Tag: crime


Review – Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Posted 27 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Legion by Brandon SandersonLegion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, Brandon Sanderson

Received to review via Tor

I read Legion ages ago — and then reread it sometime more recently, actually — but never got round to reading the second book, Skin Deep. Once I got my hands on this collected edition, though, it was inevitable: I might be a little late to the party (sorry, Tor; moving is a pain in the butt), but I absolutely raced through it once I did settle down to read. I didn’t stop or put the book down at all, and I’m sure my bunnies got away with murder while I was reading.

So what is Legion about? The main character is Stephen Leeds, but really he’s more of a cipher: it’s his ‘aspects’ that are really intriguing, something like voices in his head or a split personality, but not exactly. He is, as he says several times in the narration, something different — and he doesn’t consider himself insane, since he’s living a (relatively) normal life. That’s arguable, but the fact that he’s a genius and gets along pretty well using his aspects in many ways isn’t. When he needs to know something — speak Hebrew, understand theoretical physics, deal with crime scene investigation — he flips through a book or two on the subject, and a new aspect will join him, genuinely expert on the subject and able to guide him in his investigations. These books are mysteries, too, with a supernatural/science fictional bent. A camera that can take pictures of the past; using the cells of the human body as storage for information…

Through the mysteries, we get to know a little about Stephen and his aspects, and how they work: Ivy, repository of all his social understanding; Tobias, a walking encyclopaedia with a deep knowledge of art and architecture, always able to talk soothingly about something or other; J.C., a trigger-happy Navy SEAL, who knows security and weapons… and all the other aspects who play a more incidental role, like Armando (photography expert and megalomaniac who thinks he’s the king of Mexico), Ashley (far too comfortable with being imaginary), Ngozi (forensics expert) — the list goes on. It’s a fun cast, and Sanderson has been conscious to make the aspects pretty varied, while trying to be respectful of their apparent origins. Aside from the aspects, there’s also Stephen’s butler, who is impressively forbearing and clearly very fond of Stephen, despite the weirdness.

The mysteries themselves are a little light, definitely not the point of the stories, and I’m still not sure what I think exactly about Lies of the Beholder, the third (and final) novella. It’s not the ending I wanted, but it makes a certain amount of sense and answers various questions arising from the events of the previous two books (or less the events than the actions and hints of Stephen’s aspects during that time). It works; maybe I just didn’t really want my time with the characters to be over.

All in all, as a collection it’s very satisfying (perhaps less so if you only try the novellas standing alone), and I do recommend it. Excuse me while I go press my wife to read it soon

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death of a Clone

Posted 21 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Death of a CloneDeath of a Clone, Alex Thompson

Received to review via Netgalley

This has been out for, um, ages now. I did actually start it as soon as I got it, and then I had my dissertation and moving and a thousand other excuses. When I actually sat down to finish it, though, it’s a very easy read and went by quickly. It was a little bit predictable to me, but it comes together nicely, and I do enjoy the constant references to Golden Age crime fiction (or at least Agatha Christie; now I think about it, I’m not sure whether any others were mentioned).

I probably shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoiling the reveals — it is kind of fun to just read and let things fall into place for yourself, after all. But I do find it weird that it has a lot of similarities with another recent book, One Way (S.J. Morden). There’s a slightly different angle, but nonetheless a lot of similarities, right down to the ending (which I peeked at in the case of One Way, which I haven’t quite finished). If I remember rightly they must have been being published at the same time, so it’s not a matter of plagiarism — just a kind of synchronicity, I think, but it definitely gave me deja vu!

Not bad, but nothing particularly astonishing either.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Verdict of Twelve

Posted 18 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond PostgateVerdict of Twelve, Raymond Postgate

This book isn’t really about the crime itself, but about the jurors who sit to judge it in court. Each of them has their own experiences, some of them shadier than others, all of them changing the way they look at the woman in the dock. The mystery itself is wholly second to the examination of why each character decides to vote guilty or not guilty. It’s a clever story, albeit rather shallow — after a few characters on the jury, the author gives up really giving them backgrounds and personalities, because twelve is too many to really handle. It makes sense, but it also makes some parts of the deliberation of the jury rather perfunctory.

Overall, it’s clever enough and entertaining, if not massively difficult to figure out, or really all that good a psychological examination of juries.

Warning: one thing that may be distressing for some folks is that a pet rabbit is brutally killed (in a way designed to distress its owner). I honestly found that bit rather disturbing. Yeesh.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Big Sleep

Posted 11 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

Whatever else you can say about Raymond Chandler, he was a hell of a writer. He didn’t use tired old imagery — I could probably easily find dozens of phrases and descriptions throughout his book which are specific, precisely calculated and completely fresh, without trying too hard in any way. That and the pace of his novels makes them just roll along at an incredible speed; I don’t always follow his mystery plots entirely, but I’m hooked on them.

Of course, his writing about women is just gross nowadays, objectifying and patronising and just plain unpleasant. There’s not too much that I recall of his racial politics either, but they come up in Farewell My Lovely, and are beyond gross. I don’t think calling him a man of his time excuses it, per se — it’s not that difficult to understand that other people are human, and bother to speak to them for five minutes. But I can’t help but enjoy his work anyway for his writing, for the way he sketches out Philip Marlowe and his reactions to the world around him so that all of it is very clear and in focus. I can almost visualise his scenes because he makes it so easy: you get an idea of what everyone is doing, without him taking a million words to do it.

Honestly, it’s wizardry. I can’t help enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death of a Busybody

Posted 29 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death of a Busybody by George BellairsDeath of a Busybody, George Bellairs

This is exactly the sort of story you expect from the British Library Crime Classics reissues: a smallish village, a murder, Scotland Yard gets called in… it’s not astoundingly original or surprising, with an alibi that falls apart the second you realise that a certain fact doesn’t necessarily constitute an alibi at all — but it’s comfortable and it rolls along at a reasonable pace. Okay, there’s a madwoman (sigh) who commits violence, but even that’s pretty much par for the course and not something I consider a complete turn-off with classic crime fiction. There’s even a little funny vicar who does his best for his flock and is rather anxious and unhappy about testifying against a parishioner, etc, etc.

The writing isn’t the sort of level where you particularly take note, but it works… apart from maybe the phonetic accents. I could do without those. I wonder how comprehensible they even are to people who haven’t heard the actual accent.

So yeah, fun and worth the read if you’re interested in picking up something cosy-ish (I mean, sure, there’s crime, but nobody likes the victim, so that’s almost okay in these books). I’ll definitely happily read more of Bellairs’ work.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder of a Lady

Posted 28 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder of a Lady by Anthony WynneMurder of a Lady, Anthony Wynne

This British Library Crime Classics reissue goes to one of the most iconically brooding, romantic and mysterious staple settings of all: the Scottish highlands, in the castle of a laird. It’s a murder mystery, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s filled with some rather unpleasant people — and I don’t love that it leans rather on the themes of madness and manias leading to violence to untangle the whole plot. It’s one of those where you can’t really regret the murder victim, and though the psychology of it all is well-observed, the family struggles weren’t all that appealing to me.

Still, it does the mystery well and evokes a good sense of atmosphere, and it was a pretty entertaining read even if I didn’t exactly root for the characters — and I finished it in just about no time. No real complaints! I don’t know if I’d try another by the same author, but all the same, it filled the time pleasantly enough. Not a stand-out for good or ill, really.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm

Posted 24 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil NorthSergeant Cluff Stands Firm, Gil North

This book is just… kind of gross. If there’s a woman on the page, North is bound to describe her breasts. If she’s anything less than a perfect housewife from the 1800s, she’s a whore and the narrative — and main character — treat her as such. Even the murder victim is described in somewhat less than sympathetic ways: that kind of desperate-for-a-man stereotype for a stalwart police officer to pity when she inevitably comes to grief.

I don’t understand Martin Edwards’ praise for this book in the introduction. The writing style is probably a matter of taste, but it felt clumsy to me, and way too reliant on staccato narration: “This happened. Then that happened. The man was afraid. The woman laughed.” That kind of style. It creates a certain kind of tension at times, but doing it that way for the whole book is just actually kind of boring.

Skip Gil North’s writing, even if you’re collecting the British Library Crime Classics. Ugh.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Z Murders

Posted 21 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Z Murders by J. Jefferson FarjeonThe Z Murders, J. Jefferson Farjeon

J. Jefferson Farjeon has a way with setting the atmosphere of a book that I can’t help but love. The first page of each of his books got me right away — and not in the same way, either. There’s something in the way he can describe a scene, and his mysteries quickly take over, clever and strange. The only thing I’d say I don’t fall in love with is the romance: you can see it coming a mile off, and it’s the obvious two people, and you know it’s going to end with marriage.

That aside, The Z Murders works really well at the suspense throughout. Sometimes the main character is just so stupid it makes me want to bash him over the head (sure, let’s not tell the police everything when there’s an indiscriminate killer on the loose!), but it kind of works, and the plot would be a bit stuck without it. This is, I believe, one of the earliest serial killer novels — although it’s not quite the stereotypical mentally ill killer who does it on a whim. The antagonist does have a reason and an end in mind… although that reason does still seem unhinged.

Overall, Farjeon’s books are a pleasure, and I’m sorry I’ve only got Mystery in White left to read of the British Library reissues. The Ben the Tramp books don’t seem quite my thing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death of an Airman

Posted 16 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death of an Airman by Christopher St John SpriggDeath of an Airman, Christopher St John Sprigg

I didn’t like this as much as most of the other British Library Crime Classics, and I can’t put my finger on why, really. It wasn’t worse than them in any palpable well, and probably better than one or two, and I rather liked the Bishop as a character. Perhaps it was a certain feeling of inevitability — having read Kerry Greenwood’s (obviously more recent) Cocaine Blues and Dorothy L. Sayers contemporary Murder Must Advertise, certain things seemed immediately obvious.

Mind you, when I say I liked the Bishop… after the opening of the story, he wasn’t much of a character; none of them were, really. Maybe that was my problem: it felt more like a puzzle than anything at times, and the two Inspectors were pretty indistinguishable (actually, were they both Inspectors? the details are slipping away already).

It’s an interesting read as part of an overall revisit of the Golden Age, and it’s not bad, but this is not one of the more surprising and absorbing of the series of reissues. I’m not in a hurry to read anything else by Christopher St John Sprigg, even if they republish one of his other works.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Have His Carcase

Posted 4 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. SayersHave His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers

As ever, a beloved reread. Okay, the cypher bits can be kind of annoying unless you’re really interested in figuring out, but this time I paid close attention so I could use the Playfair cypher to write a daft message to my wife, so there’s that. I love the care Peter takes to try and be fair to Harriet, not to push her, and to do his best by her. I do think sometimes he’s rather self-pitying, but mostly his sense of humour about it alleviates that.

The mystery itself is a fun one to break: if you figure out the key to it too soon, the back and forth as Harriet, Peter and the police try to break the wrong alibis can be a bit infuriating, but it’s also pretty clever. If you don’t love Peter and Harriet (and mostly their banter), I can’t imagine it being a favourite, but for me… yeah. <3

Rating: 5/5

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