After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray

 After a Dead Dog cover

After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray was published in 2007. The setting of this thriller is the west of Scotland.

Iain Lewis is living in the small childhood home that he had inherited from his father. He makes a precarious living writing various things for TV – now and again. His earlier writing career seemed certain to point to a glittering writing career but it hadn’t come to fruition. In some ways he has been living in the past after his romance with Carole, the daughter of the local wealthy businessman (fish processing) had failed soon after her father’s death. Twelve years on from the end of that romance Iain is attending Carole’s mother’s funeral and meeting her husband Duncan for the first time. Duncan makes it clear that he sees Iain as a danger to him and tries his best to get him into trouble with the police.

Irish gangsters seem to have become involved in Carole’s family business and they’re a violent bunch, but Iain holds his own as he had been a boxer in his student days. It isn’t long before firearms feature in attacks against Iain. The bad guys think Iain has their money and drugs and Iain travels to Glasgow to get help from his old friend Dougie who is a well-known crime reporter who knows some of the gangsters involved.

This book is reminiscent of Iain Banks’s writing, which is definitely no bad thing. I really enjoyed this one. Colin Murray had worked in publishing in London as an editor for years before moving to Scotland some years ago.

Sexton Blake on the Home Front

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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.

The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman

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The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman was published in 2009. It’s the first book that I’ve read by the author and I was encouraged to do so after reading TracyK’s review at Bitter Tea and Mystery.

The action in this book begins in the US where Professor Nat Turnbull lectures on World War 2 history, specialising in the German Resistance. His one time mentor Gordon Wolfe is arrested for possessing stolen files from WW 2 archives and this sets Nat off on a dangerous investigation which takes him to Germany.

The action slips between contemporary America and Germany and 1942 Germany where some of the Nazis are beginning to realise that things aren’t going their way. Some young students have set up a resistance group called the White Rose and they’re involved with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who is under surveillance by the Nazis. Kurt Bauer, the young son of an important industrialist becomes embroiled with the young activists, not for political reasons but because he’s in love with Liesl. His father has warned him to have nothing to do with Liesl as she’s trouble, she is not careful about what she says which is a dangerous thing when there are people queuing up to denounce friends and even family to the Nazis.

I enjoyed this although I did find it quite frustrating when the action changed from one time span to the other, always at a sort of cliffhanger when I just wanted to get on with that aspect of the tale.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep is the first book by Raymond Chandler that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be tracking down his others. This book was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book which features the private investigator Philip Marlowe. I must have seen the 1946 film of the book umpteen times, if I see it’s on TV I’ll always watch it again if possible, I’m a Bogart and Bacall fan.

Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to track down whoever is blackmailing his daughter Carmen. Sternwood is wheelchair-bound and obviously a very ill man, he has two daughters and they’re both spoiled, the youngest Carmen is really out of control. The eldest daughter Vivian is married, but her husband is missing which is also a worry to Sternwood as he got on well with his son-in-law. Vivian is addicted to gambling, playing roulette.

Marlowe’s investigation uncovers a world of gangsters, gun-runners, pornographers and murderers. The plot is great but the writing is even better – honestly I had no idea that Chandler was such a good writer. I love that he describes everything and everyone, but manages to avoid overdoing it somehow. Writing the screenplay must have been a fairly easy task as Chandler had already written all the action and dressed all the actors. Add to that Marlowe’s dry wit and classiness, this book is a very entertaining read.

I was really surprised to read that Chandler went to school in England and even joined the British civil service. In 1917 he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought in France with the Gordon Highlanders.

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Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

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I still regard Helen MacInnes as a Scottish author as she was born and grew up in Scotland and graduated from The University of Glasgow, however she married an American and moved to the US in 1937.

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1982 and it was the author’s second last book, she died in 1985. Despite being in her 70s by then this book was just as full of suspense as her earlier books and as there’s not much chance of travelling right now it was good to travel vicariously with most of the action taking place in Switzerland.

Robert Renwick is an American ex-CIA man who is now working for Interintell which is an anti-terrorism organisation peopled by agents from various western countries. Renwick is in London with his young wife Nina when he receives a cryptic phone call telling him to go to a particular London pub. There he is given a list of names, it’s a list of targets for assassination, and his name is on it.

So begins an adventure full of suspense and mystery as Renwick takes on a group of illegal arms dealers who have friends in high places. He also has the added worry that they will target his wife given half the chance, he just doesn’t know who he can trust.

I’m so glad that I still have a lot of Helen MacInnes books left to read.

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Call for the Dead by John le Carre

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Call for the Dead by John le Carre was first published in 1961 and it’s the first book in his George Smiley series. I’ve really enjoyed his Smiley books in the past but I really wish I had started to read them in the correct order. I had always been puzzled by Smiley’s strange marriage to the wildly unfaithful Lady Ann, so I was glad to discover from this book some of the history behind the couple.

As soon as I started reading this book I realised that it had been made into a film and I had seen it fairly recently, it didn’t go into the details of the marriage though so I did learn more from the book.

George Smiley had been given the job of questioning one of the British Intelligence staff members who has come under some suspicion, he’s supected of spying for the East Germans. Smiley takes him to a park to have an informal chat with him but despite the low stress venue and laid-back style, the suspect soon ends up dead, supposedly at this own hands, but Smiley isn’t convinced, it just doesn’t add up to him. His bosses in the ‘Circus’/ British Intelligence seem keen to blame Smiley for the death, but soon Smiley himself is attacked.

This is a suspenseful read, but if you’re a James Mason fan you might want to seek out the film which is called The Deadly Affair.

North from Rome by Helen MacInnes – 20 Books of Summer

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North from Rome by the Scottish author Helen MacInnes is the first book that I’ve read from my 20 Books of Summer list. It was first published in 1958.

Bill Lammiter is a young and successful American playwright who has recently been dumped by his fiancee. She works at the American embassy in Rome and Bill is feeling bruised as Eleanor has quickly replaced him with an Italian man with a title. The story begins with Bill looking out from his balcony, admiring Rome in the dark and imagining the Roman soldiers who must have walked there in the past. His attention is taken by a young woman’s scream, she is being manhandled and is almost abducted and bundled into a car. When the man realises he has been spotted the woman manages to get away and so begins Bill’s unwanted adventure.

He had been hoping to be able to speak to Eleanor outside the embassy at some point, but when he does see her she is sitting at a table near his in a restaurant, alongside her Italian prince and his mother, then Rosana, the young woman that Bill had been able to help the previous evening joins them.

It’s all very strange, and becomes stranger. It seems that Eleanor’s new man is not what he appears to be. This is a really enjoyable thriller and I especially liked the Italian settings as the action moved from Rome to Perugia, MacInnes paints the landscape and gives a real flavour of Italy, no actual travelling required.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson was published in 2018, but it begins briefly in 1981 before the action moves to wartime London. Juliet is just 17 and orphaned with the death of her mother. She’s going to have to fend for herself and manages to get a job with the intelligence service MI5. It turns out not to be as exciting as that sounds as she ends up sitting at a typewriter in a room next door to one which is being used as a meeting place for Nazi sympathisers. The walls are bugged and it’s her job to type out what she hears – not as easy as you might think. No-one is to be trusted and Juliet finds herself wondering about her own colleagues. Is her boss who is supposedly posing as a Gestapo officer actually a Gestapo officer? She now has a different name and it isn’t long before she’s embroiled with the Fascists she has been listening in to and given the task of searching for The Red Book which apparently has names and addresses of Nazi sympathisers.

Fast forward to 1950 and Juliet is working for the BBC making the Schools radio programmes, but her life with MI5 comes back to haunt her, or is she just being paranoid?

I really enjoyed this one and I’ll probably give it 5 stars on Goodreads as I can’t give it 4.5. Kate Atkinson has been living in Edinburgh for donkey’s years so I count her as a Scottish author.

You can read Jack’s much more detailed thoughts on this book here.

The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth

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The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth was first published in 1957 and it’s the third book that I’ve read by the author, I really like her writing. She also wrote under the names K.G. Ballard and P.J. Merrill.

Bill Farland is working as a private investigator until his career as a playwright takes off, so when the youngest member of an American acting dynasty comes to him for help he’s very happy to take on the job, not just because he’s desperate for money, he hopes that it’ll be a chance for him to push forward his new play. It looks like someone has been trying to poison Catherine Hadden who seems to be being treated as a dogsbody by the rest of her illustrious family of actors and set designers. Catherine is their housekeeper in the large Victorian pile that Dominic the head of the dynasty refuses to sell. Strangely Catherine has been told that there’s no money for her to go to college.

Bill Farland is invited to a dinner party at the Hadden family home as a friend of Catherine’s and to begin with he’s rather star-struck but in no time he’s gone right off Terratta Hadden whom he had idolised previously as in real life she’s a bitch. In fact the Haddens are a fairly ghastly bunch who behave badly even in front of guests. Things quickly go from bad to worse, but I don’t want to say any more about that.

For me this was a tense psychological thriller and I didn’t guess the ending which is always a big plus. The book would have made a really good film I think but maybe it was thought that the private detective scenario had been used enough in films by the late 1950s.

Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh was published in 2010. Louise Welsh was born in England but I think she counts as a Scottish author as she has lived in Scotland for years and she went to The University of Glasgow.

The setting of this book is Glasgow and Edinburgh but it eventually moves to the Island of Lismore in the inner Hebrides.

Murray Watson is a lecturer in English at The University of Glasgow but his career is not really going anywhere and he has decided to do some research on the poet Archie Lunan who had died in mysterious circumstances 30 years previously. Did he commit suicide or was it an accident? But Lunan had only written one slim volume of poetry and there doesn’t really seem to be any more material for Murray to be able to write anything that would be of interest to anyone.

It looks like Murray’s career is on a downward spiral and when he realises that Fergus the head of the department has discovered that Murray has been having an affair with his wife Rachel, Murray thinks he’ll probably lose his job at the university. In a desperate effort to find out something new about Archie Lunan, Murray contacts the old head of department hoping that he can give him some information on Archie Lunan when he was one of his students. It seems that he can’t but he does imply that the person to ask would be Fergus as he knew Archie well. But Fergus had claimed that he didn’t know Archie at all.

Murray takes himself off to Lismore, the island where Lunan had lived for a while and where he had died. The ‘dry’ island is not a place of joy. Archie isn’t the only person to have come to grief there and during a howling winter gale things go from bad to worse.

This thriller was mildly entertaining but not as good as the other books that I’ve read by the author.