Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

My first book in this year’s 20 Books of Summer is by an author new to me, writing in one of my favourite genres – Sherlock Holmes stories.

It is the winter of 1888, and a very, very bored Sherlock Holmes is only pulled out of his deep fug by the receipt of a letter from France, written in code. The writer is a Parisian cabaret artist, Mlle de Victoire, who needs his help in finding her missing son. Her boy’s father is a British aristocrat married to an American who is raising the child as her own, and is also (the aristo) deeply involved in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Winged Victory from Marseilles, the suspicion being that it is heading to England to be added to his art collection.

Holmes and Watson of course take on the case with some pressure from brother Mycroft, and find themselves dealing with a rival French detective and an additional mystery surrounding the deaths of children who had worked in said aristo’s Lancashire silk mills.

As you might expect, all of this is connected.

Like I said at the top of the post, I love a good Holmes pastiche (if that’s the right word?) and there was no way I was going to ignore this one, especially given the very favourable reviews at the time of publication and the gorgeous cover which is what caught my eye in the first place.

This was a really well-done story, building on Holmesian tradition in terms of relationship dynamics (especially Holmes-Watson-Mycroft but modernised in the way that the crimes that take place are described. The sadism of of one character is not only explicitly referenced but we get to see his brutality in action. The implicit abuse of children is also made explicit when the murderer is unmasked as a pederast (a word you don’t hear very often these days).

Holmes himself continues to be drug-addicted, abrupt and often callous bu driven by the desire to achieve justice, which is his saving grace I suppose. How Watson stands him I do not know, let alone how Mrs Hudson copes. But his complexity is what makes me to continue reading about him. I ahem stopped envisioning him as Basil Rathbone and am now imagining him as Jonny Lee Miller, albeit in a top hat.

I really enjoyed this story, so much that I have ordered the remainder of the series (a further three novels as of now) and am looking forward to reading them in the not too distant future.

My Week – ending Sunday 9 May

Otherwise known as a better late than never post!

Last week we had so much rain but I have turned into a person who says that “at least it’s good for the garden” – what have I become 😀 ?

I also had my second Covid-19 vaccination and all is well. My arm was a bit sore and I was very, very tired but all of that passed within 36 hours and I’ve been raring to go ever since.

I’ve also been trying to get back into walking daily, and part of the fun of that for me (besides listening to podcasts or audiobooks) is interacting with local pets and wildlife. I’ve been noticing a greater variety of birds in our garden, but our neighbourhood black cat resolutely ignores me whenever I see him on his daily patrol. I was sleepily regarded by a small fox curled up in the warm sunshine. We don’t normally see them during broad daylight, but it was a gorgeous animal and I’m glad I spotted it, though I wish I’d taken a photo

Yesterday (Tuesday) after a visit to the dentist I walked part of the way home along the Thames. Lovely.

Kingston riverside, Tuesday 11 May

But onto the books

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and finished two novels, the first in the Ava Lee series by Ian Hamilton and yet another in the Robert Hunter series by Chris Carter.

I really enjoyed reading about Ava Lee, a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who goes after missing money for private clients. It was fast paced and took the reader from Toronto to Hong Kong to Guyana to the British Virgin Islands and back again. I loved all the money stuff and the technicalities of finding out where it might be hidden, so much so that I managed to overcome two of my pet peeves which appeared right at the beginning of the story – irrelevant information about Ava’s breast size and the use of the word panties; I loathe that word. Anyway, I have already bought the next book and I expect to continue with the series.

I’m currently reading the very next Robert Hunter thriller and will round up the series when I have finished all 9, or is it 10. Still enjoying them but they are not for anyone who can’t handle graphic violence. 50+ years of reading horror has been good practice.

I’m also currently reading Greg Jenner’s Dead Famous, a book about celebrity over the ages and how as a concept it’s not as modern as we might think it is. Great fun and thought provoking, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his theories develop. A wee taste:

CELEBRITY (noun): A unique persona made widely known to the public via media coverage, and whose life is publicly consumed as dramatic entertainment, and whose commercial brand is profitable for those who exploit their popularity, and perhaps also for themselves.

So that’s more or less my week. Hope you are well and staying safe!

Catching up – January movies

The Lincoln Lawyer [2011]

A lawyer defending a wealthy man begins to believe his client is guilty of more than just one crime.

Giving away the fact that the defendant is guilty in the first place I guess, so not really a spoiler? Also Ryan Philippe is agreeably arrogant and superior not to mention smug so just by looking at his face you would guess that he was guilty in any case. I watched this largely because it’s based on the first in a series of novels by Michael Connelly and this household has been deeply addicted to Bosch, but the same author. The Book God, who has read many of the books in both series advises, me that the two lead characters are half-brothers (I think) and so there is a shared universe vibe in the background.

I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would; not sure why I had not seen it before to be honest, though I suspect it may have had something to do with not really rating Matthew McConaughey – well. until I watched True Detective season one. But he is very charming in this, justice is served and can we really ask for anything more?

Directed by Brad Furman, The Lincoln Lawyer is 1h 58 long and rated 15 for themes of sexual violence.

Wonder Woman 1984 [2021]

Diana must contend with a work colleague and businessman, whose desire for extreme wealth sends the world down a path of destruction, after an ancient artifact that grants wishes goes missing.

So, ancient artefact (check), greedy businessman who really only wants to make his son proud of him so is he really that bad (check), overlooked female academic who becomes glamorous and powerful and doesn’t want to give it up (check) and by the way she taps into her inner Big Cat, a heroine grieving for her lost love (check) who has somehow come back from the dead in an unfortunate manner (don’t see that every day) and a showdown involving lots of smashing of people and things (check).

I was really looking forward to the new Wonder Woman movie and while its a solid entry into the DC Universe (which lets face it needs all the help it can get) I felt that it didn’t really hit the eights of the first film. Well, it did once at the very beginning when we had tiny wee Diana being awesome. I think it suffered from too many villains, neither of whom was really sufficiently nasty, plus the whole love interest thing which was mildly creepy when you stopped to think about it. Still enjoyable but a little Too Much.

Also, the 1980s; who really wants to revisit that?

Directed by Patty Jenkins, WW84 is 2h 31 long and rated 12A for moderate threat, violence and a scene of domestic abuse. Not to mention the psychological impact of the means used to bring Steve Trevor back from the dead (not a spoiler, Chris Pine is on the cast list)

Tenet [2020]

Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

I recently rewatched Inception so felt that I was sufficiently prepared for high-class wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans but readers I WAS NOT.

This is a classy film benefitting from excellent performances, especially Sir Ken as a very, very nasty Russian person, properly villainous and deserving of everything that might happen to him, and Elizabeth Debicki who continues to be luminous in all that she does. Shout out to Robert Pattinson being dashing, some fabulous set pieces and young Mr Washington as the Protagonist.

But do not ask me (a) what this is about or (b) what happens because I was Confused. Enjoyably so, but Confused nevertheless.

I feel I may need to watch this again but that it might not help.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet is 2h 30 long and rated 12 for moderate violence, threat, domestic abuse and infrequent strong language

The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margo Bennett

What’s it all about?

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.

Chris Carter’s Robert Hunter Novels #1-3

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.

Twenty Books of Summer 2020

It’s that time of year again where Cathy at 746Books hosts her twenty books of summer challenge and this year will be my year to actually finish all twenty of my picks. I’m convinced of it 😀

As you may have seen if you follow me on Instagram I have already posted the handwritten list that I created for my Bullet Journal, but here are the full details. In alphabetical order by title because that’s the way my Kindle app rolls; it’s worth noting that all of these are eBooks and all are fiction.

Brace yourselves – it’s a long one!

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
Bought March 2019 – 512 pages

A space salvager and her partner make the discovery of a lifetime that just might change the universe in this wild, big-ideas space opera from multi-award-winning author Elizabeth Bear.

I’ve read some of her short stories but this will be the first of her novels I’ve picked up. I adore space opera.


Blood Pearl by Anne Billson – The Camillography Volume 1
Bought June 2019 – 180 pages

Millie Greenwood leads an uneventful life with her overprotective parents in Bramblewood, the most boring village in England – until one day, not long after her sixteenth birthday, she sneakily forges her mother’s signature to go on a school trip to Paris.

I love Anne, she’s a great film critic and I’ve read several of her novels so looking forward to this because, you know, there may be vampires.


Breathe by Dominick Donald
Bought March 2018 – 528 pages

Amazon yells that a killer lurks in the worst fog London has ever known

London, 1952. Dick Bourton is not like the other probationer policemen in Notting Hill. He fought in Europe and then Korea, and has now brought his exotically beautiful Russian fiancée back to drab streets and empty bombsites. The new copper also has a mind of his own. After an older colleague is shot by a small-time gangster in a pea-souper fog, Bourton begins to make connections his superiors don’t want to see, linking a series of deaths with the fogs that stop the city in its tracks.

I picked this up after reading Death in the Air which I found disappointing, so will be interested to see how this compares, even though that’s probably unfair given only one of them is non-fiction.


Cataveiro by EJ Swift – The Osiris Project Book 2
Don’t know when I bought this – 400 pages

For political exile Taeo Ybanez, this could be his ticket home. Relations between the Antarcticans and the Patagonians are worse than ever, and to be caught on the wrong side could prove deadly.

I read the first volume in this series several years ago (I think I was on holiday in Vienna) and it has always stuck with me so it feels like a good time to pick up the story.


Cold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell
Bought in October 2019 – 256 pages

Welcome to Babylon, a typical sleepy southern town, where years earlier the Larkin family suffered a terrible tragedy. Now they are about to endure another: fourteen-year-old Margaret Larkin will be robbed of her innocence and her life by a killer who is beyond the reach of the law.

I discovered Michael McDowell through Christopher Fowler’s Invisible Ink, and have already read Gilded Needles which I really should have reviewed as it was awesome, so looking forward to this.


Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandermeer
Bought December 2019 – 336 pages

Under the watchful eye of The Company, three characters — Grayson, Morse and Chen — shapeshifters, amorphous, part human, part extensions of the landscape, make their way through forces that would consume them. A blue fox, a giant fish and language stretched to the limit.

Vandermeer is one of the authors I buy automatically regardless of what his new book is about. This takes place in the same universe as Borne, which I adored, so I’m excited.


The Deep by Nick Cutter
Bought April 2015 – 401 pages

A plague is destroying the world’s population. The ‘Gets makes people forget. First it’s the small things, like where you left your keys … then the not-so-small things, like how to drive. And finally your body forgets how to live.

This is likely to be gross horror which feels about right.


The Devil You Know by Mike Carey – Felix Castor #1
Bought April 2020 – 417 pages

Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and London is his stamping ground. At a time when the supernatural world is in upheaval and spilling over into the mundane reality of the living, his skills have never been more in demand. A good exorcist can charge what he likes – and enjoy a hell of a life-style – but there’s a risk: sooner or later he’s going to take on a spirit that’s too strong for him.

I feel the need for a new/additional urban fantasy series to follow, so let’s give this a go.


A Double Life by Flynn Berry
Bought July 2018 – 289 pages

WHO IS CLAIRE’S FATHER? A privileged man, surrounded by devoted friends and a family he adores?Or the deranged killer who attacked Claire’s mother and then vanished in thin air? For thirty years Claire has been obsessed with uncovering the mystery at the heart of her life, and she knows her father’s friends – wealthy, powerful, ruthless – hold the key to the truth. They know where Claire’s father is. And it’s time their perfect lives met her fury.

This is inspired by the Lord Lucan case which I have always found fascinating. This has been well-reviewed and it will be nice to read non-genre fiction.


The End of the Day by Claire North
Bought April 2017 – 432 pages

Sooner or later, death visits everyone. Before that, they meet Charlie. Charlie meets everyone – but only once. Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. Either way, this is going to be the most important meeting of your life.

I met Claire at a reading once when her novel Touch came out, and as you might expect she was delightful and a Roger Zelazny fan and I love reading her stuff.


Ghastly Business by Louise Levene
Bought August 2012 – 289 pages

A girl is strangled in a London alley, the mangled corpse of a peeping Tom is found in a railway tunnel and the juicy details of the latest trunk murder are updated hourly in fresh editions of the evening papers. Into this insalubrious world steps Dora Strang, a doctor’s daughter with an unmaidenly passion for anatomy. Denied her own medical career, she moves into lodgings with a hilarious, insecticidal landlady and begins life as filing clerk to the country’s pre-eminent pathologist, Alfred Kemble.

This book is set in 1929 and speaks to my interests


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – The Locked Tomb Trilogy #1
Bought September 2019 – 479 pages

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Everyone loved this and the sequel comes out soon so need to catch up.


A House of Ghosts by WC Ryan
Bought September 2019 – 297 pages

Amazon yells this is the perfect ghostly golden age mystery

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives. At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

Keywords – WWI, spiritualist, islands, gothic. No brainer.


I’m Jack by Mark Blacklock
Bought May 2020 – 272 pages

In this provocative novel, Mark Blacklock portrays the true and complex history of John Humble, aka Wearside Jack, the Ripper Hoaxer, a timewaster and criminal, sympathetic and revolting, the man hidden by a wall of words, a fiction-spinner worthy of textual analysis. In this remarkable work, John Humble leads the reader into an allusive, elusive labyrinth of interpretations, simultaneously hoodwinking and revealing

I was a teenager during the whole Yorkshire Ripper awfulness and remember hearing the tape being played on the TV news, so I’m very interested in what the author will do with this.


The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

Bought September 2016 – 432 pages

It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed.Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Full disclosure: I’m one of Jason’s supporters on Patreon and received a Christmas card from Mr Sparks (at least that’s who he said he was!) so it’s about time I picked this up.


Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux

Bought November 2018 – 240 pages

In 2001, a woman’s skeleton was found in the woods overlooking Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. Despite an audit of the hospital’s patient records, a forensic reconstruction of the woman’s face, missing-person appeals, and DNA tests that revealed not only where she had lived, but how she ate, the woman was never identified. Assigned the name Madame Victoria, her remains were placed in a box in an evidence room and, eventually, forgotten. But not by Catherine Leroux, who constructs in her form-bending Madame Victoria twelve different histories for the unknown woman.

Sounds intriguing, and different and I can’t resist.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Bought October 2017 – 449 pages

The long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon SquadManhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Jennifer Egan and this sounds cool.


The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson – Shades of London #1
Bought July 2016 – 387 pages

Thrilling ghost-hunting teen mystery as modern-day London is plagued by a sudden outbreak of brutal murders that mimic the horrific crimes of Jack the Ripper.

I was going to say that I don’t remember why I bought this but boy, when you look at the synopsis it becomes dead obvious, doesn’t it?


The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Bought March 2019 – 432 pages

For centuries the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by a god known as the Raven. But in their hour of need, the Raven speaks nothing to its people. It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo – aide to the true heir to the throne – arrives. In seeking to help his master reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself… and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

I have absolutely no idea why I haven’t read any Ann leckie, especially as her surname is one of my famil names, – but this isn’t about me) and I’ve heard really good things about this so thought it was a good place to start.


Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Bought September 2018 – 332 pages

In 1940, eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever. Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past.

Cross with myself that it’s taken so long to get to this but I’m here now, so that’s good, surely?


So that’s it – wish me luck!

December Books | Impulse Buys

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It is a fact that I am not supposed to buy books in December because gifts, but as we share wishlists I know the range from where my presents will be drawn.

That’s a complicated way of saying that if a title wasn’t on my wish list it was fair game. Here we go.

The Pre-Orders

  • Beast by Matt Wesolowski – because I love the Six Stories series and the podcast format makes for compelling reading
  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – because any new book by this author is a must-buy for me

The True Crime

  • American Predator by Maureen Callahan – if you’ve seen my earlier post you will know that I have already read this, and will be looking into this awful serial killer more in 2020
  • Dark Dreams by Roy Hazelwood – Sexual Violence, Homicide and the Criminal Mind because who doesn’t want some light reading…
  • The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown – I heard an interview with the author on a recent podcast and had to find out more about this Canadian case

The Other Non-Fiction

  • The Pulse Glass by Gillian Tindall – a personal and global history in objects; I love this sort of thing
  • Good Morning, Good Life by Amy Schmittauer Landino – I follow Amy’s YouTube channel but bought the book specifically for an online book club read; I’m already behind…..

The Fiction

  • Intensity by Dean Koontz – I don’t think I’ve ever read any Koontz; this is serial killer rather than horror
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards – murder in 1930’s London, the first in the Rachel Savernake series
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory – Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. What happens when he and others like him join a support group? 

That should keep me busy for a while 😀

Review Catch-Up | Movies

All of these deserved individual posts but I’m superstitious and don’t want 2019 reviews to wander into 2020. It’s a thing.

Doctor Sleep

My thoughts on the Kubrick film of The Shining have been aired here before (in short, it’s a good Kubrick film, but not a great King adaptation) and I read Doctor Sleep when it came out (you can find a review of it here) and I was therefore a bit wary of what I was going to see, given that director was trying to remain faithful to both. I needn’t have worried, this was a really good film with excellent performances (especially Ewan MacGregor). Not really a horror film IMHO but creepy and absorbing and will become a favourite I’m sure.

Directed by Mike Flanagan, 2h 31 minutes long and rated 15 for strong bloody violence, gore, horror, threat and language. All boxes ticked.

Knives Out

As you will know from my book reviews I love a good crime novel and also enjoy crime movies if they are done well. I was excited for Knives Out given the premise and the amazing cast and again was not disappointed. Daniel Craig was in his element, excellent use was made of Chris Evans (and his sweater) and of course Christopher Plummer was wonderful as always – he has been one of my favourite actors for many years and I love seeing him on the big screen. It’s definitely best if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it so I will say no more other than it is thoroughy recommended.

Directed by Rian Johnson, 2h 10 minutes long and rated 12A for brief bloody images, moderate sex and suicide references, strong language

The Irishman

I’m ambivalent about gangster films and their tendency to make heroes out of criminals, even if that’s not intentional, but The Irishman was getting great reviews and the Book God was very keen to see it so we settled down to watch it on our re-established Saturday Night is Film Night – something we used to do fairly regularly but lost impetus because of excellent TV options. Anyway, this was 3.5 hours long and my heart sank a tiny bit but as soon as elderly Robert De Niro started talking I became transfixed and happily watched the whole thing. Of course it’s morally dubious and Al Pacino presents a master class in scenery chewing, and the female characters are all woefully underused, but it was beautfully made and I enjoyed it very much.

Directed by Martin Scorsese becuase of course it was, like I said it was 3h 29 minutes long and rated 15 for strong violence and language

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Well. I’m not going to say a huge amount about this here because everyone else is talking about it and I actually want to see it again before I go into any detail (avoiding spoilers as always of course) BUT subject to my disappointment at the lack of Rose Tico and the wasted opportunity that was Finn & Poe not being the couple we know they should have been, and the reminder that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, I really really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It’s not perfect but it is very satisfying.

Directed by JJ Abrams (self descibed as not good at endings), Episode IX is 2h 22 minutes long and rated 12A for moderate violence, threat

Have you seen any (or all) of the above? What did you think?

Slowly We Die

Slowly We Die by Emilie Schepp is just the latest in a long(ish) line of Scandinavian crime novels that I am seemingly unable to resist. I have mixed feelings about this one, but before we get into that…… to the plot!

A tragic incident on the operating table leaves a patient damaged for life and leads a young surgeon to abandon his profession as a physician… Now, years later, a series of senseless, gruesome murders are rocking the same medical community.

I picked up this book following a recommendation on Twitter, I think, though I can’t remember from whom (sorry for that – I really do have to get better at recording where I find out about books to read) and started to read it when I hit a bit of a slump in my #20booksofsummer reading list. I have found in the past that crime fiction will almost certainly help me get my reading mojo back.

So, as the quote above says, we have the Swedish medical profession represented mainly by an ambulance crew who unfortunately keep on turning up at the scene of horribly gruesome murders. We have the police who are investigating the cases while also looking for a dangerous criminal who escaped from hospital. And last but not least we have Jana Berzelius, the investigating prosecutor with her own set of secrets. But why are these people being killed?

I do enjoy a good medical thriller and this seemed promising but, for some reason, I stalled about a third of the way through and set it aside for several weeks. Looking back I think it was mainly because I finally twigged that this was actually the third book in a series featuring Berzelius, which explained why some of it didn’t quite make sense.

Some reviewers have suggested that you don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one to the fullest, but sadly that wasn’t my experience; the significant subplot involving Jana kept getting in the way of my working out what was going on.

And it was the desire to find out the solution that took me back to the book. It was an interesting story and I failed to work out who the killer was so that’s par for the course.

In one sense I wish I had read the previous books as those would have added some useful context, but as I didn’t actually like Jana very much I can’t see me searching them out.

Not at all a bad book, just not for me.

The Man From the Train

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewellery and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villisca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.

Bill James, who is a statistics whizz and baseball writer, became fascinated with these cases and applied his skills to work out which of the crimes were linked and which were standalone, and ultimately to identify the killer. He enlisted his daughter Rachel McCarthy James as a research assistant and she is identified as a co-author of the book.

You will know by now that I cannot leave true crime stuff alone, and I came across this book when reading through a list of best non-fiction crime reads and was intrigued by the premise, mainly because of the timeframe. Intellectually I know that what we now call serial killers have been around forever, but the idea that it would be possible to identify that type of criminal from before the First World War just called to me.

I won’t go into detail about the solution because the point of the book is to explain how it was arrived at and we don’t get given a name until the very end, but it seemed plausible that the named individual rode the rails and killed when e had the opportunity, which is the best that anyone could hope for at this distance.

The Man from the Train is written in a distinctive style which the reader will either love or find annoying; I don’t think there is middle ground 🙂 James approaches this in the same way that he would write about baseball I guess. He is very much in the thick of the narrative; no detachment here. I must admit that I really liked the way in which he makes his arguments, justifying why he has included something or why he disagrees with the assessment of others, sometimes coming across as quite defensive. He can also be a bit rude about other writers, but you get such a sense of James explaining all of this to you in person that I found it very entertaining.

James doesn’t shy away from the nastiness of the murders, the poor quality of many of the investigations, and tragically the lynching of a number of suspects. Awful. He also provides context on what forensic measures were available at the time (hint – not much).

It reminded me a little of They All Loved Jack (which you can read about on my old blog) but without the unfortunate opinions.