Book Review: A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Name:  A Talent for Murder
Author:  
Andrew Wilson
Number of Pages:
  416 (Paperback)
Published:
March 22nd 2018 by Simon & Schuster UK
Genre:  Mystery

Goodreads

Discover the real-life mystery centered on the queen of crime herself: Agatha Christie. In this tantalizing new novel, Christie’s mysterious ten-day disappearance serves as the starting point for a gripping novel, in which Christie herself is pulled into a case of blackmail and murder.
Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, is boarding a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events—for her rescuer is no guardian angel, rather he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.
Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge about the act of murder to kill on his behalf.
In A Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson ingeniously explores Agatha Christie’s odd ten-day disappearance in 1926 and weaves an utterly compelling and convincing story around this still unsolved mystery involving the world’s bestselling novelist.   – from Goodreads


My Rating:


My Thoughts:

Anyone who has visited my blog over recent months may have noticed I’ve become a bit of an Agatha Christie fan. I’m still fairly new to her world, having read around 5 or so of over 60 books, but I had read somewhere online about her real life disappearance.
In 1926 Christie disappeared from circulation without trace. After police involvement and widespread speculation several days later she was found; she had been staying at a hotel in Harrogate. No explanation or discussion revealed what had happened during that time, and so the mystery endures, and that’s the starting point for this fictional tale, A Talent for Murder.

Turning a real person into a fictional version and having her star in this tale, giving her voice, is quite intriguing, although at first I wasn‘t sure what to expect.
Wilson has created a character who is intelligent, brave, resourceful, and has her family at the heart of any decision she makes. For her family are the ones at risk when the villain of the piece, Dr Patrick Kurs, approaches Agatha and tells her she is going to commit a murder at his behest. The price if she refuses? He knows things, about her family, things that may prove damaging should they be publicly revealed.
He also knows she has a young daughter. It is perhaps this that ensures he has the attention of the famous novelist with a mind for a good murder plot. But writing fiction, going to dark places in an otherwise safe world is completely different from being faced with such things in reality, and watching Agatha come to terms with her adversary is enjoyable. Will she be forced to go through with the man’s request? Will the imagination that provides so many great and unexpected twists in the tale manage to find a way out before someone dies?

Kurs is a great villain because he’s an awful character. The way he so clinically and calculatingly talks of murder, as though it were such a small thing, and some of the things that happen later on in the story reassert that he is not a nice man at all, and I read on hoping that justice would prevail as far as he was concerned.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is referenced a few times, and I kept reading tentatively, hoping that nothing from that tale would be given away, as I haven’t read it yet and definitely plan to, but never fear, you can read A Talent for Murder without any risk of spoilers for Christie’s original novels.

The story unfolds for the majority from Agatha’s point of view, but there are also chapters from that of Kenward, the officer leading the search into her disappearance, who will not give up and refuses to be deterred despite the amounting expense and time involved in his searches, which are not yielding any concrete results.

Una Crow is an aspiring journalist who becomes intrigued by the disappearance of Mrs Christie, and makes it her work to find out as much as she possibly can to help find the missing novelist and write her own story regarding her disappearance.

A Talent for Murder is fact and fiction blended into an intriguing mystery tale, pitting the wits of a lady writer against a thoroughly nasty villain. It’s the first book in a series, and at the back of the edition I read two further books are detailed. A Different Kind of Evil is already available, I believe, and the following book sounds intriguing as well. I think I’ll be picking up both of them in the future.

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Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Name:  A Gentleman in Moscow
Author:  
Amor Towles
Number of Pages:
  480 (Paperback)
Published:
November 2nd 2017 by Windmill Books
Genre:  Historical

Goodreads

On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.
While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.   – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

A Gentleman in Moscow is utterly charming and an unexpected gem. It’s a novel you want to savour for the warmth and humour that flows from each page.

Placed under house arrest, the world of Count Rostov could become infinitely small – a disheartening set up, moved from his usual suite into a tiny attic room, robbed of most of his possessions, some of which are family heirlooms, and with the understanding that if he leaves the hotel again he will be shot – yet Alexander is of the mindset not to feel bitter, but to make the most and best of his new circumstances, acknowledging that if you don’t master them then they will master you.

Every aspect of the Metropol is bought vividly to life. Not only is it an upmarket hotel but, as the Count discovers, it is a whole world, with much hidden behind many doors that the average guest never even knows exists. In robbing the Count of his freedom to roam, his attention turns towards his new domain, and within the confines of the hotel his world expands infinitely; there is so much to discover, as revealed by the young Nina, who has an inquisitive nature and the master key to unlock any door.

Spending time in the company of Alexander Ilyich Rostov, even in such confines, is a total delight. His turn of phrase, his poise in the face of harm to his rather grand moustaches, splitting his trousers crawling around on the ballroom balcony, to various antics involving wardrobes, and unexpected arrivals, the whole thing is delightful whilst also covering upheavals and change over the decades of Alexander’s imprisonment, for that’s really what it is even if it’s a very grand prison.

I can’t say too much without spoiling this story, and while it may not hang on massive twists or revelations, there were certain points where I just didn’t see something coming, and each new discovery was a new pleasure. The Count is not one to sit idle, waiting on his status as ‘Your Excellency’, put it that way.

There are taunting one-eyed cats, out-of-control dogs, curious children, old friends and all manner of other creations. The Metropol’s door revolves and you just never know what or who is going to come into the Count’s life next, and how it will affect him.

In turning the final page of A Gentleman in Moscow I feel that I’m bidding farewell to old friends. I really didn’t want this book to end, and I can imagine venturing back into the world of Count Rostov for a re-read in the future.

Book Review: The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

Name:  The House on Half Moon Street
Author:  
Alex Reeve
Number of Pages:
  368 (Hardback)
Published:
May 3rd 2018 by Raven Books
Genre:  Historical, Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder.
Leo Stanhope. Assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret.
For Leo was born Charlotte, but knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – he fled his family home at just fifteen, and has been living as Leo ever since: his original identity known only to a few trusted people.
But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.
A wonderfully atmospheric debut, rich in character and setting, in The House on Half Moon Street Alex Reeve has created a world that crime readers will want to return to again and again.   – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The House on Half Moon Street has a great central character in Leo Stanhope. Leo is a man in his heart and soul, but he was born Charlotte Pritchard, and grew up as a reverend’s daughter. Tired of living a lie, Leo leaves home, conceals his physical form by way of some rather painful sounding cilice bindings, and lives his true life, finding lodgings in London and a job as a coroner’s assistant.

Leo aspired to a genuine love with Maria, a prostitute he regularly visited. For Leo at least, their arrangement had developed into genuine love and affection. I really wanted Leo to be happy, to have his dream of a life and home shared with Maria, and to have that shared afternoon at the theatre which he so looked forward to.
But then Maria turns up on the slab at the mortuary where Leo works, and suddenly everything he believed he knew is called into question.
For there may have been more to Maria, and isn’t it strange that Maria is actually the second body to turn up possibly linked to James Bentinck, the owner of the brothel where Maria worked?

Unhappy that the police are failing to find Maria’s killer, (Leo himself is under suspicion at first), Leo sets out to find out the truth.
The search takes him into the darkest parts of society, into the realms of domestic abuse, prostitution, abortionists and kidnappers. If that sounds a little grim, there’s great balance in that along the way Leo has friends and allies.
I enjoyed the domestic scenes in the pharmacy where Leo lodges with Alfie and his young daughter Constance, who quizzes Leo about various pharmacists’ offerings and what they are used to treat, winning herself tea and cake by outwitting Leo on several occasions.
There are villains who will stop at nothing to further their own ends, which makes them dangerous, and Leo finds himself in peril more than once.

The House on Half Moon Street is the first novel featuring Leo Stanhope. It is an atmospheric, well plotted mystery tale and captures Victorian London really well. Leo is a hero you really root for, a genuinely decent soul in a world that is sometimes quite dark. The cast of secondary characters adds colour, and I hope some of them appear in any future novels, which I will certainly look out for.

Book Review: Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

Name:  Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder #2)
Author:  
Brian McClellan
Number of Pages:
  639 (Paperback)
Published:
May 15th 2018 by Orbit
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

The country is in turmoil. With the capital city occupied, half a million refugees are on the march, looking for safety on the frontier, accompanied by Lady Flint’s soldiers. But escaping war is never easy, and soon the battle may find them, whether they are prepared or not.
Back in the capital, Michel Bravis smuggles even more refugees out of the city. But internal forces are working against him. With enemies on all sides, Michael may be forced to find help with the very occupiers he’s trying to undermine.
Meanwhile, Ben Styke is building his own army. He and his mad lancers are gathering every able body they can find and searching for an ancient artifact that may have the power to turn the tides of war in their favor. But what they find may not be what they’re looking for.   – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Wrath of Empire is the second book of the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, and picks up the story that began in Sins of Empire.

The search for the powerful and potentially dangerous godstones continues, as does the war with the Dynize. The Dynize are intent on finding these magical stones with the intention of creating a new god, and our heroes are determined not to let this happen.

Vlora, Taniel and Olem team up to wage battles both magical and military as they face threat from both the Dynize and Lady Chancellor Lindet, who has an arrest warrant out on Vlora.
Ben Styke has his orders, and leads his Mad Lancers and Ka-Poel on a mission, but revelations of past treachery send him off with his own personal vendetta in mind too.
Former spy Michel Bravis is tasked with finding and retrieving an informer known as Mara.

That’s so much going on, and at over 600 pages this is a long book, yet it never feels slow, or that any detail is filler. I really enjoyed the variety on offer, from the military tactics and battles between Vlora’s Riflejacks and their various enemies to the political scheming and undercover spying operations and the magic and mystery of the bone-eyes and the godstones. The story is perfectly paced.

McClellan creates some great characters. I still really like Vlora, and am glad she plays such a central role in this series. She’s strong, determined, and trying her best to live up to the legacy of Field Marshall Tamas, her mentor in the original Powder Mage series. With Olem and her mercenaries at her side I love reading of her dangerous expeditions.

Ben Styke is another fascinating character. Big, battle-scarred, betrayed and brutal, he also has a more thoughtful side, and when dealing with his past Styke is forced to confront the type of man he has been, and who he wants to be going forward, and his story is really engaging.

Ka-Poel comes more to the fore in Wrath of Empire, and watching her engage with Celine and Styke, and trying to figure out her heritage and the strength of her powers, which she is untrained in, is great. She’s come a long way from her first appearance in the original Powder Mage trilogy, and I can’t wait to see where her story goes. Alongside Vlora I think she’s possibly one of my favourite characters this time around.

With so much action, intrigue, magic, deception and twisting revelations, plus the arrival of characters old and new, Wrath of Empire is a great addition to the Powder Mage world. It powers on to a variety of exciting endpoints for our main characters, and it becomes clear that the task of protecting or destroying the godstones is going to prove far more involved and tricky than our heroes could ever have envisaged. There is still so much to discover, and I absolutely cannot wait for the release of Blood of Empire to see how this epic saga is going to play out, especially with some new arrivals towards the closing stages of this book.

 

Book Review: The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Poirot #2)

Name:  The Murder on the Links
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
  272 (Paperback)
Published:
May 21st 2015 by HarperCollins (Originally published 1923)
Genre:  Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

A millionaire dies…
‘One can see by his face that he was stabbed in the back’ said Poirot.
But the strangest feature of the case was where they found the body – in an open grave!
Hercule Poirot had answered an appeal for help – but he was too late!
MURDER – bizarre and baffling – had come to the Villa Genevieve.    – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Having resolved that I would like to read more Poirot I thought I might as well try them in order, where possible.  This depends on what the library have in stock as some of these books are pretty old and I’ve known them not to stock whole series before.
So, I consulted the list at the front of Styles.

Murder on the Links.  Links? That’s golf, yes?  Sure enough, a quick search for the cover revealed various golf-themed covers.  A golf-themed story? I wondered just how much I would enjoy that, given that I know nothing at all about golf, but I thought I’d give it a try.

The extent of golf related content is a body discovered on a golf course. Not a single golf club was used in the execution of this murder!  A little misleading maybe? Or a title to be taken literally.
The story surrounds a French villa and the family and inhabitants of said premises and their neighbours.  So don’t be dissuaded if golf isn’t your thing.

Poirot and Hastings journey to Merlinville-sur-Mer, France after the detective receives a letter from a millionaire in fear of his life. Alas, their arrival comes just after the man in question, Paul Renauld, is discovered murdered, stabbed in the back and left on an under-construction golf course.
And so begins Poirot’s next investigation, during which he encounters hostile detectives, mysterious women, hints of romantic intrigue, and a memory of an earlier case which sends him off to Paris in search of the truth.

Rather than Poirot being front and centre he’s part of an ensemble cast of detectives and investigators, from the examining magistrate M. Hautet, who welcomes Poirot’s input, to the commissary, to the unlikable Sûreté inspector Giraud, with his disdain for Poirot, whom he deems an ’old fossil’, and his ‘modern’ methods which often involve crawling around the floor and hiding in bushes. Hastings initially rather admires this man, which may be one of his less foolish choices when you witness certain other things he gets up to during the course of this investigation.  Let’s just say a pretty face holds much sway with poor Hastings.

I really like the friendship between Hastings and Poirot. The latter is older, wiser and more level-headed, and meets the hasty actions of his friend with balance, observing at one point that a certain lady definitely isn’t for Hastings, and, in due course, he’s proved right. He also offers to find Hastings a suitable match as well, and what Poirot sets his mind to, well…

Amidst the revelations and the apparent appearance of a second murder victim Poirot, in a cool manner, lets everyone, especially Giraud, go about their business and make their (often wrong) assumptions, keeping his counsel but willing to share certain points of interest to gain opinions, but admitting that he wouldn’t give anything away which may give his rival Giraud any advantage.

In the end of course the truth will out, and it’s a twisty old tale once revealed, a resolution I’m certain only Poirot could bring to light, with his little grey cells. It’s no spoiler to say that Poirot will triumph, not only in solving this case, but also in his competition with Giraud. And on that note let me leave you with a line that made me smile as I witnessed the mutual dislike between Poirot and Giraud draw to its conclusion.

“The great Giraud is nothing but a toy balloon – swollen with its own importance. But I, Hercule Poirot whom he despises, will be the little pin that pricks the big balloon – comme ca!”

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Poirot #1)

Name:  The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
  304 (Paperback)
Published:
June 4th 2004 by HarperCollins (Originally published 1920)
Genre:  Mystery, Crime

Goodreads

The famous case that launched the career of Hercule Poirot. When a wealthy heiress is murdered, Poirot steps out of retirement to find the killer. As the master detective makes his way through the list of suspects, he finds the solution in an elaborately planned scheme almost impossible to believe.    – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I’ve just finished reading my second Poirot novel. All this started after I watched the new Murder on the Orient Express movie and wondered how the book would compare. Cutting a long story short, I enjoyed that book so much I knew I wanted to read more, so I ventured back to the very beginning, and if you read no further than this, all you need to know is once again I’ve been left wondering how on earth I missed Agatha Christie’s work for so long, and how much I have to read now.

Originally published in 1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles introduces Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a former policeman and refugee who, through the kindness of Mrs Inglethorp finds himself residing at Leastways Cottage with a group of fellow refugees.
There is treachery afoot at Styles and when Mrs Inglethorp dies in suspicious circumstances Poirot is called in by his friend Hastings to investigate.

The foreword to the novel mentions that Christie’s sister bet that Agatha couldn’t write a detective story, and so that’s exactly what she set out to do. Having worked in a hospital dispensary, she already had knowledge of various poisons, which came in handy in writing the story.
It was a long road to eventual publication, and the original ending was changed. The edition I read features the original abandoned ending in an appendix, so it was interesting to get the chance to read both versions, which came to the same conclusion via a slightly different location/method.

There are a number of potential suspects at Styles, all of them apparently hiding something, so, with plenty of motives and opportunities there’s certainly a mystery to unravel in this tale. I liked all the main characters, they seemed really well fleshed-out, but on to the leads…

This is the first time I’ve met Hastings, and I loved his narration of events at Styles. His conversational observations, his dream aspiration to be a detective, the way he assumes this or that. I had a definite image in mind of Hastings just from the book as I’ve never seen the character in any other adaptation (isn’t it amazing what can pass you by).
As Hastings makes his own theories and guesses, often overlooking all that Poirot hints and tells him is so obvious (must be his little grey cells that make him see what the rest of us miss) it leaves us free to solve the mystery along with Hastings. For once I hadn’t seen an adaptation of this story so I had no idea whodunnit. I guessed, I was wrong. What more can I say? Perhaps my skills as amateur detective will improve as I read more of these books. Or, maybe not…

And there’s Poirot himself. What a character. Calm and intelligent, patient to sift through the details and find what most people have overlooked, yet quick to a temper if he’s missed something, and not above causing a scene, going around shouting or running off down the drive in an excited state leaving people wondering what on earth is going on.

I love the time period in which the story is set, the grand old house, full of secrets, full of suspects, the lack of modern technology making it necessary to seek out clues and piece them together amidst red herrings, deceptive characters and actual facts. Given that the book was written almost 100 years ago it doesn’t feel that dated, lack of modern tech aside. I think I actually prefer this bygone-era approach to crime solving, it really kept me guessing.

The only thing I’m really left wondering – are all the books this good? So far I’ve enjoyed each one, they’re such a change from my usual reading. I can’t imagine it will be long before I’m picking up another book in the Poirot series.

 

Book Review: A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Name:  A Time of Dread
Author:  
John Gwynne
Number of Pages:
  480 (Hardback)
Published:
January 11th 2018 by Pan MacMillan
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

The Ben-Elim, a fierce race of warrior-angels, burst into the Banished Lands over a hundred and thirty years ago. They were in pursuit of their eternal enemy, the Kadoshim demon-horde. On that day a great battle was fought, the Ben-Elim and Kadoshim joined by allies from the races of both men and giants, and a great victory was won.
Now much of the Banished Lands is ruled by the Ben-Elim, who have made this world their home, extending their influence and power as they swallow ancient kingdoms into the protective grasp of their ever-extending borders. But peace is fragile within the realm and the Kadoshim that remain are now amassing on the edges of the empire….
Threats long in the shadows are about to strike.    – from Goodreads


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

This is the first book by John Gwynne I’ve ever read, but I doubt it will be the last.
I do wonder if I missed out a little by not having read The Faithful and the Fallen first, as characters and events were referenced that I guess would have given long-time readers that special hit of nostalgia. I knew that going in, but I can never resist a brand new book, and there was enough detail provided early on that I never felt totally lost.
The long history before this story began is something I would certainly like to read more about now I’ve discovered the Banished Lands for myself, so I’ll probably pick up the first Faithful and the Fallen book at some point, because if those books are anything like this then I’m sure I’d enjoy them.

The tale begins with a greatly described battle which drew me right into the action. Two feuding clans break the peace and the price is high when the Ben-Elim, a race of warrior-angels, arrive to restore order and exact a price for the blood spilled on both sides.
Bleda is a young boy at the time of the initial battle and is taken by the Ben-Elim as their ward, as is Jin, a young girl from the opposing clan. This is the consequence of breaking the peace, and the pair are taken to Drassil.
The main story picks up several years later as the Ben-Elim and their White-Wing forces aim to maintain peace and discover the threat from the dangerous Kadoshim.

Amidst the violence, the bone-crunching, blood-splattering, and limb-lopping, there are some wonderful characters and relationships in A Time of Dread. Four main character viewpoints all offer something totally different as the overall threat of the fearsome Kadoshim draws closer. Loyalty, friendship, honour, and betrayal all play a part in the narrative.
I loved Drem and his father Olin, and Riv, her sister Aphra, and their mother Dalmae. The family ties are strong, showing the great lengths these parents will go to to protect their children, even when the children are mostly grown up.

My favourite viewpoints were Bleda and Riv.
Riv is human, born into the White-Wings at Drassil, and wants to follow her mother and sister into battle and glory in the fight against their enemies, but she has a terrible temper, and her rage so often overcomes her, leading to fights with those who should really be her allies. Unpredictable, and a little wild, she’s well aware that she needs to get it under control or risk never passing her warrior trial and becoming a full-fledged White-Wing. I had a guess how her story would develop and happily was right (doesn’t happen often!), and now I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next book.
I also liked the way her relationship with Bleda grows over the course of the story.

The tension mounts as the various story threads come together. There are revelations and epic battles which make for fast-paced and exciting reading.   I almost couldn’t put the book down for the last hundred pages or so. I’m definitely going to look out for the next book in this series and very much look forward to returning to the Banished Lands.