Monthly Archives: February 2014

Manna From Hades

This week it’s another new-to-me series, the Cornish Mysteries from Carola Dunn. The first, “Manna from Hades” was published in the US in 2009, but only here in the UK in 2013. There are 3 out so far, brought out together in the UK by Constable & Robinson. This one is very gentle, can safely be lent to elderly ladies of a nervous disposition, is unlikely to frighten the horses and so on.  It’s set in the Cornwall the author remembers from the 60s and 70s (and I’m slightly unnerved to see my childhood years being treated as fodder for a historical novel) with plenty of references to the novelty of female police officers,  and how you used to be able to leave your doors unlocked – though this premise is somewhat undermined when Mrs Eleanor Trewynn (who may or may not have locked the door) finds a corpse in the stock room of the charity shop that she lives above. She’s a somewhat contradictory character, being both dozily forgetful and scatty, as well as an international peace negotiator and trained in aikido (handy for little old ladies investigating murder).

She’s helped by her niece Megan Pencarrow, and hinders the improbably-named DI Scumble, to find the murderer, together with help from her artist neighbour Nick, and the vicar’s wife. It all meanders along very agreeably, and the easy pace is maintained throughout. After writing at least 20 Daisy Dalrymple novels, Dunn knows what she’s doing, and it’s a good start. I shall be looking out for more.

The Beautiful Mystery

This week it’s off to a remote part of Canada, with Louise Penny’s 2012 mystery, “The Beautiful Mystery” – the title refers to church music, to plainsong, but it’s a nice play on words. Gamache and his sidekick, Beauvoir, have been summoned to a remote monastery, the last surviving outpost of the Gilbertine order, to investigate the death of the prior. It is a closed and silent order, and the shock of the murder has led the monks to close ranks against the investigating duo.

It’s a classic locked-room mystery, or rather a locked-cloister mystery, and John Dickson Carr would have been proud of the plot. So far, so traditional (unlike its predecessor, which did something I’d never seen before in crime – the suspense all came from a sub-plot, told in flashbacks, while the mystery itself was simple and easily solved). However, the introduction of Gamache’s old nemesis, Superintendent Francoeur (how much his name sound likes rancour) ratchets up the emotional tension.

It’s probably not one to start with, if you are new to Three Pines – too much of the tension depends on having read a previous book, “Bury Your Dead” – but this takes an unusual setting, an unusual motive, and anchors it firmly in the modern era. Louise Penny has taken this part of Canada and very much made it her own – I’m glad I read this.

The Devil’s Edge

I’ve been to raid my local library for inspiration, while it’s still there. In these uncertain times, I need to borrow as many books as I can for free (or rather, for my taxes) before it’s too late. So that’s why I’ve just read the 11th in Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry series, without having read any of its predecessors.

Booth has a good eye and ear for the realities of modern English country life, with all evils attributed to the nearest large city, and sets “The Devil’s Edge” in a scenic Peak District village – so scenic that only the very wealthy, or very long-standing resident, can afford to live there. It’s a world of isolation rather than community spirit, and a series of violent break-ins do nothing to draw the villagers closer together.

It’s difficult coming late to the party, as it were, and the allusions to previous novels, often in the form of mysterious hints, do little to alleviate the sense of exclusion. A few more paragraphs on Cooper and Fry, or a “New Readers Start Here” introduction, might have helped me warm to the investigators. Nevertheless, this is competently done, the pace rarely flags, and Diane Fry’s exile to the world of strategy lectures provides a few moments of humour. Liked but didn’t love. I felt I’d had one of those dates where you say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I see Booth is relaunching the entire series as e-books for the US market. Maybe I need to come in at the beginning, but given I have another 12 to go (he’s written 13 so far), it would need a bit more commitment than I’m really prepared to give after a first date. Maybe later in the year.

Looking forward to the 100th Midsummer Murders tomorrow night, with members of the cast of The Killing and Borgen, to appeal to the Scandi market (Midsummer is huu-uge in Scandinavia).

And in other news, congratulations to Simon Brett for winning the CWA Diamond Dagger. I may have to revisit the Sussex coast shortly for one of his Fethering novels.


Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach

This week brings the good cheer of Colin Cotterill’s second Jimm Juree mystery, “Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach“. Set in Thailand, by a village in the Gulf of Siam, Jimm has followed her mother from Bangkok, out of a sense of filial duty, but when she finds a head on the beach, her former life as a crime reporter is revived. The head belongs to a Burmese man, and it seems that the local Burmese population, underdog immigrants, are disappearing without the local police investigating.

This reminds me of Carl Hiaasen, with a strong sense of outrage about real events, made entertaining by high-speed writing with strong characters. Add in a spot of education about Thailand, and some delightfully-misheard song lyrics, and the book’s almost read itself before you realise. A five-star read, with an ending that has me ready to read the next one. It’s the first Cotterill I’ve read, but I’m on the hunt now for the back catalogue.

PS Country crime can happen in any country, it doesn’t have to be the English countryside. Tony Hillerman and Dana Stabenow write about opposite ends of American countryside, Louise Penny about Canadian villages – I’m always on the look-out for a cosy village to call (temporarily) home.