Review 1786: The Unforeseen

Although I haven’t yet read Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited, the movie based on it remains one of my favorites for Halloween. I didn’t realize that The Unforeseen is not a sequel to it but a follow-up and that a few of the characters make a reappearance. So, I’m reading and reviewing out of order.

Virgilia Wilde cannot afford to live in the city while she is sending her daughter Nan to art school in London, so she buys a cottage in the wilds of Wicklow. There she enjoys herself rambling the countryside and working on a children’s book about birds. However, she begins having strange experiences. First, she thinks she is seeing ghosts—a shadow in the doorway when no one is there, a telegram being delivered when one isn’t. She fears she is losing her mind so consults Dr. Franks, a psychiatrist. But he thinks there is nothing wrong with her. He consults his son Perry, who is a doctor with an interest in parapsychology, and eventually they realize that Virgilia is having visions of the future.

In the meantime, Nan has a frightening encounter with a sculptor and decides to come home for the summer while she works on illustrations for a book. Virgilia doesn’t want Nan to know about her visions, but soon she has some frightening ones.

This is a good little thriller with a supernatural angle to it. It has convincing characters and beautiful descriptions of the Irish countryside, reflecting the relative peace of Ireland during World War II.

Dark Enchantment

The Uninhabited House

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Review 1784: Death in Oslo

I began reading this Norwegian series after watching the Swedish TV show Modus that is based on it. I mentioned that connection before, but while reading this novel, I thought about it a lot.

Helen Bentley, the American president, disappears from her hotel room during a state visit to Norway. Adam Stubo isn’t involved in the case at first, but then FBI agent Warren Seifford requests Adam as a liaison. When Adam’s wife, Johanne Vik, hears this, she demands that he refuse to work with Warren even though she won’t explain why. Then she leaves home with her baby when Adam reports to work.

Perhaps it’s because I watched the Modus version of this book first, which made significant changes, but I found it much less plausible than I have Holt’s other books in the series. I have already noticed, though, that her character Johanne Vik tends to be a little hysterical at times, unlike the calm counterpart in the TV series.

First, I felt that Holt had little grasp of the way politics between the Norwegians and the Americans would play out. Most of the time, she just shows them spinning their wheels in power plays. She, or perhaps the translator, also gets things wrong about American speech. The mistake I can think of offhand has an American on the news call gas “petrol.” Americans don’t use that word. I would think the book was simply translated for a British audience except the word was used in a supposedly verbatim news report from the States. I also noticed a similar error when Warren’s thoughts are revealed.

The TV program has the President stashed in the closet of an abandoned building, but in the novel she is in an apartment basement and just happens to be found by the servant of the woman Johanne Vik goes to stay with. That coincidence is bad enough, but that they don’t immediately call the police is wholly unbelievable.

Finally, there’s the big climax. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say that since the person the president thinks is guilty isn’t, what happened to the danger that she was supposedly in? They handled this much better in Modus by having there be actual danger.

So, a bit disappointed here. I’m ahead of the series on the next book, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

Punishment

The Final Murder

The Water’s Edge

Review 1780: Dead Point

Things haven’t been going well at the track for Jack Irish, Harry, and Cam. They just had to shoot a horse, which broke his leg just as he was winning a race. But that’s not the worst. The men’s friend Cynthia was returning from the track with the winnings for a syndicate they put together when she was robbed and brutally beaten. There are no leads, but they soon hear of another similar incident.

Jack’s involvement in these activities has been leading him to neglect a job for Cyril. One of Cyril’s clients wants him to find a man named Robbie Colbourne, who works as a bartender. Jack has barely started looking for him when he reads that the man was found dead of a drug overdose. However, the client asks to see Jack. He turns out to be an eminent judge who had an affair with Robbie, during which Robbie stole a compromising photo album. He hires Jack to find the album.

Peter Temple has written another great thriller, but he has also invented a rich life for his character, who surrounds himself with interesting people. He’s taking the “youth club,” a bunch of octogenarians, to the football, he’s installing a library, he’s advising his ex-partner on his love life, he might be getting back together with Linda. Temple likes his characters and makes working-class Melbourne come to life.

Bad Debts

Black Tide

Without Fail

Review 1769: The Man from St. Petersburg

Back in the days when Ken Follett and John Le CarrĂ© were the major names in the espionage genre, I used to read both and sometimes confuse them. However, at some point I realized that, of the two, Le CarrĂ© is really the master of the genre and the better writer, so I stopped reading Follett. When Pillars of the Earth came out, I read that and decided that historical fiction was not Follett’s genre (I know many would disagree), so I stopped reading him altogether. This is a long way of staying that I picked up The Man from St. Petersburg by mistake.

The premise is intriguing. It’s 1909, and Winston Churchill wants to avoid a war with Germany by making a pact with Russia. The czar wants Prince Aleksey Andreyevich Orlov to handle the negotiations, so Churchill wants Lord Walden, whose wife Lydia is Orlov’s aunt, to handle the British side. Back in Russia, the anarchists want a revolution, which they believe would be kicked off by a war, so they want the negotiations stopped. One of the anarchists, Feliks, must kill Orlov, and he goes to England to do so.

I thought that sounded interesting, but not too far in I felt like Follett was just putting his characters through their paces, making them do what he needed them to do. The diplomatic conversations lacked the subtlety they actually would have had. They just seemed crude and too direct. Finally, a major plot point that was supposed to be a surprise on about page 80 was too loudly telegraphed on page 10. I stopped reading about one third of the way into the book.

Code to Zero

Munich

The Revolution of Marina M.

Review 1748: Black Tide

I understand Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series is classified as hard-boiled crime, which is usually too much for me, but Temple’s writing is so effortless and funny and his characters so interesting that reading these books is a pleasure.

In this second book of the series, Jack is trying to help Des Connors, an old friend of his father. Des’s son Gary has borrowed all of Des’s savings and disappeared. Further, he has mortgaged Des’s house and not paid the bills. If Jack can’t find Gary, Des will be homeless and penniless.

Jack is also involved with his friends Harry and Cam in finding and betting on unlikely racehorses. While involved in this pursuit, they uncover serious cheating at the track.

One of the pleasures of this series besides its carefully constructed plots and punchy dialogue is the full life Temple has constructed for Jack. There is his bunch of elderly pals at the bar, who are obsessed with his dad’s old footie team, his woodworking apprenticeship under his severe teacher, Charlie, his disreputable clients, and his love life. This isn’t going so well as Linda Hillier has taken a job in Sydney.

As Jack looks for Gary, the plot becomes more and more tangled, and he keeps encountering dead bodies. These are really fun, exciting thrillers.

Bad Debts

Laura

In a Lonely Place

Review 1716: Burial of Ghosts

Yesterday was the beginning of RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril), which continues through October. During these two months, the goal is to read gothic novels, mysteries, crime novels, horror, or other dark and mysterious books! This one certainly qualifies, so it’s my first book for RIP XVI.

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Having read all of the existing Vera Stanhope and Shetland novels, I decided to try a few of Ann Cleeves’ stand-alone novels. Burial of Ghosts seemed more to me like one of Catriona McPherson’s thrillers than Cleeves’ mysteries.

Lizzie Bartholomew is in Morocco recovering from traumatic events when she meets and has a short affair with an older man, Philip Samson. Some time after she returns to her home in Newbiggen, she receives a letter from a lawyer, Stuart Howden, telling her that Philip has died from cancer and asking her to attend his funeral. Later, at his office she learns that he left her a small legacy, provided she try to find and befriend a teenager named Thomas Mariner. Howdon implies that Mariner is Philip’s illegitimate son.

When Lizzie finds Thomas, she luckily goes into the house with a neighbor, because Thomas is dead, stabbed to death. Still, because Lizzie was previously involved in a stabbing and because she has been diagnosed bi-polar, Inspector Farrier questions her as a suspect. When he checks her story, he tells her that Stuart Howden denies knowing her. However, Farrier does not believe she stabbed Thomas.

Lizzie decides to try to discover who killed Thomas. She finds that Thomas was prepared to be a whistle blower but not for what.

It’s not a surprise that the mystery is difficult to figure out, although I was surprised that Lizzie, having found that Howdon lied, doesn’t question the rest of his story. I enjoyed this novel but felt there was no way to guess the solution.

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The Long Call

Strangers at the Gate

Review 1683: The Chalk Pit

Forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway is asked to look at some human bones that were discovered in old chalk mining tunnels below Norwich. Although at first glance she believes they may be medieval, they also show signs of having been boiled. Tests show them to be more modern, perhaps 10 years old or less.

Around the same time, a homeless man named Eddie visits DCI Harry Nelson because he is worried about his friend Babs, who has not been around for two weeks. As the team asks around for Babs, Judy talks to another homeless man named Bilbo, who says Babs may have gone underground. Within a day Eddie is found stabbed to death in front of the police station and Bilbo has disappeared.

The team’s attention is taken away from these events by the disappearance of Sam Foster-Jones, a suburban housewife who vanished from her home after someone came to the door, leaving her four small children alone. Nelson has a feeling that this disappearance is related to that of Babs and the deaths of Eddie and Bilbo.

This series, always entertaining, has improved steadily, especially in regard to the difficulty of guessing the solution. Ruth remains a likable character, and I still enjoy all the secondary characters in the series.

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A Dying Fall

The Outcast Dead

The Woman in Blue

Review 1663: The Woman in Blue

Elly Griffiths is getting much better at fooling me than she was in the first few Ruth Galloway books, so that is all to the good.

Ruth’s friend Cathbad is house- and cat-sitting in Walsingham when the cat gets out one night and runs into the cemetery. There, Cathbad sees a young blond woman wearing a blue cloak. He is about to offer help when the cat trips him up and the woman disappears. The next morning she is found strangled.

That day Ruth has an appointment to meet Hilary, an old school friend, for lunch in Walsingham. She is astonished to find that her friend has become a priest. Hilary shows her some threatening letters she’s received, apparently because she’s a female priest.

When Ruth gives DCI Nelson the letters, he seems inclined to think they might be connected to the murder. A few nights later, the women priests, who are attending a conference, go out to dinner, a dinner to which Ruth is invited. Afterwards, one of them is found strangled.

Although Ruth uncovers a clue, she is not directly involved in the solution of the murders. That’s okay, though, because Griffiths has created an ensemble cast of strong characters. If Ruth isn’t out there sleuthing in every book, Griffiths gets around the problem of the unlikelihood of an amateur sleuth being involved in so many murders. The Ruth Galloway series continues to be interesting and engaging.

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Review 1659: The Less Dead

When Margo gets in touch with her birth family, her Aunt Nikki, Nikki tells Margo that her mother, Susan, was a prostitute and a junkie who was murdered in an alley at 19. Then she tells Margo she knows who did it and tries to get her to help find evidence. She is asking Margo to break the law and endanger her position as a medical doctor. Margo is horrified by the story and the request and gets away as fast as she can. What she doesn’t know is that meeting Nikki has brought her to the attention of Susan’s murderer. Soon, she has received a threatening letter like the ones Nikki has been getting.

Although set in the gritty neighborhoods of Glasgow like most of Mina’s fiction, The Less Dead is less grim than her earlier work, populated by likable characters such as Margo’s ex-boyfriend Joe and her bestie Lilah, as well as, eventually, Nikki and her friends. It is definitely creepy, though, and a satisfying thriller. Mina always knows how to spin a tale.

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Review 1639: The Ghost Fields

Detective Harry Nelson calls forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway when a bulldozer at a housing development digs up an American World War II airplane. In the plane is a dead man. Ruth is fairly sure the body was moved there, because its state indicates it was buried in different soil. Oh, and the man was shot in the head.

The American Air Force identifies the body through dental records as Fred Blackstock. The problem with that is that Fred was reported missing from a flight over the channel, in a different plane.

The investigative team finds that Fred’s brother George is still alive, although slightly dotty. His other brother, Lewis, returned from a Japanese prison camp with PTSD and eventually disappeared and is presumed dead. George lives in a desolate family mansion with his son George and George’s wife Sally. Their grown children are Chaz, a pig farmer, and Cass, an actress.

Ruth hears that her friend Frank, a TV historian, will be returning to the U. K. to film a show about Fred. Her feelings are mixed because they haven’t been in touch for a while.

A memorial service for Fred brings his daughter Nell and her family from the United States. During the reception, Ruth finds a likely disturbed area with the right soil in the family pet cemetery and believes it may be Fred’s original burial place. Ruth and another guest also spot a mysterious stranger on the grounds of the house.

I had some inklings about some of the threads of this mystery but ultimately did not guess the truth. It remains another perplexing mystery and thriller by Griffiths and satisfactorily advances the course of Ruth’s private life. My only fear about the series is that Griffiths seems to be advancing it at about two years in the characters’ lives per year in real life, which could result in a premature end of the series because of Ruth’s old age.

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