Murder Under the Christmas Tree – short stories

 Murder Under the Christmas Tree cover

Murder Under the Christmas Tree is a compilation of short stories by well known authors, all set around about Christmas – as you would expect.

The first story is The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m quite a fan of Sayers but I have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one as I guessed the solution fairly quickly.

The other contributers are Ian Rankin, Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Val McDermid, Ellis Peters, Edmund Crispin, G.K. Chesterton, Carter Dickson and Ngaio Marsh. The sleuths include Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Cadfael, Father Brown, Rebus and others you will recognise.

It’s quite a collection of authors and I’m sure there’s something for everyone here, well everyone who enjoys a good murder around the festive season – as I do!

I read this book for the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.

Links from the Guardian Review

It’s a wee while since I shared some links from the Guardian review section with you, but I think you might be quite interested in some from this week’s edition.

Firstly there’s an article titled Charlotte’s web by Claire Harman which you can read here. It’s about Charlotte Bronte and her crush on Paul Heger which inspired her to write Villette.

There’s an article here by Bill Bryson. Can you believe that it’s 20 years since he wrote Notes from a Small Island?

You can read Mark Lawson’s review of Ruth Rendell’s last book Dark Corners here.

Read Melanie McGrath’s review of Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel Even Dogs in the Wild here if you’re a fan.

Christobel Kent has reviewed Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling here.

Last but not least there’s an article by David Mitchell about Ursula K Le Guin and her Earthsea books which you can read here. I didn’t read the Earthsea books until I was an adult and I really got into the series, which is more than I can say for Tolkien’s books, so I was glad to read that Mitchell is a fan of Le Guin.

It was a rich seam of bookish stuff in the Review section this week as far as I’m concerned anyway, the above is just a selection which interested me most. I hope you enjoy some of it too.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

I borrowed Standing in Another Man’s Grave from the library and I enjoyed it so much that I was sorry that I didn’t have any unread Rebus books in the house so that I could continue enjoying his company. The book was first published in 2012. Rebus has been forced into retirement but he really doesn’t have any other life outside the police and the pub, particularly Edinburgh’s Oxford Bar.

So he has joined a cold case unit, technically a civilian unit but located within the Edinburgh Police HQ at Fettes Avenue. He would prefer to be doing his old job though and it looks like the cold case unit might even be closed down completely. There are parts of the job which he really enjoys, opening files and sifting through any evidence and old newspapers. Basically they need to solve a high profile case to make the high heidyins think the unit is worthwhile keeping going.

Rebus ends up liasing with the police and working with his old colleague Siobhan Clarke again, a partnership which for me really works. The police might have thought he was past his use by date but he’s a better detective than any of the youngsters involved, they don’t even care about not contaminating murder scenes. I had a good idea of the way this story was going from about half way through but that didn’t spoil my reading experience.

Rebus isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but he’s a favourite with me, I think a lot of the character is bound up with Ian Rankin’s personality too and this book was influenced by the fact that several of Ian Rankin’s friends had died around the time he was writing it. In fact he lost a close friend just 6 months or so ago – the author Iain Banks and this seems to have contributed to his decision to take a year off from writing. In yesterday’s Guardian Rankin wrote about Banks in the My Hero section, you can read it here. So we’ll have to wait longer than usual for his next book. Will Rebus be shelved once and for all or will he find his way back onto the police force? I do hope that we haven’t seen the last of him.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge, it was my 15th and I’ve already read the 16th, which was a children’s book by Mary Stewart, but more of that later.

Read Scotland 2014

It’s time for a Read Scotland 2014 update, in fact it’s way past time as I’ve just realised that I’ve read 15 Scottish books this year, so I’ve gone beyond Ben Nevis as I knew I would. I don’t know what the next level could be called – do you?

I haven’t been very good at linking to the challenge so here’s what I’ve read so far.

1. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
3. Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie
4. A Double Death on the Black Isle by A.D. Scott
5. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
6. Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
7. The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones
8. The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes
9. The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
10. The First Book of the McFlannels by Helen W. Pryde
11. The McFlannels See It Through by Helen W. Pryde
12. Sleeping Tiger by Rosamund Pilcher
13. The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
14. The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis
15. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – which I have yet to blog about but I really enjoyed it.

A few of these authors have been new to me and of those I think Compton Mackenzie has been the most surprising and entertaining, followed closely by Helen W. Pryde, I must get around to tracking down the rest in her series.

The most disappointing has been Secrets of the Sea House which was just not my cup of tea and was full of cultural mistakes, it isn’t authentically Scottish at all.

I haven’t read any Scottish non-fiction at all but I intend to remedy that soon, so stand by (Lorraine in particular) for a non fiction blogpost – when I’ve rounded up the ones I hope to read this year – which is almost half-way through already. How did that happen?!

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

This book is unusual for a Rebus one in that it’s set mainly in London as Rebus has been ordered down there to help them as they have a serial killer to deal with. Apparently Rebus is regarded as an expert when it comes to tracking down serial murderers. But he doesn’t see himself as an expert and isn’t happy about being there. As you can imagine he isn’t made welcome by the Met who hate the idea of a Scot knowing more than they do about anything.

I actually did enjoy this one although not so much for the plot, which wasn’t great, but I liked the way Rankin portrayed the Londoners. Everyone that Rebus was introduced to was ‘the best in his field’ this is so true to life in London, I just found it so funny, Rankin certainly captures the attitudes of Londoners who tend to view Scots with disdain, if not horror, well they used to anyway, despite the fact that most of them are clueless about life beyond the Watford Gap as they can’t see beyond London.

For a supposedly hard-bitten cop who was in the SAS Rebus does blush an awful lot, it must be that Presyterian upbringing coming through!

This was set in 1992 and it did seem quite dated but as he was staying in a hotel near Shaftesbury Avenue and that’s a bit of London which I actually know it wasn’t too much of a disappointment that the setting wasn’t the usual Edinburgh one, it’s not that I’m getting really parochial in my old age – I just like being able to imagine the setting properly whether it’s somewhere in Scotland, the Cotswolds or Cornwall, apparently this is the only Rebus book with a London setting.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

At last I’ve got around to reading Knots and Crosses, the first in Rankin’s Rebus series which I’ve stupidly been reading all out of order. Laura recently gave me a copy of the book and I thought it would be a good idea to read it just after James Oswald’s Natural Causes, to compare their first police procedural forays.

Set mainly in Edinburgh of course, where there have been abductions and subsequent murders of young schoolgirls. What do the girls have in common, what links them to the perpetrator, why is Rebus being sent bits of string in envelopes?

I did enjoy this book which is mainly introducing Rebus to us and he is a character that I really like. On that score I did think it was a wee bit unbalanced as for me there was just a bit too much Rebus compared with the crimes and sleuthing. There were a few areas of the book which went ‘clunk’ on my ear and which I’m sure Ian Rankin would write differently now, but the first one of any series will inevitably be awkward compared with the following ones.

All in all, I do think that James Oswald’s first book Natural Causes is better than Rankin’s first effort – so no pressure then for James!

As I’ve been accompanying Rebus in his smoking, hard drinking and consequent hangovers I decided to give my liver and lungs a bit of a detox and opted to read a vintage crime by Patricia Wentworth next, a Miss Silver mystery, The Clock Struck Twelve. More on that soon.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

This is the second Malcolm Fox book and he’s still a detective in The Complaints department which is based in Fettes Avenue in Edinburgh, they investigate any police officers who are suspected of being up to no good. Along with his colleagues Naysmith and Kaye, Fox travels to the police station at Kirkcaldy in Fife so that they can interview police officers who have been implicated in a recent court case which has resulted in the conviction of a detective at the Kirkcaldy police station.

That happens to be my local ‘cop shop’ and most of the action in this book takes place within a short distance of where I live, and of course as Ian Rankin is almost a local lad, being brought up in another nearby Fife town, it’s an area which he knows very well. It was quite strange but at the same time a wee bit thrilling to recognise all the shops, tea shops and housing estates which they frequented, if you know the area you’ll even recognise particular lay bys! I must say that Rankin portrayed the town exactly as it is.

I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first one in this series, (The Complaints) although how much that is because of the local interest I can’t say.

In this one Fox has to dig back in newspaper archives to discover why a retired policeman had been investigating the death of a prominent Scottish politician in 1985. Was it suicide or did MI5 have something to do with it?

There certainly were some things going on in the 1980s, a few Scottish so called terrorists did rear their ugly heads. The rest of us were quite mystified why anyone should want to be extreme and violent. It didn’t amount to much anyway and I recall that the biggest incident was when a ‘bomb’ had been left on the railway track close to my then local railway station. People were not chuffed at the trains to Glasgow being delayed, me included. It turned out that the perpetrators were a couple of local numpties that I knew, from a distance. They were jailed for several years for their efforts.

Of course, Ian Rankin’s book is a work of fiction but it does sort of imply that there was a problem with terrorism in Scotland in the past – and really there never was such a problem. The thing in Scotland, particularly the west, has always been the religious bigotry. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be nearly as bad as it used to be as fewer parents send their children to faith schools, where they used to be taught that they were different (superior) to the children at ordinary state schools. Tony Blair was keen on allowing more faith schools and unfortunately the Conservative Party is now all for religious schools too. In fact they really want schools which are staffed by low paid ‘teachers’ with no qualifications. Fools!

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

It seems like absolutely no time since I was in the kitchen listening to an interview with Ian Rankin on the radio. So it was a wee bit of a shock to me to realise that it must have been a 2009 interview, as the book he was plugging at the time was The Complaints, the first in a new series. The next thing I heard was that he was bringing back Rebus in his most recently published book and that it’s also his third Malcolm Fox book. I thought I’d better start reading the Malcolm Fox series before it gets out of hand and he has written 20 of them.

I managed to borrow the Complaints from the library. It’s set mainly in Edinburgh, as you would expect and Malcolm Fox is the main character. He’s a detective working in the Complaints section of the Lothian Police, they investigate other policemen and are deeply despised by all of their so-called colleagues. Fox is described as a bear of a man, although he has lost weight recently and he is also a recovering alcoholic. He’s not exactly popular, even amongst the other Complaints and Conduct detectives.

I really didn’t feel that I was enjoying this book until I was almost half way into it, I think that was mainly because I was missing Rebus and I kept imagining Fox as the Rebus character but eventually I got over that and I ended up enjoying The Complaints more than the Rebus books, mind you, I think I’ve only read about four of those.

The action takes place over just 17 days in 2009. Malcolm Fox has been told to investigate Jamie Breck, a young detective who has been ear-marked for fast-tracking to the top. There’s plenty going on in and around Edinburgh, murders and disappearances, dodgy business dealings and corrupt council officials and nobody knows who they can trust. It’s difficult to figure out who are the good guys and there are plenty of twists and turns in this book, I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the Fox series.

It’s easy to see that the nefarious goings-on of Edinburgh Council give Ian Rankin loads of copy!

Edinburgh

The weekend turned out to be very busy for us and we even ended up having to go to Edinburgh on Sunday to take a coat back to a shop there. I’d left it too long to stick it in the post after ordering it on-line, I’ve never bought clothes that way before. Remind me not to do it again because it turned out to be nothing like I had expected it to look. Why are they so sparse with the descriptions?

Anyway, Sunday turned out to be a good day to go to the shops in Edinburgh because it wasn’t very busy at all and we were able to have a bit of a wander and take a lot of photographs. The street above is Cockburn Street (it’s pronounced Co-burn) which is usually very crowded with students and youngsters, but they were obviously all still in bed at this time. The photo doesn’t really give you the idea of how steep it is. It’s mentioned quite a lot in Ian Rankin’s books.

These ones are of The Royal Mile (High Street) – up and down, bin bags and all.

I like the fairy-tale quality of these very old buildings which are near the castle.

But if I won millions on the lottery I wouldn’t mind buying one of these Georgian ones in the New Town.

We had a look in the shops but didn’t buy anything, really if you’re looking for something in particular then you are unlikely to find it in Edinburgh. There are so few shops there because it’s tiny compared with Glasgow, which is the best place for shopping in Scotland.

Ian Rankin’s Reichenbach Falls

Late last night I watched Reichenbach Falls which had apparently been on before but I had missed it. At first I thought this was going to be another Rebus investigation but it was far more convoluted than anything in the Rebus series. I really enjoyed it and it wasn’t just a bog-standard crime investigation. I suppose it is a dark tale, but it also shows the beautiful architecture and scenery around Edinburgh, and the film can be enjoyed for that aspect alone. I think it will be of interest to anyone thinking of going there for a visit.

The film maker has really shown what I think of as the hidden Edinburgh at the Water of Leith and St Bernard’s Well, which I didn’t even know existed until recently. At times it was like an advert for Tourism Scotland and was very easy on the eyes. It did go from ‘the sublime to the cor blimey’ but that’s the old Scottish split personality, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde thing.

Rankin threw in plenty of other Scottish writers one way or another and Richard Wilson played the part of Arthur Conan Doyle.

I’m hoping that the above link is available for people outside the UK to view. Otherwise it might be available on Netflix.