On My Shelves – Alan Banks series by Peter Robinson

As most will already know, sadly, author Peter Robinson died in October 2022. Mainly known for the DCI Alan Banks series, it’s that series that I wanted to write about.

The DCI Banks novels are set in the fictional English town of Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales. Robinson has stated that Eastvale is modelled on Ripon and Richmond and is somewhere north of Ripon. A former member of the London Metropolitan Police, Inspector Alan Banks leaves the capital for a quieter life in the Dales. Of course, a quieter life is the last thing Banks finds as he investigates a series of crimes in the Yorkshire town. Banks is an everyman, and the character works all the better for it, and the openness with which is flaws and foibles are shown.

“Gallows View”, book 1, introduces Banks to the reader to Eastvale and the team, not to mention his wife and children. This gives a wonderful sense of place, the characters are on the whole fully rounded, and the crimes/solutions make sense.

Thankfully, that is how the series continues. Each book can standalone, but they, of course, make more sense if you read them as a series and you get to follow the lives, careers and happenings in each character. Banks first appeared in print in 1987 and ran for 28 books, not including short stories. I read the first novel back in 2013 and after that I read 19 of the books, in fairly quick succession. Given that that is the same number I stopped on for Stephanie Plum, 19 seems to be about my limit for a series.

One of my favourite characters was always Annie Cabbot, she grows in confidence and ability through the series. If you’re also into Ian Rankin’s work, Annie is in much the same role as Siobhan.

Like all long series this one has its really strong instalments, and it’s weaker one, but there wasn’t one I didn’t enjoy. Of all the books, I’m torn on giving my favourite. I loved “Gallows View” and the way it bring the reader into the series, but of the following books, here are a few that stood out for me.

“In a Dry Season” caught my attention because at the time of reading I was working in the water industry, and I know the kind of emotions seeing those drowned villages reappear can bring some people.

“Aftermath” was just brilliant and chilling, not to mention a shocking revelation of a serial killer.

“The Summer that Never Was” was a brilliant examination of the way childhood friends drift apart as adults, and why their childhoods were never quite what they remembered.

Then “A Piece of My Heart” and its link with music festivals, aging rock stars and the effects of friendship, really stayed with me for some time.

Banks did become a TV series, staring Stephen Tompkinson, but I never watched them because I couldn’t see Tompkinson as Banks. The actor and the man in my imagination just didn’t gel. But TV shows are never as good as the books, so if you’ve never read Banks, I highly recommend that you give him a try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Book Review – Saving Time by Jodi Taylor

Blurb

Life is good for Team Weird, now heroes and fully fledged Time Police officers. Luke can’t wait to bear arms. Jane has a date. And Matthew still hasn’t had his hair cut.

But Time waits for no one and neither do criminal masterminds. A major threat to the Timeline is looming, one far deadlier than mere idiots who want to change history. And when a familiar face becomes a Very Important Lead, will conflicting family loyalties spell trouble for Team Weird?

One missing. One guilt-ridden. And one facing the end of their Time Police career before it’s even begun. Not so good then, after all.

My Review

There’s criminal conspiracy all around and the Time Police need to get things sorted. Only the Time Police aren’t the best at that, and sometimes their newest graduates have the hardest of time seeing their way through.

Criminal mastermind, Mr P could be any number of people, but we all know who Luke thinks it is. Jane is considered an easy target, after all, she only a non-male as Grint says. Matthew’s far too good at saying nothing, and he still needs a haircut.

So, Luke gets confrontational. Jane saves the day. Matthew says enough to get Luke wishing he still didn’t talk. And that’s only the start.

A lot of people die in this one. Only it doesn’t seem DEATH is doing his job right though, because mostly, but not always, they turn up again.

Things do get weirder.  Jane get’s a date. They all get to see an old friend, and then everything really turns bad. Commander Hey has to turn to Dr Maxwell for assistance, and let’s face it, Maxwell is oil to mix with Time Police water so you can’t expect things to go too well. But things truly go to fire-trucking kaka this time. To the point that Matthew admits the truth while completely alone and the wrong (or possibly completely right) someone is right by his side to hear it.

Yes, I laughed out loud several times.  And again, this book proves that if you want to get the most out of modern literature, it pays to know your Greek Mythology.

Yes, I cried at the sad bit. Because I’m human, okay?

And most importantly, yes, I would recommend this book.

Book Review – The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman

Blurb

The new vicar had never wanted a picture-postcard parish – or a huge and haunted vicarage. Nor had she wanted to walk into a dispute over a controversial play about a seventeenth-century clergyman accused of witchcraft… a story that certain long-established families would rather remained obscure.

But this is Ledwardine, steeped in cider and secrets…

A paradise of cobbled streets and timber-framed houses. And also – as Merrily Watkins and her teenage daughter, Jane, discover – a village where horrific murder is a tradition that spans centuries.

My Review

Merrily Watkins is not your usual vicar, certainly not the Vicar of Dibley. Jane is a fairly normal teenager. They move to Ledwardine to take over after well-established vicar retires. What looks like a sleepy village where no one would harm a fly soon takes on a different outlook.

We start with an ‘accidental’ death that leaves a group, including Merrily, in a spray of blood. But it’s accidental, and it looks like next year’s apple crop will be a good one.

The cider festival is going to put the Village on the map. The Village has big plans. Especially with a well know playwright offers a unique and local story to be acted out like by a perhaps more famous good-looking actor that the ladies swoon for, even though they know he’s gay. The villagers are not quite so happy to find out that they want to rewrite the history of the Village and one particular vicar. The word homophobic isn’t a joke here, and Merrily and the church are soon caught up in a power play of acceptability with powerful individuals on each side, and all pushing Merrily to do the ‘right’ thing. When kids are kids and experiment with cider, then boys come into the gastric mix, things don’t work out quite the way you might expect. When one girl goes missing after her sixteen party things are really hotting up.

This is the story of how bad an apple can get, especially one that has been left to rot and fester since the 1660s. Homophobia, mysticism, paganism, Church inflexibility, money grabbing, sex, murder, evil curses, growing pains and most of all misogyny in all it’s ugly forms are on full display with this one.

A writer friend recommended this book to me. What they did not mention was how long the book was. When I brought it I did bulk a bit at how long that was going to take me to get through, Given that as a freelancer I work regardless of the day, and that I thought it would take me forever to get through this one book, I decided to read it starting in 2022 and into 2023 (so it didn’t adversely affect my reading stats for the year). Yes, reading stats matter to me, see my Review of 2022. I know, I’m said. But honestly, once I started reading this book, I really just wanted to read on. Definite page turner.

It’s a very readable book. The story is complex, but it keeps you interested. Told primarily from the points of view of Merrily and Jane, but as necessity demands to get the actual picture of what’s going on, there are other POV characters too. Of particular importance are Gomer, the yokel–and I mean that in the best way possible–and Lol. Gomer is Mr Fix It here, will do a lot for the church. He sees and knows more than he’s letting on. Until he lets on and then you’re in for a surprise. Lol, real name Laurence Robinson, was a real eye opener. He seems pathetic, and to some he will be, but as the book progresses the reader learns more about him and his past and that better understanding brings you to a place of sympathy and frankly rooting for him to be the hero, not an easy or certain step for him. None of the characters were caricatures, which was lovely, and they all had things in their past, and in their presents that they need to protect. Some of them managed this with much greater wisdom than most. It was good to see a vicar as a human with all the fragility that comes with that.

The finale is a masterpiece.

While a lot of the denouement makes perfect sense from the facts as they were laid before the reader, so didn’t come as a surprise, there were parts of this that felt like failure were being snatched from the jaws of success. Then there was one revelation I was not expecting, and it was just wonderful. Clearly I won’t spoiler this review by saying what it was, but it surprised me, then made perfect sense, then I was left wondering why I hadn’t seen it. I should have seen it. 

Well done, Mr Rickman, well done!

If you can get past the sheer length of this book, I would highly recommend. 

Give this guy all the stars.

Or apples.

Review of the Year 2022

During 2022, I have managed to read 60 books. Not all of them crime, though that does take up a large percentage of the titles. The makeup is:

Okay so by now you may have realised that I’m also a bit of a geek and I love my spreadsheets, but there you go.

As you can see 24 pure crime books and a further 18 of fantasy crime books.

As for stars, well I’m apparently getting a bit tight on giving stars. Or possibly I’m just enjoying fantasy crime more than crime, because the distribution of stars and the averages by genre surprised me.

I know most people give their favourite books of the year, but honestly, I’m struggling to bring the list down to do that.

Of pure crime my favourites have to be split in two. For UK crime, it would have been “The Safe House” by Louise Mumford. I loved the premise, I like that it’s set locally (relatively) to me. Mr Wiffles is just wonderful! Plus, it’s just a cracking good read and I would highly recommend it. For overseas crime, has to be “The Rabbit Factor” by Antti Tuomainen. It’s funny, unexpected, gives a good sense of location, and the lead character is an actuary, and it’s so rare to find a hero who’s that interested in maths. And he has a cat. I do like a cat (see Crime Cats).

Of the fantasy crime, I’m really struck for picking just one. I loved “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman, but I read it for the second time this year, which shows that I really loved it (and the series that follows). Then I read “Doing Time” by Jodi Taylor. This is the first of the Time Police books and I loved it, laughed out loud and really loved the characters and all they are up to. Then, in December, I read “The Stranger Times” by CK McDonnell, this was a birthday gift from my hubby (my birthday is the end of November), and I read it in like two sittings because I couldn’t put it down. The premise alone made me smile, sections of the books, and sometimes individual lines made me laugh out loud. It’s intelligent and sassy, irreverent and, at times, beautiful. Unusually, my hubby also read it and enjoyed it.

I would recommend any of the above, so give one or two a go. Of the fantasy crime books, unless you are into fantasy, the most pure crime one is in fact “The Stranger Times”, so if you’re going to step outside the norm, give that one a try.

The point really is all about enjoying reading. Read books, talk about books, share books, but most importantly, find some books you love. Doesn’t matter what genre you read, I don’t believe in getting sniffy about any of them, just read what you enjoy. Have fun!

Book Review – Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M C Beaton

Again, it’s that time of year and so I thought I’d delve into a Christmas novel. I have enjoyed the Agatha Raisin series from The Quiche of Death on. Though I have to say, I’m also enjoying the TV series starring Ashley Jensen, Kissing Christmas Goodbye is episode 1 of series 4 and I will admit that while it was on over the weekend, I didn’t actually see it as I was cooking Christmas dinner, but today, I finally finished the book – which is why I’m late in posting this today. M C Beaton was a wonderful writer, I’ve enjoyed Agatha, and the Hamish Macbeth series too. If you haven’t read any, then I would recommend giving them a go, but don’t expect either to be too like watch you can see on the telly. Here is my take of Kissing Christmas Goodbye.

Blurb

Agatha is dreaming of a white Christmas – but who will be joining her under the mistletoe?

During the grey days of early December Agatha is obsessed by only two things – Christmas, and her ex, James Lacey. Although she says she feels nothing for James now, she’s sure that planning the perfect Dickensian Christmas for all her friends will somehow reanimate her love.

Even the murder of Mrs Tamworthy, poisons with hemlock a the local manor house, does little to distract Agatha from organising her perfect yuletide celebrations. Yet poor Mrs Tamworthy had written to Agatha, telling her that someone wanted to see her dead before the year was out. Slightly guiltily, Agatha sets out to solve the case with the help of new recruit, young Toni Gilmore. Toni is a mere child of seventeen and alongside her, Agatha feels old, weary and unfestive. But as the days march ever closer to the 25th, Agatha knows she much catch the murderer – nothing will stop her having her perfect day!

My Review

Agatha is bored. She’s running a detective agency and looking for missing cats and dogs, she’s also looking for a new detective to assist since Harry has left (not in the TV series, so if you want to know about Harry, you’ll have to read the books). Enter Toni, seventeen, keen and in need of the mother figure Agatha thinks she’s incapable of being.

Speaking of mother figures, there’s Mrs Tamworthy. Rich and mean, Mrs Tamworthy thinks that her children are out of kill her. And the more you learn about them and about Mrs Tamworthy, you can see why.

With Christmas approaching, Agatha has big plans. Not least of which are getting ex-husband James Lacey back, despite the surprisingly good advice from Sir Charles that she doesn’t even love him anymore. 

Agatha bumbles around, Toni gets lucky and then really unlucky. Between the two of them, love lies tangled and the truth somehow falls out of the whole mess of information about dysfunctional families, love, history, betrayal and murder.

As I mentioned above, I really do enjoy the works of M C Beaton and the Agatha Raisin series, but the constant interruptions of our home real life Christmas rather dragged my attention away from this book. However, Boxing Day arrived, and I had no more interruptions, and read two-thirds of this book in one sitting. And it has to be said that once I had the time to sit and read, the book really warmed up. However, I did find a few things about the read less satisfying. The story is good, the twists and turns work. Agatha’s reactions to Toni and Toni’s to Agatha really work well. But this was a book that, oddly, suffered from far too many twists. It felt like there were things just thrown in for the sake of throwing them in, that more concentration on the central themes might have worked better. I also found some of the dialogue unrealistic and a little stilted.

Overall, while this does take place at Christmas, it’s not an especially Christmassy book. That said, I wouldn’t want to put anyone off reading it, if you are working your way through the Agatha Raisin series, include this one when you get to it, but it’s not worth keeping it for Christmas. A reasonable read, not overly Christmassy, keep it in series and it’ll work.

Book Review – Christmas at The Grange by T E Kinsey

Yes, it’s that time of year, I can ignore it no more, so here’s a bit of a Christmas read for you.

Blurb

It’s Christmas 1909, and for once Lady Hardcastle—respectable gentlewoman, amateur spy—and her lady’s maid, Florence Armstrong, are setting sleuthing aside. They are invited to the festivities up at The Grange, as guests of Sir Hector and Lady Farley-Stroud.

But barely have corks been popped and parlour games played when a mysterious crime comes to light. Someone has broken in while the revellers were distracted and made off with a priceless pearl necklace. Lady Hardcastle and Flo are determined to catch the thief—but with so many Christmas guests encamped at The Grange, is it possible that the felon is hiding in plain sight?

With the clues stacking up, Lady Hardcastle bears down on her culprit. But just as the pieces come together, it begins to look as if there is something more devious afoot at The Grange…

My Review

Lady Hardcastle is invited to enjoy Christmas with the neighbours, so naturally takes her devoted lady’s maid, Flo. Indulgence is the watchword of the party, as is to be expected given the season, what wasn’t expected was the taking of a pearl necklace. Being something of a spy, albeit a not entirely officially, Lady Emily Hardcastle is determined to find the necklace and the culprit.

It doesn’t take long, but then this is just a novella, a fun one-sitting read full of lively characters and a delightful sense of the time, not to mention the sense of humour. There is no real suspense, but it is exactly what it needs to be.

Lady Hardcastle and Flo are one of very few pre-war mysteries I can stomach, but I would recommend the series generally, and this one in particular for a quick read at Christmas.

Book Review – Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith

Blurb

Nowhere is Patricia Highsmith more edgy than in these mordantly hilarious sketches that make up Little Tales of Misogyny.

Here you’ll meet seemingly familiar women with the power to destroy both themselves and the men around them. In these stories Highsmith is at her most scathing as she draws out the mystery and menace of her once ordinary subject.

My Review

Never having read anything from Patricia Highsmith before, I had no idea what to expect, other than some quality writing. I didn’t get it.

The tales fell rather flat and I suppose they are pretty much of their time (1975-ish). But even the title didn’t feel right. The tales weren’t just misogyny, there was also some misandry in there.

The base idea of many of the stories were workable, but delivered with a monotonous lack of emotion. In other reviews I have now read for the book, it says that she’s satirising the genre, if she is, I didn’t see it. For me, the only saving grace of the book is that the short stories allow you to put it down as and when life interrupts, as it always does, and that it’s short enough in total to read in one day.

This has not inspired me to read any more work from Highsmith.

Book Review – The Moose Paradox by Antti Tuomainen

Blurb

Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen has finally restored order both to his life and to YouMeFun, the adventure park he now owns, when a man from the past appears – and turns everything upside down again. More problems arise when the park’s equipment supplier is taken over by a shady trio, with confusing demands. Why won’t Toy of Finland Ltd sell the new Moose Chute to Henri when he needs it as the park’s main attraction?

Meanwhile, Henri’s relationship with artist Laura has reached breaking point, and, in order to survive this new chaotic world, he must push every calculation to its limits, before it’s too late…

Absurdly funny, heart-stoppingly poignant and full of nail-biting suspense, The Moose Paradox is the second instalment in the critically acclaimed, pitch-perfect Rabbit Factor Trilogy and things are messier than ever…

My Review

As with The Rabbit Factor, this book starts with an attack, and then goes back to explain how mild-mannered Henri got dragged into whatever deadly situation he’s in this time. This time the trouble comes in the form of a dead man walking. The Dead Man Walking predictably then drags Henri and YouMeFun into trouble. That is the trouble is predictable, the way he does it is more of a surprise. Using white collar crime in these books shows that there are more crooks in business than in prison, and the way that everything works out just goes to show how incredibly intelligent Henri is.

I love Henri. I understand Henri. Dead Man Walking on the other hand is someone I’d want to punch from the moment he showed his face. Laura is lovely as ever, though she seems to walk all over Henri too, though of course he doesn’t mind. The people surrounding Henri are all lost in their own little worlds and while Henri tries (and usually fails) to really understand them, it’s less convincing that they are trying to understand Henri. Though Minttu K is surprisingly supportive in this instalment. Of course, Detective Inspector Osmala does a good turn in this book, several of the descriptions reminded me of Mr Incredible, especially those relating to the car.

I found this book less gripping, and slower than The Rabbit Factor, but as it’s the middle of a trilogy, it’s not unusual for the second book to be the problem middle child.  I did still enjoy it, and I am looking forward to book three of the trilogy.

Double Birthday

Today I am very lucky, it’s not just my birthday, but also the birthday of my latest book, “Play The Game.” I’m grateful to Diamond Crime for agreeing to publish on this special day. “Play The Game” is the conclusion of the Elaine Blake story.

Here’s a little about Elaine.

Elaine is 42 years old. She lives in a four-bedroom house in north Cardiff. While never having had children of her own, she has fostered 21 children from all over the world. She has a degree is mathematics, and works in data analysis, which she does as a job, not a career. Any promise from her youth has seeped away over the years. People who see her home think she’s a neat freak, perhaps even someone with OCD. She’s not surprised people don’t know her. Her husband is an IT specialist who’s away from home a lot, though in all honesty Elaine wishes it was more. Then one day she hears he’s never coming back.

The Elaine Blake story runs through “Breaking Free” and concludes in “Play the Game.”

Breaking Free

For Elaine Blake, marriage was never a word, it was a sentence. For 25 years, they had all been lying to her.
Now the liar in chief, her husband Jason, is reported dead. Information he was supposed to hand to his spy bosses is missing.

Then, a phone call – a foster son in serious trouble. And news that her husband may not be dead after all. Jason doesn’t matter, but Elaine will do anything to save her son.

Even if she has to race to Paris, dodge assassins and hunt for evidence the best of spies can’t find.

Play the Game

Elaine Blake’s world has changed beyond recognition.

In the last seven days, she’s become a widow — possibly; travelled aboard alone for the first time; and learned that very dangerous people will kill to get their hands on the evidence they believe she has.

But all she has to go on is a nonsensical cypher, a target on her back and a large dose of paranoia and fear.

Cast alone into a world of espionage, can Elaine survive? To do so she has to remember who she once was. And reveal the secrets she’s kept for the last 25 years.

I hope you read and enjoy the story and cry, cheer and laugh along with Elaine. And if you do – please leave a review ro two! Thank you!

On my shelves – Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovitch

Blurb

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter with attitude. In Stephanie’s opinion, toxic waste, rabid drivers, armed schizophrenics, and August heat, humidity, and hydrocarbons are all part of the great adventure of living in Jersey. She’s a product of blue-collar Trenton, where houses are attached and narrow, cars are American, windows are clean, and dinner is served at six.

Out of work and out of money, with her Miata repossessed and her refrigerator empty, Stephanie blackmails her bail bondsman cousin, Vinnie, into giving her a try as an apprehension agent. And that’s only the beginning of series that will set her on the trail of fugitives. Stephanie will have to sharpen her sleuthing skills, because she’s got many a mystery to solve.

This overview blurb is taken from Goodreads

My Review

I like the occasional crime book that makes me smile, and the Stephanie Plums definitely does that.

The series starts with Stephanie getting the bounty gig, but the twist is, the bounty is on a cop, Joe Morelli, with whom Stephanie has a personal history and a score or two to settle.  Then there’s Ranger, an actually capable bounty hunter that attempts to help Stephanie. 

The series runs though some interesting cases, each book is a complete story in and of itself, so you don’t have to read the books in order, though that will help broaden out some of the explanations through the read.

The characters are spectacular. Joe is interesting and fun, and serious, not to mention, head of heal for Stephanie. Ranger is every superhero you ever wanted, a Cuban-American James Bond. And there’s obvious reasons for Stephanie to be hung up on him. Then there’s Lula, the tart with a heart. And then there is Grandma Mazur, who is incomparable.

Stephanie is hell on cars, wouldn’t trust her with mine. She’s also hell on the love lives of both Joe and Ranger.  And after a while you do want to scream at her to make her mind up.

I’ve read nineteen of the now twenty-seven book series. They are such fun, and well worth giving a go.