What fools….

Title: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Publisher: Harper January 2018, 385 pp

Genre: literature, literary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, English mystery

5 stars. Highly recommended

Author: Bernard Cornwell is a prolific writer of over 50 novels, including the Sharpe Series (21 episodes with Sean Bean), The Last Kingdom (10 books, Netflix). There is always a skillful blend of history, intrigue and witty dialogue. His writing is superb, well researched and richly detailed. He is an enthusiastic amateur dramatist, which shows in the accurate portrayal of actors’ rivalries, theatre competition, and fierce ambition. This telling brought Shakespeare, his troupe and Elizabethan London to light. I would love a sequel, although this is a stand alone novel.The telling is a credit to the Bard.

Story: Richard Shakespeare, younger brother, is a penniless actor, of pretty face and female roles, who wants to establish himself as a serious professional (e.g. male actor). Playing females doesn’t pay as well (even then, even as a man), but rival egos, a glut of actors and vying theatres prevent upward mobility. Opportunities arise with a new production, a chance romance, and the need to clear his name with stolen manuscripts (midsummer’s night dream and Romeo and Juliet). Sibling rivalry, cutthroat theatre rivalry (pre Globe, 1500 seats, 30plays a year), Puritan hostilities, are intricately woven into a tight fascinating character driven story. Thankfully Queen Elizabeth liked plays, especially Shakespeare’s.

Read on:

If you like Hilary Mantel Wolffe Hall, Robert Nye Mrs Shakespeare

Don’t miss Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare histories.

Rochester Public Library has ebook, audiobook and hardcover.

Quotes:

I went out into the yard where rain seethed on the cobbles, and I stood under the shelter of a wooden arcade that ran like a cheap cloister about the courtyards edge. I shivered. Winter was coming.

I was good. I knew I was good. And I wanted to be good because to perform well was one way to avoid Sir Godfrey’s savage beatings, or the whippings administered by his two ushers.

….audiences clamored to hear the play. And across the wintry river men were planning to steal it from us.

We were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. And no one pissed on our stage.

Aye, but we would be nothing without the words.

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The Chills Continue

Settle old scores – Or promote healing of old wounds?

Title: Old Scores by Will Thomas

Publisher: Minotaur Press (2017) 294 pp

Genre: mysteries, English mystery, historical mystery, detective fiction

5 stars, highly recommended

Author:

Will Thomas (b 1958) writes an award winning Victorian mystery series featuring Cyrus Barker, a Scottish detective or “private enquiry agent,” and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. The Barker/Llewelyn novels are all set in the 1880s with accurate historical events. Martial arts/ combat is featured throughout the series. Thomas has said that Barker is based on characters such as Richard Francis Burton and Edward William Barton-Wright, founder of Bartitsu (which Thomas also studies).

Previously, Thomas wrote essays for Sherlock Holmes society and lectured on crime fiction of the Victorian era. Thomas’ first novel Some Danger Involved was nominated for a Barry Award and a Shamus Award, and won the 2005 Oklahoma Book Award. The Black Hand was nominated for a 2009 Shamus Award. Fatal Enquiry won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award. He was a librarian with the Tulsa City-County Library System. Thomas enjoys Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. His wife, Julia Thomas, recently published her first mystery, The English Boys (2016) followed by Penhale Wood (2017).

Story:

This is the 9th in the series and provides many answers and background to the previous 8 stories. Barker has always been quite mysterious as an unusual private investigator, as well as dangerous, and has been the cornerstone of this developing series. Llewelyn, witty narrator, provides the engaging and entertaining commentary on 19the century Victorian London. Thomas is a fantastic suspense writer, with attention to detail of class, traditions, culture, lore as well as weaving an intriguing tale of betrayal, secrets, honor and love. This is fast paced prose with fascinating suspects, red herrings and a satisfying conclusion which also hints at a continuing story thread. I read it straight through in a night, and then just reread it several months later, still enjoying and savoring the details.

Read on to Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (Mrs Sherlock Holmes). If you like Sherlock Holmes, this is not a clone as so many are. I also recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock series. I was surprised to learn of his wife’s two books and can recommend those English mysteries too!

Received as an ARC from netgalley and the publishers. Purchased my own copy, to continue my set.

Travel Books

img_3979February is book lovers month

Travel always brings extra reading with plane time, airport delays, bookshop perusal and friends recommendations.

As quick ebook reads I started the Iris and Roy Johansen’s Kendra Michaels series. Kendra had her sight restored through stem cell technology as a young woman and now uses all her senses to help the FBI solve difficult murder cases. Today I discovered there is a new one in the series! The suspense kept me occupied for a day of flight delays. I love the ease of downloading Library ebooks. At any one time I have 5-7books waiting to be read, as well as a long hold list or current and popular titles.

An absolutely fantastic charming read was recommended by an RPL librarian. The Unexpected Inheritance Of Inspector Chopra, written by Vaseem Khan is the Alexander McCall Smith of India. It is also the first of three novels published (so far) and I have to find the other two. You are in for the funny, poignant, insightful tale of Chopra retiring from the police force but determined to solve one last case. I can’t wait to find out what happens with the baby elephant, a most unusual retirement gift.

Three Queens in Erin by Douglas Nicholas. RPL has this fantasy series, where few do; it it is one of the best! Read on if you like Patrick Rothfuss, Dave Duncan or GRRMartin. I was delighted to find the latest and last installment by this award winning poet. Magic exists but all the stories are based on actual British history. There are several plot lines that develop through the series, coming of age of Hob (to Robert the Englishman), good vs evil with magical shape shifting or witchcraft, clan allegiance and reestablishing matriarch lineage in medieval times. They must be read in order for full appreciation of the trials of Queen Maeve and the historical perspective. I loved every novel and the satisfactory sense of completion at the end of Three Queens.

Flavia is back!! I love all the Flavia deLuce books in Alan Bradley’s charming YA series. The Grave is a Fine and Private Place is the 10th installment in the award winning author’s preteen English sleuth. She has had so many maturing changes, but is back in Buckshaw in familiar territory: there’s another body, her trusted friends surround her and the celebrated wit and observations are to the fore. It’s not the best book in the series, I’d read them in order to appreciate this more. But it is a delightful read nonetheless.

Intriguing historical series!

Title: Iron Water (A Victorian Police Procedural) by Chris NicksonPublisher: Severn House 224pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, English mystery     4.5+ stars

Author: Chris Nickson (b 1954) is a British novelist, music journalist, and biographer who lived in the United States for 30 years before returning home. As a music journalist, he specialized in world and roots music, writing a regular column for Global Rhythm magazine. He wrote The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to World Music. He has written biographies of celebrities including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Reeve and the late singer-songwriter John Martyn, Solid Air (ebook in June 2011). His first novel, The Broken Token (2010), was set in Leeds in 1731 followed by Cold Cruel Winter, then The Constant Lovers, The Cruel Fear, At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies: these are The Richard Nottingham novels. Then there are the Laura Benton series which take place in Seattle, the Detective Harper late Victorian (1890s) series also in Leeds, and other one-off novels and non-fiction. The audiobook of The Broken Token was named as one of the Audiobooks of the Year for 2012 by The Independent on Sunday.

Story line: I was very excited to discover a new author! This book looked interesting and is a genre I enjoy, but after the first 25 pages I settled in for a wonderful read. And then I discovered this is actually the fourth in a series, which I now must read in order. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies and Skin Like silver. All of his books have been added to my list. I love discovering a new (to me) author and enjoy sharing. Thanks to Netgalley for the chance to read Nickson. What a pleasure to enjoy an intricate plot, wonderful detailed characters, accurate interesting historical detail for an enjoyable afternoon read. These days stories often set your teeth on edge, you encounter graphic sex or violence when you’re not expecting it, editing leaves something to be desired, or…. this didn’t disappoint on any level.

We catch up with Detective Tom Harper witnessing a demonstration of a new naval weapon, the torpedo, in Waterloo Lake (aka Iron Water). Unfortunately a body is dislodged and then dredging operations unearth a women’s leg in the River Aire. Every era and town seems to have a violent criminal underworld. His wife Annabelle is also a suffragist and we see many societal changes including class structure, women’s issues, children. Leeds is a grim dirty industrial city (newly designated) and it’s obvious I have to read his other historical novels of this city. What a pleasure to add him to my winter reading. I eagerly await the next installment 2017, after I finish the rest of the series!

Www.chrisnickson.co.uk

Read on:

Late Victorian detectives: Canadian Det Murdoch (Maureen Jennings), Mary Russell (Laurie King)

Quotes:

But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing. 

Detective Sergeant Ash he was now, promoted the year before and worth his weight in diamonds. He was a natural detective, a man who made connections well, who could think on his feet. Harper had pushed for him to be given his stripes; he deserved them.

He’d been a copper for fourteen years and never had a corpse emerge from the water before. Now there were two in a single morning.

‘Detective Inspector Harper, Leeds City Police.’ He still wasn’t used to the new name of the force.

The file on Archer was almost six inches thick, years of papers piled one on top of the other. The rumour was that he’d committed his first murder when he was just ten; a shopkeeper who clipped him round the ear when he came in and demanded money. No one had ever appeared in court for the death. He’d been arrested and questioned more often than Harper had enjoyed hot dinners.

‘You work out what the truth is,’ Harper told him. ‘That’s what the job is all about.’

‘Ready?’ Harper asked. ‘As I’ll ever be, sir,’ Ash answered. ‘I made out my will a few months ago.’

The sergeant smiled under his moustache. ‘I doubt Charlie Gilmore’s come within shouting distance of the truth since he learned how to talk. But there might have been a few places where he wasn’t lying too much.’

Six dead now. He couldn’t remember another case with so many murdered. And now? There was still one man out there. Morley’s killer. The last man standing. And he didn’t know who that might be.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Thank you!

A perfect holiday read

Title: The Inheritance by Charles FinchPublisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical mystery, series, Charles Lenox, fiction, 

4.5+ stars

Author: Charles Finch is the author of the bestselling Charles Lenox mystery series, The Inheritance being the 10th installment. The Last Enchantments (2014) was his first stand alone novel, about a group of students at Oxford. He is a book critic for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Recently he was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

Story line: This is really a not to be missed series. Start at the beginning! Charles Lenox is an eminent Victorian detective with a penchant for solving unusual cases. As a boy at Harrow (Eton’s rival, more sophisticated and smarter) he was never able to determine the MB, mystery benefactor, of another student Gerald Leigh. Thirty years later Leigh contacts Lenox over another anonymous legacy, but then goes missing. Through a series of flashbacks with current events, rich period detail peels away layers of intrigue. There are several mysteries involving our usual well loved characters, which take place over 6 months of 1877, from a cold snowy January in London to what amounts to an English summer. You won’t want to miss catching up with Lady Jane, Dr McConnell, his two partners Polly Buchanan and Lord Dallington, his older brother Sir Edmund, Charles former butler, now an MP and so many more. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and compelling read, especially in light of recent political events. The world receded. It is a well written, thoroughly engrossing, historical novel with fascinating Victorian details: Pasteur, microbes, fish and chips, Churchill, Parliament, the Royal Society, plagiarism, farthings, and Lennox musings on friendship, love, egotism and current events. Finch has an eye for evocative detail e.g. it’s not just a pencil, but a charcoal pencil and the letter is sealed with a signet ring.

Read on:

Chris Nickson, Will Thomas, Bruce Holsinger. CS Challinor, David Liss

Quotes:

London was silent with snow, soft flakes of it dropping evenly into the white streets, nobody outside who had somewhere inside to be. It was the third day of the year. Already the light was fading, though it was scarcely past two o’clock in the afternoon,

But not enough business, alas, to keep him occupied for more than a few hours the previous afternoon, so that on this lonely endless Sunday he had already reorganized the long rows of books that lined the walls, had gone through several pots of tea—and above all had waited, waited, waited, all the infinite day through for a certain visitor to come.

Lenox was forty-seven now—a tall and thin man, with a close brown beard and a thoughtful, kindly, but undeceived face—and had been a detective since roughly the age of twenty-two, first as a private investigator, now as a professional in the agency he had founded with two close friends. (For several years between these stages of his career, he had been in Parliament, the ancient family game, but that was all in the past now.)

Kirk raised his eyebrows very slightly, which was the equivalent in him of asking outright whether Lenox had gone insane, and perhaps needed to check into a sanatorium known for its particular specialty in madness, and should he call a doctor.

“Cabs, you know, is what we started calling them at the advent of the modern period, oh, a thousand years ago.”

Leigh had been famous within the houses for the most part as a singularly awful student.

Rackham up—the driver being an unrepentant dipsomaniac, who had concealed within his cloak and breeches at all times, like a pirate with never fewer than thirteen knives stowed away upon his person, various bottles of alcohol.

Their third and final partner, Lord John Dallington, was a wry, handsome young fellow of thirty, youngest son of a duke and duchess, who in his earlier years of adulthood had earned a terrible reputation as a rake—but had mostly reformed of drinking and late nights now, and possessed a tremendous innate gift for detection, even if he was prone, still, to the occasional lost night.

There were several detectives, all formerly of the Yard, who worked for the agency. The bulk of their business was commercial: acting more swiftly and with greater energy than the police could on behalf of various businesses when they had internal troubles…

“You would hate my work, if you are so easily dispirited by the depths of behavior to which our species can descend.

“I can’t believe we have found someone Debrett’s knows and you do not!” said Dallington. “A Member of the House of Lords. Dear, dear. What will Lady Jane say?”

He was more than a talisman, but his good cheer, his idle words, his neat appearance, Lenox realized, were essential to the happy workings of the agency.

The single stupidest person Lenox had ever met was Georgie Cholmondley, now Lord April, who had been at Harrow at the same time that he and Leigh had.

“We could have a look around Truro.” “Yes, that should be a thrilling eight minutes.”

Upon the fourth finger of her left hand was a ring, set with a diamond. In Lenox’s day the women’s engagement rings had been, without exception, of pearl and turquoise, but according to Dallington this was the new vogue, the diamond.

When Napoleon had ordered the execution of the Duc d’Enghien, it was said, he had done worse than commit a crime—he had committed a blunder.

it rained steadily and torrentially, the light washed out of the sky, the people washed out of the streets.

Seated between them, curling her fingers through her doll’s hair, was Sophia, who had stood near Polly with a basket of flowers, eaten too much soup, had a tantrum, and fallen asleep in her chair. Not one of her finest performances.

“No, it’s not magic, the future—it’s science.”
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library

Thrilling Summer Chills

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ ArlidgePublisher: Berkley 426 pp (2014/2015/2016)

Genre: mystery, thriller, Helen Grace, psychological thriller, series, serial killer

4.5 stars

Author:

Arlidge (b 1974) has spent 15 year’s writing high drama, prime time crime series for ITV, British television. He recently started the Det Helen Grace series, now into 6 books. Pop goes the Weasel is the 2nd, and I confess I couldn’t wait and read right through five, (Doll’s House, Liar, Liar, Little Boy Blue) eagerly awaiting the publication this autumn of Hide and Seek. His writing is terse, spare in these dark, fast paced, gritty thrillers. The character development improves with each novel and secondary characters play wider varied roles. I find these addictive, in a most unpleasant way. These are not cosy mysteries as realistic events happen that will cause nightmares. They are all psychological thrillers that provide fresh angles to some truly horrible serial killers and their gruesome crimes. Although I think the first book was the most original.

Story line:

In Pop goes the Weasel, as in all, Det Helen Grace is committed to her job, still largely dysfunctional in society, keeps secrets, remains respected but not liked in the Southhampton Force, and can be trusted to never quit. These mysteries must be read in order for the personal history, character development and escalating tension. As it’s a series, I know she will survive, but each book represents a challenge as to what happens next. There are great narrative twists. Read collectively they are a roller coaster! It’s always a race against time to find the killer before there is a next victim. They are very fast paced, short chapters, with vivid descriptions of time and place. I will continue to read them to see Det Grace grapple with her life.

Read on:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Stuart McBride, Peter May

Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5, Broadchurch, The Tunnel

Quotes:

Opening line The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

It’s a new book…

…..If you haven’t read it!

Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find.  I have had this book on my TBR pile for some time, eagerly anticipating it because it is the 9th in the Tony Hill Carol Jordan series. Yet, I have to be in just the right mood to read these: they aren’t for the faint of heart, nor lonely late night readings. And I always read them in one sitting because I absolutely have to know what happens. 

Title: Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid (2015)

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press. 416 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, crime, Scottish author, English mysteries, series, serial killers

4+ stars

Author:

Biographical Notes 

“Val McDermid (b 1955) is a No. 1 bestselling author whose (29) novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year (Mermaids Singing, the first Hill and Jordan 1995) and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.” She is part of Tartan Noir, and cofounder of Harrogate Crime Writing festival.

From a personal interview: “You wouldn’t know it but I’m very good…. at knitting. My favourite work of art….is Portrait of a Young Man by Botticelli in the National Gallery. My five year plan….to stay alive, write more books.”

Story line:

This novel centers on mysterious deaths of several women who have been viciously cyber bullied. Dr Tony Hill thinks they are more than suicides, but first he has to rescue ex DCI Jordan, who in retirement has been drinking herself to death. Pressured into building a new department MIT (Major Incident Team) she assembles old colleagues and new technologies. I loved Det Stacey Chenn, IT expert and hacker extraordinaire, a la MI-5 style. Tony remains the socially awkward but brilliant profiler. I completely understand his need to have a storage unit to house his expansive library. (I also liked the literary clues). McDermid cleverly portrays the intricate complexities of relationships, consequences, criminal minds, alcoholism, internet trolls and the everyday all too real stories. She has been called the Queen of the psychological thriller.

I await the next book, with the continuation of their complex friendship/ relationship, the new team, another horrifying killer, the departmental challenges, and a satisfying intricate read.

You could start with this book, and then feel compelled to read the rest. There is enough backstory to understand the characters, but the first 6 books were cracking good reads.

NB the audio book read by Gerard Doyle is also very well done. 

Read on:

Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series(6), Kate Branigan series(6), and next Karen Pirie in December 2016. Or watch The Wire in the Blood (6 seasons, 2002-2008)

If you like Thomas Harris, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Deborah Crombie, Tess Gerritsen, Tana French, Gillian Flynn

Quotes:

She didn’t think there actually was a word for the complicated matrix of feelings that bound her to Tony and him to her. With anyone else, so much intimacy would inevitably have led them to bed. But in spite of the chemistry between them, in spite of the sparks and the intensity, it was as if there was an electrical fence between them. And that was on the good days.

All his working life, he’d been held up as the expert in empathy, the one who knew how to stand inside other people’s skin and report back on what they felt and why they felt it.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.