may be a serial killer on the loose.

Why did I want to read it.

I think I’ve read every single one of Laurie King’s novels and there seemed no reason to stop now. And I liked the idea of revisiting the Paris of that time following my unsatisfactory visit there through the medium of film (namely Midnight in Paris – you can find out what I thought about that here).

What did I think of it?

I think I found this the hardest of King’s books to get going, partly because the main attraction for me is not Stuyvesant but Grey, and although we begin with him in a very tantalising way, we then leave him and leap back to Paris in one of those “48 hours earlier” type things that you often get in US crime series and which I’ve learned to spot within about 3 seconds of the opening sequence. And that was a bit unsatisfying.

I also found Stuyvesant harder to like this time round, he seemed more boorish that I remember although he does feel mildly guilty (he knew the missing girl slightly if intimately – not a spoiler, we find that our pretty early on) and of course he is suffering from lost love in the form of Grey’s sister Sarah, who of course pops up as everyone who was everyone was in Paris at that time (or so it seems).

But the book really picks up when it becomes clear that there is a pretty nasty murderer with a fiendish plot and some rather unusual friends kicking around, and of course at least one character gets kidnapped, and of course the local police are suspicious of our hero(es), and of course (not quite) every famous artist/writer/character appears or gets mentioned by someone else. Which sounds like I’m criticising but I’m really not; once all the grand guignol stuff starts it becomes a great read and I enjoyed it very much. Must have done; I stayed up until 1.30 in the morning to finish it off.

I will be very interested to see where the characters go from here.

IMG_0001What’s it all about?

In The Executioner’s Heart we are dropped into an alternative steampunk Victorian world where Scotland Yard is called in to a series of murders The victims have had their chests cracked open and their hearts removed, and because there is a ritual element to the deaths the head of the investigation, Sir Charles Bainbridge, calls in Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, who specialise in dealing with the supernatural in a scientific manner.

It quickly becomes clear that the legendary killer The Executioner is involved, but what’s the motive and why take the hearts?

Why did I want to read it?

I’m not sure where I came across this book but I know one of the attractions, besides the storyline (which let’s face it is quite cool) is the very lovely cover.

What did I think of it?

One chapter in I realised that this was not the first in the series of books about Newbury and Hobbes (it is in fact the fourth novel and there is also a book of short stories) but by then I was hooked and decided to continue (although pleasingly I realise that we have the first two on our shelves already – they belong to the Book God). I enjoyed it. It has a very nasty killer whose back story we come to learn as the plot unfolds, it has plotting and intrigue and spies and rituals and cults and action sequences and Queen Victoria is a totally monstrous figure, and of course it has a cliffhanger. Quite a big cliffhanger actually, will be interesting to see how it works out in the next novel which I think comes out this summer.

Great fun.

UPDATED due to appalling proofreading, dreadful spelling and the lack of closing bracket. Sloppy work if you ask me.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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