Review: “England Expects” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from reading spin-off novels and take a look at a detective novel that I’d planned to read about two or three years ago. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2014 novel “England Expects”. This was part of a boxset of the first three of Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” novels that I was given by a family member for Christmas in 2016.

At the time, I read the first two books (but only got round to reviewing the first one) and also ended up getting a copy of the fourth one . A couple of months ago, I ended up reading the fifth novel because I couldn’t find my copies of the third and fourth books at the time. Needless to say, they turned up shortly afterwards and I’ve been meaning to read them ever since.

Although “England Expects” is the third novel in a series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. Yes, you’ll get slightly more out of it if you already know the characters from the first two books, but it tells a fairly self-contained detective story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “England Expects”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) paperback edition of “England Expects” that I read.

The novel begins in Brighton in 1953. It is a bright summer day and Express reporter Joey Gillingham has just arrived in the city to investigate a story. But, since he has a bit of time to spare, he decides to stop off at a local barbershop for a shave and a haircut. Whilst the barber goes into the backroom to get some tea for Joey, a mysterious man strides into the shop and slashes Joey’s throat.

Needless to say, ex-military intelligence officer turned debt collector and unofficial detective Mirabelle Bevan is intrigued when she hears about the murder. Her friend and colleague, Vesta, has other things on her mind though. Her partner Charlie has proposed to her and she isn’t sure whether to accept or not, because she worries that it might affect her job with Mirabelle. So, the case provides a welcome distraction for her too.

Not only that, the lead detective on the investigation (McGregor) is shocked to hear that one of his detectives has moved Joey’s body before he had a chance to examine it and that Joey’s notebook is missing. And, after someone dies in suspicious circumstances at the local masonic lodge, it soon becomes clear to all concerned that the case is more complex than it first seemed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly compelling detective thriller novel, which is a little bit like a blend of classic Agatha Christie, modern historical fiction and a hardboiled detective novel. Even though it has a couple of small flaws, the novel has a fairly good historical atmosphere and a plot that becomes more thrilling as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re fairly good. There is the usual thing about seemingly separate crimes turning out to be part of the same case, and the investigation includes a really good mixture of Agatha Christie-style questioning scenes, some suspenseful sneaking around, a couple of red herrings, a few Sherlock Holmes-like deductions and a few elements that wouldn’t be out of place in an old hardboiled crime novel. These elements work really well and it’s really cool to see an Agatha Christie-style mystery, but with a slightly grittier and more hardboiled edge to it 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements, which mostly consist of suspenseful spy-like snooping and a couple of more dramatic moments, appear more prominently in the later parts of the story and help to keep things fairly gripping. Likewise, one of the major themes of this novel is secret societies, which helps to add a bit of extra suspense and drama too – even if this topic is handled in a rather cheesy and/or stylised way during some parts of the story.

In terms of the novel’s historical elements, the novel has a really impressive historical atmosphere and, like in many of Sheridan’s other novels, is also critical of the problems and narrow-minded attitudes lurking behind the twee respectability of 1950s Britain. Although this element of the story is mostly handled well, a couple of moments would probably have worked better if they had been handled in a more subtle way.

The novel also includes some rather amusing satire – such as in the opening scene involving the Express reporter (who, for example, wants a conservative military haircut). Not to mention that, if you’ve ever visited the modern version of Brighton, it’s fascinating to see what the city would have looked like during the 1950s (with, for example, the Royal Pavillion being in a state of disrepair etc..) too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. In addition to seeing a few familiar characters from other novels in the series, the characters all seem like fairly realistic (if mildly stylised) people with realistic motivations, imperfections and personalities. The characters really help to add a lot of drama and historical atmosphere to the story and are probably one of the best parts of the novel.

As for the writing, it’s really good too. This novel’s third-person narration is formal and descriptive enough to add some historical atmosphere to the story, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to be fairly readable and relaxing too.

Likewise, the novel’s length and pacing are really good. At an efficient 271 pages in length, the novel never feels bloated. Likewise, although some of the earlier parts of the story are closer to a slower-paced traditional detective story, the story gradually becomes more thrilling and fast-paced as it progresses in a way reminiscent of classic vintage thriller novels like Agatha Christie’s “N or M?” and classic hardboiled detective fiction.

All in all, this is a compelling historical detective thriller. It’s an atmospheric and intriguing blend of traditional Agatha Christie-style fiction and more hardboiled fiction that combines it’s detective and thriller elements really well. Yes, there are some small flaws, but it is still a good novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “N Or M?” By Agatha Christie (Novel)

Well, after seeing a vague comment on an online newspaper article mentioning a cleverly-placed clue in Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel “N or M?”, I was curious enough to track down a second-hand copy of it. This also reminded me of when, in 2009, I ended up reading Christie’s “And Then There Were None” after someone partially spoiled an unusual element of the ending (which made me curious enough to read the rest of the book to see if it was even possible to end a novel in this way).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “N or M?”. Although this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, I’ll avoid major ones.

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I read the 2015 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “N or M?”, but I won’t include an image of the book cover here due to the presence of a WW2-related symbol. Although the book is clearly anti-fascist and the stylised cover art is meant to reference the story’s historical setting/context, I still thought that it was probably best to err on the side of caution with regard to displaying the cover.
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The novel is set in early 1940. Middle-aged couple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are sitting around and feeling thoroughly miserable. Despite some past work for the government, they are considered to be too old for war service. But, after asking around, a military intelligence officer called Grant reluctantly offers Tommy a desk job in Scotland. However, when Tuppence is called away by a phone call, Grant tells Tommy that he’s needed for a mission of national importance.

A British agent has been murdered by German spies. His last message indicated that the spies were connected to a guesthouse in the seaside town of Leahampton called Sans Souci and there were two unidentified spies, going under the code names “N” and “M”. Given a false identity and warned not to tell his wife, Tommy sets off for Leahampton in the hope of winkling out the German spy.

Needless to say, it isn’t long before another guest shows up at the Sans Souci. Having pulled off a clever ruse and overheard Grant’s orders to Tommy, Tuppence comes up with a false identity of her own and decides to unofficially join the investigation. Even so, with everyone at the guesthouse suspicious in some way or another, the two undercover investigators have their work cut out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was surprisingly different to what I’d expected. Instead of a Poirot-like murder mystery, this novel is slightly more of a “topical” vintage spy thriller, albeit one with lots of elements from the detective genre. Interesting, although the first half of the novel reads a lot more like a detective/spy story, the second half is somewhat closer to the thriller genre than you might expect.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re the sort of thing that you’d expect to see in an Agatha Christie novel 🙂 Almost everyone is suspicious in some way or another, there are lots of subtle clues (that are explained at the end), a few red herrings, some clever twists and a solution that, whilst technically possible to guess, will seem both logical and surprising at the same time.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, although they’re more understated than a modern thriller novel, they still work really well. In the earlier parts of the novel, there is more of a focus on subtle suspense, secret identities, spy tricks and suspicion, with the second half of the novel having very slightly more of an adventure thriller/crime thriller like tone to it, with an emphasis on more dramatic types of suspense.

Interestingly, the novel blends these genres in a really clever way. Whilst the identity of one of the two spies is revealed in a more thriller-novel type way, the identity of the other is deduced from clues in a more detective novel-like way. Still, both genres support each other really well with, for example, the suspense about whether Tommy and Tuppence can maintain their cover and the fact that everyone around them is suspicous making the detective elements seem a bit more dramatic.

The novel’s historical context is fairly interesting too and it adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. Not only does this novel contain a surprisingly nuanced reflection of attitudes towards WW2 (which are, at times, more pessimistic than you might expect), but a scene where a character predicts that the war will last six years is eerily prescient (again, the novel was first published in 1941). Likewise, the novel also taps into the fears of a “fifth column” of German spies that seemed to have been a concern at the time.

Plus, although the novel shows that Britain was somewhat unprepared during the earlier stages of WW2, there’s a heartwarming “we’ll muddle through this” attitude to the story that was probably even more reassuring when the novel was originally published. Even more interestingly, looking on Wikipedia, Christie was actually investigated by MI5 after this novel was published since one of the characters is called “Major Bletchley”.

As for the novel’s writing, it’s really well-written. Yes, the novel’s third-person narration is – by modern standards- slightly on the formal side of things, but it is still very readable (after all, this book was mainstream popular entertainment in the 1940s) and the style really helps to add a bit of extra atmosphere to the story too.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written too. In addition to lots of witty dialogue between Tommy and Tuppence, they’re also presented as being a vaguely realistic middle-aged couple rather than expert detectives. Yes, they’re fairly intelligent, reasonably good at picking up clues and fairly courageous, but there’s a real sense of uncertainty (eg: about who the spies are, about whether they are in danger of being revealed as investigators etc..) that really helps to make them even more realistic and sympathetic characters.

The relatively large cast of characters are, as you would expect from an Agatha Christie novel, fairly realistic and complex. Almost all of the guests at the Sans Souci do or say something suspicious at some point in the story, with most of these things having logical non-spy related explanations. Likewise, the novel’s villains are – as you would expect- suitably chilling and/or menacing too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At about 243 pages in length, it never really feels bloated or over-extended. Likewise, whilst this novel is probably slightly moderately-paced by modern standards, the level of drama and suspense increases quite a bit in the second half of the novel. And, at the time that it was written, it was probably considered a more fast-paced thriller. Likewise, the novel also drip-feeds the reader clues and suspenseful moments in a way that really keeps the story compelling too.

As for how this seventy-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Yes, there are a few mildly dated moments in the story, but it is still a relatively fast-paced and compelling vintage thriller story. A lot of the novel’s subtle humour and witty dialogue still works, the characters are still compelling, the mystery is still compelling and the thriller elements are still suspenseful. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the story’s writing style is still fairly readable too (if a bit more formal than a modern novel).

All in all, this novel is a fairly interesting vintage spy/detective novel. Yes, it’s a bit different to Christie’s more famous “Poirot” stories, but it’s still compelling, atmospheric and intriguing. Plus, if you’re a fan of Sara Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” historical detective novels, then you’ll probably enjoy this story too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Apprentice” By Tess Gerritsen (Novel)

Well, for the final novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d look at something that isn’t technically a horror novel.

Between some point in the 1990s and the 2000s, mainstream publishing avoided horror fiction like the plague. So, novels that would have been classified as “horror” in the 1980s were often published as “psychological thrillers”, “crime thrillers” etc…. instead. And I’ll be looking at one of these novels today.

In particular, I’ll be looking at Tess Gerritsen’s 2002 detective thriller novel “The Apprentice”. This was a book that I found whilst browsing a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth a week or two earlier and, after looking at it, quickly realised that it was probably a slasher movie-style horror novel in disguise.

Although “The Apprentice” is apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Surgeon”, it can be read as a stand-alone novel (due to some well-placed recaps). However, having read “The Apprentice”, I’d advise that you read “The Surgeon” first since the recaps spoil the ending of that novel.

So, let’s take a look at “The Apprentice”. This review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid major ones.

This is the 2003 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Apprentice” that I read.

The novel begins with a segment showing a convicted serial killer witnessing a prison-yard stabbing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Meanwhile, in Boston, detective Jane Rizzoli has been called out to investigate a grisly corpse that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the street. After studying the body and talking to some of the other detectives, Rizzoli deduces that it was a bizarre accidental death rather than murder.

However, just after she works this out, she gets a pager message from a detective in Newtown asking her to visit a crime scene. A man has been murdered and his wife is missing. Not only that, the case seems to have some striking similarities to a serial killing case that she solved a year earlier. A case that still haunts her.

Things go from bad to worse when the FBI insists on joining the investigation, several bodies are found in the woods and the killer from Rizzoli’s previous case escapes from prison, eager to team up with the copycat killer and get revenge on Rizzoli….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really compelling, and creepy, detective story. It’s kind of like a mixture between a fast-paced thriller, a gritty police procedural and a horror novel. If you enjoy TV shows like “CSI” and “NCIS”, but wish that there was a bit more horror, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Whilst this novel isn’t technically a horror novel, there are some brilliantly creepy horror elements here. Although there are well-placed moments of gruesome horror and/or medical horror, the novel focuses more on psychological horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror.

In addition to offering the reader chilling glimpses into one of the killers’ minds, the novel also focuses on how Rizzoli is haunted by a previous case and also fears that the killers will target her. Seriously, as detective novels go, this one is surprisingly creepy!

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re really well-written. Although this novel is something of a forensic police procedural novel, there are enough traditional detective elements (eg: stakeouts, drama, chases, interviews etc..) to add some compelling variety to the story. In addition to this, there are also some intriguingly mysterious characters, a clever red herring or two and a couple of dramatic plot twists too.

Likewise, the novel’s forensic elements are fairly well-handled, with intriguing clues not being fully explained until later points in the novel when the scientists have had time to study them. Likewise, although there is a lot of medical/scientific jargon in this novel, it is both well-explained and plot-relevant. Not to mention that many of the novel’s forensic scenes also allow for some surprisingly gross moments of horror too.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really well-written too. This novel moves at a fairly decent pace and, although there is relatively little in the way of action sequences, there are lots of moments of suspense, mysteries, close calls, twists, drama etc.. that really help to keep the story gripping. Likewise, aside from some medical/scientific segments, this novel is written in a fairly fast-paced thriller-like style too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s characters, they’re fairly compelling, if a little stylised. Whether it is Rizzoli, an expert detective who is haunted by her past but has to put on a brave face to avoid criticism from her colleagues (since she is the only female detective in the department). Whether it is the mysterious FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, who wants her thrown off of the case. Whether it is her fellow detectives, the pathologist Dr. Isles or the creepy serial killers, this is a novel with compelling characters.

The only criticisms I have of the characters are the fact that, despite the words “A Rizzoli And Isles Thriller” appearing on the cover, Dr. Isles is slightly more of a background character than you might initially expect (with Rizzoli being the main focus of the story). Plus, the two serial killers are also given ludicrously melodramatic nicknames by the police (eg: “The Surgeon” and “The Dominator”), which adds some unintentional comedy to the story.

Not only that, whilst the relative lack of characterisation for “The Dominator” adds a certain level of mysterious creepiness to him, it also feels like a missed opportunity for some even creepier narrative segments than the ones from “The Surgeon”‘s perspective.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Most of the novel uses fairly “matter of fact” thriller novel style third-person narration, but there are also some first-person perspective segments from the perspective of one of the killers. These are clearly signposted via italic text, written in a more formal style and, in a creepy touch, are also narrated in the present tense too. The mixture of these two styles of writing works surprisingly well and really helps to add some extra drama and variety to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 411 pages, this novel is a little on the long side, but this is fairly typical with thriller novels. Plus, thanks to the novel’s thriller elements, the pacing is really good too 🙂 This is a much more fast-paced novel than a “traditional” detective novel, with lots of dramatic, suspenseful, mysterious and/or creepy moments sprinkled throughout the story to make you want to read more 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant blend of the detective, horror and thriller genres 🙂 If you’re a fan of any of these three genres, then you’ll really enjoy this book 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Operation Goodwood” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I read one of Sara Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” historical detective novels. Although I read the first two books in 2017 (but only got round to reviewing the first one), I didn’t get round to reading any more of them, since I was going through a phase of not reading much back then.

When I remembered the series, I looked for my copies of the third and fourth books, but couldn’t remember where I’d put them (Edit: I finally found them shortly after finishing the first draft of this review). So, instead, I ended up buying a cheap second-hand hardback copy of the fifth novel “Operation Goodwood” (2016) online. And, since this is a series where each novel tells a self-contained story, I thought that I’d read it next.

So, let’s take a look at “Operation Goodwood”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) hardback edition of “Operation Goodwood” that I read.

The novel begins in summer 1955 at Goodwood. Debt collector and ex-SOE agent Mirabelle Bevan is watching a motor race with her partner Superintendent McGregor. After catching a pickpocket sneaking through the crowd, Mirabelle returns the stolen money just in time to see a racer called Dougie Beaumont beat Stirling Moss to the finish line.

Several weeks later, Mirabelle wakes up in the middle of the night in her flat in Brighton. The flat is on fire! After a narrow escape from the burning building, she watches the fire service stretcher a dead body out of the flat above. To her shock, the body is none other than Dougie Beaumont. Although the injuries on his neck suggest that he took his own life, something doesn’t quite add up about this. So, Mirabelle decides to investigate…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly solid historical detective novel. Although it didn’t have quite the same gloomy “film noir”-like atmosphere as the earlier books in the series that I’ve read, it is still a rather compelling mystery that is kind of a bit like a cross between a formal Agatha Christie-style detective story and a more modern/gritty historical detective novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good, with the story taking more of an Agatha Christie-style emphasis on interviewing people and finding out the motive for the crime (as opposed to Sherlock Holmes-style deductions from physical evidence). Even so, there’s a fair amount of hidden clues, red herrings, sneaking around and clever ruses here too.

As you would expect from a detective story, there is also a second murder that is linked to the first one. But, whilst this second murder is solved, the culprit for the first one isn’t explicitly stated. However, the novel gives enough background information, hints etc… for astute readers to guess who was probably responsible for it. Given the motive, this implied conclusion seems somewhat realistic and also helps to add a slightly chilling tone to this part of the story.

In terms of the historical setting, it is reasonably well written. In addition to a good variety of locations (eg: Brighton, Goodwood, London, Chichester, Tangmere etc..), the novel also does the usual thing of contrasting the genteel popular image of 1950s Britain with all of the stifling repression, prejudices, conservatism etc.. that lurked beneath the surface of it.

There are also quite a few references to major events and historical figures of the time, with some major elements of the plot also revolving around a less well-known (and very disturbing) part of 1950s history. But, if you’ve read about these colonial atrocities before, then the fact that references to them are somewhat understated during the early-middle parts of the novel might tip you off about the ending though. Even so, the novel does use the reader’s knowledge of 1950s history to plant a few clever red herrings too.

In terms of the characters, they are fairly well-written. In addition to a few familiar faces from earlier books in the series (eg: Vesta, Charlie etc..), Mirabelle is the same confident, realistic and resourceful detective as usual too. McGregor is, in the classic fashion, an official detective who is always a few steps behind Mirabelle (in addition to being the source of a few scenes of relationship-based drama too). Most of the other characters are either ordinary people who help Mirabelle or aristocrats who have secrets and/or possible motives for murder.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third person narration is formal and descriptive enough to emphasise the 1950s setting, but “matter of fact” enough to seem both modern and easily-readable. As you would expect from a classic-style detective story, the third-person narrator always follows Mirabelle and she is present during pretty much every scene of the novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At a fairly efficient 272 pages in length (plus several pages of historical notes, reading group questions etc..), this novel never really feels bloated or over-extended. Likewise, whilst the story moves along at a fairly moderate pace, it is compelling enough for it not to seem too slow-paced.

All in all, this is a reasonably good detective novel. Whilst it doesn’t really have the same gloomy atmosphere as the earlier books in the series, and the focus on aristocratic characters/suspects gives the novel a slightly old-school Agatha Christie-like tone which means that it doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as I’d have liked, it is still a fairly solid detective story.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a four.

Review: “Glory In Death” By J.D.Robb (Novel)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a sci-fi detective novel from 1995 called “Glory In Death” by J.D.Robb. This was a book that I found by accident whilst searching one of my book piles for another book.

According to the receipt that was still in it, I found it in a charity shop in Rugeley a little over a decade ago – and, if I remember rightly, I bought it because of the cool “Blade Runner”/1990s computer game-style cyberpunk cover art.

So, let’s take a look at “Glory In Death”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “Glory In Death” that I read.

The novel is set in New York in 2058. Tough-as-nail police lieutenant Eve Dallas has been called out to a crime scene in one of the rougher parts of town after a prominent prosecutor called Cicely Towers has been found murdered.

After it becomes obvious that the crime wasn’t a robbery, Eve finds herself investigating the opulent lives of many of Cicely’s rich friends and family in the hope of finding the killer. Not only that, because of the prominent nature of the case, the press are also hounding her too and the police chief (also a friend of Cicely’s) wants results.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a bit different to what I’d expected. In short, if you’re expecting a neon-drenched cyberpunk thriller, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed. But, if you expect a slightly stylised police procedural thriller with some sci-fi/cyberpunk and romance elements, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel more. This is also one of those novels that only really gets ultra-compelling/ fast-paced during the later parts too.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re reasonably well-written. This novel is very much a police procedural novel and the story’s detective elements are handled fairly well.

There are several possible suspects and there’s a good mixture of interviews, forensics and other types of detection. Plus, of course, Eve also has to deal with the press/media too, which adds a bit of extra conflict and drama to the story (whilst also posing questions about journalistic ethics etc… too). And, like in many detective stories, this is one of those stories that becomes more and more compelling and suspenseful as it goes along.

Likewise, the case itself is fairly well-plotted, with enough subtle clues and red herrings to keep things unpredictable until the killer is finally revealed. Although avid readers of the detective genre may have better luck, I incorrectly guessed who the killer was at least once whilst reading the novel. Not to mention that Eve’s eventual confrontation with the killer is a fairly satisfying (if rather dark and gritty) conclusion to the story too.

The novel’s sci-fi elements are more understated than I expected. Whilst there are a few subtle “Blade Runner” references (eg: an advertising blimp, a photo-enhancement machine etc…), a couple of rain-soaked urban locations and a few scenes involving computers/VR, this isn’t really quite as much of a cyberpunk novel as I’d expected.

In short, the sci-fi elements are often more of a background detail that adds flavour to the story rather than an integral part of the story. With a few exceptions (eg: casinos in space etc..), this story could almost take place in the present day without too many changes.

For example, most of the novel’s futuristic forensic technology wouldn’t be too out of place in a stylised modern TV show like “NCIS” or “CSI”. So, given that this novel is from the mid-1990s, it is at least slightly ahead of it’s time.

The novel’s romance elements are interesting, if somewhat stylised. In short, the main love interest – Roarke – happens to be a multi-millionaire (with a lavish mansion, several holiday homes, a robot butler etc..) who has enough of a shady past to be intriguingly mysterious. He is passionate about Eve and cares deeply about her happiness, but is also arrogant enough for there to be several dramatic arguments between them. Whilst the romance elements work reasonably well, they can sometimes get in the way of the main story a bit (such as when Eve and Roarke randomly take a short holiday to Mexico during a dramatic part of the story).

In terms of the characters, the main characters are a bit stylised. Eve is a typical tough-as-nails detective with a dark past and a hunger for justice, Roarke is – as mentioned earlier – a slightly stylised love interest. But, the background characters are often a bit more nuanced and realistic which helps to add atmosphere to the story, not to mention that many of them are morally ambiguous enough that you’ll have a difficult job guessing which one is the killer.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably “matter of fact”, with some descriptive moments too. It’s hardboiled enough to fit in with the tone of the story, but descriptive enough to give everything a bit of vividness.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 296 pages in length, it doesn’t seem too long. Plus, although most of the novel is a fairly moderately paced story about methodical investigation and interviews, it becomes more compelling and fast-paced during the later parts of the story.

As for how this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged surprising well. Whilst it contains a couple of dated descriptions, this is a novel that could have almost been written in the present day. Thanks to the slightly futuristic setting and the focus on rich people who live timelessly opulent lives, this novel seems surprisingly modern. Surprisingly, there are even smartphones (or portable video phones) in this novel too. But, thankfully, there isn’t any modern-style social media in this novel 🙂

All in all, this is a reasonably well-written, if stylised, police procedural novel with some romance and cyberpunk elements. Yes, it was a bit different to what I’d expected but, during the later parts of it, I found that I couldn’t really put the book down.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would possibly get a four.

Review: “Heresy” By S. J. Parris (Novel)

Well, it has been quite a while since I last read a historical novel. And, after seeing the name Giordano Bruno mentioned in the previous novel I read, I remembered a really brilliant historical thriller I read a couple of months earlier called “Sacrilege” by S. J. Parris.

A few weeks after I’d read that novel, I ended up returning to the charity shop in Petersfield where I bought it and found two other Parris novels there. So, I thought that it was finally time to take a look at one of them – Parris’ 2010 novel “Heresy”.

So, let’s take a look at “Heresy”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “Heresy” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene set in Naples in 1576. A monk called Giordano Bruno is reading a banned manuscript in the monastery’s privy when he is interrupted by the suspicious abbot. Barely having time to flush the manuscript, Bruno is placed under suspicion and ordered to wait for the inquisition. Luckily for Bruno, his room-mate gives him a dagger and tells him to flee out of the window before it is too late.

The story then flashes forwards to London in 1583. By now, Bruno is a friend of Sir Philip Sidney – nephew of Sir Francis Walshingham, the Queen’s spymaster. Sidney is about to take a trip to Oxford University to entertain an obnoxious nobleman from Poland and Bruno is invited too. Although Bruno originally plans to attend a debate and look for a lost Greek manuscript in Oxford, Walshingham orders Bruno to be on the look out for religious plots too.

Of course, a couple of days after Bruno arrives at the university, there is a brutal murder in the grounds and he is tasked with investigating it….

One of the first things I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a bit more slow-paced than Parris’ “Sacrilege”, it’s a very atmospheric and compelling detective story that could easily rival some of C. J. Sansom’s earlier “Shardlake” novels. In addition to the traditional detective story thing of setting most of the story in one claustrophobic location (eg: Oxford), this novel also includes some suspsenful and gripping spy thriller elements too. Even so, this is slightly more of a detective story than a thriller.

The novel’s detective elements are pretty interesting too, with Bruno finding himself on the trail of a serial killer who kills their victims in ways reminiscent of the famous religious martyrs of the time. The investigation itself remains a fairly constant thing throughout the novel and, although some of the clues that Bruno finds seem a little bit contrived, there is usually a logical explanation for them and they help to keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace. Plus, of course, the gloomy, rainy spires of Oxford are the perfect setting for a detective story too 🙂

Likewise, whilst the novel’s spy thriller elements aren’t emphasised to the same extent that they are in Parris’ “Sacrilege”, they still help to add a bit of thrillingly suspenseful drama to the story. In addition to a few secret codes, clandestine meetings and suspenseful scenes of snooping, there are also some quite literal “cloak and dagger” moments later in the story that really help to keep the denouement fairly gripping. Even so, this novel is more of a detective story than a thriller.

Like in a lot of novels set in Elizabethan times, the fractious religious politics of the time play a rather large part in this story and also help to add a rather ominous atmosphere to the story too. In a genius move, Parris ensures that Bruno doesn’t really take too much of a side in these religious disputes, which allows for both of the major Christian denominations of the time to be depicted in an equally critical way.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Not only is Bruno a fairly interesting protagonist, but he often finds himself in situations where he is unsure of who he can trust, which helps to add suspense to the story. The novel’s cast of background characters all come across as reasonably realistic people, who almost all have some kind of tragedy or secret in their lives. This really helps to emphasise the harsh nature of the time the story is set in, in addition to adding a bit of extra mystery to the story too.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is very well-written. Like in C.J.Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels, most of the story’s narration is kept fairly “timeless”, with only a few olde-worlde phrases added occasionally to give the story flavour. This allows the story to remain readable and move at a decent pace. Plus, like with a lot of historical novels, there’s also a fair amount of emphasis on atmospheric descriptions and dialogue too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Although, at 474 pages long, it could have possibly been trimmed a bit, it never really felt too long. Likewise, although the story remains fairly moderately-paced until some of the more fast-paced scenes later in the story, the story’s underlying mystery and the general atmosphere of the story really help to keep these slower parts of the story compelling.

All in all, this is a really intriguing and atmospheric detective novel. Yes, it isn’t as fast-paced as Parris’ “Sacrilege”, but it is still a reasonably compelling historical mystery story that fans of C.J.Sansom will probably enjoy 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” by Agatha Christie (Novel)

Well, since I seem to be going through a bit of a detective fiction phase at the moment, I thought that I’d take a look at Agatha Christie’s 1938 novel “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” today.

I found a second-hand copy of this novel online a couple of weeks earlier, after both getting nostalgic about binge-watching a DVD boxset or two of the old ITV adaptation of “Poirot” a couple of years ago and realising that it has been at least a decade since I last read an Agatha Christie novel.

So, let’s take a look at “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid giving away the ending.

This is the 2013 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” that I read.

The novel begins three days before Christmas in a train station in London where a man called Stephen Farr happens to meet a beautiful woman called Pilar Estravados who has been invited to Gorston Hall in order to meet her long-lost grandfather, Simeon Lee.

Meanwhile, Simeon Lee’s middle-aged sons are talking to their wives about the Christmas invitations. None of them like Simeon very much, what with him being the kind of grumpy, cynical, rich old man who sometimes cackles to himself when no-one is looking. Likewise, many of his sons also harbour resentment about his cold demeanour during their late mother’s illness. Still, out of formality and tradition, they reluctantly agree to spend Christmas at Gorston Hall.

Needless to say, it is the kind of miserable family Christmas that you would expect. Something not helped by the fact that Simeon is brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, with his throat slashed inside a locked room. Luckily for the head of the local police, famed investigator Hercule Poirot is visiting him for Christmas….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read. Everything from the hilariously stuffy and formal bickering during the early parts, to the intriguing locked room mystery (where everyone is a suspect) to the scenes featuring the hilariously, cartoonishly evil Simeon Lee were just so much fun to read. This novel is a proper, traditional Agatha Christie mystery 🙂

Although the early parts of the novel focus more on the characters and backstory, as soon as the murder happens, the story becomes the kind of focused, gripping detective story that you would expect. Interestingly, this novel includes some vaguely Sherlock Holmes-style deductions made from evidence and experimentation in addition to Poirot’s more typical interview-based methods of detection. Plus, the fact that pretty much every character has a motive for murder really helps to keep things suspenseful too.

Yes, some of the plot twists and events of the story are a little bit contrived at times – although, like with every good detective story, there’s a subtle clue for every part of the mystery (which Poirot explains during his traditional end-of-story speech) and a few clever red herrings too. Plus, with something as intriguing as a locked room mystery, a certain amount of contrivance is to be expected anyway.

One amusing thing about this novel is that it is prefaced by a letter from Agatha Christie to her brother-in-law which states that she wrote this story because he expressed dismay about how “refined” and “anaemic” some of her recent stories had been. As such, this novel is – by Agatha Christie standards – surprisingly grisly (but, it’s pretty tame by modern standards). But, the bloody nature of the crime helps to lend the story a little bit more of a Sherlock Holmes-style atmosphere, which is kind of cool.

The novel’s characters are fairly good too. They’re given enough characterisation to make the reader understand their personalities and motives, with a lot of the novel’s funnier and more dramatic moments happening during their various arguments with each other. The stand-out character has to be Simeon Lee, who is this hilariously melodramatic grumpy old man (seriously, you can just imagine an actor really hamming it up when you read his scenes 🙂 ). Surprisingly, Poirot doesn’t actually get a huge amount of characterisation in this novel – then again, pretty much everyone knows who Hercule Poirot is anyway.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is fairly readable and, although it is a little bit on the formal side (after all, it was written less than 40 years after the 19th century) it is still fairly easily readable today. Likewise, the novel also focuses quite a bit on dialogue too, which helps to keep the story flowing at a fairly reasonable pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent. At a lean and efficient 268 pages in length, the novel never really feels bloated. Likewise, there’s a good contrast between the slightly slower dialogue and background scenes at the beginning and the slightly faster-paced and wonderfully focused detective scenes after the murder has been committed. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced novel, this isn’t as much of a slow-paced novel as you might expect either.

As for how this eighty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well 🙂 Yes, there are a few slightly dated generalisations (eg: about relationships, about the differences between English people and people from mainland Europe etc..), not to mention that some “modern” words (eg: “fantastic”, “batteries” etc..) actually use their completely different old-fashioned meanings in this novel. But, for the most part, this novel has aged really well. It’s still fairly gripping, fairly readable and filled with the kind of timeless vintage charm that you would expect.

All in all, this is a really enjoyable “old school” detective novel 🙂 If you want an intriguing locked room mystery, if you find stuffy aristocrats bickering with each other absolutely hilarious and if you want a reasonably focused, well-paced detective story, then you can’t go wrong with this one 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.