Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lock In: John Scalzi

Description on the dust jacket flap:
Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.
A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as "Haden’s syndrome," rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

Lock In by John Scalzi was my favorite read in January. There are so many wonderful aspects of this book, and some of them I cannot talk about without spoiling some of the book. Later I may decide to talk about some of those points in a second post but not now.

I do like some science fiction books, but that is a small portion of my reading. Since I started this blog, I have read two books by John Scalzi, both in the Old Man's War series, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. I avoided them for a while, even though I was a John Scalzi fan before he published his first book. I first encountered him as a reviewer of DVDs and then discovered his wonderful blog called Whatever.

I avoided the Old Man's War series because they are military science fiction and I thought I would not like that. I did like both of the ones I read. Scalzi's books in that series feature older humans who have elected to fight for the Colonial Defense Forces on other planets. They make this choice because the CDF will reverse the flow of aging. The volunteers are willing to risk military service and its dangers for a chance at a new life.

For this book, Scalzi goes in a whole new direction. This is a thriller set in the near future. The story picks up about 20 years after the world-wide epidemic, when technological breakthroughs have been developed to the point where the victims of the disease who have been locked in can move around, talk, and function in society in a robotic device while their bodies are lying in a bed elsewhere. The ramifications of a life like this and the society which deals with it is explored via a murder mystery.

An extra bonus for me was that Scalzi wrote a prequel novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome. I enjoy reading fiction told in that style. says the novella "traces the medical history behind a virus that will sweep the globe and affect the majority of the world’s population, setting the stage for Lock In". Reviewers at Goodreads were divided as to whether the prequel helped in reading Lock In or not. From my point of view, it enhanced the experience of reading the novel. It is available for free at I paid a small amount for a Kindle version because I wanted to have it available to reread.

An article at the Huffington Post addresses how this book covers ideas and prejudices about disabilities. Obviously the book is about a section of the population that has been severely disabled, and the unique approach that was taken to deal with this. Honestly, while I was reading the book I did not spend a lot of time thinking about this. My focus was more on what life would be like for individuals who experienced their lives through a prosthesis, and the mystery.

Two posts of interest at insight into the cover design by designer Peter Lutjen and insight into John Scalzi's writing process for this book.

As far as recommending this book, I am on the fence. I loved the book. Obviously I would love for everyone to read it. But some readers don't want any elements of sci fi in their books, and this book would not be for them. Readers who prefer pure mystery novels may not find this satisfactory. I thought the mystery was fine and exciting, but I don't really care if it is a fairly-clued mystery or not. (I am not saying this one was or wasn't; I just did not notice.) This book looks at questions about disabilities and relationships and prejudice as much as it explores technology or a hunt for a killer, so if that sounds good to you, please give it a try.


Publisher:    Tor Books, 2014
Length:        334 pages
Format:        Hardcover
Setting:        Near future Washington, D.C.
Genre:         Sci fi thriller
Source:        I purchased this book.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Deal Me In 2015: Story #2 ("The Mouse in the Corner" by Ruth Rendell)

Every other week in 2015 I will be drawing one card from a deck to randomly pick from a group of short shories. This is an experiment to see if I will grow to appreciate short stories more if I give them a chance. As usual I have gotten very into this new project and wish I had chosen to read one a week. (My Deal Me In list of short stories is hereJay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.)

So far I have had only good experiences. My second card was the 10 of hearts, and the story is "The Mouse in the Corner" by Ruth Rendell. Ruth Rendell is an author of mystery and suspense novels, but she also has written a lot of short stories. This one was first published in 1991 in Esquire Magazine, but I found the story in a collection titled 1st Culprit: A Crime Writers' Annual edited by Liza Cody and Michael Z. Lewin.

"The Mouse in the Corner" is an Inspector Wexford story. Rendell has written a long series featuring Wexford and his second-in-command, Mike Burden. In this short mystery, Wexford is investigating the death of Tom Peterlee, beaten to death in his own home. His body is discovered by his stepdaughter, Arlene, who lives in a caravan close by. Tom and his wife, his brother and his wife, and his mother all live in separate cottages in very close proximity to each other. Wexford thinks that Tom's wife is the guilty party but she is alibied by a friend who lives nearby. He keeps returning to talk to Arlene to try to break down her testimony.

At least in the earlier books in the series, Mike Burden is an opinionated and prejudiced man. This story gives a glimpse of that behavior and the contrast between Mike and his boss.
Why was he so sure Arlene Heddon had the answer? Mike Burden, his second-in-command at Kingsmarkham CID, said with contempt that at any rate she was more attractive than the sister-in-law and the widow. With his usual distaste for those whose lives failed to approximate fairly closely to his own, he spoke scathingly of ‘the Peterlee girl’ as if having no job and no proper roof over one’s head directly conduced to homicide.
‘Her name,’ Wexford said rather dourly, ‘is Heddon. It was her father’s name. Heather Peterlee, if you remember, was a Mrs Heddon before she re-married.’ He added, wondering as he did so why he bothered to indulge Burden’s absurd prejudices. ‘A widow, incidentally.’
Quick as a flash, Burden came back with, ‘What did her first husband die of?’
‘Oh God, Mike, some bone disease. We went into all that. But back to Arlene Heddon; she’s a very intelligent young woman, you know.’
‘No, I don’t know. You must be joking. Intelligent girls don’t live on benefit in caravans with unemployed welders.’
‘What a snob you are.’
‘Married welders. I’m not just a snob, I’m a moralist. Intelligent girls do well at school, go on to further education, get suitable well-paid jobs and buy themselves homes on mortgages.’
‘Somehow and somewhere along the line Arlene Heddon missed out on that. In any case, I didn’t say she was academically inclined. She’s sharp, she’s clever, she’s got a good brain.’
In the end, Wexford gets the answer but not the one he expected. The story has some interesting social commentary and a twist at the end.

The story is quite substantial and satisfying. It was made into an episode of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries in 1992.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Villain: Shuichi Yoshida

From the  Random House website:
A chilling and seductive story of loneliness, desperation, and murder, Villain is the English-language debut of one of Japan’s most popular writers. 
 A woman is killed at a ghostly mountain pass in southern Japan and the local police quickly pinpoint a suspect. But as the puzzle pieces of the crime slowly click into place, new questions arise. Is a villain simply the person who commits a crime or are those who feel no remorse for malicious behavior just as guilty? Moving from office parks and claustrophobic love hotels to desolate seaside towns and lighthouses, Shuichi Yoshida’s dark thriller reveals the inner lives of men and women who all have something to hide.

This novel had contrasting elements. This story is much more in the thriller vein than other Japanese mysteries I have read. The pacing is slow at times, but there is plenty of action at several points in the story. The tension heightens at the end.

The author focuses on the primary characters involved in the murder and the peripheral characters whose lives are affected by it. I enjoyed the way the story was told, from multiple points of view. The narrative goes back and forth between events before the murder and the search for the suspects. The story of the parents of the victim and the grandparents of one of the suspects was just as interesting to me as the story of the murder and the hunt for various suspects. This story is bleak. However, I did not find it a depressing read.

See also reviews by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading and Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog. Keishon's post is a discussion between Keishon and another blogger with some spoilers.

One of the points that both of these reviews make was that the US cover with the gun made up of human bones bears no relation to the story. That is very true. But it is a cool cover and if I had not seen the cover in a bookstore several years ago, I probably would not have read this book.


Publisher:   Pantheon Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2007)
Translator:  Philip Gabriel
Length:       295 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Japan
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Salvation of a Saint: Keigo Higashino

This was one of the last books I read in 2014. I read it for the Japanese Literary Challenge 8 hosted by Dolce Bellezza.

Description from the dust jacket of the edition I read:
Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X was widely proclaimed one of the best books of the year and a finalist for the world’s top award in crime fiction. The first major English-language publication from the most popular writer in Japan, it was acclaimed by critics as “stunning,” “brilliant,” and “ingenious.” Now physics professor Manabu Yukawa –Detective Galileo – returns in a new case of impossible murder, where instincts clash with facts, and theory with reality.
When a man who was about to leave his marriage is poisoned to death, his wife becomes the logical suspect, except for one simple fact: She was hundreds of miles away when he was murdered. Tokyo police detective Kusanagi and his assistant, Kaoru Utsumi, cannot agree on a suspect. Was it his wife, his girlfriend, his business associate? Or was this a random crime? When they call upon their secret weapon, Professor Manabu Yukawa, even his brilliant mind is challenged by a crime that is implausible, methodical, and perfect.

The Japanese  crime fiction novels I have read are not thrillers, but more like character studies, looking into the how and why of the crime. This one is a locked room mystery, and although the puzzle to be solved in this one is very ingenious, I am not usually into that type of story. Nevertheless, there were many elements of the story I found interesting and entertaining.

The detectives seem to be at odds or in competition. There is a new young detective, Utsumi, bringing in new ideas. The head detective, Kusanagi, is in disagreement with her almost immediately. He is also at odds with his old friend, Yukawa. Because the two detectives have very different ideas about who the murderer is, Utsumi goes to the professor and asks for his help. He is reluctant at first, and Kusanagi is less than thrilled at his interference.

This story explores the how and why of the murder less than who did it.  It also delves into relationships and behavior of many of those involved. The importance of children in this culture is emphasized. A lot of the story revolves around the inability of Ayane to have a child, and her husband's reaction to this. The couple's friends have a new baby and are proud and happy.

Although I preferred The Devotion of Suspect X, this book was also very good. It had more aspects of a police procedural, which was a plus for me, and I liked the new young detective it introduced.

See Margot's view at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2012 (orig. pub. 2008)
Translator:  Alexander O. Smith with Elye Alexander
Length:       330 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Professor Galileo, #2
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.

Monday, January 19, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: Alan Bradley

I have enjoyed all six previous entries in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  I never expected to like a series about an eleven-year-old girl who investigates crimes, but I was won over by the first book. Each book has been entertaining and fun. The books are set in post World War II Britain, in the village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia is the youngest daughter (around 11 years old) in the de Luce family; she lives with her two sisters and their father in a very old country house that requires a lot of upkeep. Her mother died when she was young. Each member of the family is unique, and none of them communicate their feelings very well.

The sixth book resolves the plot thread of Flavia's missing mother. Now the series has moved to Canada. Flavia, now 12 years old, has been sent to a girls' school in Toronto, Canada. At Miss Bodycote's Female Academy she is to continue her education and learn some unnamed ancient arts in her mother's old school. Almost as soon as Flavia gets settled in her room at the school, a charred body comes crashing down out of her bedroom chimney. As Flavia investigates this occurrence, she discovers that more than one girl has mysteriously disappeared from the school.

This book did keep me entertained, but it was not up to the standard of earlier books. I thought I was going to like the move to a new setting; I like to read books set in Canada and the author is Canadian, but the Canadian setting did not work as well for me. There were descriptions of Toronto, but most of the book is set in the very strange Female Academy. That institution and its inhabitants strained my ability to suspend disbelief even more than earlier books. In previous books there have always been interesting secondary characters, even the ones that show up for only one book. There was no depth to any new character in this story.The plot seemed disjointed. The mystery is solved but the many questions Flavia has about her new school (a secret society, who can she trust, what is she actually there to learn?) are left unresolved.

Alan Bradley's books about Flavia have never failed to pull me in and keep me interested and entertained. I credit Bradley's superb storytelling ability for that. Flavia is a wonderful character. Where this book was lacking was in plot and  characterization and the storytelling could not overcome that.

I would like to note that most reviews of this book were very positive. I refer to some below. Some reviews point out the issues I had but did not consider them serious drawbacks. So if you like this series, don't let this review deter you. And if you want to try it, I suggest starting with an earlier stronger book. I would read them in order, but many readers of the series say that each can stand alone.

See other reviews at Bookloons, Peggy Ann's Post, the Montreal Gazette, Publisher's Weekly.


Publisher:   Delacorte Press, 2015
Length:       384 pages
Format:      ebook
Setting:      Toronto, Canada
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:      Provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge 2015

I am again participating in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. The Challenge is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. For the 2014 challenge, Bev used a bingo card format and she is continuing with that format this year.

Vintage Mystery BINGO Challenge 2015:

There are two choices, and Challengers can go for both challenges or just for one. There is a Silver Age or Golden Age Card.

For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960.

Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they include no stories first published later than 1989.

There lots of rules and explanations, so if you are interested in the challenge, click on the link above.

This year, as last year, I will attempt to get BINGOs for both Gold and Silver vintage mysteries. It will be interesting to see if I actually make any BINGOs. Last year I struggled, because I did not plan the books I read. Even so I got a total of 3 BINGOs between the two challenges.

I am including one of the BINGO cards, in case you are curious. The Gold and Silver cards are almost identical.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Deal Me In 2015: Story #1 (Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl)

The first card I drew for the Deal Me In Short Story challenge was the 6 of Spades. Thus, my first story is "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl.

This was one of the few stories in my Deal Me In list that  I was already familiar with, by reputation. It had been discussed under the topic of unusual murder weapons. This story is in a collection of mystery stories, and the theme of the collection is food and eating. When I chose this story for my list, I had no idea how well known it is.

Mary Maloney waits eagerly for her husband, a policeman, to come home from work; it is their regular night to go out for dinner. She is six months pregnant, and is portrayed  as a loving wife. When her husband arrives, he is short with her, and decides to break some bad news to her; that he will be leaving her but she will be taken care of. She finds it difficult to believe or to react to; on automatic, she goes into the kitchen to prepare supper.

This story was chilling and dark but not depressing. It was a great read and it was not what I expected, even knowing a bit about it going in.

Reading this story has convinced me to try more Roald Dahl short stories. While looking into the story I saw some comparisons to another story by this author, "The Landlady." I read it and it is just as chilling as "Lamb to the Slaughter." That story won the 1960 Edgar for Best Short Story. In 1954, Dahl won the Best Short Story Edgar for "Someone Like You."

I read this story in Murder on the Menu, but it has been reprinted in many collections. It is available online here or here.


My Deal Me In list of short stories is here. Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Books of 1915: The 39 Steps by John Buchan

John Buchan's The 39 Steps was an early spy thriller. Some articles credit Buchan as being the father of the modern spy thriller; others say this about Eric Ambler. This is a hard book to review. As Col at Col's Criminal Library said in his review, there is not much I can add that hasn't been covered in all the other reviews and articles online. This is my contribution to the Past Offences Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge for 1915.

What did I think of The 39 Steps? I enjoyed reading the book, but I did wonder why it has been on so many lists of best crime fiction stories.  It is a short book, like many written at that time, and I read it very quickly. I did have problems with bigotry and casual racial slurs in the telling of the story but that is not unusual in books of that time. I was reading this book more as an educational experience (a classic written during a time period that I am interested in), rather than expecting to really like it, but it turned out to be an entertaining read all the same.

The action in this book takes place before Britain enters World War I. Richard Hannay is living a quiet life in London, and is very, very bored. He has left behind a more exciting life in South Africa. A mysterious man named Scudder enters his flat and requests that he be able to stay with Hannay for a few days, telling him about a plot to assassinate a foreign official who will be visiting soon. The man ends up dead, and Hannay is determined to follow through and get the information he has gleaned from this stranger to the right authorities. He is motivated somewhat by fear that he will be blamed for Scudder's death but he seems brave, although not sure of his abilities to avoid being captured by the enemy. He also has been taught well about how to blend in and appear to be what he is not.
Peter once discussed with me the question of disguises, and he had a theory which struck me at the time. He said, barring absolute certainties like fingerprints, mere physical traits were very little use for identification if the fugitive really knew his business. He laughed at things like dyed hair and false beards ...
If a man could get into perfectly different surroundings from those in which he had been first observed, and - this is the important part - really play up to these surroundings and behave as if he had never been out of them, he would puzzle the cleverest detectives on earth.
I found it problematic that things go too well for him and he never seems to be in real danger. Yet I was still entertained. His self-doubt and deprecation were appealing compared to the heroes of some current action thrillers.

Although I read a lot of vintage crime fiction, I do have a bias against reading really old books (late 19th century or early 20th century) because of stereotypes and the lack of good female characters in general. Yet having decided to read the book, I tried to not to judge it by the standards of today's writing. I was bothered (and surprised) that only men really figured in this story. Women characters featured only briefly and just as helpers to get him on his  way. This is a major difference from the 1935 Hitchcock adaptation, but the book was probably more realistic.

There are many resources online regarding John Buchan's books and his life. Here are some I found of interest:
I acquired my paperback copy at the Planned Parenthood book sale last September. With its small and faded type, it was hard to read but I love the cover. See this post at Killer Covers which includes information about this cover and the cover artist.


Publisher:  Popular Library, 1963. Orig. pub. 1915.
Length:     142 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Richard Hannay, #1
Setting:     UK, Scotland
Genre:      Adventure, spy thriller
Source:     Purchased my copy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Read Scotland 2014 Wrap Up and Sign Up for 2015

Peggy from Peggy Ann's Post sponsored the Read Scotland reading challenge last year. 

The goal of the challenge was: Read and review Scottish books -- any genre, any form -- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland.

My personal goal was the lowest level: Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books read.

Here is what I read:

Peggy is continuing the Read Scotland challenge for 2015. The rules are similar; check them out HERE and sign up. 

The basics are:
  • Challenge runs January 1 to December 31, 2015.  
  • You don't have to have a blog to participate.
  • There is a Goodreads group for the challenge.
 I am again signing up for the Just A Keek level: 1-4 books read.

These are the books I said I might read in 2014, and you will note that I read none of them in 2014:

Ann Cleeves
Red Bones
Blue Lightning
A. D. Scott (profiled by Peggy here) 
A Small Death in the Great Glen
A Double Death On the Black Isle
Beneath the Abbey Wall
Brian Ruckley
The Edinburgh Dead
Ed James
Ghost in the Machine
Devil in the Detail

From comments in last year's sign up post, here are some other authors I am considering:

Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, Gordon Ferris, Arthur Conan Doyle, Kate Atkinson. More Denise Mina and Catriona McPherson.

Another author I have read already in 2015: John Buchan. The first book I read this year was The 39 Steps.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The German Agent: J. Sydney Jones

From the author's blog, Scene of the Crime:
February, 1917. A lone German agent is dispatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson – by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news which is sure to bring the USA into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
 Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram.

I know far less about World War I than I do about World War II.  The subject matter in this book was very interesting to me. I did enjoy reading about this time period and the specific incident in history that this book is built around (the Zimmerman telegram). The characters including people from all walks of life and pointed up the differences in their lives and views. However I did have some problems with the book.

The characterization is very thin in this novel. The most convincing character is Max Volkman, the German spy dedicating himself to thwarting the delivery of the Zimmerman telegram to the President of the United States. I sympathized with Volkman; his motivation is to prevent the US from joining the war because he does not want to see many, many more people killed or injured if the war stretches out longer and longer.

His search leads him to a well-to-do, well-connected couple in Washington, D.C. The man, Edward Fitzgerald, is older; his much younger wife, Catherine, an amateur photographer, would like to be taken seriously by her husband. She is treated like a child and shielded from his problems. Coincidence brings Volkman and Catherine together more than once. Catherine's motivation and role was not developed enough to be convincing  to me.

The pacing of the novel is very slow in the first half. It improved greatly in the second half, and if I was only reviewing that half of the book, I would be much more enthusiastic.

There are interesting elements along the way. I had the most sympathy with the police inspector in charge of the case. He knows he is in over his head and wants desperately to do a good job, but runs into roadblocks. The doubts and hopes of each of the characters related to the involvement of the US in the war and the horrors of war were described well.

The author also writes a historical mystery series, the Viennese Mystery series, including The Empty Mirror,  Requiem in Vienna,  The Silence,  The Keeper of Hands,  and  A Matter of Breeding.  He has received much praise for that series. Jones lived for many years in Vienna and has written several other books about the city (some of them non-fiction). He also published a stand-alone thriller, Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich, in 2013. I will be trying that book and one of the Viennese Mysteries.

J. Sydney Jones' article on The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman at the Rap Sheet.

An interview, in which the author discusses his inspiration for writing The German Agent.

Review of The German Agent by J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus.


Publisher:   Severn House, 2015 (orig. pub. in UK, 2014)
Length:       224 pages
Format:       ebook
Setting:       US, 1914
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:       Provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New (to me) Authors: 4th Quarter 2014

At the end of every quarter, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise hosts a meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors. Check out other posts for this quarter.

I considered skipping this meme this time ... as I am so far behind and my energy is lagging after the holidays. But then I checked out which new authors I had read in the last quarter of 2014, and there were so many wonderful authors I had tried for the first time. I had to write about them.

These are the books by authors that are new-to-me this quarter:

Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin
The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill
Enigma by Robert Harris
Garnethill by Denise Mina
The Jasmine Trade by Denise Hamilton
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
Firecrest by Victor Canning
Holiday Homicide by Rufus King 
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

Several of the books are set in interesting locations (and times) that I have little familiarity with. Siren of the Waters is set in post-Soviet Slovakia and nearby countries. The Coroner's Lunch is set in Laos in 1976 following the Communist takeover of that country. The Ghosts of Belfast is set in post-Troubles Northern Ireland. These books provide historical and geographical insights and they are all well-written, compelling stories.

I found Garnethill by Denise Mina to be a dark and uncomfortable read. The story deals with tough topics: incest, patient abuse, drugs, unemployment, dysfunctional families. Yet it has a wonderful protagonist in Maureen O'Donnell, and I want to read more about her.

Enigma by Robert Harris is an espionage story and it is set during World War II -- perfect for me. The story, set at Bletchley Park in the UK, uses the code breaking efforts there as a background for a mystery. I am eager to try more of the author's books.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Late Phoenix: Catherine Aird

From the summary at Rue Morgue Press:
Young Dr. Latimer has no sooner opened his surgery on Lamb Lane in Berebury than he is called upon to examine a dead body. Actually a skeleton, it was discovered during the excavation of the bomb site across the street, now in the process of redevelopment, and it belonged to a young woman who was apparently trapped in a cellar during the June 1941 bombing which leveled the houses on the site. ... First published in 1970, it's the author's fifth book and the fourth to feature her durable Inspector Sloan.
I have read the first four books in the Inspector Sloan series by Catherine Aird, and I am a fan of this author. I like the police procedural aspects. In addition, each book I have read so far has a different theme or setting. The Stately Home Murder is about a death in a 300-room estate that has been open to the public for tours. It is humorous and pokes fun at the Golden Age country house mystery, but in a nice way. The second book in the series, Henrietta Who?, concerns a young woman who discovers that the woman who has raised her is not really her mother. Thus it addresses the theme of identity within the framework of a murder investigation.

This book is different because it is about the investigation of a death that occurred during World War II. The book was written in and takes place in 1970, but Inspector Sloan is forced to learn more about history, the war, and events in the village during the war. Clearly Sloan must have been fairly young during the blackouts because he has to rely on the library to help him with some of his investigation of events that took place 30 years earlier. It is like investigating a cold case, but not, since no one even knew about the death until the body was discovered.

Reading this book was a bonus for me because I love books about World War II. Although the book was not set in that time, the investigation concerns the events of the war and addresses effects that the war had on communities for years afterwards.

Some reviews complain about the lack of characterization in the Sloan novels. Aird is given more credit for her plotting than her character development. Yet I did not find that to be true. No one character -- other than Sloan -- is prominent. Yet some of the secondary characters are very interesting. The young Dr. Latimer is new to the community and is enjoying his job and striving to fit in. His office manager is adjusting to working under a new doctor and misses the previous doctor, who she had worked with for decades. I also liked the picture of relationships within the small community.

Of course, when I was looking for book covers with skulls, and happened upon the next book in this series with this gorgeous cover, I had to get a copy.


Publisher:   Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971 (orig. pub. 1970)
Length:      179 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspector Sloan #4
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Books Read in December and Pick of the Month

December was a good month for reading but not so good for reviewing. Still have five books from this month left to review... and I do like to review all of the fiction I read.

Even though now it seems like 2014 and December are long gone, I also like to keep a record of what I have read in each month ... so here's my list for December:

December Heat by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
A Late Phoenix by Catherine Aird
Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod
The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell
Firecrest by Victor Canning
Holiday Homicide by Rufus King
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. You can go HERE to see other posts and choices for favorite crime fiction reads.

Most of the books I read last month were very good, so again it is hard to pick a favorite. I think I will split my choice between December Heat by Garcia-Roza and The Ghosts of Belfast by Neville. Both books were fairly dark, but they were different from most crime fiction I read and they are both set in locales I am unfamiliar with.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

BINGO! Vintage Mystery Challenge 2014 Results

Every year since 2012 I have participated in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. The Challenge is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. For the Vintage Mystery BINGO Challenge 2014 version she used a bingo card format.

Vintage Mystery BINGO Challenge 2014 Rules:
For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Check the link for further info.

These are the books I read for the GOLDEN edition of the challenge:

G1: Color in the Title   The Indigo Necklace by Frances Crane
G2:  Set anywhere except the US or England   Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

O1:  Book published under More Than One Title   The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald
O2:  Number in the Title   The Count of Nine by Erle Stanley Gardner

L2: Book that has been made into a Movie   The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald
L3:  Amateur Detective  The Danger Within by Michael Gilbert
L5:  Country House Mystery  Death Has a Past by Anita Boutell

D1: An author you've read before     Double for Death by Rex Stout
D2:  Book with a Lawyer   A Case for Mr. Crook by Anthony Gilbert
D3:  Read by a Fellow Challenger  The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout
D4:  Professional detective     Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson
D5:  Mystery that involves water       Holiday Homicide by Rufus King
D6:  Outside Comfort Zone   (Using FREE SPACE: Author not read before):  
The Davidian Report by Dorothy B. Hughes

E1: Detective "Team"   Murder Within Murder by Richard and Frances Lockridge
E5:  Set in England    The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris

N6:  Set in the USA   Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers

For the Gold Edition, I achieved two Bingos... AND I was very surprised that I did that.
  1. The D column was a Bingo, using the FREE space for one category.
  2. The second Bingo was this DIAGONAL: G1, 02, L3, D4, E5, and N6.

This year, Bev added a new twist to the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. There are two "editions" to the challenge. The Silver Edition covers mysteries written in the three decades following the Golden Age of mystery writing. For the purposes of this challenge, the Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Short story collections (whether published pre-1990 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1990. 

These are the books I read for the SILVER edition of the challenge:

S2:  Set anywhere except the US or England   Sleep While I Sing by L. R. Wright
S5:  Academic Mystery    Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod
S6:  Set in the entertainment world      Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham

I6:  Book with a Woman in the Title   Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird

L2:  Book Made into a Movie   In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

V1:  Book by an Author You've read before     Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
V2:  Book with a Courtroom   Time's Witness by Michael Malone
V3:  Book read by a Fellow Challenger    A Hearse on May-Day by Gladys Mitchell
V4:  Book with a Professional Detective    The Death of a Butterfly by Margaret Maron
V5:  Mystery that involves water    Horse Under Water by Len Deighton
V6:  Outside Comfort Zone   (Using FREE SPACE: Book Set in England)  
Skeleton in Search of a Cupboard by Elizabeth Ferrars

E1:  Book with a Detective Team    The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout
E2:  Book with a Day, Time, Month, etc. in the Title   The Night the Gods Smiled by Eric Wright

R1:  Book with an Animal in the title      Firecrest by Victor Canning

For the Silver Edition, I achieved one Bingo.  The V column is a Bingo using the FREE space for one category.

Check out other Bingo wrap up posts HERE. Some bloggers completed entire Bingo cards.