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.

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman

I must confess I haven’t read Neverwhere and, at first, I was a bit lost in this short story. But I quickly found my way by simply following the Marquis de Carabas who in his turn was following the scent of his extraordinary coat stolen from him in mysterious circumstances. We have traversed most puzzling worlds of Below London where tube stations come to life to become characters in the story. Thus we have the Elephant, Victoria and the frightening Shepherds of Shepherd’s Bush. I found that world bewitching.

The Marquis de Carabas’s quest brought to mind another short story, “Overcoat” by Gogol. There too an owner unlawfully deprived of his precious coat moves heaven and earth to retrieve it, and not even death seems to be able to stop him. The coat represents his life. Here too, the coat has given the Marquis his name, his identity and his direction in life. Without it, he is incomplete. His older brother, Peregrine, is his guardian angel in the (many) hours of need.

I have reached for this story because I loved Good Omens and I wanted to discover a bit more about Neil Gaiman. I am hooked.

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.

 

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by Cat Hickey

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by [Cat Hickey]

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once is a cracking crime mystery set in an exotic location, featuring a cast of colourful and diverse characters and presenting the reader with a puzzling case to solve.

Chloe is an American lass on a solo holiday in Costa Rica. Things start going terribly wrong with firstly just one overzealous bellboy from Chloe’s hotel going missing, soon followed by another two. Chloe is the only person to have witnessed his bizarre disappearance. One minute he was there waving to her, the next he sauntered into the jungle. He had made a nuisance of himself prior to his vanishing act, and consequently suspicion falls on Chloe. You feel for her. She is in a foreign country and quite out of her comfort zone. But she is one feisty gal, determined and smart, and she has some allies, such as Juan as well as the charming Mateo, until he too is gone, that is.

Apart from the relatable and likeable characters, the setting also plays its part in the story. The deep and dangerous Costa Rican jungle, the heat and the beautiful but precarious crossings create a thrilling ambience. Amulets and accessories featuring mysterious local deities add more mystery. Little hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you dive into that world with Chloe.

Although there is humour and adventure, there is also an element of grim, brutal reality and pure unrepentant evil. You certainly wouldn’t want to send your child on a holiday where they could end up just like those missing bellboys.

A thrilling and clever book. Highly recommended.

One for the Baby by Tony Parsons

One for my baby
One for my Baby is Tony Parson’s second book. I was sufficiently impressed that I will go looking for his first.
As someone who often struggles to get into a new book I am impressed when I find one that quickly captures my interest. One for my Baby was one of that rare breed of books.
Beautifully written, it intertwines the tales of many lives and covers a multitude of trials and tribulations experienced by its characters. I think that few people could read this book and not find something that touches their own life experiences. Very moving.
Reviewer, S. Wylie

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

You open this book and you find yourself in a world that is bizarrely familiar yet utterly outlandish. It feels like the second coming of Animal Farm. Animals (particularly rabbits) are on a collision course with humans, and if you have a shred of humanity in you, you are on the side of the rabbit.

Fforde’s portrayal of our twenty-first century society is spot on. You recognise the characters, the events and the trends: UKARP, a right-wing party led by a PM going by the name of Nigel Smethwick, a TwoLegsGood movement of middle-class reactionaries, the entrenched perceptions of an “unbridled” rabbit infestation/invasion on the green shores of Britain. We are talking rabbits, the little furry animals native to these isles. They were here before us. They fully anthropomorphised in 1965 and continued to multiply in their usual rampant way. The more they started resembling humans the less acceptable and more inconvenient they became. They had to be separated from humans and ghettoised in a new MegaWarren in the depths of Wales.

This story is hilarious. The world Fforde has created (and based on our very reality) is astounding in its every detail, and it is funny because it is so relatable. There is pure observational comedy there that will leave you with a laugh-out-loud bellyache. But this story also hits a nerve. It is a satire about the decline of our society, the loss of what once was a clear moral compass but has now become a murky moral muddle, about the unrestrained rampage of bigotry and intolerance.  And about good people caught in the middle of it, scared, suppressed, but hopefully still trying to do what’s right.

I loved this book.

The Birthday Mystery by Faith Martin

THE BIRTHDAY MYSTERY an absolutely gripping whodunit full of twists by [FAITH MARTIN]

Jenny Stirling is a passionate cook and a reluctant sleuth. It is just her rotten luck that wherever she goes, murder seems to follow. And she is constantly on the move because she a “travelling” cook. At six-foot and with a curvaceous figure, Jenny is hard to miss. Her personality matches her stature. She is confident, intelligent and knows her stuff. That doesn’t apply only to cooking. Although reading about her culinary masterpieces I found my mouth water many a time.

This is Jenny first venture in the series. She is catering for a large and lavish double birthday party – I say double because it is for twins. As soon as Jenny arrives at the mansion where the party is to be held, a body of a young man is found. This is suspected to be an accidental death, though Jenny is wary. More mayhem follows at the party and, like it or not, Jenny is drawn into a murder investigation.

This is a classic example of cosy mystery. It has all the ingredients for an entertaining crime puzzle with minimum gore, but many suspects, a few red herrings and a very perceptive detective who saves the day.

The writing is smart, though perhaps the adjectives are overdone. I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and would have given it five stars if it wasn’t for the motive. The method, the process of investigation and the characters were great, but the motive I found a little antiquated.

Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman by MC Beaton

Brutal, but rather ingeniously devised, murder occurs during the finale of an amateur pantomime performance. The local baker in the role of Ogre is impaled below a trap door as he exits the stage in spectacular fashion. Agatha Raisin springs into action. The list of suspects is long: most of his fellow actors (he wasn’t a well loved man), his widow and a couple of rivals for her now vacated hand in marriage. The murderous spree doesn’t end there, but are those murders connected by the same perpetrator?
While Agatha investigates, she simultaneously hunts for a husband and at some point comes dangerously close to finding one.
As usual, it is a fast-paced, no-nonsense tour de force into the small but vibrant Cotswolds world full of idiosyncratic eccentrics and plain-speaking locals.
Following MC Beaton’s sad death in December last year, I felt compelled to dive into the colourful world she had created in her Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series. More reviews to follow.

Mid-Life Follies by R J Gould

My husband has recently embarked on an ambitious project of semi-retirement and is rattling about the house, making himself sound and look indispensable. Trying to understand my semi-retired spouse, I reached for R J Gould’s Mid-Life Follies. I was intrigued by its premise: Hugh retires from many years in education, ready to sail into the Golden Age of idle pleasures in life. Instead, he finds himself in thralls of mid-life crisis brought about by some unexpected developments. It seems like his wife Liz is having second thoughts about their marriage.

The story takes us through their life together, both from his and her perspective while in the present time, they battle with doubts, temptations and mistakes, and the reader travels with them to see whether their marriage is strong enough to overcome them all. This book reminded me of Us by David Nicholls. Just like Us it dissects relationships at a stage when it is no longer about impulses and more about self- and mutual discovery.

Mid-Life Follies is witty (there were moments where I laughed out loud) as well as insightful and reflective.  The characters are real – the sort of people you may have met and would find easy to relate to. They are well-fleshed out and multi-dimensional.

I really enjoyed this story and will read more of Richard Gould. All in all, a funny and perceptive tale. Highly recommended.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still Me is a third book in a trilogy. I hadn’t read the first two, but that didn’t matter. The story is so skilfully developed that I just dived into it and in no time felt like a little fish frolicking in a friendly pond. All the characters were fully fleshed out and multi-layered. They weren’t just cardboard cut-outs, but talking, feeling, walking people complete with their shadows, their past, their secrets and their quirks. Their stories flew and crossed with one another, and all of them were delivered to a satisfactory resolution. New beginnings, heart breaks, up and downs, injustices and small acts of kindness were assembled together to create a rich background to what, in essence, was a classic love story.
Heart-warming, life-affirming, sweet, uplifting and adorable are the kind of superlatives I wouldn’t hesitate to use to sum up Still Me, and that’s some compliment because I am not a romantic. I enjoyed it just like I sometimes enjoy a box of chocolates, which always takes me by surprise as chocolate isn’t my thing.