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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Sunday 27 April 2014

The Tooth Tattoo (Peter Diamond, #13)The Tooth Tattoo by Peter Lovesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE TOOTH TATTOO by Peter Lovesey marks the return of Peter Diamond of Bath CID. Diamond, while recovering from a trip to Vienna and a break up in his personal life gets a dead Japanese girl on his hands. With nothing better to do, and trying to justify the expenses of the police department, he starts to investigate, only to be handed a clue. The dead girl had a tattoo on her tooth, that of a musical note. On a parallel plot, Mel Farran, a young violist is asked to join a semi retired famous quartet, as they try to revive their careers. The quartet accepts to be residents in Bath Spa University, to teach and play, as the Japanese woman is found dead. The quartet has a anomaly of their own, as their violist had disappeared earlier during a tour of Budapest, the reason for their retirement. All these loose strings come together as a compact crime novel in this highly entertaining work of crime fiction.

Lovesey has long been one of my favourite crime writers. He along with Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill wrote novels those stressed on clues and twists as the bulwark for their books. He didn’t disappoint this time either. The plot was tight; the loose strings were well stitched together in the end. And the parallel narratives also brought in the correct amount of suspense needed. The personal life of Diamond also added the amount of emotion that’s always present in most of the Lovesey books. And the subtle humor. I always enjoy a little bit of humor in my crime novels. They tend to make the reading experience better, and make the fictional policemen seem more humane. Lovesey didn’t disappoint me on that front either.

But, one of the best aspects of this book was the writer’s take on the Scandinavian crime fighters. Every chance he got, he made sure that those crime fighters gets their dues for being so morose and dark. Those lines were a treat to read. Every brood from Peter Diamond got his juniors comparing him to the Scandi guys. One going as far comparing to the Kenneth Branagh played Kurt Wallander, on the brood scale.

A thoroughly enjoyable piece of crime fiction, who shows once again that age hasn’t yet succeeded in diminishing his power of spinning a tale.

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Saturday 26 April 2014

The Killings At Badger's Drift (Chief Inspector Barnaby, #1)The Killings At Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Killings At Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham is the first instalment in the series of crime novels featuring DCI Tom Barnaby, set in the fictional village of Badger’s Drift. Emily Simpson while collecting corral root orchid, steps on to a couple making love out in the open. The sight she sees troubles her deeply. And in the next scene she dies, promptly ruled as heart attack by her doctor. Her friend, Miss Bellringer, refuses to accept. She forces the police to look into the matter. DCI Barnaby takes on the case to find himself standing face to face with a faulty ruling from the doctor, and a death that took place five years ago.

One of the blurbs had mentioned that this is a book which Agatha Christie would have been proud of. Though a bit speculative in its nature as to whether The Dame would really have been proud or not, the book did get nominated for an Agatha Award. And, it can be taken as a modern day tribute to the Dame’s style of writing. The plot is set in a village, which while appearing calm, and rather dull on the surface takes up a sinister atmosphere as lies and hatred gets revealed. Just like the villages of the Dame’s books. But, unlike Poirot, Tom Barnaby comes out as a normal human being, slightly disturbed by his wife’s cooking skills, and without any distinctive mannerisms. Another difference between the two writers would have been the motive for the crime or the act, the one to hide, which prompted the crime, would never had gotten into any of the Poirot or Marple novels. Maybe this book, published in 1987, tried to break away from rather “dull” crimes of the earlier period to provide the reader with something more risky, staying true to the format of a village crime, being solved by a local man.

This book has been hailed as one of the top 100 crime novels of all time, and it got nominated for a plethora of Awards too. For me all these accolades seem justified. This is a fast and entertaining work of crime fiction, which instead of going to the deep psychology of the human mind, stays true to the formula of twists and clever detection.

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Thursday 24 April 2014

Echoes from the Dead (The Öland Quartet #1)Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin set in Oland, Sweden starts when Jens Davidsson, a 6 year old boy goes missing on a foggy day. Years later his grandfather a retired sea captain receives a shoe, a shoe which Jens was wearing on the day he disappeared. He then, along with his daughter, sets off to find out what really happened on that day, and what became of his grandson.

Now, how many times do we come across a crime thriller which, literally, has a twist in its last page? It’s far and rare. And in today’s world of deceitful blurbs and dubious ways of giving away awards for crime writing, it has become much more difficult to come across a book which actually provides a roller coaster ride, all wrapped up in the garb of a run-of-the-mill plot, filled with oh-so-clichéd and drab characters, nothing exotic but believable. Johan Theorin provided us a book which had all the above points. Potent enough to make a crime reader like me suspect, that I am yet again stuck with a book which while calling itself a crime novel would present me with a bouquet of descriptions and scenes of the locale, the deep psychology of the characters, long paragraphs filled with over the top lines, and very little crime and thrill. I was properly and thoroughly hoodwinked.

The book begins with all the above mentioned shortfalls, and as one continues, it appears that though not as bleak like some fellow award winners, this book might just fall flat. But, something stops the reader from putting down the book. Be it the characters. The woman with a missing child, the elderly grandfather settled in an old age home, with a mission to find out the truth. The narrative, which jumps between the present day, and past, talking about a man who gets perceived as a villain, yet something about that man seems to not fit the bill as a villain. All these discrepancies within the over-tested formula of exotic locale, and the super tragic crime of a missing child, kept me interested. I ploughed on, and the book as it progressed, picked up speed. Though not much was happening, clues weren’t getting discovered, nor were people turning up dead by numbers. Yet, the local characters started revealing some odd bits. And when the ending came, I thought that was the best it could have been, only to be presented with a twist in the last page.

Surely one of the most entertaining and suspenseful crime novels I have read in recent time. Standalone thrillers if not treated right gets boring. But, it seems Theorin knew his job, and in the process created a book, which was worthy of all the Awards heaped upon it.

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Wednesday 23 April 2014

A Corpse in the Koryo (Inspector O, #1)A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church is the first in the series of crime novel featuring Inspector O, set in the totalitarian country of North Korea. The novels opens with Inspector O, handed with a camera waiting on a hill, waiting for a car to pass, which he is supposed to take a snap of. The car comes and goes, hooting its horn, but the Inspector fails to take any picture of it. As his failure is reported, he gets involved in a conspiracy involving departments, ministries, army officers, and a few dead bodies.

Colin Cotterrill writes funny and interesting crime novels set in Laos. James Church tried to write a serious crime novel, and also tried to make it interesting. He ‘TRIED’, but for me he did not succeed, at least not fully. The book gave me a great view of the country ruled by madmen where there happens to be no form of public amenities and the officers are law onto themselves. We can believe this as the reports clearly points out the sorry state of affairs of North Korea, and as Mr. Church happens to be a former western intelligence officer stationed there, the scenes painted are doubly believable.

But, sadly this book was not meant to be a commentary on North Korea. It was meant to be a crime novel set in the country. Yes, there was a crime, but what the crime was, and why the failure to click one picture can make a man run all over the country, is not revealed until the very last pages. This becomes a bit tiring. Without any clue as to what is going on the book became slow. The events portrayed seemed haphazard and I had difficulty to sew a lace between one scene and the one happening next to it. The ending when it came seemed plausible enough for a spy fiction; it was well balanced with very few loose ends. But, without any inkling as to what is happening or why our protagonist is on the run, the book falls flat in the middle section, and it becomes a bit difficult to not stop reading and pick up something else.

Inspector O, ran all over the place, and was made to look like an American P.I. His dialogues made him appear as such. Sometimes it became confusing that whether the lines were delivered by an officer of Pyongyang or by Spencer of Boston.

Though not a dull book by any standards, and people looking for a broader perspective(whatever that may mean) in their crime novels will surely enjoy this book. But, I, when searching for a crime novel set in Asia will happily stick to Dr. Siri of Laos.

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Sunday 20 April 2014

Woman with Birthmark (Inspector Van Veeteren #4)Woman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE WOMAN WITH A BIRTHMARK by Hakan Nesser is the fourth instalment in the series of crime novels set in the fictitious city of Maardam, featuring the previously a bit dark and brooding, but a very jolly and witty in this book, Inspector Van Veeteren. The novel starts with a funeral, where a daughter vows to undertake a mission in the memory of her mother. She changes name, takes up a new address and sets the plan in motion. Then we are confronted with a murder, of a seemingly dull businessman. Van Veeteren takes up the case, and the reader comes to know the identity of the killer.

The first thing which struck me out of ordinary was the theme of the novel. Nordic crime fiction has come to be associated with dark themes, and gory plots. Even the previous Nesser novels had gore in them. Enough to make a few readers put the book away(not me though). But here though the motive for the crime was tragic, but it never got to the point where it can be called gory. The book almost seemed like a modern day British crime thriller. The plot was such, that the culprit gets identified from the very first page. But, instead of dampening the pace of the book, it manages to turn the book from a whodunit to a very fast and intriguing Why-Dunit. The WHY became the sole running force behind this extremely enjoyable crime novel.

And, the other aspect that was new to me was Van Veeteren. Nordic crime fighters have become synonymous with the brooding detective. So much so, that in a subtle way Peter Lovesey even made fun of this brooding lot in his book THE TOOTH TATTOO. And, surely if this brooding goes on for a few more years, it will get clichéd. Van Veeteren was never one of those. Maybe he wasn’t always ready with witty one liner-s like Spenser, but he got out a decent laugh and a smile along with some fun remarks when needed. But, in this book he comes out with one witty remark after another. He delivers lines with an élan which makes him look like a fast talking American P.I. more than a serious Nordic policeman. But I loved the change. It made him look more human, and made it easier for me to read.

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Sunday 13 April 2014

The Seven Wonders (Ancient World, #1)The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE SEVEN WONDERS by Steven Saylor, is a prequel to the series of historical Crime fiction, Roma Sub Rosa, featuring his Roman private Eye, Gordianus. Set in around 110 B.C. this novel is set in a time when Gordianus had just attended manhood, at the age of 18. On becoming a man, as decreed by law he sets sail with Antipator of Sidon, who is travelling incognito for reason best known to himself (which eventually gets revealed in the last chapter). The novel set in a format of a collection of short stories sees Gordianus visiting the seven wonders of the Ancient worlds with Antipator. Every city he steps in adds a new chapter to his life, as well as bringing a new problem for him to solve, thereby adding to his experience which would make him a trained Finder in the coming days.

One thing that struck me while reading this book was that though being marketed as a mystery, this one comes out more strongly as a travelogue. With an undercurrent of mystery present in every chapter. Steven Saylor was himself a student of history, who wanted to write a literary fiction based on Rome, which by chance and good luck of the readers got transformed into a series of crime novel. So, it doesnt comes as a wonder that the descriptions of the places which remain till date(only the great Pyramid), and the ones which were present during the days of Antipator, not to forget those which werent there in 110 B.C. as well ( the Hanging Gardens) were such vivid and wonderful that it overshadows the crime solving part, thereby turning this into a very enjoyable account of the travels among the ancient Seven Wonders.

But what is so admirable, also takes away the shine from Gordianus, the protagonist. The vivid imagery created through words about the places visited, pushes Gordianus to a side character. Though enjoyable as a protagonist, with every chapter springing a new lesson in form of a woman, man or a crime, he never becomes as powerful a character as say Brother Cadfael or Marcus Falco. Throughout the book he remains in the shadow of either the travelogue or his master Antipator. Antipator of Sidon, though a real human being who lived, is presented here as the teacher of Gordianus. This character is much more vivid though the presence he gets in the book is less than his student. Travelling incognito he creates an aura around him with his wisdom and poetry. Even when his reason for change of name is revealed, one cannot stop from feeling sorry for him, and for Gordianus as well.

A well written book, which if read with an open mind stating that this should be read as something more than just a mystery novel, will be enjoyed by all.

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Wednesday 9 April 2014

The Chimney Sweeper's BoyThe Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER’S BOY by Barbara Vine is a standalone novel from the renowned British crime novelist, who is best known for her psychological thrillers. Gerald Candless, a bestselling and a onetime Booker prize shortlisted author dies suddenly, the day after entertaining guests at his house on the British coast. As his publisher approaches one of his daughters, Sarah (the other daughter being Hope) to write a memoir in her father’s memory, she accepts. But, while moving forward with the project, she encounters the first and a decisive hurdle as she realises that her father was not Gerald Candless at all, he just used that name, as she digs deeper she comes to realise that although she played the perfect daughter to her daddy, but she never really came to know the real person behind the man they called father.

As the author information of my edition pointed out, that Ruth Rendell is Barbara Vine. Now, a Ruth Rendell novel never focuses solely on the crime, they also digs deeper into abyss of human minds. Though this eternal search of the human abyss does not always provide the novel with the extra punch, but she does manage to keep the focus of the book on the crime, and not turn the book into psychology thesis paper. Barbara Vine maintained the trend, and as a result we got a novel where the mainstay of the plot becomes the mingling of lives and psychology of a famous author who lives under an assumed name, his wife who has a platonic and distant relation with him, his daughters who worships him as he makes them move away from their mother emotionally, and the authors relation with his books. Left to these, this book could have well turned into a drama, but Vine using her skill as a crime novelist ties all these aspects with an unsolved crime which gives this book the much required pace, and the atmosphere of a good crime novel.

But, once again hats off to Vine. How does she create such wonderful characters? Sometimes I feel that if an author starts devoting countless pages towards character development then in most probability the book loses the plot, literally. But what if the characters and their development becomes the part of the plot? As it happened here, had the characters been not developed this book would also have fallen flat. To understand and hate Gerald Candless, his deep characterisation was needed. Same goes for his wife, Ursula, who comes out as a sad and much victimised character. But the greatest triumph was the daughters, Vine wanted them to be hated with gusto, I guess, so she made them snooty, mother hating, Daddy’s spoiled brats. And she was extremely successful. When it came to Sarah and Hope Candless there were few other characters that I have hated as much.

Lastly, I don’t know, but while reading the book, I had a distinct feeling that maybe Rendell takes a dig at the so called “Serious” writers in this book. She gets it done by showing how upset Gerald Candless gets when his book is deemed a thriller and gets reviewed by the crime fiction reviewer of a newspaper. So, if anyone picks up this book, i would advise him/ her to get into it with an open mind. This is not a crime thriller in the strictest of sense, but if one can keep the patience, this is an enjoyable read.

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Monday 7 April 2014

Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
My rating:0.5 of 5 stars

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, is set in the rural town of Chabot, Mississippi, where a local policeman Silas “32” Jones lives and his long estranged school friend Larry Ott, a garage owner. Though both of them were world apart Silas being a black, son of a single mother, Larry was the son of a white mill worker, their friendship blossomed until one day Larry Ott takes a girl to a date in a drive in movie, and the girl is never seen again. Larry carries the burden of being a suspect all his life, as Silas returns to the town as a policeman. Back in the current period another girl goes missing and everyone starts looking suspiciously at Larry again and Silas tries to solve the crime of both the disappearance to bring the guilty to justice.

There are books which can be described in one single word like UNPUTDOWNABLE, and then there are books like these which wins heaps of awards and yet can be described in another single word, “BORING”. Yes this book bored me to death. I just don’t get one point, is it too difficult for a writer to write a clean cut crime novel instead of wrapping it in an extra mould of pseudo literary paragraphs thereby (maybe)trying to prove that, “Look as a writer I dont only write crime fiction, but my books also have a lot of human element in it”.

When I start reading a crime novel, I search for a tight plot, some exciting clue searches and a nicely balanced finish. This book had none, instead had pages after pages of flash backs, comprising of developing relationships between the two protagonists. Though this may be helpful in bringing back the reader’s childhood memories of school, but it did nothing excepting turning a boring plot into something which never came close to resembling anything remotely Crime fiction.

Then at last the book ended, and I felt as if I just got a new lease of life. Because I might have died of boredom. This book won a heap of awards including CWA Golden Dagger, which though have given away some deserving winners, have also decided on conferring the honour on some equally bad crime novels like this one.

Dear author, please, the next time you write a book, decide first what you want to write. Will it be a literary fiction, or a crime fiction? Take a decision and stick to it, but please dont write a book, trying to ride both the boat at the same time.

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Tuesday 1 April 2014

The Secret of Annexe 3 (Inspector Morse, #7)The Secret of Annexe 3 by Colin Dexter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3 by Colin Dexter is the seventh instalment in the Inspector Morse series of crime novels. Morse is called from his recess to investigate the murder of a man dressed up as a Rastafarian in the Haworth Hotel. The hotel hosting its annual New Year’s fancy dress ball had guests dressed up in one form or the other, with the murder victim dressing up like a Rastafari. No sooner does Morse start looking into the case, than he is hounded by the fact that most of the guests, who chose to depart after the murder, had registered under false names. With some giving addresses not present in the map, and some providing those which are inhabited by someone else, and some deciding to register under false names. Morse finally manages to clear the cobwebs, and after (typically) running after a quite a few red herrings finally manages to find out the truth.

The aspect which was most evident was that this book, unlike other Morse novels like The Way Through the Woods or The Riddle of the Third Mile, had a humorous undertone. While reading the book I got a distinct feeling that I was reading a crime novel which is meant to be funny. Be it the description of the dresses worn by the guests, or the deviousness shown by the guests while choosing their false address and names, the humor was more than present. Reading those lines brought a smile to my face. And not to forget Morse’ faux pas, when it came to women. In other books these interactions brings a subtle sadness, but that was not the case here. Morse bumbled with women, and I laughed at his foolishness. Moreover, Morse also managed to receive a love letter from a lady who used as incident from the life of Thomas Hardy.

The plot, as always, was tight. Colin Dexter it seems is incapable of producing a plot which falls flat. His triumph as a crime writer comes out from the fact that the reader while enjoying the book as a nicely written piece of English literature, where the descriptions and the scenes created are a treat to read. But, the book never loses focus from the crime. It doesn’t become a book where the crime takes a backseat to the literary hocus pocus churned out by the author. Dexter keeps the crime intact, gives us the requisite number of twists to keep us happy, and wraps the whole affair in a coating of good writing to make the book a treat to read. Though the plot ended with a coincidence which seemed a bit farfetched, but the better points overshadowed this minor flaw, and as Morse puts it, “And if anyone ever tells you, Lewis, that there isn't a quite extraordinary degree of coincidence in this world of ours—then you tell him to come to see me, and I'll tell him different.”

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