Book Reviews

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Anthology #2

The Electric Dwarf, by Tim Vine

Confusingly, this is not the Tim Vine many of us know & love from his standup routines, crackling with clever one-liners, but a composer, born in Jersey, C.I., and it appears to be his only sally into the world of fiction, to date. I would like to say I enjoyed reading it [twice, in fact: thanks, Swiss cheese memory!], and it is described [uncredited] on the back cover as “A ‘Withnail’ for the twenty first century”; I freely confess that I haven’t read the source material for that fine film, so I am not able to make a comparison, but this book is a ragbag collection of disparate characters, whose exploits might have been amusing, were it not for the spelling mistakes & odd constructions in the text, which might or might not have been knowing, for effect: I couldn’t decide. This is generally guaranteed to prejudice my opinion negatively. The paperback I read was published in 2019 by Salt Publishing, Norfolk, ISBN 978-1-7846-3172-7.

Burial of Ghosts, by Ann Cleeves

The only output of Ann Cleeves I have read hitherto has featured either the Vera or the Jimmy Perez [Shetland] characters, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this story. Overall, it is a slower paced narrative than those to be found in either of the other ones, and I have to confess that I was on tenterhooks for most of it, wondering when the inevitable jeopardy was going to occur. I won’t spoil the story by enlarging on that, but suffice to say that any perceived lack of jeopardy doesn’t detract from the narrative’s construction. It is narrated by the protagonist, a young woman who was abandoned at birth, so she has led something of a rootless life so far, including some psychotic episodes & behaviour which was either borderline or actually criminal. After a very brief fling in Morocco with a married man, who happens to be dying at the time, she is tasked after his subsequent death with finding his son, who was apparently not known to the man’s wife, as he was the product of a much earlier liaison. The author’s cogent writing style is always enjoyable to read, so I can happily recommend this standalone story. The paperback I read was published in 2013 [2003] by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-4472-4130-0.

Beyond Recall, by Gerald Seymour

With a distinguished background in journalism, covering armed conflict & terrorism across the globe, as well as Northern Ireland, he is well qualified to be able to write the many novels he has to date about members of the armed services, the intelligence services, and the theatres in which they work. This story is written, in large part, in a breathy, no-personal-pronoun style, to convey an inner monologue, which is often rushed as a result of stressful situations; it is effective, but can become somewhat irritating, if used too much. This story is about redemption, the protagonist being a retired corporal from a British special reconnaissance unit who, against his better judgment, given his mental breakdown before demob, is persuaded into one last mission, to identify a Russian officer whom, a few years back, he observed as an adviser to a unit of the Iranian army operating in Syria, and which carried out an atrocity, from which a young woman was the only survivor. The disparate strands of the narrative are skilfully woven together, and the tension is slowly, but cleverly built. The mission has no right to succeed, given the vicissitudes it suffers, but the dénouement is almost plausible, and I will leave it to the reader to decide that. The paperback I read was published in 2020, by Hodder & Stoughton, London, ISBN 978-1-5293-8600-4.

Your Inner Hedgehog, by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the third book in this series; the von Igelfeld Entertainments; and its protagonist is Professor Dr Dr [no mistake] Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, nicely lampooning German fastidiousness, and displaying a decent understanding of the language—Igel is the German word for hedgehog, hence the title, and in the text, the author explains that the character’s name means from [or of] hedgehog field, and its derivation: “Family tradition has it that they once lived in close proximity to a field renowned for its hedgehogs, but where this field was, and even if it ever existed, is far from clear.” Igelfeld is a professor at the modern-day Regensburg Institute of Romance Philology, and the story concerns the rather parochial activities of this department, and its denizens who, like most academics, it would seem, are self-centred and primarily concerned with their own advancement and the avoidance of any personal slights, whether explicit or implicit, rather than providing a decent education for the students. The humour is consistent with the author’s somewhat whimsical style, and it is erudite [in spades], with the de rigeur latin quotations; some familiar, but not all; but I can’t, personally, go as far as describing it, as does the back-cover synopsis, as “hilarious”: “entertaining” yes, just about, but in a light-hearted & undemanding way. That said, I regularly keep my eyes open for other books by him. The slim paperback I read was published in 2022 [2021, Little, Brown] by Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown, London, ISBN 978-0-3491-4451-1.

Book Review

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Containment, by Vanda Symon

It is a refreshing change to read a thriller set in Britain’s alter ego, New Zealand, and it would be nice to be able to visualise, as we in the northern hemisphere slide into the dark & cold days of winter, the lazy, hazy days of an antipodean summer, but unfortunately, this story is set in winter, but that is, realistically, only a very minor reservation. The author has only written two other books in this series featuring her female protagonist, Detective Constable Sam [Samantha] Shephard, but they have been nominated for awards, and Symon is also a radio host and a board member of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The stories are set in & around the southern city of Dunedin; described by no less a commentator as Ian Rankin as “[t]he Edinburgh of the south”, and he should know!

The NZ police rank system is slightly different, in that there are no detective sergeants: a DC, such as Shephard, starts as a Constable, then progresses to fully-fledged Detective, the next step on the promotion ladder being Detective Inspector, as in England. Not entirely unexpectedly, given that she is a woman in a profession where misogyny is still not eradicated, she has a bastard of a boss, so she is permanently looking over her shoulder, and being as careful as possible what she says in his possible earshot in the office. The story starts with a container ship running aground in the bay near her home, allowing some containers to wash up on the shore, and their contents to spill out, leading to an ugly outbreak of looting by the locals. Even though she is off-duty, Sam tries to prevent one young man making off with a large package, and is seriously assaulted for her trouble; luckily, another man comes to her assistance.

When she is back on duty—sooner than she wanted, but her boss insisted—she is tasked with following up on the grisly discovery of the body of a diver, who has been in the water for some days, so the body is in a very poor state. Before long, a connection is found between this death; soon established to be murder; and the looting of the container goods. Working with her colleague, they gradually discover the trail of events leading to the death of the submerged man, although much of the time, Sam has to avoid the DI knowing what she is doing, because he has very eccentric ideas about where her responsibilities lie. The murderer turns out to be uncomfortably close to home, but is eventually caught. This was an enjoyable story to read, and I would be happy to find another one by this author, because the writing style is conversational, without being too colloquial. The paperback I read was published in 2020 [2009, Penguin Books (NZ)] by Orienda Books, London, ISBN 978-1-9131-9319-5.

This will be the last ‘long form’ review I post for a while, so for the foreseeable future, forthcoming reviews will be ‘short form’: restricted to one paragraph, but posted in groups and with the ISBN link so that further details of the books can be searched for, if a purchase might be desired.

Book Review

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Unnatural Causes, by P.D. James

P.D. James, now deceased [2014], was one of the Doyennes of the thriller genre, surely in terms of her ubiquity on a par with Agatha Christie, if not as prolific; although twenty one fiction publications is no small achievement. That being the case, I thought it was time that I read & reviewed one of her stories; I have watched a few of the television dramatisations featuring the same actor in the lead rôle of Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh, although whether he began his fictional career in this elevated professional position remains to be seen. One departure from this book was that the TV version drove an E-type Jaguar, so very redolent of the 1960s in which these stories are set, whereas here, Dalgliesh drives a Cooper Bristol, which according to an internet image search, has taken many different forms: some single seat racing cars, but also 2-seater touring versions, so it is most likely that Dalgliesh’s would have been one of those.

Our protagonist begins the story by hoping to enjoy a well-deserved holiday, after a very demanding case in London, where he is based, staying with his maiden aunt Jane on the Suffolk coast. Needless to say, a death is discovered within hours of his arrival; it is not immediately obvious that the man has been murdered, but this assessment is complicated by the fact that both his hands had been removed post mortem. This is bad enough in itself, but this exact scenario, where the victim in placed into a small rowing boat and sent out into the bay below the village where Dalgliesh is staying, and his aunt lives, was suggested to the victim, who was an author of murder fiction, by a local woman, who has somewhat exaggerated expectations of authorship herself, normally confining herself to more romantic subjects. This doesn’t automatically make her a suspect, but it is uncomfortably coincidental. Of course, there are other residents of the small village who could also have had reasons to want to kill the victim, so Dalgliesh can use his historical local knowledge to assist the Inspector from the local force, who is in charge of the investigation: Dalgliesh is well aware of the limits of his influence here.

Some of the scenes in which possible suspects are questioned are quite theatrical in their nature, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and the prose style does read as somewhat dated, but it is predominantly correct, which is quite refreshing, in today’s world of slipping literary standards. It is not entirely surprising that the culprit turns out to be someone who could have too easily been discounted, but the way in which the murder is constructed & executed is quite inventive; Dalgliesh unmasks the killer, of course! After that, he is possibly quite relieved to be going back to work. The paperback I read was published in 2019 [1967] by Faber & Faber Limited, London [F&F], ISBN 978-0-5713-5079-7.

Book review

Vengeance, by R.C.Bridgestock

In case you should not already be aware [and I wasn’t, hitherto], the author is not one person with 2 initials, but an amalgam of 2 people: Robert [Bob] and Carol Bridgestock. Both have extensive knowledge of police work: Carol was a civilian supervisor, and Bob retired with the rank of Detective Superintendent, so between them, they have nearly 50 years of police experience; as well as the current principal, Detective Inspector Charley Mann [a sly joke, given that she is female?], for whom this is the fourth story, they have also created the “down-to-earth detective”, DI Jack Dylan, featuring in seven stories to date. The crime in this story, when it first occurs, is inexplicable, and shocking for the casualties & onlookers: after a wedding at a church in the real small West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite [pronounced Slowit: that’s ow as in Ow! That hurt!], when the participants are being lined up for the obligatory photographs, a lone gunman bursts onto the scene and shoots the bride’s father dead; the best man is mortally wounded. Amazingly, two of the male guests have the presence of mind to challenge the gunman & give chase, overpowering him and giving him such a damn good thrashing that he no longer presents a viable threat, almost requiring hospital treatment himself.

Initially, this seems to be a motiveless killing, given that both victims are upstanding members of the community, but the fact that the gunman, a locally known itinerant drug addict, was carrying a large amount of cash on him, suggested that this could be a ‘hit’, but for what possible reason? Gradually, patient & persistent enquiries by DI Mann & her team establish the connections which suggest a possible motive. Family connections, as is often the case, provide the majority of clues, but there is also an organised crime element which is, sadly, never far from the surface in the modern world.

I wanted to give this a positive review, given that I have a very tangential connection to the authors, despite not knowing them personally, but I feel there is work still to be done here: they know the procedures and, presumably, the technicalities & hierarchies well enough, but I can’t help feeling that the prose style is that of an enthusiastic amateur—I still can’t decide whether calling the defence barrister in the case Mr Pompous is clever, or simply whimsical; without quoting examples [I can assure the reader, there are many], I lost count of the number of times my eyebrows raised upon reading something which just felt odd, or unusual, or even clumsy. That said, the plot was well thought out, and the perpetrator was not immediately obvious, once the reason for the murders was revealed. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Canelo, London, ISBN 978-1-8043-6056-9.

Book Review

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The Talented Mr Varg, by Alexander McCall Smith

I can’t remember if the cover of the previous Varg story I’ve reviewed, The Man with the Silver Saab, showed the author’s given name with a diaeresis over the first A, as it is on this one, but I have eschewed using it here, because it looks superfluous to me, and something of a self-indulgence: perhaps it makes Smith feel more exotic—especially given the prosaic nature of his family name. That aside, I remember enjoying the previous book, so I was looking forward to reading this one and, thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. That said, notwithstanding that this latest story continues with the same characters as the previous one [a perusal of my aforementioned review would be beneficial here], there is one slightly odd element: in the previous story, Varg strikes up an amorous relationship with the temporary receptionist employed by his dog’s vet, but here, there is no mention of this when Martin, the deaf, lip-reading dog, is taken for a routine visit to monitor his depression & serotonin levels [half-way through the story] so, given that many readers do enjoy following books’ protagonists’ progress in succeeding stories, we are left in the dark as to whether Varg’s previous attachment was successful, or not—we have to assume not, unfortunately, as there is no mention here of a love interest.

There are two main story threads here and, as previously, they are dealt with in a slow, laid-back way by Varg: he’s much too thoughtful & considerate to go blundering in aggressively, as some other detectives might—I can’t speak for other fictional Swedish detectives, of course. In addition, one element from the earlier story which does overlap here is Varg’s suppressed infatuation with his colleague, Anna; this is thrown into some confusion when she confides in him that she suspects her husband of having an affair. Naturally, Varg is conflicted: he would love this to mean that Anna’s marriage can be terminated, and he could confess his true feelings; this also makes him feel guilty, for his selfishness, and he is ambivalent about whether he could condone his complicity in Anna’s subsequent unhappiness, until she accepted him: but would she?

The ongoing cases are the possible blackmailing of a university lecturer, and the possibility of a scam involving wolf-like domestic dogs being sold abroad purporting to be real wolves. As before, Varg includes his uniform colleague Blomquist in these investigations, and Varg suffers the same mixture of emotions about working with this man who can be tedious & irritating, but also has surprising & unexpected insights. Varg also has to work hard not to alienate his neighbour, Mrs Högfors, who is very accommodating with her care for Martin, but she has a pathological dislike of Russians, and she is not immediately dismissive of the political views of Varg’s brother, who is leader of the rather Pratchett-like Moderate Extremists; surely an oxymoron? That’s Smith’s little joke, of course.

These stories are always, for me, a pleasant meander without too much jeopardy, whilst still dealing with real-world issues, albeit in a tongue in cheek way. There are occasional allusions to peculiarly Swedish nastiness, but I enjoy not having to confront them continually in these books. As before, I am happy to recommend this one, and I would be pleased to find the third book, albeit the first of the trilogy [so far], naming the locus of Varg’s professional work: The Department of Sensitive Crimes. The paperback I read was published in 2021 [2020] by Abacus [Little, Brown], ISBN 978-0-3491-4408-5.

Book Review

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The Christie Affair, by Nina de Gramont

This author is American, and is a newcomer to speculation about the Agatha Christie ‘disappearance’ mythology: it “began in 2015 when she first learned about the famous author’s eleven-day disappearance. Christie’s refusal to ever speak about this episode particularly intrigued Nina, who loves the fact that someone who unravelled mysteries for a living managed to keep her own intact. The Christie Affair is her fourth novel.” I’m not sure if saying Christie “unravelled mysteries” is entirely accurate, because since she created them in the first place, and required them to be plausible, they wouldn’t have required unravelling by her, would they? That could safely be left to her readers. It’s possible that the author didn’t write her own bio, of course. This story is loosely based upon the facts as we know them, according to Christie’s Wikipedia page; some names have been changed, for obvious reasons; but this narrative falls into the ‘what if’ category, rather than a parallel universe scenario: the author describes it as “an imaginative history of sorts”.

As the narrative progressed, I was wondering why so much space was being given over to the backstory of the narrator, Nan O’Dea, who is this story’s substitute for Archie Christie’s real mistress, Nancy Neele, but the reason for that eventually became clear, and that is the subtext of this narrative: forced adoption of babies by the Catholic church in Ireland. I can’t reveal the reason for that, because the plot revolves around it, but it is a major element of this story. In fact, very little more of the plot can be revealed, but the major aspects of it conform to the real story, whereby Agatha Christie left her home in Sunningdale after a disagreement with her husband, in early December 1926, and after eleven days she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate; although a different name for the hotel is used in the story. The period atmosphere is quite nicely realised so, apart from a few unfortunate Americanisms, which is understandable, given the author’s nationality, the story is a pleasant, undemanding read, even is some of the events do seem a touch implausible: given that this is fiction, I suppose that is forgivable.

It is difficult to speculate as to this book’s target readership, but Christie connoisseurs might enjoy it; as a thriller, it is very lightweight; it probably falls more comfortably into the romantic fiction category; but as stated above, it is undemanding, so it should be possible for different categories of reader to enjoy it. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Pan Books [Mantle], an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5290-5419-4.

Book Review

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Requiem in La Rossa, by Tom Benjamin

I must confess that I haven’t read any material by such American authors as James Ellroy, or Dashiell Hammett, but it strikes me that this story, the third in the Daniel Leicester crime series, wants to read like an American private eye story, but doesn’t quite pull it off. According to his brief bio on the front flyleaf, Benjamin began his working life as a journalist, before becoming a spokesman for Scotland Yard: slightly strange transition, I have to say, but the bio continues that he later moved “into public health, where he developed Britain’s first national campaign against alcohol abuse … and led drugs awareness programme FRANK”, so he seems to be impelled to work for the common good. The la Rossa of the book’s title is Bologna, in Italy, where Benjamin resides, so he writes of what he knows, geographically speaking anyway; apparently, there is a multitude of red pigment on display in this city.

Leicester is a private investigator, and a partner in the Bologna company of Faidate Investigations; Faidate is the family name of his deceased wife, Lucia, and he works with his father in law, who is known outside the family as Comandante, “an honorific stemming from his days in the Carabinieri, which had followed him into civilian life”, although that position doesn’t impress the other police organisation with which they often have to deal, the Polizia di Stato. The case they are currently handling is not particularly exciting: gathering evidence of an errant husband’s infidelity, but it pays the bills; however, Daniel’s girlfriend’s ex-lover has a friend [and this is where the story really starts] who is down on his luck, and has been arrested on a charge of attempted murder, because a university professor, whom he apparently tried to mug outside a theatre, which is close to a notoriously rough area, where the friend, Guido Delfillo, was known to hang out, subsequently dies. Daniel agrees to help, but the death seems to have been caused by a heart attack, brought on by the stress of the mugging. There are other deaths soon after this one, but they also seem to be innocuous, and unconnected with the first; until Daniel’s patient digging, and that of his girlfriend, and the company’s junior staff members, unravels an apparent connection.

This was another of those stories in which a plethora of characters is to be found, whose names have to be remembered if the reader is to stand any chance of maintaining a sense of continuity as the story progresses and, as seems to be [for me, at least] depressingly often the case, it is let down by some irritating bad grammar; which, presumably, was not corrected by any of the editors or proofreaders employed in the production process: the worst is his use of “was sat”, or “was stood”, but this author, and the aforementioned other players, must deem these acceptable. There was also plenty of Italian, used by all characters, understandably, but it was not always translated, so the reader is left sometimes having to guess its meaning. Other than that, the other main character in the story, Bologna itself, is quite nicely realised, and there are some helpful street maps at the front of the book; although, as always, not every street or location mentioned is to be found on the maps, which can also be frustrating. The culprit is eventually identified, but the dénouement is not completely satisfying for Daniel; however, the way is left open at the end for a further instalment in the series, although no indication is given in the book, outside the narrative, that this will be forthcoming. The paperback I read was published in 2022 [2021], by Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, London, ISBN 978-1-4721-3164-5.

Book Review

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The Vinyl Detective: Victory Disc, by Andrew Cartmel

This clever story is the third in the Vinyl Detective series; there is a fourth book, Flip Back, described at the time of publishing of this book as being scheduled for May 2019, and I am presuming it is part of the same series, given that each book has a title which is associated with vinyl records. The author, clearly—if his knowledge of the subjects, on display in this book—is a jazz & HiFi enthusiast, and as well as being a novelist, he is also a screenwriter [Midsomer Murders, Torchwood], script editor [Doctor Who], playwright and comic/graphic novel writer, and has toured as a standup comedian: so, very versatile, and his sense of humour comes across in this story, in an understated way. There are brief mentions of a previous adventure, in which the principal character, who narrates but whose name is not revealed in the narrative, and is known by his sobriquet of The Vinyl Detective, was in some danger, but he obviously survived to be involved in this story. The other main characters, who all live in London, are the narrator’s girlfriend Nevada, and their friends, Jordon [aka Tinkler], a fellow audiophile, and the woman he loves—“or at least lusted after”—Agatha DuBois-Kanes, known as Clean Head, because her head is shaved; plus two cats, Turquoise [aka Turk], and Fanny.

At the start of the story, Tinkler has bought a very large speaker cabinet; an exponential horn-loaded loudspeaker, to be specific, for his HiFi: unfortunately, he knew he would be away in France on holiday when it should be delivered, so he asked Clean Head to tell the Vinyl Detective & Nevada that he had arranged to have it delivered to them, somewhat accidentally-on-purpose neglecting to tell his amoureuse that said speaker was a “black behemoth”, taller than an upright piano, and deeper. While searching inside it for the necessary cables, which appeared to have originally been taped to the lip of the cabinet’s internal opening, they discover a very old shellac 78 rpm record, and this sets off a whole train of events involving survivors of the wartime Flare Path Orchestra, the British version of Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band, and the daughter of the band’s leader, Colonel ‘Lucky’ Lucian Honeyland; all the other members of that illustrious [but fictitious] band were in the Air Force, but Lucky was a flier, and a squadron commander, no less. Miss Honeyland commissions the Vinyl Detective and Nevada to find as many other extant records by the Flare Path Orchestra as they can, and in addition to the discs, she is more than happy to pay generously for anecdotes from surviving members as well, so the Vinyl Detective is very happy to help.

Since neither the narrator nor Nevada owns a car, they are accompanied by one or both of the other two of their friends; either in Tinkler’s Volvo, or Clean Head’s taxi; and during the research they variously undertake, they encounter a nubile young 18-year old woman, Opal Gadon, and a ferret-faced local history researcher, who is knowledgable about a tragic wartime murder case in Kent. Also: what is the story behind a psychedelically painted ‘hippie’ van, which seems to mysteriously follow them around? Incrementally, they discover surviving members of the Flare Path Orchestra, and a few more invaluable 78 records, but they also uncover another group which has an interest in the activities & politics of Lucky Honeyland which portrays him as a rather different character; especially in view of the popular and highly lucrative children’s books which he wrote: that being the case, where does this new evidence leave his daughter? Does this have any connection with the brutal wartime murder? This is quite a tangled tale, but as a result of the team’s investigations, the true story is revealed, and the dénouement is rather poignant: at least one person’s quest is resolved successfully, however. This is easy reading, and not unduly demanding, but none the less enjoyable for that, so I shall keep my eyes open for other entries in this series. The paperback I read was published in 2018 by Titan Books, London, ISBN 978-1-7832-9771-1.

Book Review

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Blue Lightning, by Ann Cleeves

This is one of Cleeves’s earlier Shetland stories, and it seems odd that I haven’t already reviewed one of them: I feel sure I must have read at least one of them already, because the characters are familiar to me, not exclusively because of the later TV series which I have watched, but I shall have to introduce my readers to the series here, which is not necessarily a bad thing, given that it is an earlier story, as stated above. Jimmy Perez is a very different character from Ann Cleeves’s other, by now, famous one, Vera, the overweight but canny Northumbrian Detective Inspector; as the name might suggest, he is of Spanish ancestry, a couple of generations back, but these forebears have lived on the smaller island of Fair Isle which, although considered as part of the Shetland island group, is actually some 50km south of the mainland, almost exactly midway between there & the northernmost Orkney island, North Ronaldsay. There are normally regular connections between them, by ’plane, and boat: the Good Shepherd, captained by Perez’s father, James.

Perez is normally based in Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, near where he has an old fisherman’s cottage, but in this story, he is marooned on his home island because of a storm, which has severed connections to the mainland, quite common in this location, and he is there with his fiancée, Fran, whom he is introducing to his family, before their forthcoming wedding. Of course, this wouldn’t be a crime story without a murder, so almost within hours of Perez & Fran arriving, a woman is murdered. She is the scientist at the field centre, which is in the buildings below the north lighthouse, which was automated some years ago, on the island; people normally assume that she is the centre’s administrator, but that is actually her husband, Maurice, some years older than she is. It is convenient that Perez is on the island, but he soon feels that, despite his being an inspector, the case will too much for him, notwithstanding that forensic support will not be available for at least a couple of days; similarly, it will not be possible to remove the body for post mortem examination for the same length of time, even by emergency helicopter.

The fact that there are no obvious immediate suspects, apart from the victim’s Emo stepdaughter, with whom she had a fractious relationship—but not one necessarily one with murderous intentions from the girl—means that Perez has to work slowly [although that is his usual style, to be fair] and interview all the possible perpetrators, which is actually nearly all of the occupants of the field centre. Perez even learns that his father could be involved, but he is unwilling to go so far as to include him in the list of suspects, without convincing evidence. Part of the early narrative is described, albeit in the third person, from the point of view of the centre’s cook, who is there for her second season, and very much enjoying it, until the scientist, Angela, exceeds her authority—perhaps coincidentally because her husband is seen to be somewhat ineffectual—by telling Jane, the cook, that her services will no longer be required after the end of the current season. We know from Jane’s thoughts [assuming they are genuine] that she is not the killer, and before long, we learn that she thinks she knows who the killer is, but she wants to ‘crack the case’ herself, rather than passing on what she knows & believes to Perez.

There is more action before the killer is identified; and there is a significant & tragic dénouement which I cannot, of course, reveal, but as is often the case, several people turn out to be hiding aspects of their past, and how they might be connected with other characters in the story; there is also the pastime of birdwatching, which can be undertaken quite obsessively for a variety of reasons, and this also has a bearing on this story. Cleeves makes the claustrophobic atmosphere brought about by the enforced isolation on this small island very much a part of the story, and it is not difficult to understand people’s desire to escape it as soon as possible, after the violence. Whether Cleeves will write any more stories for Perez, now that Douglas Henshall has departed the televised version, remains to be seen, but there are at least seven Shetland stories, so there are plenty to be enjoyed with him as the lead character. The paperback I read was published in 2015 [2010] by Pan Books [Macmillan], an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-4472-7447-6.

Book Review


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The Stone Circle, by Elly Griffiths

This is the eleventh book in the Ruth Galloway series; a series which was originally intended to encompass ten books so, taking a charitable approach, one has to assume that the series has been so successful that an extension was appropriate; I have no reason to decry this decision because, although I haven’t read the whole series [depending entirely upon those which are available from my local library], I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read hitherto, and have come to look forward to reading more exploits of the regular characters who are mainly (although not always entirely) likeable. Elly Griffiths is interesting to me as an author, because she reverses the normal authorial convention: this is actually a nom de plume, presumably chosen [although see below] to appear to be quite British [or Welsh, to be specific] and consequently instantly acceptable to the majority of British readers, whereas her birth name is Domenica de Rosa [Italian for Sunday of the rose] which, although born in this country, she acquired from her Italian father. After writing four novels featuring Italy [write about what you know!] a holiday in Norfolk with her archaeologist husband inspired her to write the first of the Ruth Galloway series; her agent, who saw the potential in it but recognised that it was a crime novel, in contrast to the earlier ones, recommended that she needed a crime name appropriate to the genre, and hence she became Elly Griffiths!

This story does have certain overlaps with previous stories, but that isn’t to imply that it is merely a cynical rehash: quite the opposite, it demonstrates continuity and in some ways, there are advantages, because it can be seen how characters respond to new situations with the benefit of their experience from these earlier situations; and Ruth’s work does have a certain repetitive quality about it. Archaeology expert Ruth Galloway is investigating a burial pit in a henge on the Norfolk coast, close to another one she worked on previously, during which she came into contact with two of the series’s main characters: an endearing (but occasionally also irritating, in equal measure) man who goes by the name of Cathbad, although his birth name is Michael Malone, and he regards himself as a druid, but latterly he seems to have embraced a somewhat more conventional lifestyle with his current partner, a police Detective Sergeant called Judy Johnson; and the father of Ruth’s daughter, Kate, Harry Nelson, a Detective Chief Inspector and Judy’s boss. He is married with two adult daughters, and feels somewhat trapped in this marriage, notwithstanding that he also loves his wife, who is pregnant again at the beginning of the story, & daughters, and his work (somewhat conveniently, it has to be said) regularly brings him into contact with Ruth; he does willingly, and with no complaint from Ruth, visit Kate (whom he insists on calling Katie, much to Ruth’s annoyance), so this doesn’t greatly help Ruth romantically, although she does also enjoy her own space, and there is currently another male suitor in the equation, a visiting Historical Consultant from America, who has been brought in to work as a presenter on a television documentary which also features Ruth.

In the course of Ruth’s digging, the skeleton of a child is found nearby, and there is sufficient evidence that this skeleton is relatively recent, compared to the first remains found by Ruth, so Nelson’s team becomes involved. There is a real concern that the skeleton could be that of a 12-year old young girl, Margaret Lacey, who went missing thirty years ago, so it is important for the family that this can be confirmed, which it is, to give them closure, but also, ideally, to identify the perpetrator. There was a suspect at the time, a young man of obviously limited intellectual capabilities who lived with his mother, but whose alibi, from his mother, was unassailable, so he remained at liberty, albeit grudgingly by the contemporary investigating officers. All of the victim’s family are reinvestigated, and in the course of the story, the baby daughter (Ava) of one of the dead girl’s relatives, Star (Stella by birth) is abducted, almost immediately after another baby is abducted locally, but returned safely within a matter of days; the mother & missing baby are known to Nelson’s wife, Michelle, who is attending the same mother & baby classes, and she dismisses the notion that Star might have engineered this as a way of seeking attention. This is also a very emotive situation for Judy Johnson, whose own son, Michael, was abducted in a previous story (hence the aforementioned overlap), and that was the catalyst for Judy to acknowledge that she preferred Cathbad, Michael’s father, to her erstwhile husband, Darren.

To reveal any more of the plot would be to spoil it, but the original, somewhat unexpected, perpetrator is identified, although not before one of the characters is murdered, and this dénouement is not revealed until right at the end of the story. Otherwise, there is ample scope for continuance of the main characters’ lives, so as I have already said, I am very willing to read a further instalment, plus any previous, necessarily out-of-sequence unread ones I can obtain, and I can thoroughly recommend this series of stories. There are biographies for the main characters at the end of the book, which is a nice little addition, and some of the books [although not this version] also include a potted autobiography, hence the synopsised version above, which I found at the back of another story I still had in my possession. The hardback I read was published in in 2019, by Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978 1 78648 729 2; there is also a paperback, an eBook, and an audio book version.