Recommendsday: Sidney Chambers

I finished reading the sixth Sidney Chambers book last night and it broke me. Absolutely broke me.  In a youth hostel dorm.  Crying in a corner with a pile of used tissues*.  I’ve mentioned this series in passing before (like last summer’s reading suggestions) but never done a proper post about them.  James Runcie has said that this is the last book in the series, and while there is (apparently) a prequel on the way, now seems like a good time to talk about Grantchester’s crime solving vicar.

Cover of Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love

I love the original covers for this series – they’re just so pickupable.

The first thing to say is that you may well be familiar with the TV series based on the books  – Grantchester.  The books cover a much longer period of time than the show has and has diverged from the plots of the books somewhat.  I loved the first series, but trailed off in the second series as it moved further and further away from the books and I have the third sitting on the TiVo box waiting to be watched.  Personally, although James Norton has a strong appeal to me, I prefer the books.
Here are the basics in case you’ve missed out on Sidney altogether:  at the start of the series, he’s a 32-year-old bachelor in charge of the parish of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, who gets tangled up in a mysterious death.  Sidney becomes friends with the detective investigating and soon Geordie is calling him in on other cases.  And this is the pattern for the books, which are based around a series of shorter mysteries (not all of which are murders) rather than one big one – which works really well for the series.  There’s a cast of supporting characters that evolves as the series goes on – initially his housekeeper Mrs Maguire, but also including curates, friends and love interests.

Author James Runcie is the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and the books are packed with details about ecclesiastical and vicarage life in the period which really lifts the series beyond your normal historical cozy crime novel.  I love Sidney as a character – his difficulties in concentrating on being a vicar and not getting involved in crimes and the difficulties and challenges of life as a vicar.  I’ve really enjoyed the series – and although I want more, the final story of the sixth book is probably the most beautifully written and resonant that there has been in the whole series, so it’s a good note to go out on if this is it.

cover of Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

The TV tie-in cover for the first book with the lovely James Norton.

I’d suggest you start the series at the beginning – you should be able to find them in all good bookshops – or you could order from the Big Green Bookshop and support an indie bookshop.  The Kindle edition of the first book was £1.89 at time of writing and 31.99 on Kobo.

Happy reading!

*NB the fact that I have a cold may have contributed to the snot bomb this book caused.

Book of the Week: Maisie Dobbs

We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW.  I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it.  And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.

Copy of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

My copy of Maisie Dobbs, complete with lovely blue-y cover

We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929.  Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair.  But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.

I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years.  My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him.  Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.

The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well.  In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating.  But that was part of the enjoyment for me.  Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series.  Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.

Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

You can get a copy of Maisie Dobbs on Kindle or Kobo or in paperback from all the usual places like The Big Green Bookshop – and probably at your local library as well.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week: The Moving Toyshop

This week’s BotW is Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop.  I’ve had Crispin recommended to me several times recently and as I come to the end of my Inspector Alleyn marathon I’ve been looking for a new Golden Age author to binge on and I think Crispin could be it.  The Case of the Gilded Fly is the first in the Gervase Fen series – but The Long Divorce has also been touted as a good one for me to start with, but I ended up reading The Moving Toyshop because it was available for 99p when I was looking!  It’s taken me a few weeks to get around to it, but I’m very glad I did.

Cover of The Moving Toyshop

There appears to be a whole set of Crispin reissues underway, which is good news for the e-reader!

First published in 1946, The Moving Toyshop is the third book to feature Gervase Fen, an eccentric Oxford professor and amateur detective.  In this book, he finds himself investigating a murder on behalf of a former schoolmate.  Late one night on a trip to Oxford, Richard Cadogan stumbled across the body of a woman in a toyshop and is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head.  But the next morning the toyshop is a grocers and the police don’t believe him.  Gervase and Richard are soon racing around Oxford trying to work out exactly what happened.

This is so much to enjoy in this.  The scene at the fairground is excellent, but so is the way it evokes the peculiarities and eccentricities of life in an Oxford college in this era.  The mystery is utterly bonkers, but it rattles along so fast that you don’t really notice – or care.  In some ways it reminded me a lot of The 39 Steps as much as it did of writers like Sayers and Christie.  As promised in the blurb, there’s also a dash of Wodehouse here.  They are quirky and something a little bit out of the ordinary run of Golden Age crime.  There are a few word choices that are… infelicitous these days, but no more so than you find in many of the other books of the era.

I think I’ll be adding Crispin to my list of authors to look out for in second-hand bookshop, because I love old covers from this era, but if you want to get your hands on The Moving Toyshop now, it’s available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in a modern paperback edition from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones.

Happy reading!

 

 

Interview: Duncan MacMaster

Longtime readers, heck even short-time readers know that I’m a big fan of what Fahrenheit Press do (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F and I could go on) and as a special treat today, I’ve got an interview with one of their authors, Duncan MacMaster, whose new book, Hack is out this very day.

Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, but ends up fending off attempts on his life.  My review of Hack is coming up tomorrow, but read on to find out more about the man behind the book.

First of all could you tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Canadian, I studied film at university, I wrote comedy for a while, & I had an up and down career before finding a home with Fahrenheit Press with my first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse.

For the uninitiated, how would you describe what you write?

I write mysteries and crime thrillers with healthy doses of dark humour and satire.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Hack, where did you get the idea for Jake, the ghost-writer who ends up with a price on his head?

My first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse had Kirby Baxter who is a sleuth in the Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot tradition and I wanted to do something different. I was thinking of an investigator who was the opposite of Kirby Baxter, in that he had no real sleuthing skills, and was more adept at collecting injuries than clues. He succeeds more through dogged determination to stay alive and hopefully get the girl.

I needed an excuse for an unskilled amateur to get involved with murder and mayhem and consciously thought a ghostwriter doing an autobiography full of scandal and secrets was a good way to do it. Subconsciously I was venting a lot of my career frustrations indirectly through Jake. I had suffered some truly ridiculous setbacks over the years and I needed to get them out, even if it involved making up fictional ones for Jake.

Rick-the-corpse was the star of a Miami Vice-esque TV show and it felt to me like there was a bit of an homage going on to that sort of TV show going on – speed boats, surgically enhanced (or altered at any rate) women, tropical islands – was that fun to write?

It was. I’m a child of the 80s, the golden age of excess, and shows like Miami Vice sort of set the standard for style and swagger. It seems so silly and strange to us now, but back then everything about those shows seemed so cool. It was also a time of indulgent drug use, pre-AIDS sexual irresponsibility, and attitudes that would be shocking to our modern politically correct sensibilities. It’s a ripe target for both a little nostalgia and satire.

Your last book was a whodunnit at a comic book convention, this is a thriller-y mutter in the tropics – what can we expect from you next? Something else completely different or a familiar face? (Please more Kirby, please more Kirby!)

I’m working on more Kirby. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to A Mint Condition Corpse called Video Killed The Radio Star. It puts Kirby, Gustav and Molly in the world of reality television. I still have a lot of work to do on it to make it worthy of public consumption. I’m also developing a more experimental project about unreliable narrators and male archetypes, as well as outlining a potential sequel to Hack called Hacked, where Jake gets involved in a Hollywood computer hacking scandal.

And finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to shout about?

While I’m writing I try to avoid reading fiction, because I tend to be a stylistic sponge, and I don’t want to inadvertently imitate anyone. Right now I’m reading nonfiction, specifically Something To Do With Death by Christopher Frayling. It’s an incredibly researched biography of Sergio Leone, who was the master of the “spaghetti western.” It’s full of the sort of details about backstage life that I like to file away for later use.

However, I must give a shoutout to the other writers at Fahrenheit Press, who are a wonderful band of misfits that everyone should be reading.

Come back tomorrow to find out what I thought about Hack, but if you can’t wait and need to read it now, click here.

Recommendsday: No Way Home

Today’s Recommendsday book is Annette Dashofy’s latest cozy crime No Way Home, which came out yesterday and which I’m currently reading.  This is the fifth novel in her Zoe Chambers series about a paramedic and deputy coroner who gets entangled with the crimes in her neighbourhood. No Way Home sees a rash of teen drug deaths in Zoe’s home town, the death of a popular town commissioner and the disappearance of Zoe’s best friend’s son in New Mexico – which sends Zoe out of her comfort zone and across the country to try and help find him.

Cover of No Way Home

The cover definitely does the New Mexico end of the story well!

This is the second book in the series that I’ve read (I read the first a few weeks back now) and they’re well-put together murder mysteries with an interesting cast of characters and a “detective” who has a great excuse for getting involved in investigations and a job that gives her access to information.  Having skipped a couple of books there are some developments in this that I’ve missed, but nothing that means I can’t follow this book (and no spoilers so far for the plots of the other books).

Catnip wise, they’re set in small town, rural Pennsylvania with farms and horses and there’s also a slow burn romance going on too.  As yet, no crafting or bakeries! Zoe is a little foolhardy at times, but never quite into Too Stupid To Live territory so far and I’m really quite enjoying this.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t all go wrong in the final quarter.

My copy came from NetGalley and although I think it is an actual physical release, it’s super expensive over here, but it’s more reasonable on Kindle.

Happy Reading!

Not Christmas Reading

Bored of Christmas? Had it up to here with left over turkey and reheated sprouts?  Overdosed on sugar and fed up of books with Christmas trees and tinsel in them?  Look no further because I have some book suggestions for you.  And no, I’m not Scrooge or the Grinch, but I’m back at work after my Christmas days off today and I find that reading about Christmas when I’m not on holiday starts to annoy me very quickly.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Nothing helps me with my post-Christmas funk than a bit of crime.  If you haven’t tried Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series yet, now might be a good time.  I haven’t been reading these in order (more fool me) and recently read The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, which is the second in the series and want to get my hands on the latest installment, Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew’d, but suspect I’m going to have to wait for the price to come down.  If you don’t want historical crime, how about some slightly meta crime?  I’m working my way through L C Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series – which starts with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice.  I’ve read as far as book 4 and they’re bonkers, but sort of delightful, especially if you’ve read a lot of mysteries and can spot the tropes they’re spoofing. Baking and crafts are a massive trend in cozy crime novels at the moment and I’ve mentioned her Cupcake Bakery series before, but it bears mentioning again – as they’re set in Arizona they’re perfect if you want to escape winter and cold weather all together.  The first one is Sprinkled with Murder, but tragically you can only get her books over here in paperback so it may not arrive in time to scratch that post-Christmas itch.  So, how about some catering crime with Shawn Reilly Simmons?  The first in her Red Carpet Catering series, Murder on a Silver Platter, is 99p as I write this and they’re fluffy and sunny and see a caterer for film crews get tangled up in deaths.

If if you don’t want murder – no matter how cozy or bloodless – how about some romance?  I tend to read historical romances more than any other, so I can give you a whole host of those.  I read A Bachelor Establishment, by Jodi Taylor writing as Isabella Barclay last week – which is sort of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia with added shooting and housebreaking.  It’s short, but fun and might help you out of your Christmas hangover. Fancy something a bit more overblown?  How about the very melodramatic Kerrigan Byrne?  I read The Highlander back in August and it’s packed with kilts and angst and drama.  It’s still a bit expensive on Kindle at the moment, but former BotW The Highwayman, the first in the series is a bit cheaper and is, I think possibly even better.  Of course my go-to writers in circumstances like this are Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean. I still haven’t got MacLean’s latest, A Scot in the Dark, (gnash teeth) but I can heartily recommend any of her others if you fancy some smart, funny, sexy historical romance. And as I write this, my first ever Eloisa James, Duchess by Night, is on offer for 99p on Kindle.  It ticks a lot of my boxes – girls dressed as boys, mistaken identities, scandals, wallflowers – and it’s a great gateway drug (so to speak) into the historical romance world.  I’m sorry.  It may get expensive.

Still not seen anything you fancy?  I like to return to my favourites at this time of year.  It’s a great time to start a big old series of books.  If you haven’t read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series of books about the Cazalets yet, now would be a perfect time to start.  The Light Years is the first, and slightly more expensive than I’d hope at the moment, but you should be able to pick it up cheaper than that in actual book form – Book People often have the whole set (although not at the moment) and they pop up in The Works from time to time too.  Or you could try your local library.  They are classics.  Talking of classics, if you haven’t already read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, now would be a good time.  It’s twisty and creepy and goes from sunny climes to stormy Cornwall.  And although the Kindle edition is pricier than I’d hope, you should be able to get hold of it easily in the real world – if you don’t want the gorgeous Virago Designer hardback like mine of course…

So there you have it.  I hope you’re having a good day and that you find something good to read.  I intend to cheer myself up with a trip to Foyles later to console myself for being back at work already!

The Second Annual Cozy Crime round-up

If you remember my post about comfort reading, you’ll remember me saying that I one of the genres I turn to is cozy crime. And I’ve been reading an awful lot of them recently, so I have books (and series) to recommend.  There are definite trends in cozies, and so I’ve tried to provide some variety – and also go for new/newer series that you might not have come across before.  I have lots of old favourites too, but here are some new (or at least new-to-me) series to take a look at.

Max Tudor by GM Malliet

Copyof The Haunted Season by G M Malliet

This is the 5th Max Tudor – currently waiting on the to-read pile!

Max Tudor is a vicar – who was in the secret service before he was ordained – which is a nice touch which explains why the police might be willing to have him involved in their investigations (always a problem when your “detective” isn’t actually a police man). He’s unmarried – and the subject of matchmaking among his parishioners – and his eventual choice makes for some nice conflict of its own. I’ve read the first four books in the series (which are all named after seasons) and am keeping my eyes open for the next two.  These are fun, clever and witty – even if the author needs to remember that no Land Rover owner would ever call their vehicle a Rover!

Headlines in High Heels by LynDee Walker

I wanted to include some competence porn in here – because I do love a book where the main character is good at their job.  Reporters/journalists make great leads in cozy crime series – because they have an excuse for coming across bodies – or at least getting involved in solving mysteries in a way that say… cupcake bakers don’t.  But there are some pitfalls.  I’ve recently been infuriated by a reporter in a book not doing their basic fact checking (it did come back and bite them, but they shouldn’t/wouldn’t have done it and it shouldn’t be a plot device) and while Nichelle Clarke does have a slightly dodgy (for her job) relationship, for the most part she’s a conscientious reporter who does the job properly.  And the cases are interesting too.  It didn’t surprise me to find out that the author is a journalist…

Mainely Needlepoint by Lea Wait

I’ve read three (of the four) books in this series and they are well put together mysteries set in Maine.  At the start of the series, our heroine, Angie returns to her home town after ten years when her missing mother is finally found.  She soon ends up helping her grandmother with her needlework business and sets about trying to reintegrate in a town where she struggled as a child as she tries to work out what she wants in her life.  I like Angie, and while these books don’t have the humour in them that I prefer in my cozies, they are interesting and page turning mysteries, even if I do find the references to guns and concealed carry a little disturbing and off-putting as a Brit who is not used to guns being around in every day life!

Amory Ames by Ashley Weaver

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

Another photo of a book taken on a train. I know. I’m so predictable!

I do love a good book set in the period between the wars – it’s my book sweet spot.  So many good series are tucked up in here – my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and the early Inspector Alleyns all written at the time and series like Phyrne Fisher, Daisy Dalrymple and the Lord Edward Corinth series.  And Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series has potential.  Amory is a wealthy young woman who has married a playboy and is regretting it.  Milo is handsome and charming – but, Amory fears, unreliable and possibly (probably) unfaithful. There are only three books in the series so far – and I’ve read two of them – but this has a complicated central relationship and a sparky heroine and the mysteries are well worked out.  I have high hopes for book three.

So there you are.  As you can see, I’ve read at least two books in all of these series, more in some cases, because cosy series can take a while to hit their stride…  And this feels like only the tip of my cozy crime reading iceberg – to get to this (slender) list of recommendations I’ve read a few turkeys as well! And if this not enough cozy crime for you, in a nice piece of serendipity, I did a similar post this time last year, and those recommendations still stand too!  And don’t forget previous BotW picks Death of a Nobody (and Death of a Diva), Earthly Delights and Murder on the Half Shell.

Happy reading – and apologies if this has got a little expensive for you…