Friday, 1 June 2018

Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire

Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire (A Betty Church Mystery Book 1)Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. Kasasian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The year is 1939 and, as Britain prepares for coming war, Betty Church prepares to return to her home town of Sackwater in coastal Suffolk to do battle of her own—as a police inspector, no less. How will she, a woman, be received into this traditionally male realm by her fellow officers?

Fans of M. R. C. Kasasian’s Gower Street Detective series (of which I am one) will love his new creation. Not only is Betty Church logical and tough, she is also March Middleton’s godchild—a good thing, too, since she is about to face a most puzzling series of murders, which may or may not have something to do with one of her constables’ past.

The cast of rude mechanicals in Betty’s charge ensures that Mr Kasasian can continue the absurdist comedy for which he is renowned. Be it the corpse she finds that turns out to be only her sleeping sergeant, or Woman Police Constable Dodo Chivers, who takes every statement quite literally, humour abounds. Where Dodo is concerned (like Mr Grice before her in the Gower Street novels), it can send conversations off at increasingly surreal tangents, which can require a careful reading if you’re to get the joke.

Her bumbling colleagues aside though, Betty also has a wealth friends who are quietly but delightfully developed as characters—fixtures, I hope, for many journeys to come. I especially liked Captain Carmelo (her ex-boyfriend’s Maltese father), Jimmy (her ex-boyfriend’s nephew, who considers her to be his aunt), and Dr Tubby Gretham and his wife. There has even been speculation on Twitter that Mr Kasasian himself pops up in the role of Betty’s father, an unpopular dentist who can hardly be civil to his own daughter, let alone to his dwindling number of patients. As for the mystery element, there are some particularly grisly murders, a lot of blood, and an extremely enticing red herring. More than this I dare not say for fear of spoilers.

One of the great pleasures of reading an M. R. C. Kasasian novel is that nothing will be quite as you imagine it should be, whether it’s a character’s name, their appearance, their background, or even their interpersonal relationships—and with Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire, Mr Kasasian takes this to a whole new level. Within the cozy mystery genre his voice is unique. If you delight in meeting a truly new kind of character, you will certainly delight in this. Be warned though; Victorian sensibilities are a thing of the past and the ripeness of some of the language may come as a shock.

If you enjoy comedy like this, you might also enjoy (although they are not Crimes & Thrillers) James Hamilton-Patterson’s Cooking with Fernet Branca, Patrick Dennis’s Auntie Mame (or better still—if you can manage to get your hands on a copy—Little Me), and even perhaps Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. Fans of the Grinder-Snipe twins will relish in Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey’s Julian and Sandy from the vintage BBC radio series Round the Horne. Varder the big bona lallies on him!

Many thanks to @MRCKASASIAN, Head of Zeus Books @HoZ_Books, #KasasianCrew, and #NetGalley for providing me with a reviewer’s galley proof.

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Thursday, 31 May 2018

Monthly Post: June 2018
Are authors getting pushier?

The Scarab Heart (The Involuntary Medium, #2)The Scarab Heart (The Involuntary Medium, #2) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.38 of 5 stars

So who was the other guest at the wedding, the one who works in publishing? Martin, a charming man who runs a small-to-medium company, with whom I had an unexpectedly pleasant chat. “Time was,” he said, “when reading groups would beg authors to come and talk about their latest books. Now authors go round begging the groups!”

He was responding to what I’d told him about a reading group I attend, a small, in-the-flesh Crimes & Thrillers group that I’d recently set up a Facebook page for, where people round the world can see and comment on what we’ve been reading. My fellow members and I soon realized that most of the people asking to join were authors who had no interest in what we were reading. Read on…

This month’s giveaway is a free download of The Scarab Heart. This time our reluctant medium is off to the Valley of the Kings, where she finds herself embroiled in an ancient family feud, and gets caught up in antiquities theft and murder. Offer ends on June 30th 2018, and, no, there’s absolutely no review required!

“I have got to say, these books are unlike any other I have read…almost impossible to put down.”—Helene Gårdsvold Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!

Find me on my website Michael Gallagher Writes, on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter @seventh7rainbow

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Magpie Murders

Magpie MurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magpie Murders has been lauded for its cleverness. Stephen King (no less) tweeted this of it: “It’s as good as an Agatha Christie. Better, in some ways. Cleverer.” If you’ve heard of it, you’ll probably already know that it’s a book within a book, and as such it is fiendishly difficult to review.
At its heart there is an Agatha Christie style whodunnit set in the 1950s: “Magpie Murders” by the (fictitious) recently deceased crime writer Alan Conway, and the first half of Horowitz’s book gives us the text—minus the final chapter, which we only get later.
Conway’s detective is Atticus Pünd, who is in many respects a cipher for Hercule Poirot, and the setting is classic Poirot territory, the quiet rural village on Saxby-on-Avon. When the busybody of a housekeeper at the manor house dies in a fall down the stairs, Pünd is called in but resists the call, only accepting the case when Sir Magnus Pye, her employer, is later murdered.
Anyone who likes Poirots will probably enjoy this part. In style it reminds me a little of Dead Man’s Folly. There are clues, naturally, but they are by far outweighed by the number of red herrings of which there are plenty. I was taunted by cryptic crosswords and mentions of codes, and when Pünd declares that he knows everything, my attention quickened:
‘Gold!’ Pünd hadn’t spoken for so long that Fraser started, hearing his voice.
‘I’m sorry?’ he asked.
‘The fool’s gold concealed by Sir Magnus Pye. I am convinced that everything revolves around it.’

It does. Just not in the way that I’d hoped. If it had, I would have thoroughly enjoyed this whodunnit.
And so to the second half of Horowitz’s book, which concerns itself with the apparent suicide of Alan Conway, Pünd’s creator. We are no longer in cozy mystery mode anymore. Conway is a nasty piece of work and there are many of his acquaintances who would wish to see him dead. Susan Ryeland, his editor at Cloverleaf Books, is determined to investigate.
Horowitz goes to great length to make this part of the novel as realistic as he can. We get mentions of Agatha Christie Ltd. and Sophie Hannah; indeed, even Agatha Christie’s grandson Mathew Pritchard turns up as a character. We are taken into the mind of an author at work: how they name characters; how they create settings; where their ideas come from; what their bookshelf contains (I’m glad to say mine holds up pretty well). Parallels are drawn between Conway’s book and “real life”; anagrams, acrostics, and similar puzzles all rear their heads again. Plagiarism is discussed, as is the current state of publishing. It’s all fascinating stuff, at least to a writer of the genre. Horowitz dazzles with the sheer number of voices (mostly first-person) with which he tells us this tale.
And yet, for all that, if you want to solve either of these mysteries, I suggest you stick to good old motive, means, and opportunity. But that’s just my humble opinion…what’s yours? Do let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Monthly Post: May 2018
Legacy publishing houses, purveyors of quality?

The Bridge of Dead Things (The Involuntary Medium, #1)The Bridge of Dead Things (The Involuntary Medium, #1) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.10 of 5 stars

Last August I attended a wedding where, for the first time, I met two people who are or were involved in the world of traditional publishing. One was Fiona, a former manager at a large prestigious publishing house, who, it turned out, commissioned a report fourteen years ago on an early draft of my first novel, The Bridge of Dead Things.

It “quickly establishes itself as a remarkably assured, well-written, funny and complex Victorian Gothic,” the report read. “It is at the very least extremely good, and quite possibly exceptional…but it’s definitely not a HarperCollins children’s book. More Wilkie Collins than The Diamond of Drury Lane, in other words.”
Prescient, no? I’d never thought of it as a children’s book, but as rejection letters go, they don’t get much better than that! It went on to recommend I find myself a literary agent, which I did, though it took a further four years. I mention all this to establish my credentials. Although I may now be an indie author, at one time or other I have had my feet in both camps. It used to be that the reading public could rely on the good reputation of legacy publishing houses. They would be spared the spelling errors and ragged grammar that supposedly typify an indie author’s work. But is that really still the case? Read on…

This month’s giveaway is a free download of The Bridge of Dead Things. A working-class Victorian girl discovers she has a unique if unwanted power and is soon drawn into a world of seances, ghost grabbers…and murderers. Definitely not a HarperCollins children’s book! Offer ends on May 31st 2018.

“I absolutely loved it! I don’t give out 5 stars very often, but I did for this book! Mysteries abound and Gallagher does an amazing job creating an atmosphere of rising fear and creepiness…I hope that there are many more additions to the Lizzie Blaylock series because I now consider myself a firm fan!”—Suzy Schettler LibraryThing Early Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!

Find me on my website Michael Gallagher Writes, on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter @seventh7rainbow

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates (Phryne Fisher, #1)Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bored 1920s socialite Phryne Fisher—with a brain, a heart, and a social conscience—eschews the tiresome round of London parties for a life as a female detective. The case she accepts takes her to Melbourne, Australia, where evil apparently abounds.
The great Agatha Christie began Murder on the Links with an anecdote about a writer who, wanting to capture an editor’s attention, pens the opening line, ‘“Hell!” said the Duchess.’ Ms Greewood takes this advice to heart and starts her novel thus:
The glass in the French window shattered. The guests screamed. Over the general exclamation could be heard the shrill shriek of Madame St Clair, wife of the ambassador ‘Ciel! Mes bijoux!’

Taken in conjunction with the book’s title, you know you’re in for something that might have stepped straight from the Golden Age of Crime. There’s wee bit of sex that may feel a little foreign—as does Phryne’s automatic acceptance of the term “dairy” to describe what she would think of as a tea shop. I know what Ms Greenwood means because I grew up in New Zealand (as Phryne grew up in Australia), but when I read it, it was hard to rid my mind of Phryne and Dr MacMillan eating sandwiches in the company of milk cows.
The characters are delightful, the story cracks on apace, and there’s a good sense of history about it. What’s not to like? But that’s just my humble opinion…what’s yours? Do let me know what you think.

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Friday, 13 April 2018

Relics of the Dead

Relics of the Dead  (Mistress of the Art of Death, #3)Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1176. When fire destroys Glastonbury Abbey, two skeletons are unearthed in its grounds: one tall; one short. Could they really be the remains of Arthur and Guinevere? Henry Plantaganet sends Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death, to find out.
It’s an attractive proposition with a nice ensemble of characters in interesting settings, though some readers may find the slightly modern tone not entirely to their taste. Franklin herself says:
“I am sometimes criticized for making my characters use modern language…Since people then sounded contemporary to each other and, since I hate the use of what I call ‘Gadzooks’ in historical novels to denote a past age, I insist on making them sound contemporary to us.”

I know what she means. But just a little Gadzooks might have gone a long way.
The shape of story is slightly strange, with the climax coming three-quarters of the way through and the remainder of the book dedicated to explaining the historical importance of Henry II’s new laws. Since this was a completely new area to me, I was happy to go along for the ride. I’d happily read another in the series, come to that.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Friday, 6 April 2018

The Wench Is Dead

The Wench Is Dead (Inspector Morse, #8)The Wench Is Dead by Colin Dexter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s to my great shame that, despite being a fan of the original TV series from the very beginning, I have never read one of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books until now. This one involves an historical crime set in the 1850s! And on a canal, no less! In my younger days as a teacher I was responsible for organizing a yearly residential for my students, which was often held on narrowboats out of Braunston Junction, one of the places the victim passed through on the way to her death.
Morse enjoys puzzles and so do I. We very similar in a number of respects. And the historical puzzle being offered here feels especially real, presented as it is in a variety of original and secondary sources. Fascinating stuff. Did I solve the puzzle? Yup. And just about as quickly as Morse solves one of his crosswords. I won’t say what gave it away, but I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Did I solve the cryptic crossword clue (six letters: “Bradman’s famous duck”)? I certainly wouldn’t have without Morse’s prompting. Quixote (its setter), one; me, nil, then. Oh, well. Can’t win them all.
As for the present-day Morse part of the novel, our detective is confined to hospital and fantasizes about dating the nurses, not that many of them would reciprocate his wistful yearnings. His downtrodden Sergeant Lewis is dismissed out-of-hand and taken for granted—at least until his words of wisdom surface in Morse’s distracted mind.
Would I read another Morse? I certainly would! But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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