The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson

 The Paper Cell cover

The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson was published in 2017 by Saraband/Contraband and I was drawn to it in Waterstone’s in Chester because it’s such an attractive wee hardback, it even has attractive end-papers. I hadn’t ever heard of the author but I bought it as it was in a sale, I’m so glad that I did as it turned out to be a great read. It seems that the author hasn’t written anything else, but I really hope she does. Louise Hutcheson has a PhD in Scottish Literature from The University of Glasgow.

There’s a short prologue which is set in London 1953, but in no time we’re taken to Edinburgh, 1983 where the author Lewis Carson is about to give an interview to a young journalist after years of silence, but Lewis takes ill during the interview, and the action moves back to London 1953.

Back then Lewis Carson had been a lowly publishing assistant, not fitting in at the family business which was headed up by the bullying son of the owner. When a down-at-heel young woman presents him with her manuscript to be appraised he realises that it’s a great read, but sends her away disappointed, however he still has her MS.

When the young woman is murdered a couple of weeks later Lewis takes the opportunity to claim the MS as his own and it kicks off his writing career. But after writing many more books everyone agrees that none of them come up to the standard of his first book. Lewis doesn’t want to talk about that one though, it’s a taboo subject which weighs on his conscience and contributes to the break up of his marriage. Lewis realises that his whole life has been lived in a ‘paper cell’ of his own making. This was a cracking read.

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Mercy cover

When I read the blurb on the back of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen I had real qualms about actually getting down to reading the book as it seemed like a nightmare to me – what do you think?

At first the prisoner scratches at the walls until her fingers bleed. But there is no escaping the room. With no way of measuring time, her days, weeks, months go unrecorded. She vows not to go mad. She will not give her captors the satisfaction. She will die first.

But I had requested it from the library, meaning to use it as part of the 2019 European Reading Challenge, and more importantly my blogpal had really enjoyed it – so I gritted my teeth and got stuck into it.

The action swings between 2002 when Merete Lynggaard a high profile politician disappears from a ferry, and 2007 when detective Carl Morck goes back to work after being involved in a traumatic case which involved the death of one of his colleagues and paralysis of another. Carl isn’t popular with his other colleagues and so he’s made head of a new department which is housed in the basement of police headquarters. Ostensibly Department Q has been set up to re-investigate cold cases, but it’s really just to keep Carl out of the way. He’s allocated another member of staff to help him, Assad is an Iraqi refugee who turns out to be a lot more useful than at first suspected.

The premise of this book was for me devilishly fiendish, but then I hate the thought of basements and the possibility of being stuck in one, but amazingly I really enjoyed the book and particularly the character of Assad, this is the first book in a series and I’ll be reading more of them, for one thing I want to know more about Assad’s background.

You can read what TracyK of Bitter Tea and Mystery thought of the book here. Mercy is published in the US under the title The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Maurice cover

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson was translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates and published in the UK in 2015, it’s the first in a series.

Ari Thor is one of those people who quickly loses interest in things and rarely finishes anything. After giving up on studying theology in Reykjavik he switched to training to be a policeman. When a job comes up in Siglufjordur – a very remote fishing village in the north of Iceland Ari Thor applies for it. He hasn’t even talked it over with his partner Kristin who is a doctor in a Reykjavik hospital, they had been talking about marriage so his departure for the far frozen north is a shock to her.

As you would expect of such a remote area the townspeople are insular, it’s the sort of place where you’re always going to be thought of as an outsider and although Ari Thor’s boss seems to be friendly enough he isn’t happy when his new ‘boy’ proves to have a mind of his own and puts forward theories of his own. When the local celebrity who wrote a best selling novel decades ago is found dead at the bottom of stairs it’s assumed that it was an accident, but Ari Thor isn’t so sure.

I really enjoyed this one which has a good mixture of crime and personal life. Ari Thor finds it difficult to settle down in Siglufjordur where the winter is much colder than in Reykjavik and the snow triggers feelings of claustrophobia in Ari Thor – even before the avalanches cut the small village off from the rest of Iceland.

Snowblind reminded me very much of the Icelandic TV series Trapped, but that was written by Baltasar Kormakur – but I suppose anywhere in an Icelandic winter is going to have the same sort of atmosphere. I enjoyed Snowblind enough to make me want to continue with the rest of the books in this Dark Iceland series.

I read this one for 2019 European Reading Challenge which is hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

A Lovely Way to Burn cover

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh is the first book in her Plague Times trilogy. I must admit that I didn’t realise this when I started reading it. As I only recently finished reading Station Eleven it was too soon for me to embark on another ‘end of the world as we know it’ book, but I had started – so I finished.

Stephanie/Stevie Flint has just turned thirty and has been living in London for seven years. Her career as a journalist has come to a halt and she’s now working as a presenter for a TV shopping channel and doing very well at it – at least the money is good. Her current gentleman friend Simon is a surgeon and when he doesn’t turn up for a date with her after work she just assumes that he’s probably going off her. But when she goes to his flat she discovers that he is dead.

Very quickly the bodies begin to pile up as the whole world seems to be in the grip of a pandemic which is being called ‘The Sweats’. Stevie contracts it but eventually recovers, one of the very few to do so, for most people it’s a quick death sentence.

But Simon didn’t die of The Sweats and Stevie suspects that he was murdered despite the fact that he supposedly died of natural causes – and so begins her investigation which leads to attacks on her life, while London descends into chaos. The people who haven’t yet succumbed to the illness either load up their vehicles and head out of the city, or begin drinking their way to oblivion.

For me the whole plot didn’t quite hang together so I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with this series.

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri

A Nest of Vipers cover

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri was published in 2013 but the translation copyright is 2017 and it was translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

I had already seen this one on television, I really enjoy the Montalbano series – as much for the locations in Sicily as for the crime solving and characters, but I must admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one. I had actually seen it ages ago on TV but either I misremembered the outcome, or they changed it for TV which I think is possible as the ending I remembered is better.

Anyway, I’ve only read one of these Montalbano books before and I don’t recall noticing that it was about 95% dialogue, which is all very well – and makes for a quick read, but there’s very little in the way of description of the area, no real sense of the locations.

An elderly widower is found dead in his dining-room by his son, but it seems he has been poisoned and also shot in the head – overkill, so to speak!

It transpires that the victim led far from a blameless life and there were plenty of people who would have liked to see him dead, in fact about half of the town of Vigata. Montalbno gets to the bottom of it of course with the help of Fazio and Augella.

There’s a lot of semi-comedy especially with Montalbano’s girlfriend Livia turning up for a visit. They bicker from the first second, even on the phone, but it’s Italy so they’re supposedly in love. I hadn’t realised before that she is useless at cooking and not much better at housekeeping, and crucially Livia and Montalbano’s domestic help Adelina hate the sight of each other so Montalbano has to forego his usual delicious meals cooked by Adelina while Livia is there and he has to dodge Livia’s terrible attempts at cooking.

This is mildly amusing but I will only give it a three on Goodreads.

I read this one for the 2019 European Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind  cover

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny was published in 2018 which means that I’ve caught up with this series which I think it’s important to read in the correct order. Louise Penny’s husband died before she began to write this one and she didn’t think she would be able to write after losing him, particularly as her detective Armand Gamache was modelled on her husband, but after a while she felt able to continue with the series. I suppose for her it’s one way of keeping her husband alive.

When an elderly woman – a complete stranger – names Armand as an executor to her will he’s perplexed. Myrna, a retired psychologist who is another inhabitant of the village of Three Pines is also named and a young man called Benedict who is a builder. It’s a complete mystery to all of them and when the will is read in the dilapidated home of the deceased they’re none the wiser. Bertha Baumgartner has left millions to her three children and an aristocratic title as well as property abroad. But surely nobody with that sort of money would be living in squalor as she did.

As the setting is Three Pines it wasn’t going to be long before a body turned up and so begins Gamache’s investigation, helped by his staff at the Surete de Quebec. At the same time the local politicians in Quebec seem hell bent on ruining Gamache. The stress is all too much for Jean Guy his son-in-law. As ever you’re never quite sure who the good guys are.

Despite Louise Penny’s loss she still has her sense of humour. It’s the many quirky villagers that bring so much charm to these books and Ruth Zardo with her pet duck Rosa aided by Gamache’s grandson are hilarious.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

 An Unwanted Guest cover

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena was published this year – 2018. It’s a murder mystery and I thought that I should leave my comfort zone of vintage crime, I sort of wish I hadn’t bothered as this is really just a re-write of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and various others of that ilk. By now it has become a real cliche.

The setting is winter in the Catskill Mountains where several people are making their way to a luxury hotel. They all manage to get there in one piece although one of the cars is involved in a small accident. They’re an eclectic bunch and as many of the staff haven’t been able to get through the snow it’s left to the proprietor and his son to look after everyone.

The weather worsens and when the electricity and telephone lines come down they’re completely cut off. There has never been a signal for mobile phones – so when the murders begin they can’t get help. Who will be next?

There was a slightly different twist right at the end of this book but it wasn’t enough to elevate it to four stars on Goodreads. I can imagine that if you haven’t read a lot of crime fiction, or vintage crime then you would enjoy this one a lot more than I did. I just felt a bit miffed that it’s such a hackneyed tale.

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude

Death Makes a Prophet cover

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude is another British Library Crime Classics book and it was first published in 1947. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. I loved this one which kept me guessing right to the end.

The setting is one of the new ‘garden city’ towns which were set up post World War 2. Welworth Garden City is obviously a bit of a mash up between Welwyn Garden City (I lived there briefly in the 1970s) and Letchworth, both of them in Hertfordshire – southern England.

Welworth has the reputation of being a forward-thinking town which attracted people who were maybe a bit different from most – vegetarians, socialists and in particular people who were followers of unusual new religions. The cult of The Children of Osiris is one of the most popular religions and has attracted several thousand followers with many of them settling in Welworth.

The religion was founded by Eustace K. Mildman who of course made himself the High Prophet of the sect and has thought up lots of odd rites for the followers to take part in, and he has obviously profited from it. The whole religion is being bankrolled by a wealthy woman and there are jealousies and resentments amongst the followers.

Things come to a head which means that Inspector Meredith has to be called in to do his stuff. This is a great read with entertaining humorous touches now and again.

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

The Ghost Fields cover

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths is one of her Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries and it was published in 2015. The setting is Norfolk where Ruth has been called in to help when a body is discovered in a World War 2 aeroplane which has been dug up by a man in a digger who is clearing a field prior to houses being built on it. The whole area had been peppered with US airfields during the war, Norfolk was the ideal location due to the extreme flatness of the county. Of course nothing is straightforward and so begins a mystery involving a local landowning family.

This is an enjoyable read, it was good to catch up with everyone again and a bit of a shock to realise that Ruth’s daughter Kate is at the stage of starting school already, but such is life as you’ll know if you’ve been down that road yourself.

The love lives of everyone involved in these books have just become even more of a mess. There’s nobody in a truly happy relationship although it looks like Cloughie might be on the right road, although I’m not holding my breath.

I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series which I think is called The Woman in Blue.

One mild annoyance is that aeroplane hangar is spelled hanger – silly.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

seven dead

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1939 but I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint with a rather attractive cover of a harbour and yachts.

The book begins with Ted Lyte a nervous first time burglar breaking into a remote house by the coast. It seems that the house is uninhabited so he decides to take a look around, hoping to find easily portable silver.

One of the rooms is locked, presumably it has something worth stealing inside it, but when he gains entrance he gets the shock of his life. In a panic Ted rushes out of the house but realises that someone is chasing after him. Shedding silver spoons as he goes Ted runs straight into a policeman and ends up being taken to the local police station, he’s a jibbering wreck.

Thomas Hazeldean was the pursuer and he had just come off his yacht, but it’s not long before he’s on it again and sailing for Boulogne where he hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I had some problems with this one because although it’s not long at all before the crime takes place the whole thing seemed a bit too disjointed to me and unlikely. Farjeon tried to introduce witty dialogue between the police but it really didn’t work. It’s a bit of a locked room mystery, a bit missing person, a bit of vengeance, a bit of romance. In fact it’s just a bit too bitty for my liking. I could just be nit-picking though.