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Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

Portrait of a Murderer (British Library Crime Classics) - Anne Meredith, Martin Edwards

Adrian Gray,an unpleasant patriarch of an equally unpleasant family invites his six children (and their partners) to the family manor to celebrate Christmas. He is not a very loved or likeable man and his family have solid reasons to murder the old man. And one of them does murder Adrian Gray on Christmas Eve. The identity of the murderer is immediately revealed. This is not a who,how or why done it. The story revolves mainly around the exposure and evidence seeking to convict the culprit. It has definitely a modern,not Golden Age at all,twist about it but it took me an eternity to finish it and some parts just dragged on. True,my mother passed away in December and that really didn't help me to keep focused...

Therefore it is really very difficult to give an unbiased opinion on this classic mystery...

Turkish Delights - John Gregory Smith

Although I really don't mind the winter,a sprinkling of sun in the kitchen is a welcome present.

And both the recipes and the photographs (mind you not all the recipes have photographs but most of them...)bring a bit of sunshine in your daily diet. 

The problem with a lot of "international " cookbooks are the ingredients. How does anyone expect you to find some obscure vegetable or an unheard of spice blend? Well,the author gives you alternatives . For instance certain Turkish cheeses are replaced by feta,cheddar and even mozzarella! Those alternatives and the fact that most recipes are not overly complicated make this a very pleasant introduction to the Turkish cuisine.

Deep Waters - Martin Edwards

Sixteen short stories all relating to water,be it rivers,seasides,estuaries, pools and so on. And ranging in style from classic murder mysteries to tales of the unexpected. Some are good,very good indeed,and some do not quite enchant me so much. But one of the great advantages and delights of these anthologies is the fact that you are introduced to different writers(some famous like Arthur Conan Doyle,C.S.Forester,Michael Innes and some now long forgotten) and their different approach to the "murder mystery". And notwithstanding the fact that some were written more than a century ago,they are still highly readable and are still a wonderfull source of bookish pleasure.

Storm of Secrets (Haunted Bluffs Mystery #2) - Loretta Marion

A storm is closing in the Cape Cod and the small town of Whale Rock and everybody is preparing for this natural disaster. But just before the storm hits the land,a small time drugs dealer is found dead in a dumpster and a toddler has gone missing. So the local police force and Daniel Benjamin a retired FBI agent(and groom to be)have their work cut out for them. Meanwhile Cassie Mitchell,a bride whose wedding has been postponed due to the stormy weather welcomes several local residents and visitors ,whose houses are in a danger zone ,in her house "The Bluffs" where the ghosts of her great-grandparents have taken up residence . There is another story of another boy whose body washed up on the shore,some 20 years ago, but who was never identified. It is clear that this story still attracts some attention. There is a mysterious woman who visits his grave,a local writer trying to make a book out of this tragic story and a visitor who also has some keen interest in the unknown boy. There is yet another storyline going back to the sixties,eighties and present day, about an immigrant Italian family and their tribulations in the US. The mystery side of the story is not bad but there are so many sidelines and so many things going on ...paternity quests,diaries,ghosts,paintings,pregnancies,illness,beach houses,party guests,lost(or forgotten)lovers,drugs,lost boys both from the past and the present,damaged young men...it is just too much. Of course,it didn't help that I couldn't connect with the amateur sleuth,Cassie. She is opinionated,judgemental, nosy(ok,that's normal for a sleuth...),not very discreet and even rude sometimes. But the setting is great,a small town of the Cape Cod coast,flooded by merry vacationers in the summer and pretty restful in the winter. And that is a great start full of promises.

Brightfall - Jaime Lee Moyer
 
 Not all is well in Nottingham forest. Several ex-Merry Men,companions of Robin Hood, and their family members are found dead. The circumstances are a bit suspicious as they are all found staring in the void without any visible cause of death. Robin has left his Marian(and their two children )some twelve years previously and entered a monastery(where Brother Tuck is the abbot).Why he did so is not very clear,at least not at the beginning..So Brother Tuck asks Marian, who is a wise woman with the "sight", to find some information. This quickly leads her to the Fae,basically a parallel world inhabited by,of course the Fae,but which is also steeped in rather amazing magic. The Lady Fae also asks Marian for her help because they too are worried about those killings. So an improbable fellowship is formed:Marian, a very reluctant Robin,Jack,a family member of one of the victims,Bert,a rather flamboyant Fae,Birgit,a real vixen and Julian,a more than adorable dog. This is basically an adventure story immersed in magic,extraordinary powers and a bit more magic. It has so much potential but it is a bit long winded. When Marian encounters yet another site of dark (or not) magic the details are so extensive that they interfere with the flow and the rhythm of the story which is a pity because it is really a good storyline. But nobody wants to skip passages because they are not always relevant or even very interesting. That said,the flow picks up at the very end but leaves the reader with some serious questions. I could be wrong,but I think a follow up is a possibility... So,all in all,good storyline,interesting characters but way,way too much descriptions and details.
 
The Body on the Beach (An Island Mystery #1) - Anna Johannsen, Lisa Reinhardt

The body  of Hein Bohlen,a social educator and the director of a local children's home,is found dead in a beach chair on Amrum, a small island of the coast of North Germany. At first sight it looks as if the man has died of a heart attack,but his wife has doubts and demands a post mortem where poison is suspected but not confirmed. DI Lena Lorenzen and sergeant Johann Grassman are sent to this beautiful island to investigate this death. They both realise that not everything is as it should be and that the alleged victim and other inhabitants have some very disturbing secrets indeed...

This is a very pleasant mystery situated on the gorgeous island of Amrum but perhaps the end was a bit too predictable. 

Still,this is the first in the series,in English at least, and I will definitely try another one.

Death at Beacon Farm - Betty Rowlands

Sukey Reynolds, a civil scene of crime photographer who is working for the police,is called to Bussell Manor to investigate a break in and the theft of several expensive pieces of art. Apparently burglaries in expensive,"arty "houses are a bit of an epidemic in the Cotswolds. The main suspect however seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth while his two partners in crime are found murdered. And then there is also the case of mistaken identity which puts Sukey's life in danger, This is a cross between a "cosy"and a classic mystery and it works up to a point. But then international criminal gangs,dark mafiosi style characters,hitmen.... make their appearance and it loses some of its charm and credibility (e.g. DI Jim Castle,Sukey's boyfriend freely discusses the case with Sukey(a civilian)in front of her son Fergus,there is somewhere a Miami Vice environment ...). It didn't feel right. I have another Sukey Reynolds book on my TBR list and perhaps there is a little bit less incongruence...

Blood on the Tracks - Various Authors, Martin Edwards

Anthologies are always a tricky business. All the stories in this volume have a common denominator ,a train,trainstation,railroad, train travel...all play a major part in their criminal make up. And it is true that trains and stations create a very special atmosphere. This collection consists of contributions by Athur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L.Sayers,Baroness Orczy,R.Austin Freeman,Will Croft and other highly talented mystery writers. Some of these stories are very good(The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel,The Man with the Watch,The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway and many others...)and some were,well just average.

But as mentioned before,anthologies are tricky!

Appointment with Death (Masterpiece Edition Poirot) - Agatha Christie

There is not much point in repeating the storyline of this book as every Christie reader knows the story of a horrendous, cruel,terrorising (step)mother and her dysfunctional family. And as this is a Christie, murder must follow . Enter Hercule Poirot, who decides to give Colonel Carbury(a friend of Colonel Race) a helping hand and solve this crime.

I remember reading it as a young creature and thinking,Petra,wow,it seemed so far away,both in distance as in atmosphere. When years later,I finally visited Petra I was, apart from being mightily impressed, overcome by an acute attack of Christie nostalgia. 

How fabulous it must have been,travelling in a small group,sleeping in a cave,having diner overlooking those red,orange and of course, pink cliffs and gazing upon this historical and mythical wonder in the sunset.

This was written in 1938 and it is still highly readable(of course our attitude towards"servants" and the original inhabitants has changed, although not all that much...) but notwithstanding this,and a very soppy epilogue, it is always such good fun reading Agatha Christie.

Lost Acre - Andrew Caldecott

This is the third instalment of the Rotherweird trilogy. Evil is back in Rotherweird and it has a name, Gervon Wynter. As is seen all over this planet, some are charmed by this power and support his masterplan although not many of them have a clear view what this plan exactly represents. And then there is the Resistance,ordinary, well perhaps not so ordinary, townspeople and country people. Of course the weird city of Rotherweird, an Elizabethan anachronism, plays a major role in this story as do many major and minor characters. Still one of the best characters in these stories is the city of Rotherweird. It is slightly gothic,Dickensian, there is a touch of horror in it ,but it is foremost absolutely captivating. This world building ,although complex,is done with great skill and is one(of the many)attractive features. As this is the third part of the trilogy it is fair to warn the readers that this is definitely not a standalone novel. If you have not been introduced to Rotherweird and its quirkiness, nor to some history or characters it is really unreadable. And as with all trilogies, especially fantasy,you are either completely mesmerized by it or you absolutely hate it! Well,I was very happy that I read it as it gave me many hours of sometimes confusing,sometimes marvelous and very often amazing pleasure.

The Woman on The Cliff - Janice Frost

1988. Five students at St. Andrews University share a house. It is clear that the five girls don't all get along and that there are some tensions and disputes. But then Moira,a stunning,clever and a very confident girl is found murdered on a cliff path. Her boyfriend is charged with the murder but before the police can arrest him,he commits suicide leaving a note saying he killed her.

30 years later,Roz,one of those students returns to St. Andrews accompanying her daughter who is ready to start her studies. Roz meets Innes Nevin, one of the policeman of the original investigation. The murder of Moira has left a deep impact on him. He was never completely convinced of the culpability of the boyfriend. And very slowly they try to discover the truth behind this horrendous crime.

This is an easy reads that keeps your attention (perfect for a flight where you sit between a snoring bloke and a grumpy teenager) right until the denouement .Then the story becomes a bit messy,confusing and goes definitely over the top. And the explanations are not exactly crystal clear and satisfying. Pity...

The Bone Fire by S.D.Sykes

The Bone Fire (Somershill Manor Mystery #4) - S. D. Sykes

1361. Oswald de Lacy,Lord of Somershill,is forced to leave his estate because the plague is coming uncomfortably closer. So with his wife,his young son and his cantankerous mother,he seeks refuge in the isolated castle of Godfrey of Eden,on the Isle of Eden. The castle, perched on a lonely cliff is surrounded by nothing but marsh. But Godfrey has other problems than the plague. He has a layabout brother,is suspicious and has very strong religious beliefs. To his mind the plague,apart from heralding the end of the world, is also the punishment of God upon humanity and especially upon the church and the clergy. Oswald and his family are not the only ones seeking refuge in this cold and bleak castle. From the first night tensions run high and the atmosphere is somewhat unpleasant. And then Godfrey is murdered. Oswald takes it upon himself to discover the murderer(s) but only encounters more mysteries and more deaths. I remember reading the first book,The Plague Land, in this series and I wasn't completely enchanted by it. So,I was a bit apprehensive when I started The Bone Fire,but there was really no reason for it. It is a classic mystery story in a historical (and his this case,haunting )setting. It is well written,the characters are well defined and well,I just wanted to finish it. And then I felt a bit sorry that it was finished...Always a good sign!

Tongued With Fire - Norman Russell

Baron Renfield,the proud owner of Renfield Hall,has serious problems. He is bankrupt and both his wife and the Baron want to keep their estate and their way of living but there seems to be no straightforward solution unless...his rebellious daughter marries a very wealthy American. But the daughter has no such intentions because she is madly in love with Alan Lavender,the nephew of Guy Lavender, a mean book antiquarian. Guy discovers some hidden secrets in the Renfield family their historical past and attempts a spot of blackmail. When Guy is found murdered suspicion falls on Baron Renfield. But it is not the only enigma. There is the story of an incident in Renfield's past when he was an officer, there is a ghost somewhere and there is another murder and a suicide...so there is really a lot going on. But it works. The characters are well developed and the storyline is, albeit not always straightforward, easy to follow and keeps one's interest. And although it takes place in the present,there is a bit of an interbellum atmosphere. If you are not looking for a psychological thriller with gory details and really depraved characters but for a good mystery with a certain charm,then this is definitely a very good choice.

Deadland (DS Alexandra Cupidi #2) - William Shaw

Two young teenagers, Tap and Sloth decide to take the road to petty crime so they can forge a place for themselves in a rather bleak and uninspiring environment. Unfortunately they have more ambition than talent and they steal a holdall containing a rather expensive iPhone and a cheap Alcatel phone. But the owner is very serious about retrieving his possessions and the threats become very quickly life-threatening and deadly. Meanwhile DS Alexandra Cupidi and Constable Jill Ferriter are asked to look into a rather morbid incident. A severed arm is found in a modern art installation in the Turner Museum in Margate. It is their introduction to the hazy world of art collectors,foundations and financial Maecenases. Although at first sight both cases seem to have nothing in common, very slowly a connection is made between the two boys of a council estate and the glittering world of art with a capital A.

It is a good story,it is well written,the coastal location in Kent next to a nuclear power plant is very well chosen and it definitely keeps your attention until the end.

The why only three stars? Well,and I know this is personal,but I just couldn't connect with Cupidi and Ferriter. Sometimes they felt a bit contrived,then a bit bland and then over the top. I did not understand their reactions or attitudes on certain occasions and I therefore found it very hard to like (or dislike) them,to be moved by them or to be very interested in them...

Ah well, it happens!

The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway #11) - Elly Griffiths

DCI Nelson receives anonymous letters letting him know that he has to look for a stone circle and all will be revealed. Those letters remind him of a previous dramatic case which ended with the death of a young child and two men (one of them a murderer). Meanwhile next to an archaeological dig on a beach in Norfolk a new site is started. The bones of a young girl (Bronze Age) is discovered but after futher excavation another,more recent skeleton is found. It is quickly identified as the remains of Margaret Lacey,a 12 year old girl gone missing some 20 years ago. Ruth Galloway is asked to give some forensic backup and is so one more time involved in a crime investigation run by Harry Nelson,lover,not lover,maybe lover... In the meantime, one of the original suspects is found dead,shot through the head in a more modern variation of a stone circle. There are of course many meandering storylines,a missing baby,a new baby for Nelson,druids and their outlook on life and a blast from the past .... To be fair,after the 10th instalment in this series, I was a bit fed up with this Nelson and Galloway thing,it basically took up most of the story! It is still a big deal and frankly I wish they just made up their minds,personally I think it doesn't add anything of major interest ...but the storyline is good,the tension is absolutely there ,the outcome suprising and it really was a very decent mystery story!

The Venetian Masquerade - Philip Gwynne Jones

Nathan Sutherland,honorary consul and part time translator is asked to help the famous conductor, Thomas Lockwood, and his gorgeous talented partner,Isotta Baldan, an opera singer, in their quest for a mythical,but unfortunately lost,opera of Monteverdi. But death seems to follow in the wake of their investigations...

The setting,Venice during carnival, is of course absolutely stunning but somehow I'm missing some personal link to the city. We get all the names of the calle,piazza's...but there is a certain warmth,a deep involvement lacking. The relationship between Nathan and his partner Frederica is a bit soppy,a lot of tesoro,mio cuore,caro mio(and I mean a lot!). There is also a lot foodstuff going on,but there again, I don't have the feeling they are particularly enjoying their food apart from huge amounts of Spritzes (basically vermouth/Campari,white wine/prosecco and sparkling water.) Yes,Spritz is definitely an on going theme!

It is an easy read and it is not a bad story as the mystery of a long lost manuscript is captivating but it is certainly not as sparkling as the already mentioned Spritz.