Review: FOOD OF GHOSTS by Marianne Wheelaghan

FoodOfGhostsWheelaghanLouisa Townsend was born on the Pacific island of Tarawa, one of the islands that make up the Republic of Kiribati, but left with her family when she was eight. After many years living in Edinburgh she has returned as a Detective Sergeant tasked with establishing an investigators program for the local police. However when a body is discovered at a local club all the island’s more senior police detectives are away from the island so Louisa is given the opportunity to oversee the investigation.

This is a light, gently humorous tale that is a little predictable with regards to the ‘fish out of water’ trope but still offers lots of enjoyment. Aside from her cousin and some other extended family members no one knows Louisa is a Tarawa native but it doesn’t seem too likely she’d progress much more quickly with the investigation even if she did know as the island is depicted as more than a little backward when it comes to the idea of a woman being in charge of an investigation (or anything else). Louisa struggles to get the mostly male officers remaining at the station to do as she asks which adds to the difficulties presented by the isolated location and lack of resources. As a character Louisa is likeable but not loveable on my personal scale but I did enjoy meeting her. The frustrations she feels at the slow pace of the investigation and the notion that not everyone is treating the murder with the seriousness deserved is entirely credible and her struggles make her seem very human. She suffers from some obsessive traits and has a fear of germs but she overcomes or at least incorporates these into her life so that they don’t intrude too much and it does provide an interesting quirk to her character.

The story was a little weak to begin with but got stronger in the second half – not least because some actual investigating progress was made and Louisa started making some real connections with some of the other characters. I was on tenterhooks during the dramatic sea voyage towards the end of the novel. I do have to say though that at times I felt like I was being invited to laugh at the locals and their idiosyncrasies in a vaguely unpleasant way. To be fair to the author I suspect this is more to do with the writing technique than any belief on her part in the superiority of ‘the civilised world’ as she lived on Tarawa for some years and writes very warmly of it. I’ve read a few modern crime novels featuring similar scenarios of outsiders working in exotic locations (for example Catherine Titasey’s MY ISLAND HOMICIDE, Andrew Nette’s GHOST MONEY, Timothy Hallinan’s THE FOURTH WATCHER and Angela Savage’s series which begins with BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR) and did not get this sensibility with any of those novels even though they all depict differences between cultures and even the odd exotic eccentricity. In FOOD OF GHOSTS I think I’d like to have seen some more examples of the locals’ knowledge and customs having a positive contribution rather than just being odd or amusing though I appreciate this is a delicate balance and there’s a chance I’m being overly sensitive.

Overall though I did enjoy FOOD OF GHOSTS. Louisa’s culture shock, the vivid depictions of the island’s natural environment, the vibrant community of locals and expats and a murder investigation that proves to have an entirely credible outcome all combine to form a jolly romp of a tale.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Piling Press [2013]
Length 310 pages
Format eBook (Kindle)
Book Series standalone?

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Review: LINEUP by Liad Shoham

LineupLiadShohamAudioLINEUP takes place almost entirely in Tel Aviv though really there is not much about it that couldn’t happen in any decent-sized city. It opens with the rape of a young woman – Adi Regev – on her way home one night. Adi only reluctantly reports the rape when her parents become concerned that she hasn’t contacted them for several days; long after she has washed off any possible physical evidence left by the perpetrator. Consequently the policeman in charge of the case, Eli Nachum, doesn’t have a lot on which to build an investigation. Which at least partly explains why, when Adi’s father presents him with a suspect, Nachum allows himself to use the somewhat questionable evidence to help progress the case.

This is another book I think I enjoyed all the more because I knew nothing of it going in. I chose it purely because it is set in Israel – a country I have adored visiting and in which there isn’t a lot of crime fiction set – and I hadn’t read any of the spoiler-laden blurbs and reviews that abound online (I am heartily fed up with ‘reviews’ which offer nothing more than plot details). So the story was a constant surprise for me. In a way it is a series of sequential stories rather than one single narrative. Though the characters are a constant we move from viewing things from Adi’s perspective to her father’s to Eli Nachum’s to that of the man considered the main suspect (and a few others besides these). It is only really in the last quarter or so of the novel that the characters’ perspectives join up to form a more traditional parallel narrative. I liked the way the perspective progressed because it provided a thorough picture of how a case like this can impact so many lives.

I didn’t realise this while reading but I wasn’t surprised to learn the author is a lawyer. Not just because the legal aspects of the case have a real ring of truth to them (though they do) but because he is able to depict the light and shade of the legal system with more than the average amount of sympathy. This doesn’t mean he lets the lawyers (or anyone else) off lightly, but in teasing out the reasons why this case goes wrong – a poor decision here, a grieving parent there, a misguided but well-meaning action over here – he shows us the complexities of the system and the myriad of things that need to align for every investigation to run smoothly. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact this novel incorporates both the traditional police procedural elements as well as a nuanced look at the legal side of things.

Above and beyond these excellent attributes LINEUP really shines with its characters. From the outset – when we meet an elderly lady who watches the neighbourhood from her apartment window with her high-powered binoculars – I was completely engaged by the people in this novel. Because of its loosely sequential structure we have a chance to get to know each significant character quite well before moving on to the next person so it feels as if the reader has a deeper connection with multiple characters than might be the case if everyone was introduced together. I was wary when the novel started unfolding from the suspected culprit’s point of view but even this character had me completely hooked within a few short passages.

Apparently there are several earlier novels from Liad Shoham that have not been translated from the Hebrew (oh how I curse my mono lingual status) but it looks like there’s at least one more that has been translated and I am officially on the lookout for it. LINEUP is nuanced, engaging and full of surprises and if you’re even vaguely into audio books I can thoroughly recommend Saul Reichlin’s narration.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Translator Sara Kitai
Publisher Audible [2013]
Length 9 hours 54 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone?

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Review: SPRING TIDE by Cilla and Rolf Borjlind

I am generally a little wary of books written by people more used to producing television scripts as the two media require very different skills but I was tempted by this book’s appearance on Raven Crime Read’s list of top reads for 2014 and I have enjoyed the one TV show that I’ve seen from this script-writing duo.

SpringTideBorjlindFrontOn a remote island in northern Sweden a woman is buried on the beach up to her neck. A young boy watches as the water threatens her and when those responsible for her condition disappear he runs home. A couple of decades later police trainee Olivia Rönning chooses the unsolved cold case of the purposefully drowned woman as her summer project. At the same time an alarmingly brutal series of attacks on homeless people is being investigated.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given they’ve been responsible for televising both the Martin Beck novels and Arne Dahl’s A-Unit series, the husband and wife writing team behind SPRING TIDE have produced a novel with a strong ensemble cast for their debut. Although there is not a single team responsible for either investigation Olivia is never a lone investigator, instead joined by current and former officers so that the story can unfold far more credibly than it could if left in the hands of a student. One of the few upsides to long books (this one is nearly 500 pages) is that good authors at least use the extra words at their disposal to develop their characters well and the Börjlind’s have definitely done that here. Olivia is surprisingly engaging for a 20-something (yes my prejudice is showing through there) and the depiction of her learning the tips and tools of her future trade is a good one. She is in danger though of being overshadowed by former policeman Tom Stilton whose back story is simply fascinating but I shall say no more on that issue for fear of spoilers.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the story here is pretty complicated – there are threads within threads and all manner of crossovers – but I didn’t find it difficult to follow and everything that needs to be is resolved credibly. There probably could have been one or two fewer dead ends without impacting the whole too much (except reducing the page count a bit) but I have to admit that even for someone endlessly griping about books that are too long this one doesn’t actually fit that category in that there are not huge chunks I could identify for the red pen. And it must be said that the story is totally compelling (nails may have been bitten) and the authors kept me guessing on several fronts right to the end.

Again following the tradition of the best Swedish crime novels SPRING TIDE does explore some social themes, though perhaps not with quite the same depth of Mankell, Sjöwall and Wahlöö or even Liza Marklund. Nevertheless the treatment of homeless people in modern Sweden is certainly front and centre and there are some not so subtle digs at the wealthy and their behaviour.

Not that I need another one but I’ll definitely be adding this series to my must follow list after this excellent first instalment from the writing duo. Actually it’s a trio if you consider as I do that their translator Rod Bradbury has played an equally important role in bringing the book to life for English-speaking readers. I’m always particularly impressed when even humour flows well, as evidenced by this passage in which Olivia is talking to one of the local women who was interviewed at the time of the murder

‘And then they interrogated everybody on the island and you can be sure I told them what I thought had happened.’
‘And what did you think?”
‘Satanists. Racists. Some sort of -ists that was fur sure, that’s what I told them.’

Translating linguistic humour from one language to another must surely garner extra credit.

If you’re after an intelligent, fast-paced procedural with loads of twists and terrific characters then you really ought not go past SPRING TIDE.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Rod Bradbury
Publisher Hesperus Press [2014]
ISBN 9781843914914
Length 474 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Olivia Rönning/Tom Stilton series

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Review: THE SILENT GIRLS by Eric Rickstad

TheSilentGirlsRickstadFrontMy meandering trip around the US via its fiction takes me to Vermont in winter thanks to a recommendation from Sarah Ward.

In the very small (population less than 2000) town of Canaan in northern Vermont Frank Rath is an ex-cop turned private investigator. When the Police Chief is on leave Frank is asked by the town’s lone police detective for some assistance with an awkward missing persons case. Mandy Wilks is only 16 so the report from her mother that she has disappeared would normally generate a formal investigation but Mandy is emancipated which means she is, legally, an adult and her disappearance cannot be looked into until the requisite number of days have elapsed. Frank, with some assistance his police colleagues, soon discovers there is more than one missing girl from their area and they begin to piece together a rather alarming reason for these incidents.

THE SILENT GIRLS starts brutally enough for me to be concerned this was going to be one of those books where violence masquerades as plot. Happily though the rather confronting opening makes way for a nuanced story that quickly engaged me and subsequent violence is relatively minimal. The story is complex – with multiple threads unfolding in parallel – but not fussily complicated. The procedural elements of the case are handled well, enabling the solution to be revealed credibly, and when the reasons for the disappearances start to become apparent the novel takes on an almost gothic sensibility which suits the content. In addition to the investigation there is a significant thread involving Frank’s personal life as we learn why he adopted and raised his niece as his own daughter and what present-day event will make him re-visit the horrific episode from his family’s past.

Rickard has done a great job creating an evocative picture of rural, mountainous Vermont. A rugged sensibility depicting a place that only certain kinds of individuals can survive – let alone thrive in – infuses the whole book but my favourite passage is this early one

As soon as the sightseers crossed into the land where billboards were banned for their affront to nature’s aesthetics, they settled into their heated leather seats, bathed in a Rockwellian serenity and liberated from the gray grind of urban life. They’d power down their windows to breathe in the crisp mountain air, buoyed and intoxicated by the setting and by a pang of nostalgia for a past they’d never lived but could taste on their tongues nonetheless. Here, the air was sweeter. Here, they were alive. Safe. (chapter 3)

Rath then goes on to scoff at the idea that his rural setting is somehow immune to the violence and harm that human beings can do to each other. Indeed. As a bonus that passage is also an indication of Rickard’s writing style which is above average for a crime novel that is at times pulp-y in tone.

My only criticism of the novel is that the ending jarred and I wish the entire epilogue (which includes my least favourite trope of modern crime thrillers) didn’t exist but this is so common an occurrence these days I often forget to comment on it so I suppose I can’t be too harsh. Clearly my expectations for novel endings are completely out of step with almost everyone else’s and I just have to come to grips with this reality. Other than this THE SILENT GIRLS has well-drawn, multi-faceted characters, a compelling narrative and an enveloping (if not particularly inviting) physical environment. Definitely recommended.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

USAFictionChallengeButtonThis is the fourth novel I’ve read for the Reading USA Fiction challenge wherein I will read 51 books (one set in each state and one for the District of Columbia) by new (to me) authors.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Publisher Witness Impulse [2014]
ISBN 9780062351517
Length No idea how many pages (in iBooks page numbers are not static)
Format eBook (iBooks)
Book Series #1 in the Frank Rath series? Or a Standalone?

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Review: DESTROYER ANGEL by Nevada Barr

DestroyerAngelNevadaBarrAudioNevada Barr’s 18th novel featuring nomadic National Parks Service ranger Anna Pigeon sees Anna taking a camping holiday in a Minnesota forest. With her are two women, Heath and Leah, and their respective teenage daughters. The trip’s main purpose is for Heath, who cannot walk, to test some new equipment that Leah has designed with the aim of making camping more accessible to people with disabilities. But on their second evening the trip goes horribly wrong. While Anna is off on a canoeing excursion four men take Anna’s camp mates hostage with the aim of holding at least some of them for ransom.

Subsequent to this fairly brief opening the novel proceeds, at snail’s pace, to depict the progress of the kidnappers and their victims to the point where there is to be a rendezvous with an airplane and a shady sounding Mr Big. Also depicted is Anna, accompanied by a three-legged (and overly anthropomorphised) dog, tracking the hapless crowd. If the book had been shorter it might have managed to be suspenseful and hold my attention but it was far too long for its story. At one point I was so sure the end was mere moments away that I sat on a bench outside my office to await the end before starting my workday only to discover there was more than three hours to go! Eh gads!

One of the trademarks of this series is its glorious depiction of the various national parks that Anna is assigned to work in. Here though the physical setting takes a back seat to the psychological one as the story unfolds from the overlapping perspectives of Anna, Heath and the chief kidnapper known as ‘The Dude’. While I am normally one to applaud authors of long-running series taking this kind of risk I have to admit that it didn’t work for me here as much of the narrative is concerned with the inner thoughts of these three central characters and, frankly, they got more than a little repetitive. The Dude’s head proved a particularly grim place to spend time as he was so thoroughly repulsed by Heath’s disability. I’m sure people like this do exist but simply revisiting his repugnant attitude (which boiled down to ‘why would a cripple fight to live?’) didn’t move the story or anyone’s character development along.

As a fan of the series and an admirer of Anna’s pluck I was pleased to catch up with her again and, it’s not a spoiler to let on, see her defeat yet more bad guys (who doesn’t like to see the good gals win?). But other than that broad premise there really wasn’t enough in DESTROYER ANGEL to maintain my attention for the length of the novel and I’d struggle to recommend it unless you are a die-hard fan and completest. This is not a good place for those new to the series to introduce themselves to the indefatigable Anna Pigeon.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My other reviews of Nevada Barr’s books are HUNTING SEASON (book #10) FLASHBACK (book #11), BORDERLINE (book #15), BURN (book #16) and THE ROPE (book #18)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Barbara Rosenblat
Publisher Macmillan Audio [2014]
Length 11 hours 36 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #18 in the Anna Pigeon series
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Review: RUNAWAY by Peter May

RunawayPeterMayAudioI knew absolutely nothing about this story going in. I plucked it from Audible’s new releases section when on the hunt for something for my ears because the cover has the same look and feel as the covers of May’s other recent works and I assumed it would be somewhat similar. Now I think that cover is at best misguided. At worst deliberate misdirection by unhelpful publishers. RUNAWAY is more a coming of age story than a crime one. For me at least its not entirely successful on either front.

It is narrated by Jack McKay, a Glaswegian in his late 60’s. A present-day event prompts Jack and those of his friends still alive to re-create the time when, as teenagers, they ran away from Glasgow and all the boredom it represented to the excitement of London. Where life as a successful rock band awaited. Or did it?

In a book that is three-quarters flashback we learn about the early adventures of Jack and his friends in some detail. Probably more detail than is needed. To begin with I was engaged with learning about the five boys, their reasons for wanting to leave the city and was quite keen to read of the events that would happen to them in the big smoke. But before they reach London they have to endure a rather alarming (and frankly unbelievable) series of encounters with n’er do wells and these incidents bored me a little. The dangers were so easy to spot (not least due to the obvious foreshadowing) and there were long passages of fighting and running and hiding and waiting and pointlessly recriminating with each other. My attention strayed.

On reflection some of my lack of interest is my fault. There are a few subjects guaranteed to make me yawn and one of them is fight sequences of any sort. Honestly only one fist has to swing and my brain switches off. Can’t be helped. But some of my lack of interest is down to the author. Such a big deal is made early on that there are dramatic events which will take place in London that the reader is conditioned to want to get to those events. Sooner rather than later please. And the whole experience is not really helped by the fact that when we, finally, do get to the pointy end it’s a bit of an anti-climax. For me the actual event that was meant to have sparked this whole story just lacked…oomph. For want of a better word. “Is that it?” was the thought wandering across my mind in a mildly annoyed manner.

As far as characters go Jack is nicely drawn and as an elderly gent has a healthily humorous outlook on life and the inevitable decline associated with ageing. His relationship with his grandson, whom he coerces into aiding the elderly gang’s repeat of their running away, is rather lovely. There’s only one female character of any substance (this is a bloke-filled book) and I suppose she is well drawn too. Though there’s a bit too much of an “I need men to protect/save me” sensibility about her for me to find Rachel completely engaging. I admit though that this is probably a bit unfair of me…it’s not that she’s not believable…more that I wish she wasn’t.

After finishing the book I trawled through the recent posts collected in my RSS reader to see if I’d missed any discussions of this much-admired author’s latest work. As it’s release date is actually mid-January (not sure why it was available in audio format a month earlier) I only found one mention but this Shots article told me a lot about why the book didn’t work for me. It seems RUNAWAY is, at least in part, based on May’s own experiences. Sometimes this works well but on this occasion I’m not sure it did. Though perhaps if you’re 60+, something of a music geek and nostalgic it does (I’m none of those things). For me it felt a bit too self-indulgent. Like someone telling you their dreams. OK not that bad (I did listen all the way through after all). But not really a big enough story to warrant being written down. But of course, and as always, other opinions are available.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Peter Forbes
Publisher Quercus Books [2014]
Length 10 hours 34 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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Review: SWIMMING IN THE DARK by Paddy Richardson

Swimming in the Dark CVR.inddI love it when a book takes me in a completely unexpected direction. SWIMMING IN THE DARK did this several times. In less than three hundred pages. Bliss.

As the book opens we meet high school student Serena Freeman. Just another bloody Freeman. The youngest of the brood of always-in-trouble kids whose mother is the object of much derision in their small New Zealand town. But Serena is clever. There is hope that she will avoid the family curse. Then she encounters her own kind of trouble. Then she disappears.

Richardson draws the reader into this novel with a sympathetic but not sentimental introduction of Serena Freeman as the sort of character who demands attention. Struggling to overcome the odds, yearning to believe she has a chance – that the belief her older sister and Miss (one of her teachers) show in her is well-founded – not, at first, understanding the implications of the man who stops to talk to her sometimes.

But Serena is not the only star of the novel. There is Miss – Ilsa Klein – a teacher of Serena’s who fled East Germany with her parents when she was only 10. She lives with her now somewhat elderly mother who is tormented by her past with the Stasi. Richardson slowly and deliberately allows the reader to learn the reasons behind this torment and the impact the memories have on Gerda’s behaviour in the present day. And Lynnie, Serena’s older sister who has escaped the curse of the Freeman name in her own way, is also well-drawn: displaying a very realistic mix of guilt, determination and sibling love.

The narrative structure and story arc of SWIMMING IN THE DARK are both superb. Keeping the reader guessing but completely engaged at the same time.

Any other point I’d like to make would constitute too much of a spoiler so I shall so no more. Except that I am still pondering this novel many days after finishing it and I shall be recommending it widely. It’s not just for crime fans.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

If think you are likely to read this book I’d avoid reading too much about it as many sites – most notably the book’s Good Reads page (the blurb for which I assume comes from one of the editions of the book, happily not mine) – give away far more of the plot than they ought to. Tsk tsk.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed two of Paddy Richardson’s earlier novels HUNTING BLIND and TRACES OF RED

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Pan Macmillan [2014]
ISBN 9781743531204
Length 287 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

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#1915Book: John Buchan’s THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS

TheThirtyNineStepsAudioMy contribution to the Past Offences monthly classic challenge. The publications of one hundred years ago offered slim pickings for my sensibilities and from those I opted for the book which arguably introduced the world to the innocent-man-in-peril thriller.

I’ve twice now made the same error when selecting a book for this challenge: choosing what to read based on my knowledge of an adaptation. I never got around to writing about my #1952Book – David Dodge’s TO CATCH A THIEF – but if I had done I suspect I could have copied large swathes of my critique for this post. In both instances the film adaptations which came afterwards are much better stories and in both cases I’d wager the source material would long ago have faded into obscurity if not for the superiority of Alfred Hitchcok’s narrative skills.

If you have seen either of the early film adaptations but never read the book there’s a lot you wouldn’t recognise (the 1978 adaptation is reportedly more faithful than those from 1935, 1959 or 2008 though I can’t remember it well enough to make the claim on my own) so let me help you out. It is 1914. Pre-war. Richard Hannay is in England after years of life as a mining engineer in Rhodesia. He’s bored (because he doesn’t have a chap to run about with). He returns home one night to find an American on his doorstep. The man, Scudder, has faked his own death and claims to know of a plot to assassinate the Greek Premier during his imminent visit to London (heaven knows why he selected Hannay – a total stranger – alone in all the world to share this apparently vital piece of information with). The aforementioned Scudder is murdered a few days later. Rather than contacting any kind of authority Hannay disguises himself as a milkman to escape the prying eyes of whoever murdered Scudder and the police and catches a train to Scotland where he proposes to hide out until nearer the due date of the assassination and then warn ‘one of the government people’ of the threat to the Greek politician. This is as believable as the plot gets. Ridiculousness piles upon absurd coincidence for the remainder of this brief tale (it clocks in at under 4 hours in the audio version I listened to or under 100 pages in the Project Gutenberg download I skimmed).

I suppose I’m being a little harsh in that the preposterous story might not have seemed quite so outlandish a hundred years ago but when a book has nothing else – no character development, no thought-provoking exploration of themes – then the quality (or lack thereof) of the plot will get all the attention. Though perhaps I’ll allow a digression to mention the quite confronting casual bigotry on display. I know we have to make allowances for the writing being of its time. But still: ugh.

Getting back to the story. I now know that it was originally published as a series of instalments in a magazine which makes a lot of sense as every chapter finishes with an absurd cliffhanger. I suppose that kept people returning to buy the next issue but it makes for a somewhat alarmingly paced tale when all strung together. There are repeated sequences of Hannay meeting the right person to help him escape his current predicament (however unlikely their appearance at that moment might be), the donning of a disguise, some running and hiding (usually in fields) and an in-the-nick-of-time escape. In between, our hero proves most worthy of the sobriquet for there is little he cannot turn his hand to (code-breaking, public speaking, setting explosives and generally outwitting all manner of gents) (and unlike all the films the novel is populated almost entirely by gents though I do recall a woman offering shelter and cheese at one point). I know it is meant to be suspenseful but there is never a single moment’s doubt that Hannay will succeed and all without incurring any kind of permanent injury (though how he managed to pick up a very convenient case of Malaria in the middle of Scotland is, I suppose, something of a mystery).

The book is a forgettable romp. Its language and attitude are dated and its substance is…well…almost non existent. And after so much adventure the ending is a whimper rather than a bang which is something of a disappointment. But it’s enjoyable enough as an example of the British “Tally Ho Chaps” sensibility in action (and in the early days of the war I’m sure this would have been appreciated) and perhaps worth the short time reading it occupies to understand the origins of the now well-worn trope of an innocent man on the run.

2015’s Bookish Goals

I was reminded by the always inspirational Ms Bookish that goals aren’t much use unless they are specific and measurable so I’ve decided to be quite particular about my book-related goals this year.

aww-badge-2015As well as being one of the co-hosts I’m also participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge and am aiming to read and review 25 books for the challenge this year. This will stretch me a little from my best achievement in the past (20 books in 2013). You can sign up for this challenge too.

USAFictionChallengeButtonI’m continuing on with the Reading US Fiction Challenge but this is a long term project so I will aim only to double my effort from last year and. Read at least 6 books set in different states of the US; all by new to me authors.

There are no specific challenges for the remainder of my book-ish goals but I also want to read

  • At least 6 books that aren’t crime/mystery/thrillers
  • Books set in at least 10 different countries not counting Australia, America or England
  • At least 20 of the books I already own (as at 31 December 2014)
  • Buy no physical or eBooks from non-Australian stores (I allow myself to buy books from Audible as there is no equivalent in Australia and audio books help keep me sane)

How about you? Have any reading-related goals or do you prefer to wing it?

2014: The Favourites

Despite its turmoil 2014 did contain some great reads and I’d hate to forget these excellent books.

Crime fiction that’s not really about crime

FatalImpactFoxFATAL IMPACT by Katherine Fox. Series heroine Anya Crichton heads to Tasmania where she becomes involved in investigating a food poisoning outbreak which offers the perfect backdrop for Fox to explore the issue of food security and associated environmental issues. There’s a romping procedural at the heart of the novel but the social and political themes it explores are equally compelling.

InvisibleMurderKaaberbol20194_fINVISIBLE MURDER by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis. I was not terribly taken with this writing duo’s first novel but am glad I gave them a second chance. This book sees Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg assisting some Roma people whose children are getting inexplicably sick. The characters are beautifully drawn but it is the book’s bigger picture – about the difficulties of doing good of our globalised world and the unforseen consequences that can arise when people or groups are marginalised and ill-treated – that has stayed with me for months.

TheMurderOfHarrietKrohnFossumAudioTHE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN by Karin Fossum. Told from the point of view of an unremarkable man who kills this book is not really concerned with the crime at all but rather with what consequences, if any, the murderer will incur either legally or…cosmically…for want of a better word. Series regular Inspector Sejer’s role is much smaller than usual but his interviews with the killer are some of the best passages of their type I’ve ever read. Or listened to in my case (I’d highly recommend the audio book if you like that kind of thing).

Storytelling at its very best

InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyIN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE by Adrian McKinty. I wrote back in June that I thought this book perfect and I stand by that opinion. The tale of a Catholic policeman working in the largely Protestant RUC at the height of the Troubles being asked to use his personal connection to locate an escaped prisoner is intricately layered but very satisfying. There is even a modern locked-room mystery that resolves cleverly. Plus the book is laugh-out-loud funny.

MeRoryMacbeathRichard22180_fME AND RORY MACBEATH by Richard Beasley. A novel I never found the time to review but still have to mention this fabulous coming of age story set in my home town of Adelaide during the 1970’s. Narrated by Jake Taylor it juxtaposes the innocent freedoms of childhood in that era with a depiction of the sometimes more sinister things that are happening behind closed doors. Jake’s unconventional mother Harry is a chain-smoking, alcohol-chugging barrister and a character long-remembered.

ThroughTheCracksBrownHo22131_fTHROUGH THE CRACKS by Honey Brown. A compelling, confronting and worryingly credible story about a boy who has been kept a virtual prisoner by his father. Until he is big enough to break free. I loved the way Honey Brown stayed clear of all the grubby details a more sensationalist approach would take but still made it hauntingly clear just how harmful some human beings can be to each other.

People and Places to remember

ElementalAmandaCurtinELEMENTAL by Amanda Curtin. Yes I occasionally read things other than crime novels…though heaven knows why when they make me cry in public as this one did. It is a beautifully written story about a young girl – Fish Meggie – who makes her way from a harsh Scottish fishing village to a different kind of harsh climate in Western Australia. Though its characters endure poverty, hardships and heartache ELEMENTAL also contains love and laughter and joy so it avoids the misery-lit air that made me stop attending book club some years ago.

TheFactsOfLifeAndDeathBauerAudioTHE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH by Belinda Bauer. 10-year old Ruby Trick is an only child in an isolated North Devon community. Her father can’t get a job and is obsessed by all things-cowboy; an interest which seems to foster his interest in searching the community for the people who have begun playing nasty pranks.

VisitationStreetPochodaI21813_fVISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda. The book tells the story of the impact on the local community when a teenage girl goes missing from a working class neighbourhood in Brooklyn on a hot summer night. The friend who was with the missing girl, the local business owner who wants to use the search to help bring the community together, one of the girl’s teachers…all of these people come alive in the hands of this skilled writer.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? Any special books standout from your year’s reading?