On the Box – 2018

I don’t normally write about TV here but I thought it would be fun to capture the stuff I enjoyed this past year.

The stuff I knew I would enjoy and did

The stuff I came to a million years after everyone else

The stuff I’ve given up on because I just can’t any more

The stuff I enjoyed thoroughly despite possibly not actually being very good; though I will fight anyone who doesn’t like Instinct.

The stuff I rediscovered after thinking I would never watch it again

Do you have thoughts on any of these?

The Last of My Autumn Reading

So here we are, hurtling towards the end of 2018 and it’s the time of year when I scramble to catch up with reviews of those books and movies that I didn’t get around to talking about at the time I read/watched them.

In this post I’m covering three books I read in the autumn, which brings me up to date as I haven’t finished anything else since then.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

I have a tendency to veer towards Scandi noir fiction but only in a very patchy way, which is why I think I hadn’t heard of this husband and wife team writing as Lars Kepler even though they are huge best-sellers and there are already a number of volumes in this series. I started with the first  and it is an odd book.

I read the title and thought “ooh, serial killer hypnotist” but * SPOILER ALERT * – though not really giving anything away – the hypnotist of the title is involved in assisting the police in investigating a family murder. Of course things go horribly wrong, and a chunk of the book is focussed on said hypnotist’s back story. For that reason I don’t think the book is entirely successful – I wanted more of a police procedural rather than a sort of psychological study, but having said that a lot of the writing was very good and I had no problem finishing the thing. I have, of course, already bought the second…..

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Whom I kept on thinking of as Oscar de la Renta; which is very sloppy thinking on my part, possibly offensive to the gentleman concerned and shows that clearly I’m reading too much Vogue.

Anyway, this was recommended in a blog post by (I think – apologies if not) Christopher Fowler, so I thought I’d give it a try only to discover that I had already purchased a copy a few years ago and had just forgotten. The novel is set in Edinburgh around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, and our hero, Inspector Ian Frey, is sent to Scotland when a violinist is murdered in a way reminiscent of the Ripper’s crimes. Frey is partnered with “Nine-Nails McGray”, a notorious local inspector with Tragedy in his past and an interest in the supernatural and related things. They insult each other constantly and at a wonderfully extreme level which I found very funny. What starts off as a locked room mystery followed, of course, by other deaths is very cleverly done and I enjoyed this thoroughly. Recommended if you like a mixture of horror, historical crime and comedy.

And finally….

Bestial by Harold Schechter

A fascinating, deeply gruesome and upsetting non-fiction examination of the crime spree carried out in the 1920s by Earle Leonard Nelson, starting in San Francisco and ending in Canada. To give you an idea of what’s covered here the blurb on the book screams:

From social outcast to necrophile & murderer, his appalling crimes stunned an era.

So, obviously reader beware – this is only for experienced aficionados of true crime. It’s clearly been throughly researched and is written in a breezy journalistic style but, as a woman in my late 50s, I became increasingly grumpy at the descriptions of Nelson’s older wife by (presumably) the author. Is 58 elderly? Is a woman in her 60s really a crone? I know things were different back in the 1920s and a woman of that age would have had a harder life than the one I have experienced, but who calls anyone a crone? Honestly, says Disgusted of New Malden. But Ann Rule rated Schechter so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

All caught up on the book front – yay me!

Sunday Salon – 18 November

fullsizeoutput_8b5Here we are again with another quick review of my week in reading and other stuff as needed.

Currently reading:

Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker – war, catastrophe and climate change in the 17th century; I bought this as a gift for the Book God a couple of years ago but it is an enormous tome so treated myself to the Kindle version to make reading easier. Extremely interesting so far.

Bestial by Harold Schechter – from social outcast to necrophile and murderer – his appalling crimes stunned an era. This starts off in 1920s San Francisco and goes rapidly downhill from there. I’m fascinated by true crime (as most of you will have noticed I’m sure) and this story came up while I was listening to an old episode of My Favourite Murder (a brilliant podcast) so I dug this out from the virtual stacks.

Books finished this week:

Only one, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – a strong refresher for the planning method I use these days. Lots to think about.

Books bought this week:

  • Bedfellow by Jeremy C Shipp – a tense dark fantasy novel of psychological horror; sign me up!
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – I think she’s awesome and I’m looking forward to reading this very much. Sadly didn’t get tickets for her appearance in London though….
  • Black Prince by Adam Roberts & Anthony Burgess –  a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare based on an original script by the late Mr Burgess. I have a lot of respect for Adam Roberts and have read several of his books so I’m giving this a go because of him and the subject matter rather than Mr Burgess, whom I’ve always found difficult.
  • The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles – A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell. I don’t really read romance but this author was recommended and I thought I should read something outside my comfort zone, but not too far – this is SFF romance after all.

Things should start to get quiet as the pre-Christmas book-buying embargo sets in once wish lists have ben exchanged. I have made my list, checked it twice and will be handing it over later today.

Hope you have a great reading week!

 

 

Femme Fatale: Sick, Sweet & Evil

IMG_0770I didn’t know anything about Chelsea Cain and her series of books about Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell until I came across a TV series called Gone; when I realised it was based on a novel I went looking for it and found the author’s other works. I love a decent serial killer so tried the first one and became hooked.

Since then I have read the first three in the six-book series and I know that I will be reading the remainder (in fact I already have book four on my TBR list) simply because they are so easy to read – I usually devour the whole thing in a single sitting.

But why?

For a start the premise is interesting. Archie Sheridan is a detective investigating a series of murders when he is captured and tortured by the serial killer herself, Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen has inserted herself into the investigation by posing as a psychologist and of course because she is stunningly beautiful and very intelligent no-one suspects that she is the one responsible for what she claims to be 200 murders over a lengthy period of time.

None of this is spoiler territory because it’s all made clear at the very beginning of the first book. She tortures, kills and revives Archie and then surrenders to the police. Once he recovers Archie visits her in prison regularly and for every visit she gives him information on where another of her victims can be found so that closure can be given to the families. Archie thinks he is in control but of course he isn’t; Gretchen is an expert manipulator and through all three of the books she is effectively directing the action.

I won’t go into the plots of the novels; although each is focussed on a particular case the main event is of course the warped relationship between the two main characters as well as the involvement of Susan Ward, a reporter for a local newspaper who is drawn into the ongoing drama.

As with a lot of serial killer novels this is in no way true to life or at all subtle. Gretchen is an almost mythical figure who becomes something of a folk hero to a certain type of person. She is a complete monster in the vein of Hannibal Lecter, with no scruples and an overwhelming desire to cause pain and suffering, though it’s clear that she can stop killing for periods of time when she feels like it. The books are pretty gruesome and almost veer into horror territory but not quite. The problem with series of this type, if you can call it a problem, is the need to keep increasing the tension and gore without falling into camp. The books have managed to avoid that so far.

Having said all that, and noting that if Gretchen really is so striking why does nobody ever seem to notice what she’s up to until it’s too late, I love these books and would recommend them for a quick and enjoyable read.