Recent Events

Sunday 30 March 2014

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982.)

The Golden Age

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982.)
by Carol Westron

Ngaio Marsh was born and educated in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Ngaio is a Maori name that means 'clever' and Ngaio Marsh was certainly well named.  She was multi-talented and loved writing, acting and painting, but, when she left school, chose to study painting and entered the Canterbury School of Art in 1913.  She left the art college in 1919 and planned to make her career as a painter while writing short stories, articles and poetry.  However she got distracted by the opportunity to tour the North Island with the Allan Wilkie Shakespeare Company (1919-20) and followed this by touring with the Rosemary Rees Comedy Company.

Throughout the 1920s Marsh divided her life between the theatre, writing poetry and stories and painting, exhibiting with 'The Group, seven Christchurch artists who made a great impact with their work.  In 1928 Marsh visited Britain for the first time as the guest of a wealthy New Zealand family who had maintained connections with Britain.  From that first visit, Marsh loved Britain and, in 1929, she set up a small shop in Knightsbridge.

In 1932 Marsh returned to New Zealand to look after her sick mother. In 1934 she wrote A Man Lay Dead, featuring Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a detective at Scotland Yard.  This was the first of thirty-two crime novels featuring Alleyn, who ended his career as Detective Chief Superintendent.  Most of the novels are set in England but a few are set in New Zealand (Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme and Photo Finish.)  In Surfeit of Lampreys the story begins in New Zealand but the main action takes place in London.  Occasionally Marsh uses her travels in Europe as the background for her novels (When In Rome and Spinsters In Jeopardy.)

Ngaio Marsh is one of the Golden Age 'Queens of Crime' and Roderick Alleyn is very much a Golden Age detective hero: handsome, well-born (his brother is a baronet) and highly intelligent, he is also unfailingly courteous to those of a lower class or less wealthy than he is.  His usual assistant at Scotland Yard is Inspector Fox, a solid and reliable officer and they share a mutual respect.  In A Man Lay Dead Alleyn meets Nigel Bathgate, a young reporter who, in later novels, likes to describe himself as Alleyn's 'Watson.'

In 1938 Marsh returned to England from New Zealand after travelling through Europe, and it was on board ship that she wrote Artists In Crime, her sixth book featuring Alleyn.  The opening chapter is set on just such a ship and relates how Alleyn first met Agatha Troy.  Troy is a famous artist and many people think Troy is Marsh's alter ego.  Alleyn falls in love with Troy and, although she refuses him in Artists In Crime, she does not stand out against him for long and they marry at the end of Marsh's next book, Death In a White Tie, also written in 1938.  Troy and Alleyn have one son and remain happily married for the rest of the series.  Troy appears in many of the subsequent books and sometimes, as in  A Clutch of Constables Shrouds, has a very prominent role in the story.

During the Second World War Marsh joined the Red Cross Transport Unit in New Zealand.  After the War Marsh divided her place of residence between Britain and New Zealand, just as she divided her time between writing, painting and the theatre.  She formed a theatre company and directed many productions.  In 1967 the University of Canterbury named its theatre after her.

Throughout all her books Marsh's passion for the theatre and for art is obvious and provides settings and characters for many of her books.  The theatre is especially prominent, as is her passion for Shakespeare.  Also evident is her interest fascination with Maori customs and her corresponding interest in traditional English customs. 

Marsh started her crime writing career with A Man Lay Dead, a classic 'country house murder,' and this was a formula she kept returning to.  Even some of her novels set in New Zealand, such as Died In the Wool, have the same structure.  Although Marsh says that Alleyn served in the First World War, his experiences are glossed over and have left no physical or emotional scars.  Marsh mentions the Second World War in her novels (indeed the subplot in Died In the Wool is that Alleyn is seconded to New Zealand to uncover Nazi spies) but she does not allow the privations and change of attitudes that followed the War to mar her picture of the England of country houses and high-born eccentrics.
Marsh's last novel, Photo Finish, was published in 1980.  She died in 1982.  The honours awarded to her included Dame of the British Empire, the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and New Zealand's first literature award bears her name.  Her home in Christchurch is maintained as a museum in her memory.
‘Surfeit of Lampreys’ by Ngaio Marsh
First published by Penguin Books Surfeit of Lampreys is now available on Kindle or in a three-books-in-one volume published by Harper. ISBN-10: 0007328729.  ISBN-13: 978-0007328727 

The story opens in New Zealand when young Roberta Grey is befriended by the Lamprey family, English aristocrats temporarily living in New Zealand.  It continues when Roberta, aged twenty and newly orphaned, arrives in England to stay with the Lampreys in London.  The Lampreys are a large family: Lord and Lady Charles and their children, Henry, Frieda, twins Stephen and Colin, Patricia and Michael.  They are all attractive, funny, lively and extravagant.  Of the four adult children only Henry, the eldest, realises that they should alter their lifestyle.

One of the Lampreys' inevitable financial crises is looming and the only hope of avoiding bankruptcy is for Lord Charles to receive aid from his disapproving, joyless and tight-fisted older brother, Lord Wutherwood.  With a debt-collector sitting in the kitchen, only the Lampreys would decide that the best way to soften Lord Wutherwood towards them was to hold a charade to entertain him during his visit.  The scheme was not successful and Lord Wutherwood storms out.  He has to wait in the lift that serves the flat for some time until he is joined by his loathsome wife, Violet.  The lift goes down a few floors and then up again and when the doors open Lord Wutherwood is dying, stabbed through the eye by a skewer that had been used in the charade.

Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate.  Coming from the aristocracy himself, Alleyn has no problems dealing with the Lamprey family on equal terms.  Unwisely they close ranks and refuse to tell Alleyn all he needs to know.  There are many things Alleyn has to discover.  Was Lord Wutherwood stabbed before his wife joined him and the lift doors closed?  Which twin, Colin or Stephen, operated the lift for their uncle and why are they being so secretive?  Did Lady Wutherwood behave so irrationally before the shock of her husband's death?  Alleyn soon discovers that the Lampreys are all charming and amoral, but are any of them capable of murder to inherit their uncle's wealth?  Before Alleyn can answer any of these questions there is another murder.

In Surfeit of Lampreys, the murder of Lord Wutherwood is gruesome but the tone of the book is light and often playful and the solution is revealed in a scene of theatrical melodrama.  Even at the height of the investigation, Marsh draws humour out of Alleyn's attempts to question the Lampreys' deaf aunt: 'Alleyn wondered distractedly if there was anywhere at all in the flat where he could yell in privacy into the ear of this lady.  He decided that the best place would be in the disconnected lift with the doors shut.  By a series of inviting gestures he managed to lure her in.'

Surfeit of Lampreys was published in 1941 but Marsh made sure the light tone of the book was not marred by setting it just before the Second World War.  The approach of war is only mentioned fleetingly.  A large number of Ngaio Marsh's crime novels have a love story as a sub-plot and in this book it follows Roberta Grey's growing love for Henry Lamprey, even though she cannot believe he could feel anything more than kindness for her.  The title Surfeit of Lampreys indicates the light-hearted, punning spirit of the book.  King Henry I was reputed to have died of overeating a 'surfeit of lampreys,' a small, eel-like fish of which he was too fond.

All of the Roderick Alleyn detective stories are an enjoyable read but Surfeit of Lampreys is probably the most humorous.  The fun starts on the first page with a description of Lady Charles' economy measure of dismissing the servants and buying 'the washing machine that afterwards, on the afternoon it broke loose from its mooring and so nearly killed Nanny and Patch.'  After seventy-five years, Surfeit of Lampreys is still an enjoyable read to cheer a winter's day.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Carol Westron
is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

Books by Ngaio Marsh

A Man Lay Dead  (1934)
Enter a Murderer  (1935)
The Nursing-Home Murder
Death In Ecstasy (1936)
Vintage Murder (1937)
Artists in crime  (1938)
Death in a white Tie (1938)
Overture to Death (1939)
Death at the Bar  (1940)   
Surfeit of Lampreys  (1941)
Death and the Dancing Footman  (1942)
Colour schemes (1942
Died in the Wool  (1945)
Final curtain (1947)
Swing Brother Swing (1949)
Opening Night (1951)
Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954)
Scales of Justice (1955)
Off With His Head (1957)
Singing in the shrouds (1959)
False scent (1960)
Hand in Glove (1962)
Dead Water (1964)
Death At The dolphin (1967)
Clutch of Constables (1968)
When in Rome (1970)
Tied up in Tinsel (1972)
Black as he’s Painted (1964)
Last ditch (1977)
Grave Mistake (1978)
Photo Finish (1980)
Light Thickens (1982)
The Collected Short Fiction of Ngaio Marsh (1989)

Saturday 29 March 2014

‘Bad Blood’ by Aline Templeton

Published by Alison & Busby,
28 October 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1355-4

Marnie Bruce has hyperthymesia: she can remember everything she has ever seen - except for the night when she was eleven, when she woke up in an isolated cottage, to find her mother gone.  Now, twenty years later, she's come back to Galloway looking for answers...

I'm already a fan of Templeton's DI Marjory Fleming, so I expected to enjoy this book, and wasn't disappointed.  It began with a mysterious 'flashback' opening, then moved into character introductions: Marnie herself, her former best friend Gemma and her cushioned middle-class family, a husband and wife parted by a murdered child, forty years ago, Marnie's mother's best friend Anita, and the mysterious Drax in his night-club.  Already my brain was busy trying to work out the connections between them all.  Among them were updates with the police characters, particularly Big Marge herself and her Burns-quoting sidekick MacNee.  Fleming is an attractive everywoman character, determined and driven in her police world, while also juggling the roles of daughter, wife and mother in her farm home.  In this book her learned wisdom is contrasted with the idealistic young Hepburn.  Templeton's descriptions of character and use of dialogue bring you straight into a world of people you can believe in.  There are lovely descriptions of place too - the sea-washed Galloway coast, and the rural interior where Big Marge lives.  The well-focused plot moved along briskly, with fair clueing, a number of unexpected twists, and a satisfying solution.  The on-going plots with the police characters' families add interest and depth without taking over.  This is DI Fleming's eighth outing, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. 

A classic police thriller with a dark, modern twist.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Aline Templeton grew up in  the fishing village of Anstruther, on the east coast of Scotland not far from St Andrews.  The memories of beautiful scenery and a close community inspired me to set the Marjory Fleming series in a place very like that – rural Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland. Aline read English at Cambridge University. Alone lives with her husband Ian in Edinburgh in a house with a balcony built by an astronomer to observe the stars, with a splendid view of the castle and the beautiful city skyline.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘The Verdict’ by Nick Stone

Published by Sphere,
23 January 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-84744-326-7

Vernon James, self-made millionaire, is in trouble - when he left his hotel suite, the amenities included a dead blonde.  Legal clerk Terry Flyte is one of the team who have to try and defend him, ignoring the fact that VJ ruined Terry's Cambridge career twenty years ago ...

This legal thriller was a real page-turner from the word go.  The opening tells us what happened in the hotel suite - neatly ended by the reminder that this is VJ's version.  Then Terry takes over the narration.  He's a likeable guy with a drink problem in his past, a lively, believable family and his own memories of VJ - including, we discover, having helped give him an alibi for the murder of the father VJ hated.  The details of how a legal case is put together, and the interplay between client, barrister, junior and clerk was interesting, and, as Stone has worked as a legal clerk, convincing - it's gone on my 'background research' shelf. There were vivid descriptions of the London police stations and courthouses.  Underpinning all this is a fast-moving, twisty plot where Terry is constantly being drawn into trouble, and can never tell who to trust.  The final quarter of the book is a tense courtroom scene, and here again it's fascinating looking at judge, witnesses and jury from the lawyer's point of view.

A twists-and-turns legal thriller, with interesting characters and authentic background.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Nick Stone was born in Cambridge  October 31, 1966, the son of a Scottish father and a Haitian mother. Education University of Cambridge. His first novel, Mr Clarinet, won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel and the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for The Barry Award for Best British Novel.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘Beyond Belief’ by Helen Smith

Published by Thomas and Mercer, 7 January 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4778-4972-9

Londoner Emily Castles makes her living by doing temporary office jobs but she also helps out at weekend conferences, usually summoned to assist the organisers by her neighbour, Dr. Muriel Crowther, a philosophy professor with a penchant for unusual and eccentric activities. Dr. Muriel has great faith in Emily as an organiser and detective and when a popular psychic, who styles herself Perspicacious Peg, predicts that there is going to be a violent death at the Belief and Beyond Conference in Torquay, Dr Muriel persuades the organisers of the event to employ Emily to write about the premonition and its outcome.

Everybody expects the intended victim to be Edmund Zenon, a famous magician and outspoken disbeliever of psychic phenomena. As well as performing a 'walking on water' trick, which is regarded by many as blasphemous, especially as he intends to do it at Easter, Edmund has offered a challenge that he will give £50,000 to anybody who can convince him that the paranormal exists. Torquay is full of people who are determined to win the money, both charlatans and genuine believers, and the town is full of suspects when violence strikes.

The Emily Castle Mysteries are lively detection stories, filled with eccentric characters and a tongue-in-cheek view of weekend conferences and social networking. Beyond Belief is very amusing but, at the same time, several of the characters engage the reader's sympathy, especially Sarah and Tim Taylor, still trying to come to terms with the death of their teenage son and turning to a medium for help.

It is easy to pick the Emily Castle Mysteries at any point and I would recommend Beyond Belief as a very enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Helen Smith is a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, the Mystery Writers of America, the Crime Writers' Association and English PEN. She travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both--from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel. Her work has been praised in The Times, the Guardian, The Independent, Time Out and the Times Literary Supplement. Her books have reached number one in the bestseller lists in the Kindle store on both sides of the Atlantic.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, published July 2013

Friday 28 March 2014

‘Traitor’s Gate’ by Michael Ridpath

Published by Head of Zeus, 
10 June 2013. 
ISBN: 978-1-78185-180-7

 Berlin, 1938.  Disillusioned by his experience of fighting against the Fascists in Spain, Conrad de Lacey has come to Berlin to write his novel.  However a meeting with his cousin Joachim sparks off events which will leave him caught between his pacifist beliefs and taking a dangerous step to avert war.

Set in the cradle of World War II, this novel beautifully evokes the atmosphere of fear and duplicity under SS rule.  The reader can believe in idealistic Conrad and his changes of feeling as he learns more about those around him: Veronica, his ex-wife, who feels Hitler’s spell; half-Jewish Annelise who is desperate to save her father; Theo, the idealistic friend of his student days, who now works for the Abwehr.  The streets, gardens and canals of Berlin are a real presence in the book, and the reader’s own historical knowledge ratchets up the tension.  The novel is given depth by the debate within Conrad: is it right to betray an individual country for the greater goal of international peace?  What is a traitor?  The final section of the book is hard to put down.

A tense thriller, with vivid historical atmosphere.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Michael Ridpath was born in Devon in 1961, but brought up in Yorkshire. He was educated at Millfield, Merton College, Oxford. Before becoming a writer, Michael Ridpath used to work in the City of London as a bond trader.  He has written eight thrillers set in the worlds of business and finance, but is now trying his hand at something slightly different.  Where The Shadows Lie, the first in the Fire and Ice series featuring an Icelandic detective named Magnus Jonson, was published in 2010.  He has published two further books in the series.  He now lives in North London.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey’ by Nicolas Rhea

Published by Robert Hale Ltd,
31 October 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1168-5

Having been despatched from the police force by virtue of their advanced age, all the old crowd from ‘Heartbeat’ have reassembled at Maddleskirk Abbey where a private police force guards the monks, together with their extensive complex of properties including a private school, two hospitals, a cinema, theatre, sports centre, fire station, two libraries and a swimming pool, not to mention the Abbey itself.
Constable Nicholas Rhea from Aidensfield (Nick Rowan in the TV series ‘Heartbeat’), with the help of Ex-Sergeant Oscar Blaketon and ex-PC Alf Ventress, has helped set up a private police force headed by Prior Tuck so, with the territory being to all intents a small town, and one populated by monks, the officers are known as ‘monkstables’.

When a body is found in the abbey’s crypt, Nick is called to investigate. Having himself inherited a piece of land adjacent to the abbey, he has a vested interest in what is going on. As the investigation progresses, another problem arises when a boy in the college goes missing and when the true identity of the boy is revealed, the case takes a more serious turn.
Told in the first person by Nick, this is like one of those old-fashioned mysteries from the 1950’s and, while nowhere near as pacy as modern crime stories, it has an ambient charm and one gets sucked into the story although the idea of all these characters coming together in this setting is rather contrived. Even Claude Greengrass turns up. However, all the loose ends are neatly tied up and explained at the end and I can see this developing into another series.
Reviewer: Ron Ellis

Nicolas Rhea is only one of the six pseudonyms under which Peter Walker has written around 130 books in the last 40 years. He was born the son of an insurance agent and a teacher in 1936 in the North York Moors village of Glaisdale. The oldest of three children, he won a scholarship to Whitby Grammar School but left at 16 to become a police cadet. In 1956, he joined the North Yorkshire force as a beat bobby in Whitby. He also began to write seriously after years of casual interest, having his first short story published in the Police Review.
Three years later he moved to the region's Police Headquarters at Northallerton before being posted to Oswaldkirk, about 20 miles north of York, as the village bobby in 1964. He then became an instructor at the police training school in 1967, the same year as his first novel, Carnaby and the Hijackers, was published. He was promoted to sergeant in 1968 and inspector in 1976, when he was also appointed Press and Public Relations Officer. He retired in 1982 after 30 years' service to concentrate on his writing, encouraged by an interest in his Constable books from Yorkshire Television. Nicholas Rhea still writes full-time. He lives with his wife in a quiet North Yorkshire village.

Ron Ellis. Writer, Broadcaster and Photographer, Ron is the author of the popular series of crime novels set on Merseyside featuring Liverpool radio D.J./Private Eye, Johnny Ace. He also writes the D.C.I. Glass mystery series. As well as his fiction titles, Ron has written 'Southport Faces' a social history of the town seen through the eyes of 48 of its best-known residents. His 'Journal of a Coffin Dodger', the hilarious adventures of an 84 year old playboy, has been serialised on BBC Radio and poems from his collection of poetry, 'Last of the Lake Poets', have won several nationwide competitions. During the 1980's, he conducted over 192 interviews with friends and relatives of John Lennon for Albert Goldman's biography, 'The Lives of John Lennon'. Ron writes the football reports for the Southport Champion and is also their theatre and arts reviewer as well as being a regular contributor to magazines such as Lancashire Life. He runs his own publishing company, Nirvana Books.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Jim Nisbet

Radmila May reviews four novels by Jim Nisbet

Jim Nisbet is a US crime writer hardly known in the United Kingdom, writing novels set in the counterculture of San Francisco in the noir genre, a genre which goes beyond hard-boiled to a bleak conclusion with, usually, a beautiful but corrupt femme fatale at the heart. Not at all my usual scene. However, I am deeply impressed by all four of these novels. There is nothing like them that I have encountered in past or present crime fiction.

The author is not only a crime writer but a poet. Some of his prose is extraordinarily lyrical, elsewhere, particularly in the dialogue, bitingly witty. The meaning may sometimes be opaque (to say the least) and consequently extremely challenging to the reader. The plots are baroquely convoluted and the characters as fantastical as anything in Dickens. The texts are full of literary references which indicate post-modern tendencies, yet the writing as a whole, I would suggest, goes beyond post-modernism into a realm of its own.

‘Old and Cold’ by Jim Nisbet
Published by The Overlook Press,
13 June 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-59020-915-8

This novel is a tour de force. The unnamed narrator is a sixty-five-year-old alcoholic vagrant who tells his story in fifteen chapters each one written as a single paragraph consisting of his rambling thoughts and recollections in which he carries on a conversation with a voice in his head whom he addresses as Smart Money and also performs mental arithmetic acrobatics. So far, so near-schizophrenic, so autistic. But the narrator is also a hitman  and from time, while rootling about in litter bins, he collects $5000 in cash or gun wrapped in newspaper. After he carries out his side of the bargain, without remorse, he can then consume his reward in the form of one vodka martini after another - all he can think about. The reader is obviously not meant to like the character but will have to admire the sheer technical expertise of maintaining the narrative throughout the whole book.
‘Snitch World by Jim Nisbet
Published by The Overlook Press,
27 June 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-681-0

The protagonist Klinger (no first name), an unsuccessful petty crook is, after a failed smash-and-grab raid, down-and-out. But then he picks a pocket and this brngs him into contact with the new San Francisco world of criminal information technology where all that is needed to carry out a heist is a couple of taps on a smartphone. His old mates left behind, his new friends are a computer whiz-kid and the dangerously beautiful Marci. But can they be trusted? In an ending of tragic irony which demonstrates the writer‘s command of formal narrative structure, Klinger realises that the smash-and-grab raid, which he had forgotten about, may well be his undoing.

‘The Spider’s Cave’ by Jim Nisbet
Published by The Overlook Press,
13 June 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-59020-198-5

The Spider’s Cage begins ‘The indigo thatch of stars and space contained the desert night, the desert night contained a solitary building. Night and building evolved and moved imperceptibly, one about the other, cool and smooth like a pillow over a gun.’ The building is in fact a shack in which lived Edward ‘Sweet Jesus’ O’Ryan, rancher, cowboy, rodeo star, Hollywood extra, philanthropist and pioneer (and rich) oilman who had a taste for solitude and abstemiousness. But now O’Ryan is dead and the only creature to acknowledge his death for some days is a tarantula. Then his granddaughter country singer Jodie O’Ryan goes missing and her lover, the private detective Martin Windrow, searches for her through a bizarre social landscape featuring, among others, a Verlaine-quoting prostitute, an androgynous bodyguard, a pimp-entrepreneur-singer, a Salvadorean revolutionary, a car salesman hooked on tranquilizers, a cop who treats the common cold with cocaine cut with amphetamines. Finally the novel reaches its conclusion in that tarantula-infested shack in which O’Ryan died.

‘Prelude to a Scream’ by Jim Nisbet
Published by The Overlook Press,
12 September 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-59020-199-2

Seven years ago middle-aged drifter Stanley Ahearn saved the life of a little Chinese girl. Ever since her father, a prosperous storekeeper, has provided Stanley with a flat, a job driving a van and enough money to satisfy Stanley’s taste for casual sexual encounters. But then he meets in a bar an alluring green-eyed woman who calls herself Vivienne. Three days later he wakes up in hospital missing a kidney. Unfortunately his other kidney is diseased; without a replacement he could die. With a new kidney his chances would be immeasurably increased, but, also unfortunately, he has no medical insurance and so is cursorily discharged. He has already discovered, thanks to Detective Corrigan who interviewed him in hospital, that he is not the only victim of organ robbery; he has several predecessors. The only way to get the new kidney he needs so desperately is to track down the perpetrators of the robbery beginning with the mysterious Vivienne. He is aided in this by Iris, the nurse who tended him in hospital, but he should also have trusted Corrigan. As it is, the novel ends with Stanley in a far worse place then he was before - very much the victim. But there are humorous passages, as in the other novels, which lighten the tone. I particularly liked the scene in hospital when Stanley is coming round and is dimly aware that Iris and the surgeon are arguing about the merits or not of ‘socialised’ medicine. But when the surgeon realises that Stanley is uninsured he can’t wait to get him out of hospital, hence the subsequent plot developments. In another amusing scene Stanley and Iris are treated to a lecture by a taxi-driver on environmental issues.

These are bold and adventurous novels, recommended for readers who like a challenge.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Jim Nisbet  has published eleven novels, including the acclaimed Lethal Injection. He has also published five volumes of poetry. His novel, Dark Companion, was shorted-listed for the 2006 Hammett Prize. Various of his works have been translated into French, German, Japanese, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, Russian and Romanian.  2010 could be named “The Year of Jim Nisbet” as, in addition to the PM/Green Arcade publication of A Moment of Doubt, Jim has a new hardcover, Windward Passage (winner of the San Francisco Book Festival 2010 Award for Best Science Fiction) from Overlook Press, along with two reprints, kicking off Overlook's reissue of Jim's entire backlist, beginning with the long out of print Lethal Injection, and, to finish off an amazing four-novel year, The Damned Don't Die.  Aside from reading and performing his own work for some forty-five years, Nisbet has written and seen produced a modest handful of one-act plays and monologues, including Valentine, Note from Earth, WonderEndzSmackVision™ and Alas, Poor Yorick, and himself directed the original productions of most of these works.
Nisbet also owns and operates his own business, specializing in but not limited to the design and construction of its eponymous Electronics Furniture.

Sunday 23 March 2014

The Missing File by D. A. Mishani

Published by Bourbon St. Books, February 18, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-06-219538-8
Translated from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen

There's an old saying: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." It is a fitting almost reverse description of the author of this debut novel.  He is a literary scholar and editor of international fiction and crime literature at Keter Books in Israel, specializing in the history of detective literature.  So he is something of an anomaly. He has created a new protagonist, Israeli detective Avraham("Avi") Avraham, an introspective character who, while being a policeman, is unsure of himself when he is away from his duties.

In this case, he is confronted by the mother of a 16-year-old boy who is said to have left home one morning for school and disappearing. As Avi investigates what should be a simple missing person inquiry, it spirals out of control and takes over his life, ultimately becoming
complicated by a neighbor who inserts himself into the investigation with what may be false information.

Aside from the fact that the novel is set in Israel, where crime is a rarity, it could just as easily be a tale told elsewhere.  Avi is a memorable protagonist, and the plot is well thought out.  He is bruited about as the preeminent Israeli detective of the 21st Century. The translation is smooth, and the twist at the end is so unexpected that it is worthy of a more seasoned novelist.  And we look forward to the sequel, A Possibility of Violence, due out from Harper this summer. Recommended.
Reviewer: Ted Feit

D. A. Mishani (born in 1975) is an Israeli crime writer, editor and literary scholar, specializing in the history of detective fiction. His crime series, featuring police inspector Avraham Avraham, was first published in Hebrew in 2011 and is translated to more than 15 languages. The first novel in the series, "The Missing File", was shortlisted in 2013 to the CWA International dagger award. D. A. Mishani lives with his wife and two children in Tel Aviv.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

‘The Stone Boy’ by Sophie Loubiere

 Published by Trapdoor,
10 October 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-8474-4583-4

Having recently read an article bemoaning the lack of French novels that successfully make it through the language barrier (and - incidentally - wondering about the plethora of English language books that do succeed internationally) I was interested to read The Stone Boy, a translated French mystery.

Elsa Preau is a lonely woman. A former headmistress, whose employment ended in unfortunate circumstances, she is estranged from her husband, enduring a strained relationship with her son and a practically non-existent one with his wife and son. She spends her time observing the comings and goings in the neighbourhood. Her interest is piqued when she notices a local family with three children, only two of whom are enrolled in school. Imagining all kinds of abusive family dynamics, she is determined to get to the bottom of the situation.

As the reader learns more about Elsa's mental state, and history, the truth becomes ever more precarious and her motives questionable. Distraught that no one - not her son, the police or social services - will listen to her, Elsa takes matters into her own hands, with devastating consequences.

A beautiful narrative, and stylistically fascinating, the author utilises dialogue, monologue and correspondence to move the denouement along. I had breezed through the first third of the tale without even realising it. The extensive scene setting races through several decades - from 1946 to 2009, when the mystery appears to the reader for the first time.

Poignant, moving and tragic in many ways, abuse and mental illness dominate the denouement and leave a sad, empty space in the reader's heart at the conclusion.
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

Sophie Loubiere was born 10 December 1966. She is the author of five novels including The Stone Boy, for which she won several awards, including the French Prix Lion Noir for crime writing in 2011.


Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.