Slade House: A Novel by David Mitchell

bookshelves: winter-20152016, dec-2015-free-for-all, published-2015, radio-4, fantasy, gothic, ghosties-ghoulies, supernatural, beautifully-put, a-cut-above, boo-scary, lit-richer, britain-england

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from March 13 to December 20, 2015


13.03.2015: Oooh – the culmination takes place on Hallowe’en this year. Let’s hope it is a dark and stormy night! ETA – I type this on the second Friday the 13th of the year. Superstition much, Bettie?



Description: Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents—an odd brother and sister—extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .

Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story—as only David Mitchell could imagine it.

1/10: The Right Sort, 1979: Nathan Bishop is dragged to Slade House by his pianist mother, who is desperate to make the right impression on her potential patron Lady Grayer. Read by James Anthony Pearson

2/10: Shining Armour, 1988: Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds reckons he’s on a fool’s errand. He’s been sent to find a mysterious mansion called Slade House, following up the sighting of a missing mother and son nine years earlier. Read by Robin Laing.

3/10: Oink Oink, 1997: After joining the university’s Paranormal Society to get closer to a boy, Sally Timms goes on her first field trip. Slade Alley is the destination; site of several mysterious disappearances over the years. Read by Rebecca Hamilton.

4/10: You Dark Horse You, 2006:
Journalist Freya Timms arrives at the ‘Fox and Hounds’ pub near Slade Alley to meet a witness who claims to have information about her sister’s disappearance, nine years earlier. Read by Debra Baker.

5/10: Astronauts, 2015: A shifty man in his early twenties waits near Slade Alley to greet psychiatrist Dr Iris Marinus-Fenby, who has followed a trail from the late Fred Pink’s diaries. Read by Amelia Lowdell.

Mr Mitchell plays around with his favourite number.

A Share In Death by Deborah Crombie


Description: A week’s holiday in a luxurious Yorkshire time-share is just what Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Duncan Kincaid needs. But the discovery of a body floating in the whirlpool bath ends Kincaid’s vacation before it’s begun. One of his new acquaintances at Followdale House is dead; another is a killer. Despite a distinct lack of cooperation from the local constabulary, Kincaid’s keen sense of duty won’t allow him to ignore the heinous crime, impelling him to send for his enthusiastic young assistant, Sergeant Gemma James. But the stakes are raised dramatically when a second murder occurs, and Kincaid and James find themselves in a determined hunt for a fiendish felon who enjoys homicide a bit too much.

The crime story was solid police procedural, however the writing was hackneyed and cliche-ridden and peopled with heart-shaped faces.

I do have more in this series in the dusty storage box, yet it might be a while before I get to them.

Means of Evil and Other Stories by Ruth Rendell


Nigel Anthony 5 Hours 31 Mins

Description: Nigel Anthony’s reading sets this recording of five short mysteries by Rendell above others in the genre. Chief inspector Wexford and inspector Burden investigate poisonings, baby-swapping, theft, and forgery in “Means of Evil,” “Old Wives Tales,” “Ginger and the Kingsmarkham Chalk Circle,” “Achilles Heel,” and “When the Wedding Was Over.” The venues vary in these classic English mysteries from Kingsmarkham to the south of France and California, but the characters, for the most part, lack development somewhat. Puzzle-solving listeners may enjoy these short, flat pieces,but they are perhaps not the best examples her work.

3* From Doon With Death (Inspector Wexford, #1)
3* A New Lease of Death (Inspector Wexford, #2)
3* Wolf to the Slaughter (Inspector Wexford, #3)
2* The Best Man to Die (Inspector Wexford, #4)
3* A Guilty Thing Suprised #5
3* No More Dying Then (Inspector Wexford, #6)
3* Murder Being Once Done (Inspector Wexford, #7)
3* Some Lie and Some Die (Inspector Wexford, #8)
3* Shake Hands Forever (Inspector Wexford, #9)
3* A Sleeping Life (Inspector Wexford, #10)
3* Put on by Cunning (Inspector Wexford #11)
1* Speaker of Mandarin (Inspector Wexford, #12)
3* An Unkindness of Ravens (Inspector Wexford, #13)
3* The Veiled One (Inspector Wexford, #14)
3* Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter (Inspector Wexford, #15)
3* Road Rage (Inspector Wexford, #17)
3* Harm Done (Inspector Wexford, #18)
3* The Babes in the Wood (Inspector Wexford, #19)
3* End in Tears (Inspector Wexford, #20)
3* Not in the Flesh (Inspector Wexford, #21)
1* The Monster in the Box (Inspector Wexford #22)
2* The Vault (Inspector Wexford, #23)
2* No Man’s Nightingale (Inspector Wexford #24)

3* Means Of Evil – Wexford Short Stories

No Man’s Nightingale (Inspector Wexford #24) by Ruth Rendell


Description: A female vicar named Sarah Hussein is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who discovers her body, happens to also be in the employ of retired Chief Inspector Wexford and his wife. When called on by his old deputy, detective inspector Mike Burden, Wexford, intrigued by the unusual circumstances of the murder, leaps at the chance to tag along with the investigators.

A single mother to a teenage girl, Hussein was a woman working in a male-dominated profession. Moreover, she was of mixed race and working to modernize the church. Could racism or sexism have played a factor in her murder?

As Wexford searches the Vicar’s house, he sees a book on her bedside table. Inside the book is a letter serving as a bookmark. Without thinking much, Wexford puts it into his pocket. Wexford soon realizes he has made a grave error in removing a piece of valuable evidence from the scene without telling anybody. Yet what he finds inside begins to illuminate the murky past of Hussein. Is there more to her than meets the eye?

3* From Doon With Death (Inspector Wexford, #1)
3* A New Lease of Death (Inspector Wexford, #2)
3* Wolf to the Slaughter (Inspector Wexford, #3)
2* The Best Man to Die (Inspector Wexford, #4)
3* A Guilty Thing Suprised #5
3* No More Dying Then (Inspector Wexford, #6)
3* Murder Being Once Done (Inspector Wexford, #7)
3* Some Lie and Some Die (Inspector Wexford, #8)
3* Shake Hands Forever (Inspector Wexford, #9)
3* A Sleeping Life (Inspector Wexford, #10)
3* Put on by Cunning (Inspector Wexford #11)
1* Speaker of Mandarin (Inspector Wexford, #12)
3* An Unkindness of Ravens (Inspector Wexford, #13)
3* The Veiled One (Inspector Wexford, #14)
3* Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter (Inspector Wexford, #15)
3* Road Rage (Inspector Wexford, #17)
3* Harm Done (Inspector Wexford, #18)
3* The Babes in the Wood (Inspector Wexford, #19)
3* End in Tears (Inspector Wexford, #20)
3* Not in the Flesh (Inspector Wexford, #21)
1* The Monster in the Box (Inspector Wexford #22)
2* The Vault (Inspector Wexford, #23)
2* No Man’s Nightingale (Inspector Wexford #24)

My History: A Memoir of Growing Up by Antonia Fraser

bookshelves: radio-4, published-2015, winter-20152016, autobiography-memoir, dec-2015-free-for-all, nonfiction, books-about-books-and-book-shops, lit-crit, lit-richer

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from December 04 to 18, 2015



Description: The early life of historian Lady Antonia Fraser. Her memoir describes growing up in the 1930s and 1940s but its real concern is with her growing love of History. The fascination began as a child – and developed into an enduring passion. She writes, ‘for me, the study of History has always been an essential part of the enjoyment of life’.

Born Antonia Pakenham, the eldest of the eight children of the future Lord and Lady Longford, her childhood was spent in Oxford where her father was a don at Christ Church. Evacuation at the beginning of the war to a romantic Elizabethan manor house near Oxford was an inspiration for historical imaginings. There were adventures in Anglo-Ireland at Dunsany Castle and Pakenham Hall, each offering her treasured links to the past, which became private obsessions.

North Oxford wartime life included four years as one of the few girls then admitted to the Dragon School for Boys, followed by time at a convent school after her family’s conversion to Catholicism. Antonia’s father joined the Labour Government in 1945 as a Minister, which provided an odd background for exploits such as working in a Bond Street hat shop and a season as a self-made debutante. A job in publishing, by a fortunate coincidence, followed Oxford University and then the dramatic leap forward with the publishing of Mary Queen of Scots, which became a worldwide bestseller to general amazement – including that of the author.

The first episode of My History begins with the 4-year-old Antonia Pakenham being given Our Island Story by her godmother, a book whose impact reverberated through her life and inspired her to write history.

2/5: the teenage Antonia immerses herself in the world of Georgette Heyer and sees the world very much through romantic eyes, but she still enters the school history prize competition.

3/5: Antonia has converted to Catholicism as is pressured to become a nun. But she wants to be a journalist in the tabloid press and become a Deb – choices that come under critical gaze from the nuns who teach her and the Socialist mother who regards Court as frivolous.

4/5: the author falls in love with a young man, as her love of history matures and deepens at university. However, work struggles to compete for the attention of a young woman living and working in London with a new found appreciation for nightclubs.

5/5: Antonia Pakenham – now Fraser after her marriage to MP Hugh Fraser – writes her first serious book, a biography of Mary Queen of Scots, transforming her life.

Bad Apples by Christopher Lee

bookshelves: published-1998, eng-esussex-brighton, britain-england, winter-20152016, dec-2015-free-for-all, radio-4x

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from December 10 to 18, 2015

Description: Is a disturbing murder on a Brighton beach a drug-related killing – or a case of something more sinister to investigate for intelligence officers Henry Colvil and Alex Soames?

Christopher Lee’s six-part thriller stars Christopher Benjamin as Henry Colvil and Amanda Redman as Alix Soames. With Dudley Sutton as DCI Guscott, Sue Jones Davies as DS Gwen Jenkins and Sheila Reed as Miranda Peel.

1: A disturbing murder on a Brighton beach is set to cause government shockwaves.

2: Guscott asks for help to discover why a drug dealer has the Home Secretary’s home phone number.

3: The duo learn that Tate is connected to a holiday flat once rented by the home secretary

4: MI6 discover that the home secretary was in Brighton the night before the murder.

5: It turns out the murder victim is not dead after all. So whose body is on the slab.

6: The conncetion between the PM’s press secretary and the body is revealed

When Red Is Black by Qiu Xiaolong

bookshelves: winter-20152016, shanghai, series, dec-2015-free-for-all, communist-lit-richer, mystery-thriller

Read from December 04 to 17, 2015


Description: Crime drama set in early 1990s Shanghai. When Chen agrees to do a translation job for a property developer he is given a laptop, a ‘little secretary’ to provide for his every need, and medical care for his mother. There are, it seems, no strings attached . . . and then the murder of a dissident writer is reported.

Director: David Hunter

The third dramatisation in the Inspector Chen series, following on from Death of a Red Heroine & A Loyal Character Dancer.

When the murder of a dissident writer is reported Sergeant Yu is forced to take charge of the investigation. The victim, a middle-aged teacher with a dissident past and a book notorious in the West, has been found dead in her tiny room in a converted multi-family house. It is only when Chen, on leave to complete a lucrative translation project gets involved, and the past excavated, that the murderer is eventually found.

Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. As well as writing the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, he is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T’ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu’s books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He lives in St. Louis, USA with his wife and daughter.

3.5* Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Cao #1)
3* A Loyal Character Dancer (Inspector Chen Cao #2)
3* When Red Is Black (Inspector Chen Cao #3)

A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong

Description: Shanghai, early 1990s. When a former dancer and party loyalist at the heart of a people smuggling operation to the USA goes missing Inspector Chen is under political pressure to find her, tactfully host a young female US Marshall and find the connection with a grisly Triad murder.

Director: David Hunter

A badly mutilated body turns up in Shanghai’s Bund Park. It bears all the hallmarks of a triad killing.

Then former dancer and party loyalist Wen Liping vanishes in rural China just before she was to leave the country. Her husband, a key witness against a smuggling ring suspected of importing aliens to the US, refuses to testify until she is found and brought to join him in America.

The US immigration agency, convinced that the Chinese government are hiding something, send US Marshal Catherine Rohn to Shanghai to join the investigation.

Inspector Chen, an astute young policeman with twin passions for food and poetry, is under political pressure to find answers fast. When Catherine Rohn joins him he must tread very carefully.

The dramatisation of the second book in the Inspector Chen series, following the first, Death of a Red Heroine, and preceding the third, When Red is Black. All set in early 1990s Shanghai, in a China poised for rapid change.

Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. As well as writing the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, he is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T’ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu’s books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He lives in St. Louis, USA with his wife and daughter.

3.5* Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Cao #1)
CR A Loyal Character Dancer (Inspector Chen Cao #2)

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

bookshelves: e-book, winter-20152016, dec-2015-free-for-all, russia, russia-moscow, spies, published-2013, debut, finland, finland-helsinki, first-in-series, series, rid-the-world-of-tyrants, betrayal, assassination, bullies, casual-violence, censorship, cold-war-v2, corruption, decline-disintergration-degradation, games-people-play, gangsters, gulp, life-is-cheap-around-here, lifestyles-deathstyles, look-behind-you, mediaeval-mentality, mystery-thriller, newtome-author, oneupmanship, ouch, politics, recreational-homicide, recreational-drugs, revenge, sleazy, totalitarian, tricksy, adventure, contemporary, cult-yah, eye-scorcher, families, fascinating-fayre, food-glorious-food, italy, italy-rome, north-americas, us-washington-dc, greece, greece-athens

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: CLM
Read from September 08 to December 17, 2015


How to do The Mendacious: Dec 2015

… and Trump is great, Blatter should get the Nobel, so what if we lied about being in Ukraine and such a shame that black box was broken but the economy is doing well…

Description: In today’s Russia, dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a first-tour CIA officer who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow. Seeking revenge against her soulless masters, Dominika begins a fatal double life, recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington; hunt down a Russian illegal buried deep in the U.S. military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Putin’s intelligence service. Dominika and Nathaniel’s impossible love affair and twisted spy game come to a deadly conclusion in the shocking climax of this electrifying, up-to-the minute spy thriller.

Opening: Twelve hours into his SDR Nathaniel Nash was numb from the waist down. His feet and legs were wooden on the cobblestones of the Moscow side street. It had long since gotten dark as Nate ran the surveillance detection route designed to tickle the belly hairs of surveillance, to stretch them, to get them excited enough to show themselves. There was nothing, not a hint of units swirling, leapfrogging, banging around corners on the streets behind him, no reaction to his moves. Was he black? Or was he being had by a massive team? In the nature of The Game, not seeing coverage felt worse than confirming you were covered in ticks.

Brutally deprived of her calling as ballerina with the Bolshoi, Dominika’s uncle Vanya steps in with a job offer that will ensure her mother can keep her apartment after the sudden death of her husband.

A bunch of folk didn’t appreciate the recipes, where I did, very much for the first third or so, and as I tap away here my Beet Soup is bubbling away in the pot in the kitchen and smells delicious. My pet peeve #1 was the aura thing, it really grated, and turned the mainly credible story into gimmick. #2 – too long, and if all the recipes and food descriptions were removed it would amount to circa 200 pages.

This is not literature but it is good story-telling by one who knows his spy trade and I can’t accuse Matthews of making me loathe Putin and his cronies, I was already there.

When will Mr and Mrs Average Russia get a break – through the centuries it has been consistently terrible for them.

To keep things straight:

MARBLE: in his sixties, major general in the SVR, which was the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the Kremlin’s overseas spies. MARBLE had been in harness for fourteen years.

SVR First Deputy Director: Ivan (Vanya) Dimitrevich Egorov
Alexei Zyuganov (Lyosha)
Dominika Egorova: twenty-five years old, with dark chestnut hair. Niece of Vanya Egorov. The Sparrow of the title.
Dimitri Ustinov: Gangster oligarch
Sergey Matorin: SVR staff officer with the rank of major
V Putin: toxic narcissist

CIA Chief of Station: Gordon Gordoff

NPPD – spy pollen (who knew!)

HELSINKI(where The Game begins)

Tom Forsyth, Chief of Station
Marty Gable- deputy
Tarik – turkish hash house owner
Jaana and Marcus Räikkönen (ARCHIE and VERONICA)

Maxim Volontov, SVR rezident in the Russian Embassy
Marta Yelenova

Melt butter in a large pot; add a chopped onion and sauté until translucent; stir in three grated beets and one chopped tomato. Pour in beef stock, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Broth should be tart and sweet. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and chopped dill.

Slice a twelve-inch loaf of Cuban bread partway through lengthwise and fold flat. Drizzle olive oil on outside and slather yellow mustard inside. Layer glazed ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced pickles. Close and press for ten minutes in a plancha or between two hot foil-wrapped bricks (heat bricks for an hour in a 500-degree oven). Cut in thirds on the diagonal.

Season one cup flour with baking powder and kosher salt. Add milk, egg, and clarified butter, and blend into a smooth batter. Cook a tablespoon of the batter at a time over medium low heat until blini are golden on both sides. Serve topped with red caviar, salmon, crème fraîche, sour cream, and fresh dill.

Caramelize chicken livers, pancetta, and garlic, then deglaze pan with brandy. Hand-chop mixture with parsley, capers, shallots, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil into a coarse texture. Add additional olive oil. Serve on toast with lemon.

Mix and chill compound butter with garlic, tarragon, lemon juice, and parsley. Pound chicken breasts into wafer-thin cutlets. Roll tightly around thumb-sized pieces of compound butter, tie with twine. Dust with seasoned flour, dip in egg wash, coat with bread crumbs, fry until golden brown.

Blanche cabbage leaves, cook rice. Sauté chopped onions, carrots, and peeled and seeded tomatoes until soft, incorporate with the rice and ground beef. Fold cabbage leaves around two spoons of mixture to form large square envelopes. Fry in butter until brown, then simmer for one hour in stock, tomato sauce, and bay leaves. Serve with reduced sauce and sour cream.

Purée red bell and hot peppers with salt and olive oil. Add purée to ground lamb, chopped onion, garlic and parsley, finely cubed butter, coriander, cumin, paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Knead and shape into flat kebabs; grill until almost charred. Serve with grilled pide bread and thinly sliced purple onions sprinkled with lemon and sumac.

Boil coarsely chopped potato, thinly sliced onions, and carrots in beef broth until soft. Add thin noodles and cook until done. Put boiled beef in bottom of bowl and pour broth and vegetables over.

Season and dust with flour small cubes of beef and brown aggressively. Remove meat. Sauté chopped bacon, diced onion, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and thyme until soft. Return meat to pan, cover with beef broth, and simmer until meat is tender. Blend in Dijon mustard, splash of heavy cream; reheat and serve.

Cook seasoned, medium-sliced potatoes and chopped onions in abundant olive oil until soft, then remove and drain. Add beaten eggs to potatoes and onions and return to oiled pan on medium heat until edges and bottom start to brown. Place plate over skillet, invert, then slide tortilla back into pan and cook until golden brown.

Deeply brown large chunks of peeled sugar pumpkin, cover liberally with sugar, and bake covered in medium oven until tender and caramelized. Serve over thick meat sauce of sautéed ground beef, diced onions, garlic, tomato sauce, and water. Garnish with sauce of drained yogurt, dill, and puréed garlc.

In heated olive oil reduce peeled, chopped tomatoes, onions, sugar, salt, and pepper to a thick sauce. Add beaten eggs to the tomatoes and stir vigorously until eggs set into a small, fine curd. Serve with grilled country bread drizzled with olive oil

Blend sautéed shallots, crème fraîche, and grated Neufchâtel cheese and pour mixture into a springform pan. Sprinkle with chopped boiled eggs. Spread a thin layer of small-gauge caviar (Ossetra or Sevruga) on top of torte and chill. Unmold and spread on blinis or toast points.

Pound small medallions of veal paper-thin. Season and quickly sauté in butter and oil until golden. Remove and cover. Deglaze pan with dry white wine and lemon juice, boil to reduce. Lower heat, add thin lemon slices, capers, and cold butter. Gently simmer to a thick reduction (do not bring back to a boil). Return medallions to sauce to warm.

In foaming butter, separately and aggressively brown cubed beef, potatoes, and diced onions until crisp. Incorporate ingredients in the skillet with additional butter, season and reheat. Form a well in the mixture, and break a raw egg into it. Stir the egg into the hash before serving.

In a mortar, roughly grind chopped onions, ginger, chili, cardamom, clove, coriander, paprika, cumin, and salt into a smooth paste. Add bay and cinnamon. Add heated clarified butter. Cook until fragrant. Add cubed pieces of lamb, stir in yogurt, warm water, and pepper. Bake in medium oven for two hours. Sprinkle with coriander.