It all started what feels like a lifetime ago in a tent in Derbyshire, hours after the last bell of July had rung…
I started The Murder Room (P D James) but it felt a little silly and I didn’t get far with it. I came back to it and finished it later in the holidays, but I wasn’t in the right mood to start with. The very long exposition at the start is the problem – two thirds of the book are over before anyone dies!
So instead I switched to Total Recall (Paretsky / Warshawski), and was ambushed by a detailed holocaust story spliced into the action of the novel. At the end of my degree, which is almost twenty years ago, I told myself I had had enough of holocaust survivor texts, having read so many in French and German. I felt slightly ambushed to find one in a much-loved detective series. However, it fit well, and really helped round out the characters of some of Vic’s old friends.
Both James and Paretsky are engaging, interesting reads, but they are not exactly light and fluffy, so I have a few series on standby now that are less taxing on the eye and mind. I read Kickback (Nick Boyd) for a little light relief which continued much in the same vein as the previous two in the Nick Dixon series. Our diabetic hero with his girlfriend subordinate went through a similar set of baffling detections to work out whodunnit, and it filled an hour or two.
Ken McClure tackles difficult scientific and medical topics, but he does so in short thrilling books that are well explained, so this series also counts as light relief. His hero is another one who seems to do baffling well with the ladies in record time, but Dr Steven Dunbar has at least been on the same girlfriend for the last few novels. In Lost Causes, I was thrilled to feel it was bang up to date, with references to coalition government, a female home secretary who loves her shoes, and the deputy prime minister chairing COBRA meetings! Clegg in a McClure novel! Then I realised that actually the start of the coalition is now a long time behind us. Lost Causes is a fun romp about an evil right wing conspiracy with some germ warfare thrown in, and the sequel to that, The Secret, touches on the death of Bin Laden, polio eradication and more large scale conspiracies. Published in 2013, The Secret seems to be the last of the Dr Steven Dunbar novels for now, and I’m almost sad to put the series behind me.
Just before I flew off to Madeira for a family holiday, a parcel arrived with birthday books from a dear old friend who a) knows exactly what I like and b) is a bit of a crime novel expert, so can choose very well indeed. This year’s parcel included two novels set in the former GDR which I reserved for the airport. A five hour flight and a two hour wait at a departure gate go so much quicker with a good book – and I do prefer an actual paperback, because there’s no threat of being told to turn it off once you’re on the tarmac.
David Young’s Stasi Child introduces us to Karin Müller in a story totally unafraid to sprinkle krautisms like Oberleutnant, Jugendwerkhof and Kriminalpolizei through a story with a shocking conclusion. Who knew that the people running the institutions of a communist state sometimes didn’t have the citizen’s best interests at heart? The second, Stasi Wolf, a jolly good romp, lots of lovely period detail about building and allocating the GDR’s housing, but the plot more than a little bonkers. Not quite sure where I put these books, but I definitely must share them around the languages department at school, where there’s more than one Stasi fan.
So my week in the sun was book-ended with Germans but whilst I was actually on my sunlounger (private on villa terrace; had to be moved out of sun so I didn’t fry; also very convenient for stargazing; srsly considering a chaise longue for the lounge, it was so comfy for reading…) I read two more VI Warshawski books, Hardball and Fire Sale, both good. More than two thirds through the series now, the end is in sight.
I also read the third book from the crime novel parcel, Land of Shadows (Rachel Hall Howzer). First in a as-yet short series fronted by a black female police detective, Elouise Norton. You’ll never guess what – she has a dark and troubling history that’s directly relevant to the case she’s starting to investigate. #shocker.
And finally to Y is for Yesterday (Sue Grafton). I pre-ordered it from Amazon, set myself a reminder on my phone to check my Kindle at midnight, and started reading it pretty much as soon as I could. It’s a doorstop of a novel and I didn’t finish it in a single sitting, but it was a great story with an ending I didn’t see coming until it was right upon me. Although all of the Kinsey books are set in the 1980s, this is themed around a story of teenagers getting into trouble for filming something inappropriate, a theme which is incredibly contemporary, as anyone working in a school can tell you.
11 books in six weeks? Not bad; better than last year or the year before.