Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell

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<p>Put On By Cunning </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning, aka in America as Death Notes is another book off my to-be-read shelves, an enjoyable read. It was first published in 1981.

The epigraph indicates just what is to follow:

So shall you hear …
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause;
Fall’n on th’inventors’ heads – all this can I
Truly deliver.

Hamlet

It is a tale of great complexity, a tale of murder and conspiracy to murder. A wealthy old man, Sir Manuel Camargue, one of greatest flautists of his time is found dead. Ankle deap in snow he had lost his footing in the dark and slipped into an icy lake and became trapped. His heiress, his daughter Natalie, had only recently been reunited with him after an absence of nineteen years. Although it seems a straight forward death, Camargue’s much younger fiancée, puts doubts in Chief Inspector Wexford’s mind when she tells him that Camargue had said that the woman who presented herself as Natalie was an imposter.

As is Wexford’s way he becomes obsessed with finding the truth and wonders if Camargue’s death was actually murder, despite the Chief Constable’s insistence that he forgets about it as the evidence all points to his death being an accident. Indeed, the verdict of the inquest is ‘Misadventure’. Wexford, however, is persistent in his doubts and convinced Natalie is an imposter, he is determined to investigate, which leads him to both California and France.

There is much I enjoyed in this, the eleventh Wexford book. It begins well, Ruth Rendell sets an excellent scene, and I could easily visualise the locations and characters, with beautiful descriptive passages. Inevitably, as both Wexford and Inspector Burden, begin to unravel the mystery more and more characters are implicated, until it really does seem a complex case becoming even more complicated, with too many coincidences and characters.

I thought that Wexford was keeping far too much to himself – leaving both Burden and me too much in the dark. The ending came as somewhat of an anti-climax as Wexford explained what had really happened and revealed all the false leads. Still, it kept me guessing to the end and I wondered (as I often do) just what clues I had missed along the way.

And now I’m wondering if I could attempt a ‘Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine Reading Challenge’, along the lines of the ‘Agatha  Christie Reading Challenge’, ie to read all her books. I’ve read several already.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Library Loot

I’ve picked up several books from the library recently (both from the mobile library van and from my local branch library) and here is a selection that I’m looking forward to reading.

Lib bks Aug 14 From top to bottom they are:

  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. I’ve had this book on my wishlist since I read about it on Barbara’s blog, Views from the Countryside, so I was really pleased to see this on the library shelves. It’s a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson (who liked to be called Louis) and his American wife Fanny. Barbara thought it was wonderful and recommended it highly.
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I chose this book because I think I’ve seen it mentioned on a few book blogs – and it has the same title as the Edgar Allen Poe story. It’s a novel about a heart transplant and I thought it would be interesting to compare it to Hazel McHaffie’s book, Over My Dead Body, also a novel about organ transplants, which I read last October.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (a new-to-me author) – this book and the one below are both on the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize this year. Rosemary had a sister and a brother, but now she’s an only child. They’ve vanished from her life and she doesn’t know why.
  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – when I saw this was on the Longlist I immediately wanted to read it because I’ve read other books by her and loved them. This one is about an artist whose work had been ignored and is described as an ‘intricately conceived diabolical puzzle’.
  • Entry Island by Peter May. I’ve borrowed this book because I loved May’s Lewis Trilogy and I want to try some of his other books. This is a standalone crime novel about the murder of a wealthy man on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate the murder but what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim’s wife, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.
Posted in Books, Fiction, Library Loot | 6 Comments

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

17742272I had little idea what to expect from Martha Ockley’s first Faith Morgan mysteryThe Reluctant Detective as I hadn’t come across the author before and all I had to go on was the description on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers page last month:

‘Former cop Faith Morgan may have quit the world of crime, but crime has not let her go. Now a priest in the Church of England, she is assigned to the improbably named village of Little Worthy, and within an hour of her arrival she witnesses the sudden, shocking death of a fellow priest. To her distress, the detective assigned to the case is Ben, her former partner and former boyfriend.

As she meets her parishioners she learns some surprising details about her apparently well-loved predecessor, and starts to suspect a motive for his death. The cop may have donned a clerical collar, but the questions keep coming. How will she reconcile her present calling with her past instincts? Is she in danger herself? What should she do about Ben?’

I thought a detective who  was a priest and who used to be a policewoman sounded interesting. So, I am very pleased that The Reluctant Detective turned out to be a good read. Faith Morgan is a well-rounded character; she’s very likeable, observant, compassionate and the sort of person that people feel comfortable talking to – a bit like a young Miss Marple. Indeed, the book has an Agatha Christie feel to it – set in an apparently idyllic country village, with interesting and somewhat quirky characters and although there is one rather gruesome death, it’s not a gory thriller. In short it’s the type of murder mystery that I like, with plenty of complications that kept me guessing about the identity of the murderer for most of the book.

The church and village location are convincing. The parish church of St John is an old building dating from Saxon times, with a tower and church bells, set in the English countryside:

Faith avoided the main approach and followed a gravel path around the back of the church. A creamy cloud of ivory clematis cascaded over a grey stone wall. Beyond a solitary pony raised its chestnut head to gaze mournfully at her from a field of weeds. Some way off squatted a group of ramshackle farm buildings. (page 9)

Faith’s ex – Detective Inspector Ben Shorter, reluctantly allows Faith to contribute to the search for the murderer and the chemistry between the two of them is clearly evident even though he can’t understand why she left the police force for the church. Indeed, Faith herself wonders if she has done the right thing, cutting herself off from her old life and her old self as she realises that she likes investigating, and analyzing people, their expressions and body language and working out what makes them tick. But these are assets for a priest as well as for a police officer. And as for death:

It struck Faith how death is always startling, facing us with the greatest mystery: how the particular and the individual can vanish from this world so completely in a moment. (page 17)

The back cover reveals that Martha Ockley lives in the North East of England and has close links with the church, having grown up as the daughter of a minister. She is a full-time writer of both fiction and non-fiction. I was curious about Martha Ockley and wondered why she had given ‘special thanks to Rebecca Jenkins’ on the title page, so I searched online and discovered that ‘Martha Ockley’ is actually a pseudonym of Rebecca Jenkins, the daughter of the Rev David Jenkins, formerly the Bishop of Durham.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Lion Fiction/Kregel Publications for providing a copy for review. Based on my reading of The Reluctant Detective I shall certainly seek out more books by Martha Ockley/Rebecca Jenkins. There are two more Faith Morgan books:

  • The Advent of Murder
  • A Saintly Killing (to be published in October 2014)

And writing as Rebecca Jenkins:

The R F Jarrett books (the Regency Detective)

  • The Duke’s Agent (1997)
  • Death of a Radical (2010)

also Non Fiction:

  • Free to Believe (David Jenkins and Rebecca Jenkins (1991)
  • Fanny Kemble: a reluctant celebrity (2005)
  • The First London Olympics 1908 (2008)
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Cosy Mysteries, Crime Fiction, Early Reviewer, Fiction, LibraryThing, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Review Copy | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

All Change

I finished reading All Change, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s fifth book in her Cazalet Chronicles last night. I’d read the first four books years ago and loved them, so I was keen to read this last one. And it is the final volume of the Chronicles as Elizabeth Jane Howard died in January this year following the publication of All Change.

I’m not going to write very much about it because I read it straight through without marking any passages, or making any notes. I read for the pure pleasure of reading it, just as I had read the first four books, losing myself in the story of the Cazalet family. And it is a very large family by the time of this novel – 1956 – 1958. Some of the family are a bit blurry – the small children are a bit indistinguishable from each other, apart from Georgie, who loves animals and Laura who’s old before her time, both idiosyncratic little characters, and I did keep forgetting which children belonged to which parent and had to keep checking the family tree at the beginning of the book. But that is just a minor point.

It’s a lovely warm, old fashioned family saga, with both happy and sad events as the Cazalets move forward, and not successfully for all of them, in post-war England. It was a great treat! It’s made me want to re-read the early books and to read Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir.

I agree with Hilary Mantel’s quotation on the back cover:

Elizabeth Jane Howard is one of those novelists who shows, through her work, what the novel is for . . . She helps us to do the necessary thing – open our eyes and our hearts

The Cazalet Chronicles

1. The Light Years (1988)
2. Marking Time (1991)
3. Confusion (1993)
4. Casting Off (1995)
5. All Change (2013)

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Fiction | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Streets is Susan Hill’s fifth Simon Serrailler crime novel. I’ve read the earlier books which I enjoyed, although I found the fourth book, The Vows of Silence rather a gloomy book not just because of the murders but also because of the unhappy state of Simon and his family. So, I decided to wait a while before moving on to the fifth book. And I am now way behind in reading the series, which will reach book 8 in October!

Susan Hill’s Serrailler novels, whilst being crime fiction, concern moral and social issues. They also follow the lives of the Serrailler family, the main characters being Simon and his sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, which is why I think it’s best to read them in order. I noticed that in this book there are references to events and characters in the earlier books and I had to look back to refresh my memory. Without knowing what happened before those incidents would not have made much sense. The books are character-driven, concentrating on the people involved in the crime rather than the police investigations, although that of course is also part of the story.

There are two major themes in this book. One concerns the murders of local prostitutes, found strangled and Susan Hill draws a sympathetic, but never a condescending or judgemental view of these women’s lives, resulting in a moving storyline of a young woman, Abi who is a single mother. Alongside this is the problem of mental illness, with Ruth Webber, who suffers from manic depression. She is the wife of the new Dean of the Cathedral and arrives full of plans to change things, which causes problems. When she too goes missing there are fears she may become one of the murder victims.

I think of these novels more as psychological studies than crime fiction – the characters and their lives predominate, whilst the police make slow progress in finding the murderer (much like real life, maybe). Anyway it’s the characters and their problems that interested me more in this book than the police procedures.

The Shadows in the Street is a complex book, but it is immensely readable and once the mystery really got under way it’s tense and full of suspense. I really enjoyed it.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr is a book from my to-be-read piles. I bought it at a library sale a couple of years ago now, attracted by the title. I soon realised that it is not about Newton, the mathematician and physicist because the sub-title is : The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton. It is actually historical crime fiction, set in 1696 when Newton was the Warden of the Royal Mint at the Tower of London.

Christopher Ellis, the narrator of the book, is sent to the Tower to assist Newton to hunt down counterfeiters during the period of the Recoinage of the currency, when fake gold coins were being forged. This leads to the discovery in the Tower moat of the body of the former clerk of the Mint , followed by yet more murders. Newton at times seems remarkably like Sherlock Holmes in his powers of observation and deduction, as he and Ellis follow the trail of the murderers, involving tales of the missing treasure of the Knights Templars, (was the clue to its whereabouts in a book hidden in the Tower?), a difficult code to decipher, plots against Roman Catholics, astronomy and alchemy all thrown into the mix.

It’s very atmospheric, with shadowy London streets and back alleys; the Tower itself a centre of suspicion and intrigue. I liked the mix of fact and fiction. Titus Oates, Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe among others, make brief appearances, there’s the war with France and the mix of religion, science and politics that characterised the late 17th century. But I did find the characters, apart from Newton and Ellis confusing at times, having to backtrack a few times to sort them out. Newton himself is seen through Ellis’s eyes, a person who doesn’t like to speak  ‘anything that is extraneous to my business‘. But at times his sense of humour and wit, his dedication to his work, and his resolution of the science/faith conflict all come through.

I liked Dark Matter and reading it has certainly made me interested to know more about Newton, in particular about his religious beliefs. Although I’m happy to read this as fiction I wonder just how much is based on fact? In his Author’s Note, Philip Kerr explains that much is known about Newton’s work at the Royal Mint and that Christopher Ellis was in fact his assistant, following the mysterious disappearance of the previous clerk. As for his religious beliefs, Kerr writes:

Newton’s interest in alchemy, as well as his dissenting, not to say blasphemous, Arian view, which made him violently opposed to the ruling Trinitarian religious orthodoxy of the day, is also accurate. And anyone wishing to know more should read Richard Westfall’s magisterial biography of Newton, as I have done. But any mistakes in the novel are my own. (page 345)

And I also want to know did he really have a cat, and if so did he call it Melchior?

Although I didn’t read it just to fit in with several reading challenges I’ve joined, it is ideal for several and I’ve indicated those challenges in the Categories listed below this post.

Philip Kerr, is a Scot, born in Edinburgh. ‘He is the author of more than 20 books, including seven Bernie Gunther novels, several standalone thrillers, and six books in the young-adult series Children of the Lamp under the pen name of P.B. Kerr.

In 2009, he won the British Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Fiction Award and Spain’s RBA International Prize for Crime Writing for his Bernie Gunther series. A former advertising copywriter who released his first book in 1989 and in 1993 was named one of Granta magazine’s Best Young British Novelists, he now divides his time between London and Cornwall.’ (copied from his website)

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Historical Fiction Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Classics Club Spin Result …

The Classics ClubYesterday the Classics Club announced the result of the latest spin – list 20 books from your Classics Club list and the number picked in the spin is the book you read by 6th October 2014.

The number that came out is Number 17 - which for me is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: 

Gulliver P1000100

This is one of those books that I’ve known of since childhood and have known bits of the story, but have never read. I did see a TV cartoon version several years ago and I’ve been meaning to read it for years. It’s a book, which operates on several levels, as the Introduction in my copy (an Odhams Press Limited publication) indicates:

An embittered, middle-aged man sat down to write a book that would scourge the vices and follies of mankind. That book, with its sting mellowed during the passage of two hundred years, has become – of all things – a children’s classic. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was the splenetic outburst of a passionate mind, whose genius gave immortality to so transient a thing as satire; but that immortality had a permanent basis – a child-like delight in marvels, a freshness of invention, a limpid style and a selective perception that created images of giants, dwarfs and fabled races with a vivid pulsating life of their own.

I’m looking forward to reading it at last.

Posted in Books, Classics, Fantasy, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, The Classics Club | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Read Scotland 2014 Challenge: two books

I’ve got a bit behind with writing reviews, so here are some notes on two books I’ve recently read, both of which fit into the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge.

It’s common knowledge now that Robert Galbraith is J K Rowling’s pseudonym. I wish I’d read The Cuckoo’s Calling without knowing that, as although I have no problem with authors writing under pseudonyms, I found myself thinking how like the Harry Potter books it is in some ways and I doubt I’d have thought that if I’d read it ‘blind’.

Anyway, I liked The Cuckoo’s Calling. It is crime fiction, set in the world of Cormoran Strike (a Harry Potterish name, I thought), an ex-army private detective, who is struggling to get clients and pay his bills, sleeping on a camp bed in his office. Along comes Robin Ellacott, from the Temporary Solutions Agency to help out (think, Hermione Granger). She’s intelligent, efficient, remarkably resourceful, and she soon has Strike organised, which is essential as he is asked by John Bristow, a lawyer and the brother of a childhood friend to investigate the death of his sister, Lula Landry. The police are satisfied that Lula, a model, had committed suicide, but Bristow is certain that she didn’t.

What follows is at times a leisurely narrative and the plot is quite complex, but not too difficult to work out. The characters are convincing, Robin in particular soon became my favourite. She has an enquiring mind, ‘fascinated by the interior workings of other people’s minds‘ and despite her fiancé’s opposition to her job, she carries on, motivated by her fascination with investigating, and her secret ambition to be a private detective. In fact without Robin, Strike would have really struggled to get to the truth.

I’ve counted this book towards the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge because J K Rowling, although she was born in England has lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plans to spend the rest of her life in Scotland. Whereas the author of the next book, Muriel Spark is an author who was born and grew up in Edinburgh, but who later lived in London. To qualify for this challenge books have to be by Scottish authors, either by birth or immigration, or about or set in Scotland – quite a wide brief!

brodie001The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is perhaps Muriel Spark’s most famous novel. I’ve read it before and seen the film, with Maggie Smith in the title role. Each time I’ve read it I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s one of those books that isn’t spoilt by knowing what happens, because part of the pleasure of reading it is the fact that I do know who betrayed Miss Brodie. Despite her declaration: ‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she will be mine for life‘, it is one of the ‘Brodie set’ who causes her downfall, that and her pride and self-absorption.

But what really impresses me about this book is the writing, so compact, so perceptive and so in control of the shifts in time backwards and forwards. It’s a joy to read. I’ve written more about it in this post.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Classics, Crime Fiction, Fiction, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Birthday Time!

It was my birthday a few days ago. We were away; we went to Kentallen, which is near Glencoe, on the side of Loch Linnhe in the Scottish Highlands. This is the view of Loch Linnhe and the Morvern Mountains from our bedroom:

Loch Linnhe

 I’ll post more photos later on!

These are my birthday books, taken with my birthday camera:

Birthday Bks 2014All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard is the fifth and final book in the Cazalet Chronicles, an old fashioned family saga. I loved the first four books, which I read years ago. This one begins with a reminder of where the last book ended and what has happened to the family members since the summer of 1945. It’s now 1956 and the world is changing.

A Month in the Country by J L Carr – I’ve been wanting to read this for some time. It’s a short book about the idyllic summer of 1920 when Tom Birkin uncovers a huge medieval wall-painting in a village church.

The next two books in the pile are both set in Scotland, Turn of the Tide, historical fiction set in the 16th century by Margaret Skea, who lives in the Scottish Borders and Murder in the Glen by Hamish MacInnes, a Scottish mountaineer, known as the ‘Fox of Glencoe’,  who for many years led the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team.

I’ll be writing more about these books later on.

The other two books are beautiful little books about painting in watercolours and pastels to create pictures in 30 minutes – I hope these will improve my paintings and if they do I might post a photo or two!!

Posted in Books, Personal | 13 Comments

It’s Spin Time!

The Classics Club Spin, that is. I don’t mind which book comes up in the Spin as they are all books I’d like to read. I quite fancy reading one of Dickens’ books this summer and can’t decide which one! And that is why I’ve included five of his books in the list.

Here are the rules:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.The Classics Club
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* Next Monday (August 11th) the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by October 6th.

Here’s my list:

  1. Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon by Jane Austen - her first full-length novel
  2. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore
  3. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen – I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I saw the film, which is only loosely based on the book.
  4. No Name by Wilkie Collins – because I liked The Moonstone and The Woman in White
  5. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  6. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  7. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  8. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  9. Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  10. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford – I liked the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch so much, I hope I like the book!
  11. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E M Forster
  12. The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
  13. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  14. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  15. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  16. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
  17. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  18. Barchester Towers (Barsetshire Chronicles, #2) by Anthony Trollope
  19. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  20. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf – her first novel
Posted in Books, Classics, Fiction, The Classics Club | Tagged | 14 Comments