The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

The Cutting Room cover

The Cutting Room is the first book that I’ve read by the Scottish author Louise Welsh, it was published in 2002 and was nominated for several awards, including the Orange Prize.

I mention that she’s a Scottish author, but it seems she was born in England, she must have moved to Scotland at a fairly young age I think because this book which is set in Glasgow is pure dead Glaswegian as far as the dialogue goes anyway. But it would be easily understood by anyone I think. It’s quite detailed on the dodgy background of auction houses, but I’m sure that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The blurb on the front says: ‘A stunning work of fiction’ Sunday Times – well I enjoyed it anyway although I think for more prudish readers some passages might be a much to take.

The story revolves around a Glasgow auction house where Rilke is an auctioneer, the business isn’t going very well so when they get a call to clear an entire housefull of antiques – if they can do it all within a week, they jump at the chance. The house owner has died and as he has no children it has fallen to his elderly sister to arrange everything.

She tells Rilke that her brother’s private office is in the attic, not easily accessible, and she wants Rilke to destroy whatever he finds in there. He finds some very disturbing books and photographs there and is loath to destroy them as he knows they are worth a lot of money, but it’s the photographs that haunt him and he starts inquiries of his own.

Of course as I knew all the locations the book had that extra dimension for me, being able to picture all the places mentioned and Welsh managed to make Rilke a likeable character despite his many weaknesses, including his penchant for having gay sex with random pick ups from time to time. It’s decidedly sleazy in a few places. It takes all sorts I suppose!

I’ll definitely be reading more books by Louise Welsh.

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts

Antidote to Venom cover

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts was first published in 1938 but as you can see my copy is a British Library Classics one.

I quite enjoyed this one, but I felt that it dragged quite a bit in the middle, I seem to remember that I’ve felt the same about a few of his books.

George Surridge is the director of a zoo, it’s his dream job, and it comes with a comfortable house so he should be sitting pretty. Unfortunately he is married to a woman who is a social climber who had been spoiled by her parents and doesn’t seem to understand that George doesn’t have an endless supply of money for her to spend. The result is that George is always strapped for cash and is forever worried about it.

Clarissa’s attitude takes a toll on the marriage and when George meets a more sympathetic female he falls for her hard. This of course means that he gets into even deeper debt as he hires a flashy car to take her out and about – far away from his home. He dreams of getting free of his wife and so begins a convoluted murderous plan.

Unusually the author manages to make all of the main characters fairly likeable, so it’s quite a sad tale of broken lives due to bad decisions.

The covers of these British Library Crime Classics are usually quite stylish but I can’t say that I’m all that keen on this one.

The Plot Against Roger Rider by Julian Symons

The Plot Against Roger Rider cover

The Plot Against Roger Rider by Julian Symons was first published in 1973. It’s just the third book that I’ve read by Julian Symons and one of them was non-fiction, about other crime writers of course.

I must admit that it’s a few months since I read this book, I’m way behind with book reviews, if that is what they can be called. This one kept me guessing right to the end, what more can you want from crime fiction?

Roger Rider and Geoffrey Paradine have been friends since their schooldays, not that it was an equal friendship, Geoff was often bullied but Roger protected him when possible. As they grew up Roger became a successful businessman and Geoff was one of his employees, possibly Geoff would have found it difficult to find a job anywhere else.

That sort of relationship is bound to be rather unhealthy though and when Roger’s wife throws herself at Geoff he is happy to oblige her. It would seem that the wife is just playing games with other people’s lives. Geoff is invited to join the Riders at their holiday home in Spain it isn’t long before Roger disappears without a trace.

As H.R.F. Keating says on the back blurb: Symons piles twist on turn, keeping graspingly just within the limits of plausibility.

Furnished for Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars

Elisabeth Ferrars - Furnished for Murder

Furnished for Murder (Murder Room) by Scottish author Elizabeth Ferrars was first published in 1957.

Meg Jeacock and her husband are finding things difficult financially so they decide to section off part of their house and sublet it. It’s not something they’re very keen on doing but needs must. Meg is surprised when she answers her door to a man who is very determined to rent the place, he has been out of the country and has no references but he is happy to pay three months rent immediately and Meg can’t resist, although she knows her husband won’t be too happy about it.

In fact her husband is convinced that their tenant is a dodgy character and it isn’t long before terrible things begin to happen in the neighbourhood.

I’ve enjoyed all of the books by Ferrars that I’ve read so far and this one was really good. I think she should be better known than she is. I love the very 1950s cover on my old Collins Fontana paperback version of it which as you can see cost all of 2/6 but that was probably quite expensive back in the day. If you ever stumble across any Elizabeth Ferrars books you should give her a go. For some odd reason she was marketed as E.X. Ferrars in the US.

This one counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery and Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer

 The Whitstable Pearl Mystery cover

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer was a completely random choice from the library. I had never heard of the author before, but it turns out she is a ‘Goodreads’ author – whatever that means.

The setting is Whitstable in Kent, the town is famous for its seafood and Pearl has her own seafood resaturant which is very popular but with her son going off to university she’s finding her life to be a bit empty and decides to try her hand at setting up a detective agency too. She had been a policewoman briefly in her youth, until her unplanned pregnancy kyboshed that career.

This is an enjoyable read with some good characters but the actual mystery part of it isn’t too exciting. I can imagine though that if you know the Whitstable area then you will enjoy the local aspect of it, it seems like an authentic seaside setting. I suppose it comes under the heading of comfort read and we all need them from time to time.

This is Julie Wassmer’s first book but she has been a writer for Eastenders and various other TV programmes in the past. Surprisingly her writing is a bit cliched from time to time, such as using the phrase sun-kissed throat, something that I imagine if I were a writer I would want to avoid. But heigh-ho nothing’s perfect and I went right on to read Murder-on-Sea the second book in this series.

The author lives in Whitstable and is apparently well known for her environmental campaigning.

Murder-on-Sea

 Murder-on-Sea cover

Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer is the second book in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series.

It’s the height of the Christmas season and Pearl is run off her feet at her seafood restaurant, but when nasty anonymous Christmas cards start popping up all over town she decides she has to investigate.

DCI Mike McGuire from Canterbury police ends up taking over the case and things escalate with murders following the cards.

I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Whitstable Pearl Mystery. It didn’t have such a good sense of place and I admit that the entrance of a character called Rev Pru was never going to go down well with me. Do ministers/vicars actually call themselves Rev? and if they do there ought to be a law against it. I know, it’s just one of my many strange personal dislikes.

These books are good light reads that you don’t have to concentrate on to any great extent.

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

 The Janus Stone cover

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths was published in 2010 and is the second book in the series.

Archaeologist Ruth Galloway has been called in to investigate bones which have been found buried in a doorway in an old villa in Norwich. Just how old are they? They were only uncovered because most of the house is being demolished to make way for new homes, but it transpires that the old house had been used as a Catholic children’s home in the past and some members of the police force are jumping to conclusions. Children had gone missing years ago, perhaps they had been murdered and buried there.

In the first book in this series, The Crossing Place, Ruth had a one night stand with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and she now realises that she’s pregnant, for her it’s a bonus, but she’s not sure how Nelson will react to the news, and to make matters worse she has now met Nelson’s wife and has become a friend.

Ruth is still living in her remote cottage and someone is trying to frighten her – and succeeding.

I’m enjoying this series and will definitely continue with it. Apart from anything else, I want to know what is going to happen in the personal lives of the main characters. It could be very messy.

The Suspect by L.R. Wright

The Suspect cover

The Suspect by L.R. Wright was published in 1985 and it’s the first book I’ve read by this author. She’s known as Laurali Wright in the US.

The setting is a little coastal town in British Columbia, the Sechelt Peninsula otherwise known as the Sunshine Coast. The police force there is of course the Canadian Mounties but disappointingly Karl Alberg doesn’t wear that distinctive uniform as he carries out his crime investigation. Karl has only recently moved to Sechelt, it’s thought of being a bit of a cushy job within the police force, it’s a quiet backwater. Or is it?

This is quite an unusual murder mystery as there is no mystery as to who the culprit is but there is plenty of mystery about why the victim was murdered and how such a likeable chap could commit the murder.

I really liked this one, everything about it, the writing, the setting and the characters. It is the first in a series so it looks like I’m going to be seeking out books from yet another crime series, I have so many on the go! I’m wondering if it is necessary to read these ones in order, I prefer to do that but I don’t think all of  the books will be easy for me to track down.

Sadly the writer Laurali Rose Wright died in 2001. Have you read any of her books?

The only other Lauralis I have ever heard of are the mother and daughter in The Gilmore Girls, a TV show that I really enjoyed, although I’m not even sure their names were spelled the same way. Maybe it is quite a common name in some parts of the world, have you ever met any?

The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh

The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh was published in 1993. The only other books which I had read by this author were a Dorothy L. Sayers book which had been unfinished when Sayers died, which Walsh finished off, and a book in which she used the Sayers’ characters. This book is the first in a series featuring Imogen Quy – to rhyme with why.

The Wyndham Case has very much the same sort of feel, although updated. The setting is St Agatha’s College Cambridge, a place of petty rivalries between librarians and snobbery and bullying amongst the students.

Imogen Quy is the St Agatha’s College nurse and by the second page she was being sought out by the College Master – Sir William Buckmote, a tragedy has occurred. That was a big plus for me as I’m not keen on crime novels where the murder doesn’t occur until half-way through the book.

One of the students has been found dead in the Wyndham library, his head in a pool of blood. Is it murder or merely a tragic accident?

The deceased student happens to have been one of the few who come from a non fee-paying school, in fact he came from a grammar school and as such was suspect by the other students who looked down on him. Even worse as far as they were concerned – he actually wanted to learn things, whereas the wealthy students were more into partying.

Imogen Quy suspects foul play, but she’s the only one who does and there’s another murder before her fears are taken seriously.

This book was a sort of cross between a Dorothy L Sayers book and an Inspector Morse one, because of the supposedly superior college setting. I must admit it took me a wee while to get into it, despite the speedy murder. I found the dialogue to be awkward at the beginning but I ended up enjoying it and for me the twists and turns were unexpected. I will read more in the series at some point in the future.

A Painted Smile by Frances Fyfield

A Painted Smile by Frances Fyfield was published in 2015 and when I saw it on the ‘new books’ shelf of a local library I thought I would give it a go, despite never having read or even heard of the author. Mind you I don’t know how I’ve missed seeing her books as she has written a lot, and has several different series on the go. This one is from her Diana Porteous series.

I have to say that although I slogged to the end of the book I can’t say that I enjoyed it, although it is well written. It suffers from having absolutely no likeable characters, as far as I’m concerned anyway, and the plot was thin and uninteresting.

The setting is the art world, Diana Porteous is a young widow who has inherited a lot of art works from her elderly wealthy husband, as well as his property. His daughter is incensed at this because she feels that Diana has stolen her inheritance. Diana has had a history of thieving, in fact she got to know her husband because she was stealing from him. There are lots of thieves in the book, but somehow it all adds up to a pretty boring read. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has read anything by Frances Fyfield, and what they thought of them.

The blurb on the front from Literary Review says: ‘Elegant, original and subtle’

I suspect that the damning word there is subtle.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In cover

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny was published in 2013. It’s the ninth book in a series featuring Chief Inspector Armande Gamache of the Surete of Quebec. When I got to the end of it I thought it might be the last in the series but thankfully another couple have been written since this one.

I can’t say too much about this book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The words ‘just brilliant’ are what come to mind – or ‘pure dead brilliant’ in Glaswegian. It isn’t a cosy comfort read in fact it’s quite stressful as just about everyone in the Surete seems to be against Gamache. Henri his German Shepherd dog is keeping him sane it seems.

I’ve been catching up with this series after getting to it late, it was Joan of Planet Joan who recommended the books to me as a great read – how right she was. In fact I think I will be reading the books again eventually, just to get my fix of the village and its weird but somehow very human inhabitants.

Louise Penny also chose to make her detective a decent chap who is very happily married, such a nice change from the usual cliche of a dysfunctional anti-social divorcee which so many other authors seem to prefer.

But it’s not just the characters and the setting which are so addictive, it’s also the twists and turns in the plot. What a page turner!