Showing posts with label Ann Cleeves. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ann Cleeves. Show all posts

Friday, 23 November 2018

My Year in Books 2018: October

Okay, it's another delayed post from me. But better late than never, I guess. Another month of sticking to my New Year's resolution. I found time to read four novels for pleasure in October (though I don't appear to have been very varied in my genre choice - it's all crime fiction this month!), so here are my short reviews of the titles I read.

(You can read all the other posts from this year here: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September)

I'll Keep You Safe by Peter May (2018)

I’m a big fan of Peter May’s novels. I loved the Lewis trilogy and reread the Enzo MacLeod books a couple of times. My mum and my mother-in-law are both fans as well, and it just so happened that both of them got a copy of I’ll Keep You Safe at the same time – and then they both offered to lend me their copy when they’d finished, so I raced them! My mum won (just), so I read her copy of the book. This is a book that I’d heard May talk about prior to its completion. He described it as ‘From Paris to Harris’ (though it turns out that the Hebridean portion of the book is set in Lewis, not Harris). Ruairidh and Niamh Macfarlane are the owners and creators of the Ranish Tweed fabric brand. During a trip to Paris Fashion Week, Niamh learns that Ruairidh has been having an affair, but then almost immediately witnesses her husband and his lover killed by a car bomb. She returns to Lewis bereft, but – of course – there are further revelations to come. I do enjoy Peter May’s writing, but this wasn’t one of my favourites. I loved the flashback sections describing Ruairidh and Niamh’s relationship, but the ‘present day’ crime chapters were a bit plodding and predictable. It’s a shame, because I think I probably would have been more than happy to have read a book just about the Macfarlanes and Ranish Tweed (though that might have been less marketable!).

The Secret Place by Tana French (2014)

Earlier in the year, I read a few of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels out of sequence, so managed to miss out the fifth one. This month, I finally read The Secret Place. The book sees the return of Stephen Moran (a minor character in Faithful Place) and teams him up with Antoinette Conway, a prickly and unpopular member of the Murder Squad, for the first time. The book begins with Holly Mackey – daughter of the main detective in Faithful Place – telling Moran about a development in a year-old murder investigation at her school. Moran grudgingly passes the information on to Conway, but on the understanding that he’ll be able to join the investigation. The two visit Holly’s boarding school to reopen the inquiry into the murder of Chris Harper, a pupil at the neighbouring boys’ school. The prime suspects are two cliques of girls – Holly and her friends, and a rival group – and the book switches between the police investigation and flashbacks to Holly’s gang’s involvement with Chris Harper, but also (more significantly) with each other. Like In the Woods, it’s as much about friendship as it is about a murder investigation. It’s not quite as good as In the Woods and Broken Harbour, but I preferred it to The Trespasser. Oh, and ignore any reviews that criticise the so-called ‘unexplained supernatural element’ – there’s a single, beautiful sentence that explains everything towards the end of the book, which reminded me just why I’m a fan of French’s work.

The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves (2001)

Clearly, I wasn’t feeling very experimental this month so I seem to have stuck to writers I know. The Sleeping and the Dead is one of Cleeves’s standalone novels, so not part of the Vera or Shetland series. The book begins with the discovery of a long-dead body in a lake. Detective Peter Porteous (who is quite an unusual detective, not because he has a lot of eccentric quirks, but because he’s so calm and self-contained throughout the investigation) quickly narrows down the possibilities for identification, before concluding that the body must be that of Michael Grey, a young man who hasn’t been seen since the 1970s. Michael was an enigmatic man, who arrived in the local area to live with foster parents in his final year at school. No one appears to know where Michael came from or who his family was. The book switches between Porteous’s investigation and the story of Hannah Morton, a prison officer who was once Michael’s girlfriend. Hannah reminisces on her relationship with Michael, but also finds herself drawn into the investigation more directly (and dangerously) than she’d like. I was really drawn into this story and found myself engaged with Hannah’s story (and the mysterious Michael, of course). However, I’m not sure the mystery really went anywhere. It’s definitely a page-turner, but the denouement and explanation was a little bit of an anti-climax. There was also a bit of a tricksy coincidence that had to be swallowed on the journey to the resolution.

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James (1967)

Okay, I know I sort of concluded last time that P.D. James wasn’t for me. But I got a really nasty cold towards the end of the month, and I just wanted some comfort reading (aka a whodunnit). I couldn’t find any Golden Age stuff that I fancied, so I thought I’d give James another whirl. And this one started off well. Adam Dalgliesh (admittedly not my favourite literary detective) is staying with his Aunt Jane (not Jane Marple) in Suffolk when one of the neighbours is found murdered and mutilated. The victim was a crime novelist, and he appears to have been killed with a method taken from his own writing. The other residents of the little village are all suspects, though some big crime types in that London also drift in and out of the frame. I loved the chapters in the village, with the vague air of menace that surrounded even mundane social interactions. However, the plot was at once convoluted and underexplained. I’m still not totally sure why that particular far-fetched method of murder (and the mutilation) was chosen. James isn’t too hot on clues (unlike my beloved Agatha), but I still guessed the culprit here. I also don’t quite get what was going on with Dalgliesh’s personal life. Did he break up with his girlfriend at the end? Or not? And why was he being so randomly aloof? To be fair, I’m probably going to stick with the Dalgliesh novels now – but just for completism.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

My Year in Books 2018: June

So, I'm still clinging on to my New Year's Resolution to read more for pleasure. After a bit of a rubbish May, I did manage to find time for three novels in June. Not quite hitting my target, but to be fair work has been crazy busy.

Before I get to my three June books, just a reminder that you can see the other books I've read in 2018 here: January, February, March, April, May

Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves (2003)

I was round at my parents’ house at the beginning of the month and decided to ask my mum for some book recommendations (because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to read next). I think I asked for ‘something where the past comes back to haunt the present’ and ‘something a bit like Peter May’. She lent me two books, and the first one I read was Burial of Ghosts. I’ve never read any of Ann Cleeves’ novels before. I love the ITV Vera series, but I struggled to get into the BBC’s Shetland. Burial of Ghosts is a standalone, though, so I thought it’d be a good introduction to Cleeves’ writing. The book follows troubled young woman Lizzie Bartholomew, a social worker forced to take leave from work due to dark incidents that we learn about through fragmentary flashbacks. On holiday in Morocco, Lizzie has a quick fling with a man named Philip. On her return to the UK, she’s shocked to find that Philip has died and left her a substantial bequest in his will. But in return, he wants her to do something for him… The story unfolds in a compelling way, and Lizzie is a rather offbeat protagonist. I did guess a couple of the twists and turns, but that didn’t really diminish my enjoyment of the story, which was as much about character development than a puzzle to be solved. This one is a recommendation, and I’ll probably read more of Cleeves’ work in future.

Sanctum by Denise Mina (2002)

This is the second book I borrowed from my mum this month. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first. Sanctum is written as a diary, kept by Lachlan Harriot after his wife Susie is convicted of the murder of violent serial killer Andrew Gow. As Lachlan begins to search through his wife’s papers for evidence to mount an appeal, he begins to doubt whether she really is innocent of the crime. The premise seemed pretty cool – and it’s certainly the sort of thing I like reading – but sadly I felt it fell down on the execution. My first problem was that – despite being rather unlikable – Lachlan is a completely reliable narrator. I spent the first half of the book assuming things would turn out to be different, but as it transpired his diary is just a straightforward description of events. Secondly – and more importantly – the ‘mystery’ here just isn’t that interesting, and the ‘reveal’ falls flat. Throughout the book, we’re led to believe that something earth-shattering lurks in Susie’s study – she repeatedly tells Lachlan à la Bluebeard NOT TO GO INTO THE ROOM. The difficulty with the Bluebeard story is that, of course, they always go into the room, so you must make sure there’s something pretty outstanding behind the door. And, unfortunately, there just isn’t in Sanctum. The final explanation, though prefaced with a couple of low-key clues, just didn’t seem worth all the locks Susie placed on the door. A bit disappointing.

Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson (2017)

Oh dear. If the last book was disappointing, this next one was downright frustrating. Again, this sounded right up my street: a contemporary murder mystery written in Golden Age style. I was promised a ‘love letter to Golden Age fiction’, and a ‘puzzle box of a mystery’. Instead, Miss Christie Regrets is a rather tame (and not particularly intriguing) crime novel with some overt references to older novels. It is the second in Fraser-Sampson’s Hampstead novels (I didn’t know this when I started reading it, and I haven’t read the first). A man has been murdered in an iconic Hampstead building, and detectives discover a connection to a decades-old body found in another location. A pedestrian investigation follows, in which detectives talk like characters from a 1930s novel but keep mentioning SOCOs and the problems of modern policing. Ultimately though, there are no ‘Golden Age’ style clues, no deductive reasoning, and one of the mysteries is solved when a character conveniently tops himself, leaving a helpfully detailed note (Agatha would not approve). Sadly, the book isn’t properly edited either, which mars any possible enjoyment of the plot. Numerous typos and inconsistencies are distracting, and a character’s name changes for three pages. I’d also say that the author has a bit of a problem with names: there are two Peters, two Toms, an Alan (first name) and an Allen (surname), a Collins and a Collison, a Victor Laszlo and a Timothy Evans. Overall, the book needed a thorough copy-edit and proof-read.