Category Archives: Crime

The Dwarves of Death

The Dwarves of Deathby Jonathan Coe

When a budding young musician finds himself the sole witness of a particularly brutal murder, he does the one thing any self-respecting, mixed up young man would do – he runs away. Fast. In a rather refreshing alternative to the more typical gung-ho amateur sleuthing that you often find in crime novels, William has no intention of trying to solve the crime, although it soon becomes clear that he is being drawn into something beyond his control.

For most of the book, William tells his own story, some of which is relevant to the potential bandmate Paisley’s untimely demise, only in that they are the events that wind up with him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crime itself and its aftermath are merely bookends to the real story.

As a character, William is a somewhat unlikely hero. He is indecisive, lost in his own little world. He has dreams and ambition but lacks the drive and passion needed to make them a reality. Even his relationship with girlfriend Madeline seems to be going nowhere with William unable to guide it in any meaningful way.

This is only the second Jonathan Coe book I have read so I can’t say if it is typical in approach or style, but I enjoyed the touches of humour and fascinating insight into the less glamorous side of London’s music scene. 

Coe is undoubtedly a great storyteller. I can see now why my wife enjoys his books so much. The only question is why has it taken me so long to join in.  

A really good and easy read. 

 

 

Ten Little Herrings

by L C Tyler

Ten Little HerringsWith more red herrings and plot twists than a box full of Agatha Christie’s, our bumbling duo find themselves once again at the heart of a murder mystery. 

For this, their second outing, crime writer Ethelred Tressider and his pushy agent Elsie Thirkettle, are temporarily relocated to the Loir Valley. Which is rather unexpected really as Ethelred was last seen boarding a plane that exploded mid-flight. Elsie has been doing all she can to settle his affairs when, out of the blue, she receives a phone call from the said deceased author asking for her help. The pair are reunited at a rather shabby little French hotel, just in time to become suspects in a murder. Who would have thought that stamp collecting could be so dangerous? 

Ten Little Herrings combines great comedy with a serious crime story. L C Tyler’s clever wit and talent for slapstick make this a very enjoyable read. This is the second book of the series and the characters of Ethelred – the serious and rather lazy writer – and Elsie – bombastic chocoholic – are now firmly established. I can’t wait to read more of their adventures.

 

Right on Time

by Pauline McLynn

Right On TimeBack for her third adventure, Dublin’s most unconventional private detective, Leo Street and her eccentric team. Taking on a simple missing person case, Leo soon finds herself staring at the dark underbelly of Dublin’s less salubrious side.

Full of the usual wit and charm I have come to expect from Paulin McLynn, there is also a darker side of the story, embracing the seedy world of addiction and prostitution. Alongside this, Leo is facing some difficult decisions in her private life. But as with her previous outings, the lines between home and work become very blurred. There is a distinctly Irish charm about McLynn’s writing, even when her hero finds herself face to face with some of the city’s seedier characters. I witty aside or slapstick moment is never far away.

The reader is reminded ther9ught the book that every city has its dark side, hidden away from tourists and locals alike. Once again Pauline McLynn has produced a book that combines good plot, wonderful characters and a natural and subtle wit. I really do enjoy journeying into the worlds that she creates.

Right on Time in an uncomplicated read, but one that does challenge preconceptions about Dubin and its culture. A very enjoyable book.

First Frost

by James Henry

First FrostR D Wingfield’s loveable detective DI “Jack” Frost has long been a favourite of mine, both the books and their TV adaptation. The irascible, bumbling and totally politically incorrect detective’s original appearances are a great example of how this kind of stories should be. For me, Frost’s irreverent ways, his disinclination for completing paperwork and his constant battles with authority present a character I can relate to. In this, the first prequel written by the team of James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton, we are transported back to 1981. Frost is a Detective Sergeant and already has a reputation as a good detective, even if his ways are sometimes unorthodox and his matter makes him difficult to work with. Superintendent Mullet has recently arrived at the Denton station and is determined to stamp his authority on the place. For him, Frost epitomises all that is worst about the place.

Keeping with the format that made Wingfield’s original series so popular and successful, in First Frost, DS Frost has to deal with several unrelated crimes, including terrorists, murder, bank robberies and a missing young girl. Trying to keep track of all the separate cases, whilst covering for absent inspectors and missing paperwork, Frost and Mullet clash from the very start.

The interweaving plots ensure the pace is consistent and at times as messy as the belligerent detective trying to unravel it all. The character of Frost os maintained throughout and this peek into his pre-Inspector days is a very clever way for the two writers to resurrect the grumpy old so-and-so.

I really enjoyed the story, the characters and the uncompromising way Gurbutt and Sutton kept faith with R D Wingfield’s creation. First Frost is an excellent novel in its own right, but as part of the Frost series, it is indistinguishable from the originals. A great piece of fiction very well written. 

The Well of Lost Plots

The Well of Lost Plotsby Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is back and in this, the third instalment of her most unlikely adventures, our intrepid detective finds herself not only reading books but becoming a part of them. Taking refuge in the Well of Lost Plots, Thursday needs to rest and come to terms with both her pregnancy and the eradication of her husband …what’s his name… but she has barely unpacked her bags when life in the unpublished “Caversham Heights” begin to take a decidedly strange turn. 

Actually, the plot for this trip into Fforde’s parallel universe matters little. It is the storytelling itself that makes these books so fascinating and funny. Any attempt by me to distil the essence of the book into a simple paragraph or two would confuse anyone who hasn’t read either of the previous books. And anyone who has read Thursday’s first two books will understand my reticence. 

Humour comes in many forms and is probably the most subjective of the literary genres. Whilst some writers prefer to litter their work with quick one-liners, others, like Fforde, turn words inside out and cast doubt on their very meaning. Fforde manages to use words to paint a very vivid picture of the topsy-turvy world he has created for us. 

For anyone new to Jasper Fforde’s particular universe, be warned: nothing is quite as it seems and to trying to apply any kind of logic to the events, characters or creatures that inhabit the books is akin to knitting fog in a pair of boxing gloves. With the lights out during a particularly wild storm. Best not try it. Just sit back, leave the real world behind and be prepared to be entertained. 

But, lunacy aside, Jasper Fforde is a good writer who uses humour and lunacy to tell a damned good tale. For anyone who, like me, enjoyed the works of Sharpe and Pratchett, then the Thursday Next series is a must. 

And, just in case you were wondering, the Well of Lost Plots is the place where all fiction is created. 

The Lie

The Lieby C L Taylor

Captivating and engaging with a plot that moves at just the right pace: slow enough to give the reader a chance to reflect and the events, but quick enough to keep the reader’s interest. Like a number of books I have read recently, The Lie relies on a dual narrative, weaving the story’s twin timelines with precision. Nothing from the present gives you too much insight into the events of five years previous. If anything, they are a teaser.

Jane Hughes has, on the face of it, a very settled and happy life. She loves her job and her new boyfriend, but there is a secret behind the mask she wears. Then an anonymous letter threatens to shatter her happiness and the life she has built for herself in rural Wales. Five years earlier she had set out on what was to be the trip of a lifetime with three of her closest friends, but it very soon turned into a nightmare that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Jane’ past and present are all based on lies some bigger and more dangerous than others. There are certainly times when hiding the truth is a necessary evil, but some lies can only lead to disaster. For the four friends, the web of lies and deceptions that have held them together begin to bubble to the surface and threaten their very lives.

As the story weaves seamlessly between the parallel timelines, Jane proves to herself and those around her just how strong and resilient she can be. The character is well defined and provides a very believable vehicle for the plot.

I really enjoyed the story, the style and the characters. A great modern thriller. 

 

Lost In A Good Book

Lost In A Good Bookby Jasper Fforde

I sometimes find myself wondering what is going through an author’s mind when they plat and write a novel. In Jasper Fforde’s case, it is probably best we don’t know.

For the second in his Thursday Next series, Fforde takes us even further into the strange and wonderful world where characters can move between stories and a police force exists to keep the stories in good order. This is also a world where Mammoths roam the English countryside, Dodos are popular household pets and the very idea of supersonic flight is, well, just plain daft.

Thursday Next is our guide for this journey through a world almost as batty as our own. Thursday is a Literary Detective working for SpecOps-27. Her previous success in saving Jane Eyre (see The Eyre Affaire) has made her something of a celebrity, thrusting her into a seemingly endless round of interviews and meet-and-greets. But if she thought that killing the evil Hades was an end to her adventures inside books.

But what is bad news for Thursday is good news for us. If things had ended there then Lost IN A Good book would have just become me of those forgotten stories languishing in the Well of Lost Plots (this will make sense if you read the book).

The story follows on immediately after the equally madcap “The Eyre Affaire”. Thursday herself is trying to balance her newfound celebrity status with her day job solving crimes against literature. And she seems to be managing OK. That is until she and her partner are sent to investigate a claim that a previously unknown Shakespeare play has been discovered in a private collection. IN her role as a Literary Detective such claims are bread and butter cases, but when it turns out to be true, events begin to take some rather unexpected turns. Add to this the fact that she seems to have become the target of agents from Goliath, the country’s largest and most sinister conglomerate, and also fro, the Hades family, Thursday’s life has just got very complicated indeed. 

Lost In A Good Book is a comic adventure that manages to combine the best elements of traditional crime fiction with one of the most twisted and hilarious plots I have read for a long time. To fully appreciate Jasper Fforde’s humour you need to be prepared to suspend belief and be prepared to follow whichever twisted path the plot decides to take. And I can assure you it is well worth the effort.

Admittedly, this kind of surreal nonsense is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if, like me, you enjoy the rather crazy worlds created by Tom Holt and Terry Pratchett, then Jasper Fforde is right up your street.

 

 

Nutshell

Nutshellby Ian McEwan

Trudy is separated from her husband, John, and is living in the matrimonial home with his brother Claude, carrying John’s baby, as they plot to murder said husband, John.

It would be a love triangle, but with the narrator of this particular tale being the unborn baby, it gets a little complicated – more of a love rectangle!

Nutshell is an original concept, although the plot itself is extremely simple. In fact, the story is little more than an outline. It is the narration by the un-named unborn child that pushes the book within a whisker of 200 pages.

There is plenty of humour and just a touch of suspense. Will they or won’t they go through with the planned homicide of Trudy’s estranged husband? Can a pair of drunks really manage the perfect murder? Will the unborn narrator be born at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? Will he ever know his father? 

I found the whole thing a little strange and I’m still undecided about whether I enjoyed it or not. It is at times very funny and is an easy read. The plot does not challenge in any way and there are very few characters to keep a track of. But for me there was far too much waffle and not enough substance. 

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (Elsie and Ethelred Mystery #1)

by L C Tyler

The Herring Seller's Apprentice

Sometimes, when browsing the shelves of a bookshop, a title leaps out and demands attention. This may seem a rather random way of selecting a book, but it has worked for me so many times that I am not going to give up on it just yet. “The Herring Seller’s Apprentice” is one of those titles that could go either of two ways: it was either going to be a deeply worthy piece of literature about the east coast fishing industry, or not. In this case, it is very much the latter.

The ‘herring seller’ referred to in the title is not a young man from Grimsby, but a crime writer called Ethelred Tressider. The phrase was coined by his ex-wife, Geraldine, due to the number of red herrings he puts into his Sergeant Fairfax series. 

His apprentice is a chocoholic, literature hating agent Elsie Thirkettle.

In what is a very amusing and well-written crime story, Ethelred and Elsie become amateur sleuths as they piece together the events leading up to the disappearance of Geraldine. And it seems that there is no shortage of suspects.

Geraldine was a force of nature and, as it turns out, a dab hand in the red herring market. As Ethelred and Elsie begin to unravel Geraldine’s mixed up personal and professional lives, Elsie begins to suspect that there is more to the mystery than meets the eye and that Ethelred knows more than he is letting on.

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice is a wonderfully amusing story. The main characters of Ethelred and Elsie are wonderfully portrayed, each telling their version of events in believable and very different styles. I felt drawn to the characters and their separate voices. This is the first book for some time that has left me chuckling out loud. 

An excellent debut novel. 

The Lake District Murder

the lake district murderby John Bude

Originally published in 1935, this edition, released as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series, is making a well-deserved reappearance.

The book opens with the discovery of a body in a remote Lake District garage. First impressions are that the victim, garage co-owner Jack Clayton, has committed suicide, but Inspector Meredith seems to think otherwise. As he begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding Clayton’s death, the more puzzling the case becomes.

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful north Lake District around Keswick and Penrith, John Bude’s novel has more twists and dead ends than a modern housing estate. The Lake District Murder may not be one of the best of its genre, but it does have plenty of clues to follow, even if the Inspector himself seems to miss a few until the very end. The book has an easy style with a plot that is simple to follow. The clues are there to be found and I enjoyed working them out as I went along. 

An enjoyable bit of summer escapism, but more for the crime enthusiast.