Posted in bloggers, Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: Ordeal By Innocence – Agatha Christie

Well, I suppose they can’t all be masterpieces.

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Although I’ve only just recently started plowing my way through her massive body of work, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Christie from the moment I cracked open my first Hercule Poirot mystery.

I think she is a true master of the crime/thriller genre, and she manages to tell a tale without having to turn a book into something you can pound a nail with. I was very impressed with ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Murder at the Orient Express’, and just last month I saw ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ at the county hall with my sister and was blown away by a plot that was deceptively simple but in actuality layered and intricate.

So I had really high expectations for this book. I mean, the premise was promising and characteristic of some of her great works. A woman murdered at her family home, a son accused of the crime and sent to prison, and a last-minute witness that gave evidence to the fact that the son was sent to prison for a crime he never committed.

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This meant that the killer is still at large and could be ANYONE. So sister turns against brother, husband turns against wife, lover turns against lover, as the hunt for the real murderer commences.

All very gripping, presumably. HOWEVER, I found myself increasingly frustrated as the book went on for several reasons which I will try to enumerate in this post. First of all, I found it ludicrous that a stranger would ever be given license to investigate a murder when he had no jurisdiction, experience or even any sort of ties to the family. I mean, really, what business was it of his?? The witness/protagonist in this book toed a really fine line between good samaritan and busybody.

Secondly, I know that having people trapped in one setting and unable to escape each other’s company is a hallmark of her work. BUT. There was something about this plot that felt almost recycled to me. Maybe its pure coincidence and stems from the fact that the last five books of hers that I’ve bought were all relatively similar plot-wise, but while reading this book I found myself thinking that I’ve read this all before.

Thirdly, my God, towards the end of the book I just wished she’d shorten the length of the novel rather than subject us all to the needless repetition of facts that we ALL ALREADY KNEW. Like, all the clues were explored and thought over by so many characters; random people were examining the murder from all angles in several different chapters and at that point I just wanted to throw my hands up and say, OKAY, I GET IT. THESE ARE THE FACTS. NOW SOLVE THE MYSTERY ALREADY.

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And then when the mystery was solved, it was such a bloody letdown. After all the build-up, the twist almost felt like an anti-climax. I mean, okay, a part of me thought it was really clever and I can see how Agatha Christie has influenced the murder mystery genre because I felt like I’ve seen this twist in an episode of Castle or some other tv crime series. I suppose I just didn’t warm up to how this story was told, which is a shame because now that I think about it, it was actually quite a good story.

So there’s a BBC adaptation of this starring the incomparable Bill Nighy that I’m hoping would be better than the book. Maybe this is a plot that works better as a live action tv series rather than a book? I don’t know. I feel like I’VE just committed a crime by giving an Agatha Christie book a bad review but I have to be honest.

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Hopefully, the next three books I have lined up will be better. Maybe I should stick to the Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries.

Anyway, I would love to hear what you all think. If someone can tell me how the BBC production is, I’d appreciate it!

Cheers, bookworms.

Posted in Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

So I was thinking about how I was going to approach this review and I thought about being neutral about it and keeping what I really thought to myself, but then I remembered something: This is MYblog, not some editorial piece where I am obligated to be diplomatic about my opinions. So below is an honest review of a book that everyone seems to think is great but I found somehow…unsatisfactory.

Let me just say this about the author: she is a damn good writer. Even when I struggled with the plot, even when nothing made sense, I kept going because the prose was just so damn readable. I have a weakness for books where the writing just flowed and I’ve probably stuck by books with plot holes the size of the hole in the ozone layer purely because I was enamoured of the writing.

So books like these, just like Paula Hawkins’ debut The Girl on The Train, capitalise on confusing their readers right? That’s fine. But it seems to me with this book that the author is confused herself; she couldn’t quite figure out whether she was writing a thriller, a murder/mystery or a fantasy novel.

As a result, there were a lot of things that were thrown into the plot that I thought were completely unnecessary. They muddled things up so much that in the middle of the book, I found myself asking ‘what in the hell is the plot?!’ and ‘what is the point of all of this?‘ and also, do I really care enough about these hateful characters to see this thing through to the end?

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I did finish the book, by the grace of God. 

The plot centres on the Drowning Pool, a river in the town of Beckford. I’m not sure if this town is fictional but its supposedly set somewhere in England and probably not a place I’d go visit anytime soon. Anyway, this pool has claimed a lot of “troubled” women’s lives going back to the days when witch trials by water were a thing.

The latest in this long line of victims is Nell Abbot, mother, neighbour, friend and sister to Jules. Nell was obsessed with this pool’s history and the true story behind each woman’s death, and in the process of uncovering the truth she sets off a chain of events that lead to her broken body being found in the very pool she found fascinating. Did she jump? Was she pushed? How did she come to be there?

I find it really sad that the book did not live up to the promise of its premise. There were a lot of things wrong with it but I think it all boils down to the lack of a tighter plot.

I tend not to read reviews prior to reading a book because it tends to colour my own opinions of it, but I gave in to temptation with this one and I agree with the general consensus in the reading community that the cast of characters in this book was simply too big. When the inevitable Hollywood film adaptation comes how are they going to afford to pay all those actors? In addition, no one was likeable in this book. So you have a bunch of characters that no one really cares about running around town making a mess of things and as a reader, you just don’t see the point.

Don’t get me wrong, each individual backstory was quite interesting. The teenage suicide, the troubled family, the rebellious daughter, the sister with a turbulent history with the victim…taken separately they were strong storylines. But together they just didn’t make sense or add to the overall narrative of the story in my opinion (it felt almost like you were reading two books). You could have taken out one arc and the main plot line would have still come to its inevitable conclusion.

And the conclusion itself, well, these things always have a plot twist don’t they? And the most interesting thing about this book is that the plot twist is that THERE IS NO PLOT TWIST.

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I saw the end coming from a mile away and it was heavily hinted at a third of the way into the book. I didn’t like it. I like being taken by surprise when I read these things; even if I’m usually clever enough to make good guesses I still get satisfaction from being taken on a journey to discover the truth. There was none of that satisfaction here. Totally predictable.

Anyway, thank goodness I bought the hardbound edition of this  book for a steal in one of the Oxfam charity shops because I would not pay 18 quid to buy this. It was so-so at best, and if anyone wants my copy you are welcome to it.

Overall rating: 2 stars

Posted in Books, london, Reviews

Book Review: The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

A couple of years ago, at my sister’s urging, I watched an episode of BBC’s Sherlock starring the one and only Benedict Cumberbitch, I mean, Cumberbatch. After the first episode, I was hooked. By the time we got to the episode where John Watson got married and Sherlock made that incredibly moving, one-of-a-kind, original, quintessentially Sherlock best man speech, I was irrevocably a fan. 

I love mysteries. From the newer crime thrillers to the classic whodunits, I love it when I’m taken through a journey of clues, signs, false alarms and red herrings. I love stacking my wits against the main character and trying to solve the mystery before he or she does. And though it rarely happens, I love it when a plot twist manages to surprise me, when the answer to the mystery completely blindsides me as it seemingly comes out of nowhere but the clues have actually been right in front of me all along.

Most of all, I love seeing people use the underrated skill of simple deduction and common sense to solve a puzzle. And this is what is the at the heart of the House of Silk. This is this month’s Waterstone’s book club selection by the way and thank goodness for that or I might never have otherwise picked it up. 

Confession time: I’ve never actually finished reading the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories of the great detective although we have a lovely hardbound copy, a gift from me to my sister. After reading this book, I may be inspired to start reading it despite my ever growing to-read list. I have read the first few pages which is why I think I have grounds for the opinion that Anthony Horowitz has kept true to the style and voice of the original without being an exact replica. 

I love how familiar the rhythm of the writing is; I recognise it because its so incredibly British. And because the British people in this book have been so fantastically written like the way they talk, its like the language and the accents I hear every day have been coalesced into one book. From the cultured tones of the upper class to the cockney accent of the East, it all leaps vibrantly from the page. I cannot say enough of the writing. It quite simply flows; its so seamless and easy to read. 

Now to the mystery. I had initial reservations that this will turn out to be some boring stalker story or that it will be about another married couple where one of the partners is the cuplrit and/or is having an extra-marital affair. But, and I have to issue a MILD SPOILER ALERT here, by the time I get to the framing of Sherlock Holmes, his imprisonment and really clever escape and then to the way he solved not one but TWO seemingly unconnected mysteries, my brain just gave up and I surrendered to being taken on the wild ride that is this story. I may have guessed some elements of it, but it managed to completely surpise me by the time I got to the ending.

Finally, I am not surprised that there have always been speculation about the true nature of Sherlock and John Watson’s relationship. The bond they share is strong and unique in its strength, so often does it supercede other bonds, even that of marriage. Watson is so loyal to Sherlock and would do anything for him, and though its not always clear or obvious, this sentiment is certainly reciprocated by the more taciturn Holmes. I think we should all stop speculating and just celebrate the fact that this special partnership and friendship exists, and leave it at that.

Overall, I cannot wait to discuss this book at the Armchair Murder Mystery book club next Wednesday. If you fancy a good discussion with fellow book lovers – and free wine – head over to Waterstones Piccadilly and join us for an evening of literary fun. 

Cheers, bookworms! X

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

In Death: An Ode to JD Robb

There is something to be said about an author who’s got enough mileage to keep a series – for the most part – fresh and interesting 44 books in, with number 45 having just been released this week.

JD Robb, who first gained fame as a romance author under the pen name of Nora Roberts, has earned the title of being one of the most prolific writers in the business. She still publishes under both pseudonyms and she’s able to churn out at least two books a year. While her works as Nora have declined in quality in my own personal opinion, the In Death series under JD Robb feels a little bit like the energiser bunny: its just going to keep on going until her fingers get too arthritic to type on a keyboard.

I read the first book in the series a little over a year ago when I was looking for a good whodunit crime novel. I picked up Origin in Death based on the recommendation of one of my Goodreads friends who has a reputation for always giving honest reviews. I was quite surprised that she praised this one so highly as she’s usually into alternate universes, post-apocalyptic settings and dystopia. In comparison, this “futuristic” series seemed a little bit tame for her taste. Despite the fact that its set about 60 years in the future in a still-recognisable but crazier version of New York City, and despite the fact that there are crazy gadgets and new inventions to help solve crime, at the heart of it this is a procedural crime novel with Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPD at its centre.

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Eve is an enigma even to herself. She’s very methodical and all about the job. She cares and stands for her victims and seems to take any crime in her city personally, which is what makes her so good. You can tell she’s been through something nightmarish in her past because she’s so closed off to other people and have very little, if any, time for a personal life. She is the job and the job is what makes her. While working a case, she meets the equally enigmatic and ultra-charming billionaire Roarke (no last name just like Madonna), who was initially one of the suspects in the case she was working on but who she later develops a romantic relationship with.

The mysteries in each book are interesting in and of themselves; I would probably have followed the series for that reason alone. But the backstory and the character development, as well as seeing how a relationship between two people with such a complicated and traumatic past developed into a strong partnership, is what makes the series special. Seeing how Eve Dallas, respected lieutenant with a reputation for solving crimes, navigates the minefield of marriage and is thoroughly discombobulated by her role as a wife provided a comedic fodder for all the other heavy stuff going on in the books. It was also amazing to see how she developed close relationships with other people and how she somehow allowed them in to her world as a result of opening herself up to Roarke. So much so that she finds herself pleasantly surprised that she’s managed to create a family after years and years of being alone.

The Supporting Cast

The supporting characters in the story also enrich the experience of reading the books. We’re introduced to Delia Peabody, Detective McNab, the other detectives at Cop Central, Chief Morris, Captain Feeney, the chief of police, Summerset the butler, Mavis Freestone, even Galahad the cat – they all matter. JD Robb somehow wrote the series in such a way that she gradually made the readers care for each and every one of them one book at a time. But the lynchpin of the books is really Eve. Its such a joy to see her journey as a character. Which isn’t to say that she can’t be annoying. I sometimes get so annoyed by how she sees things in black and white, which is probably why Roarke is perfect for her because he is all about the shades of grey in between.

44 books in the series!

I read all 37 books in this series one after the other. I’m quite happy that I didn’t know just how many books there were when I started because it might have put me off starting. As it is, I’m sure I made Amazon Kindle really happy when I bought all the published books back then in a bundle, it probably cost me a little over 200 quid but its money well spent. Not all the books were great and there were some that I was tempted not to finish because I was bored, but then those books would surprise me with a scene between Eve and Roarke that would just move their relationship forward and it would make up for an otherwise mediocre story. That’s how JD Robb hooks you: if the story is a dud, the character development makes up for it. If there’s nothing new to explore in terms of the main characters, you sink your claws into a good old-fashioned crime mystery. Its the perfect one-two punch.

Unfortunately, none of the books can be read as a standalone. I mean, when you start reading the first three or four you’d just want to carry on anyway. And okay, you can probably pick one book at random and still enjoy a good mystery but the payoff really is in knowing the characters and the history of how they all came to be what they are to each other. Some books are all about the payoff, with returning characters from previous books or a previous issue that was brought up in one of the previous books but was never fully explored. So I wouldn’t recommend not reading them in order. I would recommend borrowing them from someone who’s got the full collection rather than buying them like I did. There are some highlights in the series and you can go visit my page for my top ten favourite In Death books to check out my personal favourites.

All in all, reading books from this series always feels like visiting an old friend. Its always great to escape into Eve and Roarke’s world for a while and to pray that in these troubled times we live in where the world is literally going to hell in a hand basket, there would be someone like her in our police force who will stand for the good people of London the way Eve Dallas does for New York.

More power to JD Robb and may the books keep coming!

 

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles 

If you’ve followed my blog since I’ve resurrected it, you’ll know that every review I make will inevitably be linked to some kind of anecdote from my childhood. Far be it for me to disappoint readers at this stage.

My love of detective novels sprang from the days when I used to rummage through my older cousins’ collection of Nancy Drew novels. I loved how she would collect clues, make deductions and ultimately unmask the culprit and it would turn out to be someone that I wasn’t expecting. I always tried to play the game of whodunit but Nancy was always one step ahead of me. I loved those books. Every time I got good marks in school, it was a toss-up whether I would ask for a new Nancy Drew novel or the latest Sweet Valley installation. Sometimes I was able to sweet-talk my mum into buying me both.

From The Mystery of The 99 Steps to the books where she collaborated with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew was a constant companion during my teenage years.

And that was a good thing because I think she influenced me to take pride in my intelligence, never mind the fact that she was also a leggy strawberry blonde. Anyway, I grew up loving whodunit and crime/mystery books. I bought all 45 installations of JD Robb’s In Death books for more than just the Eve and Roarke storyline, I genuinely love a good mystery. I am still waiting with bated breath for the next installation of the Cormoran Strike novels.

Dear JK Rowling, I know you’re probably busy with the Harry Potter prequels and being a scriptwriter and such but I need you to write the next Cormoran Strike novel please.

I was looking up things to do last month because I was really really bored and I wanted to participate in something that I can be passionate about. So I thought I’d join one of the book clubs that meet regularly at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. There’s an Armchair Murders Book Club that meets once a month and it was after one of those meetings that it came out that I, bookworm extraordinaire, have never read an Agatha Christie novel.

Seeing as I live in Britain and was attending a book club whose members were primarily British, you can imagine the looks of incredulity and aghast that I received after I let that little fact slip out. Agatha Christie is a British national treasure; I think she might have been made a Dame or something. She’s so famous that even though I’ve never read any of her works, I do know of her. So the manager at Waterstones decided we’d remedy this little affliction of mine then and there and proceeded to place Agatha Christie’s first published work in my hands with the strictest instruction to buy it. Like immediately. I was pretty sure I would be refused entrance to my favourite bookstore if I didn’t comply, so buy it I did.

So I’ve only just finished the book last night and boy, was it an experience. Have you ever watched an episode of Sherlock? Yeah, the feeling is the same. Halfway through the book I gave up on trying to pretend I had a brain and decided I would just let Hercule Poirot solve the mystery for me and enumerate the ways in which I have been too obtuse to see the clues to the murderer’s identity. I would enjoy the book far better that way.tumblr_nr92xgTYYd1uzk74go1_500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is set in a country house in Essex. Emily Inglethorp has been poisoned in her own house and all evidence seemingly points to her new husband, 20 years her junior. Hercule Poirot has been brought in by his friend Hastings to help solve the mystery. Did the husband do it? Could it be either one of her stepsons? Or perhaps, the butler? I’m kidding.

The book took me on a wild ride of seemingly innocous instances that turned out to be significant and events that were made a big deal of but turned out to be inconsequential. There was a point when I had no idea what was going on, all I knew was that I was thoroughly entertained. Hercule, like many men who are too intelligent, is also a little bit crazy I think. He reminds me a little bit of Sherlock as portrayed in the tv series. giphyPoirot would go off on tangents that would turn out to yield frutiful information, he would notice everything, he’d already anticipated how each person would react and had forestalled it with a countermove of his own. Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I would think the current incarnation of Sherlock was influenced by the Dame rather than Sir Arthur.

There were no high-tech gadgets involved; Poirot used good old-fashioned observation and powers of deduction. Ok, so some of the plot twists were a little too contrived and convenient. But they weren’t far-fetched. In fact, I suspected one of the plot twists halfway through the book but there were a lot of red herrings that led me astray.

All in all, I found it a really great book, a real page turner, unputdownable. I really liked her prose, it was easy to read and the writing was elegant. I particularly liked how she used her experience of being a pharmacist (not to sure if it was a pharmacist or a nurse) during the war in the use of poison as a murder weapon. I was also really intrigued by the insight into the approaches to medicine during that time period, it makes me appreciate just how far we’ve come.

I’m surely going to read the other Hercule Poirot and maybe the Miss Marple books as well if this book is any indication of the rest of the series. Thank you Waterstones for the recommendation!