Tag Archives: Vintage

Green Review: The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

The Saltmarsh Muders by Gladys Mitchell
Out now in paperback from Vintage

The Saltmarsh Murders is one of six books reprinted (so far) in the Mrs Bradley Mysteries series by Gladys Mitchell. I’m not sure what made Vintage decide to do it but I’m glad they did. These books have been the inspiration for a short-lived 1998/9 TV series featuring Diana Rigg totaling a woeful five episodes. I guess they were too expensive to produce. There are 66 books featuring Mrs Bradley all written by Mitchell. I have a feeling that some are going to be more successfully than others. But I suspect that Vintage is presenting the cream of the crop and after reading The Saltmarsh Murders I think they are.

Anyway back to the book itself. The first surprising thing is the narrator. If you’ve watched the TV series Mrs Bradley turns and talks directly to the viewer so I was wrongly expecting this would be a first person or a third person story focusing on Mrs Bradley. But no the story is told by Noel Wells, the curate of the sleepy village Saltmarsh, who finds himself the sidekick of sometime detective and full-time Freudian Mrs Bradley.

Together they get to see into the lives of several key members of the village. And that is a clever device as Well’s gives all the connections to everyone who matters and can also report his own thoughts on the investigations as well as giving Mrs Bradley’s insights. He also acts as a buffer between what we suspect and what Mrs Bradley is thinking. There is an added touch at the end with an extract of Mrs Bradley’s Notebook for the period, which makes some of her actions a little more understandable, and if you thought she doesn’t care enough about what happens you might think differently after reading it.

I’d expect that Mitchell herself had several notebooks when writing this tale as the plot is complex for such a narrow cast. The complexity comes from the examination of human nature and the way we think and act. She unravels the means, motive and opportunity of the murder. And as she pulls and follow the threads as the suspects mount up as  there are plenty of motives for murder here.

It’s not all serious though Mitchell is having fun through Mrs Bradley you can tell as not only is she a wonderfully colourful she is sharp and humourful even if it’s a morose at times. She is presenting larger than life characters for her to examine and analyse and she makes references to other writers and their characters offhandedly.

Now this is a novel of its time. It was published in 1932 and it’s setting includes servants and one of these servants is black. He plays an important part of understanding of the crime. The reason I mention it is that I’m glad that one part has been left uncensored. The part has strong racist remarks from one character to another but they are a reflection of the characters that make them. I must admit to be a little shocked at their inclusion in the original but it would have been wrong to change them now because they may cause offensive. I hope it’s not just me that thinks that. And it’s more eye-opening moment for how far we’ve come rather than something that overshadows the novel.

I guess it does illustrate why books are reflections of the time they are written. Even if they are larger than life they do show a mirror to the thinking of the time on certain thought and feelings that might not shared now. There is a strong moral tone especially as we’re seeing things from a curate but he and the vicar are both practical when thinking of  the actions of their flock. For example if a girl gets caught with child the couple end up marrying after the fact. And that is where the trouble starts here. She doesn’t marry but has the child and no one knows who the father might be.

There is much to love in this novel. The characters. The plot. The read hearings. The nostalgia for simpler times. And the knowing that there are several motives that can be found if one looks hard enough for murder even from people who wouldn’t go as far as to actually kill.

But most of all it’s Mrs Bradley that makes this worth reading. She makes a unique and intriguing detective. I’m looking forward to reading When Last I Died next then hopefully Tom Brown’s Body then only another 64 to go… well the other thee reprints… for now at least.

Green Review: Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas (Vintage)

Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas
Out Now in Paperback from Vintage

Firstly I have to say I’m ashamed of myself. No, I really am. When do you think I read the last book in this series? JUNE 2009! Let me say that another way. It’s been over 14 months. I know time flies but that’s terrible. You know that it is right?

Should I have left it another 14 months? God no and I’m not waiting 14 months before reading Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand. I hope not at least as I ordered it as soon as I finished this one.

You know what I like about Eurocrime, at least the Eurocrime I’ve been reading, is that they focus in on the characters and give everything a foundation and a reason for happening. There isn’t drama for drama sake like guns and gangsters. These are ordinary people who have been twisted enough to kill.

And the method of killing in Have Mercy on Us All is certainly twisted and if I’m honest quite dramatic. The killer brings plague to the French capital but before he does he paints symbols on the door of those who are protected. At the same time he makes cryptic messages that are read out by a town crier though it takes a while for these ‘specials’ to reveal their intentions.

Again, Vargas leads the dance showing us all the events but somehow missing the right bits at the right time to end up surprising you at the end.

We find out more about Adamsberg’s character in this book and I’m not sure I like the revelation. It fits perfectly as he is a bit odd. He thinks and allows events to lead him. It’s like he’s an archaeologist slowly putting bits back together until he has enough to come to a decision on what he’s looking at. Though how he works it all out is a bit of a mystery. But he doesn’t care in the sense the he doesn’t make the emotional attachments that others would and this gets in him into trouble.

But the personal revelations show that Vargas has plans to keep his love life as complicated as the crimes he investigates.

I do need to say that I’m not sure if it’s the translation or Vargas’s writing style but this one feels a little rougher and flatter than the first two I’ve read. I think it might be the pacing or it might the that the translation has lost a little life somewhere. It was just enough to take the shine off the story.

But I’m invested and I enjoyed the crime and the solution and the mix of characters so what more can I ask?

Review: Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas (Vintage)

Have Mercy on Us All

Firstly I have to say I’m ashamed of myself. No, I really am. When do you think I read the last book in this series? JUNE 2009! Let me say that another way. It’s been over 14 months (this review was first published in 13/8/2010 -gav.). I know time flies but that’s terrible. You know that it is right?

Should I have left it another 14 months? God no and I’m not waiting 14 months before reading Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand. I hope not at least as I ordered it as soon as I finished this one.

You know what I like about Eurocrime, at least the Eurocrime I’ve been reading, is that they focus in on the characters and give everything a foundation and a reason for happening. There isn’t drama for drama sake like guns and gangsters. These are ordinary people who have been twisted enough to kill.

And the method of killing in Have Mercy on Us All is certainly twisted and if I’m honest quite dramatic. The killer brings plague to the French capital but before he does he paints symbols on the door of those who are protected. At the same time he makes cryptic messages that are read out by a town crier though it takes a while for these ‘specials’ to reveal their intentions.

Again, Vargas leads the dance showing us all the events but somehow missing the right bits at the right time to end up surprising you at the end.

We find out more about Adamsberg’s character in this book and I’m not sure I like the revelation. It fits perfectly as he is a bit odd. He thinks and allows events to lead him. It’s like he’s an archaeologist slowly putting bits back together until he has enough to come to a decision on what he’s looking at. Though how he works it all out is a bit of a mystery. But he doesn’t care in the sense the he doesn’t make the emotional attachments that others would and this gets in him into trouble.

But the personal revelations show that Vargas has plans to keep his love life as complicated as the crimes he investigates.

I do need to say that I’m not sure if it’s the translation or Vargas’s writing style but this one feels a little rougher and flatter than the first two I’ve read. I think it might be the pacing or it might the that the translation has lost a little life somewhere. It was just enough to take the shine off the story.

But I’m invested and I enjoyed the crime and the solution and the mix of characters so what more can I ask?

 

Review: Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas (Vintage)

seekingwhomhemaydevour.jpg

Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
Published by Vintage Books – Out Now

Returning to the next books in a series is always a bit nerve racking especially as Fred Vargas cleverly lead me up the garden path and then threw me off the edge of a cliff in her last one. It’s a hard trick to pull off once never mind twice.

Following a few years on from The Chalk Circle Man we catch up with Commissionaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg in Seeking Whom He May Devour as he’s drawn into investigating the death of the farmer Suzanne Rosselin at the hands, or should that be teeth, of a werewolf. Well that’s the opinion of a small group who are convinced that the attacks on sheep in the French mountains and her death hasn’t been caused by a wolf of unnatural size and strength that’s roaming the countryside but a human beast.

The strange thing for a detective novel is that for most part Adamsberg takes a back seat. He watches the strange and disturbing events from Paris, slowly, sifting and separating, and waiting. And even though the reader knows he’s going to get involved we’re not sure when or how.

Vargas makes the reader wait. Instead she focuses on building the characters and the relationships around Suzanne’s friend Camille as she is persuaded to join Suzanne’s son, Soliman and the farmer’s shepherd, Watchee, as they try to track down the beast.

One of the main strengths in Seeking Whom He May Devour is the focus on developing characters. Camille is fascinating not only from knowing a part of her history from reading The Chalk Circle Man but the way she uses a DIY catalogue, her relationship with the documentary maker Johnstone and how Adamsberg complicates all this.

I enjoyed the pace that Vargas sets. She introduces Adamsberg into the main thread when he really has is own problems and getting involved in this case that isn’t his going to complicate his life even more.

When the revelation of whether it’s a man or werewolf or wolf is revealed I for one again fell off the cliff. Now this sounds like Vargas is out to trick the reader and manipulate them. I don’t think she is. There are no dirty tricks here.  She does keep you guessing and lulls you into the lives of the main case that you don’t see what else could be happening.

I need to read Have Mercy On Us All now. She’s that good.

Review: Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason (Vintage)

silenceofthegrave

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason
Published by Vintage and Out Now

Silence of the Grave is the second in the Detective Erlendur series by Arnaldur Indridason , though forth in the series Sons of Dust and Silent Kill came out before Tainted Blood but I don’t think have been released in the UK.

It’s also the third book I’ve read having read The Draining Lake, the fourth UK release, and then the first UK release Tainted Blood.

The only reason I’m mentioning it is that I’m working back towards The Draining Lake so it’s nice to see the subtle character development that Indridason  weaves into each book for Erlendur and his two other detectives, Elíborg and Sigurdur Óli and just to save any confusion Elíborg is female and Sigurdur Óli is male. Together they have to solve the mystery of a skeleton that is found in the Millenium Quarter as building work extents to Reyjavik

The story is in two parts. One is the discovery of the bones and investigation set in the modern day and the other is the story of the area where the bones were found and the family who lived there around time of World War II.

Indridason  is a becoming a master of combining these two views. The historical events leading up to a murder and the investigation after a body is found.  Each gives a fuller understanding and an emotional connection that would be lost without seeing the flip-side to the coin.

And this fits the character of Erlendur, who is on the side of the missing and the lost, after a tragedy in his own life, and he extends those feelings to victims of similar circumstances.  That tragedy creates a scene of its own when a woman offers information that should soothe Erlendur but seems to just upset him more.

Indridason  delves into the life of the major and minor characters and gives them the sense of life outside the scenes they are in. This makes for a rounded and emotionally connecting read. Indridason  plays with the reader as we move slowly to the discovery the owner of the bones and seeing how they were killed.

I must admit the story of the family is harrowing and distressing and a good reminder how we’re more supported in the present than we have been in the past and that male dominance needs tapering.

I’m definitely reading the next one, Voices, and it’s sitting on my Sony Reader right now. Indridason  has carved out his own niche and that’s made him one of my favourite crime writers.

Review: Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indridason (Vintage)

Title: Tainted Blood
Author: Arnaldur Indridason
Publisher: Vintage
Published: 7 December 2006
Own Copy

After reading The Draining Lake I thought I’d go back to the beginning of the series, well the beginning from what’s been published in the UK. Tainted Blood lives up to its title. Detective Erlendur is called to the murder of a man of about 70. As he delves into the man’s past it seems that this case is more than a random act.

The strength of the character of Erlendur is that he follows his nose. He finds clues and connections that aren’t obvious, and most of the time even tangible, but he follows them regardless of the reservations of his colleagues.

This isn’t a fast paced thriller. It’s an unfolding of family and how connections that are hidden have come to the surface by the strangest of means.

Indridason it seems likes to let us follow the train of thought even if we don’t understand where it’s leading until the threads slowly nit together.

It might not be the neatest or best plotted crime novel I’ve read but its stregnths are that it gets to the heart of people and their relationships.

I’ll definitely be reading the next one, Silence of the Grave.