Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Posts tagged “review

Murderous Reviews: Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes – Denise Grover Swank (2011)

Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes (Rose Gardner Mystery #1)

Rose Gardner is a twenty-four year old innocent, living with her abusive and overly religious mother in Lafayette County, Arkansas. Her mother thinks Rose is demon possessed because she occasionally has visions of the future, as she does one morning at her job in the DMV office when a man called Daniel Crocker hands her his papers. She sees herself dead at the hands of Mr Crocker and collapses at her desk.
After being sent home she has a long overdue argument with her mother and storms out, but returns to find her mother murdered.
It’s a decent enough book with some good characterisation although one does get irritated with Rose occasionally for being a teensy bit dumb. You can’t accuse of her of not being brave, but one would have liked a little less cluelessness. The demographic for this novel is clearly young women and I am conscious that I am neither young nor a woman, but that fact does not directly relate to the flaws in this book.
Rose has a handsome young neighbour called Joe McAllister who is a man with a secret. It was fairly clear to me what that secret was very early on, but Rose doesn’t cotton on until it’s explained to her at the denouement.
The title refers to a list that Rose makes on the back of a Walmart receipt, a list of things that she has got to the age of twenty four without doing. So she sets about doing them. This is a nice device that weaves in and out of the plot, and sees Rose transformed from the mousey rowdy put-upon daughter to an attractive young woman. More could have been made of this and it’s a shame there wasn’t more of a character development throughout the book.
About 70% in it kind of loses its way and Joe’s ‘I can’t tell you what’s happening but I will next week’ act gets a tad tedious, as does the running joke about Rose’s dog’s toilet habits.
Stick with it though. It picks up and comes to a satisfactory conclusion.
Will I be reading more of Rose Gardner’s adventures? Right now, no, but I don’t discount it. This is above average in terms of setting and characterisation, although I was wondering if Arkansas has only white people in it since there seems no sign of any other ethnicity.
The plot is a tad wobbly but not so much that it was an issue.
I’ll bear it in mind.

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Murderous Reviews: Never Preach Past Noon (Leigh Koslow #03) – Claire Edie (2000)

Never Preach Past Noon (Leigh Koslow Mystery #3)

It’s really nice to have a series of books where you look forward to reading the next one.
Leigh Koslow’s Aunt Bess is on the board of ‘The New Millennium Church’. Leigh is summoned to hospital where her aunt is being treated for burns and an an ankle injury, having apparently saved the new pastor, Reginald Humphrey, from burning alive in his parsonage.
The truth is somewhat different since Aunt Bess has her suspicions about Humphrey and had sneaked in to the parsonage to look for evidence. Humphrey arrived back however and while Bess was in hiding, someone threw a Molotov cocktail through the window. Trying to escape she fell down the stairs and was carried out by the pastor.
Subsequently the pastor goes missing and Leigh finds herself dealing with yet another mystery while trying to keep secrets from practically everyone, as well as sorting out her complicated relationship with her neighbour.
Edie writes those novels that fit into the ‘cosy murder’ genre although labeling them thus would be doing her a disservice. She does pay close attention to plot, and I have so far always been surprised and blindsided by the subtlety of her clues and last minute revelations.
She almost stretches the boundaries of credibility here at one point but just about gets away with it.
Her strength is her characterisation, as she manages to deftly sketch even the minor characters into living breathing real people.
Got the next two lined up now.


Murderous Reviews: A Journal of Sin – Darryl Donaghue (2014)

A Journal of Sin (Sarah Gladstone, #1)

OK. Somewhere in England the village of Sunbury is cut off following a devastating storm which floods the surrounding countryside.
A policewoman, Sarah Gladstone, is visiting her mother and finds herself – along with the rest of the villagers – cut off from escape, electricity and communication.
The local Catholic priest then goes missing and is subsequently found dead by a Yorkshire terrier and its alarmed owner.
Sarah then has to mount a single handed murder investigation, handicapped by uncooperative locals, and their fear of having had their confessions recorded for posterity in Father Michael’s secret journals.
It’s not a bad read but I had several problems with it.
The premise relies on the priest being Catholic since he has recorded details of his confessions in several journals.
I’m not convinced that a village like this would have a large enough Catholic population. It’s not clear to me where Sunbury is, but presumably somewhere in Middle England prone to floods.
Catholics in England, in my experience and I am happy to be proven wrong, tend to live in towns and cities. but, even given that there may well be villages with large Catholic populations, the characters that may have confessed are either not Catholic or don’t appear to be. The one person with an Irish name, Sean, has not it appears confessed himself but wants to see the confessions of someone else.
Then there’s the characters. There’s not a lot to make one care about any of them. There’s a kind of bleak realism that isn’t supported by any tension or real drama. The characters are defined only by their bad behaviour and one sees little of another side to them. Some occasional light relief would have been welcomed. They come over as cold and unlikeable. Even the heroine herself goes through the novel in a state of worried annoyance.
Thus, now and again, the reader’s switch gets flipped from exciting to depressing.
It’s well written and I stuck with it. Given some work on characterisation and perhaps a subplot I would have been more sold on it but as it stands it doesn’t encourage one to read more.


Murderous Reviews: The Dark Vineyard – Martin Walker (Bruno #02) – (2009)

The Dark Vineyard (Bruno, Chief of Police #2)

Bruno is another of my favourite detectives. St Denis, in the Dardogne, is a French kind of Midsomer, and St Denis happens to be the domain of Bruno, Chief of Police, a fit young police chief who, between hunting, raising hens, making omelettes and training the local rugby team, somehow finds time to solve crimes and have a complicated love life.
It must be the French air.
An arson attack on an unsanctioned experimental GMO farm generates an investigation by a Brigadier as it appears there was government involvement in the farm. Meanwhile American investors are planning to buy half the valley to mass produce cheap wine. Things get complicated when the chief arson suspect is found dead and Bruno finds himself torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, as Shakespeare once said.
I recently criticised a novel which was set in London, but if you didn’t know London, you’d be no better off after reading the book. It might as well have been Hull or Omsk.
Here the setting is so well realised that I ache to be there. It is a separate character in the novel. I want to be invited to Bruno’s dinner where one eats the birds that Bruno shot himself, wiping the plate with fresh bread to make way for the next course and drinking a fantastic variety of local wines.
I don’t care if I’m in line for murder. I am seduced by the writing and the characters and the place.
More Bruno… and more wine please.


Murderous Reviews: Voodoo Daddy/State of Anger – Thomas L Scott (2012)

STATE OF ANGER: A Thriller (Detective Virgil Jones Mystery Series)

I get very confused by authors naming or renaming their novels as something that is either meaningless or unconnected to the novel. When I bought this book it was called Voodoo Daddy and at some point changed to State of Anger.
The first title has some relevance which is revealed near the end. The replacement title is a bit rubbish to be blunt and is so vague as to be meaningless.
Virgil Jones is a seasoned cop whose team is called in to investigate a double shooting at the governor’s residence. The shooting however was of a cop and one of the governor’s neighbours. Further seemingly random shootings occur which appear to be linked to a disaster at an airport years before.
I don’t really want to get into any more of the plot as there lies the problem.
Structurally the novel holds up until about 80% in and then falls apart. The murderers are dealt with in quite an anticlimactic way while the author has left the hero too physically damaged to be very heroic.
Then there is the extended tidying up of a subplot involving corrupt televangelists and Jonesy’s army buddy who turned up out of the blue bringing trouble.
There’s also an odd ghostly incident which would have been best left out. In fact there’s a whole lot of spiritual philosophising that would have been fine if it actually went somewhere or helped to define Jonesy’s character, but it doesn’t. It ends up seeming somehow out of place.
I suspect there was just too much going on in this book. It also didn’t help that we know who the murderers are, if not their motive. It also suspends disbelief slightly that Jonesy’s ex-wife is connected to both the murderers and the corrupt godbotherer, as well as a rather too convenient connection between the murderers and the Governor.
One expects a novel to build to a certain climax with perhaps some suspense, some drama, a twist, but it never gets there. The bad people are dealt with before you know it, and then we are left with tying up what’s left of the plot.
Characterisation isn’t too bad although some romantic scenes are a little schmaltzy. There’s even an attempt at ethnic diversity since Jonesy and his dad run a restaurant with a Jamaican chef. He doesn’t appear a great deal. Everyone else is white. I am not sure how realistic that is, and thinking about it although it is made clear that we are in Indiana there is little sense of ‘place’.
Having said all that, however, it’s not a bad read, and some revisions to the last 20% of the book would make an enormous difference. I didn’t see any of the typos and grammatical errors that others have pointed out and presume that these have been amended, with the exception of the word ‘taught’ being used where it should have been ‘taut’ in the sense that something is pulled tight to a state of rigidity.


Murderous Reviews: A Reason To Kill – Michael Kerr (2013)

A Reason To Kill (DI Matt Barnes #1)

DI Matt Barnes is part of a team assigned to protect a witness scheduled to testify against one Frank Sartini, a mob boss. Little do they know that a schizophrenic hitman is holding a couple next door hostage and in no short time shoots them, poses as the husband taking the dog for a walk and then slaughters everyone in the safe house apart from Matt, who is left for dead with a shot up leg.
The hunt is on for the killer who soon realises that Matt and the wife from the neighbouring house have survived and need to be eliminated as witnesses.
If one did not know one would hardly guess that this is set in London. There’s very little background atmosphere and not much to suggest where Matt’s police station is. His love interest, Beth, a forensic psychologist, lives in Roehampton. I used to live there myself. It’s a distinctive and somewhat leafy area, but as far as the reader is concerned it might just as well have been Kilburn or Oxford Circus.
My other issue with this is the dialogue which is stilted and unrealistic.
It’s a quick and easy read but ultimately unsatisfying. The killer, Gary, is almost superhuman in his ability to evade detection. This is a common trait of serial killers but is usually offset by a depth of characterisation which gives them a level of credibility. Hannibal Lektor for instance gets away with umpteen unbelievable things before a breakfast of human liver, but there is so much more going on with him that we are able to suspend our disbelief. That extra dimension is missing here.
There’s a higher than average body count, some of them being quite surplus to requirements, as if Kerr felt he was being paid by the murder.
It’s a decent enough read, having said all that, but reads more like a first draft where the author has not really got to know his characters all that well yet.


Murderous Reviews: The Mummy Case (Jim Knighthorse #2) – JR Rain (2010)

The Mummy Case (Jim Knighthorse, #2)

I like Jim Knighthorse. I’d follow him round Waitrose if he lived in Shepherds Bush. Jim is a musclebound ex (American) football player turned Private Eye.
He’s got his angst, having not yet been able to solve his mother’s murder and has a drink problem which he is struggling to keep a handle on.
Balancing that is a ready wit, a sparkling personality and a tolerant attitude. Although it’s not PD James, Rain has created a fascinating world with believable characters and a strong sense of place.
In this second volume Knighthorse is called to the desert to investigate the death of a young researcher who was looking into the mystery of a 100 year old mummy; a body found with shotgun wounds but preserved by the desert’s heat and mineral properties.
As side stories, Knighthorse is helping his friend’s son Jesus (Knighthorse insists on pronouncing this in the Western Christian way rather than the proper Hey-Zeus, much to the annoyance of the boy’s father) track down the individual members of a gang of bullies who beat him up and allow Jesus to exact revenge.
Additionally, his girlfriend, an evolutionist biology lecturer whose name happens to be Darwin, has become the subject of vandalistic attacks by Fundamentalist Christians.
It’s a bit of dichotomy in perspective from the first volume where Knighthorse apparently regularly had coffee with God in McDonalds. I read that long before American Gods was on TV, a fact I only mention because I imagined Rain’s God to be Ian McShane.
God doesn’t appear in this one and Rain, perhaps purposefully, shows no sympathy to the Fundamentalist cause. It’s a shrewd touch, since too much God can be a little wearing, particularly for an atheist like me. I’d rather not have it in my escapism, but with Knighthorse I’ll make the occasional exception. Ian McShane does God very well and I’m looking forward to reading him again.
It’s a short and fast paced piece and quite addictive. It leaves me feeling better about the world and that can only be a good thing.
Will I read more? Oh definitely.


Murderous Reviews: Rope Enough – Oliver Tidy (2012)

Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files #1)

Romney and Marsh? It’s a little contrived, although as DI Romney and Sergeant Marsh are based in Dover it’s a nod to the location. Totteridge and Whetstone? Lemington and Spa? Newcastle and Upontyne?
To be fair I once invented an Algerian Detective called Theydon Bois, but as he hasn’t solved any cases yet, the less said about that the better. All I can say is that it’s distracting. You’d think, to add a touch of reality to the piece that some villain might snort during an interview and say ‘Romney and Marsh? You’re having a laugh governor!’ but nobody does.
However, Romney and Marsh are summoned to a garage where an employee has been assaulted and his female colleague tied to a table and raped. The rapist was described as having an Eastern European accent and was wearing a balaclava.
The case is complicated by the fact that the victim is the girlfriend of local villain Simon Avery.
The narrative is very much focused on Romney. He is renovating a property, collects first edition books and is having a not too serious relationship with a woman called Julie. Of Marsh we know very little, although she features in the action just as much.
There’s not a lot of character exploration elsewhere to be honest. Tidy has some interesting characters to work with but here they’re a little two dimensional. There’s also a lack of tension between characters. It’s good to have someone working against your hero, or a bad apple at the police station, or a nasty boss. There’s none of that in Dover. All the police are very nice and a trifle dull as a result.
It’s a short and satisfying read though, and kept me enthralled. I would have liked to have seen some resolution to a related case of suspected murder, and although it is suggested that this would be resolved due to evidence discovered in the finale we don’t get complete closure.
Will I read further novels? Yes, probably. Tidy needs to work on his characters but I’m happy to read the next one.

 


Murderous Reviews: A Taste For Malice – Michael J Malone (2013)

A Taste for Malice (DI Ray McBain, #2)

DI Ray McBain is confined to desk duty following the incidents of the first volume, but is clandestinely working on a cold case involving a woman who calls herself Audrey Hepburn and insinuates her way into the lives of traumatised families only to inflict mental and physical abuse on them.
In this he is assisted by two colleagues who attempt to keep his involvement from being discovered by others higher in the hierarchy.
This is another of the splendid range of Scotland based detective novels I’ve stumbled across of late. Here we are in the Glasgow of a very likeable protagonist, Ray McBain, somewhat in denial about recent traumatic events and their subsequent effect on him.
McBain’s sections are first person narrative, alternating with the third person narrative of Jim, whose life is in turmoil. Following an accident his estranged wife, Angela, has contracted amnesia and he is forced to move back into the marital home to care for her and their young son. She does not yet know that she left him because of an affair he had with her best friend. Then, a woman called Moira enters their life.
One can’t help liking McBain. He is very deftly portrayed as an ordinary man who battles life’s problems with a mordant wit and a weakness for food. He is fiercely observant and intelligent while being honestly and amusingly self-deprecating about his life, his looks and his eating habits. He comes over as a real person, which is often not the case in these sort of novels.
The other characters, although not as lovingly fleshed out, are a nice mixture.
It has a bit of a twist too which took me by surprise and that’s always a good thing.
I need to go check out the first book now. Certainly keen on reading more.


Murderous Reviews: The Red Thumb Mark – R Austin Freeman (1907)

The Red Thumb Mark

It’s a bit of a retrofest this. One can purchase Freeman’s 21 Doctor Thorndyke novels and the entire short stories for Kindle on Amazon for £1.49. It’s a bit of a bargain.
Thorndyke is a kind of post-Holmes forensic detective who is employed in the main as proactive expert witness, using science and the technology of the day to deduce and demonstrate how certain crimes were committed.
In this instance Thorndyke gets involved when the nephew of a jeweller is charged with the theft of diamonds from his uncle’s safe. His bloody thumbprint was found on a slip of paper inside the empty safe.
Thorndyke, convinced of the man’s innocence, sets out to set up a case for the defence based on his scientific investigation.
It becomes clear that Thorndyke is on the right track when attempts on his life are made.
This book is truly fascinating, since it is in its own way an example of steampunk written at the appropriate time. (I accept that these works are Georgian rather than Victorian, but society and technology are not markedly changed.)
At one point a walking stick is revealed as a pump action gun that fires hypodermic bullets. Freeman describes the mechanics of the bullet (which uses its momentum to thrust out a needle and inject the victim) so well that if I had the equipment I could make it myself.
The novel is perhaps hampered by an overemphasis on the narrator’s growing ardour for Miss Gibson, a friend of the accused. Indeed the denouement abandons any details of what happened to the guilty party in favour of allowing the happy couple to gush at each other breathlessly and declare their deathless love. I hope there’s less of this sort of thing in successive volumes. It’s slightly sickening.
On the whole though it’s cracking stuff. In the foreword Freeman tells us that he made Thorndyke tall and handsome because there’s far too many ugly detectives about.
Thorndyke, Jervis (the narrator, employed to help Thorndyke with the case) and Thorndyke’s ‘man’ Polton, speak fluidly and poetically. I’m wondering if people actually spoke to each other this way back then. I’d like to think so.

‘My dear Jervis,’ he exclaimed. as we clasped hands warmly. ‘this is a great and delightful surprise. How often have I thought of my old comrade and wondered if I should ever see him again, and lo! here he is, thrown up on the sounding beach of the Inner Temple, like the proverbial bread cast upon the waters.’
‘Your surprise, Thorndyke, is nothing to mine,’ I relied, ‘for your bread has at least returned as bread; whereas i am in the position of a man who, having cast his bread upon the waters, sees it return in the form of a buttered muffin or as a Bath bun. I left a respectable medical practitioner and I find him transformed into a bewigged and begowned limb of the law.’

(Chapter 1)

Polton, quite apart from cooking and making tea, is also a bit of a whiz in the laboratory and the engineering shed, and can take, develop and print amazing photographs.
It’s not difficult to work out who the evil genius is but that’s not the point. Some of these concepts must have bordered on Science Fiction at the time to his readership. Could J Austin Freeman be considered one of the forefathers of Steampunk?