book log July 2012

67) Francis Durbridge — Tim Frazer Gets The Message [audiobook]

Abridged on 2 CDs and read by Anthony Head. Another case for engineer turned spy Tim Frazer. British intelligence agent Miss Thackery was last heard of in Asia, so why has she turned up dead in the Welsh countryside? And is her murder linked with the disappearance of a German scientist who was working at the British government? Another enjoyable 1960s espionage novel, splendidly read by Anthony Head.

http://www.librarything.com/work/12339476

68) Mary Stewart — The Moonspinners

1960s romantic suspense. A young woman working at the British Embassy goes to Crete for an Easter break with her cousin, and walks into a cover-up of a murder and a witness in hiding. The mystery is not in whodunnit, but why. An excellent romantic suspense with a vivid sense of place.

http://www.librarything.com/work/26721/

69) Dick Francis — Flying Finish

Lord Henry Grey holds down an ordinary office job, to the horror of his family who think that he should solve the family financial problems by the traditional method of marrying an heiress in search of a title — or as he calls it, prostituting himself. He hasn’t told his family about his other activities — amateur jockey, and semi-amateur pilot. When he shifts jobs into working for a bloodstock shipping agent, nobody thinks he’ll stick to it. But Grey not only sticks with the job, he inconveniences other people by doing so, and by being bright enough to notice that there’s something very odd going on.

Another solid suspense novel from Francis, as ever tied into the world of horse-racing, and with a good romance sub-plot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/71205

69) Paul Doherty — Corpse Candle

Thirteenth of the medieval mystery series starring Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the King’s Seal. I’m not familiar with the series and this one’s a long way into the run, but I found that Doherty does a good job of introducing his characters to new readers. Corbett is sent by the King to investigate the death of Abbot Stephen of St Martin’s-in-the-fields, an abbey in a remote area plagued by bandits. It’s a locked room murder mystery that leaves Corbett initially baffled, but then he finds himself with more murders to investigate, providing both more clues and an incentive to find the killer fast. Very enjoyable, and I’d like to read more of the series.

http://www.librarything.com/work/532013

70) PD James — Cover Her Face [audiobook]

Full cast dramatisation from BBc Radio 4 of the first Adam Dalgliesh mystery, on two CDs. Very well done, and with the original novel being fairly short, this one doesn’t have to leave out large chunks of the book, even if if it is still abridged.

http://www.librarything.com/work/14341

71) Mary Stewart — This Rough Magic

Another romantic suspense from Stewart, this one set on Corfu and themed around Shakespeare’s Tempest. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt that the heroine was rather more blatantly collecting plot coupons than in some of Stewart’s books.

http://www.librarything.com/work/25998

44) Shamini Flint — Inspector Singh Investigates: A Curious Indian Cadaver

Fifth installment of the series about Inspector Singh of the Singapore police, forever being shipped off elsewhere to get him out of his superiors’ hair. This time he’s on compulsory sick leave, and thus can’t claim pressure of work to avoid being dragged by Mrs Singh to a family wedding in India. But the Singhs arrive only to find that the bride-to-be has disappeared. The last thing her immediate family want is the police involved, because of the social stigma — the obvious motive for the young woman’s disappearance is to avoid an arranged marriage. For the family patriarch, worried about his granddaughter’s welfare as well as her reputation, an investigation by a family member who just happens to be a member of another country’s police force is a much more appealing prospect.

Then a corpse turns up, and the local police are involved whether the family likes it or not. But Singh keeps digging, and finds a tangle of motives that he’s not willing to ignore.

Once again Flint has blended a police procedural with a sensitive look at the ramifications of a real life tragedy. This book is deeply rooted in Sikh culture, and that includes the ongoing after-effects of the 1984 riots and massacre in India. But the latter does not overwhelm the book — it is only one strand in a complex story about a complex society. A particular feature of the book is that it is quite openly an outsider’s view of India, complete with an outsider’s prejudices and reactions — but the outsider here is not a white European, but a member of the Indian diaspora of Singapore. Singh finds India at once both alien and familiar, and this colours his reaction to the things he encounters during his investigation.

Singh is a joy of a character to read about, and Flint has created yet another fascinating twist to her series hook of a police inspector who frequently ends up investigating murder well outside his official jurisdiction. The Singaporean Sikh is a marvellous addition to the ranks of maverick detectives in mystery fiction, and I’m very much hoping that there will be a sixth book in the series.

http://www.librarything.com/work/11236931

book log: 68) Alan Hunter — Landed Gently

68) Alan Hunter — Landed Gently

Fourth in the Inspector George Gently series, and the first that I’ve read. This one was first pubished in 1957, and this affects some of the background details, but doesn’t make much difference in the basic plot.

Gently is invited to spend Christmas at a country house. On the train down he meets a young American from a US Air Force base, who has wangled himself an invitation to the neighbouring country house. Lt Earle has an interest in both the tapestry workshop based at Merely, and in the young woman who runs the workshop. Gently likes the man, and isn’t happy to hear that he’s been found dead at the bottom of the grand staircase on Christmas morning. At first glance it looks like an accident, but Gently isn’t satisfied with first appearances. He soon shows that it’s not an accident, and then isn’t satisfied with the suspect preferred by his hosts.

For a short novel, there are a surprising number of red herrings and plot twists. The clues are there, but neatly buried in competently written distractions. I’m inclined to find some more of this police procedural series.

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Book log: 66) Reginald Hill — An April Shroud

Here’s the first of July’s books:

66) Reginald Hill — An April Shroud

Fourth in the Dalziel and Pascoe series. The previous book focused on Peter Pascoe and his involvement as a witness rather than a policeman, after finding his friends murdered. This one focuses on Andy Dalziel finding himself in a similar situation. The difference here is that Dalziel finds himself amongst strangers, and it’s not entirely clear for some time whether there is a crime at all, and if so what it is.

Dalziel is supposed to be going on holiday after attending Pascoe’s wedding, but finds himself stranded by a flood, and invites himself to stay with the funeral party who rescue him. The newly widowed Bonnie Fielding has more troubles on her mind than the loss of her husband — their fledgling Banqueting Hall business needs to be up and running soon, or the business, and the family, will be bankrupt. Dalziel gets entangled in what at first seems like an entertaining diversion, but when more corpses appear, he has unpleasant choices to make.

A good read in its own right, but I found it even better when I read it in sequence. This book develops Dalziel as a character, showing him as off-duty as he gets, and telling us something about him as a person as well as a policeman.

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book log: 64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]

64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs of the fourth book in the Wycliffe series. Jack Shepherd (Wycliffe in the tv series) does a good job on reading, and while I was familiar with the plot from reading the book some years ago, I think the abridgement should work reasonably well for someone coming to it fresh.

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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: Edward Marston — Railway to the grave

51) Edward Marston — Railway to the grave

Seventh in the Railway Detective series, about a Victorian detective inspector specialising in railway crime in the early days of the railways. As usual with this author, enjoyable pulp fiction that I won’t bother keeping but am glad to have read. In this one a retired Colonel commits suicide by walking into an oncoming train. Tarleton’s wife went missing a few weeks earlier, and is presumed murdered. The case might have come to Robert Colbeck in the normal course of events anyway, but there is a personal link — the dead man was a friend of Colbeck’s superior officer, from Tallis’s days as an army officer. Tallis wants his dead friend’s name cleared, and the person responsible for both deaths found. Colbeck has to persuade Tallis to leave the investigation to him, because Tallis is far too emotionally involved to do a good job.

The series in general tends to fairly cardboard characters, and Tallis has been something of a stock stereotype in spite of being a regular character, but Marston has finally begun to flesh him out a little in this book.

I’d note that the author tries to reflect period mores and attitudes in his historical mysteries, and this does mean that some of the characters’ reactions to various plot developments are not likely to sit well with much of my friends list. Colbeck himself is a broad-minded and humane man, but that simply means that he gets to clash with people who aren’t, such as the local rector who has no intention of allowing a suicide to be buried in hallowed ground.

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Book log: Reginald Hill — A Clubbable Woman [audiobook]

36) Reginald Hill — A Clubbable Woman [audiobook]

Abridged audio adaptation of the first book in the Dalziel & Pascoe series (which I’ve previously reviewed), on 3 CDs. It’s read by Warren Clarke, who played Dalziel in the tv adaptation. This is a good abridgement, which from following along in places on the printed edition I thought cut about half the text while retaining everything needed for the plot, plus a good chunk of the characterisations. Clarke does an excellent job of reading.

LibraryThing entry