Going Green by Nick Spalding

Going Green by [Nick Spalding]

I have read a couple of books by Nick Spalding, notably my favourite “Bricking It”, and have come to expect lots of anecdotal humour, wild slapstick comedy and tongue-in-cheek observations of the crazy modern world we live in. Spalding always delivers, and “Going Green” is no exception.
At the heart of the story is Ellie Cooke who jumps out of her skin to save her job, inadvertently ending up in the ‘saving the planet’ camp. Her antics at trying to impress her new eco-friendly (and quite dishy) boss Nolan Reece are at times hilarious. The scenes at the protest march in front of the shopping centre had me in stitches. Ellie may be desperate but she is also out of her depth and all her efforts come across as utter non-starters (at least in the eyes of her colleagues). Yet, she gets her point across to her boss and it looks like she has saved her job. But that’s not quite the end of the story. Expect quite a twist at the end!
“Going Green” has a topical storyline, a hapless but in her special way principled heroine and a motley crew of minor characters.
The story is told from Ellie’s point of view and is narrated by her. Spalding makes her believable by reducing her language to colloquial with some curses thrown in to spice things up. Perhaps a touch too many for me, but hey, that’s how most of us would speak if our job was on the line.

Murder Served Cold by Paula Williams

Murder Served Cold (The Much Winchmoor Mysteries Book 1) by [Paula Williams]

Much Winchmoor is a colourful West Country village populated by an assortment of lively characters. They tend to gather for a spot of gossip and some general busy-bodying at such distinguished local landmarks as the hairdressers and Winchmoor Arms public house. Much Winchmoor is full of life and good-natured hustle and bustle, until of course Marjorie is killed. Promptly followed by Doreen.
Kat Latcham is to become a self-appointed village sleuth, as assisted by Will. Just as she thought she’d escaped from the clutches of parochial country living, Kat is dumped (and robbed) by her unworthy boyfriend in London. That misfortune forces her to return to the village, penniless and dismayed. She tries her hand at various menial jobs, but she is really destined for greater challenges such as inadvertently becoming an amateur private investigator. It is Kat who narrates the story and I really enjoyed hearing about her exploits first-hand from her. She is well-fleshed out and likeable young lady.
Williams throws into the mix a few red herrings and there is yet another twist right at the end. I won’t go into any spoilers so will stop here.
I am delighted to have discovered the Much Winchmoor Mysteries. I looking forward to reading the next one.

Contacts by Mark Watson

Contacts: From the award-winning comedian, the most heartwarming, touching and funny fiction book of 2020 by [Mark Watson]

The premise of this story is intriguing: a young man sends a text message to all his contacts, informing them that he is about to commit suicide. And then he puts his phone on fight mode thus blocking people from replying. This isn’t a typical cry for help, and he certainly isn’t craving attention. He is not interested in the world’s reaction to his news. He is factual. He boards a sleeper train to his truly “final” destination.
This book isn’t just about about the main character’s emotional state and his motives; it is also about all those contacts who receive his message and have to do something about it. The title of this book is very deliberate indeed. James’s phone contacts are the collective title character of this book. The moment the message is received and at least partially digested, a flurry of activity follows. A flatmate begins to mount a coordinated rapid response. The sister in the far away Australia starts organising a rescue operation. An ex-best friend changes course and heads for Edinburgh. An ex-girlfriend stops to think and atone. All of the people who once may have hurt James, used or abused his feelings, are united in the effort of saving him.
Contacts is a beautifully written moralistic tale about empathy, second chances, redemption and the value of people simply being there for each other. It isn’t a book about suicide. Quite the opposite.
I quite liked it that Watson brought the topic up to date, straight into the twenty-first century to show that human interaction may have become seriously digitised but that doesn’t mean that technology dehumanised us and left us lonely and hopeless.
I enjoyed Watson’s clear prose. It isn’t emotive. It doesn’t take centre stage and it doesn’t take away from the story and the characters. It treats about emotions by it doesn’t allow itself to get carried away. I also enjoyed the wry humour. A poignant tale about a man and his network of support full of holes but also very many best intentions.

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.