Sunday, May 27, 2007

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

Ten years ago the body of 15 year old Abigail Mantel was discovered by her best friend Emma Winter. Now the woman jailed for her murder is found dead in her cell and doubt is thrown on her conviction. Inspector Vera Stanhope is brought in to re-open the investigation and find out who really did kill Abigail? As this tale, told from the viewpoints of several characters unfolds, begins to unfold out comes all the little secrets being kept by members of this tiny Yorkshire village. Just who is hiding what?

I must admit I avoid non-historical crime fiction as a rule. I tend not be interested in reading about the here and now. The reason I read this book was that its the book we've been given to read at the reading group I belong to.

Despite the fact I don't usually read books like this I found it easy to read and quite enjoyed it. There were plenty of twists and turns, blinds and tasty secrets unrelated to the case. It was well constructed and kept my interest throughout. So much so in fact that I polished this book off in a day. I have to even admit that the person who turned out to be the murderer was one of the people I hadn't fingered for it in the course of reading!

It did take me a little while to get used to the constant change in perspective. Sometimes the story is being told by Emma Bennett (nee Winter), sometimes by Michael Long (father of the accused), and even sometimes by Vera Stanhope (the investigating officer). I don't usually like this style but Cleeves some how prevents it from being clunky. Instead it adds extra dimensions to the story as it unfolds. It also tries to deal with the emotions and aftermath of such situations which many crime dramas I watch on TV fail to do, such as Michael Long's reaction to his daughter's conviction. The relationship between Emma and James Bennett is also very interesting and makes you realise that there are many different types of marital relationships out there.

The story was easy to get into and didn't overwhelm the reader with endless description. The story moves at a good pace and I didn't find it patronising or overly simplistic. It certainly felt like a gentle introduction to the modern crime fiction genre.

I would recommend this to anyone who like me has not taken the leap into modern crime fiction or crime fiction full stop. Hardened crime enthusiasts may find this book a little too gentle.

*3 stars*

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis

This is the 18th book (yes, I know can hardly believe it myself!) in the Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis. If you haven't picked up a Falco book yet, go do so now! The first in the series is the Silver Pigs, but they're all worth a read. There are probably going to be spoilers ahead if you haven't read any of the other books so be warned!

It's Saturnalia (Roman equivalent of Christmas) and everyone is in party mood. However amid the merriment a dangerous enemy of the state has escaped from house arrest and Didius Falco, informer has been charged with the task of finding her. Not only has she escaped but she also seems to have murdered a member of a high ranking family during her escape. At the same time his brother in law goes missing after a marital spat over said escaped felon. Added to that Falco has a group of soldiers working undercover to assist him, but they seem more interested in celebrating the holidays than helping out. Juggling his wife Helena, his two children and extended family with the investigation Falco finds, as usual, life is never quiet.

As soon as I started reading this book I relaxed. I love Davis' style and find it comfortable and easy going. It's like slipping on your favourite pair of shoes or an old jumper. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it came alone at just the time I needed a bit of comfort reading! Her characters are so beautifully created, from Falco's no nonsense mother to the beautiful, intelligent Helena who keeps Falco in line. You feel as if you could know some of the characters in your own life! There are definitely characteristics that transcend the centuries, like the way the soldiers try to avoid work or how Helena's parents acted when she and her brothers were little. There are some incredibly funny moments that showcase Davis' skill. She manages to mix humour, romance, violence, crime and mystery into one coherent story. You never feel that what you're reading is irrelevant to the plot.

It should also be added that Davis has researched her historical period well and is pretty accurate.

I seriously would advise that you read the series of Falco books from the start. A lot of the characters will only make sense if you have read the previous books, despite Davis' attempts to remind the reader the history behind each aspect of the story. It also helps you to appreciate the Roman way of life. I have an interest in Roman Britain and the Romans in general so I came to these books with a certain amount of background knowledge. I find that reading these books had brought the subject to life and made me understand how each piece I'd looked at fitted into the whole. Although human nature rarely changes the way the day is structured, the politics and the institutions differ so much and they are so intertwined with the plot in these books that Davis does well to explain them to those who don't know about it.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all Falco fans, Davis is back on form. I would advise the entire series to anyone who likes TV programmes like The Last Detective or who likes a crime fighter with a life beyond work.

For more information about Lindsey Davis and the Falco books visit her official website.

*4 stars*

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Having the Builders In by Raey Tannahill

It's the late 13th century and Dame Constance De Clair decides the castle at Vine Regis needs extending for her eldest son and his new bride. However as anyone who has ever had the builders in will know, nothing ever goes to plan. Combined with her future daughter in law trying to oust her as the lady of the castle, a thief and her eldest son's preference for court intrigues than Vine Regis nothing seems to be going right for Constance.

When I picked up this book and read the blurb on the back I had a chuckle and felt that the book would be an easy to read comic caper. Although the book did offer comic moments and was fairly easy to read I did not take to it at all. It was almost child like in its writing style, too simplistic for my tastes. The plot never really grabbed me and I was easily distracted by anything other than reading whilst I was trying to read this book. I am sure that the plot could have been more inventive and that those plots followed in the book could have been written in a way not to make me feel as if I was having my teeth pulled. I think perhaps I was expecting too much from this book.

I spent a lot of time wanting to slap Susanna, the 15 year old daughter to be. There was nothing likable about her, and my opinion still had not changed by the end of the book. I found Gervase her husband not only lacked back bone but any depth of character at all. In fact I found that Tannahill had a rather broad brush approach in terms of his characters, they all seemed rather two dimensional and flat.

There was nothing that endeared me to this book. Tannahill is writing a sequel called 'Having the Decorators in' which I intend to avoid at all costs. I would not recommend this book to anyone unless they were under heavy sedation.

*1 star*

Sovereign - by C.J. Sansom

This is the third book in the Matthew Shardlake Series (Dissolution and Dark Fire are the previous two). The book is set in the reign of Henry VIII at the time of the Reformation. Matthew is a lawyer in London who in the previous two books has managed to get embroiled in political intrigues. In this installment Matthew is sent to York on two assignments. One is to act as one of the lawyers on Henry's royal progress to York and deal with the petitions from the locals. The other is to ensure that a conspirator against the crown is brought safely to London to be questioned. Yet somehow Matthew finds himself in the middle of a plot against the crown and some deadly court intrigues.

When I first read Dissolution I felt that Sansom was competent and the storyline was ok. In this third installment Sansom has created an intricate story, well written and with as many twists and turns as one can imagine. I couldn't put the book down and wanted to know what would happen with each of the threads of the story. The characters are three dimensional and you can't help but loathe the likes of Sir Richard Rich whilst cheering for the likes of Matthew Shardlake. Also the book is well tied into the period in which it is set. The story of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine Howard provides some of the background events in this novel and known events such as the Pilgrimage of Grace and the creation of the Council of the North contribute to the storyline.

As far as storyline itself goes I truly did not see the last section of the book coming. I won't spoil it by telling you what happens but hope you agree that given how careful Matthew is how unexpected it is. Other than that it is complex enough to keep the reader interested but the twists and turns are not so convoluted as to loose the reader in a mire of words. I found the story addictive and found it hard to put the book down.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Tudor period of English history and anyone who enjoys a well written murder mystery/thriller.

**5 stars**