Right on time for summer of the roaring 2020s comes the debut novel by Tom Hindle, set in the roaring 1920s. A Fatal Crossing is everything you could possibly want from a vintage crime novel, packed with dark twists, droll dialogue and tantalising mysteries galore.
Set onboard a luxury ship that sails between London and New York, and is on its way to the Big Apple, the novel is an innovative take on the classic locked room mystery. The passenger liner the Endeavour has just 4 days left of her voyage when an elderly man is found at the bottom of a staircase after a night of heavy rainfall. The captain, keen to reach New York and begin his retirement, sweeps the death away as an accident and places the body in an old cold store. After all, his is a passenger liner, and he doesn’t have the time or facilities to investigate the death. He’s happy to wait for the ship to dock and leave it to the cops in New York.
However, a Scotland Yard police officer who is onboard the ship believes that the death is no accident. Inspector James Temple convinces the Captain to let him investigate, but only under the supervision of troubled ship’s officer Timothy Birch. Initially the inspector is reluctant to accept the help, but he eventually agrees to get the investigation moving.
From the beginning, the reader is led into a world of intrigue, with new twists and turns in every chapter. The prose is very descriptive and almost military in its formation, an approach that allows the author to pack a lot into less than 500 pages. Narrated by Birch, the novel following the officer and Temple as they attempt to unravel what happened to the old man.
Quickly, the unlikely duo, neither of whom is particularly happy with the other’s presence, learn that the dead man was travelling under a false name. He’s an art dealer from Bath, on his way to the New York Art Fair, who has been meeting with several passengers onboard to discuss various deals.
One of these is the purchase of a painting believed to be the only portrait by a renowned landscape artist. The picture once belonged to the victim, but was purchased for much less than its true value by an old associate of his, who now plans to sell it at the fair for its true value. On the night of the death, the picture was stolen and a threatening note left in its place.
As the days wear on and the body count rises, our two detectives are forced to work together to uncover the truth before it’s too late. The strangely civil odd-couple pairing of the two detectives reminds me a lot of traditional Golden Age crime fiction double acts like Wimsey and Parker or Poirot and Hastings. While the situations are different, the dynamic is similar, in that one is significantly more intelligent than the other, who is more personable and likeable. Together, the pair work well and fight against the clock to find the killer and uncover the truth.
With a set amount of time before the vessel docks in New York and no way for the passengers or crew to get off the ship, the novel is a take on a locked room mystery that was incredibly popular with Golden Age crime writers. Author Tom Hindle has named Agatha Christie as one of his writing inspirations, and it’s easy to see her influence in this incredible debut crime novel. The plot is filled with twists and new information, but as we follow the narrative of the brave and observant yet unintelligent Officer Birch, the reader is easily able to keep up with each new development in the case.
So in summary, if you’re looking for a fun and thrilling historical crime caper, then A Fatal Crossing is the perfect book for you. The characters are engaging and unlikeable in the best possible way, and the plot powers along as fast as the Endeavour on her way from London to New York. The author skilfully reveals new information at the perfect pace, which keeps you on your toes from the first page to the final paragraph. Hindle is set to release another take on a locked room mystery next year, and I for one will be looking forward to checking it out.
I’ve been a massive fan of Mark Ellis’s poetic and sensitive detective Frank Merlin for many years, and so I was excited for a new instalment to this incredible series.
It’s hard to believe that now there are 5 novels in the series, and that there’s another one that’s just come out! Dead In The Water is the latest addition to this amazing collection, and it shows Frank Merlin as a father and husband coming up against a range of different obstacles.
The book is set later in the war than the earlier novels in the series, in 1942, and the Americans have now joined the war against Hitler. Ellis loves drawing on real historical events and people in his novels, so there are plenty of mentions for history buffs to enjoy. When it comes to the fiction characters, Merlin and his team are now up against bureaucracy from both sides of the Atlantic and dealing with a spate of social unrest when a body is discovered down an alleyway.
At the same time, a shady art deal is going down, which has ramifications on many throughout London’s creative scene, including the purveyors of an avant garde fledgling literary magazine. This deal soon turns sour, and as Merlin’s body count begins to rise, he realises that something’s afoot that affects the very highest echelons of polite society.
From the very first page, readers are transported into the murky world of underground art dealing during the war, shady financial transactions and corrupt millionaires who use their power and influence for their own ends. The novel is a perfect blend of historical insight and a unique plot that holds the readers attention from the outset.
Every character is intricately constructed, and despite the sheer number of characters, the author still manages to make you care about or despise each of them. That’s one of Ellis’s key skills as a writer: being able to create characters you can hate, as well as those you can admire. It’s easy to craft likeable characters, but not so easy to write well-thought out individuals that are unlikeable. They might not necessarily be the villain of the piece, but Ellis is great at making characters who are unlikeable and, in many cases, downright creepy.
My one disappointment, and criticism, is that when I opened the book I saw how short it was. One of my first encounters with Frank Merlin was in Merlin At War, which was considerably longer than this. Having so much more to read makes me happy and means that we get to see more of Ellis’s little side plots. The author is amazing and creating unique and interesting characters, and he usually gives them more space so that their side stories really come to life.
In this novel, there are many smaller stories within the main frame of the narrative, and it would’ve been great to have them get more time and space within the book. Despite this, Ellis still does a great job of keeping them all tied into the main storyline, which concerned a shady art deal that goes horribly wrong. With a body in the river and the artwork gone, Merlin and his team face a race against time to uncover the truth. There are many suspects to choose from, and with the true ownership of this valuable art in question, there’s a lot to keep readers on their toes throughout this gripping thriller.
Also in play are the security services, a nephew of Merlin’s who’s working on a covert mission in London and a shady crew of sneak thieves trying to rob the wealthy individuals at the heart of the case. With so much going on, it’s no wonder that the book is so gripping it’s almost impossible to put down. You’ll be spellbound as you rattle around the world with Ellis’s eclectic cast of characters. Despite so many sub-plots, the novel remains surprisingly easy to keep up with, and the characters are so well-written that you’ll feel like you know them before you’re even 50 pages in.
All in all, this is another incredible addition to an already phenomenal series. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Frank Merlin already, and if you’re new to the character then it could be a good place to start, although I would recommend going from the beginning of the series. The novel covers have recently been redesigned and some of them have been renamed, so now’s as good a time as any to get into them if you haven’t already. I firmly believe that the Frank Merlin series is one of the best to be written over the past 10 years, and Dead In The Water is a truly great addition to it. I just hope the next one is longer!
The Long Weekend has been on my TBR pile for some time, and I’ve been looking forward to checking it out. I’m glad to say that Gilly Macmillan’s latest novel did not disappoint. The book is a masterpiece of modern crime fiction, with the author, who already has many bestsellers under her belt, crafting a unique and fast paced thriller. The plot races along and the story quickly transforms from a typical locked room mystery to something much more sinister.
The book begins in the remote Northumbrian countryside, right on the border between England and Scotland, where 3 very different women arrive for a weekend away at a secluded barn. They’re set to be joined by their husbands the next day, after they all gave last minute excuses not to travel with their wives. Taking weekend breaks has become a tradition for the group, but not all of them are looking forward to it, for various reasons.
Owned by a troubled farming couple, the barn is near the site of a historic Neolithic burial ground. The husband has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his wife is concerned that he’s now harassing guests at their barn, which they rent out for short term visitors. The couple are also rattled by a strange request before the group arrives, and wrapped up in their own troubles.
When they arrive at the barn, the 3 women discover an unsettling note, supposedly from Edie, another woman who was part of their social circle until her husband died, and who subsequently decided not to come to on the trip. The note suggests that harm might have come to one of the group’s husbands, leaving them all feeling confused and angry. Edie is supposedly on a spa retreat in Wales, while her teenager daughter is at band camp, but it’s soon clear that neither of them is where they said they’d be and the pair, despite being absent from the trip, are integral, in one way or another, to the plot.
Without phone signal or any other means of contacting their husbands, and with their hosts down at the farmhouse with their car, which couldn’t make the steep drive up to the barn, things aren’t going well on the trip. Add in personal disagreements and a strong storm and the women face a difficult night. The 3 women are very different, each with their own fears and concerns. There’s Jayne, a former solider who planned the trip, and who has a secret reason for choosing the barn as the location for this latest trip. Then there’s Ruth, her old friend who’s just had a baby, and is struggling to cope with being a mother and dealing with problems in her marriage. Finally, there’s Emily, a newer addition to the group who is significantly younger than the other two, being the trophy girlfriend of the oldest man in the friendship group.
The novel shifts between the misery at the barn, and back nearer the womens’ homes in Bristol, where the orchestrator of the mayhem might not be who we originally believed it to be. It also switches between perspectives, drip feeding the reader small clues so that we’re never bored, but always keeping us one tantalising step away from fully understanding what’s going on. You’ll never see the full picture until the end, and even then, this thriller is so psychologically intense that you might still not grasp the true motives behind the crimes.
One thing that makes me smile every time I look at my copy of the novel is the tagline, which states: ‘Three couples. Two bodies. One secret.’ The one secret part is what is so laughable; Macmillan is not one to confine her characters to just one secret. Every member of the group has her secrets, and their husbands too. There are failed investment projects, adultery, and more to contend with. Some of the secrets are simply basic issues that form part of ordinary life, and others are more sinister and could be the clue to unravelling the author’s tangled web.
So if you’re looking for an enthralling and compelling read to take your mind off all the madness that’s going on in the world right now, then I would heartily suggest that you check out The Long Weekend. It’s an unforgettable read that will haunt you long after you finish it thanks to Macmillan’s devilish plotting, intense characterisation and slow burning plot.
Recently, I’ve been going through a lot of changes and suffering from exhaustion, so I decided, after a hard day, to treat myself to a trip to the cinema.
I’ve not been for since before the pandemic, and following a busy and stressful day, I thought I’d go watch a film that’s been delayed for more than 2 years.
The delays were partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also because many of the film’s stars have faced criticism for their behaviour. While many of the stars, including Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, have faced criticism and, in the case of Hammer, serious allegations, they remain some of the world’s richest and most influential stars. And, the film is helmed and directed by Kenneth Branagh, a man who has famously overcome his own scandals to enjoy a long and prosperous career.
He has already adapted Murder On The Orient Express, and while he definitely wasn’t my idea of Hercule Poirot, the film itself was enjoyable to watch. As such, I was looking forward to a good whodunnit film, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d usually expect from a Poirot mystery.
To my surprise, from the outset, the latest adaptation of Death On The Nile is a disaster. The first scene, set in 1914, shows a captain you believe to Poirot, with his signature moustaches, announcing orders to go over a trench and attack a bridge later that day. Suddenly, an unshaven Poirot discusses the flight of the birds, and the fact that the wind has changed earlier than usual. He advises his moustachioed captain to attack immediately, which he does, despite his misgivings.
The operation is a success, but the captain dies by accidentally setting off a bomb, which Poirot tries to warn him about, without success. The detective is then seen in a hospital bed with a disfigured face and a despondent disposition. His girlfriend, who we later learn died, tells him to grow a moustache. This version of Poirot, who is later seen embarking on fast-paced dashes across the ship and striding about with a gun in his hands, is far too much of a traditional Hollywood action hero to be the peculiar little man with an egg-shaped head. Even his eyes, which turn bright green when he’s on the trail of the truth in the books, are sapphire blue in the film. It’s a small detail, but it’s very noticeable for Christie fans.
After the opening scene, the film’s narrative shifts to the film’s setting in the 1930s, with Poirot, now heavily moustached, attending a music club. He’s watching Salome Otterbourne, who isn’t the writer she is in the novel but a nightclub singer, perform. The first two dances, performed by Jacqueline and Simon and then, after he’s given his new job, by Linnet and Simon, are thinly veiled attempts to emulate the traditional film trope of dances used to emulate sex. Armie Hammer is not a gullible, stupid individual as we see him in the books, but a creepy rich boy in a vile moustache that makes him look like an unintentional parody of the cannibal sexist the media portrays him as. His hammy dancing and over egging the sexual aspects of the dancing make them look like a joke, rather than a serious sexual dance. The film does this well-worn trope incredibly unsuccessfully, and the result is a clumsy opener that only goes downhill from there.
Much of the film is different from the novels, and while that isn’t always a bad thing, in this case the changes don’t benefit the movie in any way. For a start, the characters aren’t all the same as in the books, and this significantly affects the plot and makes much of it highly unbelievable. Monsieur Bouc was in the Murder On The Orient Express novel, and Branagh’s film, and he brings him back in this adaptation instead of Colonel Race, the character who assists Poirot in the book. Bouc also acts as a replacement for the character Tim Allerton, as he attends the cruise, now panned as a wedding party, with his mother. Instead of a group of disparate strangers, the group is gathered deliberately by Linnet Doyle, nee Ridgeway, for her wedding celebration.
This makes it seem unusual when interloper Jacqueline de Bellefort, the former friend of Linnet and first fiancé of Linnet’s now-husband, Simon Doyle, joins the cruise. In the book and most adaptations, the Karnak, the liner the group travels on, is a luxury steamer and everyone on board is there for different reasons. As Branagh’s film has the party gathered by Linnet and Simon for their wedding celebration, it looks strange when Jacqueline arrives out of the blue. She’s vital for the plot, but she arrives alone with no other guests who are unconnected to the wedding party shown, making her arrival look strange and convenient. Also, Branagh’s adaptation has the boat’s staff leave the vessel at the end of every day, which is another useful but unlikely way to create a ‘locked room’ scenario.
One major missed opportunity that’s a real shame is the lack of attention to the scenery and costumes in the film. Bouc actually wears a zip-up hoodie throughout most of the film, and while these were worn in the 1930s, when the story is set, I doubt anyone on a luxury cruise would galavant around in one. The outfits and decor on the luxury liner were a great opportunity for the film to make the most of its enormous budget. There’s no opulence; the glitter is two-dimensional and looks flat on the screen. Colours on ties and jackets are made to stand out to set them apart, but I defy anyone to remember one signature look with any real clarity even minutes after the film finishes.
I expected a lot more from the outfits and scenery, but the film’s over reliance on CGI technology and lack of care when it comes to the costuming and makeup means that the film doesn’t have the obvious redeeming feature that you’d expect. The 1930s was a time of dwindling opulence, but those who were still going on luxury liners still had access to stunning costumes and retained their love of 1920s decadence. Instead of the beautiful pearls Linnet wears, which are viewed as a motive for her murder initially and are stolen, then found, then seen to be fake, the film gives the wealthy heiress a tacky looking Tiffany necklace with a huge yellow gem in the centre. The necklace looks like it’s made of plastic, and not at all like it’s an expensive and fashionable gem.
The film’s deviations from the original text, and from Christie’s style in general, are never more apparent than during a scene in which two characters are revealed to be lesbian lovers. The film is heavy handed in this reveal, with Branagh’s Poirot shouting at the two women while they admit the truth, which would have been unthinkable and subject to ridicule and abuse during the time when the film is set. In her books, Christie has characters who could be involved in these sorts of relationships, but it’s never directly revealed. In any subtle reveals, Christie is always understated and her characters are sympathetic, which is far from the case in this film.
There are some pockets of cinematic brilliance in the midst of all the dross, but unfortunately, these are few and far between. There’s a brilliant fight scene between Russell Brand and Ali Fazal’s characters over the dead body of Rose Leslie’s dispirited and highly unconvincing French Maid. Also, thanks to the addition of Bouc, who isn’t in the Queen Of Crime’s original story, there’s a brilliant bait and switch that keeps viewers on your toes until Branagh uses Bouc in a way I never expected. I won’t spoil the unique twist and inventive change the film makes to Christie’s iconic plot, but it really changed the story and is a great surprise to viewers. With so much of the film, such as Jacqueline’s arrival on the boat, being really obvious, it was nice to have one major surprise to catch you off guard.
Still, for the most part, Branagh’s Death On The Nile adaptation is a cinematic representation of the phrase ‘money can’t buy taste’. It’s an expensive film that throws its money into all the wrong places. It’s already not a great Christie novel to begin with, but the adaptation boasts many unnecessary changes and some frankly bizarre choices that make it almost unwatchable. I literally covered my eyes at some points. With so many comedy actors, including greats like comedy duo French and Saunders, I almost thought at times, that this was a parody, and it easily could’ve been if the actors weren’t all so serious and it wasn’t trying so hard. If you love Christie and her pernickety Belgium detective as much as I do, then I’d recommend you watch it once, but don’t rush out for it and definitely, if you can avoid it, don’t pay too much to watch. This film simply isn’t worth it.
Before I get down to the fun part and start reviewing this amazing anthology series, I’d like to apologise for neglecting my blog. I’ve been very busy and I’ve been working very hard at my day job, particularly in the run up to Christmas.
I’m hoping to get things back on track soon, so for now, thanks ever so much for bearing with me. I really appreciate all of the ongoing support and I’m excited to start getting back to posting on the blog more often in the future.
With that done, I’d like to love to tell you about the fourth instalment of the Bodies From The Library series. The series is linked to a lecture series of the same name, which aims to educate crime fiction fans on the Golden Age and how it came to influence almost every aspect of the genre and popular culture in general.
Edited, introduced and compiled by crime fiction connoisseur Tony Medawar, the series gives the reader the chance to read previously undiscovered short stories and novellas from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. These stories might be from old archives, have been previously unpublished, or have not been included in old magazines but not collected in a printed book before.
Beginning with the introduction from Medawar, Bodies From The Library 4 then goes on to offer each story followed by a short biography of the author and an overview of where and when the text was originally published and how it came to be selected for the anthology. That means you can learn a bit about prominent and influential authors from the Golden Age without having to read
The one thing I found disappointing about the fourth instalment of the series of Bodies From The Library books is that it doesn’t contain an Agatha Christie story this time. As she was one of the key writers from the era, it’s a shame they didn’t include her work in this latest edition, especially as she was included in the past. Dorthy L. Sayers is another notable name who is missing from volume four, but it does mean that we get to read tales from new names that weren’t in previous books in the series, so that’s a bonus.
However, with many other major writers from the period, including Leo Bruce, Ngaio Marsh and Edmund Crispin, there are still plenty of big names that you’ll have heard of. So, you’ll get the chance to discover some awesome tales by authors you love, as well as some you might not have necessarily heard of, but who’ve influenced popular culture. For example, the short story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes is included in the anthology.
At the end of the book, there is a section of stories from the Sunday Dispatch, which were commissioned as part of a writing challenge for crime fiction authors during 1938. A previous set of stories from an earlier Sunday Dispatch competition was included in the previous edition of the anthology series, and this next one was a set of pieces centred around specific and unusual pictures. The 6 writers were challenged to write a brief story about these unique images, which include an anvil with a glass of wine perched on top of it, a pub sign, and a drawing of a creepy skeleton hand with what appears to be a pocket watch perched on top of it.
Each tale incorporates the content of the image, in some cases in very inventive and uniquely creative ways. These short stories, most of which are less than 3 pages in length, are incredible feats of writing and unforgettable examples of crime fiction prowess. They’re so good, and I’ve not seen them collected like this before, so I’d recommend reading the book for this section alone.
That being said, there are loads of other great examples of crime fiction writing from the 1920s and 30s in the book, so it’s an ideal choice for lovers of the genre. One of the best is the novella Shadowed Sunlight by Chrisitianna Brand, a story about a poisoning during a yacht race on board one of the vessels. The assembled family and friends are all suspects, but as each food and drink item the victim ingested was also eaten or drunk by another member of the company, who wasn’t harmed, it’s difficult for the detectives to uncover the truth.
Another incredible tale from the anthology is The Only Husband by H.C. Bailey, a play script about the shooting of an elderly nobleman in the grounds of his country estate just as an investigator he asked to help him deal with an unspecified family issue arrives. Alongside local lawmakers, the detective has to deal with lies, secrets and family disloyalty to uncover the truth about who shot the murder victim or if his death was merely an unfortunate and tragic, if timely, accident. The script’s dialogue is witty and punchy, and the characters are believably droll and unscrupulous, so it’s a great read for crime fiction lovers who want to discover something new from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction.
In summary, Bodies From The Library 4 is another great addition to this gripping anthology series. While it might not contain as many big name authors as past editions, the fourth part of the series is engaging and contains some great tales that you’ll enjoy. As a result, I’d throughly recommend checking it out.
If you’re looking to snuggle up with a good book now that the nights are getting longer and the weather colder, then the new Harper Collins edition of Anthony Berkley’s classic crime story The Wintringham Mystery could be the perfect winter read for you.
This printed edition of the complete story, which was initially serialised in the popular newspaper the Daily Mirror, is part of the the Collins Crime Club, a selection of classic crime stories. Many of these books are by members of the Detection Club, a group of 1930s Golden Age detective fiction writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, John Rhode, Jessie Rickard and many more.
In this edition, crime fiction expert Tony Medawar, the editor of the incredible Bodies From The Library, explains the popularity of the puzzle and how prizes were offered to anyone who guessed the explanation. Even Agatha Christie entered the competition, but she couldn’t even solve the mystery.
In the end, no one even came close to solving the puzzle, but the Daily Mirror awarded a share of the prize money to a selection of participants, including Christie, who gave the best guesses. The introduction allows readers to learn more about the story and the author.
Then, we dive right into the novel, which is so seamless that it doesn’t read like a serialised story at all. The Wintringham Mystery introduces readers to the feckless Stephen Munro, esquire, and his former army batman turned manservant Bridger. Stephen is lovesick over his former girlfriend, Pauline Mainwaring, and he’s also seriously running out of funds. In desperation, he pays Bridger his final month’s wages and sets out for his new job, as a footman at an illustrious country house he once might have been a guest at.
The ever-efficient Bridger, who’s very much the Bunter to Stephen’s Lord Peter Wimsey, has already predicted this unusual career path that his boss and friend is taking, and has gotten himself a job as a gardener at the same house to be close to him. Among the guests at Wintringham Hall, the sprawling estate of the curmudgeonly Lady Susan Carey, is Stephen’s former lady love Pauline and her new fiancé, a once prominent businessman who, as Stephen learns from his chauffeur, is in financial difficulties. Many of the other guests are former friends of Stephen’s, who struggle to adapt to his new status as a servant.
They invite him to join in on a seance, which they believe will allow them to converse with the spirit world. Their host sits in disdainful silence and many of the guests ignore them or try to get Freddie, Stephen’s former friend and nephew to their host, to stop his ridiculousness. However, Lady Susan’s live-in niece Millicent and her companion Cecily Rivers, agree to take part. Cecily was supposed to be elsewhere, but she mysteriously reappears to be part of the seance.
Despite learning lots of great gossip about the guests at the hall, Stephen very quickly gets on the wrong side of the butler, Martin, and is promptly sacked after the seance and invited by Lady Susan to stay on as her guest. Stephen works to uncover the truth behind the vanishing of Cecily and promptly discovers that many of the eclectic group of house guests had motives to plot to hide the girl or to do her harm. Convinced Cecily is in on the deception, Stephen teams up with Pauline and starts staking out the room in the hall where she was last seen, sneaking into secret passages and more.
After Cecily disappears, Lady Susan’s jewellery is stolen and a mysterious phone call is made claiming to be the missing girl, who’s apparently in limbo and needs another seance. Then, a member of the staff is killed under mysterious circumstances, leaving it up to Stephen and Pauline, with a little help from Bridger, to figure out what’s going on and restore order to the house party at the hall. Berkeley employs every trick in the book, from red herrings to false trails, to make the mystery tough to unravel.
At the same time, it’s still possible to follow the plot of The Wintringham Mystery. One of the biggest issues I and many other readers often face when reading crime fictions books that are designed to be puzzled out by the reader is that the story is, by necessity, too convoluted and complicated to be understood. The reader simply can’t solve the mystery because it doesn’t make any sense. However, in this book the story is clear and easy to follow, but still devilishly deceitful and tricky to unravel.
When the truth unfolds readers are left stunned and fascinated. The story features bold characters and many twists and turns to keep you on your toes, meaning you’ll struggle to put the book down- I know I did! It was amazing how often I’d tell myself I’d only read one more chapter, then find myself making the same promise 6 chapters down the line. The mystery draws you in then the compelling characters and witty dialogue, particularly between Stephen and Pauline, keeps you gripped.
Ultimately, I really love The Wintringham Mystery, and I think that this new version is a great gift for a classic Golden Age crime fiction lover. The cover art is stunning and the introduction is interesting and brings a new dimension to this intriguing story. So, if you know and love a crime fiction fan and you’re looking for a unique and inventive gift for them Christmas or a winter birthday, then this is a great book to consider. Or, if you want to get yourself a special little treat, then this is an amazing read that will help you to expand your knowledge of Golden Age crime novels, then I’d thoroughly recommend this cosy new edition of this intriguing mystery.
In his long-awaited follow-up to his bestselling debut novel The Thursday Murder Club, quiz show host turned author Richard Osman brings back his unique flair for cosy crime fiction.
The plot of this latest novel sees readers return to Coopers Chase, the luxury retirement community where the four members of the Thursday Murder Club reside. The man mentioned in the title is the ex-husband of Elizabeth, one of the club’s founders who used to be in the secret service.
He uses the name of a man who’s already dead to tempt his ex-wife to come and speak to him. It turns out he ran a search on a renowned gangster’s home that went wrong. A cache of valuable diamonds went missing, and the gangster knows who led the raid. He’s now out for revenge and Elizabeth’s ex-husband wants protection.
Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees, but before she and the other club members can start protecting her ex-husband a member of the criminal’s gang breaks into Coopers Chase and is killed by the young secret service agent charged with the official job of protecting him.
After this deadly incident Elizabeth’s ex is moved out of the residential home for the elderly, but his new safe house in Hove turns out to be less secure than expected. He and his young protection officer are murdered, leaving Elizabeth and her friends to uncover the truth. While the ‘who’ of the mystery doesn’t seem too difficult to understand, things are more complicated than they seem and the diamonds further complicate matters.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim, one of the club, is brutally attacked while walking back from a shopping trip outside of Coopers Chase. The group rallies around him but he’s left living in fear and stressed out about going outside of the senior residential community. Elizabeth and her other friends work with the police officers they befriended in the first book to find and punish the criminals responsible.
Osman deals with these sensitive subject with his usual panache and dry wit. His characters are remarkably funny and droll, with Joyce, the former nurse who is a first person narrator throughout the book, being the funniest of them all. Her ramblings are hilarious and make the book well worth a read for her witticism alone.
As well as being funny, the book is also suspenseful. Osman draws on many of the traditional tropes of the cosy crime fiction sub-genre and transforms his group of seemingly ordinary old age pensioners into a bunch of crime fighters. It has to be said, at times his characters are a little far fetched- his police characters are far more blasé with the law than actual coppers. The same goes for his secret service characters; I’ve met some policeman, no secret agents, but they don’t strike me as particularly realistic.
Still despite this minor issue, I really enjoyed the latest outing from the Thursday Murder Club team. They’re as witty and chaotic as ever. While the professional characters are un-relatable, the club members are brilliantly lifelike. I used to work in a care home and I can see similarities between the members, particularly Ron and Joyce, and some of the residents I used to work with.
In all, I enjoyed The Man Who Died Twice. Osman has found his niche in the cosy crime fiction space and created a memorable series that I think readers will enjoy for many years to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series doesn’t keep going and going; even though the characters are older, I definitely think there’s a few more books left in this phenomenal series.
As part of acclaimed Irish Author Owen Dwyer’s blog tour, I’m proud to share my thoughts on his latest novel, The Garfield Conspiracy.
At first, I genuinely thought the ‘Garfield’ mentioned in the title was the lasagne loving cat! After all, the advanced copies are bright yellow and feature a surrealist-inspired image of a man with his face inside an old-fashioned TV. I’d also read the synopsis and knew that the book was about a man going making a series of unfortunate choices and reassessing his life.
What I didn’t realise was that this man, the protagonist Richard Todd, is an academic turned celebrity author who’s popularity is dwindling. His publisher, as a last resort, sends in an ambitious young research assistant, Jenny, to help him polish his latest book and conduct research into his next project. Richard’s next book will be an exploration of the assassination of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the USA, who was the second, after Lincoln, to die by assassination, and the man who was killed after being found guilty of the murder.
It has to be said, from the first chapter, I was expecting something a bit different from The Garfield Conspiracy. I thought that the historical conspiracy theory would take precedence over the modern tale of a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I also thought that the past and present would stay separate.
Instead, the novel focuses on the protagonist and his young research assistant, as the pair battle with their feelings. At the same time, Richard is dealing with voices in his head and the frightening implications that comes with. He has a family to protect and care for, including three kids, ranging from teenagers to a younger kid. So, he’s facing a crisis that threatens to upend not only the stability of his own life, but also that of his family.
So, as you can see, I was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an engaging and enjoyable read. On the contrary, despite being completely different to its initial promise, the novel quickly transforms into something even more relevant and relatable. With varying perspectives, the book is able to give the reader an insight into how we all see the world differently.
What I especially like about The Garfield Conspiracy is that Dwyer doesn’t sugar coat the predatory nature of his protagonist. The guy is, essentially, a sex pest. But Dwyer doesn’t try to portray him as anything else. He doesn’t do that cobblers where he tries to put a higher purpose to his character’s creepiness. Richard is still a well-read, educated man, but he’s also shown to be a cretin.
He’s going through a lot, and Dwyer gives us a unique insight into his character’s mind. I love the author’s portrayal Richard: he’s conceited, self-obsessed and dealing with a lot of catastrophes, only some of which are self-inflicted. As the novel goes on, we see him battle with strange dreams in which the man who allegedly killed president Garfield comes to him and says that he was framed for the crime, all while dealing with the impact of the fallout as he leaves his family behind and starts a new life with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
The ‘action’ as it were, takes place in the Richard’s palatial home in a posh neighbourhood in Dublin, where Richard and Jenny, his new young assistant, work on his upcoming work together while family life goes on around them. Dwyer sets the scene amazingly and creates a unique juxtaposition between the stuffy setting and the snappy dialogue that takes place in it.
All in all, I thought that The Garfield Conspiracy was an insightful book that acts as a unique combination of critique of modern life and historical fiction. I learned a lot about the past and enjoyed meeting Dwyer’s host of characters. If you’re looking for an intriguing read that keeps you on your toes, then I’d recommend checking out this latest example of amazing Irish fiction.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction. I don’t even really like rom-com films or TV shows- they’re easy to watch but they usually lack any real substance.
So I was intrigued when I received a copy of Just Haven’t Met You Yet. In essence, the plot sounds like that of a typical cheesy rom-com: girl loses her suitcase on a solo work trip, and sees the contents and realises that she might just love the guy who owns it.
However, from the moment I picked the book up, I knew this wasn’t your typical cheap holiday read. Author Sophie Cousens already has one knockout bestselling book under her belt, and she’s got extensive experience working in TV and producing amazing reality TV series. The writing is top-notch from the very first sentence, and as you get further into the novel, you realise that the plot isn’t as simple and obvious as you might think.
The novel revolves around a woman named Laura, who works for a website in London called Love Life. She runs the site’s ‘How They Met’ video segment, where couples tell cute tales about how they met and got together. During a meeting, she suggests a story about her parents’ love story, which is cute. Her mum found half of an old coin, and set off to Jersey to find the second half. When she got there, she met the son of the woman who had the other half and fell head over heals in love.
With both her parents now dead, Laura only has a few mementos, including the coin and a selection of photos of their time on Jersey, to remember them by. Her editor is excited about the prospect and arranges a short-notice work trip for Laura to go to Jersey alone and write a feature on the island and its romantic scenery.
Laura heads off to the island for a long weekend trip with just hand luggage. As the airplane is full, the airline asks Laura and anyone else with a wheeled suitcase to put it in the hold. In her rush to grab her bag in Jersey, Laura picks up the wrong case. When she opens the bag, she finds that it contains everything that she thinks a man ought to have, such as a copy of her father’s favourite novel, warm jumpers and more.
As she searches for missing suitcase man, who could very well also be Mr Right, Laura encounters a host of eccentric locals, including a morose cab driver and his dad, a randy elderly beekeeper and more. Each of them has their own story to tell, and as Laura gets potentially closer to meeting the love of her life, she learns that not everything is as it seems when it comes to her parents’ picture perfect Jersey love story. While meeting long-lost relatives, Laura gets thrown for a loop by the revelations that they provide and the new information they give her could permanently change her views on love and romance.
Cousens creates relatable and engaging characters, who make you want to keep reading just to find out more about them. At times the plot feels like a predictable romantic comedy, but then the author throws the reader a curveball that keeps you on your toes. She repeatedly breaks the fourth wall in a way by having Laura remind the reader of what would happen if she were in a romantic novel or film, which is intriguing and unique. It sets the novel apart from the rest of the predictable romantic fiction that I’ve read in the past, and I’ve read a fair few of these when I’ve been on holiday and ran out of decent books to read. When faced with a limited selection of books from a hotel lobby or holiday home bookshelf, I often find that romantic books are the best of a bad bunch, and gravitate to them, but I’ve never read anything quite like Just Haven’t Met You Yet.
I think what I like most about this novel is how much I can relate to it. That won’t be the case for everyone- there are a lot of coincidences in my case, but the novel and its characters are very realistic and I think that many people could find something to relate to. For me, there’s a lot- firstly, Laura is 29 and a writer who’s a bit rudderless- I am the same age, have the same profession and have no idea what on earth I’m doing with my life!
Then there’s Love Life, the online magazine that Laura works for. It’s run by an editor called Suki, who is the archetype of a typical dreadful magazine editor, and someone who I have tried to be the opposite of as a manager. I have met and worked for my fair share of Suki’s in the past- editors who demean and bully their staff, dismiss their ideas without even hearing them, put all the blame on their employees when things get rough but grab all the credit if things go right.
That’s pretty much every past boss I’ve had in writing until I got my current job, and hit the boss jackpot with a really kind and supportive person. However, I don’t think I know a single writer who’ve not worked for someone who’s almost exactly like Suki. Her incessant nagging and rudeness, as well as her attitude towards her staff, is precisely why so many publishers have such a high turnover of staff.
I also enjoy the fact that the novel is about more than just Laura’s search for love. Cousens also infuses the book with unusual life lessons and teachings from unlikely characters, such as an elderly couple who are having an affair to get through the torment of a dementia diagnosis. The writer shares a selection of lessons, but the biggest one is that you can either take them or not- you do you. That’s refreshingly un-preachy from a book full of proverbs and snippets from a fictional self-help text that the protagonist is reading- another example of the writer playing with the form.
To conclude, I think that Just Haven’t Met You Yet is a fun, intelligent version of the classic rom-com. It’s a cut above the rest, and worth checking out even if you’re not usually a fan of romantic fiction. Cousen’s experience as a screenwriter shines through and gives the novel an edge that most romantic books simply don’t have. I really enjoyed it and found it hard to put down, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually a fan of sentimental books about romance and family histories, so this one must be bloody good.