Tag Archives: Detective Stories

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
(J.K. Rowling)

First Published: 2013

Pages: 550(Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Cormoran Strike #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s world, the darker things become – and the closer he gets to terrible danger.

Before I start, I’m going to admit that I only chose to read this book because the author is J.K. Rowling. I’m partial to a detective story now and then but, without a specific recomendation for Galbraith from someone I trust, I would probably not have picked this novel up on my own from among  the sea of bland identi-covers and samey-blurbs in my bookshop’s crime section.  But Rowling proved (to me at least) that she could write for adults with The Casual Vacancy and she’s proved she could write mysteries and sprinkle clues around ever since The Philosopher’s Stone, so I was interested to see what her crime debut would be like.

 

And it’s pretty good. A fairly standard crime novel, perhaps: a PI with a funny name, a dark history, and a disastrous personal life investigates a death everyone believes to be a suicide, proves it was murder and shows up the police. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or exceptional about the story, but it is a solid, enjoyable read, and that’s pretty much all I ask of my detective novels. Continue reading

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Death of a Red Heroine, Qiu Xiaolong

Death of a Red Heroine, Qiu XiaolongDeath of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

First Published: 2000
Pages: 464(Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Inspector Chen #1

Rating: 2.52.52.52.52.5

SHANGHAI IN 1990. An Ancient city in a Communist country: looking to the future for its survival. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others.

When the body of a prominent Communist party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. And he must keep the young woman’s murder out of the papers at all costs. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area.

Chen has a choice: bend to the party’s whishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismisal from his job and from the party. Or worse . . .

How good does that blurb sound? A detective novel that takes place in Communist China! Unfortunately, and despite almost every other person I know enjoying it, I found it underwhelming. Proof, I guess, of just how subjective reading can be. It’s not a ‘bad’ book, it had a lot of promise, and it picked up in the middle after a slow start. But in the end it just wasn’t for me and I can, mainly, pinpoint this to four things; way too much exposition and introspection on unimportant details, obvious clues going unnoticed for far too long, descriptions and portrayals of female characters that consistently skeeved me out, all rather leading to a main character that was hard to feel anything for.

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The Fairy-Tale Detectives, Michael Buckley

The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 284 plus afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #1

Rating:

For Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, life hasn’t always been a fairy tale. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, the sisters are sent to live with their grandmother – a woman they believed was dead! Granny Relda reveals that the girls have two famous ancestors, the Brothers Grimm, whose classic book of fairy tales is actually a collection of case files of magical mischief. Now the girls must take on the family responsibility of being fairy tale detectives. Their first case? A roller-coaster ride of an adventure to stop a giant from destroying their new hometown.

And a high 4 stars (yeah, that rating system is definitely getting a haul-over in January). I really enjoyed this book. It’s not perfect by any means and a lot of it felt quite predictable but it’s aimed at younger children than most of the books I’ve been reading this year and it’s got a nice cosy childhood feel to it. It’s also in a genre I tend to like – fairy tale mash-ups. It seems you can’t escape them at the moment what with Once Upon a Time (started strong, got too boring to watch a few episodes in) and Grimm (started dull, got stronger as the series went on) as well as the flood of mediocre Snow White and Red Riding Hood films in recent years trying to be the next ‘big thing’. People seem to have cottoned on that they don’t have to pay copyright charges on fairy tales and are milking it for what it’s worth.

For me though my affection for the genre started when I was very small with Each Peach Pear Plum – a classic of the ‘read aloud to your baby’ picture books – and The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman – a brilliant interactive pop-up series for young readers that I honestly cannot recommend highly enough for people with young kids. Of course there’s the retellings – Revolting Rhymes and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs were practically required reading in primary school and they’re both great – but for me it’s always been about the shared-world thing where characters from different and sometimes very disparate fairy tales live alongside and interact with  each other. Jasper Fforde does a similar thing for and adult audience with his Nursery Crime series and uses out-of-copyright literary characters for the same purpose in his Thursday Next series (both brilliant – Thursday Next more so than Nursery Crime). And anyone who’s been reading my blog/following me on  goodreads for any length of time knows I’m totally hooked on Bill Willingham’s Fables series which transports fairy tale characters to modern-day New York. So…how does Michael Buckley’s work compare? And is that even a fair question? Continue reading

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Audiobook: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read by Derek Jacobi

Series: Sherlock Holmes #3
Publisher:
BBC Audio
Time:
11 hours 7 minutes (unabridged)
Format: Audible Download – Short Story Collection

Story:
Narration:

Scandal, treachery and crime are rife in Old London Town. A king blackmailed by his mistress, dark dealings in opium dens, stolen jewels, a missing bride – these are cases so fiendishly complex that only Sherlock Holmes would dare to investigate.

Story:

For anyone new to Sherlock Holmes this is really the place to start. Doyle finally hits his stride with this collection of short stories. It’s a format that suits both the characters and the mysteries far better than the slightly drawn-out novels (with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is ace) and has the blessed relief of absolutely no obscenely long and involved story within a stories. It’s also, from memory, the most solid of the short story collections as a whole – Memoirs containing a couple of duds and later collections a little bit lackluster in comparison – even so, it’s a mixed bag. On second reading (or rather listening) there were stories I liked rather less than on my first read, but none that I actively dislike. Continue reading

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Audiobook: The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read by Derek Jacobi

Series: Sherlock Holmes #2
Publisher:
BBC Audio
Time:
4 hours 50 minutes (unabridged)
Format: Audible Download – Novel

Story:
Narration:

The great detective’s melancholy mood is lifted by the arrival of attractive Mary Morstan at 221B Baker Street. Mary’s father vanished ten years ago. Four years later she began to receive, annually, a large, lustrous pearl. Now she has had an intriguing invitation to meet her unknown benefactor and urges Holmes and Watson to accompany her. The duo are confronted with a case that includes a wronged woman, a wooden-legged ruffian, hidden treasure, and a love affair.

Audible Product Description

Story:

A much more satisfying read/listen than A Study in Scarlet and one that seems to have learnt from the truly dire mistake of that story. Whilst there is a flashback here to the antagonist’s past and the motivations for his actions, it’s a lot shorter told as a confession – with all the bias and slant to be expected in first person narration – and fits in almost seamlessly with the style of the rest of the story. Also in its favour is the fact that the backstory is a lot more interesting in its own right. But there’s a whole mystery to solve before we get to that part so I’ll backtrack towards the beginning.

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Audiobook: A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read by Derek Jacobi

Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Publisher:
BBC Audio
Time:
4 hours 41 minutes (unabridged)
Format: Audible Download

Story:
Narration:

A Study in Scarlet introduced the great scientific detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Dr Watson, his friend and chronicler, to the reading public. This novel, a cornerstone in the annals of crime fiction, tells of their first meeting and how they set up in rooms together in baker Street. It is not long before the charismatic sleuth and his faithful companion are plunged into a dramatic mystery which starts with the discovery of a corpse in a deserted house and the letters RACHE scrawled on the wall in blood.

From the Collector’s Library Edition

Originally named A Tangled Skein, this is the first Sherlock Holmes story. The real strength and the unique quality of the novel lies in the introduction of Holmes and Watson to each other – and those dark early scenes when a corpse is discovered in a derelict house in southeast London. The ultimate crusader against crime and criminals, Holmes’ genius is revealed here for the very first time.

Audible product description

Story:

Well, the blurb puts it a lot better and a much more concisely than I was going to; praising the truly brilliant parts of the novel while tacitly admitting that the rest of the story, once it moves away from the Holmes/Watson relationship, simply isn’t very good.

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The Oxford Despoiler, Gary Dexter

The Oxford Despoiler and other mysteries from the case book of Henry St Liver by Gary Dexter

Publisher: Old Street
Pages:
256 (Paperback)
Form: Short Stories
Series: Standalone (?)

Rating:

Eight thrilling mysteries introducing Henry St Liver, Victorian detective extraordinaire, and his spirited sidekick Olive Salter

Back Cover

And cause that’s not really that descriptive of what’s inside:

Tall, rake-thin and copiously moustachioed with a high, piping voice, Henry St Liver is at first glance not an impressive specimen. But the moment he is confronted with a mystery to solve – one with a risqué element – he is turned into a positive genius of detection and decision. In this first collection, he and his spirited assistant Olive Salter tackle eight cases that have baffled Scotland Yard, taking them on a series of dramatic journeys into the most exotic reaches of Victorian society, and of the human heart. With an extraordinary cameo appearance by Oscar Wilde, and informed by a wealth of lightly worn erudition, these stories mark the fiction debut of a brilliant talent. They will be relished by all aficionados of the Victorian detective genre.

Amazon Product Description

Ok, well that’s a bit more detailed but I still don’t think either blurb is being entirely open about two very important aspects of this book – aspects that could be deal-breakers for someone just looking for the simple Victorian detective stories this seems to be being advertised as. Continue reading

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