Tuesday, 24 May 2016

An Empty Death by Laura Wilson

An Empty Death is the second book in the DI Stratton series by Laura Wilson.  This book is set in London at the end of WWII.    The book starts when a body is found on a bomb site and DI Ted Stratton is called on to investigate this suspicious death.  The body is identified as a doctor who worked at the nearby Middlesex Hospital.  The pathologist, Dr Byrne, indicates that the doctor has been murdered.  Shortly afterwards, a nurse is found murdered at the hospital.  Meanwhile Stratton's wife Jenny and her sister decide to look after a woman who was hurt when her house was bombed.  This woman, Mrs Ingram, seems to have been so badly affected by this event that she does not recognise her husband when he returns on leave.

We also find out about Todd who is working as a mortuary attendant at the beginning of the book but feels frustrated that he was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor due to his family's financial difficulties. 

I really enjoyed this book and felt that life in war-torn London was very well described with the endless shortages of the basics and the increasing exhaustion of the inhabitants as the war dragged on.  At one point Stratton says, "we can't go on much longer.  None of us can; we're exhausted - there's no colour or spirit or jollity left."

I liked the character of Stratton who came across as a hard-working police officer who loved his wife and was missing his children as they had been evacuated to the country.

The plot was gripping and I couldn't put the book down until I found out who had committed the murders - the author had cleverly led us along so that I thought I knew who the murderer was.  I was wrong!   In fact the ending was unexpected as the various themes came together to a terrifying conclusion.

Having enjoyed this book so much, I will certainly read some of the others in the series.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar Staalesen is a new Nordic Noir author for me.  He was born in Bergen in 1947 and has written over 20 books.  So far only a few of Staalesen's books have been translated into English.  I decided to read We Shall Inherit the Wind as I thought this was the first in the Varg Veum series which features a private detective of that name.  However I have since discovered that this is quite a recent one.  The others which have been translated into English are Yours Until Death (1979), At Night All Wolves are Grey (1986), The Writing on the Wall (1995), The Consorts of Death (2006) and Cold Hearts (2008). 

Staalesen writes about topical issues and We Shall Inherit the Wind is no exception as one of the themes of the book is wind energy. Varg Veum is asked to investigate the disappearance of a businessman, Mons Maeland, who is planning to build a wind farm on a remote island.  However it seems that he had changed his mind about this shortly before he disappeared.  Maeland's family are divided about this development - his son Kristopher is very much in favour but his daughter is a member of an environmental group opposing it.  There is another mystery associated with Maeland - his first wife disappeared many years ago and then he married again.  When Maeland's body is found on the island, it seems a number of people have a motive for his murder.

I really enjoyed the book and liked the character of Veum.  However I think I would have understood his character better if I had read some of the earlier books in the series.  I liked the format of the lone investigator and Varg seems a suitable name for him as it means "wolf" in Norwegian.  Veum was extremely determined in his pursuit to find out what happened to Maeland's first wife.

There is a religious strand running through this book and the language used emphasises this. The title of the book comes from this quotation from the Bible "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart." (Proverbs 11:29)

Staalesen's descriptions of the island are excellent.  His description of a large wooden cross on the island builds up suspense leaving the reader in no doubt that something awful is going to happen here.  "But there was nothing to explain why it was there and what it was supposed to symbolise.  In its silent way it still gave me an indefinable sense of unease, a warning that something was about to happen." 

I could identify with the topic of wind farms as there are plans to build a large wind farm in Shetland, where I live.  As in the book, public opinion is divided about this.

Veum managed to solve both mysteries although I am unsure about one of them - without giving too much away I felt that it was a bit far-fetched.  However I am looking forward to reading more books in the Varg Veum series.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Pickwick Papers chapters 3-5

This month I have read section II of The Pickwick Papers which consists of chapters 3-5.  The illustrations in this section were the last to be done by Robert Seymour before he shot himself on 20 April 1836.  After this, Dickens assumed more control for the content and illustrations of The Pickwick Papers.  The following illustrations come from David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page.


Chapter 3 consists of The Stroller's Tale which describes the sad demise of a pantomime actor - this is the Dickens I am more familiar with -  a very depressing story of death in Victorian times.

"I knew there was no hope for him: I was sitting by his death-bed.  I saw the wasted limbs, which a few hours before had been distorted for the amusement of a boisterous gallery, writing under the tortures of a burning fever - I heard the clown's shrill laugh, bending with the low murmurings of the dying man."

In chapter 4 we return to a more light-hearted atmosphere as we follow Mr Pickwick and his friends to a military show.  "The manoeuvres of half-a-dozen regiments were to be inspected by the eagle eye of the commander-in-chief; temporary fortifications had been erected, the citadel as to be attacked and taken, and a mine was to be sprung."  There is a funny episode when the Pickwickians end up between two opposing regiments who were about to fire their muskets.  Mr Pickwick tries to reassure his friends that they were in no danger as the soldiers were using blank cartridges.   No sooner had the firing ceased than the soldiers charged with their bayonets fixed.  "Mr Pickwick gazed through his spectacles for an instant on the advancing mass, and then fairly turned his back and - we will not say fled; firstly, because it is an ignoble term, and, secondly, because Mr Pickwick's figure was by no means adapted for that mode of retreat - he trotted away, at as quick a rate as his legs would convey him."  Having escaped from this danger, Mr Pickwick suffers some embarrassment when his hat blows off and he chases it.  The chapter ends when Mr Pickwick and his friends meet the Wardles - Mr Wardle, his two daughters and a spinster aunt.  The friends are invited to share the Wardles' picnic. Unfortunately the servant, a fat boy,  who is supposed to be serving the food keeps falling asleep.  However on hearing the word "eatables" the boy jumped up: "and the leaden eyes, which twinkled behind his mountainous cheeks, leered horribly upon the food as he unpacked it from the basket."

The last chapter of this section describes the difficulties faced by the Pickwickians as they set off to visit Mr Wardle at his manor house in the country.  Despite Mr Winkle considering himself a sportsman, he cannot control his horse.  The others are forced to abandon their chaise and walk to Manor Farm, arriving very tired and dishevelled.

I am not sure what I feel about this section - The Stroller's Tale was quite dark and seemed out of place.  The book is certainly easy to read and very comical in parts although I feel I am not getting to know the characters - perhaps this will change as the book progresses.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Black Wood by SJI Holliday

Black Wood
Black Wood is the first in a trilogy by the writer SJI (Susi) Holliday.  It is set in the fictional town of Banktoun which is situated in East Lothian in Scotland. Much of the story is told in the first person by Jo, a young woman, who has been badly affected by something which happened to her as a child when she was playing in the woods with her friend Claire. As the story progresses we find out more about what actually happened 23 years ago which resulted in Claire being confined to a wheelchair.  There are also chapters entitled "The Boy" and "Woods" which at first seem a little confusing but help to explain the incident in the woods. 

The characters are well drawn - although Jo has her problems, I felt sympathetic towards her and wanted her to sort herself out.  She seemed to be her own worst enemy.  Luckily she has friends in the town - Claire,  Craig, the owner of the book shop where she works and Davie Gray the local police sergeant.

The descriptions of the small town are excellent - everyone knows everyone else and there are no secrets.  It doesn't take the residents long to work out who Maloney actually is and then the story starts to get exciting.  The author says that in a small town "things spread like a disease, no matter how hard you tried to prevent them". 

This is an excellent psychological thriller - it is well written and very atmospheric especially in the descriptions of Black Wood, the cottage in the woods which Jo has inherited from her Gran. There are also humorous parts to the book - I loved this description of one of the elderly women - "she'd forgotten to pick up her pension and that was hardly like her, seeing as she was tighter than a pair of support stockings".

I'm certainly looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.