Friday, 21 July 2017

Death Makes a Prophet - John Bude

Very happy to reacquaint myself with Inspector Meredith again although I had to wait until a good half way through the book to do so! Bude’s crime novels always make me think faintly of Enid Blyton for grown ups. It’s almost as if this is what the Famous Five and the Secret Seven might be doing if we had followed them, Harry Potter style, into adulthood. 

I think it is important to remain mindful of the fact that these stories were originally written and published in the 1940/50’s. From an historical perspective one can marvel at the challenges that policing at that time demanded. Little in the way of forensics and certainly no digital tools. It’s all painstaking headwork and deduction. Makes for fascinating reading though!

However Bude’s books never seem to be just about the crimes. In this recent reissue from the British Library Crime Classics series the title alone should give a hint of what is to come! The first half of the book is a tongue in cheek indictment of what might be called New Age living although I don’t think the term had been coined at the time of Bude’s writing. It’s affectionately farcical with no real unkindness intended I don’t think. 

The characters are caricatures, exaggerations of personality types, people we’ve all come across in our lives at some point, (well maybe NOT the criminals and murderers!), who have their parts to play in the unfolding tragicomedy. And there are a lot of them! Many are stereotypical and functional, the gardener who spots the shadowy figure from his window. But the key players leap out of the page at you from their myriad walks of life and insist you engage with them.

Bude maintains a meticulous approach to plotting that almost takes your breath away! The attention to detail is impeccable. The ability of Meredith to arrive at the final denouement is almost a work of art! 

Does the book have something to say about religious cults? Perhaps not intentionally but I think it does have something to say about the people who might be recruited. 

Ultimately it isn’t a book to be taken seriously in most respects. It is book to be enjoyed. It’s an entertaining read that revels in its genre and should bring a smile to your face.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Soldier's Curse - Meg and Tom Keneally

It works for P.J Tracy and for Nicci French so why shouldn’t it work for Meg and……. Tom Keneally!?
I did a double take, I really did, when I heard of this partnership. Possibly because I revere Tom Keneally. Schindler’s Ark had me visiting Krakow at the first opportunity to find Oskar Schindler’s factory!! However, practically, I doubt this book will see me jetting it to the Antipodes to find the site of the Port Macquarie penal colony. And not because I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did, I thought it was marvellous. 

I watched the BBC 2 drama series Banished, aired in 2015, which is set in an earlier period than this book but afforded me a strong visual connection with many of the incidents detailed in this novel. It also served to reinforce the accurate historical research that gives this story so much of its richness.

As well as being an historical novel it is also an intelligent and engrossing crime story. The first in the series the main protagonist is Hugh Monsarrat, erstwhile forger and fraudster, elevated to clerical work for the commander of the penal settlement. My research shows that the second book is already available in Australia and that an entire series is planned for Monsarrat. That’s all good news as far as I’m concerned. 

Initially I found I had to reread the first few pages and I feared this book would be an arduous read! But it was a merely a case of adjusting to the style of writing which having done so was wonderful. Set in 1825 the narrative is written in the vernacular of the time so effectively you almost find yourself thinking and speaking in the same way. It’s one thing to use extensive historical research effectively in a novel, factually,  but to capture the etymology of the time is skill indeed. 

The narrative is tight and the plot well constructed and accessible. It is the proving of the crime rather than the solving of it that becomes key in the latter stages of the book. But the reader is subtly allowed to accompany the characters as the fiction progresses rather than remain as bibliophilic bystanders. It was refreshing to be so involved in a story so far removed from contemporary life. 

The characters are substantially drawn and you warm or shrink from them as each deserves. I love it when ‘bit part’ characters are imbued with as much life as the main characters. There is some brutality in the book and the characters respond appropriately but there is also some wit, humour and warmth.

This is a solid and intelligent read. It’s story telling mainly but the history is interesting and informative. There is a comprehensive Author’s Note at the end which clarifies several points of fiction versus history.

I was delighted to received this book from Real Readers but even more delighted to actually read it. I look forward to more in the series which I believe features not only Monsarrat but Mrs. Mulrooney too. Who’s she, you ask? Go and read the book!!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Dragonfly - Kate Dunn

This book has been shortlisted for the Virginia prize for fiction. It’s not an award I am familiar with but anything that manages to find its way onto a shortlist has got to be good, hasn’t it?

Also I have no idea what kind of karmic forces are at play here but I find that i, invariably, greatly enjoy books written by anyone with the name ‘Kate’ ! What’s that all about?

Even so, you know sometimes you pick up a book, glance at the cover, read the blurb and have no real expectations. You start reading. continue to be underwhelmed and then something changes, quite subtly. And what you thought was yet another ‘father wants to help estranged son on a murder charge by taking the granddaughter he’s never met on a boat trip through the waterways of France’ type story is elevated. 

I think that when you read a lot of books it becomes harder to find true originality and this book seemed full of situations and circumstances I felt I’d read before. Chocolat was frequently brought to mind. The storyline follows a parallel path with Colin and his granddaughter, Delphine, on the beautifully named boat, The Dragonfly and Colin’s son, Michael, in remand on a murder charge. The two work well and prevent the story from becoming one dimensional.

This is not a tale overpopulated with functional characters. These are ordinary people dealing with extra ordinary circumstances as best they can. They are well developed and believable in their deeds and emotions. The narrative is written from Colin’s perspective in the main but it never becomes one sided. What impressed me was the writer’s perception and understanding of the behaviours and emotions of a child struggling with an unenviable burden. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion. And its a rare book that does that to me.

It’s an undemanding read on most levels with a satisfactory conclusion, perfect to take away on a summer holiday, especially France! It’s not as superficial as chick lit, it has more depth but I guess if you want to categorise it it is a love story, a story about developing relationships on many levels but a love story with some substance. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Calling Down the Storm - Peter Murphy

Some years ago I read a Peter Murphy book, Test of Resolve which I liked very much. I was delighted to revisit his work with this latest fiction, a court room procedural, the fifth novel featuring lawyer Ben Schroeder. This is the first in the series that I have read but it was perfectly accessible as a stand alone story.

The book deals with a murder case and subsequent trial with a sub story featuring the presiding judge that ultimately turns out to have a tenuous link to the case.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I marvelled at the legal process and the protocols that the legal profession follow to reach what is, hopefully, justice.

For me, the main character in this book is not, as you might expect, the lawyers, solicitors, judges, defendants, accused, no, it was the actual CASE itself! Everyone else were accessories, characters there with their parts to play in the tale and the legal proceedings. So it was hard, unnecessary even, to engage with many of the characters. Few had any endearing qualities and seemed two dimensional.

I fervently hope that this was the intention of the writer. If so, it was cleverly done, allowing the case to dominate and urging the reader to seek for the truth and for justice and concerning themselves wholly, with the ultimate verdict. If this was not the intention then all I have written about the characters may be interpreted as criticism. So be it!

Arguably the sub plot concerning the judge was more character driven but, even so, the characters did not invite us to engage with or even like them. They remained functional rather than personable.

The plot was tight, well constructed and well researched in all aspects not just the dominant legal ones. The writing is competent and confident.

The conclusion was enigmatic and slightly anti climactic after the urgent need for the reader to know the verdict.

But, is this is a good book? Not for me to judge (pun absolutely intended!). How about you read it ?