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Adrian McKinty Mark Bailey Reviews

Rain Dogs (Sean Duffy 5) by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty – Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

Trade paperback: 336 pages (December 2015 in UK)

Publisher: Serpents Tail

ISBN: 978-1781254554

This is the fifth Sean Duffy novel set in and around Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The novel starts with DI Sean Duffy in charge of part of the crowd control for a visit by Muhammad Al to Belfast in 1987 which is a break from his usual routine of riot duty, heartbreak and cases solved that can never get to court. Financial Times journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead in the courtyard of Carrickfergus castle – she has been following a group of potential Finnish investors to Northern Ireland. It looks like a suicide but some things don’t add up and this bothers Duffy who has met and solved a locked room murder before. He finds out that she was working on a devastating investigation of corruption and abuse at the highest levels of power in the UK and beyond.

Again this a very assured police procedural with multiple serious themes (the peace process is still in the background, economic regeneration is in the middle and a cover up in the foreground) and great writing which is strongly literate but still keeps you engaged & turning the page.

I still want to see how Duffy handles the Patten Commission reforms and the shift to the PSNI as it looks like he is stuck in the RUC until retirement.

 

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Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Paul Johnston Reviews

Paul Johnston – Skeleton Blues (2016)

Paul Johnston – Skeleton Blues

Hardback: 244 pages (January 2016)

Publisher: Severn House

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8578-4 (hardback)

Cover of "Skeleton Blues" by Paul Johnston
Cover of “Skeleton Blues” by Paul Johnston

This is the seventh novel in the series of novels featuring Quint Dalrymple.

It is Spring 2034. The United Kingdom, along most of the world, was torn apart by civil wars and criminal gangs in the early years of the twenty-first century. Edinburgh in the last free election in 2003 voted in the Enlightenment Party (a small grouping of university Professors) who with a mind set influenced by Plato guaranteed basic human rights such as work, food and housing but removed most elements of choice from peoples lives. Crime has been pushed underground where it is fed in part by the envy of the tourists who come for the year-round festival with legalised gambling, prostitution and drugs for the tourists.

The weather is balmy and most un-Scottish. A referendum is imminent on whether or not to join a reconstituted Scotland. A tourist is found strangled in the apartment of a citizen and, as usual, maverick detective Quint Dalrymple is called in to do the dirty work of the Council of City Guardians. Quint is stumped by the complexity of the case when an explosion at the City Zoo is followed by the discovery of another body with the prime suspect nowhere to be found. Can Quint and Davie put a stop to the killings before the city erupts into open violence – are the leaders of the other Scottish states planning to take over Edinburgh or is the source of unrest much closer to home?

Again, you have an engaging plot that goes along at a rate of knots and you can understand the motivation of the characters whilst not agreeing with them – the key driving force is the camaraderie between Davie (his sidekick in effect) and Quint which has been built on throughout the series.

This is a good addition to the series and once again I would definitely like to see where Quint Dalrymple goes from here.

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Mark Bailey Reviews Simon Brett

Simon Brett – The Killing in the Cafe: a Fethering Mystery

Simon Brett – The Killing in the Cafe: a Fethering Mystery

Hardback: 192 pages (November 2015 – UK, March 2016 – US)

Publisher: Creme de la Crime

ISBN: 978-1780290812 (Hardback)

 

Simon Brett - The Killing in the Cafe
Simon Brett – The Killing in the Cafe

THE KILLING IN THE CAFE is the 17th of the Fethering series of novels by Simon Brett.

 

Polly’s Cake Shop has been a feature in Fethering for many years but when its current owner announces her retirement, the residents worry about the loss of this popular amenity and alarmed by the rumours circulating they form the Save Polly’s Cake Shop Action Committee. Their plan is that the cake shop should become a community venture which is both managed and run by volunteers from the village. Jude is roped in to help by one of her clients and finds the committee meetings fraught with petty power struggles and clashing personalities & egos.

Carole and Jude discover a badly-decomposed body on Fethering beach and uncover a link to Polly’s – now they have to find out whodunit.

 

Like all of the Fethering novels I have read what you get here is a good solid character driven novel in an interesting milieu with characters who are believable if a little bit over the top.

Again there isn’t a strong whodunit here – pick the character who is most out of place and that is your killer BUT this is a nice traditional cozy mystery with just a little bit of dark humour and I will continue with the series.

My copy was provided by the publishers, Severn House, via Netgalley.

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Elly Griffiths Mark Bailey

Elly Griffiths – Smoke and Mirrors (2015)

Elly Griffiths – Smoke and Mirrors (2015)

Quercus, Hardcover, 352 pages

Expected publication: November 5th 2015

ISBN13: 9781784290269

Elly Griffiths - Smoke and Mirrors
Elly Griffiths – Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors is the 2nd in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series by Elly Griffiths (probably best known for the Ruth Galloway novels).

It is Brighton, England in 1951 – the war is over but rationing is ongoing and life is still grim.

Max Mephisto, master illusionist, is slumming it somewhat in a pantomime on the Palace Pier playing Abanazar, the Demon King in Aladdin.

But the headlines in the local papers are no longer about his first appearance in a pantomime, but about the disappearance of two local children (Mark and Annie); when they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the police nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

There are plenty of leads for DI Edgar Stephens (war-time comrade of Max) to investigate.

Annie used to write gruesome plays based on the unexpurgated versions of Grimms’ fairy tales – does the clue lie in her last unfinished – and rather disturbing – script?

Is the presence of sweets a red herring or where they used to lure them to their deaths by Sam Gee, owner of the corner shop where the local children bought sweets?

Or does the answer lie with the eccentric cast of theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

 

I haven’t read the first in the series (The Zig Zag Girl) but do like the Ruth Galloway novels so I thought this might be worth a try plus I have always been interested in the worlds of magic and theatre. In terms of whether you can start here, I think you can as I certainly picked up what background was needed to enjoy the novel as I went along so this can be read as a standalone novel in my opinion.

There is excellent characterisation, especially of the 4 main protagonists (Max Mephisto, DI Edgar Stephens and his 2 sergeants, Emma Holmes (new to CID) and Bob Willis) all who contrast with each other nicely – especially the Roedean educated Holmes and the secondary modern educated Willis.

The mystery element is well handled with twists and turns but a fair outcome.

But for me, it is the detail in the background that makes this book work so well – the wartime experience of Edgar and Max as part of a shadowy secret unit called the Magic Men who used stage trickery to confuse the enemy (paralleling the claims of Jasper Maskelyne in his book Magic: Top Secret) and the seediness of Brighton in general post-war and especially within the theatrical community are particular strengths.

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Brian McGilloway Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews

Brian McGilloway – Preserve the Dead (2015)

Brian McGilloway – Preserve the Dead

Brian McGilloway – Preserve the Dead
Brian McGilloway – Preserve the Dead

Hardback: 256 pages (August 2015)

Publisher: Corsair (part of the Little, Brown Book Group UK)

ISBN: 978-1-4721-1894-3 (hardback) 978-1-4721-2039-7 (trade paperback) 978-1-4721-1319-14 (e-book)

 

This is the third novel in the series of novels by Brian McGilloway featuring Detective Sergeant Lucy Black who works in the Public Protection Unit in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Lucy is visiting her father who is a patient in a secure unit in Gransha Hospital on the banks of the River Foyle – he has been hurt in a fracas with another patient and Lucy finds him chained to the bed for either his or others safety. She barely has time to take this in before an orderly knowing she is in the Police tells her that a body has been spotted floating in the river below…

The body is that of an elderly man in a grey suit and Lucy & the orderly haul him ashore – he is dead and has been so for several days. The post mortem reveals that he has already been embalmed which initiates a full scale investigation as to why the body was dumped and where he came from.

The following day she is called by her friend Tara to help out in a CID investigation of a body found in a rubbish dump after being in a trash compactor – the post mortem reveals that he had been severely beaten in the hours prior to his death.

These 2 strands and that of Lucy’s neighbours spousal abused sister interlink over 6 days in July when the police in Northern Ireland are at their most stretched because of the Twelfth parades.

Lucy’s dedication to the case and to taking care of others causes problems with her private life – be it with her boyfriend who was injured in HURT (the previous novel), her father whose Alzheimer’s is worsening or the mother who abandoned her as a child and is now her boss as the Assistant Chief Commissioner of Police.

 

This is a solid police procedural driven by old-fashioned detective work rather than technology and set against a backdrop of social unrest (the Police are not trusted by large parts of the community, both Protestant and Catholic) and the aftermath of the collapse of the Celtic tiger which has left people adrift and vulnerable.

Although this is the third in a series, I feel that you could start with this one and read the others later although I would recommend reading them in order (LITTLE GIRL LOST, HURT, PRESERVE THE DEAD) to see how Lucy develops as an officer and how her complex private life has evolved.

PRESERVE THE DEAD is a fast page-turner or clicker (like Brain McGilloways other series featuring Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin and set the other side of the border in Donegal for the most part) and I look forward to seeing the next one.

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2015 reading challenges Agatha Christie Blast from the Past Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Agatha Christie – Death in the Clouds (1935)

Cover of Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)
Cover of Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)

Hercule Poirot is a passenger on board a flight from Paris to Croydon (which was the main London airport at that time). Sometime before landing, one of the passengers is found dead – it is Madame Giselle who is a wealthy French moneylender; initially the cause of death is said to be a reaction to a wasp sting but Poirot spots the true cause of death: a poison-tipped dart which has been apparently fired from a blowgun. The case then becomes one of murder.

It is a classic locked room mystery with a murder being committed in a space occupied by thirteen people with no-one witnessing the crime and all of them conceivably could have a motive for the death. The joy is in the puzzle and trying to solve it before Poirot the first time you read it and enjoying the journey thereafter.

This is another of my favourite Agatha Christie novels and edges out other Agatha Christie  contenders Murder on the Orient Express and The Mystery of the Blue Train as my L6 entry (“Read One Book that involves a mode of transportation”) on the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Age Card because of the Tom Adams cover of the Fontana paperback version that I read when I was young (which is the image at the top of the page) – this is just a gorgeous piece of art; my absolute favourite Tom Adams cover is that for The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (below) which is inspired by John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window] (further below).

Cover of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)
Cover of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie (painted by Tom Adams)

John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window]
John William Waterhouses 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot from the Window]
2 good books on Tom Adams’ work in general (and the Agatha Christie covers he has painted in particular) are

  • “Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond” by Tom Adams & John Curran, 2015
  • “Agatha Christie: The Art of Her Crimes” by Tom Adams & Julian Symons, 1981

 

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2015 reading challenges Crime Fiction Margery Allingham Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Margery Allingham – The Case of the Late Pig (1937)

Cover for The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham, Penguin 1956 edition
Cover for The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham, Penguin 1956 edition

This is the 9th novel featuring the mysterious Albert Campion

Lugg is reading the obituaries from the Times aloud to Campion one morning and comes across one for an old school nemesis of Campion – R.I. “Pig” Peters who has died aged 37. In the morning post that day Campion had received an anonymous letter inviting him to the funeral which has a curious reference to Moles (“Why should the mole move backwards? — it is not yet eleven.“). Campion attends the funeral where he meets Kingston, a bored local doctor who had looked after Peters in his dying days, and an old school chum Gilbert Whippet who also received an anonymous letter with the obscure references to moles.

Five months later in June, Campion receives a panicked phone call from a friend saying something about a murder. He drives down to the friend’s home where her father reveals the most assuredly dead body of R.I. “Pig” Peters, his head having been caved in no more than 12 hours earlier.

A second funeral follows attended by some of the visitors from Peters’ first funeral and some not-so-grieving acquaintances of the late Pig. A little English village is now becoming very crowded indeed.

Thus begins Campion’s search, leading to a missing body, a grisly scarecrow and one too many beers for Lugg before he discovers the madman that planned more than a few murders.

 

I came to Margery Allingham relatively late in life having read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen in my teens (and before – I do have a school report from when I was aged 11 chastising my parents for letting me read “age-inappropriate literature” such as Christie & Doyle) and Dorothy L Sayers in my twenties. I read my first Margery Allingham in my 40s after re-watching the Peter Davison Campion series when it was released on DVD.

This is a very short novel (technically a novella as it is just under 40000 words) and is very fast moving as a consequence with subplots that efficiently establish character and add a touch of levity to the proceedings without interrupting the emphasis of the novel.

It is unusual in that it is the only story told from Campion’s own point of view.

In my opinion, Allingham does tend to vary a lot in her work (in style and readability – I personally just cannot get into Tiger in the Smoke which many people say is her best) and I think that this is a good starting point for Allingham & Campion as it is a fairly traditional fairplay mystery with no rug-pulling twists and you can work out the perpetrator, method and motive from the evidence that is presented.

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2015 reading challenges Agatha Christie Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (aka The Alphabet Murders) (1936)

Cover of Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (1936)
Cover of Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (1936)

This novel was chosen as my L2 entry (“One Book that has been made into a Movie or TV Show”) on the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Age Card for 3 reasons – it is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, it has an unusual narrative structure and it is has been dramatised in some interesting & different ways.

The novel follows the murders of the title and their investigation as seen by Hastings, Poirot’s old friend. Before each murder, Poirot receives typed letters signed by A.B.C. giving the date and location of the next murder which move alphabetically – Alice Ascher is a tobacco shop owner who is killed in her shop in Andover, Betty Barnard is a flirty waitress killed in Bexhill and Sir Carmichael Clarke is a wealthy man killed at his home in Churston. With each victim is left a copy of an ABC railway guide.

The unusual structure is that each chapter is narrated by Hastings followed by a description of events in the life of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a travelling salesman who received a head injury in the Great War and is subject to memory blackouts and constant headaches. This third-person narrative is supposedly reconstructed by the first-person narrator, Hastings continuing Christie’s commitment to experimenting with points of view as seen most famously in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

I like the ABC Murders because it is a chase novel with multiple mysteries – Is Cust ABC? Does he know if he is ABC? If he isn’t then who is? Why are the murders occurring? Can Poirot prevent a murder and break the sequence?

 

There are 3 contrasting TV/Movie adaptations that spring to mind

Lobby Card for The Alphabet Murders (1965)
Lobby Card for The Alphabet Murders (1965)

There is the 1965 film The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot which does emphasise comedy (and has a rather buffoonish Poirot) but I still quite like it as a film although Agatha Christie had some major issues with the script which is why Zero Mostel dropped out (for scheduling reasons) and was replaced by Tony Randall.

Video Cover for the ABC Murders (1992)
Video Cover for the ABC Murders (1992)

There is the 1992 TV version with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot which is much more faithful to the novel albeit with some minor changes and characters omitted mainly to fit in the time constraint of the broadcast slot available.

Still from Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie - Les meurtres ABC (2009)
Still from Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie – Les meurtres ABC (2009)

Finally, there is the 2009 version in the French TV series Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie entitled Les meurtres ABC which takes some very substantial liberties with the concept of Poirot (slightly less so with the story) and is also fairly comedic – it is Agatha Christie but not as we usually know it; this is one episode of the series that is available with English subtitles on DVD. I personally have a soft spot for this series (especially the later ones with Inspector Swan & Alice Avril (a Journalist)) but it is not one for the purists.

 

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2015 reading challenges Blast from the Past Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Mark Bailey vintage mystery bingo gold

Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin (1950)

Cover of Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crsipin (1950)
Cover of Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crsipin (1950)

This is the 7th Gervase Fen novel by Edmund Crispin.

A young actress, Gloria Scott [1], drowns after throwing herself off Waterloo Bridge. The news sends shock-waves around the film studio at Long Fulton where Gervase Fen, Oxford Don and amateur criminologist, happens to be working as a consultant on a bio-pic of the life of Alexander Pope the poet ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pope ) . With help from his friend, Inspector Humbleby, this tragic loss of young life leads them to many more dark places – Ms. Scott’s room has been searched and all signs of her real identity have been removed. Mere minutes before Humbleby interrogates her co-workers, one of them, a lecherous cameraman, is poisoned and more deaths are to follow.

This novel is set in a world that Bruce Montgomery (the real person behind the nom de plume of Edmund Crispin) knew well as a professional composer most often of film music (see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0599736/ for a full list of the 32 films he worked on from 1949 to 1966 – 1961s Raising the Wind, a broad comedy, is an especially interesting film for fans of his novels as he wrote both the screenplay and the score for this film from the Carry On directing/producing team with a cast of classic British film comedy stars)

This does seem to be the Fen that people seem to be most divided over with some disliking it intensely – the usual criticisms are (1) the absence of the killer for most of the novel – he/she appears in person or by letter only at the beginning and end, (2) that Fen tends to stay in the background for much of the book and (3) the comedy is too much in the foreground.

Personally this is one of my favourite Fens precisely because of there is a more sophisticated level of humour than with some of the other Fen books mostly throughout (the start is a bit iffy from a humour perspective) and the fact that Fen has to act as an observer here because this is a world that is quite distinct from his usual intellectual milieu so we see what he sees. There are crimes but I am not sure it can really be classed as a pure mystery.

This is almost the end of the run of Fen novels in the 1940s and 1950s, The Long Divorce followed in 1952 along with some short short stories collected in Beware of the Trains (1953) and Fen Country (1979). One more novel appeared in 1977 – The Glimpses of the Moon – but Crispin/Montgomery turned to reviewing, editing anthologies (mostly of SF but there are 2 good Crime/Mystery anthologies) and writing Film Music (at least until the mid-1960s) – see David Whittles Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books for more details of his life.

 

I aim to complete my reviews of the set of Fen novels and short stories at some point in the future.

 

[1] Presumably the stage name of the actress is an homage to “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

 

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2015 reading challenges Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin (1948)

Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin
Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin

In the sleepy English village of Sanford Angelorum, professor and amateur detective Gervase Fen is taking a break from his books to run for Parliament. At first glance, the village he’s come to canvass appears perfectly peaceful, but Fen soon discovers that appearances can be deceptive: someone in the village has discovered a dark secret and is using it for blackmail. Anyone who comes close to uncovering the blackmailer’s identity is swiftly dispatched.

 

This is the 6th Gervase Fen mystery by Edmund Crispin – it is not the greatest whodunnit in the series but it has a great deal of humour most of which is derived not from the investigation but from the peculiarities of English village life that Fen meets in the course of his campaigning.

Not the best of Fen but still a very engaging read especially in a time of general election campaigning when faced with the absurdity and self-importance of politicians.