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Wakenhyrst - Michelle Paver

1966. The late Edmund Stearne,a gentleman and a murderer,creates a bit of a stir in the modern art world with his triptych that he painted while being a guest at Broadmoor,a high security psychiatric hospital. Because,yes, Edmund was a murderer. Right?

1906. Maude lives with her family in Wake's End,a rather grim, isolated manor surrounded by marshes and fens. Her father, Edmund Stearne,a egocentric, inspired historian with a predilection for medieval history has more than a tight grip on his household and after the death of her mother life becomes just a bit more unsettling for 15 year old Maude. She discovers her father's diary and so secretly follows his musings and thoughts. When Edmund discovers the Doom,a painting that represent the Last Day of Judgement,in the churchyard things start to break down for him. Present and past demons haunt Edmund and very slowly he becomes a more than tormented and haunted man. The outcome is both tragic and horrific...

This is a gothic story,a crime story and the story of the downfall of a human being. The bleak and haunting fens are a perfect background for this very atmospheric and mesmerizing story.

Dirty Little Secrets - Jo Spain

In a rather privileged gated estate called Withered Vale,a woman's body is found in her cottage. Apparently she has been dead for three months and nobody of this small estate noticed anything. So Detective Frank Brazil and Detective Emma Child start their investigation into the death of Olive,one of the first inhabitants of this small community even before it became the living space for six more or less affluent families(singles,couples and families with children). Very quickly both detectives realise that all of the inhabitants have small(large and big)secrets and that kind Olive was perhaps no so kind and treasured as some would like them to believe. Each of these secrets are important on different levels but they do lead to weakened positions and uncomfortable situations. But the questions remains,who killed Olive? 

Every chapter is told by a different inhabitant (including the deceased Olive) and it works perfectly,it keeps you guessing who the culprit is (as the whole lot are basically suspects) and the ending is definitely a surprise. 

A very good mystery with strong and well developed characters,two very likeable detectives, Frank,close to his retirement and Emma,an ambitious young wolf. 

Just sorry to hear that Frank is retiring...

Darkest Before the Dawn - Mike Martin

Newfoundland. A small town is confronted with the murder of a young loner and an attempted suicide of a young teenager. Sergeant Winston Wildflower and his(small)team have to solve this murder while he also has to take care of a B&B that he,his wife and their baby are starting up.

Well,I know this is supposed to be a cosy/cozy but this one definitely didn't work for me. The mystery is hardly a mystery at all and the showdown is more a bit of a let down. 

So what is left is endless talk about babies,their burbs,their noises and their diapers,detailed lunches(apparently Sergeant Winston finds time to go home for lunch notwithstanding the murder case),walks with the dog,tea/coffee breaks with goodies,shopping lists for a dinner party,the elaborated preparation of this menu and a detailed testimony of the tender love between husband and wife(and their baby).

As this constitutes about 80% of the story it is hardly a mystery.

That said,I liked the characters(the sergeant and his team are well developed and very likeable )but I don't think I belong to the targeted audience...

A Testament to Murder - Vivian Conroy

Malcolm Bryce-Rutherford ,a very unpleasant and very sick man,has invited several guests,both family and,well not exactly, friends to his beautiful house on the French Riviera. He announces to his puzzled audience that he will draw up a different will every day. If he dies the person who is mentioned in that " daily" will inherit the whole estate. Of course there are risks,not in the first place for Mr. Malcolm himself but also for the beneficiary. If Malcolm dies he or she could become the number one suspect. Nobody has any doubt that a murder will be committed but the victim comes as a bit of a surprise,followed by another murder and some strange mishaps. Luckily the neighbour,a retired Scotland Yard man,is there to solve these crimes.

The story and setting(a weekend party in an isolated manor house)has strong links to Golden Age (and Agatha Christie ) mysteries. And it works up to a certain point but it is a tad long winded and the "denouement "(in real Poirot style,all the suspects in the drawing room)and the gathering of evidence leading to this great revelation is missing something. Very hard to say what exactly but there it is...

Ruin Beach - Kate Rhodes

On Tresco,one of the many islands of Scilly, a young professional diver is found murdered in a famous (or infamous) cave. The year before another young woman was found drowned in the same place. Coincidence? D.I. Ben Kitto,a local man, back after a spell in the big Metropolis, has to find the culprit of this horrendous murder. Very soon the place is awash with rumours about a mythical Roman shipwreck. And as this is a close and small community,there is no lack of suspects...

It is a good murder mystery, a good storyline(although a bit long winded ),a fabulous setting and most of the characters are believable and well elaborated except D.I. Kitto ,it feels as if this character is not quite finished yet. Perhaps a firmer editing?

And then there is the dog,admittedly Kitto is not the willing and voluntary owner of Shadow but still...I don't think he calls the dog even once by his name,the dogs gets wounded but after some very basic treatment Shadow just limps on...Weird...

Alibi for a Corpse - Elizabeth Lemarchand

The rural community of Twiggadon (2 cottages,a"manor"house,a farm and a car dump) is startled by the discovery of a skeleton in the boot of a car. Scotland Yard is called in and D.I. Pollard and Sergeant Toye are sent to Northamptonshire to assist the local constabulary. The main problem is the identification of the victim (this was written in the sixties so no DNA,no digital database...) and the determination of the cause of death. After some solid detection work,with the help of the local constables, landlords and other inhabitants of the surrounding villages, one after the other suspect is cleared. Finally there is only one left but most of the evidence is circumstantial so they have to find a creative solution to capture their culprit...

Although written in the sixties, it has a Golden Age aura. Probably village life, small police stations and any absence of coarse language or behaviour (barring murder) ensures this atmosphere but that is fine by me!

Murder on a Winter Afternoon - Betty Rowlands

Melissa Craig,a successful crime novelist, is asked to finish the late Leonora Jewell her final book. Leonora died rather unexpectedly after a nasty fall in her cottage. As Melissa is trying to get as much information as she can in order to accomplish her task successfully, she encounters some discrepancies in different stories ,some things that do not match and all of a sudden poor Leonora's death is perhaps not so straightforward after all...

This is a blend between a cozy/cosy read and a typical English village murder. But it works,it doesn't sound too simplistic, the characters are not overly "vaudeville"and people do more than drink tea and have a chat with the vicar. 

And then,an English(Cotswolds I think) village in the winter is always a bit of a winner.

Happy Holidays !

La Passion de Dodin-Bouffant - Mathieu Burniat

This graphic novel is loosely based on the historical character of Brillat-Savarin ,a French gastronome par excellence. But it is in the first place an ode,an homage to French cuisine and its masters and lovers. And a strange but delightful love story makes it all the more human...

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart  Turton

Basically this is Grounhog Day meets Tales of the Unexpected meets classic country house mystery. And it is cleverly done but unfortunately it did not work for me...it is well written and the characters are well developed but it felt so chaotic, so forced. Of course, the fact that none of the characters were endearing is both an asset and a drawback.

No,sorry,it just didn't work for me...

The Monastery Murders - E.M. Powell

1176.The sacrist of a Cistercian abbey has been horrible murdered. As the abbot is an old acquaintance of Aelred Barling,a senior clerk at the court of King Henry,it is evident that Westminster dispatches him and his assistant Hugo Stanton to this remote monastery in North-Yorkshire.
It is clear that their presence is not appreciated by the monks but a murderer is at large and a second murder is committed soon after their arrival. To make things worse, the weather takes a turn for the worse and the monastery is completely cut off due to heavy snowfall....and the feeling of security is replaced by a sense of fear.
Of course,an isolated snowed under monastery,is reminiscent of the Name of the Rose and Dissolution but both these book are quite an historical feat (and sometimes a bit of a challenge ) while this is an easy going read,with well developed characters and with a good insight in monastery life in the 12th century. And it is a good mystery !

Death Spins the Wheel - George Bellairs

An elderly French lady,after spending some pleasant time in the Isle of Man's brand new casino ,is found shot on the beach. Inspector Littlejohn ,while helping the Archdeacon assembling a conservatory,is asked by the local force to give a helping hand. It is clear that part of the solution is to be found in France,to be precise, in Evian. And everybody knows that old sins have long shadows..think Résistance ,betrayal,passion...
The storyline is undoubtedly good,but what makes Bellairs such a wonderful, relaxing read is the rather benign atmosphere,great characters and a sniff of a bygone era.

Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

Six people,five of them lucky proprietors of some fabulous jewellery, and one out of job,out of luck outsider are invited for a weekend at a remote and rather gloomy country house by a mysterious, wealthy collector of jewels and precious stones. They are an Ill-assorted lot waited on by a very lugubrious butler. And then things start to happen,of course...one of the servants is not who he seems to be,a guest disappears,there is a very interesting and well appointed cellar...This is not so much a" who done it" but more of a "how is it going to end".

But notwithstanding  the great setting(an isolated country house always works for me) it did not impress me all that much. It feels like a not so successful imprint of P.G.Wodehouse. One expects to hear tally-ho any moment. No,not entirely my cup of tea...

Murder in Keswick - William Todd

Holmes needs some rest,at least Watson thinks so. So they(Watson )decide to spend some time in Keswick, a village in the beautiful Lake District. On their arrival at the station they are confronted with some agitated travellers. Apparently a beheaded body has been found along the road. The body seems to belong to Mr. Darcy,a well respected local gentleman. Holmes and Watson visit the local constable who is more than delighted to have the masterly mystery solver by his side. For once ,the local village constable is not depicted as a slow thinking idiot who can not take an initiative. And so they solve this crime with Holmes his usual panache.

There have been quite a lot of Holmes stories published of late,but to be fair not all of them recreate the right feeling...but this one does,the setting (Holmes in the countryside)is believable,Holmes and Watson their attitude is what it is,the characters and their behaviour is consistent with the original stories,the lenght(178 pages)is just right and the crime and its solution is reminiscent of A.C. Doyle.

The Killing Time - M J Lee

Shanghai, January 1932. China is faced with the threat of a Japanese invasion/annexation of Manchuria. The atmosphere in the International compound (mainly British)is very tense as it is is surrounded by a Japanese concession, a French one,a Russian one....and of course a lot of Chinese inhabitants. There is a boycott of Japanese shops and products and there are several riots. Amidst all these tensions,the body of young ,Chinese boy is found,horrible mutilated. Inspector Danilov(of Russian origin)and his inspector Strachan(with a wonderful Chinese/Scottish background) start their investigation in a rainy,damp and foggy Shangai. Very soon two other Chinese children disappear which bring the tension in the Settlement to a boiling point. When the bodies of the two children are found(mutilated,as the first child) the Chinese population (of Shanghai)take their revenge and attack some Japanese monks. Needless to say this,and the fact that more Japanese warships found their way into Shangai harbour,does not exactly improve the precarious situation. But then a Japanese boy disappears and Danilov has to reconsider his theories about these brutal murders.
Of course, the storyline is good,the horrible murder mystery keeps your attention but what is so remarkable about this book,is the atmosphere it creates. One is practically present at this amazing setting that is Shangai in 1932. You can feel the chill of the fog,hear the street hawkers selling their goods,smell the street food,inhale the coal smoke....And although it is perhaps not always particularly pleasant it definitely is full of life!

The Temptation of Forgiveness  - Donna Leon

It is very difficult to maintain the same quality throughout a longstanding series as this one(this is number 27...). And although that the storyline is still very good,the development of the characters is too detailed(looks,hand movement, breath taking,frowned eyebrows...).But this is unfortunately not exactly an added bonus. It does not lead to more understanding, more depth...

That said,one of the main characters is the city of Venice and Venice fulfils its role to perfection!