Monday 29 December 2014

The Laws of Murder (Charles Lenox Mysteries, #8)The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The year is 1876, and Charles Lenox is just out of the parliament with some bad men to catch. Seven baddies to be exact, all of whom has eluded justice. The book starts as he packs away the sixth, felling him to a trap which used the baddy’s greed to full potential. And thus Lenox contemplates the last. The meanest and the baddest of them all. But, he knows it is not easy to catch that guy, so he opens a detective agency, something unheard of in those days, with three colleagues. Bad press, and worse quotes from a supposed friend inside Scotland Yard follows, and the business goes off to a rocky start. The three partners start to bring cases and money except Lenox. He sits idle and contemplates his future as a case drops into his lap, involving the dropping dead of that same bad mouthing good friend within the Yard. Inspector Jenkins.

What worked for me???

1. Great humanist mind-set shown by the protagonist towards animals. The lines dedicated towards the horses of London, showed Lenox to be a man of great humanity and advanced thinking, coming from an Age, when his peers were still hanging and flogging us Indians in India. Lenox even doubts whether they will be able to hold on to India for long. An advanced yet sacrilegious though during that time.

2. Children are difficult to understand in real life, except maybe for their mothers. And they are more difficult to write about. Alan Bradley is doing a wonderful job of having a child as his sleuth, and portraying her as a well-developed character. Though not a main point in this book, Lenox draws up children pretty effectively. Georgina is a treat to read about even in those small paras dedicated to her. With proper timing she is a protagonist in the making.

3. The setting of late 1800s London. For a man who never set his foot outside India, Lenox did a commendable job of describing London from the very first page. From her rain soaked to days to the posture of her citizens which shows they are idling away their time, his descriptions were vivid.

4. Characters. Most of them were well developed. Right from the partner, to the competitor and the culprit, everyone was shown in multi-dimensional ways, which justified their acts. It never felt that “OK, we don’t know about this guy and his life or his character, but we just know that he is the culprit”.

5. Twists. The book was a crime novel, and so by default required twists. And Lenox provides them in abundance. From baddies to holy men and women, everyone was made to go through his twist machine.

What didn’t work for me?

1. The length of the novel could have been shorter. Somehow the length was a bit of a dampener for me. The plot on its own would have been tight and more enjoyable had the book been 50 odd pages shorter.

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Thursday 18 December 2014

The Secret Dead (Giordano Bruno, #0.5)The Secret Dead by S.J. Parris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Because I believe God is bigger than the rules we impose on one another. I think He does not mind if we find different paths to Him.”

The more I keep reading these Historical mysteries , the more I come to realise that its religion in its purest form remains as Holy as ever, but somewhere down the line the "HOLY MEN" took matter into their own hands and turned religion and the concept of God, into one of the most vilified and untrustworthy of all human beliefs.

The story was fast, and the character of Giordano Bruno reminded me of another God fearing true man of God, Brother Cadfael. The story came out as a tragedy mystery element in the story was not that potent, but the writing skill of the author kept the pace high from the very first paragraph, and never slacked in between.

My first S.J. Parris experience, and it was a sad but a beautiful one.

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Wednesday 17 December 2014

Satan's Fire (Hugh Corbett, #9)Satan's Fire by Paul Doherty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Satan’s Fire written by Paul C. Doherty and featuring Sir Hugh Corbett, a clerk in the court of Edward I of England starts when the King visits York to meet the French envoy, to discuss the terms of marriage between the King’s son and the daughter of the King of France, Phillip III. No sooner had he reached York, than there was an attack on his life, which ultimately is revealed to be a threat from the Old Man of the Mountain and the Assassins. He asks Sir Hugh to investigate the threats as he is convinced the Knight Templars are involved in a conspiracy against him. Sir Hugh himself receives a threat from the same source as he starts to dig for the truth with the added responsibility of finding out a counterfeit who is using Gold to make and circulate coins without the King’s permission.

If compared to the Matthew Shardlake novels of C.J. Sansom, (though it can’t be done) some distinctive points of difference arise. One, unlike Matthew, Sir Hugh definitely remains in the good books of the King, and he himself holds a lot of power. Two, the plot was like a mystery novel with a touch of political conspiracy, which made this book an outright Crime novel, unlike Sovereign (Shardlake novel #3) which had a lot of political conspiracy and turned into a political thriller from being a mere murder mystery. And lastly, the period differs. Sir Hugh is walking when the English are fighting the Scots, the Pope still holds control over Edward I, unlike Matthew whose life saw a different type of anarchy in England, the Reform.

Personally I liked Satan’s Fire more, as I prefer a straight Mystery novel where the murder remains the main plot. The solving of the crime involves clues and twists, which this book had in abundance. And most important, and ironically this has nothing to do with crime, this book involved the Crusades which still remains one of the most favourite topic of History for me.

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Friday 5 December 2014

Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake, #3)Sovereign by C.J. Sansom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three things I fear when I start a book. A book which is not borrowed but bought from my own savings, a book which with these three points can spell “Yawanathon” for me and can literally throw me into financial ruin for investing in a worthless adventure. Those three points are,
1. The author’s proclamation of being a HUGE fan of P.D. James (God rest her soul in peace).
2. A book which is 660 pages long, with long paragraphs.
3. A blurb from Colin Dexter which speaks about the book’ other aspects, but doesn’t mention how good is the mystery.
And thus justifiably frightened and with an apprehensive attitude I started SOVERIEGN by C.J. Sansom, and within a first few chapters I found out that despite all the above three points being present I am starting to enjoy the book. And the book proved to be such a marvel that after a long time I broke my own rule “If a book is not finished within a week, then it’s too boring too finish..ever, so skip to the next book” and took 16 odd days to complete this marvellous piece of crime fiction which is set in the times of Henry VIII, the middle age Lothario.

This book is a revelation. How many protagonists do we come across who gets bullied, beaten and threatened by every bad guy in the town, including the King. This guy, Matthew Shardlake does. He is just a lawyer and he gets bullied and shaken by high ranking bada**, and like a normal human being he endures those insults instead of throwing caution to wind and challenging the lot, like some “fictional” protagonists with “fictional” abilities would do. When laughed and mocked at, due to his physical deformation, unlike some wise crack hero who uses wit to counter every remark, he silently suffers and at times vocally protests. He is shown to be a human, yes a clever one, but a human after all who feels sad, suffers when laughed at like most of us. Cudos to Sansom for creating such a character. And not to forget his assistant Jack Barak, a faithful companion who is outraged when his master is mocked, but gets angry when the same master questions his fiancé, but runs all over London just to save his master. Another very human character.

Lastly the plot, mashed with the historical atmosphere was something I lapped up like a hungry dog. Being a silent lover of history thrust into finance, I love to read these historical mysteries. I don’t complain if the historical part overshadows the mystery, but Sansom kept enough history, his descriptions of the reform, and King henry or the greed of Sir Richard Rich were very potent, never made it boring, and silently threw in a plot which is fast, which pits a man low in social strata against villains much higher in the pecking order, he exposes the man’s fears and the villain’s greed all within the framework of a tightly woven plot, and when the finishing pages starts arriving he unleashes twists after twists which is worthy of a standing ovation.

So, though I am sad of Dame Phyllis James death, I can never call myself a fan of her works. But, I am surely, from this day, counting myself as a fan of one of her fan, C.J. Sansom.

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Wednesday 3 December 2014

Roman Blood (Roma Sub Rosa, #1)Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gordianus, who is also called the Finder is called upon by Cicero, the famed Roman orator and lawyer to take up the historical case of the parricide of Sextus Roscius. Gordianus accepts the case and starts looking for the truth, immediately seeing that the seemingly simple case is not simple at all. Threatened and laid off the case, he still digs for the truth, as the book moves towards a great finish.
The main problem I face while reading a Historical Whodunnit is that many a times the History overshadows the Crime and its solution. This book was not written that way. Saylor kept enough amount of history to make keep the ambience intact, and the reader interested in the historical perspective, he even used actual Historical figures, but throughout the book never did I once forget the fact that ultimately I am reading a piece of crime fiction, set in Ancient times. Throughout the book Saylor maintained the tense atmosphere of a crime novel, where the protagonist searches for an elusive truth, while being physically in danger and the characters around him either adds to the puzzle or helps him solve the puzzle.
Gordianus came out as a normal man, without any extra ordinary straits like extreme unhygienic or mood swings like a cricket ball. He is a normal man, with normal tastes and attributes. Though for a Roman his attitude towards his slave was too human to be true. But I guess he was one of those EXCEPTIONS back then who saw slaves as humans too.
A definitely enjoyable piece of crime fiction. Will surely read the rest of the books as the time moves on.

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Monday 17 November 2014

Murder In The Central Committee (Pepe Carvalho, #5)Murder In The Central Committee by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Maybe I am too dense, or maybe I don’t understand English. But, this book just didn’t work out for me. Cause out of the 224 odd pages in this book I had already spent around 150 without getting a single clue to the investigation, I didn’t have any clue as to the life of the murder victim. And I also didn’t have any clue regarding the style of narration used.

And on top of everything, long paragraphs on Communism, and longer discussions of food. Make no mistake, I am a foodie, and I love to hate Communism, but I wouldn’t want an overdose of either two in a crime novel, where the crime, the clues, the detection and every other thing related to Crime writing does not takes a backseat but is entirely absent. A bad bad experience.

Or else the translator got it all wrong!!!

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The Frozen DeadThe Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a while I land myself with a book that helps me in reassuring myself that all is well with crime writing and THE FROZEN DEAD by Bernard Minier was one of those. All along I have maintained that what I look for most in a Mystery or a thriller is the plot. Most of the times my ratings depend upon the pace and the tightness of the plot, and added to those two very important aspect, I also look for twists. Not someone to shy away from a generous offering, I love my twists especially when they are strewn liberally all over the book.

Right from the beginning when a headless dead horse is found hanging, through the brutal murder of another man, right upto the end where he kept his last twist alive, Minier wrote a book that was pretty impossible to not to finish at one go. And boy did he almost turn this piece of crime writing into a horror novel. The use of the secluded landscape, the chilly weather, and the “madhouse” he created an atmosphere where I got goosebumps while reading. And I live in a tropical country. Not for a long time had I been so involved in a book I was reading. The last instance that comes to mind was a duo experience of BLUE HEAVEN by C.J. Box and another brilliant French effort IRENE from Pierre Lemaittre. And now this.

I guess the only aspect where Minier followed the well trodden path is while developing martin Servaz. He was divorced, grumpy, middle aged and overweight. A pretty standard character who solves an extraordinary crime. But, one this that did make Servaz a bit different from other fictional policemen was the fact that he felt frightened when the situation was frightening. He wasn’t made into a Superman with no fright and all gloom.

All in all a definite entry into my top Mysteries of all time. The pace of the plot, the twists, the atmosphere, the mad house and its inhabitants all made this book an experience to cherish.

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Friday 7 November 2014

Anarchy and Old Dogs (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #4)Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a blind man gets hit by a truck in Vientiene, Dr. Siri, Laos’ only coroner gets involved. The body of the dentist reveals nothing except for a blank page, which turns out to be a note written in invisible ink. Intrigued Dr. Siri along with Inspector Phosy visits the house of the deceased dentist and finds a clue that sends Dr. Siri and Civilai to Pakse in the south, and Phosy and Nurse Dtui east into Thailand.

One of the prime reasons I read Dr. Siri mysteries is for the humor element. The plot as it is never reaches the dizzying heights of a whodunit, but Cotteril’s humor, along with his elegant writing style, his descriptions and mainly his take,via Dr. Siri, on Communism and its effect provides me with enough fodder to enjoy the book thoroughly. And it was no different this time. Be it the diplomat who got fried in his bathtub, or the musings of “Inspector Migraine” wanting to solve the murder by eliminating suspects “one by one” were notably laughable. And without giving away the plot, or shouting spoiler alert, the conversation between the two old friends, Siri and Civilai, are deep and insightful. Especially where Siri defends the revolution and the ensuing talk that follows.

If not a must read, but still a book which should be picked up just to feel Dr. Siri and frankly it’s a shame to miss even one Dr. Siri mystery.

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Thursday 30 October 2014

Life or DeathLife or Death by Michael Robotham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life and Death by Michael Robotham is no ground breaking work of crime fiction. Moreover it is filled with clichéd points which guarantees success for a standalone thriller. A wronged hero, some crooked cops, a “more” wronged woman who becomes the lady in the hero’s life, an honest cop with a physical attribute that makes her colleague point her out as a prank-target, and a sort-of-larger-than-life ally of the hero.

But, I loved it because it encompassed some of my favourite points too, the one which according to me makes a thriller thrilling to read. They are,

1.Pace- The book was the definition of “Unputdownable”

2.Plot – Though nothing out of ordinary, Robotham’s writing style kept me guessing for the larger part of the book. The characters were drawn into black and white but the plot was tightly woven and the lid was kept tightly shut.

3. Unbelievable characters and situations – I read purely for the purpose of entertainment. So, I love these impossible crimes, unbelievable characters, all woven into a plot which is fast pulpy and fun to read.

What more could I ask for???

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Friday 24 October 2014

Vanished (David Raker, #3)Vanished by Tim Weaver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

21-22 October, 2014

5 stars

Tim Weaver is a name I had never heard before, but now that I have finished reading VANISHED its hard to make his name vanish from my mind, because he weaves great tales of crime and he writes then in a way which makes them fast and entertaining. David Raker, a London based P.I. specialising in finding missing person takes up a case where he is asked to find a missing husband.

The basic plot wasn’t anything new, but the writing style, the suspense created and the smooth flow of the plot made the reading experience something to cherish. Weaver’s creation David Raker, though a widower, is not gloomy and grumpy and has a social life. A breath of fresh air among the many and clichéd gloomy protagonists.

The plot if anything was simple, but the presentation and the ending with a twist that would go down as one of my most favourite twist, is a real pleasure. He keeps the book fast and literally turns this book into a page turner. Though this is my first Tim Weaver book, I am sure it won’t be the last one.

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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Excursion to Tindari (Inspector Montalbano, #5)Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

17.10.2014 to 20.10.2014

THE SHAPE OF WATER, the first Andrea Camilleri book I had read was fun to read. It was fast, the plot without being mind lowing was steady, and Salvu Montalbano without being irritating was grumpy and a wise crack. My second experience wasn’t any less. EXCURSION TO TINDARI featured the same Montalbano, grumpy and witty, the plot was equally fast, but the crime and the mystery surrounding it wasn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be. But the style of Camilleri’s writing kept the book moving, and thankfully there was never a dull moment.

This is a series I am falling in love with pretty fast. The setting is exotic, the writing is funny and the cases without being gory are brutal which gets solved by a grumpy witty detective. A must read for any crime fiction lover.

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Sunday 28 September 2014

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy, #3)Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the reader and Ken Follett is the writer, so how can someone even think of an resultant rating less than 5 out of 5. Its impossible, so as per the rules I rate this book a full five!!
But, frankly speaking this (the last) instalment in the Century Trilogy didn’t stand up to the other two. If read as a standalone this book is still a great read, but since it’s a part of a trilogy, comparisons are inevitable. Among the three I still rate Fall of Giants as the best, Winter Of the World as Second best, and this one comes third in a three way race. What went wrong for me in this book? The characters went wrong. Somehow Evie or Maria never matched up to the fiery Maud or Ethel or even Carla. Rebecca from the Von Ulrich clan had the potential to become another crusading Ethel Leckwith, but sadly Follett never transformed her into a main character. Dimka and Tanya are the best characters in this book for me. Dimka, a good man with his unyielding faith in Communism, and Tanya seeing the Commies as a mistake really took the cake away from the Russian characters of the previous books. They were bolder, stronger and their actions were funnier to read. Volodya, Illya or even Grigory never left this deep a mark in my mind.
In a similar way the Americans and the British characters left me a bit down. It was very evident that Evie, Dave or George though strong characters on their own, could never match up to the revolutionary Ethel, the compassionate Maud or Billy Wiiliams. Even Fitz with his wrong conviction was so ripe to be hated, that when he makes a cameo appearance in this book and expresses his true feelings for Maud, both in their 80s, the feeling it created within me, surpassed the sum total of all the feelings created by the current characters. The earlier heroes were far too good. Maria in this instalment was good, but somehow Rosa was mind blowing.
But, this book on its own stood strong and tall. Most books I have read till date that were set in the 60s dealt with Vietnam, Follett used his talent and focused on another buring issues of the 60s in this book, the Civil rights Movement. Just as he highlighted the overshadowed but equally horrifying Action T-4 pogrom of the Nazis instead of the much more highlighted Jewish persecution pogrom. To live in a FREE country and to be denied even the basic human amenities just because of the colour of one’s skin is horrifying. And Follett skilfully highlights how the Kennedys sat and did almost nothing to break the civil rights deadlock, while a Southerner from Texas, Lyndon Johnson stood up and arm twisted the segregationist into seeing sense.
And lastly the beautiful portrayal of the Communists. If all Follett wrote about Kruschev, Brezhnev, the East Germans, the Stasi are true then thank God Communism was shown door by the popular public. They were the worst, they fought against the Nazis and then managed to create a situation where they started competing for the “Worst Dictatorships of the World” prize. They were so full of crap, that even a true Communist like Dimka felt that at last it is better fi there is no Red in the political landscape of the world.
Ken Follett is a master storyteller. His thriller are class apart. And he had proved his worth as a historical fiction author with his previous books too. This book wasn’t an exception. Being a 1100 page book this had every opportunity to become a yawnathon, but just like the previous two books it held pace. Fast, entertaining and a great short course in modern history(on specific issues) this book will definitely go down as one the most favourite books of 2014.

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Monday 22 September 2014

The Monogram MurdersThe Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Re-incarnations of detectives in hands of a different author seldom succeeds, except in the case of Holmes, but that was possible maybe because the reincarnator was Sir Doyle himself. But, apart from that exception re-incarnations are meant to be not as successful as the original. The stories of limited success are limitless. Take James Bond, John Gradener or Jeffrey Deaver, the books still didn’t read like a Fleming Bond. Recently Asterix suffered the same fate. Yes, the return of our favourite heroes albeit does keep us hooked, but, at the end of the day neither those books nor The Monogram Murders left me with a satisfied smile.

First lets dissect the book purely as a crime thriller. On that point the book would score 3 or 3.5. I love twists, no doubt about that. But nothing tastes good when it is heaped upon a reader without any limit. The number of twists in this book got to me. By the end of the book they didn’t seem like twists at all. A definite case of trying too hard. The plot seemed a bit awkward. I cant put my finger on it, but somehow this was definitely not an EVIL UNDER THE SUN, not even a HICKORY DICKORY DOCK. The plot never slowed down, it was fast, but sometimes it got too fast to really comprehend what was going on. But at the end of the day, the twists of the double plot, and the solution at the end turned this book into a decent crime thriller. There were no pretensions, and though the solving of the crime was left to some circumstantial evidences, the ending was neat.

Now as far as the book goes as a Hercule Poirot novel, the book scores a big ZERO for me. I don’t know why, but this Poirot never felt like the Poirot I had read before. But it didn’t started that way, the man was getting into the Poirot shoes when suddenly the character became an impersonator instead of the real egg shaped Belgian. No, this man is definitely not the HP I knew. And somehow Catchpool, really didnt fit my idea of Hastings. I rather hoped that Hannah would bring back Hastings along with HP in this book.

Lastly, I respect Sophie Hannah. This was not an easy task. Not only did she have to churn out a twister but she also had to re-create the famous Hercule Poirot. Not every venture succeeds but a courageous move should be saluted. So, I salute Ms. Hannah for trying to bring back my favourite detective to me. Though I might not have enjoyed as much as I would have like to, I would still not lose hope. Maybe the second book, if there is any, will bring back the old Poirot I knew.

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Friday 12 September 2014

Mr. MercedesMr. Mercedes by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was so long, with so many pages that mid way I was wondering that whether I will be able to finish this book, ever. And with the added pressure of both the culprit and the hero known, the urge to go on was dimming slowly but steadily. But, I finished it. And, I wont say phrases like “Thank God I finished or else I would have missed out soooo much”, coz there wasn’t any missing out to be even had I decided to skip the last 300 odd pages. The culprit would have remained the culprit, and the hero would have remained the hero. Nothing would have changed, except maybe I would have missed out on HOW the villain was bashed(literally) and how the heroes saved the day.

The Mercedes Man was 300 pages too long. The book didn’t have any fault as far as the plot goes, or the way in which the culprit is brought to justice. The fault lies in the fact that though being portrayed as a go-by-the-rulebook ex-detective Bill Hodges suddenly decides to play the lone crusader. Not stopping at that he manages to drag a 17 year old juvenile, and two relatives of a victim dragged into his fight. One of them gets blown up. Then again there was no reason to show how Hodges gets gooey with the lady who gets blown. Neither was that needed, nor was there any reason to kill of a character. But, as due to some of his twisted logic since Hodges had decided to make this fight personal, the death of Janelle, the involvement of Jerome suited the plot. But, they didn’t make sense.

This was my first Stephen King novel. And, though there were loopholes in the plot, I can really see why this author is considered as one of the best. If for nothing else I finished the book for his style of writing. Normally I just enjoy the plot of a novel, paying not much attention to the other details. But, the way King describes Holly and her troubles, or for that matter Hodges fight with his retirement (though both the situations have become much used themes in crime novels) kept me hooked.

This book is supposed to be a part of a trilogy featuring Hodges. I might not have been to upbeat after reading this instalment, but I can surely say I will pick up the next one the moment it comes up on the shelves.

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Saturday 30 August 2014

Sidetracked (Wallander #5)Sidetracked by Henning Mankell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first brush with Mankell and Wallander wasn’t as exciting as I would have liked it to, or as I was lead to believe it would be. There was nothing wrong with the book; neither was there anything out of the world, or special about the book. It was just another Scandi crime thriller with some gore, a serial killer and a dose of “broken” police officer with a family and some personal troubles. The book wasn’t a dud, but to compare with Morse is a bit too much.

The problem began with the plot. I have serious issues with serial killers as focal point of a crime novel. Serial killers tend to be erratic, and they kill without any apparent motive, which in turn turns the book into a lengthy process of catch the guy with no motive to spice thing up in the finishing chapters. Though this wasn’t the case here, not at least in toto, but somehow by the end of the book I did feel that Mankell forgot to provide the reader with a motive as to why the four guys got killed. Yes, the motive is simple and the reader can sum it up on his own, but I guess it’s the duty of the writer to elucidate on that point. Bottom line, the book got over but we never got a motive.

And lastly the translation. I know it’s hard to capture the essence of a book when it’s getting translated, but is it too hard to try and not make the book sound like robot? Because that’s how the book sounded to me. Wooden and bland dialogues. Mankell took the way, where he shows us the culprit, and then takes us through a cat and mouse game where both the cat and the mouse is known to us. The tact was good, it was filled with suspense but the wooden words killed off any kind of suspense that was meant to be present.

Summing up, this is not a dud, as I had said earlier. But, neither is this a piece of art.

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Monday 25 August 2014

Word of HonorWord of Honor by Nelson DeMille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last Demille book I had read was THE LION. And, I couldn’t wait to get it off my back. It was that bad. So, it was with great reluctance that I picked up the WORD OF HONOR. Reluctance because it was written by Demille, and THE LION was still chasing me. And, secondly the book was blurb-ed as a courtroom drama, with a Vietnam connection and it was 700 pages long. Long books with Nam connection makes me weary. They tend to go the Clichéd Street with half drunken genius protagonists and beautiful agents to rescue them from self destruction. And my single encounter with a John Grisham legal thriller didn’t turn out good.

But, within the first 50 pages my fears were laid to rest, as the book hit the gas right away. The plot never did slow down, and for a 700 page LONG book it’s a commendable job. Demille’s UP COUNTRY was long too and I loved it, but even that book had around 50 pages which could have been skipped without missing much on the plot. But, this book was free of any such “skip worthy” pages. The book was taut with little room for boredom. Even the courtroom scenes laced with legal jargon was fast and was written in a style where the legal jargon which important but without any thrill was alternated with highly charged witness dialogues which were an integral part of the plot and were “entertaining” to read. But, mostly what grabbed my attention was that the book never slowed down for once even. The whole thing just breezed past, without a moment to consider whether the book was getting too slow to be marked as “READ-LATER”.

And lastly the characters. Ben Tyson irritated me. With his chivalrous attitude, a BIG ego and confused relation with his wife was not someone to look up to. But that’s why this book was a success, because in reality if someone is faced with a similar situation that person would turn into a confused person irritating everyone. Marcy Tyson, was confused too and she too turned out to be a real character. The point is has these people been shown as someone who is taking the whole thing very sportingly, or “Who gives a F***” attitude the book would have seemed unreal though the characters might have been more tolerable, but the book would have turned into a fantasy. But the real hero of the book was Vincent Corva. With his attitude, his courtroom skills, and his ability in turning up with a key witness made him overshadow Ben Tyson in every department.

P.S. Had Tyson been a bit less egotistic and practical and signed the papers given to him by Chet Brown, this book could have been over in 100 odd pages. But, practical and sane men have never been the subject of a popular novel. Thanks to Ben Tyson’s ego we got to read a book that was highly entertaining.

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Friday 1 August 2014

The Gone Dead Train: A MysteryThe Gone Dead Train: A Mystery by Lisa Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What happens when two bluesmen die under mysterious circumstances, an ex-ball player dies under violent circumstances and we have a duo of an cop(recently kicked by his former beau) and a “Polize-Goddess” (recently out of a violent illicit relationship) to solve the case? We get The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner. A decent sophomore effort that won’t make you sit up and take notice but which won’t make you yawn and roll your eyes either.

This book succeeds with mediocre but solid marks. Though being filled with clichéd moments involving blues music, voodoo, a cult called Santeria and downfall of an famous ball player, and clichéd characterisation in the protagonists of Memphis Detectives Billy Able, who comes out as a semi-renegade officer who pokes his nose into a case which is not his, and who is suffering from his girlfriend’s decision to open a bakery in Atlanta; and lady cop Frankie Malone who is eager to get promoted but fails to notice that getting into a relation with a married colleague might just prove to be a hurdle in her dreams.

With these the author decided to threw in some Memphis ambience, a civil rights lawyer and a deep connection with the civil rights movement, and the assassination of Dr. King. All these moments might have just turned sour, but the lady writing the book saved it. She with her style of writing kept the book fast and full of suspense. Apart from some loose ends regarding the deaths of the Bluesmen, and the modus operandi of the killer, the book was surprisingly fast. And because of this sole reason the book passes the test, as it scored on pace. And a thriller with good pace is always OK with me, even if it is garnished with a few loose ends.

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Thursday 24 July 2014

The WheelmanThe Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is one perfect reason why I consider Agatha Christie as one of my favourite authors, because she was not pretentious and knew that what she wrote was crime fiction with the sole purpose of entertainment. Her books were not commentaries on racism, on human psychology or something
“much deeper than just a crime novel”. Then smartass writers started criticising Christie and started writing Crime fiction with a “Broader Perspective”, and managed to make the crime, twist and solution take a back seat to things like human psychology, atmosphere and every other stuff which made no contribution to the plot, pace or entertainment in any way whatsoever.

Duane S scores here, and scores a perfect 10. This book, The Wheelman, just as the name suggest is a pure crime fiction and nothing more. Just like a wheelman, whose sole aim is to get the men out into safety, Duane S made sure that this book’s main aim is to satisfy the reader, and present him with a purest form of crime fiction.

He was successful. He offered no commentary as to how a man could commit crime, what made him do it. No opinion and sympathies as to how human kind is getting scarier day by day. Or how corrupt the law has become. He merely states that humans can be dangerous, some of them rob banks and kill people, and the city of Philly has a darker side and there are corrupt police officers. To these facts he adds a huge….huge dollop of twist, right up to the last page. And adds a liberal sprinkling of pace and serves the reader with a work of crime fiction which deals with a crime, its outcome and the twists in between. And nothing more.

So, in my opinion if Duane S is the future of Crime writing, then the future is pretty safe. If not there is a twist in the future in the same way he twisted us readers in his book.

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Tuesday 22 July 2014

The Darkest Room (The Öland Quartet #2)The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I had read Echoes from the Dead, I was not really expecting a taut thriller, with a sad and believable protagonist and a plot which racing between two time periods and an unlikely outcome, a twist in the very last pages. It kept me hooked up to the last page. I made the mistake of underestimating the book, and I was properly thrilled with its stature. And, then I made the mistake of over estimating The Darkest Room, and was not really thrilled by the book and its contents. Make no mistake of the fact, Johan Theorin is a great writer, and I still consider him a personal favourite, but somehow I guess he tried a little too hard to make this book exotic and in the process ended up in writing a book which neither could become a complete thriller nor a complete family drama.

The publishers note in my edition said, “In this powerhouse of suspense–at once a crime novel and a searing family drama…” So, from a purely crime fiction point of view I was sorely disappointed. The plot was not fast, it wasn’t well weaved, the crime never looked like a crime until almost 65% of the book had gone by, the criminal had, at most a total of 5 paragraphs dedicated to him and at the end neither did we get to know what was his fate. There was a subplot which at the end was revealed to be connected to the crime, but the sub plot was way too long and could have been shortened without causing any harm to the main plot. But I never skipped pages, because Theorin after all is a good writer. The book looked like a family drama, sounded like a family drama, read like a family drama, with a bit of supernatural thrown in. As for a work of crime fiction, it was not worth it.

The characters unlike the first book failed to make any mark on me. The semi-protagonist of Tilda Daviddsson gets way to little space to be fully developed, Joakim Westin also comes out as unfinished. His situation brings out sympathy but that’s not the credit of the writer. Reading about him made me bored, but thinking about a man who lost his wife made me sad. A character from the first book makes a cameo appearance and does the Mycroft Holmes thing by pointing out the crime, but sadly that doesn’t salvage the book. Even the old-new connection which worked so well in the last book failed this time. It was boring, and never felt remotely connected to the main plot.

Final verdict, this book, as a work of crime fiction doesn’t stand up. But as far as reading it like a family drama goes, there might be some merit. But then again why would a reader read Johan Theorin to read a family drama???

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Friday 18 July 2014

The Sins of the Fathers (Matthew Scudder, #1)The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this short length debut of Matthew Scudder, prolific author Lawrence Block introduces a scene where Scudder is seen offering money to a police officer in exchange of information on a case Scudder is working. When the cop hesitates to take the money, Scudder deftly gives him a short but effective advice on why should he grab the money, and why him not taking the money might cause serious jeopardy to the his career. To that the cop replies that he guess he has a lot to learn. This scene told me first-hand that why Block is considered to be a class in crime writing, why Scudder stands apart from the pack of PIs working in the world of crime fiction, and lastly why a lot of “celebrated” crime writers has got a “lot to learn” from Block when it comes to crime writing.

My version of a perfect crime novel, this book incorporated everything that makes a particular book or a series successful. The book had pace, it had quality and when the ending came it was like coming down from a roller coaster ride which you have rode earlier but was equally enjoyable this time. As far as the plot goes, the whole concept was nothing new; in fact this same plot has been used over and over again. But, somehow Block turned this same old wine into something exotic by sheer speed, a hugely enjoyable and fascinating protagonist and by shedding any extra fact related to the plot, and presenting the whole book devoted to the crime and its solution. Not a single page was not somehow related to the plot. Not a single moment did it cross my mind to skip a page or a paragraph. Books like these never make into a top-100 lists or something like that, instead we get trash(disguised as highbrow crime fiction) listed in those lists.

And lastly, Matthew Scudder, a revelation. An ex-cop, who left the system after he got burnt in it. A PI without a license, a no-nonsense man with a streak of violence in him. A divorcee with two kids. The man could have just turned into another gloomy clichéd American PI. But, thanks to Block he doesn’t. How many protagonists do we have in this world of crime writing who tells a cop to accept money in return for information? Who tells a gay bar-owner to bribe the city police chief in order to make him raid his place and arrest the troublemakers, or drops two hundred dollars into church’s poor box? Not many, but Scudder does. This man along with Morse, Poirot and Millhone is sure to go to the top of my list of favourite protagonists.

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Wednesday 16 July 2014

Irene (Verhœven, #1)Irene by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What were the publishers thinking when they published the second instalment in the trilogy before they decided to translate and publish the first??? They were thinking right in doing so. Why?? Will come to that. Before that a bit of the plot, where a serial killer is on a killing spree with mutilated victims strewn all around. He kills them, tortures them, and uses classic crime fiction novels as his point of reference on torture methods and settings. As far as the basic premise of his crime and modus operandi goes he is clichéd to the core, with violence and madness mixed with the usual serial killer antics. Camille gets involved in the case and for those who have read Alex, will know gets involves personally too.

Now the publishers thought right because Alex is a far better Crime novel than Irene. If seen from a purely Crime Fiction POV Alex offered a lot of newness, ranging from the plot, the victims modus operandi, the change in the identity of a character from being good to bad, and back to being good again, or the nastiness of the violence made all the more potent with the mental brutality mixed with it. Compared to that, Irene was brutal, but so is most of the Scandi novels, even the new Robert Galbraith novel is brutal. Brutality didn’t work for me in this book. They were horrifying but it failed to create the level of horror which would make me sit on the edge of the seat.

The plot too, was nothing new. A serial killer taking on the main protagonist in a cat and mouse game, trying to show who is the boss. Been there done that. The use of classic Crime novel as a point of reference though new but is not that ground-breaking. Yes, it does offer a comprehensive course on Crime fiction of sorts, but we have had serial killers referencing ancient Spanish inquisition methods to torture the victims to killers leaving classic rock albums in their victims’ tortured bodies. So, this proved to be “not so exciting” to me. As it was the case with the “TWIST” in the last pages. Somehow the book was so long and a bit slow that by the time the twist came it failed to twist me in any way.

So, when the publishers decided to publish the second book first they knew they were publishing the better of the two books. And indeed it was a success, and for the sole reason that I enjoyed Alex, did I decide to stick with Irene up to the end. Had it been the other way round maybe Irene would have been shelved as UNFINISHED. But, the end result is that Pierre Lemaitre is one hell of a writer. Maybe this was a first-book-blues but he got class, and whoever had read Alex will surely agree that though slow, Irene wasn’t a pushover novel, and that maybe the third book in the trilogy will surpass the first two.

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Tuesday 8 July 2014

Cast, in Order of Disappearance (Charles Paris, #1)Cast, in Order of Disappearance by Simon Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simon Brett is a prolific writers of whodunnits, with four series and more than 30 books to his credit. So, whenever I am toiling my way through an insanely slow and boring book which I decide to not to finish, I pick up one of his books, which instantly provides me with a sense of satisfaction, which I get from reading a good work of crime fiction.

Charles Paris, a mid 40s theater actor, the protagonist of this book is approached by an young girl, who wants him to be a bridge between an aging superstar and herself. She was besotted to him, even a few days back, but recently she got the boot from the old man. And now she is receiving threatening letters from the old man. So, as far as the plot goes there was nothing new to be found, but since I was not searching for anything new but something stable, I was more than happy with the pace and the line of the plot.

Like an economical medium pacer the book kept its line and length intact, and managed to survive without many down points or yawn moments. Yes, the pace was slow if compared to today’s style, but this was not a gory Scandi thriller, thereby breath-taking pace was never needed. The subtle humor, present in almost all Brett novels was very much present. But, the best part of it all was that the writer never made Paris to look like an official amateur detective. All along the plot he maintained a stance which showed clearly that he didn’t have any official authority to snoop, but did that just because somehow he got caught up in the whole mess.

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Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Val McDermid reviewed the first Robert Galbraith novel, she praised the book saying that it incorporated the best of the traditional mystery fiction and private-eye pace. The first one was good, but the second one was prone to get bogged by the 'Second Book Syndrome'. But once again proving Val McDermid’s opinion right, nothing as such happened, and the book proved to be fast and highly entertaining. Cormoran Strike, professionally busy and more famous after solving the Lula Landry case, gets a visit from a lady who wants her writer husband found. She needs him for the daily expenses, and also needs him for their daughter who is distraught without him.

The book was long. A bit too long for the kind of plot it featured, but thanks to the style of narration the process of reading it never seemed boring. Most long crime novels falls into the trap of over emphasizing the human psychology, the relations between the characters and other stuff which doesn’t help the plot a bit. Galbraith did incorporate these “human” layers in the book, like the relation between Robin and her fiancé Matthew, or the strange but enjoyable relation between her and Strike (wonder where that will go in the next book), but they never got out of hand, and came in the way of the plot. Every time I felt that maybe the conversation between the two characters is getting long enough, the writer presented me with a scene which bears a direct relation to the main plot. Page skipping was not an issue with this book. The plot, though nothing ground breaking was stable and the ending was done in a way that the crime doesn’t get solved through circumstantial evidence. The common plot and motive, and the length of the book could have made the whole thing boring, but the pace and non-deviation from the main plot turned it into a highly enjoyable piece of crime fiction. And the crime described was awesome. If the Nordic writers thought that they could be gory and brutal, then they do have a serious competitor here.

The characters were well drawn but again keeping in mind the nature of the book which is ultimately a crime novel, these developments were shown through their actions. They never made me yawn and ponder whether this book is a crime novel or a class in character development. Page long description of characters and chandeliers ala P.D. James style was never my cup of tea. The way they spoke, or the way they acted spelled out whether they are a bully or they are in awe of themselves. Even the description of the victim’s daughter was done through a series of dialogues and scenes where Strike and Robin tries to question her for clues. The description was potent enough to be heart-breaking.

The main point is, J.K. Rowling CAN WRITE. She has proved it over and over again. The Potter maniacs will vouch for that, the people who loved the process of filling up the casual vacancy would vouch for that, and now us crime fanatics would vouch for that too. So, there was never any doubt that these books featuring strike would be anything but good. Yes, I did have a sense of anxiety as to how she will handle the plotting, but with these two books she has really laid my fears to rest.

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Sunday 22 June 2014

The Black Book (Inspector Rebus, #5)The Black Book by Ian Rankin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had read my last Ian Rankin book a long time ago, and as far as I remember that one was a collection of short stories, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. And, if I stretch my mind even further back to the novel that I had read before that, I can hardly remember its name or what it was about. In short, Ian Rankin, though a celebrated author had never really put a solid mark on my reading life with his creations. I cant say I hate the books, but I don’t find them overtly enjoying, as was the case with THE BLACK BOOK, the fifth instalment in the John Rebus series.

The plot takes us to Edinburgh where a colleague of Rebus gets brutally assaulted outside a restaurant. Rebus takes up the cause and finds a black book belonging to the colleague which contains cryptic messages related to crimes mostly unsolved. The victim’s ex-partner suspects that the book and its contents are the reason for the assault. Rebus without the authority, takes it upon his own shoulders to find out the truth behind the book’s messages and solve some unsolved cases. Running parallel like a loop line is a case where Rebus is ordered to install surveillance on a crooked money lender and a butcher gets a visit from a stabbed relative and Rebus is given the case to solve. And like a true loop line these two lines comes and joins the main line at the very end thereby leaving no strings loose.

But, the novel didn’t match up to its blurb. The blurb suggested a high tension crime thriller with dark crimes and darker motives, but all I got was a slow moving mediocre book, which though not disappointing was never too enjoyable either. Rebus, not being my favourite protagonist, also didn’t help the cause. With his perpetual personal problems, and his issues with the senior officers the whole character gets stamped with a big label called “Cliched” and also another called “Its getting Boring”. The plot didn’t helped either. Filled with departmental politics, parallel sub plots and dangerous jumps in narrative between these plots, the book all the time felt like a chronicle of sorts from Rebus’ life, where in between all these personal issues he also managed to solve a crime. I love a book which contains a crime, detection and a solution, other side dishes in the form of personal issues and departmental politics never appealed to me.

Summing up, this book, like other Rankin novels I have read stayed true to the Rankin style, and in the process also managed to get the same response from me, which says, “Yeah, I did complete the book, but it took a lot of time, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it a lot.”

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Tuesday 10 June 2014

The Body on the Beach (Fethering, #1)The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Simon Brett who won this year’s CWA Diamond Dagger for his contribution to the Crime writing genre is known for his mysteries which is surely defined as “Cozy mysteries” in todays standard, but would have been dubbed simply as “Mysteries” in the years gone by. Among his numerous series’ this one features two middle aged woman in the village of Fethering. Carole Seddon and Jude (just Jude) are neighbours. Carole being a woman with a stiff upper lip and Jude being the proverbial Happy-Go-Lucky. Carle discovers a dead body while taking her morning walk along the beach with her dog, Gulliver. As a dutiful citizen she calls up the police and reports the body, but the police arrives questions her only to inform her that they found no body on the scene. Following this event, Carole gets threatened by a woman with a gun, and another body, that of a child is discovered the next day. Carole confides in her neighbour, and together the two women starts digging within the upper-class Fethering society for the truth.

The book is almost entirely devoid of gore or bloodshed, which was pretty fine by me, as I don’t like useless gore and blood which has no need whatsoever for the plot to move further. But, what the book had in the true Golden age Crime fiction style was the pre3sence of a tight plot which propels the book forward. This being a straight forward crime novel, all reference to “psychology” and other deeper matters were not touched, which was again fine by me, and as a result we get to know very little about the characters including the protagonists, which suited the plot fine. And as it is a style of Simon Brett to keep his protagonists shrouded in somewhat mystery, this book was no different. Like Mrs Pargeter, one of his other protagonists, we hardly get to know much about Jude, not even her surname. She is shrouded in mystery but comes around as a woman who loves her life, and also brings in a sort of freshness to the somewhat boring life of her co-protagonist Carole Seddon, who unlike Jude is given a thorough background.

A definitely enjoyable read. Though a bit slow, but this book will be enjoyed by anybody who is looking for a light read between reading “HEAVY” novels.

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Monday 2 June 2014

The Mermaids Singing (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, #1)The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate SERIAL KILLERs. I don’t like them. I can tolerate every kind of killers, but serial killers never sit well with me. Because when a novel is based on a serial killer and his/her antics the book develops a tendency of introducing a suspect in the last chapters and then promptly setting the clues right, and declaring that person as the culprit. Most of the serial killer novels follow this very unimaginative pattern, and most of these novels, since they involve the police, Private Investigators hardly gets the opportunity to feature in a serial killer hunt, gets crammed with uninteresting inter-departmental chatter and even more boring internal politics. Invariably the lead detective would be a broken man who would not shave and would not listen to his boss, and by a stroke of luck would uncover the criminal. I hate Serial killers and the novels which have them as antagonist.

Val McDermid with her book, THE MERMAID’s SINGING changed that, at least for once. This book had every reason for me to be a wary of it. It had long paragraphs, it had crime fighter duo of Tony Hill (male) and Carol Jordan (female) thereby running every risk of an on-the-job boring romance, and it had a serial killer. And the book was well praised, and well praised books more than often run the risk of being a let-down. The only bright side was the writer Val McDermid. She was known for her thrillers, which were extremely good, and though I had read only another book of her in an abridged version, but I had my faith in her. And she didn’t disappoint.

People with soft heart stay away from this book. This book is brutal and gory without being the obvious in-your-face kind of gory associated with the Nordic Crime fiction. Here the brutality is much more left to the imagination. Scenes are depicted where the culprit visits a museum dedicated to mediaeval torture, then the culprit kidnaps the victims, and then the mutilated bodies of the victims are discovered. The horror of the torture is left for the readers to imagine and squirm while doing so. Nothing more potent than this tact of making the reader gets the feel of the novel. And even the plot had the culprit from the very start, only in a way that the person is well concealed beneath the paperwork. And the police politics though present is mercifully short and never affects the pace of the book.

A definite must read for any crime fiction reader. This one though a bit slow is worth the every minute spent on it.

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Saturday 24 May 2014

The Lion (John Corey, #5)The Lion by Nelson DeMille
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Which is the greatest Cat-n-Mouse chase story of all times? It’s surely the one that took place between a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. I loved watching them when I was a kid, and today, when i can safely say that I have grown up, a little bit, I still enjoy their antics. But, would I have enjoyed them had their show ran for say 90 mins? No, then it would have turned boring. Definitely I wouldn’t have liked watching Tom create booby traps, one after another for jerry to fall into and Jerry annoying Tom and escaping time and time again, with no plot whatsoever and within a same setting for a period of 90 mins. No wonder their shows had a running time of max 10 mins and always featured a different setting and a new storyline with the central theme of Cat-n-mouse game intact.

THE LION by Nelson DeMille was a similar story, a Cat-n-mouse chase with some add-ons like high male testosterone infused in both the Cat(Asad Khalil) and Mouse(John Corey). Everyone was out there to show how macho they are, how bad mouthed they can be. Corey was out there to prove that he is a knight in the shining armor, whose injured wife won’t come in front of him in his quest for duty. Who, like every typical American hero, must have a dumb guy-cum-political aspirant-cum-no gooder as his boss. Who must have a personal animosity with the bad guy, the bad guy must kill someone close to him, and the book being a typical DeMille book must be HUGE. Yess, this was NDM’s version of Tom and Jerry garnished with a lot of macho antics, dead bodies, Libya-Al Qaeda-Terrorist, Islamic fanaticism, and no plot whatsoever.

But, then what made this book get 3 stars? Well, beside all the faults this book had one big point in its favor. Its pace. Frankly I am not a big fan of the John Le Carre type of spy fiction, where everything happens too slow and the book is itself written in a style which shouts of pseudo-literarism. I need and love speed in thrillers, and this book had plenty. Yess although at times the macho-ness, the dialogues, the characters seemed over the top, but the pace made me race through those areas without letting me devote much time upon the faults that existed. In a way, this is a clever book without much plot but with a lot of pace which after finishing it leaves the reader like me, with a peculiar sense of satisfaction from reading a very mediocre spy thriller.

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Friday 23 May 2014

A Quiet Flame (Bernard Gunther, #5)A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books are never meant to be happy. Although in a Crime novel the outcome, most of the time, provides a solution to a crime, and brings a criminal to justice, but often it also leaves the reader with sadness. Either connected to a character, or to the general atmosphere created by the book. A QUIET FLAME by Phillip Kerr left me sad, and on both the counts of character and atmosphere. The book dealt with a theme which was dark from the very beginning. A case involving disappearance of missing girls is dark enough, but when this whole nasty business is coupled with a the Nazi pogrom of massacring Jews, and the infamous but never acknowledged Directive 11 as promoted by Juan Peron of Argentina the book becomes a ride, which not makes the reader uneasy but leaves him with a sadness. At least it left me sad.

But, if judged from a POV of a crime novel, this book can be called mediocre at its best. The atmosphere was electric, the way Kerr jumped between Berlin and Buenos Aires was impressive. The fear, the uncertainty and the hatred portrayed by his words that were present during the 1930s, as the Nazis are on the verge of gaining power was very potent. But sadly, although these may add to the general feeling of a crime novel but it can never substitute the real plot. If the plot is shallow then no amount of Nazi, Peron or Argentina can save the book and that’s what happened for me with this book. Bernie Gunther as a protagonist had the right mix of scepticism and quick wit, but even he with his smart mouth wasn’t good enough to salvage the plot.

The plot when it started had great expectations oozing from it. It had the quality of a plot which starts with a bizarre crime and ends with a solution and motive equally bizarre and believable. But here, somewhere in between numerous jumps between periods, and more than enough characters, with one overlapping the other the plot lost its fizz. And the ending, or the part of it when it arrived almost went past me, before I realised that I had just read one solution to one of the subplots. And then the act of joining one subplot to the other and connecting the solutions to both through a single character was once again equally bad. It spoke of huge amount of coincidence. And I don’t like much coincidence in my crime novels.

On its own this book would get 2 stars out of 5. But, as I said the side dishes of atmosphere and history was very tasty, on an average I upped my rating to a 3 star.

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Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Mother,” I whispered. “It’s me—Flavia.”

And thus starts the sixth instalment of the acclaimed Flavia De Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. As Flavia and her family awaits the return of her mother on the platform of Bishop’s Lacey, a train carrying her mother arrives. Along with the train a man comes and speaks a few words into the ears of Flavia, and then falls under the train to his death. Flavia caught in between her grief, her family and the man’s words, sets about in a dangerous and ground braking task, only to unmask the person responsible for her mother, Harriet’s death.

This is a sad, sad book. The indication was there that this might be Flavia’s last year at Buckshaw. And this turned every line of humor into sadness, as every such line made us reader realise that this is the last time the girl will say such words in Buckshaw. The mention of Gladys made me wonder how the thing will cope without Flavia, or for that matter Dogger, Mrs. Mullet and Esmeralda. But, this is also a novel of retribution, of revenge, of coming face to face with one’s destiny. Flavia gets to know why she is hated by her sisters. She comes to know how she got her Christmas wishes for new glassware, every year without hitch. She flies on Blithe Spirit just like her mother. She finds out what her father thinks about her. Most of all, she finds out who The Gamekeeper is. She finds out what her destiny has in store for us as the youngest girl of a De Luce family. This novel makes a little woman of Flavia out of the girl.

The original book deal for Mr. Bradley was a 6 book deal. So, in a way there was a sense of fear that this might be the last Flavia. But thanks to the brilliant talent of Mr. Bradley the book deal has been extended into a 10 book deal, and in a recent interview the author stated that he is well into the seventh book. The seventh book will be something every Flavia fan should and will look forward too. With different settings, and a grown up and more matured Flavia entrusted with the secrets of her family, will be a different ballgame altogether. But, whatever it may be, but keeping faith in Alan Bradley and Flavia Sabina De Luce, one can place a safe bet, that the seventh book wont disappoint, and if anything would surpass the previous six.

Though a hugely enjoyable book, but for reader who are new to Flavia De Luce series, for them I would suggest that they take up the series from the first book to get the true flavour of Flavia.

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Sunday 11 May 2014

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3)A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"I was the platinum. It was going to take more than a single opponent to overcome Flavia Sabina de Luce."

Every new book in this highly entertaining series by Alan Bradley brings a new wave of smile across my face. Surely this series has to be one of the best-est and the freshest of all the crime series to come out in the recent years. Flavia De Luce grows more and more adorable as the series progresses. With her amusing interests in poison, her very distraught life being hounded by two sisters and her oh-so-heartbreaking longing for her mother Harriet, makes this book much more than just a crime fiction. This almost becomes a sort redemption of the crime writing genre from the standard factory produced books featuring meaningless violence, cliched sullen heroes trying hard to be witty, and something which is given the name of a plot without having any instance of ever being one.

Compared to this Alan bradley writes books, which are a homage to the traditional British Golden Age crime novels. Are they “relevant” in today’s time? I dont know, and frankly i dont care. They are according to me a very god example of what a crime novel should look and read like. To be precise, if a crime novel doesnt have a plot, a motive and twists then no matter of “relevency to modern times” can make it a crime fiction worth mentioning.

Take the example of this book, “A Red Herring Without Mustard”. From the very begining the plot introduces a character who is hated by another character. Within a few chapters the character gets assaulted. No sooner we have gone a few pages up, than we are gifted with a murdered body. And all through the protagonist Flavia is busy trying to clear the mess created by forgery, assault, lies and murder. Except maybe a few pages where she plans her favourite pastime of revenge on her sisters, or she tries to stop the tears that comes up to her eyes when she wonders why her sisters are so mean on her. But apart from that she searches for clues, analyses clues and at the end points out the culprit. And, what makes this book a blazing success is the presence of so many characters. A crime novel with many chracaters equals to confusion which equals to twists which equals to a great crime novel.

So, everyone, who hasn’t already met Flavia De Luce, please please pick one book and go through it. Just like me you won’t be disappointed.

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Friday 9 May 2014

Mrs. Pollifax on SafariMrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow for a long time, I have got disconnected with the spy fiction genre. It’s strange but in fact it was this genre and the writings of Frederick Forsyth, Colin Forbes and Robert Ludlum that made me realise my unhealthy addiction towards thrillers. But, somehow I don’t feel the same affinity with the modern spy thrillers. With their over use of gadgets and other technology I feel left out. And also the whole concept of one man fighting terrorist and uncovering political conspiracy over and over again without his cover as a spy being blown, is not digestible. For me a spy thriller served as standalone novel is the best way.

Mrs. Pollifax and her “spy” thrillers though fall in the category of a series, but still manage to hold my attention till the last page. The reasons being, a fast plot with a nice twist in the end, a very modern style of writing without extra long paras or flowery language. Even the methods used by Mrs. Pollifax to solve the crime or ferret out the criminal are traditional without much emphasis on the use of gadgets. And, lastly for the protagonist, Mrs. Pollifax herself. Not a spy in the traditional sense, much more of a information collector in this book, she gets embroiled in the thick of things and uses her skills a\to come out of the whole affair unharmed and victorious. For me she represents a perfect example of what Miss Marple would have been like had she lived in USA in the 1980s.

Though not as well read in recent times as these books by Dorothy Gilman should be, the writer and her series does form an integral part of any crime fiction lover’s bibliography. A thoroughly enjoyable and fast read, like most of the books in the series.

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Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second instalment of the series featuring Flavia De Luce, starts of at a zooming speed when a visiting puppeteer in the village of Bishop’s Lacey falls to his death. Flavia starts to poke where she shouldn’t, but couldn’t stay away from, and discovers that the fall is not an accident and actually the murder is linked with a suicide of a boy who died 5 years ago. Cute meets Crime meets a nostalgic feeling featuring Miss Marple in this very enjoyable whodunnit .

One of the best aspect of this series aside from that it features a adorably cute 11 year old as its protagonist, is that it brings back the Golden age feeling of crime novels where the crime took place in a village, and the suspect pool was comprised of the locals. And, most often the culprit was found among these locals. As with this book, the crime though committed on an outsider had a culprit who is a local. And, as most of the villagers were present in the narration from the very beginning the whole crime solving becomes a guessing game, where any person can come out as the culprit. I for one couldn’t really guess who the culprit was until Miss De Luce clears the cobweb and explains it all. After all as Sergeant Woolmer said to Inspector Hewitt,

“With respect, could be because we’re not Miss de Luce.”

And, lastly once again Miss Flavia De Luce. I pray to God that, Alan Bradley on a fine morning doesn’t takes up in his head to make her grow. It would just take away all the fun. Reading these books made me realise one great thing, that children are far more interesting than us boring adults. A standard crime thriller featuring a dour faced, down in the dumos police man would have just turned this book into another crime fiction. But, it was for Miss Luce that we got a series which stands out like a “HEALTHY” thumb among the sore thumbs. Where in a standard crime novel would we have got lines like,

“What did Flaubert mean,” I asked at last, “when he said that Madame Bovary gave herself up to Rodolphe?”
“He meant,” Dogger said, “that they became the greatest of friends. The very greatest of friends.”
“Ah!” I said. “Just as I thought.”


“Experience has taught me that an expected answer is often better than the truth.”

Miss Flavia De Luce is one of a kind, and all credit goes to Mr. Bradley for creating such a lovely character, and not stopping at that, topping it up with plots which are strong, without much loopholes and a crime novel which is blisteringly fast, free of any unnecessary baggage and highly enjoyable to read.

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Tuesday 6 May 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone growing up in Kolkata, I have been exposed to the Bengali brand of Detective novels from the very beginning of my reading life. These books almost always had a juvenile character, embroiled on his own or in the guise of helping an adult, in the thick of the mystery, trying to solve it. Though it was amusing at the beginning to see someone of my age fighting with culprits and solving crimes, but no sooner was I exposed to the crime writing of the west, then I started to realise what balderdash those so called “crime novels” were. And, the very thought of a policeman sharing clues with a kid was so disturbing that it almost took my mind away from the fact that those books had plots which could be easily used as a net to catch a shark. The holes were big, but not that big for a shark to escape.

So, when I found out that THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE featured an eleven year old precocious girl called Flavia De Luce as its main protagonist, I had my doubts. The same old feeling of making a comedy out of a crime thriller. But, I took the plunge, and thank God I did. If finishing the book in two days flat wasn’t proof enough to show that I devoured the book, the fact that i have decided to read all the remaining books in the series one after the another must prove that I have fallen, totally and completely, in awe of Flavia De Luce and her creator Mr. Alan Bradley.

But, this is not the first time that a crime thriller with a child protagonist had garnered such rave reviews, and actually came out as a fascinating read. But those books, be it Blacklands by Belinda Bauer or Last Child by John Hart, were standalones. The heroes never got another shot at glory. Unlike here, where Flavia not only gets to solve the crime of a dead man in their house, Buckshaw’s cucumber patch and save her father, thereby rescuing two very costly and famous memorabilia, one of them belonging to King George himself, and also solve a cold case of suicide which turned out to be murder, but also gets the chance to set herself as a little Miss Marple meets Sherlock Holmes in a series of well read and well received crime novels.

Lastly, Flavia De Luce. I don’t know in reality how to live around a child as precocious as she is, but in these pages she comes out as a character who can bring a smile even to the toughest of men. Her dialogues, courtesy of Mr. Bradley, her experiments with chemistry (a la Dexter’s laboratory) and her penchant for helping her father come out of the jinx makes her one of a kind. And, also her memory of her mother, who disappeared when she was too small to remember anything. Those lines can only bring sadness in the reader’s eyes, showing behind that bubbly little sleuth there remains a little girl who misses her mom.

Poirot is dead. And, with him went away the proverbial village mysteries, to be replaced by sour faced detectives with ecclesial taste in music, Nordic policemen for whom laughing is as bad as having to lead a normal life. Poirot wont come back, but with Flavia, her sidekick Gladys and the village has definitely brought the Golden Age Mysteries back on the map of crime writing world. And this book could have well been called Sweetness ALL over the Pie!!!

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Monday 5 May 2014

Black Lies, Red Blood: A MysteryBlack Lies, Red Blood: A Mystery by Kjell Eriksson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson is the latest instalment in the series featuring Ann Lindell. Set is Sweden, the book starts with Lindell glowing in the light of new found love (according to her). But, no sooner had she really started feeling happy, than the “perfect man” Anders Brant, disappears from her life and apparently from Sweden without any hint as to his whereabouts or his motive. Before Lindell can figure what’s happening, a dead body with a bashed up head is found. Quickly identified as a homeless man, the police find a phone number in his pockets. And, giving credibility to the term “co-incidence” the number turns out to be Brant’s. Lindell is distressed and tries to solve another crime relating to the disappearance of a teenage girl, as she tries to find out “Where the hell, Brant is and what had he done to get his phone number in the pockets of a murdered man?”

Now, points to reckon while reading a book that has been written in a Scandinavian country.
1. Extremely brutal and twisted crime. Like one bullet used to kill three men standing haphazardly.
3. An equally twisted logic to solve and explain the crime.
4. Extremely bad translation (in most cases).
5. Extremely dark detectives.
a. They don’t know how to laugh.
b. Their lives are always down in the dumps.
c. They, always somehow in some way make the crime personal.
6. An African connection. (not frequent, but neither rare)
7. A book, despite all the above points, which is deliciously fast, and hugely entertaining to read.

Now, this particular book had none of the points mentioned from 1 to 6, except maybe the brooding detective and bad translation. Yet, it came out as a “WHY DID I PICK THIS BOOK” kind of book. The crime was pretty simple, the motive when explained to the reader was also simple, in fact it was so simple that wasting 320 pages on such a crime, and bringing it out with a name as mysterious and having no connection to the plot is a bit over the top. And the detection. This took all the cakes away. For 80% of the book everyone was speculating as to who can be the murderer, digging up names and taking with them, comparing fingerprints with no success. And then suddenly the murderer stars behaving oddly, he starts to show to the reader that he just might be the criminal, and in the penultimate chapter he is branded as the culprit. The police could have as well sat on their backs and waited for the 80% of the book to go by and wait for the man to reveal himself. This is not something I like in a detective novel. If this is a kind of thriller you are writing, I would rather read a case report. And coming to case report, the translation actually felt like that. Wooden and official.

Then what was this fuss about the book being an Ann Lindell mystery??? I mean the crime written on the blurb gets solved by everyone else but this lady. The only connection she had with the crime was that her supposed beau’s number was in the victim’s pocket, and that he did a vanishing trick. Lindell was busy trying to solve the missing kid case. And what did that case had to do with the main plot, except increase the number of pages?? And, even that case didnt get a proper ending. Or for that matter what did Anders Brant’s vacation in Brazil, his escapades with a Brazilian lady had to do with the main plot?? Except increasing the number of pages.

This book will remain as one, which had a thin plot fit for a short story, but which came out as a novel just because the author decided to stuff the whole plot with words and paras not remotely connected with the main plot. Or maybe this was that other kind of crime novel, the one with a “BROADER ISSUE” as it base. Whatever that might be!!

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Thursday 1 May 2014

Bones and Silence (Dalziel & Pascoe, #11)Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BONES AND SILENCE by Reginald Hill is the eleventh book in the series featuring Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. Dalziel starts receiving letters from a woman who has decided to commit suicide, and have also decided to let know the fat man of her decision through a series of letters. Dalziel then gets an offer to play God in a local play, as he witnesses a death of a woman. He is convinced that the husband is responsible for the crime, while all evidence along with his boss thinks it’s an accident. Things come to head when a crucial witness goes missing, as Dalziel realises that the main suspect is to play Lucifer to his God in the local play.

I normally tend to get bored by the type of crime novels where 10-15 odd pages gets filled with inter departmental chit-chat, the politics of the department, how the protagonist is trying to disobey his boss, and off course, his musical taste. These 15 pages are followed by a couple of pages of material related to the main plot, and then again the reader gets face to face with another 10-15 pages of the same stuff. All in the good name of “realistic” crime fiction.

Bones and Silence being a long book, had all the possibility of having all the above mentioned “real” points. But all it had was a tight plot, which meanders through a handful of clues. An ending which is not surprising, but still throws up a few delightful twists, and the great relation between Dalziel and Pascoe, which grows tighter with each passing book. In a way this was a complete crime novel, which justified its length.

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Monday 28 April 2014

The False Inspector DewThe False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW by Peter Lovesey is a standalone novel by the author best known for his crime series featuring a Victorian policeman Sgt. Cribb and another featuring Bath CID policeman Peter Diamond. This novel is set in the year 1921, and based on the Cunard liner Mauretania, taking up the case of Dr. Crippen and his crime as a backdrop. Dr. Walter Baranov, a London dentist falls in love with a patient of his. Suffering under his dominating wife, the doctor along with his love struck patient plans to murder his wife, and escape to America aboard the Mauretania, taking up the pseudonym of Walter Dew. When a passenger is killed on board the false Inspector Dew is called upon to solve the mystery.

I can safely say, I did not enjoy the book as much as I would have liked to enjoy it. Yes there were funny moments in the book, and there was a nice little twist in the end, but somehow this book came out for me as a half hearted attempt from a writer capable of writing much funnier and twisted crime novel.

Though not at all a dull one to go through, but the book being shortlisted for the Dagger of Dagger by the CWA is a bit over the top. But, then again a lot of duller books have been awarded the best crime fiction title of the year by the CWA, and compared to those this one was a much better read.

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