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Posts tagged “review

Murderous Reviews: Crime in The Community – Cecilia Peartree (2010)

Crime in the Community (Pitkirtly Mysteries #1)

I am in a quandary about this book. On the whole I enjoyed it, but I can’t help feeling there was something missing. A murder might have livened things up, but despite my best hopes nobody died.
Amaryllis Peebles (There is one problem identified at least) is a young-ish but retired Secret Service Agent who moves to the quiet town of Pitkirtly, and there joins the Pitkirtly Local Improvement Forum, a disparate band of people who essentially have regular meetings in the local pub out of a lack of anything else to do.
Steve Paxman, a Council Official, turns up at Amaryllis’ first meeting and suggests that the PLIF request funding from the Council in order to restore the derelict village hall. Very soon after, Paxman goes missing and things start to get a bit weird for Christopher Wilson, the chair of the PLIF and carer for his mentally unstable sister and her children.
It’s a novel that hasn’t really made a decision as to what it should be. Is it satire, light comedy, cosy mystery, spy thriller or something else entirely?
Let’s return to problem number one. Amaryllis Peebles is completely the wrong name for this character. My wider view is that it’s the completely wrong name for any character. However, if you are going to use an eccentric name, then it has to be for a good reason, or else in a context where others have eccentric names (no one else does). It also has to suit the character, and this doesn’t. There seems no good reason why such a name should have been chosen. If Amaryllis was hoping to blend in to the background then such a name doesn’t help. It seems like a senseless affectation which should have been abandoned after the first draft. You also have characters called Steve Paxman and Simon Fairfax, which have enough common S’s, X’s, M’s and N’s to cause confusion.
There are points where the reader will wonder ‘What the Hell is going on?’ with good reason, although most of it is ultimately explained. The explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense. There were far easier ways for the bad guys in this book to achieve their objective.
Having said that, there is some wonderful characterisation and it is nice to see Christopher’s view of his PLIF colleagues change as they help him to face various random crises which are hurled at him. Christopher himself is a well-drawn character, beset with problems with his family, his PLIF commitments and the strange creature that is Amaryllis, who has entered his life and seemingly brought turmoil in her wake.
Will I read another one? I’ll give it another chance. I’m hoping that the characters might dictate the next book and help it find out what sort of a beast it wishes to be.

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Murderous Reviews: Exit Stage Left – Adam Croft (2011)

Exit Stage Left (Kempston Hardwick, #1)

I started this during my hour’s commute to work and finished it on the way back. Yes. It’s that short.
Once famous TV star Charlie Sparks’ career has sunk to the point where he is doing spots in local pubs. Kempston Hardwick is in The Freemasons Arms on the night of a scheduled performance and there makes the acquaintance of Ellis Flint, who pays the landlord for a private meeting for them both with Charlie. During the performance Charlie collapses and dies. Kempston suspects murder and shanghais Ellis into helping him in a private investigation.
It’s all a bit odd, as the book is not really sure whether it’s a comical adventure or not. One also suspects that the dated style of the narrative suggests it was written a long time ago and just put out for free for the sake of it. Fair enough if that’s the case, but one would like some sense of date establishment. One presumes from the nature of his comedy that Charlie was famous in the seventies. Most major stars of the seventies of this nature where in their thirties or forties or older which would make Charlie a little too old today for regular stage appearances and frolicking with strippers. You never know though. Also there’s only one appearance of a mobile phone, which I suspect may have been added as an update.
Characterisation isn’t too bad apart from the case of Hardwick himself, of whom we learn nothing. In other scenarios this may well work but here it just doesn’t.
The plot is fine and it’s well written which makes it more of a shame that this wasn’t treated as a decent first draft and rewritten to at least twice its size, to allow some character development and to establish where we are in time.


Murderous Reviews: Not A Very Nice Woman – John Eider (2012)

Not A Very Nice Woman

Stella Dunbar is found strangled in her flat in what is essentially an old people’s retirement complex. She was a well respected teacher who still gave private tuition to select pupils. It is up to Inspector Graham Rase (confusingly known also as Grey) to investigate Stella’s past to determine the murderer.
This could have done with some serious editing. The prose style is very peculiar and often rambles off into badly constructed sentences.

‘Grey looked up at the window he knew his Superintendent could often be found peering out from, though he was not there that afternoon, gone home early to whatever it was he had asked Grey to interrupt him in with news that evening.’

or

‘It was getting dark by the time Sergeant Smith found herself driving to the large and somewhat historic building on the outskirts of town, her passenger the Inspector ruminating in the passenger seat.’

I felt out of breath by the end of certain paragraphs. It’s also deadened by a plodding linear nature and a lack of characterisation. It is a shame as it wouldn’t take a great deal to make this book sparkle a little.
Some research into police procedure might not go amiss either. Anyone who’s watched ITV detective dramas knows that you don’t give potential suspects and witnesses details from the crime scene outside of a formal interview. Inspector Rase does though.
It’s also a little dated and although set in the present, reads like something from the fifties. It’s not a bad read, but reads more like a first draft than a finished work.


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.


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.