book log: 62) Reginald Hill — Ruling Passion

62) Reginald Hill — Ruling Passion

Third of the Dalziel and Pascoe books. At the end of the last book Peter Pascoe had got back together with old flame Ellie, and now they’re invited to spend a weekend with four of their old university friends. They’re late because Peter’s been tied up with a serial burglary case that looks as if it’s escalating to violence.

What they find when they finally arrive is a scene of carnage. Three people are dead, the fourth is missing in circumstances that lead the local police to make him chief suspect. Pascoe’s involvement in the case is officially as a witness, but he can’t help but get involved in the investigation, even if unofficially. These are his friends, after all, and he can’t believe that one of them could really have changed so much as to commit murder. As the case progresses, Pascoe finds his ambiguous status of use to the official investigation, but an ever increasing source of frustration for himself. And Dalziel wants him back in Yorkshire, the more urgently because the burglary case has turned very nasty indeed.

The nature of the plot means that the book focuses strongly on Pascoe, with Dalziel largely present as a supporting role. It nevertheless shows the growth in the relationship between the two men, in a story that twists and turns until the various plot strands finally come together. This is a superb study of a policeman struggling and frequently failing to retain his professional detachment in the face of a crime that strikes only too close to home.

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book log: Reginald Hill — An Advancement of Learning

57) Reginald Hill — An Advancement of Learning

Re-read of the second Dalziel and Pascoe novel, previously reviewed as follows:

[2006-04-04] The second Dalziel and Pascoe novel sees the pair at a college of higher education after the discovery of a corpse under a statue’s foundation block. Naturally, life gets even more complicated, and not just because they have to wade through both student and staff politics in their pursuit of the truth. Fresh corpses are provided, and it’s up to Dalziel and Pascoe to decide which were murder and which were suicide, ideally without becoming corpses themselves.

Dalziel has no time for students, and the feeling’s mutual. But Dalziel doesn’t let his dislike lead him into underestimating his opponents, while the students make the mistake of thinking that Dalziel’s a fascist pig and therefore stupid. Pascoe’s feelings are more ambiguous, as he was a graduate recruit to the police force. His former university friends don’t approve of his choice of his career, and his liberal sympathies don’t always endear him to his colleagues, but this case reassures him that being a copper was the best way for _him_ to change the world for the better. The pair’s different experiences and views combine to form a formidable team in this setting, something they’ll need to deal with the criminal they’re trying to pin down. Even near the end, it seems that it may be a case of knowing who and how without having quite enough evidence to prove it…

This early entry in the series is a relatively simple police procedural, rather than the complex literary game to be found in some of the later novels, but still has Hill’s characteristic style and wittiness. It’s one for all fans of the series, whether your taste runs to the shorter novels or the long, psychologically complex ones, as it sets up some of the series background. Apart from developing Pascoe’s character, it introduces two of the recurring non-police characters. Pascoe is reunited with old university friend Ellie Soper, whom he later marries: and this is the first appearance of Franny Roote, who reappears much later in the series as a major character in a story arc spanning several books. And it is, of course, an entertaining book in its own right.

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book log: Leslie Charteris – Enter the Saint

50) Leslie Charteris – Enter the Saint

Second book in the Saint series, a trio of novelettes/novellas rather than a novel. Simon Templar continues in his adventurer ways, a moral criminal who only targets immoral criminals, bringing a little justice to the world a la Robin Hood and taking a 10% fee to cover his expenses. These stories introduce the Saint’s gang of like-minded honest crooks, and one of the stories is largely about Dicky Tremayne. Great fun from the 1930s.

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Book log: Jonathan Gash — The Rich and the Profane

You’re about to get spammed with the book log, as I’d been keeping notes in a text file as I went, but for various reasons (such as going to a con) hadn’t posted each book as I read it. Worse, I didn’t write up the last half as I went, and now I can’t even remember the order I read them in… Here’s the first book for February:

11) Jonathan Gash — The Rich and the Profane

20th in the Lovejoy series. It starts with a young woman asking Lovejoy to teach her how to steal an antique from an auction to spite her rich aunt, and ends with mayhem in the Channel Islands. Along the way Lovejoy gets involved with a vast array of people wanting to exploit him, usually for purposes he doesn’t understand until too late; impersonates an impresario; and creates on the fly and on the run one of the biggest and boldest scams he’s ever come up with to save his own neck and a few others.

I found it a bit hard to keep track of what was going on, but I think this had more to do with reading it on and off over the course of a week than any fault in the book. Lovejoy is his usual whining, womanising, self-pitying self, with the usual constant stream of chatter about antiques. And as usual, underneath the unselfconscious whining and the scamming large and small, he’s actually trying to do the right thing by the people he thinks deserving of it. I prefer the earlier books in the series, but wouldn’t mind reading this one again.

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Book Log: Val McDermid — The Grave Tattoo

Book 83

A murder victim’s corpse is found in the Lake District, and it’s an unusual one — a bog body, but only two centuries old, and decorated with tattoos that indicate the man had been a sailor in the Pacific. Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham sees a potential link with a Lakeland rumour — that Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian had not died on Pitcairn Island, but had secretly made his way back to England. And further, that he might have told his story to his old school friend Wordsworth. Jane already has reason to suspect that there is an undiscovered Wordsworth manuscript chronicling Christian’s story, but when she goes looking for it, death follows in her wake.

This is a solid doorstopper of a crime novel, but every page is put to good use by McDermid in weaving her story. Enjoyed this a lot.

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Book review: Martin H Greenberg and John Helfers — Future Crimes

Anthology of sf crime short stories from the prolific book packager Martin H Greenberg. I normally like the anthologies Greenberg puts together, in both sf and mystery, but I’ve got a bad case of “it’s not you, it’s me” with this one. I can see why other people might like it, but it doesn’t quite work for me, and I think it’s because I’m not quite keyed in to the relevant genre conventions. Half way through, and I still haven’t encountered a story I’d regret not having read, and have read one or two that left me feeling I’d just wasted a small piece of my life — even though I know and like the work of several of the authors (and indeed, bought the anthology specifically because it included a short by one of my favourite authors). I’ve finally learnt that I don’t have to finish a book just because I’ve started it, so I’m bailing at this point — but even so, I think this one could work for a reader with slightly different tastes to me.

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at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Dead of Light

Benedict Macallan doesn’t share his family’s talent — nor their taste for power and violence. He turned his back on them; walked out of the family, if not out of the town that they control. But when a cousin is murdered in a manner that promises danger to the whole family, he’s pulled back in against his will. Only for the funeral, only for long enough to say goodbye to a cousin he loved in spite of everything — but then the body count starts to mount, and whatever Ben may feel about his family, they’re his *family*.

The publisher calls it a horror novel, but it’s more of a story about a Mafia-like family, seen through the eyes of a dropout member who understands how they look from both the inside and the outside. The horror element comes in the weapon used by the family to maintain control of their territory, one that’s only hinted at initially, and gradually revealed during the first half of the book. Power corrupts, and the Macallan clan has held power for a very long time. Now someone is reflecting that power and threat back at them, killing Macallans as casually as they’ve killed others. Ben’s left trying to protect a family he despises and that mostly despises him; and the outside friends who are afraid of him now they’ve been reminded exactly who he is; and himself. But Ben has no power of his own…

Brenchley deftly interweaves a coming of age story with a murder mystery, gradually building a picture of a strange but only too human family, and Ben’s love-hate relationship with them. There’s some fine world-building and character development to back up the rising tension as Ben tries to solve the lethal riddle. And the use of language is superb, making the book a joy to read for the pure pleasure of the prose. It’s not exactly your traditional whodunnit, but the magic elements are never used to cheat the reader, and the clues are there for those who want to play the game. Dead of Light is both lyrical and a gripping, fast-paced read.

Dead of Light — hardback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon us
Hardback and paperback direct from the author