Review: RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER by Sally Andrew

RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER introduces the world to Tannie Maria, a fifty-something, Afrikaans, widow living in the town of Ladysmith in the Klein Karoo region of South Africa. She writes a cooking column for the local paper but the publication’s sponsors want an ‘agony aunt’ style advice column instead so Tannie Maria, ever the pragmatist, combines the two concepts. She’ll solve people’s problems with her common sense advice and offer the perfect recipe for every situation. One of the first letters she receives is very troubling as it is from a woman who is being abused by her husband. This situation brings back painful memories of Tannie Maria’s own marriage. When the letter-writer is murdered Tannie Maria, worrying that her advice to leave the marriage might have led to the woman’s death, feels obligated to become involved in the investigation.

I suspect the labelling of this book as a ‘cosy’ mystery will be an automatic turnoff for some people but I would urge them to ignore the term and give the book a go anyway. Sure it has some very light-hearted moments that you wouldn’t find in a noir novel and there’s not a lot of on-page sex or violence but that doesn’t prevent the book from tackling some important subjects in a substantial and intelligent way. Issues such as domestic violence and the hypocrisy that can be inherent in some religious practice are threaded throughout the story in such a way that they cut through what might otherwise be too ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’ while still leaving the book with its overall positive and sunny sensibility.

Tannie Maria is a terrific character. She is smart, funny and down-to-earth. She has gotten on with her life, soldiering through the difficult times in a very practical way and not let her bad experiences completely bring her undone. Though she is not ridiculously upbeat or unrealistic as some cosy heroines can be. She is lonely and has insecurities too. It’s a complex and quite nuanced depiction and I suspect there is a lot more to learn about this character so I’ll be looking for the already published second book in the series very soon. There are some wonderful minor characters too including Tannie Maria’s colleagues Hattie, the newspaper’s editor, and Jessie, an eager young reporter. The official investigators include a sombre but thorough policeman who acts as a love interest for Tannie Maria. Even some of the letter writers, several of whom write more than once, add a nice layer of characterisation.

And of course there’s the food. There are more recipes than murder here as Tannie Maria’s go to response for any situation or problem is food. She brings food to her colleagues, cooks meals for the policeman, tracks down vegan cake recipes for the Seventh Day Adventist kids who play a role in the story and, of course, provides recipes to all the people who write in to the paper seeking her help. This is not a book to read when you’re hungry.

The story itself here is probably the most ‘standard’ thing about the book in that it is a fairly traditional whodunit with lots of red herrings and a large pool of suspects which have to be investigated and discarded one by one. Although the ultimate resolution is satisfying this element of the book is probably the only one I could quibble with as there are some parts of the story that are a bit too far-fetched. But it only happens a couple of times and I was having so much fun that I easily forgave Andrew this indulgence.

I opted for the audiobook version of RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER which is narrated by South African actor Sandra Prinsloo and feel that this format really added to my enjoyment of the book. There’s lots of Afrikaans language scattered throughout the story and I always enjoy hearing foreign language words pronounced properly and Prinsloo’s accent, tempo and voice work fitted the story to perfection. In combination with Andrew’s evocatively drawn setting I really did feel like I was being transported to the other side of the world as I became absorbed by this story.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Sandra Prinsloo
Publisher Lamplight Audio 2015
ASIN B016QU67JK
Length 11 hours 27 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Tannie Maria series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Sally Andrew, South Africa | 4 Comments

Review: THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG by Margery Allingham

I think I always knew that golden age detective fiction wasn’t really my bag (the inimitable Dame Christie aside) but participating in Crimes of the Century has confirmed it. This month’s foray into 1937 introduced me to Margery Allingham’s most famous creation: Albert Campion. I now know that this story is something of an aberration in that it is told in the first-person point of view by Campion but I’m not sure a more straight-forward narrative would endear the character to me more strongly.  He is, to me, (yet another) upper crust Englishman surrounded by a phalanx of servants, private school chums and cap-doffing sycophants and the whole set up makes me squirm.

In his favour Albert Campion did not irk me quite as much as Ms Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey (who I met last year) but that’s not actually saying a lot. I suppose I was predisposed to irritation given the first lines of the story

“The main thing to remember in autobiography, I have always thought, is not to let any damned modesty creep in to spoil the story. This adventure is mine, Albert Campion’s, and I am fairly certain that I was pretty near brilliant in it in spite of the fact that I so nearly got myself and old Lugg killed that I hear a harp quintet whenever I consider it.”

I’m not much of a one for an unfettered ego. The rest of the characters meld into a couple of stereotypes in my memory; insipid for the women, in-bred old school chum for the chaps. Not counting Lugg of course who is Campion’s … manservant I suppose…and an ex (?) criminal whose purpose was lost on me.

The story was a complicated thing to do with disguised bodies, dodgy doctors and some fairly obvious wordplay. When reading the print version I had no clue what was going on by the end because I just wasn’t interested enough to pay attention. So I had another go at it by downloading the audio book and listened while stuck in traffic. That format was more agreeable (or there was less for me to be distracted by) and at least I cottoned on to the salient points of the plot but it still seemed to be one of those golden age novels that was telling a story that no one could ever mistake for reality, not even for a moment. Or maybe there was a world in which people acted and spoke like utter gits but if so it’s not a world I’m particularly engaged by.

Over at Tipping My Fedora Sergio talks much more positively and eloquently about this book and Ms Allingham in general but one point on which we agree is that there is more than a hint of P.G. Wodehouse about this tale which might be all you need to know. I have never gotten on with Wodehouse but if you do then I suspect you’ll like Albert Campion. But then you probably already know that.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator David Thorpe
Publisher Audio edition Audible Studios 2013, Paperback edition Penguin 2009, original edition 1937
ASBN B00BQG9AF8
Length 4 hours 14 minutes / 138 pages
Format audio (mp3) / paperback
Book Series #8 (or #9) in the Albert Campion series
Source of review copy I bought both editions

Posted in book review, England, Margery Allingham | Tagged | 26 Comments

Review: WILDE LAKE by Laura Lippman

I now know I have at least one thing in common with Laura Lippman: we both love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She reveals her reverence in every nuance of WILDE LAKE which in so many ways acts as a modern re-telling of the classic.  There’s little things like the name of her patriarch (both have bird species as surnames) and the fact he is a single father with two children. Then there’s bigger things like a central story thread in which a black man is accused of raping a white woman. And much more besides. I’ve found the kinds of books that pay such close homage to a revered classic more miss than hit over the years but WILDE LAKE falls on the successful side of that divide. One of the key reasons this is true is that the novel is equally readable for those who’ve never cracked the spine on a copy of Mockingbird (a fact relayed in the many glowing reviews from people who fall into that category).

In its own right WILDE LAKE explores some weighty social and moral issues against the backdrop of a crime story. Though even Lippman herself, in several interviews including this one on last year’s live episode of one of my favourite true crime podcasts Crime Writers On…would agree that it’s not a rollicking, action-packed kind of tale. You do have to be patient and prepared to wander down some byways that have nothing whatsoever to do with whodunit or even why certain things were done. I rather like this kind of story but I know people who would tear their hair out at its apparent lack of focus.

The story – or stories – are complicated. Too much to even summarise here. But there is purpose to it all as Lippman explores the differences in culture and social attitudes between the two time periods. Which of the late 1970’s acceptable behaviours are still acceptable three decades later? Can hero status be retroactively stripped when seen through the lens of a different time? And when, pray tell, will believing a woman’s claims of rape be the default position for all who hear her cries? There are also, as those familiar with Lippman’s writing might expect, some very pointed digs at issues facing modern-day Baltimore.

The book is narrated in two distinct threads though each one by the same person. Or, I suppose, a version of the same person. Luisa (Lu) Brant is a precocious but friendless pre-teen when discussing growing up in the liberal, newly developed community of Columbia, Maryland during the 1970’s. Her father is well-respected if not deeply liked and the state’s attorney. He raises Lu and her older brother AJ with help from housekeeper-come-field-marshall Teensy in a manner that can only be described as distant. Though loving in its way and for its time. In the book’s other thread it is the present-day. Lu is 45, mother to twins and recently widowed. She has just become the first woman to win the job her father held with such distinction. Regardless of the book’s narrative structure Lu’s life is a continuous event so the two stories have many natural crossovers and while I wasn’t always sure the dual thread structure was the best choice for this story I had no trouble following them and did enjoy the juxtaposition of child and adult versions of the same person. I will admit to preferring juvenile Luisa by a country mile – she’s far less cocky and sure of herself – but both characterisations are deft.

We non-Americans are somewhat conditioned by our diet of American television, movies and all the rest to think we know the place but WILDE LAKE reminds us that what we see in pop culture isn’t nearly all there is. Some of the history and references here were completely alien to me and after my initial shock I was happily ‘researching’ (i.e. googling) whether Columbia’s origins were as depicted and several other plot elements. I liked that this book gave me a sense of a different America than the one I feel I know.

Though I liked a lot about this book I’d have to say I admire WILDE LAKE more than love it. Mostly this is, I think, due to my distaste for adult Lu. She is ambitious and competitive and if not mean then cold at times. I know it is these people who probably get things done in the world but I’m never going to be one of them or terribly comfortable in their presence and it’s hard for me to truly love a book in which there is a character I inherently dislike. But there’s also the fact that the book’s ending fell flat for me with it’s late coming to the fore of previously minor characters and revelations of things that had no business being kept secret – sometimes from the book’s characters and sometimes from readers – for so long. I still enjoyed much of the journey but for a book to be truly lovable – the kind I want to read again and insist that everyone I know read immediately – I need a satisfying conclusion. But admiration is still a darned good recommendation in my world and WILDE LAKE will definitely make you think.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher William Morrow [2016]
ISBN 9780571321759
Length 352 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy Borrowed from the library

Posted in book review, Laura Lippman, USA | 9 Comments

Review: ORDEAL by Jørn Lier Horst

ordealhorstaudioTaking place a few months after THE CAVEMAN Jørn Lier Horst’s fifth William Wisting novel available in English was, for me at least, a return to the series’ top form. ORDEAL is a complicated but ultimately satisfying tale that juxtaposes a police investigation seeking nothing but the facts with one that is less concerned with truthfulness than closure at any price.

The police procedural is a crowded space in crime fiction these days but Horst is a real master of the art. He doesn’t simply jam his books full of the latest “in” thing but really shows how the disparate elements of an investigation – forensic evidence, witness statements, data analysis and all the rest – need to be brought together coherently in order for the truth to be revealed.  When this book opens series hero, William Wisting, is being criticised because of his failure to solve the case of the disappearance of taxi driver Jens Hummel some six months earlier. But when new evidence appears that links Hummel’s disappearance with the high-profile murder of a young girl in a nearby jurisdiction it is Wisting who becomes a critic. The girl’s murderer was, supposedly, captured a mere 14 minutes after the crime was committed and the case is being used as an example of top policing. Accordingly, Wisting’s growing doubts cause him real professional trouble with his colleagues and superiors. I liked the way this novel explored the difficulties inherent in questioning or being critical of colleagues; a reality that is not unique to the profession of law enforcement.

As always with this series Wisting’s personal life, in particular his adult daughter Line, plays a significant part in the story. Here Line has moved back to Larvik because she is pregnant and the baby’s father, an American who has returned to the US, won’t be a strong presence in the baby’s life. She’s bought a house in the same street where her father lives (the house at the centre of THE CAVEMAN in fact) and at the start of the novel reconnects with an old school friend, Sophie. Although she’s on leave from her job as a journalist Line can’t give up her innate inquisitiveness and somewhat inadvertently brings Sophie’s family connection to local crime into play in the investigation her father is heading up.

Whereas I found THE CAVEMAN a bit didactic in its exploration of social themes I thought ORDEAL got the balance of storytelling against a backdrop of social change just right. Both books look at broadly the same issues – moral decay and relatively modern problems such as violent crime and drugs spreading their tentacles ever wider – but here there is more subtlety which I prefer.

If you are a fan of audio books I can thoroughly recommend Saul Reichlin’s narration of this series. Although he is South African not Norwegian the fact that he speaks English with a slight accent helps to remind the reader this is a story taking place somewhere more exotic than ’round the corner. And he is a terrific teller of stories, using only minor differences in tone, speed and pitch to differentiate between characters yet still making each ‘voice’ very distinct.

ORDEAL is a great read, or listen, for fans of top notch police procedurals with lots of twists, a thoughtful social backdrop and some heart-stopping moments of real suspense. Although I lament the fact that however Nordic it might be most Scandinavian crime fiction is a far cry from the noir that usually follows that particular N word, this novel’s ending does at least provide the bittersweet sensibility of a more traditional noir tale.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Anne Bruce
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Publisher This edition Jammer Audio, 2016
ASIN B01G7R2P7K
Length 10 hours 46 minutes
Format audio book
Book Series #10 in the William Wisting series (it’s the 5th available in English)

Posted in book review, Jorn Lier Horst, Norway | 3 Comments

Books of the month: February 2017

Pick of the month

chameleonpeoplehansolavl30307_fI know February is a short month but I can’t blame that entirely for my reading drop off. After a strong start to the year I only read 4 books during February (though it is only other avid readers who will feel my pain, when I lamented this figure in my office and 20-something colleague replied that he hadn’t read that many books since leaving high school). I can’t go past Hans Olav Lahlum’s CHAMELEON PEOPLE  as my favourite read of the month because it really did pull me out of a reading funk. I really enjoy this series set in Norway’s recent past and this instalment is my favourite yet with its combination of family drama, fascinating history with eerie connections to modern politics and unexpected turns in the lives of series regulars. Oh and of course there’s the ripper murder mystery as well. There is nothing quite so satisfying as a much anticipated book being all that you hoped for and then some.

The rest, in reading order 

  •  Patricia Wentworth’s THE CHINESE SHAWL (my contribution to Crimes of the Century for 1943 can be summed up with the word meh)
  • Mindy Mejia’s THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN (thoroughly enjoyed this nearly not crime novel about how we choose our identities and whether we can fight nature to be someone else)
  • Wendy James’ THE GOLDEN CHILD (sadly for me this was one of those occasions where a much-anticipated book did not live up to expectations, but I am a lone voice as this book is getting raves from most readers)

Progress on bookish goals

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

2 down, 22 to go. Really need to pick up speed

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

2 down, 6 to go. On track

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

None of the 4 books I read were owned prior to the start of this year and I bought some more new books so my TBR is now at 134 which is more than I started the year off with 😳. I’m hopeless.

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)

Achieved.

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).

Did not add to my tally (Mindy Mejia is a new (to me) American author but I have already visited Minnesota on my virtual tour).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How did your reading go on Feburary? Any books you need to recommend? Got any sure-fire strategies to prevent me acquiring more books?

Posted in books of the month, Hans Olav Lahlum, Mindy Mejia, Patricia Wentworth, Wendy James (Aus) | 7 Comments

Review: THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN by Mindy Mejia

thelastactofhattiehoffman30454_fFalling within the nearly-not-crime-fiction-at-all genre, THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN (aka EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE) explores the nature of identity. How do we learn who we are? Can we choose who to be? Can we truly have multiple identities or is there always a true self? That it does this against the backdrop of the investigation into a young girl’s murder in a Minnesota farming community is almost (but not quite) incidental.

The story unfolds in two time frames, roughly a year apart, and from three different perspectives. We learn of the book’s key dramatic event – Hattie Hoffman’s murder – early on then one thread of the novel flashes back through the months that led up to it, while the other moves forward, showing how hard it is for the people who loved her to discover Hattie’s secrets. That she was not the Hattie they thought they knew. This kind of complicated narrative structure is becoming more popular but not every author carries it off with as much skill as Mejia has done with only her second full-length novel. The structure served a real purpose here; providing most of the tension and allowing the key character developments to be revealed more precisely than a standard narrative might have done.

Henrietta, Hattie to her friends, Hoffman is 17 at the earliest stages of the book and has not long turned 18 when she is murdered. She yearns to live in New York. Possibly as an actress but that’s not as important as just being there: geographically and psychologically far removed from Pine Valley, Minnesota. Hattie is already an actress though, both on stage and off it, easily portraying the girl other people need or want her to be. A doting daughter, a BFF, a footballer’s girlfriend…Is she being manipulative or just trying on skins to find the right one? And either way, do her actions warrant her being stabbed to death?

Del Goodman is Pine Valley’s Sheriff. We don’t know exactly how old he is but he must be pushing retirement age as he served in Vietnam and these events are taking place across 2007-2008. He feels more than usually invested in the case because Hattie’s father, Bud, is his best friend. He has watched Hattie grow up and, without children of his own, he feels close to Hattie and also feels he knows her. Or at least a version of her.

Peter Lund is the high school English teacher. He’s moved to Pine Valley from Minneapolis because his wife needed to move home to look after her ailing mother. He is stifled by small town life and the fact he seems unable to fit in. His interests are shared by few people there – not even his wife as she focuses on caring for her mother and the demanding chicken farm – and their interests are completely foreign to him. Peter’s view of himself as a person is shown to be out of sync with the person he actually is.

THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN is an unsettling, surprising, compelling and ultimately very satisfying read. The story is a ripper yarn and the characters much more layered than the blurb would have you believe. For the record I prefer ‘our’ title than the US one because it turns out to have several real meanings and seems to more thoroughly encapsulate this excellent story but whatever it’s called where you live I highly recommend this book.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Quercus, 2017
ISBN 9781784295936
Length 337 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Mindy Mejia, USA | Tagged | 8 Comments

Review: THE CHINESE SHAWL by Patricia Wentworth

thechineseshawlwentworthaudioThe worst kind of reading experience, for me anyway, is one that can be summed up with the word meh. I’d rather really hate a book than be left bored, unengaged and apathetic by one. Alas my introduction to the Miss Silver series was not nearly entertaining enough to engender hatred.

My selection for this month’s Crimes of the Century (focusing on the year 1943) started off with an explosion of names and relationships that I had to listen to four times before feeling like I could move into the actual story. I was reminded of the series of team building and leadership ‘experiences’ I was required to attend in the 90’s which always began with a room of 20-30 people telling each other their name and a ‘fun fact’ about themselves and us all then wasting time learning the favourite sock colour of people we would never meet again. I know everyone in a story has to be introduced but here there are thirteen characters shoehorned into the first 5 minutes of the audio book and all but one has at least one important familial connection that has to be remembered. We haven’t even gotten to the country house party at which Significant Events take place yet and I’m already bored keeping track of who’s who (and who’s related to who).

By the time we do get there, to the house party, another half-dozen or so players have joined the cast and what passes for a story starts to play out. Tanis Lyle is the central character of it. All the men are besotted with her. To the point of madness (or infidelity and a range of other immoral if not illegal acts) All the women her own age want to scratch her eyes out (because all the men love her and not them) (and also because she’s a right cow). Her two Aunts (there are no parents, can’t remember why) love her and spoil her rotten. Well they would because they’re crazy old spinsters, at least one of whom is still pining over some bloke who dumped her decades ago. When Tanis is murdered it’s a bloody slog to knock anyone off the suspect list but we spend about seven hours on the task.

The fact that any woman under 50 is a simpering idiot is probably the most eye-roll inducing thing about the book but there are more. Two of the women over that age are batshit crazy and the lone voice of female reason – series heroine Miss Maud Silver – is a highlight only by comparison with the rest of the sisterhood as represented here. The simpering, lovesick blokes are no better than the women. Most of them have faced a war (and have other much nicer women that love them to bits) but are made mental basket cases because one ‘not even beautiful’ woman passes them over.  Even the book’s title made my eyes roll as it gave too much prominence to an artefact of the story which made it blindingly obvious (to me at least) why the horrid Tanis was killed. I wasn’t as sure who did it but I truly didn’t care and all I felt when it was revealed was relief that the whole thing would be over soon.

I didn’t really spot anything about Miss Silver that would warrant another single outing let alone the 32 titles she’s featured in. I can’t even summon up enough interest to weigh in on the Marple vs Silver debate that seems to be argued, demurely of course, in some corners of the internet (truth be told I’m not a huge fan of Miss M either). She’s fairly typical of the ‘gifted amateur’ variety of crime solving sleuth but did not stand out in any way for me.

Or, as I put it more succinctly in the beginning, meh.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Diana Bishop
Publisher This edition Audible Studios 2014, original edition 1943
ASIN B00J7YFIIY
Length 8 hours 3 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #6 in the Miss Silver series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, England, Patricia Wentworth | Tagged | 9 Comments

Review: CHAMELEON PEOPLE by Hans Olav Lahlum

chameleonpeoplehansolavl30307_fCHAMELEON PEOPLE is Hans Olav Lahlum’s fourth full length crime novel set Norway’s recent past to feature a young police detective and his civilian sidekick. I’ve liked all the novels very much but this is my favourite. So far.

One of the reasons I liked it so much is that it’s written by a historian. Undervalued people historians. Among other things they remind us that history repeats and we, mostly, survive. Even the darkest of days. This sentiment bears repetition just now.

Although set in Norway in 1972 the book has a very present-day feel because its backdrop is the Norwegian referendum on whether or not to join the EEC (the predecessor of the EU). The politics is heated, families are being torn apart and it’s at least possible that the impending vote is responsible for a murder. There is also a thread in which Soviet agents are potentially engaging in unauthorised activities within Norway’s political and business scene. This eerie familiarity is darned impressive because the book was first published in 2013 (so presumably written at least a year or so earlier); long before Brexit and the TPP and Russian hacking scandals had become part of our brave new world.

The specifics of this story involve the murder of Per Johan Fredriksen, a wealthy businessman and politician. He is stabbed on a crowded street and the police are soon in pursuit of their suspect: a young boy on a bicycle. For a reason that won’t become clear until it’s too late the boy surrenders himself to the series hero Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen, known to everyone as K2. While most people think this wraps the case up neatly and quickly K2 is inclined to believe the boy’s claim of innocence. Though he wishes the boy would help himself more and not leave K2 in the dark about what really happened.

In an effort to truly investigate the case K2 introduces himself to Per Johan Fredriksen’s surviving family members – his wife, three children and current mistress – and business associates. He learns there’s more than one motive for murder amongst this lot. He also finds out it is possible that Per Johan Fredriksen’s death is related to the decades old unexplained death of his wife’s sister. Or is it his politics? Or his potentially illicit communications with Russian spies? CHAMELEON PEOPLE probably contains the most complex plotting of all Lahlum’s novels to date but I absolutely loved all the twists and turns and found everything gelled. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some loose ends, and a few tears, but everything is logical.

Another thing to savour about this book is its character development. The lives of series regulars – K2, his civilian helper Patricia and his new fiancée Miriam – all take a bit of a battering here, although there are some good times as well for a bit of balance. K2 struggles to fit both women into the professional side of his life. He doesn’t want to spark jealousy from either lady but at the same time wants them both to be sounding boards. I thought this conflict was handled very realistically. Indeed K2’s personal relationships in general are handled very well here. Perhaps because there are not happy endings all ’round. I learned after reading the book that there are some novellas available only in Norwegian that are set in the period between the end of the last full length book and the beginning of this one and I do feel like there are a couple of things I’ve missed out on due to my woeful language skills (when and why did Patricia start willingly leaving the house for example?) but I’m still really enjoying seeing these characters develop across the series.

With four books under its belt and me liking each one a little more than the last I think it’s fair to say this series is now a firm favourite. It ticks all the right boxes for me: engaging characters, interesting exploration of social and historical themes and terrific plots which combine the best elements of golden age detective stories with some modern sensibilities. I also enjoy that each one so far has explored some aspect of human nature with the type of murder victim or suspect at the heart of the novel (as reflected by the title). Here it is people who are chameleons; who can display a different face or personality depending on their audience. Our first murder victim is a harsh businessman to some but a loving and generous confidant to his mistress for example. And some of the suspects have even more chameleon-like layers to their personalities. I can’t be the only one who ponders this aspect of the books by contemplating my own family, friends and colleagues in a new, not always flattering, light. Right?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Kari Dickson
Publisher Mantle [This edition 2016, original edition 2013]
ISBN 9781509809493
Length 463 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #4 in the K2 and Patricia series
Source of review copy I borrowed it from the library

Posted in Hans Olav Lahlum | 5 Comments

Books of the month: January 2017

Pick of the month

thedyingdetectiveleifgw28759_fI read 11 books for the first month of the year and had a bit more variety than I normally do with one non-fiction work and a non-crime novel. Baby steps to diversity😁 I’ve found it quite difficult to pick my favourite as there was lots of good reading but I’ve settled on Leif G.W. Persson’s THE DYING DETECTIVE. The story centers on a retired policeman who attempts to solve the cold case murder of a young child from his sick bed.  As well as enjoying the characterisations, particularly of the central character, I liked the restrained and thoughtful way the book explored the issue of justice.

The rest, in reading order 

  •  Tom Keneally CRIMES OF THE FATHER (An Australian national treasure tackles the issue of the Catholic Church’s failure to adequately address the issue of abuse of children by its clergy)
  • Cath Staincliffe THE SILENCE BETWEEN BREATHS (with her usual panache Staincliffe puts us on a Manchester train on which one of the passengers is planning a terrorist act)
  • Sheila Connolly RED DELICIOUS DEATH (a cute cosy in which a young chef is killed while establishing a new restaurant in apple-growing country)
  • Josephine Pullein-Thompson GIN AND MURDER (my crimes of the century read this month took me to England’s hunting set in 1959, the setting had a real ring of authenticity)
  • Kate Dyer-Seeley SCENE OF THE CLIMB (I stopped in Oregon for my virtual tour of the US where things got deadly for a group of reality TV contestants)
  • Bill Crider TOO LATE TO DIE (Another stop on that virtual tour of the US, this time in Texas for the investigation of the murder of a young married woman with lots of visitors, this book was a runner up for my pick of the month)
  • Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman WINTER SIEGE (a complicated historical mystery set in 1141 and involving a brutal attack on a young girl)
  • Greg Pyers THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM (based on a true story of a murder in a gold mining town in 1865 this one reeks of authenticity)
  • Rebecca Bradley SHALLOW WATERS (a police procedural investigating a series of murders of young girls and the hunt for one who might still be alive)
  • Megan Norris LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO (the non-fiction book I read about the truly horrendous phenomenon of men who kill their children as an act of revenge against their wives and partners – it’s well written and handles the topic as sensitively as possible but the subject matter is going to be tough going for some)

Progress on bookish goals

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

1 down, 24 to go. Need to pick up speed

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

1 down, 7 to go. On track

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

I read 7 books owned prior to the start of the year, but the TBR stands at 128 because some shopping got done as well. Need to work harder.

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)

Achieved.

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).

2 of 10 books read. Looking good.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How did your reading year start? Are you off with a bang or a whimper?

Posted in Ariana Franklin, Bill Crider, books of the month, Cath Staincliffe, Greg Pyers (Aus), Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Kate Dyer-Seeley, Leif G.W. Persson, Megan Norris (Aus), Rebecca Bradley, Sheila Connolly, Tom Keneally (Aus) | 9 Comments

Review: LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO by Megan Norris

lookwhatyoumademedonor30295_fI am a wuss. Sure I can take just about anything fictional murderers dish out but I am reluctant to read about their real world counterparts. In fiction the bad guys often get what’s coming to them. In reality they often don’t. And even if they do it is difficult to celebrate this when you know that real people have been hurt along the way. There is enough heartache and senseless violence in the news; I don’t feel the need to seek it out in my leisure reading. But I vowed that this year I would at least dip my toe into non-fictional crime as part of my role as wrangler of all-things-criminal for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. So I put on my big girl pants, placed several eligible books on hold at the library and as stoically as possible dove into LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO which came highly recommended and was the first of of my library holds to become available. I relay all of this as a kind of scene-setting I suppose. Letting you know that I did not approach this reading experience with the same hopeful anticipation I normally would and that true crime – or non-fiction about crime (and other things) which is what I feel this book is more accurately classed as – is not really my thing. Read this review in that light.

As book titles go I think LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO: FATHERS WHO KILL might be the best one I have ever encountered. It so utterly and completely encapsulates its subject matter. On a factual level the full title tells you what the book is about (not always a given) but the childish anger and inability to accept personal responsibility implicit in the sentiment of look what you made me do is the neatest summary you’ll find of a book’s central premise. Because this book is not about all types of fathers who kill their children (heaven help us that there are multiple categories but I refuse to be distracted by this right now). This is a book about men who kill their children as an act of revenge against their former wives and partners. The women who’ve dared to escape the abusive, controlling, often violence-filled lives these men impose.

As subject matters go it doesn’t get much grimmer than this. There’s a short, context-setting introduction which includes a survey of some studies on domestic and family violence and what limited research exists on the kinds of murder under the spotlight. This is followed by seven chapters which each focus on an Australian case ultimately proven to concern one or more children being killed by their father as an act of revenge against the mother of those children. Each of these chapters follows roughly the same format. We learn first of the circumstances of the death(s) then of the years of torment that led up to that point. Norris then details the steps taken to build a case against the men which, more often than not, involves truly heartbreaking discoveries of warning signs and lost opportunities for ‘something’ to have been done to prevent the escalation of violence in each case. Finally we learn a little of the lives of the women and remaining family members in the years since their respective tragedies irrevocably changed their lives. One case of this type is difficult enough to read about (as I learned last year reading Helen Garner’s THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF which covers the same case as chapter three of this book) but seven eerily and depressingly similar cases have an almost numbing effect in the end.

As journalist-authors go Norris is squarely on the side of the angels. Using observation of court proceedings and related events, extensive primary source research and interviews with people affected by or involved with each case the book reads first and foremost as truthful. Norris is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about this subject and the broader issue of domestic violence. The fact that she has gained the trust of so many women who are still traumatised by the events they have survived is a testament to her good intentions and genuine care. I can barely imagine how wary such women would be of the intrusion into their lives and potential for their circumstances to be misreported, misinterpreted and judged. And, although this book is harrowing from the first page to the last, it never feels exploitative or sensationalist.

As books go LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO left me feeling vaguely depressed and less vaguely impotent. There’s no doubt that the book’s subject matter is tough but Norris deals with it as sensitively as possible. However I can’t help wondering…what do I do now? Is there a bigger purpose of telling these stories than to shine a light on an almost unimaginable crime? If there is I missed it and if there isn’t, why not? I don’t mean to disrespect the women and extended family members whose personal horrors have been laid so bare but I want to know what someone like me could or should do with this information. Is it enough to be aware that such depravity can exist in the world? The book doesn’t make a compelling case for this as it showed repeatedly how various officials, experts and government agencies had prior awareness of the individuals concerned and/or the existence of a ‘thing’ known as “…spousal revenge in which children were collateral damage rather than the true targets of the offending parent’s rage.” Awareness appears to have been of precious little value in any of these cases.

LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO is well researched, solidly written and provides more evidence than any sane person could possibly need that there are indeed men who use their children as the ultimate weapon of revenge even though most of those men are so juvenile and self-absorbed they will present themselves as the injured party if they live to tell their pathetic tales. That I am uneasy because the book doesn’t do more…doesn’t tell me what to do now…says more about me than it does about the book itself. I hate the sense of injustice and powerlessness that discussion of non-fictional crime generates. That said, there are glimpses of hope here and there that things – things like community attitudes to domestic violence and official means of dealing with the complexities of domestic and family violence – are changing. Though if it feels agonisingly slow to me (the oldest murders discussed in this book occurred more than two decades ago after all) how glacial must it feel to those directly impacted by our communal and systemic failures? But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps awareness is as good place as any to start. And then there is the amazing strength and resilience demonstrated by the real targets of the cruelty and cowardice displayed by the fathers in this book. Such women will surely be an inspiration to many.


aww2017-badgeThis is the first book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Echo [2016]
ISBN 9781760061638
Length 312 pages
Format paperback
Book Series n/a
Source of review copy borrowed from the library

Posted in book review, Megan Norris (Aus) | Tagged | 14 Comments