18 February 2017

Review: THE PALLAMPUR PREDICAMENT, Brian Stoddart

  • this edition printed by Crime Wave Press 2014
  • ISBN 9-789881-351043
  • 271 pages
  • #2 in the Le Fanu series
Synopsis (publisher)

The second Superindentent Le Fanu Mystery sees our intrepid British policeman on the trail of the murderers of an Indian Rajah.

Under pressure from his superiors, pining for his lost love and allergic to the sight of blood, Le Fanu must navigate through a political mine-field of colonial intrigue in 1920s Madras.

As the British tighten their grip on the sub-continent, Gandhi’s peace movement, British secret agents and armed pro-independence rebels complicate Le Fanu’s investigations further and he soon finds himself in a quagmire of violent opposing forces that are unwilling to compromise.

My take

Set two years after the first in the series (A MADRAS MIASMA) this novel does a good job of depicting the ways in which the British Raj is losing control of India. The Rajah of Pallampur, married to an Australian bride, is found dead in his palace. The attack leading to his death appears to have been unusually frenzied. The Rajah was not particularly popular and Superintendent Le Fanu discovers that he has been under surveillance by British intelligence ever since the end of World War One. He appears to have had IRA connections, and was perhaps involved in gun running.

In the background Gandhi's non-violent non-cooperation movement is ramping up but not all of his followers believe that non-violence is the way. Many of the British civil servants do nit understand what a knife edge they are living on.

The novel does a good job as a police procedural and develops the relationships between Le Fanu and his superiors and his colleagues. It is two years since Le Fanu's housekeeper Ro left and he has missed her company more than he likes to admit. During the novel Ro comes back to Madras for a holiday and Le Fanu realises he must make decisions about their relationship. 
 
My rating: 4.3

I've also read 4.6, A MADRAS MIASMA

12 February 2017

Review: WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Dorothy Fowler

  • first published 2009 by Black Swan
  • ISBN 978-1-86979-208-4
  • 279 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (back cover)

Everything leaves a trace. Chloe, a contract archaeologist, is excavating the site of a religious Kaipara Harbour community, which burnt to the ground in the 1880s. As the site is uncovered, what unpalatable truths will be revealed about the events on the night of the fire? Chloe's own family has farmed this land, and she is caught in the conflict as local resistance to the excavation mounts. When Chloe digs up more than shards of pottery, she realises that the site holds secrets that will not stay buried, and their effect on the present is devastating. Moving between a diary written in the 1880s and the current day, this compelling novel has murder, mystery, love, lust - and archaeology.

My Take

A carefully constructed mystery on at least two levels. The historical site that Chloe is investigating has been part of her family for a century. It is about to be sold for land development and so the owner, Chloe's cousin Shane, has commissioned her to do an archaeological survey. Over a century ago this was a reclusive mission station, but then it was burnt down. There are some bodies buried on the site and they need to be found and moved to a nearby cemetery.

Chloe's family seem to have lost whatever they knew about the Mission, and they don't even know where the mass grave is.

The reader has the advantage of being privy to a diary written in the 1880s before the fire and so we chart a mystery on that level, at the same time as participating in Chloe's dig. But there is at least one person who doesn't want the past dug up, and local vandals do their best to impede the progress of the excavation. And there is something more serious than vandalism underneath everything.
 
Dorothy Fowler wrote this novel in 2008 as her coursework for the Master of Creative Writing at Auckland University. 

My rating: 4.5 

See another review 

Review: IMPERIUM, Robert Harris - audio book

  • First published 2006
  • Narrated by: Bill Wallis
  • Length: 13 hrs and 51 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release Date:01-12-15
  • available from Audible.com 
Synopsis (Audible.com)

When Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events which will eventually propel his master into one of the most famous courtroom dramas in history.

The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island's corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Cicero, a brilliant young lawyer and spellbinding orator, determined to attain imperium - supreme power in the state.This is the starting-point of Robert Harris's most accomplished novel to date.
Compellingly written in Tiro's voice, it takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, to describe how one man - clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable - fought to reach the top.

Sometimes it is foolish to articulate an ambition too early - exposing it prematurely to the laughter and scepticism of the world can destroy it before it is even properly born. But sometimes the opposite occurs, and the very act of mentioning a thing makes it suddenly seem possible, even plausible.

That was how it was that night. When Cicero pronounced the word 'consul' he planted it in the ground like a standard for us all to admire. And for a moment we glimpsed the brilliant, starry future through his eyes, and saw that he was right: that if he took down Verres, he had a chance; that he might - just, with luck, go all the way to the summit...'

My Take

We were so pleased with recently listening to the audio version of CONCLAVE that we
decided to follow it up with another by the same author. IMPERIUM did not disappoint.
It is the first of what is now known as the Cicero Trilogy and traces Cicero's rise from lawyer, to senator, and then to consul. At nearly 14 hours it makes a long audio book but it is fascinating listening.
The rest of the series is
2. Lustrum (2009)
     aka Conspirata
3. Dictator (2015) and I can see that we will be following it to the end, and then maybe venturing into some other Harris books.

My rating: 4.8 

9 February 2017

Review: THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM, Greg Pyers

  • this edition published by Scribe 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-925321-97-5
  • 295 pages
  • Review copy supplied by publisher
Synopsis (Publisher)


Based on a true story…

At midnight on 28 December 1864, in the Australian gold-mining town of Daylesford, young newly-wed Maggie Stuart lies dead in her own blood. Rumour and xenophobia drive speculation over the identity of her killer, and when a suspect is apprehended, police incompetence and defence counsel negligence bring yet more distortion to the wheels of justice.

In this climate of prejudice and ineptitude, it seems only Detective Otto Berliner is able to keep an objective mind and recognise that something is terribly wrong. He intends to put matters right, though all the odds are against him.

My Take

The Author's Note says
"This story is based on a murder committed in the gold-mining town of Daylesford, Australia in 1864. The names of some characters have been changed, but all the characters herein are based on real people."

In fact many of the names of the characters are not changed.

The first two thirds of the book deal with the murder and the subsequent 3 day trial.  My research shows that the author relied very heavily on the newspaper records of the time, sometimes using them almost verbatim. This part reminded me very much of what Truman Capote called a non-fiction novel.

At first two suspects are jailed for the murder of Maggie Stuart, but one is eventually released. The other spends 7 months in jail as the police build a case against him. Most of the evidence is circumstantial and some vital evidence is totally missing,

Otto Berliner is an inspector in the Victoria Police, on leave, hoping to set himself up in the near future as a private detective. He does not attend the trial, but a friend does, and he takes notes which Berliner later finds useful.

Berliner goes to New Zealand for some time and returns just a week or so before the convicted murderer is due to be executed. He is convinced that the convicted man is innocent, and so from this time, there is a race against time to see if he can discover the murderer and get a stay of exceution.

I think the structure of the novel worked against the building of real tension until the final few pages. However it does present the case against the police well, as being too quick to adopt an easy solution, and too lazy to ask real questions.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Greg Pyers grew up in the small Victorian town of Daylesford. As a boy, he read the books of Gerald Durrell, and many years later, worked at Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo. Greg became a full-time writer in 1998, following eight years as an educator in zoos, and several years as a post-primary schoolteacher. He went on to write 160 natural history books and three novels for children. Greg Pyers was short listed in the 2005 Children’s Book Council Awards in the non-fiction category. He won a 2004 Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW for Life in a Rock Pool, Gum Tree, Creek, and Desert Dune. In The Wilderness Society’s 2002 Environment Award For Children’s Literature, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to children’s environmental literature. In 2005, Greg won another Wilderness Society Award, this time for non-fiction. The Unfortunate Victim is Greg’s first work of adult fiction.

5 February 2017

Review: THE MOVING FINGER, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 958 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
    First published UK edition 1942, US edition 1943
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2010
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046H95SG
  • #3 in the Miss Marple series
Synopsis (Amazon)

Lymstock is a town with more than its share of shameful secrets – a town where even a sudden outbreak of anonymous hate-mail causes only a minor stir.

But all that changes when one of the recipients, Mrs Symmington, commits suicide. Her final note said ‘I can’t go on’. Only Miss Marple questions the coroner’s verdict of suicide. Was this the work of a poison-pen? Or of a poisoner?

My Take

Previously reviewed in 2011  at THE MOVING FINGER (aka THE CASE OF THE MOVING FINGER) - Miss Marple.
I decided to re-read the book as part of my participation in  in the monthly meme Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge @ Past Offences. The year for February is 1943.

I don't want to repeat much of what I said in the earlier review, so I encourage you to look at that one too.

We are never really told what has happened to Jerry Burton to bring him and his sister to Little Furze at Lymstock. He appears to have been an airplane pilot who has crashed - he has been in plaster, has something wrong with his back, he walks with sticks, and wonders if he will ever be able to fly again. The timing of the publication seems to suggest he has be in the war, but there is never a reference to the war effort. He is worried that he will be bored with country life, and certainly his sister Joanna has to make a real effort to fit in. But then they get a poison pen letter suggesting that they are not really brother and sister. Others in the village have already had similarly scurrilous letters and more make their appearance. The local police are baffled and call in an expert from Scotland Yard who points out the similarities between these letters and others in earlier cases that he has solved. The local lawyer's wife gets a letter and commits suicide and then a week later a murder takes place.

While this is labelled as a "Miss Marple" she really plays a role only in the last quarter of the book. I wondered in my earlier reading about why she appeared so late and I'm almost convinced that Agatha Christie had originally meant this to be a stand-alone. However by the middle of the book, there are too many red herrings, too many possible murderers and the police and the amateur sleuth Jerry Burton are in desperate need of an independent point of view. So Jane Marple to the rescue! Miss Marple is invited to stay by the vicar's wife, Mrs Dane Calthrop. (She, by the way, will appear 20 years later in an Ariadne Oliver title). Miss Marple of course solves the puzzle. She says the solution was pretty simple. Everone else was just focussing on the wrong things.

I am amazed that I can re-read these titles and still find something else in them. I must confess also that I don't remember every plot nuance, so I don't get bored with the re-read either.

My rating: 4.4

Check my list of reviews of  all the Agatha Christie novels.

4 February 2017

Review: SIGNAL LOSS, Garry Disher

  • This edition from Text Publishing, 2016
  • #7 in the Peninsula Crimes series
  • ISBN 9-781925-355260
  • 320 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Text Publishing)

A small bushfire, but nasty enough for ice cooks to abandon their lab. Fatal, too. But when the bodies in the burnt-out Mercedes prove to be a pair of Sydney hitmen, Inspector Hal Challis’s inquiries into a local ice epidemic take a darker turn. Meanwhile, Ellen Destry, head of the new sex crimes unit, finds herself not only juggling the personalities of her team but hunting a serial rapist who leaves no evidence behind.

The seventh instalment in Garry Disher’s celebrated Peninsula Crimes series sets up new challenges, both professional and personal, for Challis and Destry. And Disher delivers with all the suspense and human complexity for which readers love him.

Garry Disher has published almost fifty titles—fiction, children’s books, anthologies, textbooks, the Wyatt thrillers and the Peninsula Crimes series. He has won numerous awards, including the German Crime Prize (twice) and two Ned Kelly Best Crime novel awards, for Chain of Evidence (2007) and Wyatt (2010). Garry lives on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

My Take

An impressive police procedural in an Australian rural setting, the Mornington Peninsula, depicting Victoria Police facing modern issues that are facing police the world over: the impact of ice on local communities, sex crimes, theft, and gangs. The plot strands are woven together with human interest stories, and keep the reader connected to the very end.

Within, the Victoria Police faces other issues too: an aging police force, the importance of technology, the use of DNA, competition between various police departments for the "final kill",  and the possibility of burn out when the job takes on a 24/7 aspect. Disher presents well the aspects of modern life that confront ordinary civilians.

A recommended read.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read
4.7, WYATT
4.8, WHISPERING DEATH
4.7, BLOOD MOON
4.2, THE HEAT

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