Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Monthly Post: August 2018
Newly published author? Build yourself a brand, part two

Octopus (Send for Octavius Guy, #2)Octopus (Send for Octavius Guy, #2) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.20 of 5 stars

Spamming reviewers, book bloggers, and reading groups with offers of free copies of your book in exchange for an honest review wastes both their time and yours, and can seriously damage your reputation. So how, as a newly published author, might you better employ your time?

Offer free or heavily discounted copies of your book with no strings attached (though be aware that a free offer is much more likely to be taken up). By now you should have plenty of sites on which to do this. Try to ensure that the text of your offer makes the genre and style of your book perfectly clear; you’ll have much happier readers if you do. Consider the text of the giveaway at the bottom of this post for example. What can you glean from it? It’s for a well-researched cozy mystery set in Victorian times (so not exactly steampunk), it’s slightly comic, and the detective is a bit of an underdog. Possibly not one for lovers of the police procedural, then. Read on…

This month’s giveaway is a free download of Octopus: Octavius Guy & The Case of the Throttled Tragedienne (#2). When the leading actress dies in mysterious circumstances during a performance of The Duchess of Malfi, Gooseberry feels duty-bound to investigate. It is, after all, a great deal more exciting than the last case he was assigned to: the tracking down of a rich old lady’s errant cat! Offer ends on August 31st 2018, and no, there are no strings attached and no review is required. Phew!

“Historical fact is deftly combined with fiction that makes Octavius’s world a new form of old London that I am eager to visit again. Pour some tea or a wee dram, put your feet up, and enjoy cover to cover.”—Gladread LibraryThing Early Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!
Michael

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

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Monthly Post: July 2018
Newly published author? Build yourself a brand! Part One.

Gooseberry (Send for Octavius Guy, #1)Gooseberry (Send for Octavius Guy, #1) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.08 of 5 stars

Unless you want to see your title relegated to the virtual, dusty stacks of some forgotten neural-net byway, you need to devise ways of keeping interest in it and in you alive. Your goal now is to become more discoverable. Some of the things I suggest here you will already have done; others may seem like household chores, but they serve a purpose. They build your brand. Read on…

This month’s giveaway is a free download of Gooseberry: Octavius Guy & The Case of the Thieving Maharajah (#1). Join Gooseberry, the fourteen-year-old Victorian boy detective, as he and his ragtag bunch of friends descend into London’s Victorian demi-monde and underworld to ferret out the truth, while spending as much of his employer’s money as they can along the way! Based on characters from Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. Offer ends on July 31st 2018.
“When you read a book by Michael Gallagher be prepared for a total immersion—every bit of scene setting, speech, character and historical detail is perfect. I highly recommend this book for fans of The Moonstone who wonder what happened next.”—Chris Keen LibraryThing Early Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!
Michael

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

Monday, 25 June 2018

Resort to Murder

Resort to Murder (Miss Dimont Book 2)Resort to Murder by T.P. Fielden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s the summer of 1959 and we find ourselves in the seaside town of Temple Regis—located on Devon’s self-styled Riviera (complete with the odd palm tree to grace the railway station)—ready to cater to the hundreds of English holidaymakers about to descend upon the coast expecting sun, sea, and beauty pageants. Not everyone is happy about the latter of these entertainments, not least the Sisters of Reason, a proto-feminist group that views everything that has happened since the end of the war as a retrograde step for womankind. Judy Dimont, star reporter for the Riviera Express—the town’s weekly newspaper—should know. During the war she worked high up in Naval Intelligence; now she works for an editor who was once her bumbling underling—an editor who seems keen to keep any mention of the two mystery deaths that occur out of his paper.

T. P. Fielden writes prose that is a delight to read. Couple this with a slightly unusual period setting, a host of excellent characters and just the right amount of love interest, and you have a great cozy mystery on your hands—though I wonder if other readers will be happy with how the love interest turns out. This is the second book in what promises to be an wonderful series, but it can be read perfectly well as a stand-alone.

Many thanks to HarperCollins UK for providing me with a review copy, and apologies that this review is a little bit late.

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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 Amazon.com Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!
Michael

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!
Michael

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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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Monthly Post: April 2018
The current state of publishing

Big Bona Ogles, Boy! (Send for Octavius Guy, #3)Big Bona Ogles, Boy! (Send for Octavius Guy, #3) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.80 of 5 stars

I’m back! Or perhaps I should say: my back! It’s still giving me problems, sitting for any length of time to write being just one of them. But I couldn’t ignore this post for it marks my website michaelgallagherwrites.com’s fifth birthday. Yes! Now we are five! My enforced inactivity has given me plenty of time to read however (and I have read some particularly good thrillers of late and discovered some truly wonderful authors). It also gave me time to think about the current state of publishing. It’s never been easier to publish your novel yourself and see your own words in print. Nor harder to find anyone who is prepared to read it, let alone shell out good money for the privilege. Why? Read on…

This month’s giveaway is a free download of Big Bona Ogles, Boy!: Octavius Guy & The Case of the Mendacious Medium (#3). There’s a new woman in town, recently arrived from Boston, who claims to be able to contact the dead. Need it be said that our Victorian boy detective remains unconvinced? Offer ends on April 30th 2018 and, no, there are no strings attached. Why shell out good money if you don’t have to?

“My favorite Victorian boy investigator sets off to solve a new mystery…Words cannot describe just how much I enjoy Octavius.”—Bethany Swafford (The Quiet Reader) Goodreads Reviewer (5 stars)

Happy investigating!
Michael

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

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Recipes for Love and Murder

Recipes for Love and Murder (Tannie Maria Mystery, #1)Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG. What’s not to like? This reads like an Alexander McCall Smith novel realized with a little less humour, perhaps, but with an actual murder to solve and an amateur detective, in this case a cookery writer who has been forced to swap her regular column to one that’s an advice-for-the-lovelorn in a small-town newspaper that is syndicated throughout a stretch of rural South Africa.

Our heroine, Tannie (“Aunty”) Maria, divides her time between chasing up culinary and housekeeping clues (that the police fail to recognize as being significant) and cooking roast lamb, curries, and various cakes to nourish her friends, plus a never-ending supply of cereal bars she calls rusks. As is the case with many books that use food for their binding theme, you’ll find many of these recipes printed in the back matter. Think Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Like Water for Chocolate. I’ve always thought it’s a very generous thing to do.

Andrew throws in Afrikaans terms and colloquial slang freely, but I didn’t get bogged down by them at all. Anything with -berg on the end is a mountain, anything with -bos is a bush, and anything with -bok or -bokkie is some kind of buck, like a roebuck. Blerrie, as you’ll quickly discern, is probably bloody. Sometimes she helps by explaining these things; sometimes she doesn’t. It doesn’t matter, though—it all adds to the book’s local colour. If the statistics she quotes about wife beating and the incidence of murder in South Africa are true (and I suspect they are), then they are horrifying in the extreme.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Take Tannie Maria’s advice and fill your hearts with love. God knows we could all do with some right now.

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The Monogram Murders

The Monogram MurdersThe Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came to this, the first in what I hope will be a very long series, after reading the second instalment, Closed Casket, which I loved. In this book the initial premise is satisfyingly intriguing: three bodies are found on separate floors of a luxury hotel, each in a locked room, each laid out ceremoniously on the floor, and each with an initialled cuff link inserted into their mouths.
Hannah has the ability to paint truly memorable characters with a few strokes of her pen, aided by a great ear for speech patterns—which, in this case, she even makes use of to provide Hercule with a clue.
Though I enjoyed the bulk of this book, the reveal felt overly complicated by a series of twists and turns which hinged on distinctions that were a little too subtle for my own straightforward tastes (and those of Inspector Catchpool’s, come to that). And although it’s entirely possible I might have missed their explanations, there seemed to be events (e.g., who Thomas Brignell, the painfully timid clerk, was seen with down in the gardens; the reason that necessitated the final murder) that weren’t explained (if anyone cares to enlighten me, I shall be eternally grateful). Even so, there’s much to entertain here and this is still a series to keep your eye on.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Friday, 16 March 2018

Death Descends on Saturn Villa

Death Descends on Saturn Villa (The Gower Street Detective #3)Death Descends on Saturn Villa by M.R.C. Kasasian
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an unexpected find, not least because it’s set in my own genre and era. It’s 1883 and when London’s foremost personal detective Sidney Grice is called away to Yorkshire on a case, his goddaughter and ward Miss March Middleton decides to become London’s first foremost personal lady detective with disastrous results to herself.
Like many a Wilkie Collins, the first-person narrative is shared between characters, and, just like Wilkie Collins, Kasasian doesn’t mind injecting a lot of humour. The style, which is like no other I’ve ever read, careers between absurdist comedy and high Gothic. Although they both work, I’m not sure they always sit well together and the change can be a little unsettling, especially when it comes mid-narrative. And yet the story is always grounded in first-class research.
The characters are wonderful, right down to the slovenly maid, Molly (even if in real life “nobody would not never speak this way, never not”). Your heart soars when she’s allowed to become something more than a comic cypher.
As for the mystery element, there are some truly puzzling accounts of the book’s various victims apparently putting themselves to death, with equally ingenious, intricately set-up solutions—which again seem to be based on scrupulous research (Uncle Tolly’s bedroom; Mrs Prendergast’s corsets).
Since this is the first time I’ve delved into this series, I have no idea whether the author routinely ends his books with a character reflecting on the events some sixty years later (1943), or whether this was unique to this one, but here he poignantly juxtaposes his novel’s subject matter and themes with the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews.
I am looking forward to reading more.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Monthly Post: March 2018

Octopus (Send for Octavius Guy, #2)Octopus (Send for Octavius Guy, #2) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.22 of 5 stars

Winter is here, and I’m not just talking about Game of Thrones Season 7, which I got to watch for the very first time just last week—their best writing yet! My back continues to heal apace but, again, no new post I’m afraid. This month’s giveaway is a free download of Octopus: Octavius Guy & The Case of the Throttled Tragedienne (#2). This time the fourteen-year-old Victorian boy detective is off to enjoy an evening at the theatre…with unexpected and truly tragic results. Offer ends on March 31st 2018.

“Here is a sensational historical fiction who-dunnit that gives nothing away until the very end. To me, it reads like an old time radio show. It leaves you breathless.”—Connie A, LibraryThing Early Reviewers (5 stars)

Happy investigating!
Michael

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

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Family Vault

The Family Vault (Kelling & Bittersohn, #1)The Family Vault by Charlotte MacLeod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a title that was suggested to the Crimes & Thrillers reading group I attend by one of my readers (and now firm online friend) in Canada, and I find it absolutely incredible that I’m only now getting to discover this wonderful series featuring the amateur sleuths Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn—for the fact is its author Charlotte MacLeod is virtually unknown here in the UK.
Why? It’s my guess it has something to do with her original publisher’s territorial rights, and an unwillingness here in this country to take on a book that uses so much American terminology. If I’m right, how damnably parochial and very short sighted of them was that??!! As it’s still not being published here, the library managed to order us a few paperback copies from Amazon—which turned out to be printed here, so I imagine they’re probably print-on-demand. And people wonder why publishers have become an endangered species!
Great characters, great story, an attractive pair of detectives; quite simply a fab introduction to what promises to be a truly excellent series. But you probably know that already and have known it for years…unless, of course, you happen to live in the UK.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Closed Casket

Closed CasketClosed Casket by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Brand New HERCULE POIROT Mystery” proclaims the cover of this book which boasts the full support of Agatha Christie Limited. Christie fan that I am, I understandably approached it with some caution. I needn’t have worried. It is absolutely wonderful.
It starts with a chapter delivered in the third person, in no sense mimicking the great Ms Christie but so well written I was immediately hooked. I would have been quite happy for it to continue in this vein, but it didn’t. It then changed to the first-person narrative of one Edward Catchpool—a detective with London’s Scotland Yard—whose voice at times might have been that of the good Captain Hastings himself. But do not curl your lip, I beg of you, mon ami. This is no meagre pastiche by any means.
Lady Playford, author of the beloved Shrimp Seddon mysteries (whose precocious ten-year-old heroine leads of a gang of child detectives), invites Poirot and Catchpool to a family house party at her rural Irish mansion where she announces that she has changed her will, disinheriting her two children in favour of her terminally ill secretary.
Hannah’s characters are at once complex and yet instantly recognizable. Even the supporting cast is beautifully drawn. I was immediately attracted to the ageing Irish cook who takes one look at Catchpool and says, ‘I knew I was right—you’ve got that look about you!’
“…I asked the obvious question, to which she answered, ‘The look of a man who drinks water all through the night!’ She said this as fiercely as if she were accusing me of baby farming or some equally hideous crime, then pointed to her mouth and said, ‘Dry lips—I can see them from here!’”
She enigmatically goes on to relate a seemingly unconnected story about a nephew who had once stolen some peppermints from a bowl and had broken the bowl in the process. Although I wasn’t expecting an explanation for these bizarre and unfathomable utterances on her part (the mother of a friend of mine was an ageing Irish cook whose comments and observations were just as obtuse), I was truly delighted with it when one finally came.
That kind of sums up how very generous this book—and its author—is. Cozy thrillers don’t get much cozier…and certainly no more challenging. I think the last words should go to Lady Playford, Shrimp Seddon’s creator, whilst I go hunt down the first in Hannah’s series:
“‘…if my plots were simpler then people would guess, wouldn’t they? And you can’t have people guessing. I’m afraid I don’t write for dimwits and nor will I, ever. I write for those capable of rising to an intellectual challenge.’”



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Death Comes to Lynchester Close

Death Comes to Lynchester Close (Lord Francis Powerscourt, #14)Death Comes to Lynchester Close by David Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m about to shout. It’s an alert for a spoiler not of my making but—would you believe it?—of the publisher’s, and my aim is to prevent you from seeing it. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LOOK AT THE BACK COVER! Don’t even be tempted. There’s a really catchy hookline there (which I’m sure somebody is exceedingly proud of) that renders the first three-quarters of this investigation (and therefore the book) a tad redundant. Once I’d read it I couldn’t unread it, so with increasing impatience I spent an age ploughing through what would have otherwise proved an intriguing enough plot, waiting for the various investigators to twig what I’d already been told was going on. Way to kill off a reader’s interest! Why Little, Brown allowed this to happen is anyone’s guess.
So, hopefully if you take my advice, what do you get? A cozy mystery set in the imaginary English city of Lynchester a couple of years before the First World War. The presiding detective, who is summoned down from London, is Lord Francis Powerscourt, a peer of the realm. He has a wife, Lady Lucy, and a friend, Johnny Fitzgerald, to assist him—in addition to the fawning local police in the shape of Inspector Vaughn. Lord Francis and his crew don’t get much of a look in when it comes to descriptions. Though it’s the first book I’ve come across in this series I believe it’s actually the fourteenth, so perhaps we’re meant to know what they’re like by now. By contrast, all the other characters are succinctly and sometimes humorously drawn, each one distinctive and fairly rounded. I could imagine meeting them in the real world.
The writing style is unique. There’s hardly any scene-setting, and transitions between scenes can be as abrupt as a single sentence. It reminded me of the stage directions in a play. The bulk of the narrative is delivered as a series of two-person conversations, some of them lengthy, with very few of the component speeches receiving any attribution (such as “Powerscourt said” or “replied the Dean”). Yet I was seldom at a loss to know who was speaking and, once I got used to it, I found the style refreshingly different from the other cozies I’d recently been reading. There’s a wealth of history here too, but I suspect you’d need to know what you’re looking for in order to recognize it. It’s incorporated so well that it’s practically hidden.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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The Devil's Workshop

The Devil's Workshop (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, #3)The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anyone dabbling in Ripper lore with the aim of identifying the killer must eventually deal with the ultimate question. Why did the killings stop? Did he die? Did he embark for South America to continue his career? Was Mary Jane Kelly his actual target and, having killed her, was killing no longer necessary? Here Alex Grecian ingeniously suggests that the Ripper was taken captive by a group hell bent on having the punishment fit the crime, a bit like Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado’s Song but without the sense of humour. This is not a spoiler, I hasten to add; it’s where this book begins.
My Penguin edition tells me Grecian is acclaimed for his comic book series Proof (they probably meant graphic novel series, bless them), and as I made my way through the text I could practically see the images being inked up as I read. The underground network of tunnels branching off a sunken street; the blind, colourless fish slapping at the surface of an unlit lake; the deer cantering off into the distant gloom. I could almost discern which frames were to be rendered from a ground-level point of view.
Unsurprisingly Jack is a leading player, and Grecian does a great job in developing his character—showing us his madness and slowly revealing his moral code—to the point where we’re never quite sure how he’s going to react, no matter how well rounded the character might be. By contrast the police (including the heroes of the piece, DI Walter Day and his sergeant, Nevil Hammersmith) appear at best well-intentioned if entirely ineffectual, and at worst positively inept at their jobs.
The blood bath, when it comes, is definitely a blood bath. Some of the characters you’ve met are going to die. That said, strangely I found it an emotionally satisfying experience, which I suspect other readers will too. It’s nicely handled.
If you’re looking for a cozy thriller with a bit of detection and a wealth of historical detail, you won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a decent page-turner involving Jack the Ripper, you will.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart (Bryant & May, #11)Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across the Bryant & May novels some years ago at the beginning of their career. Although I had certain reservations about the series, I picked this one up to see how the pair were getting along now.
OMG. There’s probably more London history here per inch of text than in any regular history book. Fowler clearly loves this city, and I was staggered by the sheer amount of research he’s put in, and not just with regard to the myriad settings he makes use of in this book. Want to know how coffins are sealed these days? It’s here. Want to know how magicians make doves appear from thin air? That’s here too (I have a sneaking suspicion Fowler once patronized the same magical supplies shop in Holborn in the late 1980s that I did—stage magic not wicca, I hasten to add; flash paper and silks, not bunches of sage and crystals).
My reservations of old still remain. I don’t respond well to an excess of arcane theories piled one atop another in an effort to create an atmosphere. A little goes a long way if you let it. But that’s my own predilection and maybe my loss, and I would hate to put anyone off reading this because of it. However, on balance I have to say I find Arthur Bryant more annoying than he is endearing (I suspect Fowler means me to), so I was extremely impressed to discover Bryant contemplating his nature and finding himself at fault.
So just how are the pair were getting along now? Quite well really, all things considered.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Monday, 12 February 2018

The Moonstone

The MoonstoneThe Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars



It kills me to think that it’s coming up to forty years since I first read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Though I list it among my influences as a writer, the truth is, when I saw it was the next book for my Crimes & Thrillers reading group, I seriously wondered whether I’d still be able to understand it, let alone enjoy it.

I tend to believe that, with some notable exceptions, the shelf life of a novel is approximately fifty years, by which point the cultural references are lost and, as our language has developed and moved on, the original meaning of the text becomes obscure. There’s an unintentionally hilarious example of this in The Moonstone, where Mr Franklin Blake, a young man with prospects, asks Mr Bruff the solicitor to arrange a meeting with his beloved Rachel at the lawyer’s house:

…‘May I venture to suggest – if nothing was said about me beforehand – that I might see her here?’
‘Cool!’ said Mr Bruff.


Cool, especially followed an exclamation mark, no longer means “impudent” or “presumptuous” as it once did. But as The Moonstone is approximately a hundred and fifty years old, it’s amazing that the bulk of it remains perfectly readable, thanks in the main to the old family retainer Gabriel Betteredge’s narrative voice, in which half of the book is delivered.

Examine the plot and you’ll see that the two main characters are the star-crossed lovers, Franklin Blake and Miss Rachel Verinder. But, judged by their actions alone, they come across as surprisingly unsatisfying heroes. Rachel (who isn’t permitted a narrative voice) spends the first half of the book locked in her room refusing to see or to speak to anyone; Blake (whom I liked during his time as a narrator) spends the entire book trying to get Rachel to see him and is disappointed time and time again. The only reason I was prepared to think highly of these two was because Gabriel Betteredge clearly thinks highly of them and manages to humanize them by recalling snippets from their youthful past.

Collins went to great lengths to give each of the many narrators his or her own identifiable voice. Most work very well, and, really, these are the characters I take with me having finished the book. There are however some exceptions. The retired Sergeant Cuff, formerly of Scotland Yard, could not sound drearier, and his summing up of the case—after the true thief is unmasked at the climax—falls especially flat. But it’s Mr Murthwaite, traveller to exotic climes, who provides the most impenetrable and boring speech of the whole novel:

‘…The organization is a very trumpery affair, according to our ideas, I have no doubt. I should reckon it up as including the command of money; the services, when needed, of that shady sort of Englishman, who lives in the byeways of foreign life in London; and, lastly, the secret sympathy of such few men of their own country, and (formerly, at least) of their own religion, as happen to be employed in ministering to some of the multitudinous wants of this great city. Nothing very formidable, as you see!…’

Hmm…

I also found the Christian busybody Miss Clack’s narrative, which proved really popular with readers when The Moonstone was first serialized, to be fairly tough going, though it’s never as impenetrable as Murthwaite. Luckily some of its humour still survives. One of Clack’s favoured charities is the British Ladies’ Servants’ Sunday Sweetheart Supervision Society, presumably providing a chaperone service for courting maids on their half day off – as if their lives were not made miserable enough already!

There are two minor characters who deserve special attention: the maid Rosanna Spearman and the doctor’s assistant Ezra Jennings. Both are outcasts, both possess some physical deformity of a sort, and both are denied the partner whom they love. It occurs to me that they represent what Rachel and Blake might have become if the mystery of the diamond had never been sorted out. Jennings, who is instrumental in this, clearly has a well-developed back story, and one that is shrouded in mystery, which made me wonder if Collins was preparing the way for a future novel.

I wondered the same thing too about a very minor character, Octavius Guy—better known as Gooseberry—who, like Jennings, turns up towards the end of the book. Despite being a minor character, he is very likeable and has praise heaped on him from all quarters. Here’s what Sergeant Cuff has to say:

‘One of these days,’ said the Sergeant, pointing through the front window of the cab, ‘that boy will do great things in my late profession. He is the brightest and cleverest little chap I have met with, for many a long year past…’

For all its faults I still love The Moonstone, and cherish the fact that my own writing has been compared to it. I’ve come to notice that nearly all of my favourite books are flawed in some fashion, for which I always seem to love them more. The Moonstone remains a great book.

But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Monthly Post: February 2018

Gooseberry (Send for Octavius Guy, #1)Gooseberry (Send for Octavius Guy, #1) by Michael Gallagher
Current average rating: 4.08 of 5 stars

Hi! No new post this month because I hurt my back before Christmas and it’s going to take a little while for it to heal. By way of recompense let me offer you a free download of Gooseberry: Octavius Guy & The Case of the Thieving Maharajah (#1). A perfect antidote for those winter blues (or something to soak up on the beach in the height of summer, depending on your hemisphere)! Offer ends on February 28th 2018.

“Sometimes you see a book and just know you’re going to love it…An absolute treat for fans of Collins’ novel [The Moonstone] and a successful novel in its own right.”—Emma Hamilton, buriedunderbooks.co.uk, LibraryThing Early Reviewers (5 stars).

Happy investigating!
Michael

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

Night's Child

Night's Child (Detective Murdoch, #5)Night's Child by Maureen Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Maureen Jennings’s Murdoch Mysteries courtesy of my Canadian friend Suzy. Set in late-Victorian Toronto, it is well researched and beautifully written, with well-drawn characters and a likeable detective who seems smitten with a woman who could prove to be his match. The difficult subject matter is carefully handled. It’s just a pity that Jennings seems to have been led astray when it comes to any technical aspect of photography (the shutter and its cable were attached to the camera body, not to the lens; examining the exposed or unexposed plate in any light other than a filtered dark red would result in its ruin by fogging, not that she would see any difference to it prior to its chemical development; increased exposure gives darker prints not lighter ones, and vice versa)—but, given the quality of the writing, I hardly cared.
Since ITV have turned the Murdoch Mysteries into a series, I imagine the books should be available in the UK, and I can’t wait to read more.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Moriarty

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, #2)Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Take the Scotland Yard detective who went up against Holmes in The Red-Headed League, re-imagine him as something quite different to how Dr Watson portrayed him in that particular account, then pair him up with, say, a Pinkerton agent, and you have all the makings for a bestselling book.
Throughout Horowitz refers to a second case where Inspector Jones crossed paths with the famous detective (The Case of the Three Monarchs; Horowitz’s own invention). In an act of extraordinary generosity, Horowitz provides us with Watson’s account of it at the very end of the book, an homage perfectly recounted. It even goes so far as to elucidate the problem of how far the parsley had sunk into the butter!
A real treat for Sherlock Holmes fans. But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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A Dismal Thing to Do

A Dismal Thing to DoA Dismal Thing to Do by Alisa Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never come across Charlotte MacLeod before, and was sent this by my Canadian friend Suzy. “America’s Reigning Whodunit Queen” trumpets the blurb in the back matter of this paperback dating from 1988, followed by a quote comparing her to Agatha Christie. And with good reason, it turns out. When I started this book, I’d just finished They Came to Baghdad for the sadly missed Goodreads Agatha Christie Reading Group. The style was fractionally more modern, but was just as crisp and precise without being in any way derivative, and it immediately drew me in.
MacLeod seems to be virtually unknown here in the UK. I can only assume this is to do with the historic decisions of international publishing houses over whom they will publish in their various territories. With the advent of Amazon, such decisions are pointless…and yet they are still being made.
I only wish it had been Janet, wife of DI Madcoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounties, who got to play the detective. He’s fun, but she’s more fun.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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A Murder on London Bridge

A Murder on London Bridge (Thomas Chaloner, #5)A Murder on London Bridge by Susanna Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My second Susanna Gregory book, this time with detective Thomas Chaloner—to my mind a great improvement over her other one, Matthew Bartholomew. It’s 1664, the English monarchy has been restored to the throne (and is already proving unpopular for its lewdness and licentiousness), Catholicism is all but banned and there’s more than a whiff of gunpowder tainting the air.
This time Gregory has a wealth of historical characters and facts to work with, and her love of weaving them all into a plot is infectious. Seasoned Crimes & Thrillers’ readers will have clocked the object of that plot after the first few chapters but, hey-ho, it’s still a good read.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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A Poisonous Plot

A Poisonous Plot (Matthew Bartholomew, #21)A Poisonous Plot by Susanna Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s 1358 in Cambridge, there’s a brisk black-market trade in an expensive white powder called sucura, the townsfolk are up in arms about the scholars (so nothing new there, then), and people are dying in their droves. I enjoyed dipping my toe into the first Susanna Gregory book I’ve read.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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They Came to Baghdad

They Came to BaghdadThey Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There must be an end of all the savagery in the world, the wars, the misunderstandings, the suspicions. A common meeting ground, that’s what we all need. Drama, art, poetry—the great things of the spirit—no room there for petty jealousies or hatreds.”
“N-no,” said Victoria doubtfully, recalling friends of hers who were actresses and artists and whose lives seemed to be obsessed by jealousy of the most trivial kind, and by hatreds of a peculiarly virulent intensity.

There’s normally a healthy dose of humour to most of Ms Christie’s books, but this time I laughed and laughed! The intrepid heroine, Victoria Jones, is a thinly disguised young Agatha, getting herself into and out of all sorts of scrapes in the exotic city of Baghdad and nearby archaeological digs. There even seems to be a veiled reference at the very end of chapter nineteen to Ms Christie’s own disappearance twenty-five years earlier:
“Reminds me—now what does it remind me of?—ah! Yes, Elizabeth Canning, of course. You remember she turned up with a most impossible story after being missing a fortnight. Very interesting conflict of evidence—about some gipsies, if it’s the right case I’m thinking of. And she was such a plain girl, it didn’t seem likely there could be a man in the case.”

See? Laugh and laugh! Sometimes as vivid as a travelogue this thriller fairly gallops along. I’d read it once before, but had forgotten just how good it is.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Read (or rather re-read) for the currently-on-pause Goodreads’ Agatha Christie Reading Group—and thoroughly enjoyed!


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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whether it’s a sketch of two pairs of footprints disappearing along a beach, or Oliver Inchbald’s deft hand at children’s poetry, viz.,
Splash! Sploik! Splonk! Splink!
Jumping in the rain
What a jolly mess, I think
Here I go again!

I’d like to think Mr Milne had humour enough not to go turning in his grave. An extraordinary premise, wonderful pastiches, and of course Flavia. Thoroughly enjoyed!
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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After the Funeral

After the Funeral (Hercule Poirot, #31)After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“You—er—acted as companion and also did the—er—well—looked after the house?”
It was evident that he had touched on a delicate subject. Miss Gilchrist flushed a little.
“Oh yes, indeed. I did most of the cooking—I quite enjoy cooking—and did some dusting and light housework. None of the rough, of course.” Miss Gilchrist’s tone expressed a firm principle. Mr. Entwhistle who had no idea what “the rough” was, made a soothing murmur.
“Mrs Patner from the village came in for that. Twice a week regularly. You see, Mr. Entwhistle, I could not have contemplated being in any way a servant. When my little teashop failed—such a disaster—it was the war, you know…”

The Second World War has taken its toll on everyone, the genteel Miss Gilchrist included. The ageing but sharp-as-a-button lawyer Mr Entwhistle recognizes the type: “a composite picture of hundreds of ladylike figures approaching him in numerous Bay Trees, Ginger Cats, Blue Parrots…all chastely encased in blue or pink…and taking orders for pots of china tea and cakes.”
One of the things that struck me on re-reading this much loved Poirot (as you can see, not only is the cover missing, the bottom couple of lines have been ripped from the first seventeen pages by happy young canine teeth) was that many of the cozy mystery writers of today go to great lengths to recreate a sense of past, whereas Ms Christie grounds her novels in her own time—whilst using contemporary issues that her readers would already be quite familiar with. As a consequence she needs to say very little to define her characters and convey her setting—yet how well she adoes it nonetheless!
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Read (or rather re-read) for the Goodreads’ Agatha Christie Reading Group—and enjoyed once again!

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Uncle Silas

Uncle SilasUncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At its heart this is the story of young Maud Ruthyn, whose mother is dead and whose father, the wealthy scion of an ancient yet untitled family, seems utterly naïve and quite ill-prepared to raise his daughter properly—in fact he hardly ever speaks to her and keeps her in isolation from the world. When he learns that he has but a short time to live, he recklessly decides to give his estranged, impoverished, and socially-outcast wastrel of a brother, Silas, guardianship over Maud as a demonstration to society at large of his contempt for the allegations made against the man. Some years ago a gambler named Charke had been found at his home with his throat slit—and yet the room in which he was found was locked from the inside. Suicide? Murder? Who knows? (Duh!)

This is definitely a cut above your general penny dreadful, but to my mind it suffers fairly early on from a number of passages that felt poorly conceived and clumsily written. Victor Sage, the editor of the Penguin edition I read, felt these same passages to be laugh-out-loud funny; so what do I know? They involve “Madame” (Maud’s inebriated, pilfering tutor, who is foisted upon her by her own well-meaning father) doing a witchy dance in a cemetery. Personally I find her far more frightening (and realistic) when Maud is recounting the woman’s many mood swings and petty cruelties. Madame’s broken French accent is also problematic, as are the many regional accents that Le Fanu employs throughout. I managed to get most (though not all) of what was being said—indeed, occasionally it reads perfectly fluently—but it wasn’t much fun, and it slows down what would otherwise be a compulsive and riveting tale.

I think the great strength of this novel lies in its characters. There were times when I found myself not liking some of Maud’s more entitled attitudes; others when I felt positively sorry for Silas’s son, Dudley.

What else? It’s long; in common with the majority of novels of the time, it is in fact three books. Virtually all the female characters’ first names begin with the letter M (Maud, Monica, Mary, Milly, Meg, Madame); that said, there is a Sarah who pops up later—but even then her middle name happens to be Mathilda. The five shillings Maud pays out for her fortune to be told is today’s equivalent of £50; the pound for the lucky talisman and the pound that she presses into Tom Brice’s hand to deliver a letter, a cool £200 a piece. If you do choose to read this book, try not to think of Cousin Monica as being the elderly woman she is initially presented as; I almost choked when I discovered that she’s only 49! And as intriguing as the locked-room mystery (and its eventual explanation) may be, you will be left wondering why it was required. Best not to dwell on it; just enjoy it for what it is.

But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide  (Colonel Race, #4)Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“Because there’s someone there who twitters—twitters like a little bird.…A little bird told me—was a saying of my youth. It’s very true, Kemp—these twitterers can tell one a lot if one just lets them—twitter!”

At the point I write this, this final appearance from Colonel Race has been around for 72 years. It’s hard to read such old text with 21st Century eyes and not chuckle at the unintentional meanings that have crept into the language—or frown at the racial and misogynistic slurrings that would not be acceptable today. The character of Colonel Race is becoming ever more out of touch with modern ears; the veneer of his charm is wearing thin. For example, here’s what he says about Christine Shannon, a minor character who proves herself to be an excellent witness, whom, with little or no justification, he considers to be an airhead:
“If he’d put anything into Barton’s glass, that girl would have seen him. She’s a born observer of detail. Nothing to think about inside her head and so she uses her eyes.”

Luckily the bulk of the story is carried on the shoulders of others—including the neat bit of detection at the end—and the writing rates among Ms Christie’s finest. Critics such as Charles Osborne (The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie) have questioned how credible the handbag-and-table device is. Personally I cannot help but admire the beauty of its logic. I’m appreciative too of that faint whiff of a haunting, something that Ms Christie, either in mockery or in earnest, does so incredibly well.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Read (or rather re-read) for the Goodreads’ Agatha Christie Reading Group—and thoroughly enjoyed!


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As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Flavia de Luce, #7)As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you, like me, adore a certain twelve-year-old master poisoner, you will love this book. This time Flavia is relegated to a finishing school in Canada from which girls disappear on a regular basis.
This was my second reading, and my original reservation—that at the end I had no idea why they were disappearing—still stands. I have a nagging suspicion that there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on in this title.
But quibbles be damned! Suspend disbelief and just wallow in the glorious mind of a truly beautifully-drawn character. You’ll feel better for it! I did.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Mrs. McGinty's Dead

Mrs. McGinty's Dead (Hercule Poirot, #30)Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Mrs. Oliver cast a glance over the Penguin display. It was slightly overlaid by children’s waders.
“The Affair of the Second Goldfish,” she mused, “that’s quite a good one. The Cat it was Who Died—that’s where I made a blowpipe a foot long and it’s really six feet. Ridiculous that a blowpipe should be that size, but someone wrote from a museum to tell me so. Sometimes I think there are people who only read books in the hope of finding mistakes in them. What’s the other one of them? Oh! Death of a Débutante—that’s frightful tripe! I made sulphonal soluble in water and it isn’t, and the whole thing is wildly impossible from start to finish. At least eight people die before Sven Hjerson gets his brainwave.”

Ms Christie’s alter ego Ariadne Oliver is in fine comic form in this one, bemoaning the lot of the mystery writer. As for The Cat it was Who Died—surely that’s Death in the Clouds, don’t you think? It’s interesting to speculate if the museum in question was actually the British Museum.
A truly delightful mid-period Christie with surprises right to the very end.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Read (or rather re-read) for the Goodreads’ Agatha Christie Reading Group.


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Catilina's Riddle

Catilina's Riddle (Roma Sub Rosa, #3)Catilina's Riddle by Steven Saylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Steven Saylor, and would argue that he writes beautiful prose, creates brilliant characters and gripping plots, and manages to paint Rome in the time of Cicero so it comes to life before your eyes without his ever labouring over the history. Unfortunately none of that applies to this book.
Many stories (hero sagas in particular) begin with a “call to action”—the hero refuses to answer the call and then Fate (or the gods) must intervene to force his or her hand. Gordianus, the narrator, spends the first seventh of this novel resisting the call—so much of it, in fact, that I began get annoyed with him and, worse, to dislike him for his dithering. At over 700 pages, it’s certainly long a book, not least because it is bulked out by interminable, endlessly repetitive speeches by Cicero (and, to a lesser extent, Catalina)—not a good move, even if they are based on the historical record. Much of the political background (and, towards the end, even some of the action) is delivered via conversations overheard by Gordianus as he moves through the streets of Rome—not snatches, mind you, but lengthy, 10-minute dialogues between strangers—typically “a farmer” and “a merchant” who conveniently represent opposing points of view. One early example of this has an unnamed orator discussing Otho’s law and Rullan land reform with a heckler in the Forum. That one ran for a whole ten pages. It’s a device that tried my patience and quickly wore thin, and I ended up willing Gordianus to move on so that Meto could get his augury read. This was the important bit, after all. If we’re meant to care about Meto, then that was what we were interested in.
So is there anything good about this book? Well, it’s great to meet all the old characters again, though of all of them only Rufus and maybe Marcus Mummius manage to shine above the barrage of all that history. The others seem mired in it. Not that the history is all bad; though it’s a little forced, I’ve never seen anyone else try to explain how the various public offices (e.g. praetor, consul, etc.) worked, or why people would ever wish to run for them, given that they do so at their own—often crippling—expense. It was interesting to compare the election in which Meto votes with the ill-judged snap election called by Theresa May, which just so happened to take place at the same ttime I was reading that section. Gordianus’s relationship with his come-of-age son—as well as notions of what actually constitutes family—are delicately and masterfully explored. It should have driven the book. Unfortunately history is allowed to get in the way.
My final gripe probably seems trivial and petty by comparison; it’s not. At the beginning of Part Two, Gordianus is sharing a wineskin with his eldest son, Eco. On page 115, it lies “flattened and empty” on the grass between them; by page 119, they’re passing it back and forth again, presumably guzzling down its contents. It’s details like this that can destroy the reader’s mental image of a scene in a heartbeat.
One for the staunchest fans only and determined completists, I fear. Do yourself a favour and read “Arms of Nemesis” instead. It’s the one I requested. It’s just a pity it wasn’t available.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Death Comes as the End

Death Comes as the EndDeath Comes as the End by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


“She was not a servant…She had a wig on her head and she wore jewels—a servant does not wear jewels.”
“Jewels?” demanded Imhotep. “What jewels?”
The boy replied eagerly and confidently as though at last he had overcome his fear and was quite sure of what he was saying.
“Three strings of beads with gold lions hanging from them in front…”
Esa’s stick clattered to the floor. Imhotep uttered a stifled cry.


It’s Ancient Egypt, the end of the First Intermediate Period and beginning of the Middle Kingdom, when the Egyptian capital transfers to present-day Karnak—the city that, under the later Greeks, will eventually become known as Thebes. When ageing ka-priest Imhotep returns from the north with a beautiful young concubine, his extended family are none too pleased. After she dies in an apparent accident, is it her revengeful spirit that returns to bump the family off one by one?

Each of the characters is well defined as a particular “type” (e.g. knowledgeable old grandmother, elder son’s nagging wife, middle son who’s a bit of a gambler), and yet with few exceptions they are all quite sketchily painted, even by Ms Christie’s economical standards. Too sketchily perhaps for us to engage with them fully? I’m a great fan of Ms Christie, but even on re-reading this remains one my least favourite of her works. Still pleased I had a reason to read it again, though, for I don’t think my copy will last another outing!
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Taken at the Flood

Taken at the Flood (Hercule Poirot, #28)Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“My word, laundry’s a problem nowadays. Four ruddy weeks since they’ve been to our place—not a clean towel left in our house, and my wife washes all my things herself now.”

So laments Superintendent Spence about the privations suffered in post-war Britain in this tightly-plotted Poirot novel from 1948. And he’s not the only one to suffer. Aunt Kathy, the scatty spiritualist wife of Dr Lionel Cloade, queues for hours for a “depressed-looking bit of cod” and a tin of golden syrup, which, having fought for, she promptly drops in the street. Poirot, ever the gentleman, retrieves the cod and runs after tin for her.
Highly enjoyable, and with a truly novel premise, this book sounds the death-knell for weekend house parties in the country, summers on the Riviera, and sumptuous first-class train travel to ever more exotic climes. From here on in it’s all council housing estates encroaching on St Mary Mead and gardens falling into disrepair because one cannot get the staff. Not that I’m complaining.
BTW, two things that may not be immediately obvious to current readers, but were as plain as day to contemporary ones:
1) When Superintendent Spence talks about his wife washing his things, he means by hand. Poor her; lucky him. I hope he appreciates it.
2) As much as I adore cod, it seems to have been the only fish in general supply throughout the war, to the point where it became thought of as unwelcome, repetitive fare.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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The Chessmen

The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy, #3)The Chessmen by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though it’s the final part of a trilogy, this was my first contact with Peter May’s books, picked at random by the Crime & Thrillers reading group I attend. So I wasn’t as prepared as I might have been for the sheer profusion of weather-on-landscape descriptions (for which apparently May is both loved and acclaimed). As beautiful as their prose might be (and it is; it is never mechanically written), from very early on they appear on every page and it read so unnaturally I began to wonder if I was missing out on some insider joke.
As for the story proper, the characters are all very likeable, the setting is gorgeous (Lewis, the northern-most of Scotland’s Western Isles), and the writing’s immersive—especially when May slips into the first-person narrative of Fin’s remembered past. Towards the end I even found myself looking forward to finding out what the weather was like—and strangely it no longer felt like overkill!
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Career of Evil

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“My heart sinks every time I open a thriller and it turns out to be about rape or sexual child abuse, or, as is the case here, both.” Thus begins a recent review I wrote for a different book, by a different author, and one which amply justified my sinking heart.
Not so with this one! Hurrah! You know from the start you’re in capable hands, that Rowling will tackle these difficult subjects to the full, and deliver for the reader an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
No, my heart sank for a very different reason; you will know what I mean. My favourite of the series so far. Desperately awaiting the next. Loved and reviewed for #MysteryWeek
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know!

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Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It’s as though we’d walked on to the stage in the middle of the second act and we haven’t really got parts in the play at all, but we have to pretend, and what makes it so frightfully hard is that we haven’t the faintest idea what the first act was about.”
Frankie nodded eagerly.
“I’m not even so sure it’s the second act—I think it’s more like the third. Bobby, I’m sure we’ve got to go back a long way…And we’ve got to be quick because I fancy the play is frightfully near the final curtain.”
“With corpses strewn everywhere,” said Bobby. “And what brought us into the show was a regular cue—five words—quite meaningless as far as we are concerned.”
Why didn’t they ask Evans?”

This is one of Ms Christie’s attractive thrillers that feature a pair of amateur sleuths (with no sign of Miss Marple or Monsieur Poirot lurking in the background). In this case it’s the happy-go-lucky Bobby, the fourth son of a country vicar, and the thoroughly modern Lady Frances, better known to her friends as Frankie. The plot, which is generously seasoned with all manner of thrilling devices, could well have served as a template for all of Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple mysteries. There’s (and trust me, there are no spoilers here, just teasers) the enigmatic words on the dying man’s lips, the business—in the theatrical sense of the word—with the photograph used to identify the body, the mysterious foreign doctor in his high-walled clinic situated in some out-of-the-way spot in the countryside, and a gang that’s apparently trafficking in morphine. Then there’s the staged accident to gain ingress to a house, the more-than-a-faint-whiff of The Woman in White about the mysterious Moira Nicholson, and the casual mention-or-two of a possible suicide by a seemingly neurotic millionaire. It was so good to read this again.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Read for the Agatha Christie Reading Group at Goodreads. A perfect cozy for #MysteryWeek

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The Silkworm

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having started this book (and well before finishing) I took a peek here on Goodreads to see how it fared for reviews. I wasn’t surprised to see how highly it was rated—and deservedly so, in my opinion. No, the surprise was the one review that took Ms Rowling to task for missing the opportunity of making Robin Ellacott the protagonist, and offering her advice on how to improve her writing in future (for which, I am sure, Ms Rowling will be eternally grateful).
Having finished the book, which is steeped in the toxic world of writers, literary agents, and publishers, I began to wonder whether the review in question was not some kind of “knowing” tribute—an in joke, if you will—for the writer sounded uncannily like one of Rowling’s own characters—self-opinionated, overbearing, and hilariously drawn.
Ms Rowling’s pen is scathing, and never more so than when dealing with self-publishing authors. In our defence, let me quote from a poem by one of the more scurrilous of our number. Bear with me; it’s worth it:
Little lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
—from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, by the self-published writer and printer Mr William Blake

Did you clock the missing question mark? Outrageous! And you should see how he constantly misspells the word “tiger”! Oh, how I laughed! But I digress.
I love how Strike and Robin are perfect counterfoils, tag-teaming their way through the narrative. I laughed out loud at the chain-smoking agent and the literary horrors foisted upon us by the indie author. I took the bait—so carefully laid—and put my money on the wrong horse. I prayed for Robin and Matthew’s relationship to break up, but then you don’t always get what you want, do you? I am already lapping up the third book. Long may the series continue!
Having just said that, it occurs to me to wonder how many traditionally published authors would be able to identify the English tense used in “Suffice it to say” or even “God save the Queen” without Googling it? Hmmm.
But that’s just my own humble opinion…what do you think? Do let me know! Enjoyed and reviewed for #MysteryWeek


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