On My Shelves – Talking To The Dead by Harry Bingham

Blurb

A crime you’ll always remember. A detective you’ll never forget.

A young girl is found dead. A prostitute is murdered. And the strangest, youngest detective in the South Wales Major Crimes Unit is about to face the fiercest test of her short career.

A woman and her six-year-old daughter are killed with chilling brutality in a dingy flat. The only clue: the platinum bank card of a long-dead tycoon, found amidst the squalor.

DC Griffiths has already proved herself dedicated to the job, but there’s another side to her she is less keen to reveal. Something to do with a mysterious two-year gap in her CV, her strange inability to cry – and a disconcerting familiarity with corpses.

Fiona is desperate to put the past behind her but as more gruesome killings follow, the case leads her back into those dark places in her own mind where another dead girl is waiting to be found…

My Review

I read this book years ago–2014 I think. So I thought I’d share this one with you because if you’ve not come across this series, it’s a trilogy worth considering.

I’ve always tried to look for UK based reads, but mostly I’ve read the London-centric stuff, Robinson up t’ north, James down south. So to find good and contemporary based in South Wales, was a real joy.

Fiona Griffiths is a girl with issues (well let’s face it what good fictional detective doesn’t?), but Fi’s issues aren’t like any other I’d read before – and having suffered from something similar by way way milder, I found an instant connection to her. Then it turns out just like me she doesn’t drink caffeine either. And I know all the places that were visited in this book, which meant the good descriptions were particularly vivid for me, but as an editor I’m pretty sure they will be equally evocative for those who don’t know the area.

All the characters here are well realised, the plot thickens with every page and the team effort that is a murder enquiry comes through wonderfully well. By the end I couldn’t put the book down despite travelling in the dark and eye strain as the lights moved around the car (obviously I wasn’t driving). The thing was – I had to finish it, I had to reach the climax of both the case and the key at least to the hidden secret of Fiona’s past.

Basically this is a book that engages and keeps you reading, so it’s well worth giving it a try.

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.

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.

Book Review – Nowhere to Run by James Oswald             

Blurb

On compassionate leave following the death of her mother, Detective Constable Constance Fairchild thought renting a cottage near Aberystwyth, Wales would get her far enough from London to finally relax. But trouble always seems to find Con, and it’s not long before she is cooling off in a police station cell after defending herself from two would-be rapists.

In custody she meets a young Ukrainian woman, Lila, who confides in Con that she’s been forced by her manipulative boyfriend into prostitution and running drugs. Fearing for her life, she has run away from him, only to end up in the cells.

Con offers to help, but when her cottage is ransacked, and Lila subsequently disappears, she realises she’s stumbled into very dangerous company. International drug smugglers and ruthless people traffickers – those who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Out here at the end of the line, will Con find that there’s nowhere left to run?

My Review

Meeting Lila is the inciting that brings Con (short for Constance) into a world that appears at first to be corrupt local cops, but soon becomes something way bigger and way uglier. It’s also the thing that gets her back to being Detective Constable Constance Fairchild.

Now caught up investigating a drug and people trafficking ring, Con is shown to be a woman on the edge. The edge of the country, the edge of health (physical and mental), the edge of sanity.

Oswald does a good job of giving a sense both of the town of Aberystwyth, and the isolation of the surrounding countryside. Aber really is a town on the edge of the country, and it feels like that in this book. The geography is slightly off, but you’ll only know that if you know the local area. He also plays fast and loose with the local legends, but that’s one of the reasons why I like Oswald’s work, that ‘is the supernatural real or just something we imagined’ theme runs through all the James Oswald’s books I’ve read so far.

This is the third in the Constance Fairchild series and the book does refer to previous cases, so possibly if you have read them all in sequence you would get more out of the read, but honestly, there’s enough information on the page and it’s not necessary, and like all good series, this one book can be read out of context.

I do try to be scrupulously honest with my reviews and I have to say that I found this one a bit of a slog a first. Then I found a sentence that totally wound me up, had me complaining to my Welsh husband and tempted to throw the book across the room.  Oddly, however, after that point the action and the story telling sped up and after a day of not touching it in annoyance, I read the second half of the book quickly because I was enjoying it much more once it felt like it got going.

So, what was the sentence that wound me up? Well, first let me be clear, this is a throwaway comment, totally irrelevant to the plot, and therefore unimportant, but it was so annoying to read it.  Here it is: “When she bends to open the oven door, the air is flooded with the intoxicating scent of fresh-baked Welsh cakes.” Doesn’t mean anything to you?  Then you’ve clearly never cooked a batch of proper Welsh cakes – and neither has James Oswald. You see proper home cooked Welsh cakes are cooked on a bakestone, or a griddle pan, on a hob or fire, never in an oven. It’s not the sort of thing most people would even think to check. Clearly none of the editors considered it worth checking the research, but it’s also one of those lines that sticks with readers who know better.

Other than that, it’s an absolutely cracking read and I’d have no hesitation in recommending this book.

Book Review – A Quiet Life in the Country by T E Kinsey

Blurb

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before I forced Lady Hardcastle out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.

My Review

A thoroughly good romp. Such historic and cosy crime reads are not my usual thing, but I needed something less dark. This was quite fun came up as a recommendation, so I thought I’d give it a try and I am glad I did.

Told in the first person of a second-level player, it’s nostalgic and evocative. Characters jump with colour and just a touch of stereotypical hindsight. I loved the relationship between Lady Hardcastle and Flo, and the interactions with Inspector Sunderland are just spiffing. The mystery is interesting, and the denouement rolled out carefully and intelligently.

I’m the first to admit that historic and cosy are two genres that I’m not overly keen on, but I do like to try them every now and then. And though this is different from my usual taste, I found myself pleasantly entertained and will happily give another one ago in future.

On My Shelves – The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie

Blurb

Recently, there had been some strange goings on at Styles St Mary. Evelyn, constant companion to old Mrs Inglethorp, had stormed out of the house muttering something about “a lot of sharks”. And with her, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security; now the air seemed rife with suspicion and impending evil.





My Review

Okay, I admit it, I am NOT a fan of Agatha Christie. However, even if you do not like something that is generally very popular, I think every now and then you should make the effort to try to understand what others see in. Aside from anything else, I was much younger the last time I attempted to read Agatha, so I thought I’d give it another go.

Surprisingly, I made it to the end of this one. Though I have to admit, I did that by listening to the audiobook.  It was kind of like holding my nose and jumping in a canal known not to be clean. Anyway, I listened. And since I try to be fair in my criticism, I can see why she’s such a well-loved author, though I can’t say I love the work myself.

Hastings isn’t the bumbling fool he’s often made out to be in the TV adaptations, but Poirot is just as grating as always. I really can’t see the appeal of this character (should also mention that I can’t stand Conan Doyle’s version of Sherlock either). The mystery, the plot and the denouement are however all excellent.

I feel though that Agatha Christie is writing in a world that I don’t have anything in common with, and she doesn’t draw me into that world either. There’s just nothing there that speaks to me. While I wouldn’t want to stop anyone else from reading AC, I won’t be rushing back to any more of Christie’s work.

Book Review – Murder Before Evensong by The Reverend Richard Coles

Blurb

The first novel in the Reverend Richard Coles’ Canon Clement Mystery series

Canon Daniel Clement is Rector of Champton. He has been there for eight years, living at the Rectory alongside his widowed mother – opinionated, fearless, ever-so-slightly annoying Audrey – and his two dachshunds, Cosmo and Hilda.

When Daniel announces a plan to install a lavatory in church, the parish is suddenly (and unexpectedly) divided: as lines are drawn, long-buried secrets come dangerously close to destroying the apparent calm of the village.

And then Anthony Bowness – cousin to Bernard de Floures, patron of Champton – is found dead at the back of the church, stabbed in the neck with a pair of secateurs.

As the police moves in and the bodies start piling up, Daniel is the only one who can try and keep his fractured community together… and catch a killer.

My Review

This was a struggle. There is a good story at the heart of this book, unfortunately, it gets lost.  First thing I would like to say is that the Reverend Richard Coles can write, his work is readable. However, there are a lot of words that just didn’t need to be there. The editor should have been stricter, maybe they should have given The Reverend “Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing”, in particular rules 9 and 10:
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

There was a description of a cake tin – yes – a cake tin that took half a page. There were descriptions of things as unimportant as mechanical pencils, and fountain pens. Frankly, if these aren’t the murder weapon, as a reader, I don’t care. And there were great swathes of pages that illustrated the characters (nicely) but didn’t really add anything to the story. Those are the things the reader wants to skip.

It should also be noted that this book is set in the 1980s, something that should have been stated in the blurb because when Clement and his mother were talking, my head screamed that mother would have to be over 100 years old to say those kinds of things. It totally threw me out of the read. I had to go check in other reviews to find out that date was meant to be the 80s. After the discussion (about World War 2) then it became obvious from the things mentioned that we were in the 80s, but I would have like to know that before I started reading, because frankly, had I known, I probably wouldn’t have started reading.

I did read to the end of this book (which makes it better than “The Thursday Murder Club” in my opinion), but I can’t honestly recommend it. If cosy crime is your thing, you might enjoy this book, but apparently cosy crime isn’t my thing.