Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 books, #96-100

Black diamond, by Martin Walker.  London: Quercus, 2010.

An Inspector Bruno novel.  In this one, PĂ©rigord's most prized product, the truffle, is threatened by reports of adulteration at the local market. At the same time, the horrific murder of a local truffle-hunter drags Bruno into French-Algerian history, and past and present crimes intertwine.  As ever, there are some great characters here, and Walker keeps a light touch while talking about serious subjects.  I'm very glad there are a few more of these to read before I catch up...

Shattered, by Dick Francis [audiobook]. Read by Tony Britton. Bath: Chivers/BBC Audiobooks, 2000.

For those who've read all these, this is The One With The Glassblower.  I was spending the weekend at the sewing machine, and wanted something I'd already read - and Tony Britton is such a consummate reader of Francis...  As it was - I really can't remember reading this one at all, so it was a pleasant surprise!  Gerard Logan, the glassblower, goes to Cheltenham Races with his friend jockey Martin Stukely on Millennium Eve; Martin is crushed by his horse and killed, and his valet hands his saddle and a videotape to Gerard. That's when everything goes a bit mad - Gerard's workshop is burgled, as is his house and Martin's, and the tape is stolen without his having an idea of what the thieves wanted.  This is vintage Francis - you learn interesting things about glassblowing, it rattles along at racing pace, and as ever Britton's reading is excellent.

The search for Richard III: the king's grave, by Phillipa Langley and Michael Jones. London: John Murray, 2013.

This is a very readable account both of the short kingship of Richard III and of the recent dig which uncovered his bones under a social services car park in Leicester.  It's arranged in alternate chapters of straight history and fundraising/archaeology/fannishness.  Michael Jones seems to play it quite straight with the history - he's sympathetic to Richard but also concedes his ruthlessness in some circumstances. Phillipa Langley is the first to admit her partiality, but her account of how the dig was arranged is fascinating for anyone (like me) who's worked as a volunteer around an established dig; I could sort of have done without her repeated stressing of her intuition as to where the body was buried, but as she turned out to be right, and as her obsession was a large part of getting the job done in the first place, fair play to her!

The people's songs, by Stuart Maconie. London: Ebury Press, 2013.

I'd forgotten to review this, until I had a short exchange with the chap himself on Twitter earlier and realised that this had had to go back to the library sharpish at the time because there were other people in the queue behind me, so it hadn't hung around on the review pile... This is the book of the recent Radio 4 series - because this is arranged chronologically, and the series wasn't, and I managed only to dip into the series and catch up with more episodes on iPlayer, I'm not quite sure whether these are the scripts for the series slightly elaborated and without the additional voices of people who remember the era, or not.  But actually, that won't matter now the series has ended; it stands up as a book. What you get here is 50 short essays on life in Britain during and after the Second World War, each introduced by one representative track.  So the Asian experience in the UK is represented by Brimful of Asha; pop's social conscience by Do They Know It's Christmas?; Britain's changing climate for LGBT people by Smalltown Boy, etc... This could be an unsophisticated way of looking at the subject - but it's Maconie, so obviously it's way better than that.  These are thoughtful, thought-provoking, entertaining pieces; and it goes without saying that there's a lot of humour, too.

The detective's daughter, by Lesley Thomson. Kindle edition.

Terry Darnell, a detective who's carried on investigating a twenty-year-old crime into his retirement, is found dead outside a Co-Op in the town where the victim was buried.  The death's due to natural causes, but his daughter Stella has to deal with his effects and with clearing out his house, and becomes curious despite herself in the father she's been detached from for most of her life.  As she becomes more and more interested in the mystery, her entirely organised life (running a cleaning business, living in a brand-new spotless flat, dumping the boyfriend when it's all too complicated) also begins to disintegrate, and she makes the acquaintance of Jack, a superb cleaner but a deeply private man... I enjoyed this, despite finding the main character almost entirely unsympathetic throughout, and despite finding a couple of holes in the plot difficult to deal with.  Definitely worth reading.

Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 books, #91-95

Death's door, by Jim Kelly [audiobook].  Read by Roger May. Oxford: Isis, 2012.

On a hot August day in 1994, 76 holidaymakers travel to an island off the North Norfolk coast; only 75 come back. 20 years later, the cold case is revived with the aid of DNA evidence off a beach towel, and the survivors are invited for a mass screening. One of them, Marianne Osborne, is found dead in her bed. Is there a link? As ever, the North Norfolk coast is like another character in this book featuring DI Shaw and DS Valentine, and the finale comes as a genuine surprise.

I am half sick of shadows, by Alan Bradley. [S.l.]: Anchor Canada, 2012.

Flavia de Luce, eleven-year-old chemist and amateur sleuth, is engaged in a plot to trap Santa Claus in the chimneys of her family's crumbling pile at Buckford. Meanwhile, her father has found a way of shoring up the family's fortunes by renting out the stately home to a visiting film company, including the star Phyllis Wyvern. The whole village turns up to see a charity show at Buckford, and is then snowed in; and in the morning, Ms Wyvern is found dead. Flavia investigates.  This is a lovely book - Flavia shouldn't be an engaging character, but her combination of innocence and bookish knowledge are quite delightful, and the rest of the cast of characters are quite fascinating.

Faithless, by Karin Slaughter [audiobook]. Read by LJ Ganser. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2006.

Sara Linton and Jeffrey Tolliver are walking in the woods when they stumble (literally) upon a buried box which contains the body of a teenage girl; it's obvious that the girl was buried alive. The girl's family are part of an isolated religious community, one which likes to keep its secrets to itself. Also investigating is Lena Adams, a woman who has secrets of her own to hide.  As ever, Slaughter writes a well-constructed, fast-paced thriller with some interesting characters.

Winter in Madrid, by C J Sansom. Kindle edition.

Harry Brett, a traumatised Dunkirk veteran, is sent back to Madrid as a spy; previously, he'd been there during the Spanish Civil War. His quarry is Sandy Forsyth, a former schoolmate. Sandy's "wife" Barbara has her own secrets - she's discovered that her ex-boyfriend Bernie Piper, a soldier with the International Brigades, may still be alive in a prison camp, and is determined to rescue him.  This is a dense, intertwined novel, and very moving in parts. I found the ending somewhat disappointing, but it's a good read for all that.

The death of Lucy Kyte, by Nicola Upson [audiobook]. Read by Sandra Duncan. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2013.

Josephine Tey has inherited her godmother's house in Suffolk; her godmother was an actress who specialised in playing Maria Martin, the victim of the Murder in the Red Barn, in melodrama.  The house overlooks the site of the Red Barn, and there's something very odd about it.  Josephine begins to investigate, and becomes entwined in the life of both her godmother and the writer of a mysterious diary.  I love these books, and the combination of a historical mystery and a real-life figure is something I think Ms Tey would approve...