A Shamini Flint love fest

I don’t remember the last time I read two books by the same author in immediate succession. It’s been at least 11 years (that’s when I started keeping a detailed record of my reading) but I have a sense it’s actually much longer. While I love nothing more than to binge on TV shows I generally like to space my reading of even much loved authors out. Except this month.

It was back in June this year that I realised Shamini Flint had moved from being “an author whose work I like” to “an author whose books I love to the point of rambling about them to everyone including people who have no interest but are too polite to say so“.  At the same time I realised I’d missed reading several of her series’ earlier instalments so immediately ordered all three of those from my favourite local bookseller.

Last week I decided that one of these would be perfect for my end of year mood. When I finished I felt unready to leave Inspector Singh and his world view so I dove straight into the second unread book. At the end of this I might easily have gone into the final unread book but alas SINGAPORE SCHOOL OF VILLAINY has been on back order and is not yet in my hot little hands (though it should be here shortly she says gushingly).

In A CURIOUS INDIAN CADAVER Flint’s protagonist, Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police, goes to India with his wife for a family wedding. He is not thrilled to be so engaged but he’s on enforced medical leave and doesn’t have much choice. He is soon embroiled in a murder investigation when a corpse is identified as the bride-to-be. The official version of events is that she committed suicide, probably to avoid her arranged marriage, but the young woman’s grandfather, an influential businessman, doesn’t believe that and asks Singh to look into the matter.

In A CALAMITOUS CHINESE KILLING, which follows immediately after the Indian-set book in the series chronology, the Inspector is sent to China to investigate the death of the son of the Singaporean Ambassador. Local police have closed the case as a robbery gone awry and Singh is, at first, inclined to agree with this assessment but, aided by a sidekick/translator in the form of a retired policeman who fell afoul of his superiors, is soon following leads down dangerous paths.

Suffice it to say I loved both of the books, which delivered all the things I’ve come to expect and admire from the series.

They’re not doorstops, generally being around 300 pages in length.

There’s an engaging protagonist who does have personal weaknesses but these are not as debilitating as the ones many of his fictional colleagues experience. There is a limit to how much I want to read about addiction.

The stories are suspenseful and while their investigations might, of necessity, unfold a little more quickly than real-life ones do they are always within the boundaries of my credibility.

Because each book is set in a different country readers are offered insights into a range of local historical, social and political issues. For example in A CURIOUS INDIAN CADAVER we learn about how a particular historical event affecting the Sikh people has long tentacles that affects people in the modern era.

And, perhaps most important of all, while it’s not hard to discern which way the author leans politically (especially if you follow her on twitter), the books don’t cross the line from storytelling to lecturing. There is a balance in the depictions of local people and customs even when these are alarming, such as in A CALAMITOUS CHINESE KILLING in which recalcitrant citizens are dealt with appallingly by prison authorities. I am truly grateful to Flint for showing restraint in this arena. The books don’t shy away from depicting such horrors as exist but there is not mountains of exposition. Readers are treated with the intelligence to know why these things are wrong. I have been reading another, much acclaimed book for the past several weeks but keep putting it aside because it is so didactic and obvious in its messaging, constantly reminding readers why racist behaviour is racist and awful. I hate being lectured at by my leisure reading. It treats readers who are already of the prevailing opinion as though they are morons and doesn’t work on the rest. People who disagree are never going to be convinced by being metaphorically shouted at.

Now that I’m nearly finished reading all the ones that currently exist I truly hope that Shamini Flint has some more Inspector Singh adventures to share with us all. And if you haven’t tried any of the books I highly recommend them.

 

 

 

 

Posted in China, India, mini review, Shamini Flint | Leave a comment

Gift ideas for mystery lovers

As an unemployed person in dubious health* I ought not be spending money on frivolities but I couldn’t resist trying out a Vintage Mystery Box (aka Coffee and Crime but you can’t post coffee to Australia).

Kate from Cross Examining Crime is a classic crime aficionado and, I can now report, also a dab hand at preparing packages of joy. After negotiating with Kate about postage rates to Oz and asking her not to incorporate illegal foodstuffs in my package I signed up for a mystery box late last month. I was expecting it to take much longer to get here but this morning I collected my box from the post office and immediately abandoned my other chores so I could rush home to open it.

My package contained a newsletter-come-puzzle sheet, a Cluedo-themed drink coaster, two postcards and bookmarks, a Poirot-quoting tote bag and 2 nicely wrapped vintage crime books. What an absolute delight.

The books are both from authors I have never read which is exactly what I was aiming for in my quest to become a little more well versed in my favourite genre’s past. There is more to vintage crime than Dame Christie after all and I am woefully ignorant about most of the authors who reigned the genre in the past.

Even without having read the books yet I can heartily recommend the Vintage Mystery Box as a gift idea. The packages can be purchased as a one off or as a subscription service as often as you’d like. If you don’t want to buy one for yourself you can prompt your loved ones with the address of Kate’s Etsy store.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I had another treat waiting at the post office earlier this week in the form of David Owen’s latest Pufferfish novel BIG RED ROCK. I am very much looking forward to settling down with this over the Christmas break but I was also thrilled to learn that Owen’s current publisher is in the process of re-releasing the first books in this clever, funny series that celebrates the best of Tasmania. The early books have been out of print for nearly two decades, meaning those of us who are late to the Pufferfish appreciation society have been unable to read them. Until now. The first book in the series, 1994’s PIG’S HEAD, is available now.

I’ve reviewed the later books in this series including ROMEO’S GUN13-POINT PLAN FOR A PERFECT MURDER and HOW THE DEAD SEE.

Although I haven’t read the whole series (yet) I am prepared to recommend them all for lovers of intelligent, slightly quirky crime fiction.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

*lest you worry too much, rest assured I really am doing perfectly fine both financially and health-wise; this year has just had a couple more hiccups than usual.

Posted in random thoughts | 9 Comments

Review: ICARUS by Deon Meyer

ICARUS is the latest of Deon Meyer’s intelligent, accessible thrillers set in South Africa, offering his usual mix of local colour and universal themes.

The core mystery involves an investigation into the death of Ernst Richter, a young man whose chief success in life was the creation of a website providing alibis to cheating spouses. This provides an ample suspect pool, especially when it appears that hackers have accessed the firm’s client data and are prepared to release the names of high profile customers.

The investigative thread of the story features Meyer’s recurring characters that make up the Hawks; an elite team within the police force. I like the way Meyer depicts the whole team and its various personalities and doesn’t concentrate entirely on a single detective. In this outing Vaughan Cupido is in charge of the investigation while the usual lead, Benny Griessel, is struggling. At the outset of the novel he is called to a scene where a fellow officer he knows has killed himself and his family. This leads to Griessel losing his sobriety (again) and his investigative focus. I must admit to groaning a bit at this turn of events as I am a bit tired of reading about people battling addiction in the middle of my crime fiction but to be fair Meyer does handle this aspect of his character’s life very realistically.

At the same time as the police investigation is unfolding a local wine farmer is talking to his lawyer and the transcript of that conversation offers some of the story’s twists and turns. At first it is not clear how – or even if – the two threads are connected but the parallel storylines do eventually draw together. Meyer is a master at this complex, multi-pronged approach to storytelling and in ICARUS he proves it once again.

For audio book fans some author/narrator combinations become more than the sum of their parts and for me this is never more true than when Deon Meyer’s writing is paired with Saul Reichlin’s narration. Both bring their particular talents to the art of storytelling and I love that I get to hear all the dialects and idioms Meyer’s books are sprinkled with. At which point I should also mention the excellent translation from Afrikaans by K.L. Seegers who always seems to know just how much of the local language can be left in the text without confusing woefully monolingual readers such as myself. I know we tend to think of writing as a solitary profession but it’s always good to be reminded that the production of a finished novel – especially a good one – is a collaborative effort.

ICARUS is not my absolute favourite of this wonderful series: Benny Griessel falling off the wagon and a smidgen too much exposition about the history of South African wine were my stumbling points. But even when he is ever so slightly off his game Deon Meyer is still a top tier author. The book is fast-paced, packed with terrific characters and topical at both a local and international level. I’m already looking forward to Saul Reichlin reading me the next adventure in this series.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Translator K.L. Seegers
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton, 2015
ASIN B00W8DCGY0
Length 13 hours 38 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #5 in the Benny Griessel series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Deon Meyer, South Africa | 2 Comments

Review: A NECESSARY EVIL by Abir Mukherjee

I heard about this book on an episode of Two Crime Writers and a Microphone (a UK-based podcast that focuses on crime fiction) and was intrigued enough to track down a copy. The tale of a royal murder in 1920’s India and the difficult investigation that results well and truly lived up to my expectations for a smart, entertaining read.

The event that sparks the novel’s action is the assassination of Prince Adhir, heir to the kingdom of Sambalpore. He happens to be in Calcutta and in the presence of police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrendernot’ Banergee when he is killed which is how our heroes come to be force their way into the investigation into his death despite the reality that neither the pair’s superiors nor the people or authorities in Sambalpore want them involved.

There’s a lot of historical crime fiction around but the setting in India at the time when the British Raj was declining offers something genuinely different to all the rest and Mukherjee has depicted it evocatively and intelligently. The interplay between the British and local people is a key ingredient of the setting and without awkward exposition or flagrantly implausible modern sensibilities this aspect of the book is handled particularly well. The general physical and social attributes of the location are also well drawn, providing that sense of virtual travel that the best such fiction does.

I enjoyed meeting the two main characters who are cleverly given a kind of equality that might not have been available to them in real life. Although he is subordinate to Wyndham in terms of organisational structure the Sergeant has an equal amount of agency and purpose in the story and does not merely act as the traditional sidekick. The fact that he doesn’t have an opium addiction, whereas Wyndham does, made Sergeant Banerjee a favourite for me as I’m a bit tired of addicted detectives. I get that they are probably realistic – who wouldn’t need some kind of salve when confronted with an endless stream of human misery in the way they are – but if I wanted that kind of realism I’d read more true crime. This probably makes me the worst kind of reader as I claim to enjoy books with an authentic feel but my idiosyncrasies can’t be helped. There is an array of compelling supporting characters in the book, many of them women who display a strength and independence I found appealing.

There is an earlier novel in this series which I haven’t read but I did not feel at a disadvantage for that. The author has provided enough explanation of previous events for me to grasp what’s going on, but not too much that I would feel unable to go back and read that first book (which I have every intention of doing). A NECESSARY EVIL has elements of humour, romance and politics in addition to the intriguing, suspense-filled mystery at its heart. It is a top read.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Harvill Secker, 2017
ISBN 9781911215134
Length 374 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #2 in the Sam Wyndham series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in Abir Mukherjee, book review, India | 7 Comments

Books of the month: November 2017

Pick of the month

November was another odd month for me as I was generally out of sorts following my year’s earlier upheavals on the work and health fronts. This resulted in a fair amount of re-reading, something of a rarity these days, and more listening than anything else. I failed to review anything at all on the blog. Sorry ’bout that; I shall attempt to make up for it here.

The book I enjoyed most was Christopher Brookmyre’s BLACK WIDOW which last year won the inaugural McIlvaney Prize and this year collected the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. For once I can see why. It is the 7th book in a series featuring journalist Jack Parlabane and one of the things I liked most was that I could enjoy the book without having read any of its predecessors. Not all authors are so kind. Or able. Its central story is that of Diana Jager who is a surgeon, ex-blogger and new wife when her life spins out of control. One of the themes of the book is particularly timely as it explores the kinds of sexism that many women encounter on a daily basis. Other themes include cyber-bullying and the collective rush to outraged opinion that modern social media facilitates. Which is all background to a multi-twisted tale of a probable murder that had me in rapt attention. I couldn’t help but compare this book to last month’s lacklustre suspense read and wish I could sent the the author of that one a “this is how it’s done” note. If you are a fan of the audio format I can highly recommend the narration by Angus King and Scarlett Mack.

The rest, in reading order 

  • Ellery Adams’ WRITING ALL THE WRONGS – The 7th book in Adam’s series about a North Carolina writer’s group is just what my doctor would have ordered if he weren’t so busy prescribing drugs and making use of fancy new-fangled technology 🙂 A smart, cosy mystery that takes the series’ regular cast on a honeymoon-come-holiday to a nearby island’s writing festival. Ghosts, legends and longheld secrets combine to form a suitably twisted mystery with just a dash of romance.
  • Larry D. Sweazy’s SEE ALSO DECEPTION – the follow up to one of my favourite finds of last year is just as good as its predecessor. In this outing Marjorie Trumaine’s closest friend, the local librarian, is found dead and is presumed to have killed herself. Marjorie is unwilling to accept this but struggles to prove her thoughts are anything more than the sympathetic notions of a concerned friend. Marjorie’s life as a farmer, wife of a quadriplegic and diligent book indexer in mid-60’s North Dakota provide a richer reading experience than you might imagine and the book’s ending had me in tears.
  • Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – After being somewhat underwhelmed by the latest movie adaptation of what is probably Dame Christie’s most famous book I wanted to re-read the source material because I had forgotten how she tackled the issue of Poirot’s feelings about the case. Both this adaptation and the recent one for David Suchet’s much-praised television series have made much of Poirot’s inner turmoil regarding ‘justice’ as it plays out in this story. Perhaps not surprisingly this is entirely manufactured by modern sensibilities; Christie’s Poirot deals with the issue as perfunctorily as humanly possible. How times change eh?
  • Cath Staincliffe’s HALF THE WORLD AWAY – I’m a big fan of Cath Staincliff’s standalone nearly-not-crime novels but missed the publication of this one 2 years ago. It is the story of Lori Maddox, an English girl whose gap year travels turn into a job as a private tutor in China. Her parents, Joanna and Tom, follow their daughter’s adventures via her blog Lori in the Orient. When the blog stops being updated and no one hears from Lori for several weeks her parents, who separated when Lori was little, have to put aside their differences, convince authorities in two countries to treat their daughter as officially missing and, eventually, make their way to China to actively participate in searching for their child. The book has a really strong sense of place, especially when the action is in China, and the depiction of parental desperation to discover what has happened to their child is gripping.

Re-reads (or re-listens if you want to be pedantic) for the month included these titles…marvellous comfort reading each and every one of them.



We’re not going to discuss my progress on bookish goals this month because there hasn’t been any. Progress that is. C’est la vie.

What about you? How is your reading going for the year? Anything from November that you want to shout about? 

Posted in Agatha Christie, books of the month, Cath Staincliffe, Christopher Brrookmyre, Ellery Adams, Larry D. Sweazy | 16 Comments

Review: SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney

Amber wants you to know three things about her:

  1. She is in a coma
  2. Her husband doesn’t love her anymore
  3. Sometimes she lies

I would add three more things that you ought to know before you embark on her story:

  1. She is a narcissist
  2. She has no sense of humour
  3. She could whine for England

I would never have read this book but for the fact it was this month’s selection for my book club. So I persevered through to the bitter, bonkers end of what is known in these parts as GIRL IN A COMA.

The book unfolds in three narrative strands. One is Amber’s present, it’s Boxing Day and she is in a coma. Though not, alas, enough of one to stop the whining. The second thread starts about a week before that and teases out the events that led up to the coma. The third is extracts from childhood diaries that, presumably, provide some insight into a corresponding adult’s life. This multiple timeline structure has become a common approach to storytelling but to be as fair as I can – given I wanted to pull the plugs of every machine keeping fictional Amber alive – Feeney handles the complexity as well as anyone. The writing is not the problem here.

The problem is that when a book uses an admittedly unreliable first-person perspective that central person has to engage me. Amber didn’t. She is self-absorbed and takes everything so bloody seriously I wanted to carry out physical harm. If you can’t find a little bit of self-deprecating humour in the life you are sharing with others then you should at least be fabulously windswept and interesting. Amber is not. Amber is full of angst at the petty injustices of her world. Amber is a colossal bore whose potential demise I cared nothing about, except to hope for it to become a reality sooner rather than later.

As far as suspense goes it is almost the half-way point of the book before anything approaching drama starts to build (the coma itself doesn’t count as it is announced on the book’s front cover). That’s quite a lot of boring details of an uninteresting life to wade through before anything vaguely interesting arrives. Things do pick up after this. There are the requisite twists and lots of ‘reveals’ but for me it was too little, too late. The book is another in that category where an interesting or quirky premise is not backed up with nearly enough depth. A book needs to be much more than its blurb.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Stephanie Racine
Publisher Macmillan Audio, 2017
ASIN B06XJ8FJGT
Length 9 hours 26 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in Alice Feeney, book review, England | 6 Comments

Books of the month: October 2017

Pick of the month

October delivered more real-life shenanigans (this time on the health front), making 2017 an interesting year if nothing else. But here I prefer to focus on books rather than shenanigans, especially when I’ve read a book like ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Australian author Jock Serong. My shortest possible review would read: bloody hell! A story of asylum seekers, innocent tourists and a soul-less government it is gorgeously written, highly topical, bone-achingly tense and as anger inducing as art gets.

The rest, in reading order 

  • Shankari Chandran’s THE BARRIER is an unsettling dystopian novel set in the near future in which our future selves fail to deal humanely with the challenges of global disease outbreaks and other unpleasantness
  • Jane Harper’s FORCE OF NATURE follows on strongly from her much awarded debut novel THE DRY and reminds as all why nature is frightening
  • Qiu Xiaolong’s A CASE OF TWO CITIES takes readers to modern China and the US in a politically charged investigation
  • Maddie Day’s FLIPPED FOR MURDER provided the Indiana stop on my virtual tour of America and is an enjoyable read for those who like their cosy mysteries without overt gimmicks
  • Val McDermid’s INSIDIOUS INTENT is the 10th book in the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series provides a superbly constructed story but includes far too much casual law breaking on the part of people who should know better for my tastes.

I did read two additional books but haven’t posted reviews yet: Alice Feeney’s SOMETIMES I LIE and Sarah Ward’s THE PATIENT FURY.

Progress on bookish goals

aww2017-badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Read & Review 25 books 

14 down (not counting two DNFs), 11 to go. Probably not going to make it this time

image borrowed and edited from http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/classic-crime-curriculum.htmlParticipate 8 times in Crimes of the Century

4 down, 4 to go. Was looking good for this one but the host of this meme is taking a break and I haven’t been motivated to read the classics on my own.

mount-tbr-2017Read 36 books owned prior to the start of the year and/or reduce the TBR to less than 100 (from 131)

Sigh. I have only read 22 books that I owned before January 1. I’ve gotten rid of a few more via culling or deciding not to finish but my total TBR stands at 128.

Image sourced from http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2014/01/7-ways-to-buy-australian-made/

Buy no physical or eBooks from stores outside Australia (Audio books are my exception)

So far so good.

USAFictionChallengeButtonRead at least 10 books eligible for my virtual tour of the US via its fiction (each one set in a different state and by a new-to-me author).

Have read 4 eligible books for the whole of 2017. Unlikely to read 6 more during the next two months

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How is your reading going for the year? Anything from October that you want to shout about? 

Posted in books of the month, Jane Harper (Aus), Jock Serong (Aus), Maddie Day, Qiu Xiaolong, Shankari Chandran (Aus), Val McDermid | 5 Comments

Review: INSIDIOUS INTENT by Val McDermid

I stopped reading this series a while back. I can’t remember which book it was now but I just found it too violent for my taste at the time. However I’ve come to really love McDermid’s writing via her standalone novels and those of the Karen Pirie series that I’ve read. So when I spotted the latest book to feature Carol Jordan and Tony Hill was available for my ears with my absolute favourite narrator at the helm I decided to give it a go. It’s been a few days since I finished listening and I’m still somewhat conflicted about it.

It might not the best place to start – or restart – the series as there are a lot of references to events from earlier books but McDermid does a good job of providing enough details for new readers to grasp the big stuff. Carol is in charge of a the newly established ReMIT (Regional Major Incident Team) which is meant to take on the area’s biggest cases or those that cross other jurisdictional boundaries. She’s not only been hand-picked for the job but, it seems, her own law-breaking has been hidden by those above her so that she can take the role. Soon she, and her carefully chosen team which includes many of the officers she has worked with previously, are called in on their first investigation. A woman’s body has been found in a burned out car but she was dead before the fire started.  The high-profile new team is under pressure from the outset as all the area police forces have to fund ReMIT’s operations from their own budgets and no one is happy when progress is slow. Especially when there is another death that follows the same pattern.

The story is, as I’ve come to expect from McDermid, superbly constructed. Even though readers know all along who the killer is and why he has committed the murders there is still a lot of suspense. Has the killer planned well enough that he might actually get away with multiple murders? What can police do when there is no evidence left behind and no witnesses to be found? We seem to expect miracles of law enforcement these days, especially now that we are all amateur investigators thanks to the plethora of true crime documentaries and podcasts, while it has surely never been easier for a criminal to learn all they need to know about forensic awareness. Have we made things too easy for the smart criminal? This is a strong theme of the book and should give us all pause for thought.

An element of the book I am less comfortable with is the blasé attitude most of the police in it seem to have developed regarding their own law breaking. I don’t know how many people were involved with the cover up of Carol’s crime but it’s at least a handful. And two of the ReMIT team break several laws because the foster son of one of them is in some trouble with cyberbullying. I appreciate that many parents would do the same given half a chance (which, of course, most wouldn’t have) but one of the officers is no relation to the boy at all. She’s just breaking the law because she can. Because it suits her to help her friend. She is the same officer who destroys the digital life of a former boyfriend (undoubtedly breaking a few more laws along the way) because he did something she disagrees with. Perhaps this says more about me and my current mindset but this almost universal willingness to throw the rules out the window when convenient really did not sit well with me at all. But does that mean the book is flawed? I don’t know. It’s probably more realistic than I would like to imagine.

It’s difficult to discuss the element of the book I liked least because I wouldn’t want to give any spoilers. I will say I thought the ending daft. Yet more law breaking by people who are supposed to be upholding it. And a bullshit justification this time around. As to whether it is ‘in character’ for either of the series protagonists I suppose I can’t really say as I haven’t read the last few books. I didn’t find the whole scenario very credible but perhaps I have missed some vital developments in the earlier books.

In the end I’m not sure what I achieved by diving back into this series, aside from the joy of having Saul Reichlin whispering in my ears for a few more hours. What violence there was in the story was not gratuitous which I was pleased to see and the main plot was an interesting, topical one to follow. But the preponderance of law enforcement people proving that they don’t trust the system they are meant to uphold and their actions being the direct cause of several deaths is, still, unsettling. I don’t know if leaving readers with that level of unease is the author’s own rather insidious intent or just me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Publisher Wholestory Audiobooks, 2017
ASIN B0741G581H
Length 13 hours 14 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #10 in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, England, Val McDermid | 7 Comments

Review: FLIPPED FOR MURDER by Maddie Day

Following the sudden death of her mother Roberta ‘Robbie’ Jordan has moved from California to South Lick in Southern Indiana. It was her mother’s home town and her only Aunt still lives there. When the book opens Robbie is launching her new business: a breakfast restaurant and ‘country’ kitchen store. Not long after the successful opening celebrations, a woman who Robbie has had some run-ins with is murdered, with one of Robbie’s unique cheese biscuits stuffed in her mouth.

This is my kind of cosy mystery. It’s light, ghost free and the story is not drowned out by a gimmick. A harder combination to find than you might expect. Although it follows the usual tropes for the genre the setup here is well within the bounds of credibility and there are enough surprises along the way to keep the average reader guessing. Of course Robbie is keen to find out who other than herself might have a motive for murder which provides the main thrust of the narrative. But during this exploration of her fellow townsfolk Robbie learns something about her own family history that she was previously unaware of and this adds genuine interest to the story as well as some avenues for future developments for the series.

There’s a good mix of interesting characters, including a couple of potential love interests for Robbie. Neither of them is a police officer, something of a rarity for the genre, though one is a lawyer. The author does a good job of introducing all these new people and giving the reader enough time to get to know them all. I particularly liked Danna, the teenage girl Robbie hires to help out in the restaurant, and her Aunt Adele who is ‘elderly’ but not old if you know what I mean. I always like it when characters of all ages are depicted intelligently. And Day gets points too for not making the police out to be a bunch of imbeciles, a theme I am not a huge fan of.

Day has drawn on her real-life skills in linguistics to highlight some local Indiana language oddities. To be honest these regional idiosyncrasies were largely lost on my Australian eyes but I appreciate the effort. I’m not sure if anything else about the setting particularly screamed Indiana to those in the know but even without that knowledge the small town sensibility was well drawn to a reader who can only vaguely place the state on a map.

I’m down to a handful of cosy series these days but I will be adding the next book to feature Robbie Jordan and friends to my reading list. FLIPPED FOR MURDER offers just the right mix of fun, old-fashioned whodunit and engaging characters.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

USAFictionChallengeButtonThis is the 19th book I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Kensington Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9781617739255
Length 317 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Country Store series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Maddie Day, USA | 6 Comments

Review: A CASE OF TWO CITIES by Qiu Xiaolong

A CASE OF TWO CITIES opens with seemingly unrelated incidents: the death in somewhat scandalous circumstances of a long serving policeman and Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau being put in charge of an investigation into high-level corruption. Chen’s tactics are, of necessity, circuitous but he and the people he chooses to seek help from prove to be in danger. Even when he is appointed at the last minute to head a delegation of Chinese writers on a tour to the USA he is not beyond the reach of those with empires to protect.

I have not read the previous three novels featuring this character and there were a couple of times when it felt like I was missing out on some crucial information, but for the most part it was possible to read this book as a standalone novel. For someone who reads crime fiction as much for they way it offers me a window into other places and cultures as for the mysteries A CASE OF TWO CITIES has a lot to offer. Of most interest for me was the small details of life in modern China where a kind of state sponsored capitalism has become the dominant economic force. As Qiu Xiaolong was born in China before moving to the US as an adult I have to assume that this depiction is as authentic as it seemed when reading it and I found this aspect of the book genuinely absorbing. When the book’s action moves to America it is equally interesting seeing a more familiar setting through the eyes of people who are not used to it.

I also enjoyed meeting Chen and seeing him in action. He faces some of the same challenges as fictional police everywhere but having to combine his policing duties with a role as a leading Party cadre adds a layer of complexity and the fact this is topped off with being a recognised poet makes him unique amongst fictional sleuths. His working and personal lives both require a very delicate balancing act between all of these priorities and and this can add both danger and sadness given that he is not always free to do what his heart might want. There are a lot of minor characters in the book and I did find this a bit overwhelming for keeping the story straight in my head plus it meant that none of the other characters was really fleshed out in any depth. His trusted offsider and his wife are probably the only two I’ll be able to remember for any length of time.

Narratively I did find myself getting lost a little at times. Apologies to all the poets out there but the liberal inclusion of poetry and a kind of long-form homage to T.S.Eliot detracted rather than added to the book for me. I’ve never really liked this kind of thing (I do rather like poetry, I just prefer it to be in a separate universe to prose) and here I found it particularly annoying as I was having trouble enough keeping track of all the unfamiliar names and places. But it was probably the style of investigation that made the story harder than normal to follow. I don’t know if was because this case involved such a politically sensitive issue or if this is how Chen’s cases always play out but nothing every really moves in a straight forward direction: every tiny bit of progression has to come via an oblique angle that, at times, isn’t even recognisable as investigative work.

Overall though I really enjoyed A CASE OF TWO CITIES, even if I might have missed a few nuances of the plot and can heartily recommend it to those who like to travel virtually via their crime fiction. The setting, engaging protagonist and understated suspense all make for a very satisfying reading experience.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Another book down from my pre 2017 TBR pile, still 16 to go though to meet my goal for the year. This one had sat on the pile for an embarrassing 7 years 4 months!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher This edition Sceptre, 2007
ISBN 9780340898543
Length 382 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #4 in the Inspector Chen series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, China, Qiu Xiaolong | 6 Comments