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Reviews

December 2009

John Curran - Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks

"Curran has taken years of deciphering and constructing the notes into an extraordinary collection..."

Synopsis:
During her prolific career, Agatha Christie, like many writers before and after her, wrote her ideas down in notebooks. Some of her notes became some of the famous cases of Poirot's or Marple's detective career. Notes on all her novels and short stories survive and most are discussed at length with the most famous of her books being given a greater part of the book than others that were not so warmly accepted by the public or critics of the time. Also, there is a part about Christie's non-crime work which was also short-lived due to the public wanting more of Poirot and Marple and not much else. Secret Notebooks does show this author's extraordinary fervent imagination in great detail.

Review:
If, like me, you are a ardent fan of Christie, then this book is a perfect treasure trove. Now Christie fans can dip in and out and see the prolific author's thoughts and original ideas on most of her novels and short stories. As with her novels, some of the notes can have plot twists of their own. In this book you find out that Death on the Nile was originally planned to feature Miss Marple and that the murderer in Crooked House was only decided at the last minute. You need to be a bit of a Christie buff to understand most of what is being mooted in her notes and you will need to have read most of these books as most do reveal the murderer amongst the notes.

Curran has taken years of deciphering and constructing the notes into an extraordinary collection and you can only imagine the fun and joy he had going over Christie's jottings and finding out the thoughts of this amazing author whose books sales grow stronger and stronger with each years passing, despite Christie having passed away over 30 years ago.

This is a wonderful book that will have any Christie fan dipping in and out and remembering the first time they read each title. I can guarantee you that before long you will be re-reading these classics in double quick time!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Kellerman - True Detectives

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Synopsis:
Half brothers Aaron Fox and Moe Reed could not be more different. Although both involved in law enforcement, Moe is an official homicide detective for the LAPD while Aaron is a private eye whose criteria for taking on cases is purely financial. The brothers have a long history of not getting on with each other and keep a wary distance from each other. However, their profession lives collide when they both begin working on the case of a missing musician, Caitlin Frostig.

Caitlin has been missing for some time and Aaron is hired by her father's boss to find out what really happened to her. For Moe, it is a cold case that he wants to resurrect, although it soon becomes clear that Caitlin was not the retiring music teacher that appearances suggest. The detectives are forced to visit the seamier side of Los Angeles to find clues to Caitlin's disappearance.

Review:
Although famous for his Alex Delaware novels Kellerman does often reuse minor characters from his previous novels. In fact, in this book Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis make brief appearance at the beginning of the book but are then replaced as investigators by Aaron Fox and Moe Reed. The relationship between these half-brothers is one of the book's greatest strengths. They had a love-hate relationship than goes back to their childhood and the brutal death of Aaron's father. Throughout the book you are willing the brother's to repair their damaged relationship. The plot is classic Kellerman as it oscillates between the wealthy LA suburbs and the grime of the inner city. The character of the missing Caitlin Frostig is examined in detail but at the end I was no clearer of the reasons behind her descent into casual and risky pick-ups.

All Kellerman fans will enjoy this book but I can't help wondering when we can have more of Delaware and Strugis?

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hilary Macaskill - Agatha Christie at Home

"...a gorgeous book that brings the woman that was Agatha Christie to life. "

Synopsis:
This sumptuous book appears as Agatha Christie's home is opened to the public for the very first time. Christie fans have long heard of Greenway which has been in the Christie family for years until Agatha's daughter, Rosemary passed away. Now the National Trust have renovated the inside of the house and parts of Greenway are open to the public as well as the famous gardens surrounding it. Photographs from Agatha's personal album are now printed in this coffee table sized book along with history about Agatha and the house she loved and where a lot of her books were written.

Inside are pictures of the boat house which famously appeared in Dead Man's Folly and the setting Christie used in Five Little Pigs along with other locations dotted around the Devon countryside where Christie plotted her bestsellers.

Review:
Agatha Christie at Home is a gorgeous book that brings the woman that was Agatha Christie to life. Inside these covers we see Christie in family situations as well as wonderful photos from around Devon showing the locations from Agatha's different novels. Once you see these settings you can see how inspired Christie was and how she could make the most beautiful setting in to a setting for the most horrendous murder. I also learnt that despite being such a shy and introverted character, Christie would regularly hold dinner parties for friends and local neighbours.

Along with Christie's notebooks being published, Christie fans are being well and truly spoiled. Looking through Agatha Christie at Home you will be hard pressed not to fall in love with Devon and in particular Greenway. After reading this book I will definitely be booking my ticket to go and see Greenway and hopefully take another step towards partially understanding and getting closer to such a phenomenal woman who has given me, along with billions of other people, hours of pleasure and murder!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Box - Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

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Synopsis:
Jack and Melissa McGuane have been through the mill when it comes to children. After years of trying for a baby, they find out it is impossible for the couple to produce their desired family. After a lot of soul searching, the couple adopt a beautiful baby girl. Now, nine months later the McGuane's get a phone call which turns their world upside-down. Although the mother signed over her parental rights, the father did not. And now he wants his daughter back.

With a federal judge as his father, the boy seems certain to win any court case – if the McGuane's decided to fight him for Angelina, even they know that their chances are non-existent. And so, they now find themselves under the power of Judge Moreland who has given them three weeks to say goodbye to their daughter. But why do they want the baby after all this time? Why so suddenly and so urgently? Jack isn't going to give up without a fight and decides to do some digging…

Review:
This is the new novel by C. J. Box who seems to be fêted as the new Harlan Coben. This is all well and good but that is a tall order and how does this author compare?

The beginning of the story starts well and I was instantly grabbed by the opening of the book. Box immediately grips the reader with suspense from the opening chapter and he conveys well the concern and despair of this innocent couple whose only crime is to want to start a family. The story runs smoothly along with several characters, like cop friend, Cody, who has a reputation of being a maverick cop determined to find a chink in the armour of Judge Moreland. Under intense intimidation, Jack and Melissa count down the days when they have to hand over their daughter.

Although a promising start this story does appear to waiver mid-way. There are constant references to how much the couple love their new daughter and how desperate they are to lose her. This does sometimes get a bit repetitive. Also, despite Box being particularly good at racheting up the tension he is let down slightly by a plot twist which is handed to the reader very near the end which has not been alluded to before. In this instance I did feel slightly cheated. However, little niggle aside, the characters were strong and I would be happy to read another book if Cody was to appear (hint, hint!). Despite my comments, I feel Mr. Box does have a very promising writing career in Cobenland as he grows from strength to strength...

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ngaio Marsh - Ngaio Marsh Omnibus 1

"Anyone who loves the Golden Age of crime will celebrate these omnibus editions..."

Synopsis:
A Man Lay Dead: A weekend house party is supposed to be fun and full of laughter. However, when the lights go down for the Murder Game, the guests are shocked and horrified when there is a real corpse with a real dagger protruding from its back. It takes Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn to use all his ingenuity to figure out how the murder was perpetrated and by whom.

Enter a Murderer: On the stage of the Unicorn Theatre a gun is to be fired – however, the bullet turns out to be real and the victim was an actor determined to climb the ladder to success – whichever way it can be done – either through blackmail or other means. And so it leads to Alleyn's most baffling of cases.

The Nursing Home Murder: The Home Secretary is taken in for an emergency operation – but both the surgeon and nurse have good reasons to botch the operation. When their patient dies Alleyn is brought in to bring the perpetrator of this ingenious crime to task.

Review:
Finally, after a few years out of print, Ngaio Marsh is at long last back in print and her publishers, Harper Collins, have done her proud. For a very reasonable price the reader can get not one, not two... but three great Alleyn mysteries. These are Alleyn's first three cases and definitely gave the man a fantastic start to a career which has survived decades after Marsh's passing. My particular favourite is Enter a Murderer which was the first Marsh I read back as a teenager. For me, it was the start of yet another love affair with Golden Age crime novels, (my first being with Christie's novels – of course!).

With Marsh's usual flair for the theatrical and the macabre, Alleyn's cases were always slightly skewed with a strange motley crew of suspects along with his sidekicks, Bailey and Brer Fox. As an added bonus, every collection of three novels now being issued includes a short story by Marsh's. For me, Marsh was as good at plotting as Christie although she had more rounded characters in her novels. Anyone who loves the Golden Age of crime will celebrate these omnibus editions of her books and I strongly suspect that this new editions will be on quite a few Christmas lists!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Catriona McPherson - Proper Treatment of Bloodstains

"Altogether, I found this a spiffing and highly entertaining read!"

Synopsis:
Dandy Gilver, blueblooded aristocrat turned sleuth, is called in to investigate the alarming behaviour of the husband of a young Edinburgh lady, Mrs Walburga Balfour. To understand what is happening in this grand household, she takes up the position of lady's maid to Mrs Balfour, and is quickly ensconced below stairs, armed with a list of appropriate behaviours and instructions on laundry and “the proper treatment of bloodstains”. Luckily, the butler and cook run the household with a very loose rein, and Dandy's inefficiencies and odd behaviour are overlooked.

After meeting the husband accused of threatening his wife with death, Dandy finds it difficult to believe, but as her stay goes on she hears tales of Pip Balfour's cruelty from all sides. When he is found murdered, there are many people glad to see the end of him.

Tales of his behaviour culminate in the ultimate cruelty found in his will, and Dandy begins to suspect that behind all the wickedness, the root of all the evil lies in the vast fortune left by Pip Balfour.

As a backdrop to the life of a wealthy family in the Edinburgh of the 1920s, there is the General Strike, the hardship of the miners and their families and the strikebreaking students stepping into the jobs left by the men on strike.

Review:
This is very tongue in cheek Dorothy Sayers spoof and a very funny read. There is a clever, if slightly far fetched, plot. Even the solution has a comic twist to it. There are a wide range of characters from the extremely died-in-the-wool Hugh Gilver, ultra conservative and ever so slightly boring, Alec, ex-army officer and Watson to Dandy's Holmes, who displays some very disconcerting leftish views and Dandy herself, self-deprecating but determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Then the staff below stairs are an interesting lot! Not to mention the mining family of the bootboy, struggling with the effects of the strike.

Set in the Edinburgh of the 1920s during the General Strike the background detail and the atmosphere of the city are beautifully portrayed. Facts about the protesters and the behaviour of the police, the attitudes of the different parts of society give an authenticity to what is actually a rather unlikely scenario.

Altogether, I found this a spiffing and highly entertaining read!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Lee Burke - Rain Gods

"This book has all the elements we have come to know and love in a novel by JLB..."

Synopsis:
Sheriff of a bone-dry, broken down South Texas border town, former Korean POW, Hackberry Holland is a man haunted by his past, while fighting a war in the present. His modern-day enemies are drug-runners, people-smugglers and hired guns... but when the bodies of nine Asian prostitutes are found executed and barely buried behind a dilapidated church, he knows with a frightening certainty that he is dealing with another form of evil all together.

As the pieces of the problem start to take pattern and shape, Hackberry discovers a network of corruption and violence linking a strip-bar owner, a New Orleans crime lord, a mentally scarred Iraq war veteran and an assassin for hire who takes his inspiration from the Old Testament and who is known only as the Preacher.

Hackberry knows to the ends of his weary bones that if he is to solve the horrible murder of these poor women he will have to face the worst form of evil that he has ever come across. But with his own soul still in torment from his time in captivity all those years ago, will he be a match for a killer who believes he has God on his side?

Review:
Much has been said about the undoubted talents of James Lee Burke over the years and this, his latest, can surely do nothing but add to the superlatives heaped upon the man.

This book has all the elements we have come to know and love in a novel by JLB; a lawman working against the odds while struggling against his own demons, a sociopathic killer and a facility with words that leaves you thrilling about the prose as much as the plot.

In Rain Gods we have a killer par excellence who takes the love of his craft to a new level. The Preacher is a cracking creation, full of contradiction and just as likely to release his victims as he is to cut their throats.

James Lee Burke could write out the phone book and I would be entranced. Here we have an intriguing change from his most famous creation, Dave Robicheaux, but there is similarities if you are hankering after Dave. Hank has his battle with booze and his experiences in a war that affected a different generation of young Americans. The counterpoint to this is the young man in the novel who has crossed the bad guys and is on the run along with his beautiful girlfriend. This young man is a veteran of the Iraqi conflict and his experience displays the horrible truth that nothing really changes.

Against the backdrop of a dry and dusty Texas plains, with a hint of rain in the future the plot carefully unfolds to highlight the journey that each of the characters find themselves on. Some will come out the other end with their life and their character intact. Others will have their lives changed forever... just as the first raindrop finally falls.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Perry - Runner

"...one of those rare books that not only has a great plot, but gets the reader hooked before the end of the first page."

Synopsis:
Jane Whitefield returns from retirement to the world of the runner, guiding fugitives out of danger. After a nine-year absence, the fiercely resourceful Native American guide Jane Whitefield is back, in the latest superb thriller by award-winning author Thomas Perry.

For more than a decade, Jane pursued her unusual profession: “I'm a guide .
. . I show people how to go from places where somebody is trying to kill them to other places where nobody is." Then she promised her husband she would never work again, and settled in to live a happy, quiet life as Jane McKinnon, the wife of a surgeon in Amherst, New York. But when a bomb goes off in the middle of a hospital fundraiser, Jane finds herself face to face with the cause of the explosion: a young pregnant girl who has been tracked across the country by a team of hired hunters.

That night, regardless of what she wants or the vow she's made to her husband, Jane must come back to transform one more victim into a runner. And her quest for safety sets in motion a mission that will be a rescue operation—or a chance for revenge.

Review:
Runner is one of those rare books that not only has a great plot, but gets the reader hooked before the end of the first page.

I have yet to read Perry's previous novels based around Jane Whitefield, so had quite a few questions as to how and why she is the person she is. But after reading Runner I will now have to backtrack so I can get to know the character better. She is extremely resourceful and seems to know what to do in any situation, and has luck on her side as in any situation she is able to think fast to save herself.

I am a great fan of Perry as he writes great books with innovative plots, whilst still being believable.

Even without reading the older books, Runner will be keenly received, although I am sure that as with many long running characters, there will be many existing fans who will be very pleased to see her return. And after reading only Runner, I am already looking forward to seeing her in future books.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: