Book of the Week: Written in Dead Wax

We had a lovely time on holiday last week and I read a lot of books.  A lot. And the pick of the bunch was Andrew Cartmel’s first Vinyl Dectective novel, Written in Dead Wax.  I’d had my eye on this for a while but finally managed to pick myself up a copy at Big Green Bookshop a few weeks back now.

Copy of Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel.

My copy on the beach in Croatia last week. Lovely setting, made better with a good book!

The Vinyl Detective hunts down rare records.  In fact he makes his living by selling the records that he finds while out and about in London.  Then one day a mysterious woman shows up and asks him to find the unfindable – a priceless, impossibly rare jazz album.  And so he sets off on an oddessy around the record shops, car boot sales and charity shops hunting for the elusive record.  But soon it seems he has competition.   Ruthless competition.  He’s not a detective, but when people start turning up dead, he start trying to work out what’s going on.

This has a blurb on the front from Ben Aaronovitch – and Andrew Cartmel also co-writes the Rivers of London graphic novels so I thought that it might be right up my street and I was right.  It was so much fun.  There’s no magic here (apart from the magic of vinyl) but it definitely has some points of comparison with Rivers of London – there’s a similar sense of humour and wry way of looking at the world and it has the geekery that I love too – that makes you feel like you’re a member of a special club of people in the know – even if all you know about LPs is what you learned on your parent’s old record player* and what you’ve read in the book.  The mystery is clever and twisty, there’s plenty of action and it’s really hard to figure out where it is going next.

If I had a problem with it, it was that the female characters weren’t always as three dimensional as they could be – but that was kind of in keeping with the Vinyl Detective’s record-centric world view: he’d be able to tell you (in depth) all the details about a rare record that he once saw, but he wouldn’t remember what you were wearing if you made him turn his back and describe your outfit to you! I tried to make myself read it slowly – and that worked for about 150 pages, and then I just needed to know what happened next and how it would all work out.  Luckily it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this that book 2 is already out and so I can get another fix soon.

If you like PC Grant’s adventures, read this.  And if you like this, then I think you might also like The Barista’s Guide to Espionage – which is really quite different but keeps coming into my mind when  I was writing this review and trying to come up with if you like this then read thats.  You should be able to get hold of Written in Dead Wax from any good bookshop – I’m planning a trip back to the Big Green Bookshop at the weekend to get hold of book 2 – or it’s also on Audible (you might need to be a member for this link to work), Kindle and Kobo.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  I’ve already lent my copy to my dad…

Happy Reading!

*I spent parts of my childhood dancing around the dining room to a small selection of my parents’ records.  A bit of ballet, the Beatles, some Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, the records I created routines too aren’t as cool as the ones the Vinyl Detective is looking for – but I still have my first LP (the Postman Pat soundtrack) even though I don’t have a record player plumbed in to play it on.

Book of the Week: The Sussex Downs Murder

This week’s BotW is another forgotten Golden Age crime novel which has been republished by the British Library.  I picked this up at the book barge on Regents Canal, but it’s taken me a couple of months to get around to.  The Sussex Downs Murder is the second story to feature Superintendent Meredith – there are a load more, and I already have another waiting for me on my Kindle now that I’ve read this.

Copy of The Sussex Downs Murder

Yes, I admit it, I read it on the train. Its such a useful handbag size!

John Rother and his brother William live and work together at a farm in the Sussex Downs.  One night John leaves for a holiday and disappears, leaving his car and some worrying blood stains.   Has he been kidnapped?  Is he dead?  Whatever has happened, William falls under suspicion as rumours had been circulating in the village that his wife was getting rather too friendly with John.  Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate, but events soon take a macabre turn when bones start turning up.

If you’ve read a lot of detective novels, you may suspect the solution to this one rather earlier than Meredith does, but it’s still a really enjoyable read.  I suspect at the time, the solution would be a big gasp-inducing moment, but because there’s been 80 years of crime writing since, you may have come across plots like this before.   It is a really well written and well crafted mystery, with plenty of interesting characters and lots of twists and turns.  And if you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries, it’s well worth reading because it has exactly the sort of vibe you get from a Sayers or a Christie – not too creepy, but totally engrossing.

I’ve read quite a lot of these British Library Crime Classic reissues and I’m struggling to think of one that I haven’t enjoyed.  I’m always watching out for them, and I suspect that this will continue to be the case.   It’s £2.99 on Kindle at time of writing, which is a bargain, or £1.89 on Kobo which is an even bigger bargain, but is for a slightly different edition.  You should be able to get order the paperback from all the usual sources too.

Happy Reading!

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!