Saturday, May 26, 2012

2012 books, #46-50

A room full of bones, by Elly Griffiths. London: Quercus, 2012.

The fourth of the Ruth Galloway/Harry Nelson books, and another very good read.  One or two of the plot points are a little bit weak, but this is a series I now read more for the characterisation and the setting (in North Norfolk - Ruth is an archaeologist at a fictional university in King's Lynn).  Bones in this book come both from a medieval bishop with a surprising secret, and a storeroom containing Aboriginal Australian bones; both hold secrets which could ultimately prove fatal.

The fire baby, by Jim Kelly.  London: Michael Joseph, 2004.

I started reading this at around the time of publication - Kelly is a local author and it's set in the Fens - but somehow, I never got into it and took it back to the library.   This is a really gripping read second time around!  In the drought-wracked summer of 1976, a USAF plane carrying civilian passengers ploughs into a farmhouse, killing everyone but a 16-year-old girl and a baby, who stagger out of the burning house.  27 years later, in the equally hot and dry summer of 2003, the same woman is dying of cancer, and she has secrets to tell.  Philip Dryden, head reporter at the Ely Crow, becomes involved in the story.  Meanwhile he is also following a story on illegal immigration of farm workers.  Both events become intertwined before more secrets are revealed; and the ending is truly unexpected.

Zugzwang, by Ronan Bennett.  London: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Zugzwang, we're told early on, is a deathly position in chess, in which a player is obliged to move but every move only makes his position even worse.  Otto Spethmann is a Freudian psychoanalyst in St Petersburg in 1914, and becomes implicated in a murder.  He is also preoccupied with two demanding patients; a society beauty with whom he is falling in love, and a chess master on the verge of a breakdown.  There is a thriller plot in the middle of the book somewhere, but the setting and the atmosphere at the time (including the antisemitism aimed at Spethmann and his fellow Jews) are more absorbing.  This does feel like a Russian novel in the tradition of Dostoevsky, even though it's written by an Irish guy.

Dancing with the uninvited guest, by J Wallis Martin.  London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2002.

Lyndle Hall in Northumbria is a decaying manor house surrounded by deep forest.  An eighteen-year-old girl who was staying there and the house's owner have disappeared, and the assumption is that they left together. But there is something extremely strange about both the house and one of its occupants, Nicholas Herrol, who seems to be being tormented by Something living there.  Is Nicholas mentally ill or is there something paranormal about the house?  Parapsychologist Audrah Sidow has come to believe that there is a rational explanation for everything, but this belief is seriously tested in the face of events at Lyndle.  This was unputdownable...

Breaking silence, by Linda Castillo.  London: Macmillan, 2011.

The third of the Kate Burkholder books.  Two Amish brothers and the older brother's wife are found drowned or gassed in the manure pit of their farm, leaving their four children orphaned.  Then a head wound is discovered on one of the bodies, and everything becomes less certain.  FBI agent John Tomasetti is again in Painters Mill investigating a spate of hate crimes against the Amish.  And, as with previous cases, everything has a tendency to get very personal for Kate.  Another really excellent book by Castillo.  Warning: these really need to be read in order as there's recapping of previous cases which would spoil previous books if they're read out of order!  And one tiny criticism is that the timeline within and between books seems to dart around all the time...  You're told someone's wife died three years ago, and then half a dozen pages later it's only a year ago...  and it's really unclear how long Kate has been in post and how long ago the previously the events in previous books happened.  An eagle-eyed editor should probably have spotted this!

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