27 October 2016

Review: THE GIRL IN GREEN, Derek B. Miller

  • source ARC from Scribe Publications
  • published 2016
  • ISBN 978-1925-106954
  • 372 pages
  • Source: an ARC paperback
Synopsis (Scribe Publications)

From the author of Norwegian By Night comes a new novel about two men on a misbegotten quest to save the girl they failed to save decades before. 

1991. Near Checkpoint Zulu, one hundred miles from the Kuwaiti border, Thomas Benton meets Arwood Hobbes. Benton is a British journalist who reports from war zones, in part to avoid his lacklustre marriage and a daughter he loves but cannot connect with; Hobbes is a midwestern American private who might be an insufferable ignoramus, or might be a brilliant lunatic with a death wish — it’s hard to tell. Operation Desert Storm is over, peace has been declared, but as they argue about whether it makes sense to cross the nearest border in search of an ice cream, they become embroiled in a horrific attack in which a young local girl in a green dress is shot in the back and dies in Hobbes’s arms. The two men walk away into their respective lives. But something has cracked for them both.

Twenty-two years later, in another place, in another war, the two men meet again. Benton and relief worker Märta Ström are persuaded by a much-changed Hobbes to embark on what may be a fool’s errand in a last-chance effort to redeem themselves when the girl in green is found alive and in need of salvation. Or is she?

Set against the war-torn landscape of a shattered Iraq, The Girl in Green is an adventure story told with all the wit, humanity, and insight of Miller’s acclaimed debut.

My Take

I was fortunate enough to be sent a paper copy of this by the publisher some time back, and then a follower of my blog reminded me that I should read it.

Can I say that I wouldn't really classify this as crime fiction, although crimes are certainly committed in their thousands.

One reviewer has described it as a "moral thriller", and given recent efforts to free Mosul from ISIS, it is certainly a topical read. In 1991 Operation Desert Storm was declared a success and peace was thought to have been achieved. But now 25 years later, a whole generation has grown up in a war-torn landscape. 40 years ago I travelled through Iraq before the war began.

THE GIRL IN GREEN puts the story of the last 25 years into human language, when Arwood Hobbes, an American soldier discharged at the end of Operation Desert Storm, and British journalist Thomas Benton, try to go back into the past. Hobbes in particular wants to wreak his own form of justice.

The events of the book demonstrate in particular how difficult it will be to re-establish peace in the Middle East.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

About the author
Derek B. Miller was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived abroad for over fifteen years in Israel, England, Hungary, Switzerland, and Norway. His interest in fiction began a few years after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College. Currently, Derek is the director of The Policy Lab and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. He has a PhD in international relations from the University of Geneva, and an MA in national security studies from Georgetown University, in cooperation with St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. He lives in Oslo with his wife and children.

20 October 2016

Review: SERPENTS IN EDEN: Countryside Crimes, Martin Edwards (edit)

  • this edition published in 2016 by the British Library
  • A British Library Crime Classic
  • ISBN 978-0-7123-5794-4
  • 302 pages
  • content: 13 Vintage crime fiction short stories 
Synopsis  (Amazon UK)

The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.... Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Sherlock Holmes Many of the greatest British crime writers have explored the possibilities of crime in the countryside in lively and ingenious short stories. Serpents in Eden celebrates the rural British mystery by bringing together an eclectic mix of crime stories written over half a century. From a tale of poison-pen letters tearing apart a village community to a macabre mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories collected here reveal the dark truths hidden in an assortment of rural paradises. Among the writers included here are such major figures as G. K. Chesterton and Margery Allingham, along with a host of lesser-known discoveries whose best stories are among the unsung riches of the golden age of British crime fiction between the two wars.

My Take

These short stories were almost all published prior to 1960, The Black Doctor by Arthur Conan Doyle as early as 1898. The authors are almost all recognised Golden Age crime fiction writers. One or two of the stories have not been easily available until their publication in this anthology. Nearly all of the writers have a connection with the Detection Club.

While some of the stories had very clever plots indeed, I found some of them rather slow and tortuous. Nearly all were "different" to what a modern short story might be like. Each story is preceded by an introduction written by Martin Edwards placing the writer in the history of British crime fiction writing.

The writers: Arthur Conan Doyle, M. McDonnell Bodkin, G.K. Chesterton, E.C. Bentley, Herbert Jenkins, H.C. Bailey, R. Austin Freeman, Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Leonora Wodehouse, Ethel Lena White, Leo Bruce, and Gladys Mitchell.
My rating: 4.3

18 October 2016

100 Reached!

This week I completed reading my 100th book for the year.

I doubt that I am going to reach the 135 which is my target for the year, expecially as I am about a month behind about where I was when I reached 100 last year.

Each year I wonder why I set myself targets and persuade myself that it gives direction to my reading. In reality I read whatever I want to, and targets have very little influence.

I do keep a summary page of my reading challenges, and the stats make interesting reading.
  • nearly 25% of the books read are by Australian authors
  • nearly 50% have been e-books
  • over 40% have been by British authors
  • 50% have been new-to-me authors
  • over 30% have been borrowed from my local library (none of these are e-books) 
  • over 15 % have been translated from another language into English
  • over 15% have been Vintage books published before 1960
  • only 6% have not been crime fiction
  • 10% have been Nordic crime fiction
All the books I have read in 2016 are listed here.
Here are the top of the list: I do attempt some sort of order but in reality there is probably not a lot of difference between 5.0 and 4.7
  1. 5.0, THE LAKE HOUSE, Kate Morton
  2. 5.0, A DEADLY THAW, Sarah Ward 
  3. 5.0, THE WRONG HAND, Jane Jago 
  4. 4.9, WHAT SHE NEVER TOLD ME, Kate McQuaile 
  5. 4.9, ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING, Evie Wyld
  6. 4.9, COFFIN ROAD, Peter May
  7. 4.9, PLAY DEAD, Angela Marsons
  8. 4.8, AN ISOLATED INCIDENT, Emily Maguire 
  9. 4.8, THE BLOOD STRAND, Chris Ould 
  10. 4.8, THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH, Donna Leon
  11. 4.8, TWISTER, Jane Woodham
  12. 4.8, THE WIDOW, Fiona Barton
  13. 4.7, THE DRY, Jane Harper 
  14. 4.7, THE WOMAN IN BLUE, Elly Griffiths 
  15. 4.7, EVEN THE DEAD, Benjamin Black
  16. 4.7, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, Michael Stanley
  17. 4.7, THE CHOSEN, Kristina Ohlsson
  18. 4.7, THE TRAP, Melanie Raabe
  19. 4.7, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, Peter Lovesey 
  20. 4.7, THE STONE WIFE, Peter Lovesey
  21. 4.7, ENOUGH ROPE, Barbara Nadel
  22. 4.7, LOST GIRLS, Angela Marsons

15 October 2016

Review: THE WOMAN IN BLUE, Elly Griffiths

  • this edition published 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • source: my local library
  • 356 pages
  • #8 in the Ruth Galloway series
  • ISBN 9-780544-417854
Synopsis (author website)

When Ruth’s friend Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, in a white gown and blue cloak, in the graveyard next to the cottage he is house-sitting, he takes it in his stride. Walsingham has strong connections to Mary, and Cathbad is a druid after all; visions come with the job. But when the body of a woman in a blue dressing-gown is found dead the next day in a nearby ditch, it is clear Cathbad’s vision was all too human, and that a horrible crime has been committed. DCI Nelson and his team are called in for the murder investigation, and soon establish that the dead woman was a recovering addict being treated at a nearby private hospital.

Ruth, a devout atheist, has managed to avoid Walsingham during her seventeen years in Norfolk. But then an old university friend, Hilary Smithson, asks to meet her in the village, and Ruth is amazed to discover that her friend is now a priest. Hilary has been receiving vitriolic anonymous letters targeting women priests – letters containing references to local archaeology and a striking phrase about a woman ‘clad in blue, weeping for the world’.

Then another woman is murdered – a priest.

As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer before they strike again…

My take

I like the way the plot of this book makes use of a current contentious issue in the religious world: that of women priests in the Anglican Church.

Ruth's friend Hilary is visiting Walsingham for a conference which prepares women to become bishops. She has received a number of threatening letters related to her position as a priest and contacts Ruth to ask her advice. Ruth passes copies of the letters on to Harry Nelson.

There seemed to be less of an archaeological emphasis in the plot than usual, although Walsingham is noted for its reliquaries and Ruth does some research about them.

Threads from earlier novels are further developed, particularly Nelson's marriage and his relationship with Ruth. I really enjoyed the latest episodes in the continuing story, as well as the mystery of who the madman is who is threatening Hilary.

Highly recommended, but I also recommend that if you haven't read any in the series, that you start from the beginning.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Elly Griffiths recently was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library for services to the genre and for her popularity with readers.
I've also read
4.8, DYING FALL- audio book
4.5, THE GHOST FIELDS, Elly Griffiths - audio book
4.7, THE OUTCAST DEAD, Elly Griffiths - audio  

11 October 2016

Review: THE EXILED, Kati Hiekkapelto

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 954 KB
  • Print Length: 300 pages
  • Publisher: ORENDA BOOKS (August 19, 2016)
  • translated from Finnish by David Hackston
  • Publication Date: August 25, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • Anna Fekete #2
Synopsis  (Amazon)

Murder. Corruption. Dark secrets. A titanic wave of refugees. Can Anna solve a terrifying case that’s become personal? Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes? Chilling, taut and relevant, The Exiled is an electrifying, unputdownable thriller from one of Finland’s most celebrated crime writers.

My Take

Anna Fekete's father was a policeman and after his murder her mother took their family to Finland which is why Anna lives in Finland, and is in part why she also joined the police force.

Her mother has returned to live in the Balkan village of Kanisza which is where Anna was born. Anna decides to go "home" to visit, to catch up with childhood and family friends. Her handbag is snatched at a local market and eventually the thief is found dead. Whele her handbag is found, her passport and credit card are missing.

The local police, including a former colleague of her father, seem very reluctant to investigate the death or to find the little girl who was with the thief. Anna's instincts tell her that there is something wrong and provoke her into undertaking her own investigation despite her mother's opposition. She makes a friend at the local police station and he helps her access files. The more she investigates the more she is convinced there is a cover-up happening. Anna feels the whole scenario has something to do with who she is.

Refugees and gypsies are flooding into Kanisza which is near the border of Hungary and Serbia, in what was once called Yugoslavia, hence the title of the book.

I did not find the book as unputdownable as the blurb suggested. In fact, just as in the first in the series, THE DEFENCELESS, I found the style strangely stilted, and Anna in particular a bit tunnel-visioned and naive. Nevertheless the story held my interestand was illuminating in terms of how people in this area are living.

My rating: 4.3

I have also read

About the Author

Kati Hiekkapelto is an award-winning Finnish author, punk singer, performance artist, and former special-needs teacher. She is currently setting up an asylum for artists in danger. She is the author of The Hummingbird and The Defenceless, both of which have been translated into seven languages. The Defenceless won the prize for the best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year 2014 and was one of the top 10 bestselling books in Finland across all genres in 2015. David Hackston translated The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy and has been awarded the Finnish State Prize for Translation. 

5 October 2016

Review: THE WRONG HAND, Jane Jago

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2415 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (June 30, 2016)
  • Publication Date: June 30, 2016
  • Sold by: PEN UK
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01BG8VAG2
Synopsis (Amazon)

We all make mistakes. Moments that change us and the path we are on irrevocably.

For Rachel Allen it was the moment that she let her son's hand slip from hers. For Danny Simpson and Graham Harris it was the moment one of them took it.

Seven years ago Danny and Graham were just children themselves, angry, marginalized and unguided. That was, until they committed a crime so heinous that three families were left devastated. They were no longer just boys. They were monsters.

Released from juvenile detention, it is time for the boys, now men, to start again; new names, new people. But they can never escape who they are or what they did. And their own families, now notorious; the Allens, destroyed with grief; and the country at large have never been able to forget.
They will always be running. They will always be hiding. But are some mistakes too large, the ripples to far reaching, to outrun forever?

My take

This novel raises the question of whether there are crimes that are too heinous to ever be forgiven. Do children always understand what they are doing? Can they ever be accepted back in society?

There have been a number of this type of crime world wide and the children who have carried them out have been punished for life. It raises the question of whether both the children are as guilty as each other. Would one have done this if the other had not been present?

The plot in this book seems to closely reflect the murder of James Bulger

A very thought provoking read.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
Jane Jago was born in Sydney Australia in 1961. Originally trained as a Printmaker, she began writing whilst raising a family. She has a long standing interest in exploring the shadow aspect of human nature and in developmental psychology. Passionate about the protection of children and their right to a childhood, The Wrong Hand is her first novel. 

Review: THE MURDERED BANKER, Augusto de Angelis

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • Series: Pushkin Vertigo
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo (February 23, 2016)
  • Translated from Italian by Jill Foulson
  • first published 1935
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782271708
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782271703
Synopsis (Amazon)

A body is discovered in a Milan apartment, and Inspector De Vincenzi investigates. The apartment happens to belong to and old university friend of his, Aurigi. When the body turns out to be that of Aurigi's banker, and a phial of prussic acid is discovered in the bathroom, suspicion falls on the apartment's owner, and De Vincenzi is agonisingly torn between his sense of duty and his loyalty to an old comrade...

This intensely dramatic mystery from the father of the Italian crime novel, Augusto de Angelis, is the first to feature his most famous creation--Inspector De Vincenzi.

My take

I think it may have been a combination of the translation, the author's style, and the complex plot, but I found this a very hard novel to become engaged in. I think the plot reflected the times it was set in.

My rating: 3.5

About the author
De Angelis was born in Rome. He published his first mystery, Il banchiere assassinato, in 1935. He subsequently wrote some twenty crime books, whose protagonist is Commissario Carlo De Vincenzi of the squadra mobile of Milan. Some of them were adapted for television by RAI in 1974–1977, with Paolo Stoppa playing the role of De Vincenzi.
Despite the success of the books, the Fascist government banned them. De Angelis was arrested in 1943, accused of being Anti-Fascist. After a few months he was freed but soon afterwards he was beaten up by a Fascist activist, and died at Bellagio of the wounds he had received.


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