A plane crashes into the Irish Sea triggering an investigation, because although four men had arranged to fly on this charter it appears that only three actually boarded the flight.
It isn’t clear who didn’t fly, and the only information that the police have are snatches of overheard conversation and the Wade family’s recollections of what happened in the few days before the trip; the Wades knew all of the men involved, you see.
The blurb poses some questions for us to consider:
who was the man who didn’t fly? (obviously)
what did he have to gain? (presumably by not flying)
would he commit such an explosive murder to get it? (presuming there actually is/was an it)
What did I think?
I kept on referring to this as the Man Who Wouldn’t Fly, picturing some traditional 1950s bloke stamping his foot and refusing to embark.
This is not that story.
What it is, is an odd little book. The structure is unusual, starting with the investigation then heading into the recollections of Hester and Prudence Wade and their father as if we were watching them living through it, and flipping back into the investigation and its conclusion.
It’s not entirely clear why the police are involved in this mystery at all because, despite the question raised about the crash, the suggestion that it was as the result of a deliberate act is a red herring.
It is all about identification, apparently:
After the accident comes the casualty list; deaths must be documented, and no man is allowed a death certificate without first dying for it
The puzzle is very interesting and (without giving away the end) is solved almost entirely through the application of logic rather than actual physical evidence. Reassuringly, there is actually a crime
The puzzle is very interesting and (without giving away the end) is solved almost entirely through the application of logic rather than actual physical evidence. Reassuringly, there is actually a crime – well, more than one – but the nature of that crime isn’t apparent until very late on, along with the identity of the criminal. So from that point of view the book worked well for me.
I was less enamoured with the characters (police officers aside; I particularly enjoyed the detective sergeant explaining various cultural references to his superior). The men are all unpleasant and/or deeply irritating to varying degrees and both the girls are hugely frustrating, especially Hester who made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion.
I made an allowance for Prudence as she’s a teenager and presumably doesn’t know any better.
To be fair this novel was published in 1955 so the stereotypes are current for the time, I suppose. What does stand out is the clever structure, which is very different to the classic mystery, but the fact that it is so unusual is what probably makes it a Marmite book.
Have you read this, and if so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments.
Not a bad week if truth be told, in that not very much happened. It was bitterly cold so I stayed indoors without even an exercise walk, so I need to get back to that this week. I’ve downloaded some suitable classes I can take at home but haven’t yet found the best way to integrate them with what I laughingly call my daily routine.
The big excitement of the week was not Valentine’s Day – we don’t really celebrate that any more after *cough* 32 years together – but the arrival the day before of my new dishwasher. So exciting. I am in love.
I couldn’t settle to any one book this week, so I’ve been dipping in and out of the six that are on my Goodreads Currently Reading shelf, which you can see over there in my sidebar.
I did finish one book though – The Disappearing Act by Florence de Changy, an investigative journalist. This is the story of what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 which disappeared seemingly without a trace in 2014. Totally fascinating subject; over the years I’ve watched the various documentaries and read the newspaper stories covering the various theories about what happened and why, but as de Changy says:
At the risk of stating the obvious, a Boeing 777 doesn’t just disappear. Such a plane might be hijacked, it might be the target of a terrorist attack, it might explode if a bomb goes off on board, it might be the victim of the pilot or co-pilot’s murderous madness, it might experience a serious fault that the pilots are unable to fix, or it might be shot down accidentally or on purpose in an act of war.
She highlights the way the media contributed to the official theory by blindly accepting the information given to them even when it doesn’t make sense. She has absolutely no time at all for the Malaysian or Australian governments, and presents her own suggestion of what might have happened, very much stressing the “might” as she acknowledges even her plausible explanation still contains gaps.
If you are interested in this sort of unexplained event then I think you would enjoy this. I certainly did.
There are no new books in this week’s round-up. This is not because I didn’t get any (heaven forbid), just that I am still planning to publish a book haul post in the next few days. I’m also hoping to finish at least one of the books on my reading list; we shall see how that goes.
Plus a better late than never January 2021 round-up!
So (at the risk of offending those people who don’t like those of us unable to start a sentence without using SO) it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post which wasn’t an intentional gap but I think we can all allow ourselves some grace during the Great Quar (as coined by the Bananas podcast). When I last left you I had had a pretty bad week, but things have really improved since then.
So let’s start with a look back at January
Books read = 5
Pages read = 1636
Goodreads challenge (2021 = 60 books) = on target!
It was my birthday at the end of January – which helped with the improvement in mood – which means that I have more new books than it’s sensible to mention here. I’m probably going to do a separate book haul post. That seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? But it’s worth mentioning here the pre-orders heading my way in February.
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford (already delivered) – November 1944. A German rocket strikes London, and five young lives are atomised in an instant. November 1944. That rocket never lands. A single second in time is altered, and five young lives go on – to experience all the unimaginable changes of the twentieth century. Because maybe there are always other futures. Other chances.
The Library of the Dead by TL Huchu (already delivered) – Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
The Disappearing Act by Florence de Changy (not only already delivered but currently reading) – subtitled The Impossible Case of MH370 – writing for Le Monde in the days and months after the plane’s disappearance, journalist Florence de Changy closely documented the chaotic international investigation that followed, uncovering more questions than answers. Riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and a lack of basic communication between authorities, the mystery surrounding flight MH370 only deepened.Now, de Changy offers her own explanation.
Princess Mary: The First Modern Princess by Elisabeth Basford (already delivered) – Princess Mary was born in 1897. Despite her Victorian beginnings, she strove to make a princess’s life meaningful, using her position to help those less fortunate and defying gender conventions in the process. As the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, she would live to see not only two of her brothers ascend the throne but also her niece Queen Elizabeth II. Another entry in my collection of biographies of very posh women.
The (Other) You by Joyce Carol Oates – In this stirring, reflective collection of short stories, Joyce Carol Oates ponders alternate destinies: the other lives we might have led if we’d made different choices.
The Requisite Courage by Tracy Cooper-Posey (Adelaide Becket Book 1) – In Edwardian England, Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, lately of the Cape Colony, was born the daughter of an Earl, but is now the widow of a commoner. She straddles two worlds, speaks fluent German, and can ride, hunt and shoot. Her talents draws the eye of spymaster William Melville, who recruits her to help him fight a shadow game with German agents both at home and aboard.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers Book 4) – when a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War – A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson – At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing – seen as the victor over tyranny and a champion of freedom. But it was clear – to some – that the Soviet Union was already executing a plan to expand and foment revolution around the world. The American government’s strategy in response relied on the secret efforts of a newly-formed CIA. The Quiet Americans chronicles the exploits of four spies.
The Edge by James Smythe (The Explorer Book 3) – Years ago, a vast and mysterious object known as the Anomaly was discovered in deep space. All missions to explore and explain it failed.Now, the Anomaly has almost reached Earth, threatening to swallow the planet whole. On an orbital research station, a team of scientists desperately search for a way to stop it or destroy it.
On This Day She: Putting Women Back Into History, One Day At A Time by Tania Hershman et al – On This Day She sets out to redress this imbalance and give voice to both those already deemed female icons, alongside others whom the history books have failed to include: the good, the bad and everything in between – this is a record of human existence at its most authentic.
The Divines by Ellie Eaton – The girls of elite English boarding school, St. John the Divine, were notorious for flipping their hair, harassing teachers, chasing boys and chain-smoking cigarettes. They were fiercely loyal, sharp-tongued, and cutting in the way that only teenage girls can be. But for Josephine, now in her thirties, her time at St. John feels like a lifetime ago. She hasn’t spoken to another Divine in fifteen years, not since the day the school shut its doors in disgrace . . .
I’m hoping to get back to properly posting on books read soon, but there are a couple that I’ve finished recently but won’t review fully:
Death in the City of Lights by David King explores the case of Marcel Petiot, a doctor in Paris during WWII who was exposed as a serial killer responsible for the murders of at least 27 people, most of whom were Jews who had come to him for assistance in escaping the Nazis. Deeply appalling. The description of his trial is quite astonishing – his arrogance and claims that he was a member of the Resistance killing people who were collaborating with the Germans were just so awful, but the investigation itself was messy, not least because the Parisian police had to contend with potential interference by the Gestapo.
Shards by Ian Rogers – a very effective horror story with a Cabin in the Woods vibe. I probably shouldn’t have read it at bedtime as it lingered with me. Loved it. Creepily nasty.
The first week of February has brought me fascinating non-fiction and a really excellent crime novel which already feels like it’s going to be a favourite read of 2021. Also my dishwasher died so purchasing a replacement was my focus for the week, but, you know, I used to buy things for a living so that was OK.
And it’s sort of snowing at the moment, so that’s cool. Literally and figuratively.
Hope you all have a great week. See you next time 🙂
Here we are almost at the end of the first full week of January and given the events of the past week I’m not hopeful that this year will be much better than the one we’ve just endured, but I can be a bit of an Eeyore so let’s hope I’m wrong.
I often am 😀
This is the first post I’ve uploaded since early October. I just wasn’t in a blogging frame of mind for the last few months and I decided that I really wanted to start with a fresh slate, so I won’t be looking back at books read and movies watched in the last quarter if I haven’t already reviewed them.
A wee look back
Having said that, I thought I would share the results of my Goodreads challenge for 2020 – I had a target of 60 books and managed to reach 66, representing 21,320 pages. I’m really pleased by the result given that I had a couple of slumps; just goes to show what being stuck at home can lead to.
Where I am now
Savage Spring by Mons Kallentoft – this is the fourth in the Malin Fors series; I read and thoroughly enjoyed but did not review the first three novels. Scandinavian noir still looms large in my TBR;
The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James – no new ghost story for Christmas on the BBC (sadly) but Mr B and I dipped into our DVD collection to watch some of the old adaptations, which led me to start a major re-read and I’m very glad that I did;
Death in the City of Light by David King – the story of the serial killer Marcel Petiot who was active in Paris during WWII and how he was caught. The guillotine might be involved….
Bought since the beginning of the year:
Marion Lane & the Midnight Murder by TA Willberg – “plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.” [Pre-order]
Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard – “When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship“
The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margot Bennett – “Four men had arranged to fly to Dublin. When their aeroplane descended as a fireball into the Irish Sea, only three of them were on board. [..] Who was the man who didn’t fly?“
Wintering by Katherine May – “a poignant and comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life, times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves.”
Cardiff by the Sea by Joyce Carol Oates – “a bold, haunting collection of four previously unpublished novellas.”
Hopefully I’ll be posting back here soon on my first completed book of the year. Hope you have a great week, stay safe!
Whenever I see the name Chris Carter I immediately think of the X-Files but this Chris Carter is not the creator of the Truth is Out There, but the author of several (I haven’t gone to look at exactly how many) crime novels featuring his homicide detective and all-round whizz-kid Robert Hunter.
Hunter’s expertise is such that he gets all the really weird and gruesome murders that are almost always carried out by serial killers.
Earlier in the summer, I read the first three novels in the series, which are:
The Crucifix Killer – the body of a young woman is found in an abandoned cottage; tattoo on her neck is the signature of said Crucifix Killer but surely it can’t be him because he was caught, convicted and executed. More deaths follow. Did Hunter get the wrong man?
The Executioner – the body of a priest is found in his church on the altar steps, grotesquely mutilated and with the number 3 written on his chest in blood. More deaths follow, all numbered. What links the victims and who knows what they fear the most?
The Night Stalker – a woman has been abducted and murdered in a deeply gruesome way. More deaths follow. What links the victims and why are they being killed like this?
First things first, I really enjoyed these novels. The style, which is very straightforward and almost journalistic, is reminiscent of two other favourites writing in the genre – Richard Montanari and Chelsea Cain, both of whom I love.
The key to whether you’ll enjoy these books, assuming you are willing to accept without flinching the descriptions of murder and mutilation, is whether you like Robert Hunter or not. He has a very specific set of characteristics:
he is super-intelligent, a child prodigy who raced through school and college and whose unpublished thesis is, of course, required reading by those in the field
he is damaged – of course he is – for him it takes the form of insomnia
he self-medicates with single malt whisky so he gets extra points from me for that 😀
he is extremely good looking, and every woman he comes into contact with flirts with him
he is empathetic
he is attracted to strong women but these relationships do not end well, usually for the woman but just as often for him
people around him often get hurt; it is risky being his colleague
is there anything he doesn’t know and did he really learn it all from books?
At the moment I like him, and also the author’s style with one exception – his tendency to be overly specific about cars; I will definitely be reading the whole series.
In 2001 the skeleton of a woman was found in woodland at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. The hospital checked all of its patient records, DNA tests were carried out and forensic specialists built a reconstruction of her face to be used in public appeals. Despite all of this, the woman has never been identified, and her remains were put into storage, labelled Madame Victoria.
The investigation has stalled. The case has been assigned to a forensic anthropologist and crime novel celebrity*, who runs new tests on the skeleton and finds that Madame Victoria was a Caucasian woman of about fifty suffering from osteoporosis and arthritis-ridden joints but showing no signs of a violent death.
Catherine Leroux has written twelve stories, each of which imagines a different route to the eventual death of Madame Victoria in the woods. She has said in interviews that she was inspired less by the fact that the woman was found, but by the great efforts that the authorities took to identify her. She has said that she intended each chapter as a tribute, and she never forgot that this was a person who actually existed. And that she hopes Madame Victoria is eventually identified.
I enjoyed this book very much. In any selection of stories there some stronger than others, and this is no exception, though I felt that most of the tales here tended to the strong side.
I think it works as a concept because each of the stories is very different – Leroux has tried several genres including historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi. Some common elements and references pop up in several of the stories but it’s very subtly done and I only really picked it up in the later ones. I wonder if I read it again whether I would find more?
In an interview about the book in the Montreal Gazette, Leroux said that in writing about a completely anonymous woman she found herself examining how women “were, and are, erased, in so many ways.”
This was a read for Twenty Books of Summer, and I highly recommend it if you want to try something a bit different, or you are looking for works by women in translation. Or, you know, both.
*Note – I’m assuming this is a reference to Kathy Reichs
Anyway, I enjoyed them both and thought I would watch their sequels. Alone as per usual.
First up was Unfriended: Dark Web, directed by Stephen Susco, made in 2018 and rated 15 for strong threat, violence and language.
A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him but will also do anything to get it back
A similar set up to its predecessor, I think this is actually the slightly better film, albeit that it lacks the supernatural elements. The horror is very much about the helplessness in watching your friends being targetted because of something you’ve done – in this case, it becomes clear that our teen protagonist may have come by this laptop by seeing it unattended in a coffee shop and just walking off with it. As with the original Unfriended, there are times when I found myself yelling at people not to do things, but it wouldn’t be a horror film if people were sensible, would it?
Then there is Creep 2, which is a proper sequel to a film which I really loved when I watched it a few months ago. This is just as good. Trust me.
A video artist looking for work drives to a remote in the forest to meet a man claiming to be a serial killer. But after agreeing to spend the day with him, she soon realises that she made a deadly mistake.
I don’t want to give to much away about this film except that it is equally as unsettling as the original Creep, with the same lead actor (Mark Duplass who is super), the same director (Patrick Brice) and I would recommend that you watch them in sequence because Creep 2 refers directly back to the first one.
That was a bit of a rambling paragraph but hopefully you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to say.
So basically, fun films but not, IMHO, all that frightening. Creepy, yes, but not frightening. YMMV.
In 1977 two young women sharing a home in a suburb of Melbourne were brutally killed while the baby of one of the women was sleeping in his room. The author was a junior reporter at the time and was involved in covering the case, and has gone back to look at the evidence again. There are lots of contradictions, neighbours whom the police didn’t ever interview, and so many questions. Was it a random attack? If not, which of the women was the target, or was it both of them? Why was the killer never caught? Particularly interesting in looking at how the Australian police tended to operate at the time.
Kerry is a forensic psychologist, trying to understand why people convicted of crimes behave the way they do. She appears on TV in the Uk fairly often in true crime documentaries and has real insight into the cases she discusses. The book is partly an explanation of the purpose of forensic psychology and how the work is carried out, but more importantly, it’s a memoir of what it’s like to be a woman working in this field.
Paul was in the approximately 10 per cent of all victims who are men killed by the women in their life. Just 1 per cent of victims are women killed by other women. Research also tells us over and over that when men kill their female partners or ex-partners, it usually follows months or years of them abusing her. On the other hand, when women kill their husbands or exes, it’s usually after months or years of having been abused by the man they have killed.
UK criminologists estimate that a maximum of four serial killers are operating in this country at any given time (which is fairly good news or utterly terrifying, depending on your point of view).
Misogyny – an ingrained prejudice against and contempt for women and girls – is one of the few human conditions that hasn’t yet been declared a mental illness. Probably because, if it were, it would be a pandemic.
50 years ago a serial killer was active in London, Ontario, abducting, raping and murdering young women and boys. Focussing on the unsolved case of a young woman called Jackie English, the author considers who may have committed those crimes. Was it one person? And if so, could he still be alive and capable of being identified through familial DNA similar to the Golden State Killer?
At the end of 1999 in rural Oklahoma, two girls, Ashley & Lauria, were having a sleepover. By the next morning, Ashley’s parents had been murdered, their trailer home on fire and the girls were missing. What was behind all of this? Ashley’s brother had been shot by police and there was bad blood between the Sherriff’s office and the family as a result. There were strong rumours of police corruption. There was significant drug use in the area, particularly crystal meth, which through up some potential suspects. The case went cold until 2018 when some arrests were made. Jax Miller has written a powerful book in which her experiences investigating this crime are just as important as the crime itself.
We are in New Mexico towards the end of the 1950s, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Most of the town is off watching the local high school taking part in a basketball game, but over the course of the night Fay, a young woman working on the town switchboard, and local DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency and decide to investigate.
Among other things they find out that there have been suspicions goings-on over their town for some time, though nobody really noticed (or if they did they decided not to / were warned off from reporting it). Also, in response to a request for any information from listeners, a caller to the radio station at which Everett works makes it clear that the US government has been using African American soldiers to work on Top Secret Stuff because if they ever talked about, no-one would believe them. Fay & Everett end up involved in something they could not have imagined.
I knew nothing about this film before it came out, but I’m really glad I watched it. There is a real low budget Twilight Zone/Outer Limits vibe to it that is lots of fun, and although it’s undoubtedly low budget, the first time director has made a clever and enjoyable sci-f thriller.
Dazzling details: directed by Andrew Paterson, Vast of Night is 1h 29 long and rated 12 for infrequent strong language and brief moderate threat.
Also set in the 1950s but this time in New York, where Edward Norton is a private eye, a proper gumshoe type, who is afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome and finds himself investigating the murder of his boss, mentor and friend. Cue political shenanigans, wheels within wheels, stabs in the back and a resolution which is more or less satisfying.
Although it has an excellent supporting cast, the film lives or dies by what you think of Norton’s performance. In other hands the portrayal of Tourette’s could be very gimmicky, but I think he manages to toe the line between showing what living with the condition can be like and causing offence.
I thought it was well done; nothing groundbreaking but good and solid.
Dazzling details: directed by its star, Motherless Brooklyn was based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem, is 2h 24 long and rated 15 for strong language, violence and drug misuse.
NB: Drug misuse is an interesting phrase. I know they mean drug use, but it gives the impression that the certification board is looking at what’s happening on screen and thinking to themselves that everyone’s doing it wrong……
The Old Guard
A different take on the superhero movie, based on a series of comics and reportedly sticking closely to the original material, which pleases me.
So, we have a team of near-immortals, led by Andy (Charlize Theron) who has just about had enough. Although not stated explicitly, it looks like she has been around since at least Ancient Greece so she is understandably tired of all of the violence, plus it looks like her team is about to be discovered and for the first time in ages a new immortal has popped up.
Cue a story of redemption (not sure if that’s the right word but it will do), finding your place when your whole world has been turned upside down, the impact of living ostensibly forever and watching all of those you love die, and reinforcing that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I really enjoyed this. The fight scenes are really excellently done, it’s a female director, Action Charlize is as always the best Charlize, and it doesn’t try to explain how or why these people are the way they are (or why their condition stops when it does), we are just asked to accept it.
They are a heroic bunch, but it takes almost being destroyed to show them the good that they have done hidden underneath all of the destruction.
Also, I knew that Dursley boy was going to turn out to be no good 😀
Really enjoyable and I hope they make more.
Dazzling details: directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is 2h 5m long and rated 15 for violence and language