Recent Book Acquisitions

I’ve been on a bit of mystery binge lately. New books which have been added to my shelves include:

  • Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain
  • A Spoonful of Murder by J. M. Hall
  • Inspector Singh Investigates by Shamini Flint
  • Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
  • The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra

I’ve already started reading Inspector Singh Investigates and I’m enjoying it so much. Review coming soon…

Book Review: The Whole Cat and Caboodle by Sophie Ryan

The Whole Cat and Caboodle is the first book in the Second Chance Cat Mystery series by Sophie Ryan.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

This book is a great first book in a cosy mystery series. The characters were well-developed, the setting evocatively described and the plot engaging and entertaining. I absolutely loved this book and can imagine returning to read it again and again and again. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Sarah Grayson is the happy proprietor of Second Chance, a charming shop in the oceanfront town of North Harbor, Maine. At the shop, she sells used items that she has lovingly refurbished and repurposed. But her favorite pet project so far has been adopting a stray cat she names Elvis.

Elvis has seen nine lives—and then some. The big black cat with a scar across his nose turned up at a local bar when the band was playing the King of Rock and Roll’s music and hopped in Sarah’s truck. Since then, he’s been her constant companion and the furry favorite of everyone who comes into the store.

But when Sarah’s elderly friend Maddie is found with the body of a dead man in her garden, the kindly old lady becomes the prime suspect in the murder. Even Sarah’s old high school flame, investigator Nick Elliot, seems convinced that Maddie was up to no good. So it’s up to Sarah and Elvis to clear her friend’s name and make sure the real murderer doesn’t get a second chance.

Favourite Quote

Like my grandmother, Charlotte thought tea fixed everything from a broken bracelet clasp to a broken heart.

(From The Whole Cat and Caboodle by Sophie Ryan, page 52)

Review

I absolutely loved this book and can imagine returning to read it again and again and again.

This book is a great first book in a cosy mystery series. The characters were well-developed, the setting evocatively described and the plot engaging and entertaining.

Elvis the Cat is fantastic and an interesting addition to the cast of characters. Animal characters can be really hard to write without making the story sound childish, but the author does a wonderful job here.

I also liked Sarah Grayson. She worked well as a main character. She is focused, determined, intelligent and strong, but she is also a little vulnerable meaning she is easy to connect with. She is surrounded by a wonderful selection of friends, some being her own friends from when she was younger, others being more like family.

I loved the setting, and if I wasn’t on the other side of the world, Maine is definitely a place I would like to visit, especially in the autumn. North Harbor sounded like a wonderfully touristy little town, and I would certainly have been happy to spend hours looking around Second Chance.

There is plenty of humour in the writing, making these mysteries a light, easy and enjoyable read. It was a gentle read, that pulls you into story, and I found it held my attention from beginning to end.

The only (very small) negative I had with the story was it felt a tiny bit repetitive in places. This was down to the cast of characters being so extensive and any time a development in the case was made, it had to be relayed to the characters that weren’t there. That’s not to say that great swathes of the book were repeated time and again, they weren’t, but rather the niggle came from variations of “so-and-so needed filling in / catching up”, etc.

The next book in the series is Buy A Whisker, and I’ve already bought it. I can’t wait to read it!

Rating

Book Review: The 1066 from Normandy by Howard of Warwick

The 1066 from Normandy is the sixteenth book in The Chronicles of Brother Hermitage by Hugh of Warwick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging and entertaining medieval murder mystery, with a cast of wonderful characters and an interesting setting. A thoroughly enjoyable read. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Death and taxes… with extra death.

Yet more medieval detective-sort-of-thing from the best selling author…

Brother Hermitage, the King’s most medieval investigator, is about to discover the true meaning of the Norman Conquest; money.

It’s all very well Saxons fighting William on the battlefield and trying to kill him, but evading his taxes is simply beyond the pale. Something must be done about it. And who better to do something about things than his own investigator?

The first problem is that the King’s Investigator doesn’t understand what it is. But then not understanding things has never held him back in the past.

If tax evasion is a bad thing – which William assures him it is – then the people who do it are positively revolting. Hermitage has dealt with deceit, dishonesty and deception in the past, but he’s never met people who have made it their life’s work.

Needless to say, Wat and Cwen the weavers are dragged into this, quite literally, and Wat seems to know rather too much about dodging tax.

And then, of course, the bodies start piling up. Death and taxes, eh? Who’d have thought…

Favourite Quote

There were so many passages I could have quoted from this book, most of them by Cwen, but I thought this universal truth seems very relevant in today’s world:

“Rich people do tend to behave worse about their money than people who haven’t got any,” Cwen agreed.

(From The 1066 from Normandy by Howard of Warwick, pager 222)

Review

The Chronicles of Brother Hermitage have been on my “To read / To buy” list for ages, so when I stumbled across this one in a shop I couldn’t resist, even though it is the sixteenth book in the series. Now, I don’t usually start a series part way through, but my usual reservations about doing so were unfounded. I could follow along perfectly well, and am looking forward to reading many more volumes in this series.

I loved the characters. Brother Hermitage is hilarious and Wat the Weaver and Cwen are perfect sidekicks. Cwen, in fact, was my favourite. Together, these three characters make for an engaging, entertaining story, and their camaraderie is just perfect for a cosy mystery series. Le Pedvin was sinisterly scary as the right-hand man of King William (he also happens to think Brother Hermitage is an idiot!) and as for the conspirators the trio meet along the way, they are devious and deceitful and of course, cannot possibly be trusted.

I loved the setting. Exploring the Midlands of a thousand years ago really highlights the change in the landscape compared to the Midlands of today. What was green and forested then (except for some mines and a few hovels) is now heavily urbanised and built upon. I also loved how Chesterfield was such a disappointment to the travelling group when they arrived there, having expected at least a village where they could stay, rather than a hovel close by to some old Roman ruins of a fort.

I loved the story. Taxes are of course, boring and complicated, but when combined with a plot to withhold them from the king, they can also become deadly. I thought it wonderful how Brother Hermitage, as the King’s Investigator, is given a mission to uncover this plot when he simply doesn’t understand all this talk of tax. It baffles him and he can’t understand why anyone would get involved in it. Luckily for him, Wat and Cwen seemed to have a perfect understanding of tax-dodging, which although helpful to Brother Hermitage, also alarms him a great deal!

All-in-all, I loved this book and will be returning to read more from the series in the future. I recommend this to anyone who’s interested in reading a light-hearted murder mystery set in the years after the Norman conquest.

Rating

Book Review: Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Cosy mystery at its best – a good story, interesting setting and a cast of intriguing characters. Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Miss Adams is a nurse, not a detective—at least, not technically speaking. But while working as a nurse, one does have the opportunity to see things police can’t see and an observant set of eyes can be quite an asset when crimes happen behind closed doors. Sometimes Detective Inspector Patton rings Miss Adams when he needs an agent on the inside. And when he does, he calls her “Miss Pinkerton” after the famous detective agency.

Everyone involved seems to agree that mild-mannered Herbert Wynne wasn’t the type to commit suicide but, after he is found shot dead, with the only other possible killer being his ailing, bedridden aunt, no other explanation makes sense. Now the elderly woman is left without a caretaker and Patton sees the perfect opportunity to employ Miss Pinkerton’s abilities. But when she arrives at the isolated country mansion to ply her trade, she soon finds more intrigue than anyone outside could have imagined and—when she realizes a killer is on the loose—more terror as well.

Reprinted for the first time in twenty years, Miss Pinkerton is a suspenseful tale of madness and murder. The book served as the basis for a 1932 film with the same title, and its titular character appeared in several others of Rinehart’s most popular novels.

Favourite Quote

I had to chuckle at this quote, Miss Adams scathing appraisal of Florence Lenz:

“I knew her sort the minute I saw her. They never forget that their employer is a man, and when he is, like Mr. Glenn, pretty much a man of the world and not married, that he may represent anything from a tidy flat to a marriage license.”

(From Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart, page 79)

Review

I really enjoyed reading this story. For a book first published in 1932, it was easy to read with a good pace and flow. It was engaging and entertaining, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on who I thought had done it for most of the story.

I liked the interaction between Miss Adams and Detective Inspector Patton, the latter vacillated between concern for the danger he puts Miss Adams in and the belief that she can take care of herself – which she can. He’s never condescending to her, and they both know, regardless of the danger posed by the suspects in the case, her curiosity will outweigh all other arguments and she will see it through to the end.

The best thing about Miss Adams character is that, although she is placed in her position by Patton, she is guided by what she believes is right or wrong, not the police investigation. She doesn’t simply do as she’s told. If she doesn’t agree with him, she doesn’t pretend she does – although she might keep her cards close to her chest. Neither does she ignore her own instincts.

The old Mitchell house made for an interesting setting. The family have fallen on hard times and died off until only Miss Juliet remains and her nephew, Hebert Wynne. The house was once a grand mansion but there being so little money, they have had to shut up most of it, especially the grander rooms. Smaller collections of rooms have been turned into apartments: a set for Miss Juliet, one for Hebert, and another for the servants, elderly married couple Hugo and Mary. Knowing there were rooms off limit, added an extra layer of tension to the storytelling which I appreciated.

This is the first book I’ve read by the author, and having seen that she was a prolific writer (Goodreads says there are 277 distinct works by her), I will definitely be reading more of her stories in the future.

I have a feeling I am going to be collecting these American Mystery Classics the same way as I’m collecting the British Library Crime Classics – and I think that says everything about what I thought to this book.

Highly recommended to mystery fans and fans of Golden Age Crime stories.

Rating

Book Review: Murder In Midwinter

Summary (from Goodreads):

Midwinter. As snow falls softly outside and frost sparkles on tree branches, it’s time to curl up before a roaring fire, wrap your hands around a steaming mug of mulled wine, and forget your worries for now.

But as the temperature drops outside, malice is sharpening its claws … and murder walks abroad. In these classic stories of mystery and mayhem, let ten of the great crime writers in history surprise and delight you with twists and turns as shocking as an icicle in the heart.

Featuring stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, Cyril Hare, Anthony Berkeley, Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham, Ellis Peters … and more.

My Thoughts:

“Murder in Midwinter”, edited by Cecily Gayford, is the fifth anthology in the “Murderous Christmas Stories” series.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories. So much so that I bought another of the books in the series, “A Very Murderous Christmas” (Book 3).

My favourite of the stories had to be “The Man from Nowhere” by Edward D. Hoch, which I hadn’t read before and made reference to one of the most interesting (at least to my mind), historical mysteries. That of Kasper Hauser. Also, “A Present for Ivo” deserves a mention, written by one of my most favourite authors, Ellis Peters. Not only could she write wonderful historical fiction and mysteries, but her more modern stories and mysteries are enjoyably captivating too.

I had thought that all the stories would be set in the midst of the Christmas season (because of Midwinter in the title of the book), but one of them, at least, was set outside the festive period, in February.

Rating:

Book Review: A Proper Family Christmas by Jane Gordon-Cumming

Summary (from Goodreads):

This particular family Christmas is going to change everybody’s lives. William isn’t into Christmas. He’d like to spend it alone in his vast old house with his cat. Haseley House could be a gold-mine in the right hands and the family want to make sure it does end up in the right hands! Hilary intends to ignore Christmas. With Daniel away, she won’t have to conceal how desperately she still misses Ben. But widows aren’t allowed to spend Christmas alone, and it sounds as if William might need her support. Frances, the nanny, was hoping for a break from spoilt little Tobias, but now she’s told they’re to stay with his eccentric grandfather in some spooky old house.

My Thoughts:

I thought this was funny and very enjoyable in parts. Light-hearted, entertaining and amusing, but too much happens in just three days. William and Scratch the Cat were my favourite characters. The cast list was fairly extensive, and the majority of them, whether intentionally or unintentionally so, were unlikeable, and by the end it felt a little bit like a farce. That being a good thing or bad thing will depend on how much you enjoy farces and satire (I don’t mind them). It would probably make a good play or TV adaptation.

Rating:

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Empty House by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Empty House was one of the short stories included in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fantastic and wonderfully engaging short story which sees the resurrection of the world’s most famous detective. 5 / 5

Summary

Sherlock Holmes is dead, and in the time since his passing, Dr Watson believes the world has lost one of the greatest crime-solving minds it would ever know.  An interest in crime instilled in him by his friendship with his now deceased friend, Dr Watson wonders if he might not be able to use some of the methods taught to him by Sherlock Holmes to help solve a crime that has piqued his interest: the murder of Ronald Adair, or the Park Lane Mystery…

Favourite Quote

I knew not what wild beast we were about to hunt down in the dark jungle of criminal London, but I was well assured from the bearing of this master huntsman that the adventure was a most grave one, while the sardonic smile which occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom boded little good for the object of our quest.

(From The Adventure of the Empty House by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Review

This is the short story set after Sherlock Holmes supposed death after a struggle with his nemesis Moriaty at the Reichenbach Falls. Arthur Conan Doyle had intended to kill off Sherlock Holmes but public outcry at the loss of such a literary gem forced him to return to writing about the exploits of his consulting detective.

And the transition between the author thinking he had killed him off good and proper and then him still being alive and kicking is a seamless one, and fits so perfectly with the personality of Sherlock Holmes. There’s no doubt he feels a little bit sorry for duping Dr Watson, but he isn’t really sorry for doing so.  He believed it was the right thing to do (for him), and so did it.

As Sherlock Holmes recounts his deception at the Falls and his climb along a dangerous rockface, I felt the tension palpably.  I could also imagine the shock which causes Watson to faint for the only time in his life at seeing his dear departed friend suddenly standing before him in his study, as if an apparition.

I also enjoyed reading about what Sherlock Holmes had been up to for the three years he had been dead.  It’s no surprise, that he travelled the world, met with some very interesting people and conducted research experiences. He is a genius after all.

Rating

Book Review: Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Murder at the Brightwell is the first book in the Amory Ames series by Ashley Weaver.

Quick Review(read on for full review)

A stylish, captivating read which captured the time period wonderfully, and Amory and the world she inhabits makes for a engaging backdrop to a murder mystery. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Glamorous Amory Ames might be wealthy but she is unhappily married to notorious playboy husband Milo and she willing accepts her former fiancé, Gil Trent’s plea for help in preventing his sister Emmeline from meeting a similar matrimonial fate.

Amory and Gil set off for the Brightwell, a sprawling seaside hotel in Devon, where Emmeline and her intended, the disreputable and impeccably groomed Rupert Howe are holidaying along with a sprinkling of other rich and sumptuously-dressed guests.

Champagne flows but the sparkle soon fades as a dark and unresolved history between Gil and Rupert surfaces. After a late night quarrel the luxurious hotel is one guest fewer by morning. When Gil is arrested for murder, Amory is determined to defend his innocence. But if she’s right the killer is still in their midst – can she prove it before she too becomes a victim?

Extravagance, scoundrels and red herrings abound as Amory draws closer to the truth.

Favourite Quote

It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions.

(From Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver, page 7)

Review

This book was a captivating, engaging read, and the author did such a wonderful job of bringing the upper class of the 1930s to life. The Brightwell Hotel was stylish and decadent – the perfect playground for the rich and famous, and the perfect backdrop to a cosy murder mystery.

Amory Ames made for a fantastic main character. It’s easy to feel sorry for her when you consider the state of her marriage, but you quickly realise she is flawed and imperfect and human too, and not likely to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She is intelligent and witty and determined to solve the crime she has found herslf in the middle of.

The rest of the cast of characters were also well-written. Many of them were unlikeable, which made for interesting possible suspects. Naturally, there were plenty of red herrings, and the added difficulties stemming from a potential love triangle kept me turning the page until the very end. I didn’t once lose interest in the story, and am eagerly anticipating reading the next book in the series, Death Wears A Mask.

As the first book in the series, it did a great job of introducing the reader to everything we needed to know, without inundating us with too much information, and the author has left me needing to know what happens next for Amory. This has certainly entered my top five cosy crime series set between the wars.

Rating

Book Review: Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging thriller-style murder mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. A great cast of characters, a compelling setting and wonderful storytelling ensured there was never a dull moment. 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

A man is found dead in an escape tunnel beneath an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. Did he die in an accidental collapse – or was this murder? Captain Henry ‘Cuckoo’ Goyles, master tunneller and amateur detective, takes up the case.

This classic locked-room mystery with a closed circle of suspects is woven together with a thrilling story of escape from the camo, as the Second World War nears its endgame and the British prisoners prepare to flee into the Italian countryside.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve no objection to them playing baseball, as long as they don’t do it on the rugger pitch.”

(From Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert, page 78)

Review

This story is quite different to other British Library Crime Classics I have so far read.

From the title of the book you would be forgiven for thinking is a sombre, dark story but it’s not. More in the vein of The Great Escape, this story is a light, very British tale of prisoners-of-war being held in an Italian prison camp during WWII, where rank and hierarchy are maintained and the main goals are escape and deception. That is, until one of the prisoners is found dead in one of the escape tunnels.

This was a very interesting mystery that kept me guessing until the end. The complex relationships between those being held in the camp ensure you’re never quite certain of some of the characters motivations. Not only are British POWs being interred at this camp but other nationalities too, as well as the possibility or double agents and spies. Discovery is always a danger and heightened the tension throughout.

If you enjoy WWII films, especially of the ilk of The Great Escape, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this one too. The author himself spent time in an Italian POW camp, and so brought his first-hand knowledge to the tale. It exudes authenticity and I was interested to learn the book was made into a film, which I would love to see one day.

Rating

Book Review: The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

Quick Review (read on for full review)

The Grave Tattoo is a complex, intelligent mystery with a great setting and engaging cast of characters. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

From bestselling author Val McDermid comes a modern thriller about an ancient murder set on the high seas…

After summer rains uncover a corpse bearing tattoos like those of eighteenth-century seafarers, many residents of the English Lake District can’t help but wonder whether it’s the body of one of the town’s most legendary fugitives.

Scholar and native Lakelander Jane Gresham feels compelled to finally discover the truth about the myths and buried secrets rooted in her hometown. What she never expected was to find herself at the heart of a 200-year-old mystery that still has the power to put lives on the line. And with each new lead she pursues, death follows hard on her heels….

Favourite Quote

“Jane couldn’t remember a time when Langmere Force hadn’t mesmerised her, taking her out of what ever ailed her and making her feel healed.”

(From The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid, page, 363)

[Note: Langmere Force is a waterfall]

Review

I’ve had a few Val McDermid novels on my bookshelf for a while but The Grave Tattoo is the first one I’ve read, and I must say, I wish I had got to this one sooner.

The Grave Tattoo is a complex, intelligent mystery with a great setting and engaging cast of characters.

I really enjoyed how the two mysteries, the one from 200 years ago and the one unfolding as we read, played out. All the characters were expertly crafted and their personalities and motivations came across as authentic. I also enjoyed the setting. The majority of the story was set in the Lake District and descriptions of waterfalls and hills and lakes, as always, appealed to the geography geek in me.

I found how the older tale was divulged to the reader to be clever, fun and imaginative. Snippets of a manuscript are provided at the end of the chapters, so we can get to hear the story as it was told to the one who recorded it. This way the reader doesn’t have to navigate what can sometimes be difficult changes in POV, time and setting, whilst at the same time the primary modern narrative isn’t interrupted. I thought this worked so well.

The cast of characters is extensive but necessary to the story, and is handled well by the author. I liked the unlikely friendship between Dr Jane Gresham and 13 year old Tenille, who had been written off because of her background. And with my interest in history and archaeology, I found the passages regarding the bog body, affectionately nicknamed “Pirate Peat” in the book by the forensic pathologist studying him, fascinating.

I will certainly be reading more of the author’s books because I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Rating