May 2010 book log

Books for May 2010:

25) Edward Marston — The Railway Detective (Inspector Robert Colbeck series, book 1)(logged with brief notes 8 May)
26) David Llewellyn — Trace Memory (Torchwood book 5) (reviewed earlier today)
27) Edward Marston — The Excursion Train (Inspector Robert Colbeck series, book 2) (logged 11 May)

28) Edward Marston(– The Railway Viaduct (Inspector Robert Colbeck series, book 3)

Another Victorian era police procedural set in the early days of the railways. This time Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming are called in to investigate a murder on the Sankey Viaduct, but their hunt for the murderer takes them to the construction site for a new railway line in France. The construction company is British, but the navvies come from all over Europe, adding a new dimension to the problems of investigating murder.

I thought the first book in this series suffered from a bad case of “my research, let me show you it”, but here the background material is seamlessly woven in to provide some wonderful world-building. Lots of fun, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

29) Alexander McCall Smith — Blue Shoes and Happiness
7th in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but the first one I’ve read (although I did catch several episodes of the BBC adaptation). Gentle, funny detective novel set in the capital of Botswana, written by someone who’s white but who knows the country and culture from the inside. Precious Ramotswe’s cases tend to the small when viewed from an outside perspective, but they’re often life-changing from the point of view of the people involved. The author uses this to the full, and always treats both his main cast and his bit characters with warmth and humanity. I definitely want to find a few more titles from this series.

Started but haven’t finished yet: The Heyday by Bamber Gascoigne.


Book review: David Llewellyn — Trace Memory (Torchwood)

Fifth Torchwood tie-in novel, and the middle one of the trio released for the second season. This one has a couple of references which place it late in second season, but no spoilers, and you don’t need to know anything but the basics about the universe to enjoy it.

Michael Bellini’s a Cardiff dockhand, part of a workgang waiting to unload a ship late one night in 1953. A ship whose cargo includes a crate marked “Torchwood”. A strange explosion leaves him in hospital, the only one of his mates to survive. But that’s not the worst of his worries. There are the men who say they’re from the union, but who are clearly government agents. They’re not nearly as frightening as the men in black suits and bowler hats, who aren’t men at all.

In the present day, a quiet Sunday in the Hub is interrupted by the intruder alarm. A young man has suddenly appeared in a locked room, and he’s riddled with a strange form of radiation. It doesn’t take long for the team to establish that he’s a local boy, but out of time. Not so strange for Torchwood, but there’s a twist — they’ve all encountered Michael before. Owen was a junior doctor, learning the necessary art of forgetting about his patients at the end of the day. Tosh was a little girl in Japan. Gwen was on her first day with a new partner, and somehow feeling as if it was her first day in the police force. Ianto was in his second week at Canary Wharf, making friends with another recent starter called Lisa.

And Jack? Well, Jack’s been with Torchwood a long, long time. His own encounter with Michael was out of hours, but he still knows something about Michael’s first encounter with Torchwood, and the alien artefact that sent Michael leaping through time. And a few more things besides.

This is a beautifully constructed novel, which uses Michael’s leaps back and forth through time to tell a solidly plotted story around Michael and the artefact, while giving some lovely backstory and characterisation for each of the main cast. Something I particularly liked is that we see the characters when they were younger, and in those scenes they feel like younger versions of themselves, before various things happened to them. There’s also some good characterisation in the present-day scenes. The nature of the book means that all of the main cast get a good share of the word count.

This is my favourite of the novels so far. That’s partly because it plays to things I like, but it’s also because it’s well written. And while the canonicity of the Whoniverse tie-in material is ambiguous, I think this one adds a little more depth to the Torchwood world, not just another monster-of-the-week story.

LibraryThing entry
Book Depository

book log

Got a migraine, so quick placeholder now, and then I’m off to find something not back-lit to look at for the rest of the evening.

26) David Llewellyn — Trace Memory (Torchwood book 5)
Third time of reading, still haven’t reviewed it. But I like it a lot.

27) Edward Marston — The Excursion Train (Inspector Robert Colbeck series, book 2)
More Victorian railway police procedural. I liked this better than the first one — more polished and a bit less info-dumping of the author’s research.

Book log: Edward Marston — The Railway Detective

Placeholder for the first book of May in case I don’t get around to writing the review. First book of a series about a Victorian era detective inspector at Scotland Yard. A wealth of period detail, particularly about the railways, and a wealth of purple prose. This is very much a pastiche of Victorian melodrama, and with more than a touch of Holmes-Watson stirred into the mix. Fun enough for me to keep reading the series, but I thought noticeably flawed.

Book log — April 2010

For once I had time to write this up on the last evening of the month, but I put it off because I wanted to write a review of the book I’d just finished, and thought I’d get time the next day. That was a mistake… At this point I might as well abandon any notion of doing the remaining April reviews, and just note those books with brief comments.

19) Sam Storyteller — Your Face Is Turned (Torchwood fanfic) (reviewed 12 April 2010)

20) Agatha Christie — Peril At End House (abridged audiobook) (logged with comments 24 April 2010)

21) Sam_Storyteller — Condition of Release (reviewed 25 April 2010)

22) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and Death in Stanley Street (reviewed 2 May 2010)

23) James Anderson — The Affair of the Thirty-nine Cufflinks
Third of the Alderley series. Once again a disparate group of people spend the weekend at Alderley, the country mansion of the Earl of Burford, and once again it leads to murder. This time it’s for the funeral and will-reading of an elderly relative who has asked to be buried at Alderley. The second wife of Florrie’s long-dead son feels entitled to the major share of the money after bringing up her orphaned stepdaughters. When she gets a deliberately insulting pittance, she accuses the others of having poisoned the old lady’s mind against her — and threatens to expose everyone’s embarrassing secrets in revenge. It’s no great surprise when she’s killed during the night, and once again it’s up to Chief Inspector Wilkins to sift through the many clues and motives on offer.

As with the first two books, it’s fluff that I won’t keep, but greatly entertaining fluff I’d be happy to read more of.

24) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Redhead
I’d started this in March while I was away from home, but only got a chapter or two into it before failing to take it out of my suitcase when I got home. Finished it at off at the end of April. I made some brief comments after reading it four years ago, and find that my view of it has changed this time round. The coincidence I complained about works for me this time.

Started but not finished:
Audiobook — WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Pea Green Boat
Another of the four quid specials from The Works. It’s a 3 CD set read by Jack Shepherd, the actor who played Wycliffe in the ITV series.

Book log: WJ Burley — Wycliffe and Death in Stanley Street

Fifth in the Wycliffe series, first published in 1974. A prostitute is found murdered in her flat, in circumstances that suggest a sex crime. But it’s obvious to Wycliffe’s team that the suggestion is deliberate, and they need to consider other motives. The only clue they have initially is that the young woman was clearly well educated and intelligent, with a clientele willing to pay a premium for that. With that, they soon trace her real name and background — the daughter of a well-to-do man, but both parents dead some years earlier, leaving only her and her brother.

As Wycliffe and his team trace the woman’s professional and personal contacts, they find more than one motive for murder. But nothing seems to quite fit the normal patterns. Lily was exploiting pillow talk to make money, but not in a way likely to provoke murder. She had some dubious connections with a record of violence, but they seem well-satisfied with the relationship. There has to be something else the team aren’t seeing, but it takes an arson attack and another death before Wycliffe has enough pieces of the puzzle to start to see a pattern. And even then, he’s not sure if it’s another pattern deliberately created for him to see — and if so, what it’s meant to hide.

Another well-constructed police procedural from Burley, with the clues laid out just clearly enough for the reader to stay slightly ahead of Wycliffe. As ever, much of the pleasure in the book is in the characterisations, giving it a good re-readability factor. However, I’d note that this is another title in the series which features a gay stereotype character and the normally tolerant Wycliffe’s homophobia as a significant element.

LibraryThing entry
at the Book Depository