Bloody Murder by Julian Symons

Bloody Murder from the detective story to the crime novel by Julian Symons is one of those books which you can dip into now and again when you feel like it. It was first published in 1972 and was hailed as a classic study of crime fiction. My copy is a revised edition which was published in 1985.

Symons is quite opinionated which is why he wanted to write the book I suppose, but it can be annoying when he is dismissive about one of your favourite writers but of course he’s entitled to his opinion and I just agree to disagree with him. It’s an interesting read and he mentions a few writers I hadn’t heard of before.

I haven’t read any of his crime fiction yet although I have been assured they are well worth reading. He wrote a lot of books in his lifetime (he died in 1994) including history and biographies, of people such as Dickens, Carlyle and Poe. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger for services to crime literature in 1990.

Have any of you read any of his crime fiction? I’d love to hear your opinion of them if you have.

Losing Ground by Catherine Aird

This is the first book by Catherine Aird which I have read and it was first published in 2007. I don’t read an awful lot of contemporary crime novels, I really prefer vintage crime but strangely this book had a very old-fashioned feel about it, although it’s only six years old.

Since it was written the economic world has gone into meltdown so the whole premise of the book is unrealistic now. Tolmie Park is a large house and estate, in semi-derelict condition, but it was where Jason Burke had played as a child and since then he had always wanted to own the place. Burke is better known as a pop star with the unlikely name of Kevin Cowlick.

Two building companies are also after the estate, hoping to snap the land up for housing and make huge profits. When fire breaks out in the house the police have plenty of suspects, and the discovery of bones in the wreckage adds to their problems. A local pressure group is also involved in trying to stop the house from being demolished.

At the same time as all this was happening a portrait including a depiction of the house was stolen from a local museum. What links the crimes?

Obviously building firms have been going bankrupt and generally having a tough time of things since 2008 and the collapse of the banks and property, so it was strange to be reading about a situation which wouldn’t arise nowadays, but that’s fair enough. The thing which I really didn’t like was the name Kevin Cowlick it just grated on my ears and an editor should have told Catherine Aird that in 2007 pop stars didn’t go in for daft names, in fact that was never going to be a good name for anyone, but editors don’t seem to exist now. I put that name down to the fact that Aird was born in 1930 so is far removed from pop stars and their ways.

Otherwise I quite enjoyed the book, all the way through it I was thinking I would give it about 3 out of 5 but it deserves a bit more because the ending was a bit of a surprise, always a good thing.

The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson

I’ve got into the horrible habit recently of reading books all out of order and I had intended waiting until I had the first Dandy Gilver book which I have on request at the library, but in the end I started reading this one, just to get a flavour of it, and just kept going.

The setting is Perthshire, Scotland and it’s 1925. Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, to give her her full title, shouldn’t really be all that likeable because she’s a woman who isn’t keen on heathery moors, isn’t really all that enamoured with her two small boys or her husband for that matter and is a bit upper class and English! But somehow she overcomes all of those disadvantages and is a likeable character.

The other disadvantage of this book, for me anyway, is the fact that it’s about strange goings on at the winter camp of a circus. That put me off a bit because things like that always remind me of Scoobie-Doo! Plus, I’ve always disliked circuses, even as a child I didn’t like performing animals, and clowns are the stuff of nightmares. So given all that, I really should have hated the book, but I didn’t.

Dandy writes to her sidekick Alec, asking him to come and help her investigate the circus which is camped out on land which is owned by her new neighbours, Ina and Albert Wilson, the owners of Benachally Castle. Albert Wilson has invited the circus performers so that Ina can be entertained by them. Ina is wrapped in cotton wool by Albert and more or less a prisoner in her own castle. Albert is trying to keep her safe from germs since their child died in the flu epidemic which hit Europe just after World War I.

That all sounds quite heavy but this is an enjoyable, witty and well-written read. As usual, I’m not saying too much about it all, for fear of spoiling it for other potential readers. Dandy has a Dalmatian dog called Bunty, I mention this just because I do like dogs in books, in fact they’re the perfect kind, no hairs and cleaning up required.

The blurb says that Catriona McPherson has a Ph.D in Linguistics and she uses a lot of words which are presumably authentic to the circus fraternity. I hope they are anyway, and weren’t just manufactured by McPherson.

There’s quite a lot of praise for the Dandy Gilver series on the back of the book but I’ll just give you the one from the Guardian:

‘Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym ….Dandy is brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.’

I’ve never read anything by Dan Brown, but I have read quite a few Barbara Pym books. This is quite different I would say, but maybe they meant the quality of the writing.