Death of an Expert Witness by P.D. James

For ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’ bonus prompt, you had to select a book from your fabourite genre, Now, that is quite a challenge for me as so many genres are my favourite – however, I made the decision that crime fiction is my favourite (right here, right now).

Therefore, ‘Death of an Expert Witness’ was plucked from my tbr pile. Dalgliesh is a detective that I have always meant to read about, as I have listened to radio adaptations and TV adaptations of the character.

I was not disappointed by my choice of book. I really enjoyed this style of detective story – it was very character-driven as Dalgliesh interviews all of those who could have been involved in the murder of Lorrimer at the lab. Although the pace is ‘slow’, it simply reflects Dalgliesh’s thoughtful and serious detective style.

P.D. James clearly took her time to compose the cleverly structured stories. And, despite the date of the book, researched the latest ideas about forensic science and the most up-to-date policing styles (of the time). At points, the book shows its age as we know the pace that science and technology move on. However, this never takes away from the story as an excellent piece of crime fiction.

Picking this book up has cleared a book from the tbr pile, but it does mean that I am now keen to read more of the stories of the poetry-writing Dalgliesh, which means that my wishlist will increase again.

Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

The second book second book of 2021 was one that caught my attention on that lovely bookish TV show ‘Between the Covers’. It just sounded like a fascinating crime thriller. And it was!

To begin with, I thought this tale was a little slow. Two sisters, each blaming the other for the murder of their father – and each having called 911. Yet, as the tale progressed, the pace and tension picked up dramatically as Eddie Flynn and his team investigate their defense of Sofia Avellino and new kid on the block Kate investigates her defense of Alexandra Avellino. I really can not talk much about the story, as I do not want to give away any spoilers, other than to say it’s a very well-crafted thriller that becomes a real page-turner. There is quite a collection of characters who you do become quite invested in. And Cavanagh really does manage to manipulate your beliefs about some of the key characters – even if you do not realise it.

Steve Cavanagh has become an author who I would like to read more from. I did not realise that there had been a number of adventures for Eddie Flynn before this one. I guess that is always the joy of reading – you can always make new discoveries of new stories.

This also allowed me to tick off a little bonus prompt from ‘The Unread Shelf Project’, as ‘the unread book most recently acquired’.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

‘The Thursday Murder Club’ was my last read of 2020 – and one I had been really looking forward to – it was a joy to find under the Christmas tree.

There is always a fear that, when a book has been surronded by hype, it may not be what you expect. However, this fear was not realised with this book. ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ is a perfect piece of cosy crime fiction from start to finish. A joy to read and quite a page-turner.

You may have heard Richard Osman speak about a retirement village would be the place to find ‘The Thursday Murder Club’, as there is such a variety of skills and people in the place. Ande that is certainly true of his four key characters: Ibriham, Ron, Joyce and Elizabeth. Possibly not a quartet who would usually spend time together, but their love of cold case crime solving leads them to become quite the powerhouse when there are not one but two murders on their door step.

I found this such a joy to read. You feel as though you are on an adventure with the characters. The style of writing is like a soothing voice to bring that cosy crime genre to life.

This novel is a wonderful piece of escapism – and could well the equivalent of a warm hug in the form of a book.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

I will be completely honest that the cover of the beautiul hardback edition is what caught my eye. However, I do also love cosy crime and Agatha Christie is the queen of that exact genre.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is just a wonderful piece of classic crime fiction for the festive season. Set over the Christmas period Poirot ends up investigating the murder of Mr Simeon Lee. A locked room mysterym with a household of motives and suspects, and – well – many who are not exactly what they seem.

This novel is a brilliant piece of cosy crime, which has all the ingredients of a classic Christie. Especially that wonderful reveal, as Poirot offers us all his solution to the problem.

I really enjoyed this book this festive season, and it may well become one I regularly revisit to spend some time in the company of the great Hercule Poirot.

Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie

I was lucky enough to win this beautiful book in a lovely giveaway on bookstagram. And, I am not sure much else could be so perfect for this time of year as some ‘cosy’ crime.

This book is a collection of tales from the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. They are all stories that have been published in other collections of short stories; however, they have been brought together here because they all have a wintery or festive feel.

You meet all your favourite Christie detectives including, of course, Marple and Poirot. My favourite tale was the third in the collection, as it reminded me a little of ‘An Inspector Calls’ which is another favourite at this time of year.

This collection of tales is just a perfect piece of escapism: classic crime. You may solve some of the mysteries ot you may just wish to let it unfold around you.

Either way, grab your favourite festive treats and settle down with some Christie classics.

Thursday Thoughts: Who is your Favourite Detective?

I do not claim to have read all novels starring every single famous literary detective – however, I do enjoy a good piece of crime fiction!

Before I start, I have previously done a piece about Poirot versus Miss Marple. For me, Poirot won and he would again in that debate. Yet, would my opinion be swayed if I was to throw other characters into the mix?

Well, he would be ever so slightly pipped to the post of my favourite detective. You see, for me, it is the tales from the pen of Sur Arthur Conan Doyle that can be read over and over again. The greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes, with his companion Dr John Watson. There are tales I never get bored of. I can read them, watch them, listen to them, repeatedly, without ever getting bored. I know the solution, but I still love following the adventures. I have never really been able to put my finger on one specific reason why these stories are my absolute favourite – it is not down to one thing. Conan Doyle’s writing and characterisation just bring me back, time and time again to the books. And I do believe that they are responsible for my love of crime novels.

Because, let’s be honest, if I had read the tales of the great Sherlock Holmes, I would not have read so many of the other famous literary detectives. As mentioned, I love the cosy crime of Christie’s two main famous creations, but I also enjoy the investigations of Rebus, Morse, Scarpetta, Pirie (newly discovered) and there are so many more for me to discover.

So, I am interested in your thoughts – who is your favourite detective?

Still Life by Val McDermid

This was my first novel by Val McDermid (other than her retelling of ‘Northanger Abbey’) and I am very thankful to have been gifted a copy to read and discuss.

Immediately, I was sucked in, because I absolutely love a good crime novel. The book was atmospheric from the start, and I needed to know what was going to happen next and where this whole tale was going.

McDermid also creates excellent characters. I was a big fan of DCI Pirie. Do no get me wrong, she has character flaws as all good fictional detectives do. But she is someone that you can imagine sitting down with to have a G&T and a chat. McDermid’s villains in this tale are fabulous, too, as you could easily believe that they could commit the crimes of the story.

Yet, the thing I really like about this book is so simple – the title. There is so much meaning about the phrase ‘Still Life’. Not only could it point to the theme of art and a styl, but it points to the ideas of life ending – and the idea that life returns and continues. There is, in fact, so much of the book in that two-word title.

Val McDermid’s writing is charming and creates a real page-turner. I am really keen to read more of her work. Especially to find out more Karen Pirie’s earlier life.

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

Another new author for me this year – and an excellent one at that. ‘Death in the East’ is a classic example of a good detective fiction. This book, to me, was like a combination of Christie and Conan Doyle – a magic combination. However, this is also a book that takes a good look at moral issues surronding the British control of India.

A classic locked room mystery – well, two actually – came to the attention of our hero Wydenham. One from his past, which he has struggled to make peace with, and one now – which really does seem impossible.

All of this takes place as Wydenham reflects on his position and the position of Britain in India (as wel as the relationship of other groups with Britain). Mukherjee himself says that this a theme that was required and, sadly, reflects some of the concerns that are part of all of our cultures.

This books is beautifully written and fully engaging. A real page-turner, which is the best thing about a crime fiction novel. There is a great collection of characters who make for a wonderful addition to the plot. Also, it is actually the fourth book in a series, but it works wonderfully as a standalone book. Nothing is lost at all from not having read the other books. Although, this does mean that there is a whole collection of books to added to the wishlist…

A little update – I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask the fantastic author Abir Mukherjee a question about his work. I wanted to find out why he chose crime fiction as his genre of choice:

I started writing basically to scratch an itch. When I was growing up, we were never taught about British colonial history in school. All we received was a rose tinted version of our history which emphasised British greatness and glossed over all of the terrible things done in the name of Empire. I learned from my parents, that there was another side to this history, and I set out to research it and make it more accessible to others. One of the things I learned though, was that the history of the British in India is a difficult subject for many. People don’t want to be told that the achievements of their grandparents and great grandparents might hide a much blacker truth. Therefore I decided that my message needed to be couched within ripping, page-turning stories, ideally told by a narrator whom readers would find appealing. Crime fiction was a natural choice of genre for me. I grew up in the tradition of Tartan Noir, pioneered by the great William McIllvaney and heroes of mine such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, where the crime novel was used as a vehicle to examine and comment on social issues. The detective is a great person to highlight these issues as he or she has access to all levels of society, from princes to paupers, and so I decided to make my narrator an ex copper from London who finds himself in Calcutta because he’s nowhere else to go.

This is a fantastic response as I think these great influences are clear as Abir has created his own individual works.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this novel as part of a blogtour. The paperback is published this week – so make sure you grab a copy.

Hidden Intentions by Dave Flint

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of ‘Hidden Intentions’. And I am glad I was, as, again, it is a chance to try something new.

This novel is billed as a murder mystery – however, for me it is more of a study of human nature. You do not need to solve any murder mystery; you are of the motive, victims and culprit. Yet, you go on a journey with Toby as he moves through his formative years to adulthood. You become very aware of the impact that people and their experiences have on the person. There is almost a Jekyll and Hyde feel to the character of Toby. When loved, respected and trusted we have the gentle Toby, but when things are not as they should be and Toby or his world is threatened we the hidden Hyde – the dark side of human nature.

Although this novel is rather slow-paced, that is part of the charm of the novel. After all, time does not always pass at speed in day-to-day life. You need to take the journey at Toby’s pace to understand the path that it takes.

It has quite an ending, which I will not spoil, but as you reach the conclusion of this novel, you will be left contemplating what exactly makes people take some of the actions they do. Also, that age-old question: do you really know anyone? Can you hide who you are? Can we have conflicting emotions towards people?

There are some interesting questions raised in this book, too, as its setting of the 50s and 60s leaves you thinking about gender roles and cultural identity. Do these forced ideas of both create people and force actions, rightly or wrongly?

This is certainly an interesting read – especially if you have an interest in human nature.

Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

I absolutely loved ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’. It was one of those great YA novels that could be enjoyed by more than its ‘target’ audience. So, when I saw that the sequel was out, I knew I had to read it, especially as escapism in these lockdown times.

‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ is just as wonderful as its predecessor. Pip has found success with her true crime podcast ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’, and believes she will now hang up her (metaphorical) detective’s hat. However, when there is a local disappearance, can she avoid getting involved? I don’t think it is a spoiler to say, of course she gets involved – we wouldn’t have a book otherwise. However, this is still a fresh story; this is a current case.

This novel is an excellent continuation from book one. The characters evolve naturally (you find out so much more about Pip) and there are links to the previous tale.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that it is not simplistic – it is a well-constructed crime novel. I worked out one teeny, tiny part of the story but that was it – the rest I discovered alongside Pip and her friends as they carried out their investigations.

I really hope there is more from the pen of Holly Jackson, because she really knows how to put together a contemporary and engaging thriller that can be enjoyed by so many fans of the genre.