Thank you very kindly for supporting The Dorset Book Detective blog throughout 2020. I’m taking some well-deserved time off, so I thought I’d post this message early to let you know how much I love and appreciate everyone who has supported me over the past 12 months.
I appreciate that this has been a dreadful year, but all of the support and help has really made a huge difference.
Personally, I’ve not always had the emotional or physical strength to be as supportive as I would have liked, but I have tried my very best to be kind.
It’s not been an easy year, but I’ve still had a lot of support from others, including regular readers, authors, book promoters, blog tour organisers and others.
Everyone has done an amazing job of helping me to create my content, so I’m externally grateful. My blog wouldn’t be possible without support and encouragement, so thank you so much.
To wrap up, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
While I specialise in crime fiction, I love reading a variety of different books from many different genres.
That’s why I was intrigued by Dilemma, a human-interest drama novel set in and around a hospital in Birmingham.
Written by Simon Bramhall, a Consultant Surgeon, and a former patient, Fionn Murphy, the novel centres on a team of doctors and healthcare experts in Birmingham, who are all connected to a liver donation drama.
They include an anaesthetist who was actually at the scene when the donor initially fell ill, the professor who wants to transplant the liver, the donation coordinator who’s doing her best to contain the situation, and more.
As well as the healthcare professionals, Murphy and Bramhall also give the individuals involved time, including the widow of the deceased liver donor, the family of a potential recipient and more. All of these individuals have their lives turned upside down during the course of the novel, and readers get to explore the emotions and challenges that they deal with throughout the book.
The real shining star of this novel is the characterisation. The authors create unique and believable people, who really drive the narrative forward. For example, the Professor character is a brilliant example of a passive-aggressive, self-important individual who thinks a lot of herself and is eager for everyone else to know it. She’s one of my favourite characters, but most of the characters in the novel are interesting and relatable.
The plot unravels slowly, and while it does take a short while to warm up, pretty soon the compelling storyline and the engaging characters will entrance you. The novel isn’t fast-paced, but it is easy to read, so it makes for a great way to spend time over the festive period or in any future lockdowns. As the novel is written by an actual surgeon, it’s also educational. Bramhall makes the complex healthcare passages in the book understandable, meaning that you’ll learn something when you’re reading it.
The issue I have with the novel is the spelling and grammar. It could do with a good proofread; the intriguing plot and unique characters are overshadowed by daft typos, poor sentence structure, missing words and bad grammar. These issues sound small, but they’re an important part of creating a book. While the authors have great narrative skills, and it’s clear that they know their stuff when it comes to healthcare, they’re let down by the poor writing.
With the help of a professional proof reader, Dilemma could be something truly special. The characters are believable and the situations relatable, but the writing lets it all down. It’s the one issue, but it is quite a big one.
Still, Dilemma is a great read that is interesting and compelling. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys human-interest dramas. The story is a timely reminder that, in this day and age, having your health is a blessing that none of us should take for granted. If the pair invests in the services of a decent editor and proof reader, then I’d be very excited to read their next novel.
It’s a sad day that I have to tell you that famed spy and thriller writer John le Carré died of pneumonia on Sunday at the age of 89.
The prolific author, who was born David John Moore Cornwell, wrote many novels and semi-autobiographical books that discuss his own work as a spy working for MI5 in the 1950s, and then in M16 in the 1960s.
During this time, he started to write his crime novels and created the character of George Smiley, who was inspired by the writer’s real life experiences. Smiley became a feature of a series of novels, including Smiley’s People, The Russia House and The Secret Pilgrim.
Throughout his career as a writer, le Carré wrote dozens of books, many of which got turned into incredible TV shows and films, including Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, The Little Drummer Girl and The Night Manager.
All of these books and adaptations helped to cement the author as one of the top spy thriller writers in the world. His work has inspired and influenced so many other crime and thriller writers. As a writer, le Carré was renowned for his tense scenes, droll dialogue and scathing portrayals of recognisable figures from real life political and social arenas.
In both his writing and his social commentary, the author was renowned for his staunch defence of democracy. He was against Donald Trump’s appointment as president of the USA (as any sane person was), as well as the joke that is Brexit. He also loathed Vladimir Putin, and his final published novel, Agent Running In The Field, gave a scathing portrayal of Russia and its interference in the politics and polices of some of the world’s greatest superpowers, including America and the UK.
Over the decades, le Carré continued to write, and his books span the early 1960s, when the first George Smiley novel was released, through to Agent Running In The Field, which was published in 2019. Each of his novels is a unique portrayal of the tense world of international espionage, and draws you into the tense settings inhabited by his secretive and 3 dimensional characters.
He leaves behind a loving family, including 4 adult children and a wife. He died in Cornwall, which isn’t far from his birthplace of Poole, in Dorset, AKA, the best place in the world.
Overall, le Carré lived a full and inspiring life, and he will be missed not just by his close friends and family, but also by the legions of fans of his intriguing and spellbinding books.
Christmas 2020 is going to be a strange one, but with restrictions being eased for a few days, some individuals will be travelling as usual.
Even if you’re not travelling, you’ll probably find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands, as you’re not able to attend the parties and family gatherings that you usually go to during the festive season.
With so much extra time, you have no excuse not to curl up by the fire in a warm blanket with your favourite snacks and reading.
While the length of a book isn’t usually a big issue, shorter texts mean that you’ll have to take more books with you on your journey, and that you’ll have to get up and grab another, which is a pain when you’re already comfortable.
That’s why I’ve listed 5 amazing long reads that will keep you out of trouble during the festive season this year.
5. A Promised Land: Barack Obama wasn’t a perfect president, but he is a good man with incredible moral standards and a unique vision for his country. While he has written non-fiction books before, A Promised Land is the first part of his series of memoirs, which detail his life experiences, including becoming the first black president of America. The book goes charts his journey from his first political ambitions through to his time in the White House, and the challenges he faced trying to unite America and battle against a corrupt system and systematic racism. His wife’s memoir, Becoming, is an amazing read, and the same can be said for A Promised Land.
4. Vesper Flights: Written by the author of the incredible H Is For Hawk, Vesper Flights is a collection of nature essays from this renowned nature expert. Helen Macdonald shares her thoughts on a wide range of topics, including trees, nests, mushrooms and even the issues that come when farming ostriches. Much like its predecessor, the book is a combination of pastoral excellence and personal memoir, making it a fascinating insight into both the natural world and Macdonald’s life. As a collection of essays, it makes for varied reading that will ensure that you’re enthralled throughout your time travelling or curling up in front of a warm fire with a tub of celebrations. As a non-fiction book, Vesper Flights is not only enjoyable to read, but it will also inform you and teach you about both the world of nature and human nature itself.
3. Furious Hours: If you’re a fan of true crime, then Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud And The Trials Of Harper Lee could be the perfect option. It’s split into three parts; the first tells the tale of the Reverend Willie Maxwell, whose family members died in mysterious circumstances only for the Reverend to collection on their insurance policies. Then Cep moves on to the tale of the Reverend’s murder, at the funeral of his stepdaughter, who was also killed in mysterious circumstances and with a large insurance policy waiting for the Reverend to collect on. Finally, the author moves on to the tale of how Harper Lee, author of the acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird, tried and failed to document the murders and create a book to rival Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The book is an incredible true crime expose that will keep you intrigued for many hours over Christmas.
2. Troy: The follow-up to Mythos and Heroes, Troy: Our Greatest Story Retold is Stephen Fry’s latest attempt to make the Greek myths accessible to those who aren’t classics scholars. The book brings the myths and legends of the city of Troy into a whole new light. It’s a long book that breathe new life into these classic tales. Fry has an amazing knack for turning complicated topics into accessible books (his poetry book The Ode Less Travelled is a fantastic primer for anyone looking to get into writing, reading and generally understanding poetry), and he uses it again when writing Troy. If you want to learn and be entertained at the same time, then this a perfect book for you to grab before you head off on your Christmas holidays.
1. The Killings at Kingfisher Hill: The latest in Sophie Hannah’s series of reimagined Hercule Poirot novels is engaging and unique. It incorporates the unique nature of the protagonist with new, creative story lines. The novels would make the original Queen Of Crime, Agatha Christie, incredibly proud. In this latest novel, Poirot and his sidekick, Sophie Hannah’s own creation named Inspector Catchpool, try to uncover the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths at Kingfisher Hill, a fancy private housing estate. Even before the pair arrives at their destination, they encounter unusual occurrences that give them a taste of the strangeness that’s still to come. For mystery and crime fiction fans, this is a must-read.
If you’re a fan of gripping dystopian thrillers then The Minders might be the perfect winter read. It’s a mystery for the digital age that comes with many twists and turns throughout its complex plot.
Written by John Marrs, a former journalist and writer whose previous novel The One is being made into a Netflix drama, The Minders has a unique concept. Set in a world not too far removed from our own, information remains king, and security services, governments and companies alike are all trying to find ways to keep their secrets truly hidden.
They come up with an innovative solution; transforming information into lines of genetic code that can be implanted into people. These people then get transformed by a medical procedure and turned into carriers of some of the greatest secrets the government has. As such, the information is taken offline, which eliminates the chances of a cyber attack, but it doesn’t completely ensure the safety of the information.
Five people are chosen for this honour, and in return, they get the chance to start their lives anew. Each individual is a beautifully crafted character with a complicated backstory, so readers immediately feel invested in their fate. However, not all of these ‘Minders’ can be trusted. Four of them are legitimate and willing to risk their lives for their country; one is not.
While putting the secrets of every cover-up, conspiracy and government mistake in the hands of ordinary people might seem like a great way to reduce the chances of a devastating cyber attack, it brings about its own risks. The individuals with the secrets coded into their minds are people, with their own pasts and secrets of their own, which means that they could risk the safety of the government’s secrets to keep theirs hidden.
The innovative concept of the novel reminds me of Jem Tugwell’s amazing books. The pace is just as fast, and the author combines moral lessons with insight into the complex dilemma that digital freedom brings in a similar way. So, if you’re a fan of Jem Tugwell’s Proximity will enjoy this novel.
The novel is in the same style, but it is still a unique and inventive book. Much like the author’s past work, The One, this thriller reads likes a TV show in the making, and I’m sure that it’ll eventually be turned into a show stopping series. Each chapter includes different media such as official minutes, electronic messages and more, so there’s a surprise every time you turn the page.
It would be easy to find this incredible plot far-fetched, but it’s actually surprisingly believable. Marrs crafts incredibly two-dimensional characters and a superb plot that keeps readers guessing throughout the book. It’s a medium sized novel but it takes surprisingly little time to finish, as you’ll be hooked from the first chapter onwards.
So, if you’re looking for a mind-bending, futuristic thriller, then The Minders might just be the perfect book for you. It’d make a great gift to the crime fiction lover in your life, or you could just treat yourself to it.
John Anthony Miller, writer of historical crime fiction, talks to me about his work and the inspiration that drives it.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards historical crime fiction?
I try to use a different style with each book that I write. One of my books, Sinner Saint or Serpent, is about a murder in New Orleans in 1926, and I told the story in first person, using a dialect. Another of my books, Honour the Dead, is about a murder in Lake Como, Italy in 1921. For that book, I used a very different style, since most of the suspects were British aristocrats.
I also write historical fiction, and I was first drawn to historical crime fiction after completing four novels set during WWII. Two of my WWII novels had crime themes. To Parts Unknown, involved three people trying to escape the Japanese in Singapore after the accidental murder of a Japanese general, and All the King’s Soldiers is about a London intelligence analyst sent to Lisbon, Portugal to find the killer of a British spy. From these efforts, it seemed a natural progression to historical crime, without the military backdrop. I also enjoy Agatha Christie and Anne Perry, two great historical mystery authors who have served as inspirations.
What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing crime fiction?
My first four books were historical fiction, set during WWII. For my fifth book, Honour the Dead, I wanted to do something different, and migrated to crime fiction. Three of my eight novels are historical mysteries; five are historical fiction. Now I tend to alternate between the two genres.
Talk me through your books. What do you think makes them so popular with readers?
I think my books are popular because they’re about ordinary people who are compelled to do extraordinary things due to existing circumstances. My historical fiction novels, which usually have military themes, are not about generals or admirals or politicians – but about ordinary people who overcome their own shortcomings to combat adversity. I follow the same themes in my historical crime efforts – murders solved by journalists rather than law enforcement, for example.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
I don’t have any specific rituals, but do have a routine. I have an office for my writing, the desk is in the centre of the room and I have bookshelves on every wall. I write every day, rarely take a day off, and just enjoy what I do. I typically start a book with three or four different ideas in mind, gradually whittle them down while I conduct my initial research, and then devote my attention to that topic that interests me the most from my preliminary research.
If there is a driver to any of my novels, it would be the location, which I like to treat like a character, as richly described as the people in the book. I have been to many of the locations where my books take place: Paris, Lake Como, London, Germany, Switzerland – and I enjoy writing about them.
What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
I read more non-fiction than fiction – primarily to research books I’m working on or planning to write. But I do have several authors that I enjoy reading, and who have served as an inspiration. Other than Agatha Christie and Anne Perry, who I already mentioned, Ken Follett, James Michener, and Ernest Hemingway are also personal favourites.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I think I would choose Agatha Christie. I read an article about her techniques that was very interesting – how she used a confined space like a train or a boat or an island, and had plenty of false clues or red herrings, or confused the reader with multiple suspects, making it difficult to solve the crime. Many of her books were also set in exotic locations.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
My next release is called The Drop and its set in Havana, Cuba in 1958 during the Cuban Revolution. It’s about an American businessman who is kidnapped by a brilliant revolutionary named Ariana Rojas and held for ransom. The wrinkle in the story is that, after the businessman’s wife receives the ransom note, she decides she doesn’t want her husband back. The book release is in April of 2021.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
I’ve just completed a romance/mystery set in Cape May, N.J. in 1976. A woman inherits a historic mansion, built by an old sea captain who was falsely accused of murder. Even though it’s a hundred years later, she’s determined to prove his innocence. I just sent this off to my agent the other day, so no idea when it will be published.
As for new books by other writers, I rely heavily on recommendations. I keep in contact with some of the book clubs that follow me, and I get great suggestion from them.
Anything you’d like to add?
Yes – thank you so much for having me. I greatly appreciate it.
Thanks to John for answering all of my questions! I love historical crime fiction so it’s great to hear your thoughts.