Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Title: Murder in Court Three by Ian Simpson
Publisher: Matador 179 pp
Genre: cozy, scottish, murder mystery,
4 stars
Since retiring from a law career in Scotland, Ian Simpson has been writing traditional police procedurals. As a judge in Scotland's High Court on murder trials, he is well qualified to write crime fiction, and obviously enjoys doing so. His descriptive writing style is entertaining and laced with humor. His characters  are well drawn and distinctive, so don't be worried when you see the daunting three page list. I reviewed the previous book Murder on the Second Tee and also recommended his first, Murder on Page One. His work was shortlisted for Debut Dagger. The intersecting lives of DI (ex) Osborne, DI Flick Fortune and Constable Bagawath (Baggo) Chandavarkar continue with interesting character development over these novels. Read in order if you can, and note that Kindle has the first two on sale $1.49!
Story Line:
As usual, the story is told from several points of view as we progress with the various leads and intersecting cases.  A high profile real estate fraud trial, with 4.5 million pound sterling missing and a non existent golf course, now in its fourth week, should be wrapping up. DI Fortune is the senior investigating officer, and has only two weeks left before maternity leave will change her life. But the body of one Farquhar Knox QC complicates the proceedings.
Baggo remains ambitious, DI(ex) No remains politically incorrect, although improving slightly, realistically, and Flick and her husband DI Fergus Maxwell, shine. And the dialogue and locale gave me a quick trip to Edinburgh. Simpson writes a clever page-turner on legal matters in Scotland. This was a fast, delightful read, perfect for summer days and armchair travel. I shall look forward to more (this series or new) by this author.
Read On:
If you like Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, John Buchan
For Scottish mysteries, AD Scott, Alexander McCall Smith (he recommends these mysteries, as do the local Scottish papers and law society) or Chris Brookmyre
...his own day of judgement has arrived.
It's the talk of the steamie, as we say.
(Flick as)... a rugby fan, this conversation made her feel like a full-back waiting to catch a high ball with the opposing scrum thundering towards her.
He had discovered that a shoulder of lamb, slowly roasted at a low heat, required the same cooking time as he took for a round of golf and a pint, so was perfect for a Sunday morning.
There were more than 400 people who, in theory, might have killed Knox.
I expected some cracking stories, true-life Rebus stuff you know...
You are in a very deep hole yet you continue to dig.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer vintage crime!

Note: The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year and 2016. They will be available in trade paperback and Ebook. Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen's collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences; there are over 700 titles. I am looking forward to the reissue of all the British Library Crime Classic novels. I read the following as an ARC from Netgalley, and wish to thank both publishers for bringing these works to light. Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: English mystery, cozy, mystery, British Library crime classics, 3 to 3.5 stars***
Title: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1936, 2015) 314pp
Author: Charles Kingston (O'Mahoney) wrote 25 mystery novels between 1921 and 1945: Stolen Virtue (1921), many London settings (Poison in Kensington [read Dorothy Sayers review!] and The Highgate Mystery) to his last book Fear Followed On (1945). His prose is sparse with quite dry (black) humour, which might not translate well to the American audience, or this era. But they are quite atmospheric and generally easy reads.
Story Line: This story introduced Chief Insp Wake, a rather grizzled, methodical, dour individual. There are seven in this series. The unsavory cast of English eccentrics made this difficult for me to appreciate as well as dated prose and London accents. This is a drawing room mystery exposing the seedy side of London (Soho nightclubs) with a jaundiced, cynical police force, "minor Bohemian" characters and an aristocratic bourgeois without principles. In the end I didn't have much sympathy for either the idle rich or the murdered miser. It was hard to like characters that Kingston describes in such unflattering terms, with vices/ human traits. The first half sets the stage/scene with character descriptions/details which provide motive. There are fantastic details of the era, with a nice twist in the mystery solution. This is an interesting, realistic/historical look at London of the 1930s.
Read on: A Scream in Soho by John G, Brandon (also recently republished) or The Piccadilly Murder by Anthony Berkeley (1929)
Quotes: ...falling is love is like falling downstairs- you don't mean to do either. It was the crime of the year, something peculiar to London. How often had Bobbie grumblingly adverted to the fact that everyday his uncle lived he, the misunderstood heir, lost a day's income. What's the use mother, when I'll have ten thousand a year when Massey dies of overeating? ...ears that resembled cauliflowers waiting their turn to be washed... "...polygamy on the installment plan..." (Married four times)

Monday, July 6, 2015

great summer reads!

Title:  The Sussex Down Murder by John Bude (1936, 2015) 4stars****
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
288 pp
Genre: English mysteries, cozy, British mystery, Poisoned Pen Press, traditional mystery, British Library, historical, John Bude
The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year (two per month, with one per month slated for 2016.) Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). They will be available in paperback and Ebook. Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books will feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen's collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences (there are over 700 titles).
The May selection for the Poisoned Pen Press was The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude who was the cofounder of the Crime Writers' Association. Ernest Elmore wrote 30 mysteries between 1935-1957 under the pseudonym of Bude, most featuring Inspector William Meredith (Sussex is the second in his respected series; the first was The Lake District Murder).  Meredith is modeled after Freeman Wills Croft's Inspector French (fortunately his books are also due to be reprinted!) Bude's accomplished writing style is detailed, informative and engaging. Locations are well researched and locals are accurately portrayed. This is classic England. Bude/Elmore was also a producer, director in theatre.  His early death cut short a promising writing career (routine operation).

Story Line:
Trouble is brewing between the two Rother brothers, farmers and lime kiln burners of Chalkland Farm. Foul play begins with a missing body, murder,  and mysterious figures in the village of Washington, Sussex. Superintendent Meredith (just promoted after his last case) struggles with the myriad clues, making painstakingly, painfully slow progress.   His in-depth discussions with his superior are engaging and provide the reader with both thought process and witness to events.
The Sussex Down landscape is a central character in this book and Bude provides glorious descriptions and minute detail in this readable, intricate puzzle. Much will be discussed and discarded as clues are found, deadends are sidestepped, red herrings are finally ignored, a mysterious man is uncloaked, timetables are created  and the relevant clues reveal the killer.
I can remember reading his books and enjoyed reacquainted with the characters. It felt quaint and old fashioned (very little in the way of female input); I recognized the outcome and still enjoyed the read.  These are early police procedurals, no DNA, but fingerprints and hard work over the two month investigation.  This had a satisfying real life feel complete with humour and local insights which will have you looking for more of his stories as the characters develop.
This is a perfect beach read, rainy day read or anytime for PBS fans. I purchased my own copy, partly because I just loved the cover. Isn't it East Sussex?

Read On:
If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, these between the war novels will be especially enjoyed.
If you are a fan of the classical whodunnit, read on! As well as anyone interested in English history/ local culture.
If you like Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon(Insp Maigret) or WJ Burley(Wycliffe).
Don't forget to follow the rest of these reprints as they are released.

Opening scene: Dominating that part of the Sussex Downs with which this story is concerned is Chanctonbury Ring. This oval cap of gigantic beeches may be seen, on fine days, from almost any point in the little parish of Washington. It is a typical village of two streets, two pubs, a couple of chandlers, a forge, an Olde Tea Shoppe, and a bus service.
Don't do a beggar no 'arm in 'ere to do a bit o' skypiloting on 'is own account (reading the Bible in jail).
There's nothing queerer than reality. Your one trouble will be to make your readers believe in your yarn.
Witnesses are an unreliable race. They're like some cricket teams- all right on paper!

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Enchanting Summer Read

Enchanting Summer Read
Take advantage of extra daylight hours to read longer
Title:  Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
449 pp
Genre: YA, Science fantasy, fantasy
4.5 stars****
Naomi Novik is an award winning author of the acclaimed series His Majesty's Dragons (think Napoleonic wars with an air force of dragons). She has an English Literature degree from Brown University as well as a Computer Science degree from Columbia. I find her to be a master storyteller, creating original tales with beautiful, atmospheric, evocative writing. I have read all her books, awaiting them eagerly. (I'm still waiting for Peter Jackson to film Temeraire!)  I loved that Rachel Hartman (Shadow Scale) rated it 5 stars in her ARC.
Story Line:
The heroine/ narrator is Agniezska, a peasant girl from the small Eastern European  village of Dvernik. This town is at the edge of the Woods, where evil lurks, and is only kept at bay by a Wizard. Her best friend was always the expected sacrifice: every ten years he selects a girl of 17 who will stay with him for 10 years. But this time, it is obvious to the Dragon (as the Wiz is known, also Sarkan) that Agnes (as I thought her, Nieshka is also used) has magic and must be trained. Only it's magic he doesn't understand. I loved that her magic was so different from his, and not learned in a book. That while she is young (he's  a youthful 150), she is capable and adaptable. Agniezska struggles to learn and can't find her answers in his masculine magic. But she understands friendship and loyalty and right/good and finds answers within herself.
She may become the most powerful witch in history. And that promise requires another book!
This is an intricate, layered story of friendship, politics, romance and magic. It is much more like the original Grimm's fairy tales and less like the sanitized Disney versions. It has a strong female lead and original storyline suitable for older teens. I enjoyed the story where the right thing was done, for the right reasons. It also has quite a strong  environmental message. I thought it ironic that Agnes's father was a woodcutter especially as we untangle the Woods' story.  She saves the people by saving the Wood, which provides life/fruit/biodiversity. Novik based some of the story on Polish fairytale of the witch Baba Yaga, itself worth a read.
While this is a stand alone novel, complete in itself, the ending felt rushed and left me hopeful that she would revisit these characters. The epilogue isn't enough. The world building and character development begs another tale.
This fascinating story is part fantasy, part fairytale and all magic.
Uprooted has been already film optioned by Warner Bros.
Read On:
Appropriate for older teens, with complex plot, characters and evil.
For YA tales: Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Diana Wynne Jones,
For adult fairytale twists: Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman
For Wood tales: Mythago Wood series by Robert Holdstock
Opening line: Our dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes...
No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves.
Don't waste my time you outrageous idiot.
You're proving to be a remarkable paragon of incompetence.
He looked grander than the King's ballroom, and perfectly improbable.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley
The Rochester Library has both hardcover and Ebook copies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Warm summer reading

Title:  Forests in Our Changing World by Joseph J Landsberg, Richard H Waring
(New Principles for Conservation and Management)
Publisher: Island Press (2014)
304 pp
Genre: climate change, global warming, forests, trees, ecology, forest ecology, biodiversity
4 stars****
Authors: Landsberg and Waring are eminently respected forest scientists who have worked in the field for decades. Between them, they have a vast understanding and experience in of global forests.
Richard Waring is a Distinguished Prof of Forest Science (Emeritus) at OSU (Corvallis)[studied at UMinn, Phd UC Berkley] forest monitoring, modeling with NASA
Joe Landsberg (PhD U Bristol, UK) past Chief of Div Forest Research of Australia (CSIRO) and Terrestrial Ecology Program NASA
Story Line:
Climate change is upon us with serious implications for global biodiversity. This book provides a clear overview of forests around the world, describing basic concepts of forest ecology and tree physiology. This is not a textbook  but a highly readable text. Seven chapters outline 1) Forests in human history 2) World forests, 3) Weather and climate 4) Causes and consequences 5) Value and use of forests 6) Economics, management and money and 7) future possibilities. The last is perhaps the most important chapter.  They combine history, science, management and constructive thought to illustrate the importance of forests and their management. Clear diagrams illustrate general principles. The protection and management of our forest resources, global habitats, has never been more important.
There is an excellent glossary of terms, with accurate definitions.
Read On:
Limited bibliography, surprisingly (perhaps to save paper).
This will be useful primer for undergraduates, managers, governmental policy makers and environmental organizations. This publication should reach a wider audience which should improve public knowledge and gain support for policy makers and managers. I remain a fan of Island Press publications for their commitment to accessible information.
Peter Spathelf (Ed.) Sustainable Forest Management in a Changing World: A European Perspective (2009, Springer Verlag)
Mark Ashton, M.L. Tyrell, D Spaulding, B Gentry. 2012. Managing Forest Carbon in a Changing Environment.
Closing line: Humans can no longer afford to treat the world's forests as expendable.
A footnote was most informative: People everywhere expect that their standard of living will increase continuously.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley