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Top mysteries challenge review: The Journeying Boy by Michael Innes

Michael Innes is best known for his Appleby series, but this is a non-series book, albeit one that takes place in the same world. Appleby is even mentioned once in the book, and it is stated that he is no longer with the police. The detective in the story is one of his successors at the Yard.

Year of publication: 1949
Genre: Mystery, thriller
Type of mystery: Kidnapping plot, murder
Type of investigator: Police, special agent and amateur
Setting & time: England and Ireland, contemporary (to publication)

Story:
Respectable, elderly private tutor Richard Thewless is hired to accompany the 15 year old son of Britain’s most respected nuclear physicist on a summer visit to relatives in Ireland, when the first choice for a tutor cancels his appointment unexpectedly. Only he didn’t really cancel, he was murdered (unknowingly to the boy and his father), and Detective-Inspector Thomas Cadover wants to know why. The boy, Humphrey Paxton, seems to be both nervous and given to telling stories, so it…

Review: A Nasty Bit of Murder by C.F. Roe (mystery)

Alternative English title:The Lumsden Baby
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 1990
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Dr. Jean Montrose
Type of investigator: Amateur (G.P.)
Setting & time:

Story:
General practitioner Dr. Jean Montrose arrives at the Lumsden house just in time to meet a distraught Mrs. Lumsden, whose baby son lies dead in his crib with his head bashed in. As trouble brews in the Montrose family and evidence and suspects pile up in the Lumsden case, it is up to Dr. Montrose to put the police straight as to the motive and the killer when they are led astray by evidence that seems to be trial proof but isn’t, and to try to keep her family together.

Review:
Few things in straight mysteries sicken me more than the murders of babies and young children. I think it’s because it feels like the writer is going against the rules by killing off someone who is basically an unwritten page, defenseless, totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and whose only offense is being an obstacle to so…

Top mysteries challenge review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Year of publication: 1956
Crime sub-genre: Police procedural, mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police detectives
Setting & time: New York city, USA, 1950s

Story:
When a police detective is murdered, execution style, on his way to work, both the murder department and the detectives of the 87th Precinct are galvanized into action. When a second and then a third detective is killed, it becomes clear that someone who really, really hates police detectives is out there, murdering them at random. Or is he? Detective Steve Carella is not so sure.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing as a reporter starts annoying both police and members of a street gang he suspects of being behind the killings, and the killer decides to pay a call on Carella’s girlfriend.

Review:
Apart from the characterisations of women based on their breast size, I like this book. The narrative is taut and fast paced, the twists are well done and the male characters, especially the likable and smart Steve Carella,…

Review of The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

Genre: Historical mystery thriller
Year of publication: 2006
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Yashim Togalu
Type of investigator: Private investigator
Setting & time: Istanbul, Turkey, 1830s

Story:
Yashim Togulu, the 19th century equivalent of a modern private investigator/spy, is approached by the head of the Turkish Sultan’s new modernised army in Istanbul and asked to investigate the kidnapping of four young officers and the murder of one of them, presumably by men belonging to what remains of the old army, the dreaded Janissaries. They had been forcibly disbanded 10 years earlier, but now seem to be planning a coup. At the same time the Validé, the Sultan’s mother, summons Yashim and asks him to find out who stole her jewels and murdered a young concubine in the harem.
What follows is a thriller full of mysterious happenings, gruesome deaths, fire, chases and several near-death experiences for Yashim.

Review:
This is a well-written and -plotted mystery thriller, with interesting twi…

Review of Crime Beat: True stories of cops and killers by Michael Connelly

Year published: 2004
Genre: True crime, newspaper articles

This is a collection of articles Michael Connelly wrote before he became famous for his Harry Bosch mysteries. He began his writing carreer as a crime reporter, first in Florida and then in Los Angeles. The articles cover mostly murders that were considered newsworthy at the time, both locally and nationally.

The writing is typical unremarkable and rather dry newspaper reportage and it is obvious that the book is published to squeeze a little extra money out of hardcore Connelly fans. I would only recommend it to people who like their true crime without too much gory detail. The hardcore fans will buy it anyway.

Rating: A collection of not-so-good newspaper articles by a now famous author. 1+ star.

Wednesday reading experience #3

Challenge your prejudices:
Choose an author, a book or a genre you hate and give them/it a second chance. Try, for example, some of the detested required reading from your literature classes in school, read a romance if you are a romance hater, a mystery if you don’t like those, etc., but make it an informed choice. In other words, do not grab the first one you see, but do your research and find a book you really think you could like.


In the last reading experience I posted I mentioned Heart of Darkness, which might be a good choice because so many people seem to dislike it, as would The Da Vinci Code, which I know many people dislike without having read it.

My own choice is a book: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for which I developed a dislike when I had to read and analyse it before I was ready for it.

What would your choice be; or if you answered the call: what did you choose to read and what was the outcome?

Review of Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Year published: 1993
Genre: Romance, contemporary
Setting & time: USA, contemporary


The Story:
Business consultant Kate goes on holiday at an expensive country resort, determined to snag a husband. Not just any husband, but one who fulfils the conditions set out on her list: distinguished, rich (so heiress Kate can be sure he’s not a gold digger), driven, business-minded, etc. - basically what a cynic might term "the average rich yuppie female’s husband wish list".
But then she meets Jake, the resort’s head-handyman, an ex-tax lawyer who decided to drop out of the rat race and spend his life relaxing and enjoying the simple things in life. Kate and Jake hit it off immediately, but convince themselves their interest in each other is just friendly. Divorced Jake doesn’t want to tie himself to another driven female, and Kate wants to tick off her list. There are plenty of prospects, but somehow her dates with them always turn out disastrous, because what Kate really wants is lo…

Top mysteries challenge review of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I was recently lucky enough to come across a cheap hardcover omnibus volume of all five of Dashiel Hammett’s novels, and as four of them are part of my Top Mysteries challenge, I consider this a piece of good fortune.

This book, Hammett’s final novel, was the spark that started the series of Thin Man films, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as sleuthing pair Nick & Nora Charles. Like many others, I was under the impression that Hammett had written a series of Thin Man books, but when I did a little research, I discovered that this was the only book and the rest of the Thin Man stories were all movie originals, some of which seem to have been based on stories written by Hammett exclusively to be turned into movies.

Year of publication: 1934
Genre: Mystery, detective novel
Type of mystery: Murder, missing person
Type of investigator: Private detective (retired)
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1930s

Story:
Retired private eye Nick Charles gets dragged into a case involving murder and…

Wednesday reading experience #2

Read some Joseph Conrad. Many people seem to hate him because of having been forced to read and analyse Heart of Darkness in English literature class. Instead I recommend Lord Jim or Typhoon (not having read the rest, I can’t recommend them).


I have The Secret Agent on my TBR list.

If you took up the challenge, which book did you read and what did you think of it?

Wednesday reading experiences

I am going to post, every Wednesday for one year, a weekly reading experience, book(s), author or genre I want to recommend to readers who are open to suggestions. If you like, you can call it a challenge from me to you, but please don’t follow it slavishly – it takes the fun out of it. I have done some of these things myself, but not all, but I will certainly be taking my own advice.

I would love to read your comments about doing this.

Here is the first one, something I have often enjoyed doing:

1. On a cold, rainy day, read a book that takes place somewhere warm and sunny and feel the warmth seep into your chilly bones.

Possible warming reads for rainy days:

Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals
Tony Hillerman: The Blessing Way or just about any other Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee book (some do happen in winter, but The Blessing Way is a summer book).
Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country
Arthur Upfield: The Man of Two Tribes and Boney and the Mouse
Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sand…

Bibliophile reviews Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain

Here’s another review I wrote shortly after I read the book (in 2007), and then forgot to post. Discovering it has reminded me that I still have the sequel left to read.

Year published: 1995
Genre: Crime, thriller, comic
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1990s

The Story:
The book tells the story through the eyes of several characters, but the protagonist is Tommy Pagano, a young sous-chef at a restaurant he doesn’t know is a front for the FBI who are using it to trap some loan-mongering crooks, one of whom is Tommy’s uncle. Other characters include the tragic figure of the drug-addicted chef, the restaurant boss who is trying to keep both the FBI and the mafia happy so he can keep running his restaurant as long as possible, and a couple of FBI men who are trying to do their jobs. Tommy’s world begins to crumble around him when he witnesses a gruesome crime but can’t report it because it would lead to his own death. The chef gets into trouble over his addiction and tries to quit, and the …

One more challenge, and then I promise I’ll stop....(I think)

This one can actually be incorporated into the TBR challenge and the 52 Icelandic books challenge, but it’s still a challenge. I learned of it through Petrona:

The challenge was made by the Mystery Reader Cafe group on Yahoo, which I have promptly joined and am just beginning to explore. The rules go like this:

1. Read a mystery with the word "murder" in the title
2. Read a mystery set in your region
3. Read a mystery that has been on your shelf for at least a year
4. Read a mystery from a "new to you" author

Each book should be different.


I already have books lined up that fulfil all these points.

The “murder” one might be Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise or any of a number of other books I have with that word in the title.

The “set in your region” will be Tími Nornarinnar by Icelandic author, journalist and critic Árni Þórarinsson. It has been translated into German and French and probably more languages, and I heard somewhere it was going to be published in Eng…

Bibliophile’s reading report for 2008

Total books read in 2008:
153, which is 10 more than in 2007, making my weekly average 2,95 books.

Last year’s unfinished books were fewer than the year before and consisted only of 2 books I gave up on and a couple of guide books I borrowed and read only the relevant sections of for my trip to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Breakdown:

Fiction: 117 (76,5%), up by 8,2% since last year.
Non-fiction: 31 (20,3%) down by 10% since last year.
Mixed: 5 (3,3%)

My non-fiction percentage is down from 2007, which means I was unable to fulfil my goal to reach 35% non-fiction in 2009. Maybe this year I’ll do better (I have some juicy travelogues lined up that may pull this average up).

Total no. of pages read: 44691, compared with 38901 in 2007, which is not surprising as I read more books in 2008.
Average number of pages per book: 292. This is 18 pages longer than in 2008. I have some big reads of 700+ pages lined up that may push the average page count even higher this year.
Number of books 300+…

Reading report for December 2008

I finished a total of 16 books in December, in a variety of genres. Only 2 were ones I had started in a previous month, which makes for a pretty good page count, but has not considerably lessened the pile of partially read books strewn around my apartment. I discovered to my dismay that I forgot my annual Christmas-time reading of Dickens' Christmas Carol, but I did read 6 Christmas-themed books, so that's a consolation.

Marian Babson: The Twelve Deaths of Christmas (Christmas mystery)
Suzanne Brockmann: Frisco's Kid (Contemporary romance)
Augusteen Burroughs: Running With Scissors (Memoir)
Mary & Carol Higgins Clark: Deck The Halls and The Christmas Thief (Christmas mystery)
Michael Connelly: Crime Beat: True Stories of Cops and Killers (Collection of newspaper articles)
Jennifer Crusie: Manhunting (Contemporary romance)
Erik Durschmied: The Hinge Factor (Military history)
Jason Goodwin: The Janissary Tree (Historical mystery thriller)
Faye Kellerman: The Ritual Bath …

Another mystery reading challenge

Yesterday I wrote about my new 52 books challenge, which will cover a number of genres. However, I also want to continue reading and reviewing mysteries, and I might as well make a challenge out of it:

I am planning to read the British Crime Writer’s Association’s top 100 crime novels of all time and the Mystery Writers’ of America top 100 mystery novels of all time. The lists were originally published, respectively, in The Hatchards Crime Companion (1990) and The Crown Crime Companion (1995).

While such “top” or “best” lists can never be definitive due to their subjective nature, they can certainly act as indicators of quality, which is why I chose them. I’m getting fed up with starting to read mysteries that I can’t keep up enough enthusiasm for to finish, or even slogging all the way through badly written ones that are well-plotted enough for me to want to know the solution.

The lists overlap somewhat, making a total of 158 works of literature (168 books, the Sherlock Holmes novels a…

A new 52 books challenge

Now that my mission to discover 52 new mystery authors is completed, I have decided on a new challenge revolving around the number 52: I am going to read one Icelandic book (on average) per week for the next year. I feel I have been neglecting my native literature lately, and I plan to rectify that.
There will only be reviews when I know a challenge book has been translated into English.

I will start counting from the first complete week of 2009, i.e. next week.

The challenge books I do review will be tagged as "52 Icelandic books".

Added another bunch of books to my BookMooch inventory

This time it's 10 mysteries, some of which I have reviewed here, and 1 Regency romance:

Carol Higgins Clark: Snagged (a Regan Reilly mystery)
Charles Cohen: Silver Linings
Emily Hendrickson: The Wicked Proposal
Timothy Holme: The Devil And The Dolce Vita (an Achille Peroni mystery)
Cecile Lamalle: Prepared For Murder (a Charly Poisson mystery)
Charlotte MacLeod: The Palace Guard; The Convivial Codfish; The Withdrawing Room; The Plain Old Man (Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn mysteries)
Charlotte Macleod: Wrack and Rune (a Peter Shandy mystery)
Qiu Xiaolong: A Loyal Character Dancer (a Chen Cao mystery)