The Lighthouse – P.D.James

Having begun the year with Poe, I have come to the conclusion that he is best appreciated in small doses, and inbetween other reads.

This is partly because, while I was doing the mini-spring-clean which has provided me with an office, I picked a book off the shelf, as you do when you’re cleaning (or is that just me?), and that was the end of the cleaning. I was supposed to be doing the rest of the flat. I only did the office…

The book, well, that was The Lighthouse by P.D.James. I have no idea how I came by it, but apparently I did, and it was the book which leapt out at me.

Now, I like murder mysteries, but I have a hard time these days finding the sort I want to read: I’m not so keen on the fast-paced, conspiracy-theory-heavy thrillers, or those that provide every possible detail to prove the writer knows his/her police procedure; but I like Commander Adam Dalgliesh, and I like James’ writing. It is evident, but not in-your-face that she knows her stuff (and given her working life before writing, she probably ought to).

The Lighthouse is set on a fictional island off the Cornish coast. The sort of mystery with a limited suspect-pool and the murderer can’t get away, but everyone’s cooped up with him/her, so s/he’s likely to get desperate as the detective gets closer to the answer. This particular island is run as a very exclusive get-away for the over-stressed professionals, and they pay for the island’s privacy. And then one dies.

Dalgliesh is a sensible, robust sort of detective. If he lacks the eccentric flair I normally like in my detectives, there is a comforting solidity about him. Having found a much earlier James, from the ’70s, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dalgliesh must be a sort of Peter Pan character, since The Lighthouse is from 2005, but then, I haven’t read all the others to know what happens in his life between then and now, and nor do I know even his approximate age in either novel.

It is my intention to begin a P.D.James collection, and no higher praise can I give to an author.

Earthly Delights – Kerry Greenwood

When you prefer Golden Age detective fiction (by which I mean anything of the Christie/Sayers era of about 1900-1960), it can be tricky to find good, contemporary such novels. So many seem to think that what readers really want is a thriller, in the style of James Patterson, all fast-paced and action-movie-like.

And maybe that’s true of a lot of readers. But if the story in front of me is so very action-movie-like, I do much prefer to watch it. It doesn’t need to be a cosy Poiret-style detective novel for me to like it. Just slower, with chapters longer than three pages of wide-spaced words.
So I was quite pleased with Earthly Delights, by Kerry Greenwood, creator of Miss Phryne Fisher.
Set in Melbourne, which I will admit to not knowing, except through Miss Fisher, and I’m not sure that 20s Melbourne is the same as modern Melbourne.
Earthly Delights follows Corinna Chapman, a baker who finds a junkie in the alley behind her shop one morning and a letter accusing her of being a scarlet woman pushed through the letter-box, as she tries to work out what’s going on. Especially when her neighbour Mistress Dread also receives such a letter. Mistress Dread does not take kindly to this accusation.
I like the characters, Mistress Dread in particular, and the cats which patrol the bakery to keep out any rodents.
If you like Miss Fisher, give Corinna a try.

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates

When it comes to my reading choices, I do like a nice, cosy murder-mystery. The thrilling, mile-a-minute, action-packed versions of James Patterson and the like, are not what I want to sit down to with a cup of tea and a biscuit. They’re just too energetic.

I much prefer the likes of Poirot, Marple, Holmes, Hannisyde and Hemingway – and now Miss Phryne Fisher.

I discovered Miss Fisher via the quite wonderful Australian TV adaptation, on Netflix, and was hooked from the first note of the theme tune. The books, though, I see have been floating around since the ’80s.

Phryne (named after the courtesan of Athens, rather than Psyche the nymph because her father was drunk at the christening) is a ’20s flapper, moving to Melbourne because, firstly, London is becoming boring, and secondly, she’s been asked to investigate the curious illness of the daughter of a neighbour, who married an Australian. Having grown up in poverty in Australia, and whose family only inherited the title and wealth because of the Great War, it feels like going home to Phryne. Her assignment is quite straight-forward: to find out if this daughter is being poisoned by her husband.

Only, of course, things are never that easy, and Phryne becomes involved in all manner of interesting things, starting with the hunt for an illegal abortionist and ending with a drugs ring.

For a cosy mystery, it is actually quite gritty, but it’s done with a light touch. I’m definitely going to find the other books, because I have to wait for season 3 to come out on Netflix and I can’t do without Phryne and Jack (I’m already near the end of season 2 for the second time), and I’d like to see where the series has deviated from the original. And I want to find out where Murdock Foyle comes into it, since he wasn’t in the first book.

Murder on the Flying Scotsman – Carola Dunn

Another in the Daisy Dalrymple series, although a few along from the first I reviewed before Christmas, this one has Daisy Edinburgh-bound on the Flying Scotsman sharing the first-class carriage with a bickering clan destined for the death-bed of the clan-leader.

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Amongst the bickerers is the heir, the leader’s twin-brother, returned from India with a fortune of his own. And everyone else is more in need of the money, for one reason or another, and wants to tell Daisy about it, who happened to know one or two of the clan at school. They also think it a tad unfair that the heir has no ideas of leaving them anything, but instead has an heir in the form of an Indian doctor, also on the train.

Another complication, for Daisy, is that Belinda, the daughter of her friendly Scotland Yard detective-chap Alec Fletcher (currently investigating up North), has stowed away on-board.

In between looking after Belinda and sympathising about the rottenness of the state of affairs with old school-mates, the heir dies. Daisy, naturally, suspects foul-play. There is, after all, a carriage full of suspects.

Which of the clan did it?

This was enjoyable as the first. I’m not really sure how much of a review to write, really, since most of the points about the first stand for this one too, and, I suspect, for the others in the series. I like Daisy and Alec, and now Belinda. I like the writing style and the fact that period details in language and dress are just slipped in, quite casually, as if it is entirely natural for the narrator, and not something which had to be learned. And I like that it’s not a weighty tome of a novel, but a perfectly reasonable less-than-300-pages of gentle detection.

I will continue to collect the series.

As the Crow Flies

Who knew Burnham-on-Sea was such a hotbed of crime?

I read someone’s blog the other day (I’m sorry: I can’t remember who or where!) wherein he or she wrote one- or two-line reviews for a whole list of books he-or-she had read.

Since I’m not normally very good at reviewing things beyond “Good” or “Bad”, I thought I’d give this a go for the Monday book.

I don't know if they're crows, but they're the best I've got...

The chosen title this week is As the Crow Flies, by Damien Boyd.

But to begin, a quick blurb. This week’s book is another murder-mystery (actually, it calls itself a “fast-paced thriller”), but this time it’s a police detective in the lead. A man falls to his death in Cheddar Gorge and a local, ex-London detective (who also happens to be an old friend of the dead man) isn’t convinced it was an accident. It is the author’s debut.

Apparently, Nick Dixon, our friendly policeman, is “forced to break every rule in the book” to close this case. I’ll admit I don’t know every rule in the book, but I didn’t notice all that much rule-breaking until the end.

Anyway, my thoughts.

More Midsomer Murder or Agatha Christie than James Patterson, but to be honest? I prefer them to Patterson. I like Dixon, I like that I’m vaguely familiar to the scene (being a Westcountry-maid), I like that something REALLY EXCITING doesn’t happen on every page/in every chapter. It feels real.

A good job, Boyd. I look forward to more.

Hooked on Murder

I like a nice charity shop. I like the random collection of books. I like it even more when the books aren’t in alphabetical order. You can find all sorts of interesting stories in charity shops.

You know that adage about not judging books by covers? I tend to judge books by how soon after publication, and in what condition, a book ends up in a charity shop.

But anyway. Last week, I found this book – Hooked on Murder by one Betty Hechtman – in my local British Heart Foundation. I’ve liked mysteries since I first read Sherlock Holmes. Then came the murder mysteries with Poirot, Marple and Wimsey.

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Hooked on Murder, published in 2008, calls itself a “crochet mystery”, probably because it revolves around ladies who crochet. Not knit. That is important.

The leader of a crochet group is found dead in her home by our narrator, one Molly Pink. For various reasons, she becomes the prime suspect. Except, it wasn’t her. So she tries to find out who it was.

Set in California, with a sprinkling of celebs, it’s a nice, light sort of murder mystery. It hasn’t the black humour of M.C.Beaton, nor is Molly really the sort of person likely to become an heir to any of the above detective greats, but it is still a good read. Molly is a believable character, as are most of the rest. I’m a bit dubious about Molly’s theory that the police-officer is trying to pin it on her because the police-officer is interested in Molly’s sort-of boyfriend, another police-officer. Who rather unchivalrously (but according to protocol) refuses to discuss the case with Molly.

I don’t normally try to work out who-did-it, but I’ll guess as I go. And my guess changes as I read. Unless it’s just too obvious. But this one might surprise you. And the writing isn’t awful, either, which always helps.