Crime fiction: three good ones

June 21, 2015 at 1:06 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

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In a recent post on historical fiction, I wrote that I was reading Lamentation, the latest entry in C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series. This series has won critical acclaim, and justly so, for the most part, I think. Yet as much as I was enjoying it, I found that the author’s research was obtruding upon the narrative. I have now finished the book and am happy to report that as the story gathered steam, that particular problem pretty much disappeared. I got caught up in this tale of  court intrigue in the dying days of King Henry VIII’s  reign. The fact that Queen Catherine Parr figures prominently in this story further enlivens the proceedings.

At over six hundred pages, Lamentation is something of  an undertaking. Be patient, though; the immersion in a turbulent and fascinating past is worth the effort. This is the only form of time travel we can aspire to – at least, so far.
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Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s Bill Slider series is one of the few that I follow without question, and without troubling to read the reviews first. I know I’ll be thoroughly entertained, and thus it was with Star Fall, the seventeenth novel featuring Slider, Atherton, Swilley, and the rest of the Shepherd’s Bush crew. Their task this time around is to solve the murder of Rowland Egerton, a television personality whose program Antiques Galore has a large and enthusiastic following. Egerton is one of those celebrities whose publicly displayed bonhomie conceals a dubious personality rife with nasty proclivities. He’s a hard person to grieve for, but murder is murder and justice must be served. This is the kind of tightly wound contemporary British police procedural that I cherish. It follows a formula with delightful variations.

As usual, Harrod-Eagles’s writing is liberally spiced with irreverent wit and clever asides. Chapter titles feature the inevitable wordplay – “Hairline Pilot” followed by “Men Behaving Baldly” – groan-inducing but fun nonetheless. Then,  at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a sentence in this novel that stopped me in my tracks:

He had the look of a man who had heard the leathery creak of the Erinyes’ wings in the darkness, smelled the chthonic reek of their breath, felt the clammy touch of their lips on the back of his neck.

Well, gosh…Parse that, you grammarians! Although I consider myself one of their number, I admit I was flummoxed. It turns out that the Erinyes are better known as the Furies of ancient Greek mythology; “chthonic” literally means “subterranean.” (Thus saith Wikipedia, at any rate.) I sympathize wholeheartedly with this author’s apparently irresistible urge to show off her erudition.
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10  Appointed To Die by Kate Charles appeared on the reading list for the mystery tour we took in 2011.  Ms Charles is the author of several crime fiction series; this particular novel is third in The Book of Psalms sequence. I very much enjoyed Appointed To Die. It put me in mind of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novels, of happy memory. In addition, the author showcased her love and knowledge of British music, something we share, especially regarding the great Ralph Vaughan Williams. (In the course of the above mentioned tour, we had the pleasure of meeting with Ms Charles.)

Kate Charles grew up in the U.S. and was “transplanted,” in her own words, to Great Britain in 1986. She now lives in the Welsh border country, a place of almost unearthly beauty replete with the riches of history. (Not that I”m at all envious….)

Recently I read False Tongues, the latest entry in a different series featuring Callie Anson, identified on Stop!YoureKillingMe – Kate Charles as “a newly ordained Anglican cleric.” Callie is a tenderhearted young woman, empathetic, sensitive, and easily hurt. To a certain degree, she is well suited to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of others.  At any rate, in False Tongues, she is struggling to recover from a broken heart so that, from both a personal and vocational perspective, she can once again feel whole and complete and ready to give of herself to others.

This novel is enlivened by a host of interesting secondary characters, including Canon John Kingsley, a man of warmth and generous spirit who also appears in Appointed To Die. Like that earlier work, False Tongues is beautifully written and a thoroughly gratifying read.

1 Comment

  1. Carol said,

    I’m immersed in LAMENTATION right now and loving it. When so many 300 page books are really 200 page books that sag in the middle, it’s good to find a 600 page book that IS a 600 page book. (badly put, but you know what I mean!) Sansom’s research is incredible and I read that he is already researching for the next book, this one about the reign of poor little Edward. (You probably know that Sansom is seriously ill, but the treatment is very successful so far. Let’s hope it allows him to give us many more wonderful books.)

    I liked Bill Slider, but haven’t read him in a long time. Met the author in London long ago and didn’t really “cotton on” to her, but I should be able to separate her from Bill.

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