Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling

This is J K Rowling's second book for adults and was written using the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. This time she has written a detective novel with the main character being Cormoran Strike, a veteran of Afghanistan and the son of a rock star junkie. His detective business is not flourishing until a new client asks him to investigate the death of his sister, the model Lula Landry. With the assistance of his secretary, Robin, Strike investigates the world of fashion, the paparazzi and show business in order to disprove that Lula's death was suicide and to prove that she had been murdered. This is a well crafted story with plenty of twists and turns as the investigation progresses. As the story develops we also learn more of the character of both Cormoran and Robin as they face up to decisions in their personal lives. I suspect that we may see these two characters in another detective story in the future.

An expert in murder

Nicola Upson's first book has playwright and author, Josephine Tey, as the main character in this detective novel. In 1934 Josephine is travelling by train from Inverness to London when she meets Elspeth, a fan of Josphine's play, Richard of Bordeaux, about to end a long run on the London stage. The two women become friends during the journey and arrange to meet again at the theatre. When Elspeth is murdered Detective Inspector Archie Penrose investigates the case and becomes convinced that the murder is connected in some way with his friend, Josephine Tey, and her play.

In this book the author describes theatre life in the 1930s and the reader meets actors and other people associated with putting on a successful play as well as learning of the jealousies occurring behind the scenes. This is a work of fiction although some of the theatrical characters can be identified. Josephine Tey is really a pseudonym for Elizabeth Macintosh and when she wrote Richard of Bordeaux she used George Daviot as a pen-name. One review of the book is written by a woman whose mother, aunt and father worked on the play and she recognised them in the characters and also recognised the description of the theatre. Archie Penrose is based on Alan Grant, the detective in a number of Josephine Tey's books. The author has therefore successfully interwoven fact and fiction to create the environment for this murder mystery. Set in the early 1930s a theme throughout sections of the book is the continued impact of World War I on the lives of the survivors.

This is the first book in a series and I will look out for other titles to read.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Murder and Mendelssohn

With the second series of the popular Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries now showing on ABC television there is a wider audience no doubt waiting to read the twentieth book in the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.

When the conductor of a choir is murdered Phryne joins the choir to try and uncover the murderer. However this is not the only murder involving the choir and it become apparent that someone is trying to stop the production of the choral work, Elijah, by Mendelssohn. In the same building Phyrne meets Dr John Wilson, an old friend with whom she worked during the war. John is in Australia with Rupert Sheffield who is on a lecture tour. It soon become apparent that Sheffield and John are in danger as a number of attempts are made on Sheffield's life.

The past relationship between Phryne and John allows the author to provide some of the back-story of Phryne's life before she returned to Australia after the First World War. The lasting effect of the war on individuals is a theme of the book. Phyrne's assorted family and friends, plus Inspector Jack Robinson, also feature in the book assisting in solving the crimes encountered. Phryne also finds time to encourage the relationship between John and Sheffield. The story is set in 1929 when homosexuality was illegal and attitudes to same sex relationships is another theme. Phryne also partakes in a romantic dalliance or two when the opportunity arises.

As Kathy Reich's has shown with her Temperance Brennan (Bones) books it is possible have the main character in the books living a different lifestyle than that portrayed in a television series based on the books. There are may similarities between the Phryne Fisher of the books and the television series but Phryne's attitude to relationships is much freer and varied in the books.

Murder and Mendelssohn is an enjoyable who done it set in Melbourne at the end of the twentieth century. Readers who know Melbourne will be able to identify many of the locations in the book and enjoy the opportunity of, for a short time, experiencing a lifestyle long past.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bereft

"Do you know, Quinn, there isn't even a word for a parent who has lost a child? ... It is unspeakable: Bereft." - Quinn's mother attempting to describe a mother's feelings concerning the death of her child. (page 144)

In 1919 Quinn Walker returns to Flint in outback New South Wales after serving in the army during World War I. But he cannot go home. In 1909 he fled from the district when, as a sixteen year old, he found the body of his twelve year old sister, Sarah, after she had been murdered by two men. Both his father and uncle threatened to hang Quinn if they ever found him. Yet he returns and watches from the hills the family farmhouse where his mother is dying from the influenza epidemic that affected many parts of Australia after the war. When he is sure his mother is alone Quinn visits her and tries to explain his ten year absence.

To some extent, due to lack of rain, the countryside is dry and almost barren, not dissimilar to part of the countryside destroyed by battles in Europe. While deciding what to do next he meets twelve year old Sadie, an orphan who is waiting for her brother to return from the war. Quinn is haunted by memories of war and it is Sadie who helps him when his dreams become too real. In many respects Sadie is a mystery, not just in her use of magic but in her knowledge of  Quinn's past. They both fear Quinn's uncle and know that he will eventually come and look for them. Together they hide and forage and wait until they both know that they will have to move on.

This novel portrays the lasting physical and mental affects of war on those who served, the loss felt by family members left at home, the affects of epidemics on families and the reactions and fear of members of small, isolated rural communities when faced with violent crime, the appearance of strangers and events that cannot be explained.