Yes, I'm a tad behind in posting my monthly reads, due to my trip to Alaska. However, better late than never. Unlike previous themed months, most of April and May was taken up with preparing for my CrimeFest panels.
FROM ABERYSTWYTH WITH LOVE - Malcolm Pryce
Setting: Aberystwyth, Wales and Hughesovka, Russia
Protagonist: Louie Knight
First Lines: ' For a while He just sat there and hovered, taking it one step at a time.'
Welsh PI Louie Knight is sitting in his office one sweltering August morning when a Russian wearing a curator's uniform - specifically the Museum of Our Forefathers' Suffering in Hughesovka - walks in and puts a sock on his desk. The Russian introduces himself as Uncle Vanya and tells Louie the strange, sad tale of his daughter Ninotchka and her imaginary friend Gethsemane Walters. Oh, and the sock belonged to Yuri Gagarin. So far, so normal. Suffice to say, it just gets stranger from there in a tale of snuff philatelists, Transylvanian castles, and spinning wheel salesmen. Quirky, gothic and absurd. Louie Knight is an engaging hero, and one who you can't help but like. Malcolm Pryce's alternate universe Aberystwyth is peopled with larger than life characters such as Sospan the ice-cream selling philosopher, Louie's dad Eeyore (who is in charge of donkey rides along the prom) and soap opera star Rwpert Valentino.
IN A LONELY PLACE - Dorothy B Hughes
Published: 2010 (originally 1947)
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Setting: Los Angeles
Protagonist: Dix Steele
First Lines: 'It was good standing there on the promontory overlooking the evening sea, the fog lifting itself like gauzy veils to touch his face.'
Wartime pilot Dix Steele is living in Los Angeles where he spends most of his time stalking women at night (not a spoiler - you find that out on the first page). He renews his friendship with an old airforce pal - who has since become a policeman, and who is investigating a series of brutal murders. Dix falls in love (or perhaps falls in obsession would be a better description) with Laurel Grey, a woman who lives in his apartment building. The book is extremely well told from the point of view of the misogynistic and thoroughly nasty Dix. A creepy psychological thriller. This is one case where I love the film (starring Humphrey Bogart) as much as the book even though they are totally different.
KILLER INSTINCT - Zoe Sharp
Publisher: Piatkus (but being re-released by Busted Flush very soon!)
Protagonist: Charlie Fox
First Lines: 'I suppose I ought to state for the record that I don't make a habit of frequenting places like the New Adelphi Club, which is where this whole sorry mess began.'
In this first book in the Charlie Fox series, Charlie is teaching self-defence to vulnerable women. She's been thrown out of the army and is still in some distress about what happened to her there - although you would never know that from the hard shell she encases herself in. When Charlie agrees to accompany a friend to the New Adelphi Club she inadvertently becomes involved in the murder of Susie Hollins - a girl who Charlie had a bit of a set-to with in the Club, and who is later found murdered. Charlie is a wonderful, multi-faceted character. As the book (and, indeed, the series) progresses, we gradually find out about Charlie and her past and what has made her the person she is. She prefers to use her wit and brains to get herself out of awkward situations, but she's more than capable of using any means or weapon that presents itself. I first read this book when it was published in 2001. It's long been nigh on impossible to get hold of, but I'm pleased to say that it's now back out thanks to the lovely people at Busted Flush Press.
THIRD STRIKE - Zoe Sharp
Publisher: Allison and Busby
Setting: New York
Protagonist: Charlie Fox
First Lines: 'I was running when I saw my father kill himself.'
Six books later and Charlie is now living in New York, working for an exclusive close-protection agency, in a relationship, and recovering from a gunshot wound. She's working out, trying to prove she's back to full fitness, when she sees her father's face on the news, over the headline 'Disgraced British Doctor Faces Questions'. What follows is a fast-paced, high-action thriller, but one in which we also get to see more of the personal side of Charlie, and her relationships with her partner and her parents. Charlie has grown a lot since the days of KILLER INSTINCT and it was fascinating to read the two books back to back. There's also a real 'oh my god' moment at the end of the book that has me itching to get the next one in the series.
GOOD THIEF'S GUIDE TO VEGAS - Chris Ewan
Publisher: Pocket Books
Setting: Las Vegas
Protagonist: Charlie Howard
First Lines: 'Stealing a man's wallet is easier than you might think.'
Crime-writing thief Charlie Howard is having a not entirely enjoyable holiday in Las Vegas. He's lost at poker, and Victoria - his literary agent - is under the spell of the Fifty-Fifty Casino's superstar magician and illusionist, Josh Masters. Charlie's a bit miffed, not to mention a tad jealous. So he decides to pick Josh Masters' pocket and steal his wallet. And then use his keycard to break into his room. Which turns out to be an unwise move - mostly due to the nasty surprise he finds in the bathroom. This series just gets better and better with each book. It's funny, entertaining, exceedingly well-plotted and full of fascinating atmosphere. Charlie is a great character - Raffles meets Cary Grant meets The Saint meets Raymond Chandler. He's disarming, has his own - slightly offbeat - moral code, and is definitely someone you would want on your side. Of course, he's just as liable to get you into trouble as out of it - but he's so charming you wouldn't care. In fact, you'd relish the fact.
BONE IDLE - Suzette Hill
Publisher: Constable and Robinson
Setting: 1950s Surrey
Protagonist: Reverend Francis Oughterard
First Lines: 'When Detective Sergeant Sidney Samson appeared on my doorstep to announce the reopening of the Elizabeth Fotherington murder enquiry I thought at first that I was hallucinating.'
This one was read for my CrimeFest Last Laugh Award panel. The Reverend Francis Oughterard is being blackmailed and forced to steal a valuable prancing pig figurine. The reason he's being blackmailed is that he was previously involved in the accidental murder of a parishioner. Oughterard's cat - Maurice, and his dog - Bouncer, are called upon to save their master from jail. Told from the alternating points of view of the vicar, Maurice and Bouncer, this is one for cosy lovers. My Mum would approve.
TEN LITTLE HERRINGS - Len Tyler
Setting: Mostly a French hotel
Protagonist: Elsie Thirkettle and Ethelred Tressider
First Lines: 'The only strange thing about my telephone conversation with Ethelred was that he had been dead for almost a year.'
Ethelred Tressider is a crime fiction writer and Elsie Thirkettle is his agent. At the start of the book Elsie is house-sitting for the missing-declared-dead-but-only-by-Elsie Ethelred. She's had the bright idea of flushing him out by cancelling his credit cards. It works - Ethelred calls from a hotel in France which has been hosting a philatelists' convention. Elsie travels to France to bring him back, but they are hindered by the murder of one of the attendees. Told in alternating chapters by Elsie and Ethelred there's a lot of banter between the two. Another one which I will be recommending to my Mum.
CHASING THE DEAD - Tim Weaver
Protagonist: David Raker
First Lines: 'Sometimes, towards the end, she would wake me by tugging at the cusp of my shirt, her eyes moving like marbles in a jar, her voice begging me to pull her to the surface.'
A mother sees her son in the street - six years after he went missing, and a year after he apparently died in a car crash. Missing-persons investigator - a man with his own troubles - agrees to look for him. A fast-paced thriller unlike my normal fare. I read this for a book discussion and didn't think I would enjoy it. As it is, I'm torn. It's a violent (sometimes too graphic) and creepy tale which has to outdo itself in gruesomeness as it progresses, but it's definitely a page turner and I wanted to see how it turned out. I'd definitely try another one by the author, but only if he turned the violence down a few notches and the characterisation up.
In June I'm catching up on a few things I've been looking forward to reading - for Helen, likely reads are:
Robert Lewis - BANK OF THE BLACK SHEEP
Zygmunt Miloszewski - ENTANGLEMENT
Tonino Benaquista - BADFELLAS
Cathi Unsworth - BAD PENNY BLUES