The Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn

 

Description: The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask.

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

Now the thief taker must find this murderous mastermind before the plague obliterates the evidence street by street. This terrifying pursuit will take Charlie deep into the black underbelly of old London, where alchemy, witchcraft and blood-spells collide.

In a city drowned in darkness, death could be the most powerful magic of all.

Opening: London, 1665
In the year of the Black Death London is a city of half-timbered houses and dark towers. In the narrow backstreets, astrologists predict the future, and alchemists conjure wonders. Traitors’ heads line London Bridge, where witches sell potions, and gamesters turn cards. The river flowing beneath lands a daily cargo of smuggler gangs and pirates.

Loved this from the very start: it is gory, graphic and dead gruesome. Many gizzard for dinner scenes so I suppose this is not for the squeamish, and the murdering hulk is terrifying so this is not for the shiverers either. Rest assured though, it is not a horror fic by any stretch of the imagination. The Thief Taker for all its grisly subject is written in a very upbeat fashion. I would loath to call it YA because lots of people have a very prejudiced mindset when it comes to that shelf. It is a highly enjoyable piece of hist-fic fluff.

Holborn Bridge: 1831 Drawn by Tho. H. Shepherd. Engraved by M. Woolnoth.

What a debut, and ike Oliver Twist, I’m asking for more of Charlie Tuesday. Three point five plague hoods rounded up for the sites that do not operate on half ratings.

Endorsed by my Peter James: ‘Quinn is a brilliant new talent!’
Images from the book

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

 

Description: How do you solve a crime when you can’t remember the clues?

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable – just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Some nice ratings around for this one already. Smashing.

I thought this an exceptionally clever debut novel, and we really get inside the mind of senile dementia. But what really is senile dementia if not just the notching up of internal dialogue to the exclusion of all else? Well it’s a safety hazard, that is apparent but not scary per se. I thought the grand-daughter dealt with it all better than daughter Helen.

However Healey did rather over-egg the pudding didn’t she, bet I wasn’t the only one screaming at the pages saying: ‘get the Foxtrot on with it, why don’t you.’

Like I said above, a clever debut where the some of the looseness should have been edited out. Three point five marrow flowers.

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Research by Philip Kerr

 

Quercus Books

Dedication:

For Harry Armfield

Description: If you want to write a murder mystery, you have to do some research… In a luxury flat in Monaco, John Houston’s supermodel wife lies in bed, a bullet in her skull. Houston is the world’s most successful novelist, the playboy head of a literary empire that produces far more books than he could ever actually write. Now the man who has invented hundreds of best-selling killings is wanted for a real murder and on the run from the police, his life transformed into something out of one of his books. And in London, the ghostwriter who is really behind those books has some questions for him too…

Opening: It was the American novelist William Faulkner who once said that in writing you must kill all your darlings; it was Mike Munns – another writer, but like me, not half as good as Faulkner – who made a joke out of this quote when he telephoned my flat in Putney that Tuesday morning.

Ironical it is that this story is published ~ nine months after Prayer. The blurb for ‘Research’ includes this: a book factory publishing many bestsellers a year – so many that he can’t possibly write them himself. Heh.

‘Research’ is a standalone book with unsympathetic, two-dimensional characters and the ugliest cynicism towards the written word and mentality of readers I have ever encountered. I can’t work out if it is full-on satire or just partial but the outcome is the same, readers will be insulted.

Every behaviour has its impact.

Mainly this is an attack on all those combo authorships of test-tosh thrillers that churn out many books a year, yet Kerr is in his own firing line, two crap books in a year.

I took time out half way through just to pick up other stories to reassure myself that some authors still feel passionate about writing and care for their readers; what a breath of fresh air.

Although technically this is marginally a better book than ‘Prayer’ purely because it doesn’t bring Old Scratch out to play, ‘Research’ flat-lined out of any enjoyment factor. There wasn’t enough good stuff to make a feedback sandwich so I’ll just deliver the line: cynicism, snark, distain for readers, and authorial career suicide is not a pretty thing to witness.

3.5* March Violets (Bernard Gunther, #1)
3.5* The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther, #2)
3.5* A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther, #3)
3.5* A Quiet Flame (Bernard Gunther, #5)
1* Prayer
1* Research

Prayer by Philip Kerr

 

Quercus Books

Description: A chilling modern horror story in which the source of the horror is totally unexpected – and utterly terrifying

Special Agent Gil Martins investigates domestic terrorism for the Houston FBI. Once a religious man, now his job makes him question the existence of a God who could allow the violence he sees every day.

Gil is asked to investigate a series of unexplained deaths of victims known for their liberal views.

When a woman tells Gil that these men have been killed by prayer, he questions her sanity. Yet the evidence mounts that there might be something in what she says, even more so when Gil finds that his own life is on the line.

This standalone is experimental for Kerr, where he invokes the devil to come out to play. Yep, Old Scratch hisself. RAWR. I feel Kerr has sadly mis-fired here and may have lost some of his fan-base.

Next up on my TBR is Kerr’s new one, Research, and I am now slightly nervous about just what the author of the fabulous Bernard Gunther stories is going to throw at me. But each book on its own merit, yes?

3.5* March Violets (Bernard Gunther, #1)
3.5* The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther, #2)
3.5* A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther, #3)
3.5* A Quiet Flame (Bernard Gunther, #5)
1* Prayer
TR Research

Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino, Martin L. McLaughlin (translator)

 

Description: From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century’s most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light.

Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak’s masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how many odysseys The Odyssey contains, and why Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories are a pinnacle of twentieth-century literature. From Ovid to Pavese, Xenophon to Dickens, Galileo to Gadda, Calvino covers the classics he has loved most with essays that are fresh, accessible, and wise. Why Read the Classics? firmly establishes Calvino among the rare likes of Nabokov, Borges, and Lawrence–writers whose criticism is as vibrant and unique as their groundbreaking fiction.

Opening: “In France they start to read Balzac at school, and judging by the number of editions in circulation people apparently continue to read him long after the end of their schooldays. But if there were an official survey on Balzac’s popularity in Italy, I am afraid he would figure very low down the list”

Calvino has some interesting points in each of the thirty-six essays, however this is really more for the serious lit-lovers. No doubt I shall reach for the relevent chapters when I get around to the books he discusses.So it’s a keeper for the reference library

Dead Men’s Bones by James Oswald

Dead Men's Bones (Inspector McLean, #4)

bookshelves: summer-2014, published-2014, mystery-thriller, series, newtome-author, e-book, fife, britain-scotland, ipad, casual-violence, contemporary, cults-societies-brotherhoods, execution, eye-scorcher, games-people-play, gangsters, gorefest, lifestyles-deathstyles, mental-health, net-galley, ouch, recreational-homicide, revenge, sleazy, superstitions, suicide, twist-on-a-theme

Read from August 02 to 03, 2014

 

Description: Dead Men’s Bones is the fourth novel in James Oswald’s phenomenal Inspector Mclean series set in Edinburgh.

The body of a prominent Scottish MP is discovered outside his home, a remote house in North East Fife. In a horrifying attack, Andrew Weatherly has killed his wife and two young daughters, before turning his gun on himself.

The question on everyone’s lips is why would this successful and wealthy man commit such a gruesome crime?

Inspector Tony McLean is surprised to find himself at the centre of this high profile investigation. The deeper he digs, the more McLean realizes he is being used in a game between shadowy factions from the world of power and privilege.

Pressure is on to wrap up the case. That would go against everything McLean believes in . . . but to carry on will threaten the lives of his closest friends and colleagues.

Opening: The pain is everywhere.
It pulses through his head is if there’s a hole in his skull and someone is squeezing his brain in time to his heart beat.

Several pals have reported that series is incredibly good and given this, my only foray so far, proves them right. It is the marvellous tone of the proceedings that makes this book stand out: the backdrop of Scotland in referendum year, the police coming to terms with Police Scotland and all the insecurities roiling in the wake of these issues. A lot of space is given over to ex-soldiers being unable to connect or settle down to civvy life after the horrors of Afghanistan and Iraq, so they become foot soldiers in the army of the homeless; a stark look at how Community Care fails in the bigger picture.

Inspector McLean is a man with recent injuries and who has to attend physiotherapy and counselling sessions and I mean to backtrack to the previous books to find out the answers to some of my questions, however this works well enough as a standalone.

The middle section of this story was eye-scorching, nevertheless, slight cracks started appearing towards the end; a supernatural element was alluded to on several occasions that seemed at odds with the story that had gone before. It could be posited that this was excellent police procedural for a good three quarters and then it seemed to change genre and leave some unresolved issues. For these issues Dead Man’s Bones loses glister where more patience in the fine-tuning would have made all the difference.

Would I recommend it? Oh yes, but with the above caveats. Three and a half bowls from Bobby’s soup kitchen.

‘The Bull’ Roslin Glen

Roslin Glen, cup and ring marks

————————————————————

James Oswald is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels. The first three, Natural Causes, The Book of Souls and The Hangman’s Song are also available as Penguin paperbacks and ebooks. He has written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, which is published by Penguin, as well as comic scripts and short stories.

In his spare time he runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914 by Thomas Otte

bookshelves: e-book, ipad, nonfiction, published-2014, net-galley, wwi, war, skim-through

Read from April 03 to June 22, 2014

 

Description: An unprecedented panorama of Europe on the brink

July 1914 is a definitive account of the crisis that led to the First World War. Offering a multi-national perspective on the events of that fateful summer, it focuses on the often haphazard and chaotic nature of decision-making in the capitals of Europe, showing how Europe descended into a largely inadvertent war. It is a riveting story of misperceptions and deliberate deceptions; of “doves” and “hawks” who struggled to comprehend a complex international situation; and of the collective failure of Europe’s ruling elites.

Going behind the scenes—from Berlin to London to St. Petersburg and beyond—July 1914 offers a powerful antidote to assumptions of the war’s inevitability.

P47: The assination of Franz Ferdinand had also removed the one man who on previous occasions had restrained the ‘war party’.

One hundred years ago the war that was to end all wars was brewing up. Otte has put together an erudite brick of a book chocablock with footnotes, references and sources. This is everything one would expect from university press however I was more beguiled by Tuchman’s approach: ‘I never did understand how France, on the defensive, managed to capture Alsace’ which sent her off to research and won the Pulitzer with her book The Guns of August.

Another easier read that had everything nailed wasGeorge, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I

Wiki bare facts:

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosnian Muslim), coordinated by Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s south-Slav provinces so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. Serbian military officers stood behind the attack. The assassination led directly to the First World War when Austria-Hungary subsequently issued an ultimatum against Serbia, which was partially rejected. Austria-Hungary then declared war, marking the outbreak of the war.

The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, close to the site of the assassination.

T. G. Otte is a professor of history at the University of East Anglia.

Commemorating the First World War: Titles from Cambridge
The Centennial of the First World War

Act of Will by A.J. Hartley

bookshelves: spring-2014, published-2009, tbr-busting-2014, e-book, ipad, amusing, adventure, fantasy, filthy-lucre, gambling, picaresque, play-dramatisation, willsphernalia, a-questing-we-shall-go

Recommended for: Those folk who loved The Belgariad
Read from May 09 to 15, 2014

 

Description: Act of Will is a boisterous fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake.

In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn’t believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do–and believe–to stand up for them.

Dedication: To Chris, my brother-in-arms

Translated from the Thrusian by A J Hartley. From the translator’s preface:

Until a few years ago, the collection of manuscripts now known as the Hawthorne Saga had been sitting in a climate-controlled case in an obscure English library for over a century, baffling all attempts to decipher the strange lanuguage in which they were written.

Opening: SCENE 1: The day started quietly, which, as it turned out, was not so much ironic as completely misleading. I had risen late after a long night memorizing speeches by the dodgy light of a cheap tallow candle.

In an alternative universe William, the nearly-old-enough-to-play-a-man’s-part, is wanted for sedition by the Diamond Empire…

Only a few pages in and it is excellent elizabethanesque romping – perfect spring weekend reading.

‘I had to get out of this dress, and out of town’

Thoroughly enjoyable and am looking for the next – sometimes mindless enjoyment does one the power of good.

My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone by Naktsang Nulo, Angus Cargill (Translation)

bookshelves: e-book, net-galley, translation, tibet, nonfiction, autobiography-memoir, history, spring-2014, buddhism, bullies, casual-violence, censorship, colonial-overlords, families, gangsters, ipad, lifestyles-deathstyles, ouch, politics, rid-the-world-of-tyrants, true-grime, published-2007, racism, religion, bucolic-or-pastoral, execution, superstitions, tragedy, war

Read from May 08 to 11, 2014


Translation provided by Angus Carghill and Sonam Lhamo

Including a foreword by The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

Description: In My Tibetan Chldhood, Naktsang Nulo recalls his life in Tibet’s Amdo region during the 1950s. From the perspective of himself at age ten, he describes his upbringing as a nomad on Tibet’s eastern plateau. He depicts pilgrimages to monasteries, including a 1500-mile horseback expedition his family made to and from Lhasa. A year or so later, they attempted that same journey as they fled from advancing Chinese troops. Naktsang’s father joined and was killed in the little-known 1958 Amdo rebellion against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the armed branch of the Chinese Communist Party. During the next year, the author and his brother were imprisoned in a camp where, after the onset of famine, very few children survived.

The real significance of this episodic narrative is the way it shows, through the eyes of a child, the suppressed histories of China’s invasion of Tibet. The author’s matter-of-fact accounts cast the atrocities that he relays in stark relief. Remarkably, Naktsang lived to tell his tale. His book was published in 2007 in China, where it was a bestseller before the Chinese government banned it in 2010. It is the most reprinted modern Tibetan literary work. This translation makes a fascinating if painful period of modern Tibetan history accessible in English.

The author and his brother in Chinese clothing at their first government school.

Opening to the Prelude: It was hot at noon that day. We were making our way wearily across a river when we heard guns firing repeatedly from up ahead. We had no idea what was going on, but we were all frightened. Everyone dismounted except for me. Some Tibetan gazelles, startled when they saw us, sprinted to the top of a mountain. I rode over and looked down to the road beneath. It was a Chinese military column, so long that you couldn’t see the beginning or the end of it. They were on horseback.

This autobiography opens out with Nulo’s early memories when there were many battles between the tent peoples, or nomads, on the grassy plains: one chiefdom or clan against another, and retributions sought. Another hazard was the nightime roving of armed bandits.

Written from the memory and onto the page, My Tibetan Childhood is a straight forward and compelling look at old Tibetan customs being smashed to pieces under the Chinese wrecking-ball. There are no hysterics here, nothing mawkish to clutch at pearls and weep into embroidered hankies about – the plain facts are too awful for that sort of pantomime. Just a plain recounting through a young man’s eyes.

Pranks, adventures, superstitions and some tears before bedtime: the story of youth everywhere. It was enjoyiable to read about Nulo’s young escapades and the hazards that life on the grassy plateau threw at him. However, as the Chinese troops come nearer the read becomes darker and infinitely vicious and some parts are tough to read.

This is an important book, one of the defining reads that makes one want to say ‘if you haven’t read this, then we have little in common.’

Sky burial details, murder and torture may disturb, not least because the words are unembellished, however the squeamish can quickly skim over the facts.

The Northeastern part of Amdo was where our author was born. Today, The Han-Chinese is a majority in the eastern part of Qinghai and the provincial capital Xining.

A Tibetan Intellectual, Naktsang Nulo, Shares His Thoughts on Self-Immolations in Tibet (from Jan 2013)

About the author: Naktsang Nulo (born in 1949) worked as an official in the Chinese government, serving as a primary school teacher, police officer, judge, prison governor, and county leader in Qinghai province, China, before retiring in 1993. Angus Cargill was formerly a Lecturer in the Department of Tibetan Language and Literature at Minzu University of China, Beijing.

Trivia: Coral plays a great part in Tibetan culture. It must be that at one time Tibet must have been covered with ocean.

“With little comment or condemnation, [My Tibetan Childhood] records the price paid in lives and lifestyles by the author’s family and community for their incorporation into modern China. . . . In many senses, it is a naive story, the chronicle of a world seen through a child’s eyes. But to readers within Tibet, it was a revelation. It told of epochal events that had rarely if ever been described before in print.”— Robert Barnett, from the introduction.

“As Naktsang tells it, the 1950s were a time of tremendous change: violence, war, exile, survival, and life and death defined so much of the everyday in Amdo and indeed across much of the Tibetan plateau. Told from the perspective of a child, his tale takes us into the complex and at times violent world of Tibetan clans and chiefs. We travel with him and experience the dangers faced on the road: bandits, soldiers, ferocious storms and cold fronts, and hungry wolves. . . . [And we] learn much of the violence that accompanied the ‘peaceful liberation’ of Amdo and the subsequent ‘reforms’ in the late 1950s.”—Ralph A. Litzinger, from the foreword.

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Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

bookshelves: spring-2014, dog-steals-the-show, e-book, environmental-issues, boo-scary, ipad, lifestyles-deathstyles, medical-eew, newtome-author, nonfiction, ouch, plague-disease, published-2012, tbr-busting-2014, zoology, sciences, bedside

Recommended for: GeeVee, Pat, Susanna, and all other disease lovers
Read from April 15 to May 01, 2014

 

Description: An engrossing, lively history of a fearsome and misunderstood virus that binds man and dog The most fatal virus known to science, rabies—a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans—kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.

If you can believe this, it IS my bedside read. Rabies has a better (i.e. worse) hit rate than bubolic plague: almost 100% death rate. Brrrr.

I have turned into a hydropochondriac – just how close did those pipstrelles come to the patio in the gloaming last night? And when Linnea’s microwave-ably small lap dog sneezed did some globules of spittle come my way?

I always wonder why those people who want horror stories never reach for non-fiction, because every chill the mind could possibly want is out there in reality.

3.5*