Book Reviews

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Anthology #7

Three Debts Paid, by Anne Perry

This is a decent enough story, but in my humble opinion, the author takes an excruciatingly long time to reach the dénouement, sending two of the main characters round in unnecessary circles, and asking the same questions more than once, both of themselves, and others whom they need to or want to question. There are two main threads happening: the first, a series of brutal & violent murders, in which the victims are stabbed & slashed, then an index finger segment removed post mortem; apart from the latter detail, the only other common aspect is that they all occur in pouring rain on the streets of London in the February of 1912. The second is a legal case of plagiarism, which is complicated by a charge of assault against the defendant. The main characters all know each other: Inspector Ian Frobisher is investigating the murders, and he was at Cambridge with Daniel Pitt, the barrister who is recommended by Frobisher to the defendant, Professor Nicholas Wolford, who taught Pitt, whose father just happens to be head of Special Branch. There is also a potential love interest, between Daniel and Miriam fford Croft, who has recently qualified as a pathologist, but she had to do this in Amsterdam, as the facility was not available in Britain; she also happens to be somewhat older than Daniel. The murderer is not too difficult to identify, but this takes around 300 pages! The court case near the end is rather messily terminated, and I didn’t think clients were able to instruct barristers directly, as is the case here. The paperback I read was published in 2022 [2021] by HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP, London, ISBN 978-1-4722-7527-1.

This is the Night They Come for You, by Robert Goddard

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this story, but it didn’t take me long to decide that I definitely would! Also, the author’s name seems familiar, but if I have read another of his books, I can’t find a review for it; he has written twenty-nine other books, according to the flyleaf of this one. The story revolves around the politics of Algeria, a country about which I know very little; there are also associated threads in England & France. It is set in the present day, and Covid has left its mark on Algiers, but lurking in the background, there is the spectre of the revolutions and tragic bloodshed which have riven the country since the War of Independence, whose true horror was exemplified in the massacre of Algerian protestors by the Paris police on the night of 17 October 1961. An Algiers police superintendent is charged with bringing a high-level embezzler to justice, and he is obliged to work with a rare female security service operative. A French woman has been offered a written confession made by her English father, who ran a bookshop in Algiers, before he was murdered, apparently by moslem extremists. An English man is also interested in the Algerian embezzler, because he is convinced that the latter murdered his sister, who was the bookshop owner’s girlfriend in Paris. The threads are very cleverly woven together, and they build to a dramatic climax, so I can recommend this book. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Penguin [Bantam Press], London, ISBN 978-0-5521-7847-1.

Until the Last of Me, by Sylvain Neuvel

This author, as his name suggests, has French ancestry, but is a native of Québec. The book being reviewed is [again!] the second of a prospective trilogy, classified under the title of Take them to the Stars, and it is a type of alternative history science fiction; it is also, for me anyway, an allegory of the seemingly eternal, sadly, struggle of the female gender to overcome the at best dismissal, and at worst outright violence of the patriarchy. This should not spoil the plot, but the theme is only barely disguised. The plot is that a race of humanoid extraterrestrials, known as Kibsu, have lived among us for 3000 years, and for only vaguely explained reasons have “shaped Earth’s history to push humanity to the stars”, by using their skill with mathematics & astronomy to assist our technological development. Somewhat implausibly, they are all female, only using indigenous males for procreation; to complicate matters, however, the women are hunted, and regularly eliminated [but not enough for the race to die out completely] by the Tracker, a lineage of males, whose purpose seems to be simply to prevent the Kibsu from achieving their goal. The dénouement of this story is climactic, but not sufficiently to prevent the plausibility of a conclusionary sequel; I did enjoy it in the end, but it took a while before I was sure. The hardback I read was published in 2022, by Michael Joseph [Tom Doherty Associates], ISBN 978-0-2414-4514-3.

The Locked Room, by Elly Griffiths

It is now February 2020, and Covid is starting to bite; although, not as hard as it would, as we now know with hindsight. Dr. Ruth Galloway, the head of the Archaeology Department at the University of North Norfolk, is enjoying some quality time with her illicit, and only barely concealed lover, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, because his wife, Michelle, is isolating in Blackpool with their son and Harry’s mother. Harry and his team are investigating a series of apparent suicides of elderly people, but they are having to operate a skeleton staff in the office because of safety requirements. Ruth has just cleared her recently deceased mother’s house in London, and discovered a photograph which shows her cottage taken before she moved in, with the caption “Dawn, 1963” on the back; meanwhile, she has a new neighbour, a nurse by the name of Zoe, but she seems strangely familiar… Two students at the university go missing, then Ruth’s neighbour also does. There is also a significant scare [including for regular readers of this series] when one of the least likely main characters is struck down by Covid. At the end of the book [but not the end of the series: the next instalment is previewed here] Ruth has two very significant decisions to make: both of which have been forced upon her, and neither of which she is enthusiastic about having to make. Another very enjoyable instalment! The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978-1-5294-0967-3.

Book Review

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A great Reckoning, by Louise Penny

This book is possibly somewhat out of the ordinary for British readers, in that it is a crime novel set in neither Britain nor the United States, but in Canada. It was first published in the U.S. and Britain in 2016, so reasonably recent, and the paperback edition I read, ISBN 978-0-7515-5269-0, was published the following year, 2017, by Sphere, London. The main character is a recently retired Chief Inspector of the Sûreté, Armand Gamache, who has been drafted in to run, as Commander, the Sûreté training Academy; the Sûreté, here modelled on the French original, is analogous to a combination of our normal police, Special Branch & MI5. Some of its activities are confined to the Francophone Québec, but the official government website defines it thus: “The Sûreté du Québec, as the national police force, contributes throughout the territory of Québec, to maintaining peace and public order, preserving life, safety and fundamental human rights and protecting property. The Sûreté du Québec also supports the police community, coordinates major police operations, contributes to the integrity of governmental institutions and ensures the safety of transport networks under Québec jurisdiction. … Some of these services are exclusive to the Sûreté du Québec, while others are offered in partnership or in conjunction with police organizations and agencies that share the Sûreté du Québec’s mission.” The first part of this definition is called into question in the book, given that this fictitious version of the Sûreté has latterly been rife with corruption & brutality which, thankfully, does not sit well with some in authority, not least Chief Inspector Gamache himself, but he is aware of the challenge this presents, so it is not an undertaking he embarks upon without a degree of trepidation.

He surprises his superiors by both retaining one professor, Serge Leduc (aka The Duke) who was known to be at the forefront of the excesses Gamache is tasked with eradicating, instead of sending him packing; but also, before he has literally occupied his Commander’s chair, bringing back one of his erstwhile colleagues, Michel Brébeuf, “the man who’d been his best friend, his best man, his confidant and colleague and valued subordinate.”, who was languishing in shame after also succumbing to corruption: “You turned the Sûreté from a strong and brave force into a cesspool, and it has taken many lives and many years to clean it out.” Gamache’s son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is also now his second in command, observes internally that “Either decision would be considered ill advised. Together they seemed reckless, verging on lunacy.” So it has to be assumed that Gamache has a plan, and that these decisions were part of it. One of the first major changes Gamache made was a slackening of the harsh discipline that had prevailed hitherto, but he also made the students aware that actions had consequences. All seems to be going well, but before the end of the first term, a murder occurs within the Academy, and after the initial inquiries, Gamache suggests to the Chief Inspector who is conducting the investigation that an outside investigator should be brought in, to vouch for the fairness of the investigation.

It is during this phase that an artefact which has come to light in Gamache’s home village, Three Pines, attains a status of some importance, but its relevance remains unknown for most of the story. The artefact is a map, which was hidden in a wall in one of the buildings in the village which, for unknown reasons initially, doesn’t feature on any maps of the territory. Gamache organises a group of four of the brightest students from different years in the Academy to look into this conundrum, ostensibly as a project to keep them occupied during the ongoing investigation, but it also becomes clear that their interactions will throw light on the power-plays between some of the lecturers and students. After the murder, it transpires that the copy of the map belonging to one of the four students has gone missing, but this is an obvious red herring. Little by little, the history of the village and its earlier inhabitants, to which the map is the key, is revealed as a result of painstaking research. All through the narrative, the reader is kept guessing as to how much Gamache knows, how honourable his motives have been & are, and whether he will succeed in unmasking the killer. It is slightly unusual to encounter a fictional detective, private or State employee, who is as empathetic and reasonable as Gamache, as well as being happily married: the only other one I could nominate, without considerable thought, is Maigret; I really couldn’t say if the French connection (with apologies!) is coincidental or not. At 495 pages, this is quite a long novel, but it moves at quite a steady pace, so it keeps the reader’s attention without any difficulty, and the dénouement is suitably satisfying.