Tag: crime


Review – Whose Body?

Posted 21 December, 2014 by in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. SayersWhose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers

The first time I read Whose Body?, I don’t think I thought much of it. Little did I know. It’s not just that I’ve come to love the character — though I do — and the actors who’ve portrayed him, the various adaptations, etc. It’s that Sayers is just so damn clever. Even in Whose Body?, which is far from my favourite, you’ve got the mystery to untangle and then you’ve got all the background references to stuff. I keep finding myself looking up names of murderers and famous poisoning victims and random books and… all the sorts of things that Sayers has Wimsey just know. It’s always very gratifying (to borrow a phrase from Bunter) when I know what she’s talking about right away; it lets you feel like part of the cleverness, though I never feel left out when I don’t understand it.

One thing Sayers was very good at is the convoluted type of mystery, replete with five or more red herrings and careful timetables. This might strike you as pretty contrived, and if you’re particularly literally minded, you might wonder how Wimsey, Parker and Bunter always manage to find such convoluted mysteries, which unravel as soon as you hit upon that key detail (x wanted to marry y once, this book is important, he corresponds in French, which tube of paint was missing, when did a new Property Act come into force, etc). If that’s likely to bother you, then Wimsey might not be able to charm you out of it.

But despite all that, it’s not all about the cleverness or the convoluted plots. It’s also about Peter, who is revealed more and more with each book as a good man, as someone with a fragile core, as someone who struggles between responsibility and his love of the chase. And then there’s other characters like Bunter and Parker, good people themselves who are devoted to him, and who you want to see more of…

And Harriet. Just wait until we meet Harriet.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Still Life

Posted 7 December, 2014 by in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Still Life by Louise PennyStill Life, Louise Penny

I have quite mixed feelings about this one. It was enthusiastically recommended on Twitter by a couple of authors I do like, but from the very first page it felt clumsily written to me. A little overwritten — “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec knelt down; his knees cracking like the report of a hunter’s rifle, his large, expressive hands hovering over the tiny circle of blood marring her fluffy cardigan, as though like a magician he could remove the wound and restore the woman.” It just reads all wrong to me, and put me off right there — and that’s in the second paragraph. The same sort of style continues throughout, and extends to the characters as well — if there are two more florid and clichéd gay men in all of fiction, I’d almost be surprised, and it’s not as though that gives them life. It’s like a world of cardboard cut-outs, springing up to attention when the reader looks, but flattening down the rest of the time. Some of them were even ridiculous, like the young detective Yvette Nichol: she doesn’t seem capable, trained, adult — she seems like a child having a sulk, most of the time.

This is meant to be a ‘cosy’ mystery, apparently; though it doesn’t really feel like it, with the intrusion of the police into a small rural community, with an old woman killed by someone in that community… Normally in a cosy mystery, I guess I expect there to be a different sort of crime. Someone we sympathise with less, maybe even someone who we feel deserves it. The disruption of a small tight-knit community like this one is supposed to be is pretty much the antithesis of cosy, to me.

The one thing I did really like about this was the domestic partnerships. Gamache is far from the stereotyped lonely detective with a drinking problem, with a wife and a harmonious home to return to. Other characters in the book are married as well, and these relationships are presented as natural, symbiotic, fulfilling. Those were the moments where Penny shone, for me, because for that moment her characters did show a spark of life.

Ultimately, though, I found this really disappointing and just skimmed it. It’s cosy in the sense that it’s not gritty Ian Rankin/Val McDermid style crime, full of sexual abuse and the like. It seems to try and be more in the genre of Mary Stewart or Alan Bradley — the only writers I’d forgive that ending with the snakes — and, well, fails. I’m sure there’s an audience for it, but it ain’t me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Six Against the Yard

Posted 26 October, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Six Against the Yard, Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, Russell ThorndikeCover of Six Against the Yard by The Detective Club

I got this book mostly for the Dorothy L. Sayers story, of course, but I was interested in the premise, too. Six master mystery writers, including Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers, took it upon themselves to write a short story each in which someone committed the perfect murder. And then, in response, an ex-Superintendent of the CID explained the ways he thought that perfect crime could be picked apart. Cornish didn’t seem to think any of the six would really ‘pass’, for various reasons, but it bothered me a little that it didn’t matter how many precautions the characters took to get rid of the evidence, Cornish was sure the police would find something. The police are not all-knowing or perfect; I guess the problem is that I approached the stories as literary, and Cornish tried to view them as reality, while still seeing himself having access to all the facts. Not quite fair!

Margery Allingham’s story is good; she sets up a great narrator, handling themes of domestic violence and so on pretty well. I did applaud Cornish’s understanding of psychology in his response, where he pointed out that the murderer presented themselves in the most sympathetic light possible, but there’s no reason to take their word as gospel truth, even in a confession. Overall, clever but obvious.

I was pretty ambivalent toward Father Ronald Knox’s story of a dictator murdered in his home. That all seemed fairly obvious. Cornish’s feeling that the crime is perfect through unfair play is right: like he says, the crime is unpunishable, but not untraceable.

Anthony Berkeley’s story is fun: another great narrator, fun set of characters. That aspect of it is better than the perfect murder stuff, and the whole story reminded me of Lynn O’Connacht’s beef with first person narrators: why, how, and when are you telling the story? Berkeley didn’t really explain why the two narrators would tell the story in the way they did.

Thorndike’s story was simply too theatrical and contrived. Rooooolling of eyes actually happened here.

Sayers’ story was well written, but fell down in terms of being the perfect murder because it wasn’t a murder. She spent so much time tying up each loose end that Cornish could’ve used to untangle the thing that ultimately, while there was motive, means, and opportunity, there was no defining moment where the ‘murderer’ acted. He simply failed to act, and he wasn’t even sure if that would change anything. I did like the set-up and the psychological understanding, though.

Freeman Wills Crofts’ story has an interesting set-up, but I didn’t think it was even nearly a perfect murder — there were several holes in the logic, which Cornish quite rightly points out.

So as I said, entertaining little collection, nice idea; not overwhelmed by the result, but it’s fun enough.

Rating: 3/5

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Reading and rereading

Posted 19 October, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 5 Comments

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.

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Robot for a Day

Posted 18 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Once upon a time, or back in July anyway, Angry Robot posted a competition they were holding, in celebration of the company’s fourth birthday. Entering was simple: come up with three words to describe the company, and email them in. The prize was amazing (or I’m easily pleased): twelve books, either dead tree or on a Nook, and for the UK winner, a day at the Angry Robot office, learning about everything they do and getting some input into an acquisitions meeting, etc — all expenses paid. I sent in my three words (daring / quality / addictive) and forgot about it, expecting nothing.

You have probably already guessed that the UK winner was me, although I seem to have been the last to know. I actually found out from Dan of Shelf Inflicted, who sent me a GR message after seeing the post announcing the winners. I won’t give you a play by play of all the emails exchanged to get me there, but on 15th October, I made my way to Nottingham to meet the Angry Robot crew (guided by Lee Harris’ excellent directions, without which I would probably have taken one look at Nottingham and turned tail to run away).

If you don’t know much about the company, suffice it to say that they’re a mostly UK-based company who have a reputation for publishing different, daring, interesting stories in SF/F. They’ve also expanded with the Strange Chemistry (YA) and Exhibit A (crime) imprints. They put out an amazing number of books, and give the impression of being willing to take chances, even on debut authors. I am always willing to pick up something Angry Robot have put out: it may not be my cup of tea, in the end, but nonetheless they’re usually good stories, professionally edited, and an important factor for me, available DRM-free as ebooks.

Having found the place, I was introduced to everyone who was there — Marc Gascoigne, founder of Angry Robot; Lee Harris, senior editor; Amanda Rutter, editor of the Strange Chemistry books; and Leah Woods, intern. I proceeded to make an excellent impression by announcing, when asked if the office was as I expected, that it was quite like the pest control office I worked in once, only there were fewer pests and more books.

But really, it’s an ordinary office, except that it’s piled high with books, and decorated by print-outs of the cover art of upcoming books. Naturally, I felt right at home. They’d even set up an email account for me for the day, which I used to exchange mostly silly emails with various other members of the company (hi Emlyn! I had no trouble rebooting them all in the end…). And my partner, just so that I got the opportunity to email from a “work” address for once…

Anyway, I did actually do work, I promise. It isn’t all fun, games, and weird gifs of giraffes (thanks Leah).

Bizarre GIF of a two-legged giraffeAhem.

The morning mostly consisted of me updating the website with quotes from reviews, while everyone else did what I presume was work. I did also get to play around with writing a blurb for Adam Christopher’s new book, Hang Wire. After that was the promised pub lunch, where I once more distinguished myself by ordering nachos and ending up with sour cream, salsa and guacamole all over my face. Everyone else was much more refined, though Amanda did nearly dip her sausage butty into her gin and tonic…

The most exciting part was, of course, still to come: the acquisitions meeting, attended by most of the Angry Robot staff (some in the room with us, some on the phone). There were three books under discussion, about which I can’t really say too much: what I found most interesting was seeing the pros and cons for each book being weighed up. I think a lot of people have ideas about how this process goes — a bunch of white males around a table deciding people’s future based on what will “sell”. Well, of course there was discussion of that, and whether it fit with the company’s existing books, but it really honestly did focus on the merits of the book in question. Stop being so cynical, everyone!

The lovely thing was when the book I most favoured was agreed upon by most of us and the decision to acquire it made. I don’t know if everyone else at the table (metaphorically) had this in mind as strongly as I did, but I couldn’t help but think of how the author would feel when their agent let them know. And I can’t wait to see their book come out. I think I can at least say that it looks to be very fun, with strong female characters. I will definitely talk more about it here when I can.

After that, Lee had to go and Leah started loading me up with books. I’d been pondering for days what twelve I’d pick, given the choice. Well, here’s some idea…

Photo of the Bibliophibian surrounded by books

Loaded up with books

I ended up with a round fifty, plus an audiobook (Chris F. Holm’s The Wrong Goodbye, as I am an enormous fan — the copies you see in the image above are my dead tree copies, but I already had ebook copies!) and a bookmark, along with several Angry Robot carrier bags in which to carry them. With those and my backpack, I made it back to the station and travelled on home, where my dad met me on the platform with a long-suffering look…

My family, by the way, are now convinced that Angry Robot books should both employ and publish me. On learning that I don’t currently have any decent manuscript, my grandmother informed me I should just write one then.

Workin’ on it, Grandma. Working on it.

(This post was written for Shelf Inflicted at Dan’s request — thanks for the offer of hosting it, Dan! It will be posted there as well as right here.)

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