The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths is the 13th book in her Dr Ruth Galloway series. I realised not long after beginning to read this book that I had missed out on number 12 – The Lantern Men – so I’ll have to go backwards and read it as it seems that quite a lot happened in that one. Ruth is now Head of Archaeology at North Norfolk University.

Anyway, The Night Hawks are a group of metal detectorists and while doing their thing on a Norfolk beach they discover what they think might be a Bronze Age weapon hoard, but as they’re digging one of them realises that something has been washed up as the tide comes in. It’s a body, so obviously the police are called in – in the shape of Nelson. Yet again Nelson and Ruth are thrown together as she examines the detectorist’s find and he tries to discover the identity of the body.

I think this is one of the weaker books in this series, I found it to be quite predictable and I was surprised when it’s mentioned that Ruth’s daughter is now eleven years old as she seems a lot younger. Yet again there’s jeapordy for Nelson. I suspect that the author is running out of steam with this series, but I still quite enjoyed it.

Two from Ian Rankin – Rebus

I’m really behind with my book thoughts and as I’ve read two books in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series recently I thought I’d just give them a quick mention.

 Set in Darkness cover

Set in Darkness was first published in 2000 and it’s the 11th book featuring DI John Rebus. The setting is of course Edinburgh where the very historic Queensberry House is undergoing refurbishment as part of the devolved Scottish Parliament administrative offices. A partially mummified body is found behind a boarded up fireplace. It looks like it has been there since the last work which was undertaken in that area, some 20 odd years ago.

Then there’s what appears to be the suicide of a homeless man, but it turns out that he had hundreds of thousands of pounds. Why was he living on the streets and did he really kill himself? It’s all go when a prospective MSP’s body is found. Somehow they’re all linked. This was a good read and as ever I enjoyed the Edinburgh setting.

 Resurrection Men cover

Resurrection Men was first published in 2021. This one ranges around Scotland from Edinburgh to Stirlingshire, Perthshire, Fife and Dundee.

Rebus has had a bit of a meltdown and thrown a cup of tea at his boss Gill Templar. The result of that is that he has been sent to Tulliallan, the Scottish police training college for a bit of a refresher course and to have some sessions with a psychologist. Rebus isn’t the only one who has been sent back to school. There’s a group of senior officers who are all there for similar reasons, but it transpires that Rebus has been asked to befriend the others as they’re suspected of being ‘right bad yins’ and Rebus needs to get the evidence. Rebus isn’t sure if he’s being set up by his superiors or if it’s for real, either way it’s a dangerous situation for him. The cold case that they’ve been given to re-open as part of their team building happens to be one in which Rebus was involved, and he’s not happy about that at all.

Meanwhile Siobhan, Rebus’ sidekick is investigating the murder of a wealthy Edinburgh art dealer who had a link with one of the prostitutes in a massage parlour, which in turn might have links with Ger Cafferty, the Mr Big of the Edinburgh dark side.

There’s a lot more to it but, you get the idea I’m sure.

I love that I know all the locations of these books so I’m not sure how much that influences my enjoyment, mind you with the bad guys in this one coming from the west of Scotland I did slightly roll my eyes!

Murder at Standing Stone Manor by Eric Brown

Murder at Standing Stone Manor cover

Murder at Standing Stone Manor by Eric Brown is the eighth book in his Langham and Dupre mystery series. Donald and Maria have just moved from London into Yew Tree Cottage where they have a distant view of Standing Stone Manor from across their snow-covered garden. The villagers of Ingoldby in Suffolk are mainly very welcoming, but it seems that Professor Robertshaw who owns the manor can be a bit of a thorny character. When Donald is invited to the manor he’s surprised that the professor is very affable, but he wants help from Donald to get to the bottom of something strange.

The professor is an archaologist and he’s been digging on land that apparently doesn’t belong to him and obviously that’s causing tension, particularly from the man who believes the land is his. But Robertshaw’s own household is not a comfortable place to be. His wife Xandra is seriously ill and is being nursed by her niece Nancy who would otherwise be homeless. Xandra’s son Randall is arrogant and bullying towards Nancy, as is the professor, and they are both especially obnoxious to Nancy’s friend, an ex-RAF man who is living rough in an old caravan.

When the professor is found dead there are quite a few people in the neighbourhood who would have been glad to see the back of him and of course Donald and Maria sort it all out.

The book is set in the 1950s and Brown does manage to evoke that era well. I enjoyed the mystery which I suppose comes under the category of cosy, and there are some really likeable characters, not just Donald and Maria. I do wish that we could have more of Charles who is Donald’s agent and appeared more in the earlier books, I really liked him. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the others in this series although if you can get a hold of them then you should definitely give them a go.

Thank you to Canongate Books/Severn House and NetGalley who sent me a digital copy of this book for review.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man cover

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett was first published in 1932.

Nick Charles had retired from the sleuthing business to concentrate on managing his finances which seem to have prospered since his marriage to the wealthy Nora, but he gets drawn back into the detection business when Julia Wolf is found shot dead. She had been the ‘confidential secretary’ to Clyde Miller Wynant, an inventor and one time husband of Mimi, who just happened to find Julia’s body. Mimi is well known to Nick, as are her children, Dorothy and Tristan.

There’s a lot of boozing going on in this book, so it all feels authentically like the America of Prohibition era. I enjoyed the relationship between Nick and Nora although it is a bit bizarre, Nora is too easy going in my opinion, but maybe she was Dashiell Hammett’s idea of the ideal wife!

There are several ghastly characters to really enjoy disliking, and there’s plenty of snappy dialogue. So there’s a lot to like about this book. It’s the first one by Dashiell Hammett that I’ve read and I believe he was the first writer to develop this style, but I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Raymond Chandler’s writing, but that may just have been because I found it just a wee bit too convoluted with a lot of characters to keep track of. Maybe our unusually hot spell was affecting my brain!

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

 The Postscript Murders cover

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths was published in 2020 and it’s the second book in her DS Harbinder Kaur series. Normally I would try to read books in a series in order, but it wasn’t a problem just diving in as I did.

Natalka is a care worker with 90 year old Peggy Smith as one of her ‘clients’. When Natalka discovers Peggy dead in her chair, facing her bay window she feels that something is not quite right. Peggy had spoken of being watched, but that could just have been the beginning of age related paranoia or dementia. Then a business card is found near Peggy, on it she’s described as a ‘murder consultant’. It seems that Peggy had led a secret life as an expert on unusual ways of murdering people. Her skills were in demand by many crime writers who needed her input when they needed ways of their characters being murdered.

Peggy’s son is in an unseemly hurry to pack up her flat and get it on the market, there are a lot of books, but when Natalka and her friend Benedict (coffee shack owner and ex monk) visit the flat they end up being threatened by a masked gunman who left swiftly after grabbing a book.

DS Harbinder Kaur is on the case which begins with Peggy’s death in Shoreham and leads to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. This was a really enjoyable read with unusual and likeable characters and there’s quite a bit of humour in there too. I feel I should read the first book in this series now, The Stranger Diaries.

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy

The Deadly Truth

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy was originally published in 1941 but was re-printed by Agora Books last month. It’s a Dr Basil Willing mystery, he’s a psychiatrist who works in New York. Unusually for him he’s spending the summer on Long Island, renting a cottage on an estate which belongs to Claudia Bethune. She’s a wealthy socialite, three times married and she loves throwing parties. It seems that she gets most of her joy from being cruel and nasty to her guests though.

Dr Roger Slater is a research scientist who is infatuated with Claudia, so when she visits him in his laboratory he can’t stop himself from boasting about a new truth serum that he has developed. But when Claudia leaves the lab he realises that she has stolen a small aluminium tube of the serum. He’s furious, he’ll get into a lot of trouble from his employers if they find out. It looks like Claudia intends to have fun with her guests by doctoring their drinks with the serum.

Things don’t go quite the way Claudia plans them to, she’s in for a very big surprise. Dr Basil Willing gets involved and his investigation uncovers blackmail and jewellery theft, it seems that just about everyone had something to hide.

I really enjoyed this one, not only for the mystery and investigation but I appreciated the author’s descriptive abilities. I like to know where I am when I’m taken into a room by an author and I think you can see from the description below that Helen McCloy was interested in painting the scene for the reader.

The curtains were satin brocade of buttercup yellow. The walls were washed a pale primrose, the ceiling a sour cream colour, and two mantelpieces of tawny ochre marble faced each other at opposite ends of the room. The parquet was blond, the woodwork ivory white, and the chairs were covered with petit point in the same faded buff and blue as the Chinese rug. There was a Chinese cabinet of brilliant black lacquer with a procession of mandarins eternally wending their diagonal way across its double doors picked out in tarnished gilt.

She has one character saying:
If I may be permitted to paraphrase Aaron Burr: Truth is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.

The politicians of the moment seem to have adhered to that one well!

I was sent a digital copy of this book by Agora Books via NetGalley. Thank you.

Sexton Blake on the Home Front

The Witch of Blackbird Pond  cover

This is a collection of two novellas. The first one is The Man from Occupied France and was written by Anthony Parsons in 1941.
The book begins with a young woman being sentenced to ten years in jail for passing information on to the Germans. It’s 1941 and Isobel Ensor had been working in an aircraft factory, in charge of the blueprints of all the aircraft designs. She had got the job through a friend that she had met at an organisation which had been set up to promote friendship between Germans and English people, but obviously when war broke out some of the Germans had decided to go home to Germany, as did Isobel’s friend. She gave Isobel a gold watch as a keepsake when she left.

When there was a tip off about the possibility of information having been stolen, Isobel is suspected of being the culprit and when her handbag is searched it’s discovered that the pocket watch which had been a keepsake was actually a small camera. Even then Isobel doesn’t realise that her so-called German friend had set her up.

Isobel’s fiance is determined to clear her name but he just makes matters worse, until Sexton Blake and his side-kick Tinker get involved. This is a really enjoyable thriller, full of atmosphere and suspense, with some humour too.

The second novella is called The House on the Hill and was written by John Drummond in 1945.
Jane Wray lives in a house which is owned by her employer who owns a mill, her mother also lives in the house and Jane’s fiance Jim is their lodger. When the owner of the mill dies his son inherits everything, he’s a violent man with a fierce temper. When there’s a murder Jane is worried that Jim might be involved – and Jim is worried about that too, and so begins a manhunt worthy of John Buchan, with plenty of twists and turns.

I received a digital copy of this book for review from Netgalley. It’s published by Rebellion and edited by Mark Hodder.

Anna, Where Are You? by Patricia Wentworth

 Anna, Where Are You?  cover

Anna, Where Are You? by Patricia Wentworth was published in 1953 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.

Unusually (I think) Miss Silver’s entrance in this book is on the very first page where she’s perusing the births, deaths and marriages columns of her copy of The Times, but it’s the Agony Column which really attracts her interest. Someone called Thomasina is looking for Anna – Please Write. That short message leads Miss Silver into a dangerous investigation.

Thomasina is looking for her old schoolfriend Anna who has left a suitcase with Thomasina to look after. It’s ages since Anna has been in touch though and Thomasina is worried about her. Thomasina’s fiance Peter Brandon can’t understand why she is worried as Anna isn’t a very nice person and not much of a friend, but Thomasina feels sorry for her.

Miss Silver’s investigation takes her to Deepe House which is a bit of a wreck as the middle of it had been bombed during the war. Peveril Craddock, the new owner, has re-named it Harmony House, he’s an obnoxious character who is supposed to be writing a great work but his wife Emily and step-children are obviously frightened of him, although he has a bevy of strange female admirers who live in ‘the colony’ – nearby cottages.

Anna had been at Deepe House, looking after the rather out of control children but she had left no clue as to where she was going. Inspector Frank Abbott gets involved when during his investigation into a nearby bank robbery and murder he has to question the people at the house and the colony. Miss Silver’s past experience as a governess comes in handy as the Craddocks are very happy to have her as part of the household where she solves the mystery and sorts out the children too.

This one was a bit of a slow burner for me but it ended up being really good as I had no idea what had been going on!

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories is edited by Martin Edwards and is a British Library Crime Classic.

This compilation of eleven Christmas/winter themed vintage crime short stories is as you would expect a bit of a mixed bunch, but that means that there will surely be something to suit everyone. Each short story is preceded by a short biography of the author, which I found interesting.

For me it was the story from which the title of the book came which was most successful. The Christmas Card Crime was written by Donald Stuart. Some of the stories are sooo short, and I can’t help thinking that the author used up a good idea which could have been worked up into something a lot longer and for me more inetresting. I suppose that just means that I’m not a big fan of short stories, well not very short ones anyway.

The other authors featuring in this anthology are:

Baroness Orczy
Selwyn Jepson
Ronald Knox
Carter Dickson
Francis Durbridge
Cyril Hare
E.C.R. Lorac
John Bude
John Bingham
Julian Symons

The book cover is taken from a vintage travel poster.

Mont-Revard poster

The Case of William Smith by Patricia Wentworth

 The Case of William Smith cover

The Case of William Smith by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1950 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.

William Smith can’t remember anything that happened to him before 1942. His first memory is of being in a German hospital, and from there he was transferred to a concentration camp. The identity disc around his neck says William Smith. In the camp he strikes up a friendship with a Czech prisoner who teaches him how to carve small wooden toys and when William eventually gets back to London after the war his talent is spotted by Mr Tattlecombe, a toy shop owner who takes William on as an employee. Mr Tattlecombe’s son had been in the concentration camp with William but he had died there and to Mr Tattlecombe William had begun to take the place of his dead son.

When Mr Tattlecombe is involved in an accident William takes over the running of the business and takes on a female sales assistant. There’s a bit of a mystery as to why she wants the job at all, but William seems keen on her and when ‘accidents’ continue to occur it’s Miss Silver with her gentle cough who comes to the rescue.

I liked this one a lot, it has likeable main characters, twists and turns and Miss Silver sorts it all out as she knits two pale blue coattees for a baby and then begins on a cherry-red cardigan for the mother. She’s some woman!