Agatha Raisin – Something Borrowed Someone Dead by M.C. Beaton

I think I have become slightly addicted to Agatha Raisin and her world of small, secretive villages scattered around the Cotswolds.


Something Borrowed Someone Dead is yet another foray into one of such village, called Piddlebury. The name alone tells a story! One of its residents, the universally loathed Gloria French, is poisoned. Her claim to fame was her knack for borrowing and never returning whatever tickled her fancy. Such bad habit on its own doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to murder someone, but then this is Piddlebury. The locals are a bit tetchy.

Agatha is engaged by one of the residents, Mr Tarrant to find the murderer so that people stop suspecting each other. The atmosphere in the village is tense. Agatha wades on it with her big personality and makes a few enemies. Soon, the murderer is after her. Her investigating antics follow, peppered with her personal dramas involving James Lacey and the beautiful Toni…

The plot of this instalment isn’t the most elaborate or credible, but this is after all Agatha Raisin, not John Rebus, so a touch of suspended belief is perfectly in order.

Good fun, as always!

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

The Chalet: the most exciting new debut crime thriller of 2020 - with a twist you won’t see coming by [Catherine Cooper]

In January 1998 two skiers separate from their guides and go missing during a blizzard in the French Alps. Only one of them is found. Twenty-two years later, at the same ski resort, Hugo and Ria entertain a potential investor in Hugo’s struggling business and his young wife. They are staying at a luxurious chalet, waited on by a chalet girl, Millie. The scene for a perilous slalom through this thrilling mystery is set. It will ultimately lead to the finish line where the events of the past merge with the present and culminate in chilling disclosures.

Cooper’s narrative is gripping and her characterisation flawless. The story is told in the first person from the point of view of individual characters. The reader gains first-hand insights into their memories and feelings, which may be fragmented at times and biased, but that’s what makes them credible. Although there are many characters taking over the narration in turns, Cooper doesn’t lose her overall control over the plot which powers forward unhindered by too much baggage. New POVs are introduced into the story gradually and are layered in such a way that each person remains constant but the story acquires different new dimensions.

The Chalet is a tightly plotted and expertly delivered psychological thriller with a punchy conclusion.

Death from a Shetland Cliff

Death from a Shetland Cliff (The Shetland Sailing Mysteries) by [Marsali Taylor]

I have never been to Shetland but this book took me there as if through a wardrobe and straight into “islandic” Narnia. Marsali Taylor captures the landscape, the people and the spirit of Shetland so wonderfully and with such attention to every idiosyncratic detail that I felt instantly transported there. The place came to life through the characters, the dialect and their unique way of life.
It was my first book by Marsali Taylor, but it won’t be the last (I already have one of the earlier ones on my kindle). The protagonist, Cass seems to be your everyday, ordinary lass in her early thirties, not afraid of hard work, quite personable, a happy cat owner, well-rounded, dating Gavin who is a police detective. But on the other hand, she is also far from stereotypical: a second mate on a Norwegian ship, a passionate sailor who lives on her boat, and of course, an astute sleuth.
This mystery, revolves around Tamar, a fantastically drawn character of an elderly lady who is as feisty, as sharp-minded and as independent as anyone half her age. After a fall, she is back to her croft which seems to have been burgled in her absence. Distant family members suddenly take interest in her and flock to her house, allegedly to offer support, but evidently to also search through her papers. There seems to be a family connection to a wealthy laird, and potentially a juicy inheritance. A body of a man is found. The plot develops and weaves in and out of plausible causes of his death and his links to Tamar. The conclusion was not quite what I expected, but it is nonetheless believable and interesting.

Tipping Point by Michelle Cook

Eighteen-year-old Essie Glass lives in not so distant future, only fifteen years from now, but it is a world transformed by ecological, political and societal breakdown. A couple of years ago her family were killed in a terrorist attack. Essie’s fresh-faced image and her grief were hijacked by right-wing propagandists blaming immigrants and liberals for the atrocity. Two years later, Essie regains control over her beliefs and her direction in life. She joins anti-establishment rebels going by the name Change Here. An environmentally-friendly energy-generating invention falls into their lap. It is an invention that could stall or even reverse the progress of climate change, but forces more powerful and influential than Change Here stand in the way of saving the planet. Short term commercial and political considerations seem to matter more that the survival of humanity. But Essie and her co-conspirators are not easily deterred. Cook has created an assembly of wonderful characters. I loved the way she mapped out Essie’s emotional growth in response to rapid plot developments. I enjoyed Essie’s feistiness and determination, and I rooted for her all the way.

The setting for the story is convincing and disturbingly plausible. Climate change creeps into everyday life and into the landscape. The rise of the authoritarian police state with its corruption, false propaganda and open disregard for basic human rights is shown without exaggeration or hysteria – it is what it is because we have made it possible. But there is also hope and redemption in this story. It is more of a warning than final reckoning.

Plague by Julie Anderson

Plague by [Julie Anderson]

Cassandra Fortune (Cassie) is a civil servant moving in the high echelons of political elites. She carries about the burden of her previous, badly imploded, career and tries to rebuild it in her new role at the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. It is at this point that she uncovers a body of a young Polish man among the remains in one of London’s old “Plague pits”. Another body, this time of a young Spanish man, is found together with Cassie’s pass to the Palace of Westminster. Links begin to form between the deaths, Cassie, the Whitehall and commercial lobbies.

Cassie embarks on an investigation alongside Detective Inspector Andrew Rowland.

Plague is a tight, fast-moving and absorbing crime drama. The theme of the resurging plague is particularly relevant in today’s reality as is the exploration of political power and influence, corruption and dodgy dealings. Cassie’s romantic interest in Andrew Rowland (which doesn’t quite take off) adds that extra human touch to the story, which is both believable and nuanced. The plot picks up pace as it moves towards the dénouement and becomes quite impossible to put down.

The Cry of the Lake by Charlie Tyler

The Cry of the Lake by [Charlie Tyler]

This is one of those edge-of-your-seat psychological thrillers. Once you start reading, you find yourself instantly immersed in a tale of intense – almost insane – vengeance, distorted truths and deeply buried, traumatic past. You have to keep going deeper and deeper, until you’re totally absorbed by the story.

The narrative is powered by three different perspectives: Grace, Lilly and Flo. Grace and Lilly are sisters, but for reason which are revealed later in the story they pass themselves off as mother and daughter. It is primarily Grace who adopts this new, alien to her psyche personality to ensnare Tom, a man the two sisters seem to have an unfinished business with. He is the father of Flo, the third narrator.

At the outset, you cannot comprehend why anyone would want to destroy such a nice, kind man as Tom. You instinctively loathe the sinister, duplicitous – and murderous – impostors who have snaked their way into his and Flo’s perfect family life. Lilly is the weaker of the two, more likely to crumble under pressure. Grace seems unstoppable in her mission of hatred. Slowly, people from their past enter the scene and revelations are made to shed some light on her motives. At times, it makes for a disturbing reading: abuse, self-harm feature among other difficult themes. A great read.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Firstly, you will come to adore the octogenarian Club members. They are something else! And they thrive on murder. Elizabeth, a female version of James Bond, in retirement. Ron, a geriatric activist and tireless instigator; quite an orator, when pushed. Joyce, quiet as a mouse, a once-upon-a-time nurse. Ibrahim, a psychotherapist with a sharp eye for detail (so sharp that it borders on compulsive-obsessive). This quartet of amateur detectives gathers once a week to solve cold cases. Until, one day, a brand-new murder lands in their collective lap; and another one a few days later. Not to mention the discovery of human bones in an old convent graveyard, which would be perfectly normal had said bones been found inside a coffin. And so the scene is set for a thorough and methodical investigation, which the actual police detectives, Donna and Chris Hudson, can hardly keep up with.

Osman builds the case skillfully, adding layer upon layer of wider social and personal background. The network of current and past events is smoothly woven together. As the unraveling of the two murders progresses, the characters develop and flourish. I particularly enjoyed the character of the Polish builder, Bogdan who started as a stereotype only to surprise me as I got to know him better (well, as Elizabeth and her husband, Stephen, got to know him better).

This is a classic cosy mystery: funny, full of observational humour, presenting the reader with a deliciously twisty and unpredictable case to get your teeth into.

Revelation by Jo Fenton

This dark and pacey crime drama hits a nerve. It’s 1989. Becky, who is a law student, is confronted with the death of another student. Rick is killed in his room in the hall of residents.His body is found by Dan, his very close friend. Becky embarks on an investigation, keen to get to the bottom of this tragic death especially because she cares about Dan who is deeply traumatised by Rick’s death. Strange forces seemed to play part in this death and a later disappearance, including a suspect Kabbalistic group.

This book appealed to me personally on many levels. I too studied law in the late eighties and lived in a hall of residents, surrounded by people who became close friends. Those were very different times. Fenton reflects those times really well: the overall ambience of the eighties, the trends, the music, the raging AIDS and early prejudice against gays, the lecherous professors. I was transported back in time.

The characters are vivid and the background behind the killer’s motives complex. The denouement comes as a surprise. It is a very satisfying crime mystery.

Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton

Being a great fan of Agatha Raisin, I decided to give Hamish Macbeth a go. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed.

Although Death of a Witch was my first read in the series, I was instantly immersed in the world of the remote village of Lochdubh in the heart of Scottish Highlands. The title character, PC Hamish Macbeth is kind of a godfather figure who protects and looks after the villagers. His love for the place and its inhabitants is palpable. It is stronger than his ambition or his young heart’s romantic pursuits. M C Beaton paints the location vividly and with such refinement that its authenticity is assured. Throw in the mix a dog and a wild cat, Hamish’s two beloved pets, and your heart is captured for good.

In this story, Hamish pursues the killer of an alleged witch, and further three local women. The witch died a nasty death, but she wasn’t a likable character, and not only because she was peddling love potions which had very unpleasant side effects on the menfolk. The other victims were decent or semi-decent women who, on the surface, had nothing to do with the witch. Hamish, assisted by his erstwhile love interest, the journalist Elspeth, and by his new love interest, the pathologist Lesley, tries to get to the bottom of this convoluted multi-victim case.

I enjoyed this witty, charming and fast moving cosy mystery and will be reading more of Hamish Macbeth.

 

Invisible Girls by Lisa Jewell

Invisible Girl is one of those rare specimens of fiction where you simply cannot skip to the final chapter to find out what happened. You will itch to do that, but going to the end won’t give you many answers. The complexity of this book is hidden in every sentence and every chapter as you press on, page after nail-biting page. You cannot it blink or you will miss another nuance or vital clue which will only make sense later. This book is booby-trapped with twists, secrets, suspicions, misdirection and complication.
Last night, before midnight, I started on 68%, thinking I wouldn’t be able to finish it in one sitting. How wrong was I! I read into the early hours of the morning.
The story is told from the point of view of three main characters, diametrically different from each other, but closely interconnected. Owen is a socially inept, 33-year old virgin who loses his teaching job because of allegations of sexual nature made by his students. Cate Four is a wife of a respected psychotherapist, a mother to two teenage children, a woman given to suspicion and guilt about being suspicious. A troubled teenager with a past that affects her mental health, Syffire Maddox is the psychotherapist’s erstwhile patient who develops unhealthy obsession with the man and starts following him around. At first sight the only thing they have in common is their postal code in Hampstead, London. Soon, it becomes clear that much more binds them together as several themes are being dissected by the author: the deception of appearances, the veneer of respectability, the suffocating effect past trauma has on a person’s life, the restraints of morality the society places on people and what happens when some of us give themselves a respite from sticking to them. and much, much more.
Invisible Girl is a psychological thriller at its best.