Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017 books, #16-20

The apprentice of Split Crow Lane: the story of the Carr's Hill murder, by Jane Housham [audiobook]. Read by Jim Barclay and Anna Bentinck. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper/WF Howes, 2016.

Sarah Melvin was killed at the age of five in Felling, Newcastle, in 1866; the first suspects were her parents, poor Irish immigrants, but then when the real killer was discovered, it raised as many questions as it answered.  While Housham keeps returning to the murder, this is also a wider investigation into notions of sanity and responsibility in Victorian England, an exploration of the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, a look at the early days of Broadmoor, and a discussion of a few similar cases of the era.  Really interesting, and genuinely suprising at times.

In the morning I'll be gone, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tale, 2014.

Sean Duffy has been demoted for an incident which happened, unseen, during I hear the sirens in the street; he's offered his old rank back, in Special Branch, for agreeing to investigate the escape of an old school friend, IRA commander Dermot McCann, from the Maze Prison in 1984.  When visiting McCann's ex-wife, Duffy hears about the unsolved suspicious death of her sister, Lizzie Fitzpatrick, three years earlier.  He makes a dangerous bargain, and continues to pursue both cases.  As ever, real events are woven carefully into the narrative here, with tremendous effect in the eventual climax of this novel.  It's probably just as well I have to wait for the library to come up with the next book...

Zola and the Victorians: censorship in the age of hypocrisy, by Eileen Horne. London: MacLehose, 2015.

Unlike the English Victorians in the first book in this post, nobody comes out well here.  Including Emile Zola, who is a hero of mine.  I had no idea about the reception of Zola's books in Britain - I read them in French and was captivated enough to want to do a PhD in them - although I did know that they'd scandalised a section of French society.  Here, the attitudes expressed 60 years later in the Chatterley case - "would you wish your wife or servant..." - are right to the fore, to the extent that publishers of Zola in English, in however bowdlerised a fashion, were prosecuted for indecency, while copies of the books in French were openly sold.  Henry Vizetelly, the publisher involved, is ruined, while Zola seems profoundly indifferent to his fate, quibbling only about his royalties. It's a stunning indictment of hypocritical prudishness, closed-minded Philistinism and a distrust of foreign influences which is depressingly familiar today.

Silent witnesses: the story of forensic science, by Nigel McCrery. London: Arrow, 2014.

I'm told the author of this is the creator of Silent Witness on TV, but as I've never seen it... A short, workmanlike history of forensic science which covers all the usual bases, but less interestingly than Val McDermid's recent similar book.  Some interesting additional/alternative test cases for some of the information though.  The photos in the middle of the book are stunningly uninformative and could easily have been left out...

To hell on a bike: riding Paris-Roubaix, the toughest race in cycling, by Iain MacGregor. London: Bantam, 2015.

MacGregor cycled from Lands end to John O'Groats in the 1990s, and took up cycling again in his early 40s; after cycling the Etape du Tour in 2013, he looked for another challenge.  So why not the "hell of the North", Paris-Roubaix, or its sportive equivalent?  This is a nice mixture of a history of the race, some self-deprecating stuff about MacGregor's own cycling prowess, and some excellent interviews with journalists, commentators, former racers and organisers of the race - MacGregor's background in publishing has obviously allowed him to build an impressive contacts book - ending with an account of the ride itself.  Very enjoyable and readable; and some really good photos in this one.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

2017 books, #11-15

Cast iron, by Peter May. London: riverrun, 2017.

The sixth, and presumably last, of the Enzo books - although Enzo's wager with Roger Raffin covers seven historic cases, all the loose ends are tied up in this book and it seems very final.  Which is a shame, as this is an immensely entertaining cast of characters.  In this book, though, Enzo is looking for the killer of Lucie Martin, a 20-year-old girl found in a dry lake bed years after her disappearance. The killing has always been blamed on Régis Blanc, a serial strangler who was known to Lucie, but Enzo isn't so sure, and Blanc has always denied the killing.  Meanwhile, Enzo's investigation is putting his daughter and her fiancé in danger.  Excellent plotting, the sort of book you devour in a couple of sittings.  I'm going to miss this series.

Ashes of London, by Andrew Taylor [audiobook]. Read by Leighton Pugh. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes/Harper Audio, 2016.

In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, a body is found in a tomb which ought to be empty; James Marwood is asked by the government to investigate. Marwood has no choice - he's the son of a printer who was disgraced for Republicanism and who is now deeply affected by dementia - but the investigation takes him deeper into political intrigue and danger.  I sort of enjoyed this - but I found it really difficult to remain concentrated on it, despite the reader being a good one.

Medium raw: a bloody Valentine to the world of food and the people who cook, by Anthony Bourdain. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

This has all the hallmarks of classic Bourdain - hundred-miles-an-hour, no-holds-barred, full-frontal writing; but from ten years after Kitchen confidential opened up many doors to the restaurant world, and after Cook's tour gave Bourdain the opportunity to travel all over the world in the search for exotic food.  Starting, shockingly, with the consumption of ortolans, Bourdain writes about the world of cooks and restaurants and food producers, and also about the difference in himself between the angry, burned-out man who wrote Kitchen confidential and the husband and father he is by 2010. Excellent book.

Long time dead, by Tony Black [audiobook]. Read by Darth Cruickshank. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

This is the fourth one in a series, which may be why I felt as if I was slightly missing information all the way through.  Anyway; Gus Dury is taken to hospital after a hit-and-run, but his alcoholism is causing worse problems.  His best friend Hod asks him to investigate the on-campus hanging of an Edinburgh University student with a rich, high-profile mother who has promised a large reward. Gus needs the money, and gets a janitor's job at the university so he can take a look into the case; he uncovers a similar hanging which happened in the 1970s, and realises his life is in danger.  I enjoyed this; but I'm not convinced I'll be looking for others in the series.

I hear the sirens in the street, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2014.

Sean Duffy, back at work after the events of The cold cold ground, is given the case of a torso found in a suitcase.  When he tracks the suitcase back to its previous owner, he finds another murder, that of a UVF soldier; everything becomes more complicated, step by step.  And then there's the Troubles to deal with... Another excellent, gripping read with the background of the Falklands War...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 books, #6-10

The hanging tree, by Ben Aaronovitch.  London: Gollancz, 2016.

The sixth of the Peter Grant series, and another really enjoyable read.  A young girl is found dead at a party of Bright (and Drugged-up) Young Things, and Lady Ty's daughter is present.  Peter is called in because he owes Lady Ty a favour, and because it's probably not politic to have the daughters of river gods involved in this sort of thing.  So we have a combination of Peter, the super-rich, magic and the river gods. What could possibly go wrong?  If you haven't picked up this series before, do. But start at the beginning or parts of this will make no sense whatsoever.  Only regret is that I raced through it way too fast...

Cold earth, by Ann Cleeves [audiobook]. Read by Kenny Blyth. Oxford: Isis, 2016.

During the funeral of Magnus Tait, a landslide crashes through what should have been an abandoned croft, and the body of a beautiful woman in a red dress is found in the wreckage.  Jimmy Perez has no idea who she is, and starts to investigate; then he finds the woman was already dead when the landslide hit.  As he tracks the woman back through her stay on the island, he begins to realise that he is stirring up a number of vested interests including the oil companies which give Shetland their prosperity.  I don't know why I really didn't quite get into this book; the reader is good; the plot is well-done. Maybe I was just distracted by other things.  I may go back and read/listen to this one again before the next one comes out...

Fear of 13. Netflix.

A bit unusual, as this isn't a book or an audiobook, but it might as well have been the latter; you could listen to it without the visuals, as the majority of the visual content is watching one man sitting on a chair telling his story of wrongful conviction.  It's quite disorienting, because you find out a lot about Nick Yarris's life inside prison, and his state of mind, before you ever find out how and why he ended up on Death Row for 21 years.  It's two hours of intense, very moving narrative delivered like a one-man show - it's no wonder that Yarris now makes part of his living in public speaking.

A very English scandal: sex, lies and a murder plot at the heart of the establishment, by John Preston. London: Penguin Viking, 2016.

This is a story I vaguely remember from childhood, but didn't understand properly at the time; it's Jeremy Thorpe, and the attempted murder of his lover Norman Scott.  As the child of card-carrying Liberals, I remember the shock when he resigned, and the scandal of the trial, but not much else.  This book gives short biographies of everyone involved, who might have known what and when, and how much coverup there actually was (spoiler: a lot).  And it's all very readable.

Trieste and the meaning of nowhere, by Jan Morris. London: Faber, 2002.

Trieste is literally neither here nor there, a place which no country has really seemed to want over the centuries and which has ended up as the tag-end of Italy, nearer former Yugoslavia than anywhere else, and without its original purpose as a trading port for the whole Mediterranean.  Morris writes lovingly about it - the first visit, as a young soldier during World War II, and the subsequent ones - but also slightly wonderingly, not really being able to pin down its charm.  It's a memoir of the city, and also of Morris herself.  Not a lot happens, but I have a strong desire to visit it and just be a flâneuse in this city.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 books, #1-5

Inferno, by Dan Brown [audiobook]. Read by Paul Michael.  Rearsby, Leics: Clipper, 2013.

This is, of course, dreadful tosh.  But a good shout at the CD player over New Year was welcome, and although it was initially a disappointment that Jeff Harding wasn't reading this one as well, the reader was excellent, particularly in the area of Italian pronunciation.  There was so much wrong with the Dante part of this that I won't even start; and the setup so that Robert Langdon could mansplain his way round another landscape was as clunky as ever.  But there were some pleasing plot twists, and a lot of knitting, tidying up and reading was done while listening to this.

The cold cold ground, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2012.

I heard about this author via @TriciaindaHouse on Twitter - an excellent source for book recommendations if you like the sort of thing I review here.  This is a brilliant book, and happily it's the first in an ongoing series.  Sean Duffy is a rare bird, a Catholic sergeant in the RUC in the spring of 1981.  Most of his work is in attempting to contain sectarian violence, but then he comes across a very odd case - two killings of gay men within a matter of hours.  Is this the work of a serial killer, or something different?  There are some great "period details" here - high-security visits of Margaret Thatcher, the IRA hunger strikers, the backdrop of the Royal Wedding - and also some shocking reminders of how totally abnormal life in the North was at the time.  Highly recommended.  I've already got the second one on reserve.

Saturday requiem, by Nicci French [audiobook]. Read by Beth Chalmers. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2016.

It was a completely open and shut case when 18-year-old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the murder of her mother, father and brother, and she's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.  When Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, is asked by the police to assess Hannah, she is horrified and haunted by the girl's condition, and begins to investigate the circumstances of the murders.  What she finds makes her doubt both her own sanity, and Hannah's guilt.  This is tightly plotted and fascinating.

Paper towns, by John Green. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is Quentin Jacobsen's next door neighbour, and an awesome rebel. Q has been in love with her forever, and is amazed when she commandeers him to go on a riotous, night-long revenge prank. And then Margo disappears.  The phenomenon of paper towns was unfamiliar to me until I read this book...  The setup, and to an extent the main character, who is not the narrator, is familiar from Green's Looking for Alaska, but this is an altogether different thing, and makes you laugh and cry, and believe, as I did as a teenager, that dysfunctional teens are probably the best.

The strange case of the composer and his judge, by Patricia Duncker [audiobook]. Read by Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2010.

Hunters in the Jura come across a strange sight: a semi-circle of dead bodies, staring upwards into the sky.  Dominique Carpentier, a judge with more than a passing interest in cults, is called up by a policeman who is also her old lover; the pair start to investigate, and realise that there is a connection between the dead and a composer and conductor, Friedrich Grosz.  This is a strange sort of book - half police procedural, half a search into a mystical realm, and I'm not entirely sure it's successful; but it's a good listen, with an excellent reader.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 books, #86-90

Freeze frame, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

I'm starting to become quite freaked out with the coincidences in locations with this series of books - I read this while in Morocco for work in November, and one of the first scenes is set in the 1960 Agadir earthquake.  Then two days later, we were in a museum looking at a painting of the 1960 Agadir earthquake...  Anyway; this is another excellent Enzo Macleod mystery, which spans 60 years. Enzo is asked by a man's widow to look at his study and try to figure out the clues he left 20 years ago for his son, who died shortly after him without being able to work out who had killed his father.  The mystery takes Enzo to an island off the coast of Brittany - the man who was tried, and acquitted, of the murder is still around, and many of the locals don't want the story brought to life again.  As ever, Enzo doesn't let this deter him; even though things in his private life are doing their best to distract him...

The box of delights, by John Masefield. London: Egmont, 2014.

I'd forgotten quite how enjoyable this book was; and also that it was the companion to The midnight folk, which I'll have to track down and re-read.  Kay Harker comes home from school for Christmas, but some mysterious characters share a carriage with him, and a strange man at the station tells him that The wolves are running... Then his and his siblings' guardian is called to London at short notice and doesn't reappear, and clergy start disappearing from the Cathedral...  A creepy Christmas tale for all ages.

No man's land, by GM Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: BBC Audio, 2008.

Frank Corso is summoned to a high-security prison, where inmates have taken over.  The ringleader, Timothy Driver, is the subject of one of Corso's biographies, and demands Corso come in and talk to him.  Subsequently Driver kidnaps Corso, and he and another prisoner escape.  Corso is dragged along during a killing spree; and a television journalist is also trying to track Driver and his companion down.  This ought to have been thrilling, and it's read as ably as ever by Jeff Harding, but I did find my attention drifting from time to time...

Fatal pursuit, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2016.

Bruno, chief of police in the Dordogne town of St Denis, is supervising a vintage car rally when news comes that a man has died on the outskirts of the village.  It looks like a natural death - the man is elderly, overweight and has a terrible diet - but Bruno's just not sure.  He can't find the papers the man is meant to have been working on, and there are no files on his computer relating to his current commission.  Meanwhile he's also dealing with a family feud, the car rally and the presence of his old flame Isabelle who has been stationed nearby dealing with a high-level fraud investigation. This series continues to charm, and also to wrap up satisfying plots; bravo.

Blowback, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

Enzo Macleod's fifth cold case from Roger Raffin's book takes him to a chateau in the Jura, home and restaurant to three-star Michelin chef Marc Fraysse, who was murdered seven years before.  He has a limited amount of time to investigate as the restaurant is about to close for the winter season, but he has a mole in the kitchen staff already, and the cooperation, at least initially, of Fraysse's family.  As he investigates, though, he digs up a mass of seething sibling resentment, betrayal and infidelity which both put him into danger and lead to disturbing parallels with his own life.  Another excellent outing for Enzo.

2016 books, #81-85

Bringing in the sheaves: wheat and chaff from my years as a priest, by Richard Coles.  London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016.

This is a lovely book.  It's based around the church's year, and mixes serious spiritual stuff with the comedy and tragedy of human life as seen by a parish priest.  Coles's compassion shines through, and there's some extremely funny stuff which is instantly recognisable to anyone who's been part of a church community.  Highly recommended.

Fool me once, by Harlan Coben [audiobook]. Read by January LaVoy. [S.l.]: Bolinda Audio, 2016.

What do you do when you've just buried your husband after his brutal murder in Central Park, but then see him on your nanny-cam?  Maya is convinced that Joe is dead, but she also wants to believe the evidence of her own eyes.  Joe's family has many hidden secrets; and Maya's not short of those herself.  This is another real brain-twisting thriller from Coben, who's the specialist in convincing you you haven't a clue what's going on...

Requiem Mass, by Elizabeth Corley [audiobook]. Read by Jonathan Oliver. Bath: Oakhill, [n. d.]

Andrew Fenwick has just returned to work after the death of his wife; he's assigned a missing persons enquiry which initially he feels is beneath him.  Then a teacher is murdered, and it turns out that there is an old link between the two women, and with two or three more.  Fenwick becomes convinced that someone is taking revenge for an old tragedy, and he and his colleagues start to hunt the killer.  This is a bit long, and not all that tightly-plotted; but Fenwick is well enough drawn that I'll look for more by this author.

A mortal curiosity, by Ann Granger [audiobook]. Read by Laurence Kennedy and Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2011.

Lizzie Martin is sent off to Hampshire to be companion for a teenage woman, Lucy Craven, who has just lost her baby, and whose husband is in China.  She is living with two maiden aunts in an isolated house, and Lizzie is worried about Lucy's mental state. So is the mysterious Dr Lefebre, and this opinion seems to be confirmed when Lucy is found crouching over the body of a murdered man, covered in blood; the murder weapon is a knife from the aunts' kitchen.  Lizzie calls on Ben Ross, who comes down from London, and the two investigate again.  This has a cliffhanger of an ending...

The Green Mill murder, by Kerry Greenwood. London: Constable, 1993.

Phryne Fisher is at a dance marathon with goopish Charles Freeman when a man is stabbed right beside her.  Charles vanishes before being questioned by the police, and Phryne is left both to find Charles and to investigate the murder.  This is set squarely in the Jazz Age, with the wonderfully named Tintagel Stone and his band, and Phryne's little plane comes into its own here when she has to track down a shellshocked War veteran who has made his home in an isolated part of the Australian bush.  Wonderfully entertaining, as ever...

2016 books, #76-80

Splinter the silence, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2015.

Carol Jordan is still in exile, renovating her old barn in the Yorkshire hills. Until one night she has more than one too many, and is picked up by a traffic patrol and charged with drunk driving.  At her lowest, the only person she can think to call is Tony Hill.  But life is about to change for both of them as a result of a Home Office initiative.  Carol and Tony are back in harness, chasing a cyber-bully who seems to be driving feminists to suicide.  Another excellent book in this series.

Conclave, by Robert Harris. London: Hutchinson, 2016.

This book was completely fascinating.  I think anyone following this blog for long will know that a) I'm Catholic and b) I wasn't a fan of the last Pope; so a thriller set at a conclave which might, who knows, elect a progressive Pope was always going to be attractive.  This, in a way, reminds me of earlier John Grisham - the setup is brilliant; the characters are well-defined; there are cliffhangers all along the way; and somehow, the ending is ever so slightly disappointing.  I don't regret reading it, though.

Jeremy Hutchinson's case histories, by Thomas Grant. London: John Murray, 2016.

Recommendation from Jan - thanks!  This is the story of the cases of Jeremy Hutchinson, lawyer to the stars of iconoclasm and freedom of speech from the 1960s onwards.  The trial of George Blake, the Profumo affair, the Chatterley trial, right through to Romans in Britain and Mary Whitehouse, told in an entertaining, engaging style which puts the cases into the context of how the world was at the time. One of the books I enjoyed reading as a teenager was a history of Bernard Spilsbury's cases - this is way better. A truly excellent read.

Blacklight blue, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

The third of the Enzo novels; read it in Colmar in September.  Which was weird, because it starts in Strasbourg, which I was travelling through at the time... Enzo's daughter Kirsty is caught up in an assassination attempt, he's diagnosed with a terminal illness and his son-in-law's gym burns down, all seemingly in an attempt to stop him investigating another of the unsolved murders detailed in Roger Raffin's book.  Enzo establishes his family in a safe house, but the person looking for him is someone with many identities and who will not hesitate to kill.  This one has one heck of a twist in the tail...

The murder of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King. London: Allison and Busby, 2016.

Mrs Hudson comes home to Sussex to find a large pool of blood on the floor, and no sign of Mary Russell.  She calls the police, and Holmes; but is aware that all the clues left point directly to her - or, in fact, to Clarissa, the woman she once was.  This is much more about Mrs Hudson than it is about Mary or Sherlock Holmes, but it's pretty fascinating for all that, and an interesting exercise in alternative back-stories...

Saturday, November 05, 2016

2016 books, #71-75

A rare interest in corpses, by Ann Granger [audiobook]. Read by Maggie Mash and Glen McCready. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2006.

In 1864, Lizzie Martin comes to London from Derbyshire, as companion to her godfather's widow.  On the way to her employer's house, she sees a body being taken out of a house which is being demolished to make way for the new St Pancras Station.  As time goes on, she discovers that the household and the house at St Pancras have a connection, possibly a dangerous one; and that she's already acquainted with the police inspector charged with the investigation.  This is tightly-plotted, and I love the details on the building of St Pancras as someone who sees it every day.  The dual reading is a nice format, given the two narrators, and there's some real humour here.

Roughing it in the bush, by Susannah Moodie. Kindle edition.

Susannah Moodie and her husband emigrated to Canada in 1832, with their small baby in tow; this is the story of the first few years of their life in the new territory.  Susannah is at time exasperating - she has the sententious Christianity of her age - and the poetry at the beginning and end of each chapter did absolutely nothing for me; but it's a fascinating account, occasionally very humorous.  It has the attitudes, and language, of its age, but is often very refreshingly not what you'd expect from a Victorian matron.  And there's some awful hardship along the way, too.  I don't think I'd have carried on with this after the first few chapters if it hadn't been a book-group book; but on the other hand I'd have missed a lot by giving up.

I let you go, by Clare Mackintosh. London: Sphere, 2014.

A five-year-old, Jacob, is killed by a hit-and-run driver; the grieving mother of a dead child runs away to the Welsh coast; two police detectives on the verge of an affair can't let the hit-and-run case go, and continue to investigate.  It all seems pretty straightforward for the first half of the book, until there's a breakthrough - and a cliff-edge for the reader worthy of Jeffrey Deaver at his finest.  And it all gets even darker. I would warn (and this is slightly spoilery) that if you've found the Helen-and-Rob plot arc on the Archers distressing, this may not be one for you.  I found it hard reading at points but the need to know is very strong by that point.

Triumphs and turbulence: my autobiography, by Chris Boardman. London: Ebury, 2016.

Normally, I read for a bit on the train and then pick up my knitting and put on a podcast.  I started reading this on Thursday night, had to lever myself away from it to switch the light off, and finished reading on the train nearing home on Friday night.  I slightly regret reading this so quickly, but it had to be back at the library on Saturday...  This is a wonderful book.  If you like Chris Boardman and have heard him commenting and commentating, and podcasting, you can hear this in his own voice. It's self-deprecating, sardonic, funny, often painfully self-critical.  Boardman's fully aware of the degree of self-obsession required for performance sport, to the extent of having missed the birth of his second child because he needed to recce a course ahead of a race; and of the difficulty of leaving that mindset after retirement from competition.  And there are some great pen-portraits of the people he's worked with and raced with and against over the years, and a sense of the deep debt of gratitude he owes to his wife Sally, who's kept it all together all these years.

One day ahead: a Tour de France misadventure, by Richard Grady. Kindle edition.

You couldn't get a higher contrast to the last one than this book, read on the Eurostar on the way to Alsace in September.  Four amateur cyclists decide to race the 2012 Tour route one day ahead of the professional péloton , and rope a motley collection of friends in for the ride and as support workers. It's an occasionally very funny account of the attempt, and the love of France comes through strongly; but it's also an honest, warts-and-all account of what happens when you get eight disparate people, with different expectations and senses of entitlement, living in close quarters in two camper-vans for nearly a month.  It's a combination of a tale of massive, heroic endeavour and a warning never to go on holiday with people you don't know well...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

2016 books, #66-70

Cheer up, love: adventures in depression with the Crab of Hate, by Susan Calman. London: Two Roads, 2016.

This is a wonderful book.  It's often extremely funny, as you'd expect; but it's also extremely honest about living with depression, and some of the things Susan Calman has found help with her own depression; there's also a great section on the things to say, and not to say, at difficult times.  Calman looks at the impact of social media on mental health, at talking therapies, at people's attitudes to her being gay and depressed, at physical appearance...  It's all extremely engaging, and beautifully written, and (again) funny.  And obviously, there are cats. Highly recommended!

Out of bounds, by Val McDermid. London: Little, Brown, 2016.

A teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car, killing his three passengers and putting himself into a coma.  When his DNA is analysed to see whether he'd been involved in other car thefts, it seems to hold the key to the 20-year-old murder of a hairdresser killed on a night out. DCI Karen Pirie of the Cold Cases Unit is extremely keen to find the perpetrator of a crime which affected all the people involved so deeply, but it's not as straightforward as it seems; and Pirie also has enemies within Police Scotland who resent her involvement in the present-day crime and wish to stop her.  As the investigation goes on, some very powerful people are stirred up and Pirie's life is in danger.  As ever, this is brilliant.  (There's also an extremely accurate description of a Select Committee session in Portcullis House - Pete Wishart MP of the SNP is credited at the end for help with that one!)

The escape artist: life from the saddle, by Matt Seaton. London: Fourth Estate, 2002.

I had this recommended by the bibliography at the back of another cycling book; and it's a really interesting account of a keen amateur, almost-professional, cyclist in the 1990s, and the sacrifices people make to an obsession.  What I hadn't realised was that it's the Matt Seaton who's also the Family editor for The Guardian and widower of Ruth Picardie, whose heartbreaking Before I say goodbye... columns I read in the Observer in the 1990s.  So it's also a pretty poignant memoir; it balances the exhilaration of racing, and of feeling physically in completely top condition, with the guilt of not spending time doing more responsible, more social things.

The long way home, by Louise Penny. London: Sphere, 2014.

I finished The beautiful mystery, the previous book in the series, just before a meeting in Bloomsbury; and bought this on the way home.  Gamache and Reine-Marie are starting to enjoy a life in retirement in Three Pines, but there's one unresolved mystery - Peter Morrow hasn't returned to his wife Clara after their one-year trial separation, and while Clara is still undecided as to whether she really wants him back, she knows Peter wouldn't stay away if there wasn't something very wrong.  Gamache agrees to help find Peter, and it turns into a slightly bizarre road trip around Québec and Ontario. There's a lot about art and artists, and about losing one's way and trying to find it; and a surprising, heartbreaking conclusion.  Extremely good.

The critic: an Enzo MacLeod investigation, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

The second of the Enzo novels.  After solving one historic unsolved case, Enzo is again taking time out of his day job as a chemistry professor at Toulouse University to look at another case, this time in the vineyards of the Gers.  A prominent US wine critic went missing from the area a decade before, and no trace of him has been found, until his corpse appears displayed in a vineyard, seemingly having been pickled in wine all this time.  Enzo's enquiries aren't popular with everyone, though, and his motley crew of students, his daughters and their boyfriends prove both a help and a hindrance before the mystery is finally (slightly horrifyingly) solved.  This was a brilliant book to be reading in France last month.

2016 books, #61-65

Lanterne rouge: the last man in the Tour de France, by Max Leonard. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

This was a good year to read this book - the last man to finish on the Tour de France this year was the lovely Sam Bennett, who rode all but the first stage with stitches in his right hand and a clamp holding his little finger together.  Sometimes a bit of a joke, sometimes, like this year, a badge of honour and survival, the people who've "won" the lanterne rouge are a fascinating bunch.  Leonard picks a dozen from all eras of the tour, and looks both at the Tour they rode that year and the rest of their careers; and in doing so sheds light on this fascinating "honour".  Sam Bennett joked that as more riders finished the Tour than in any previous year this July, he was "the last of the last".  This book shows he's in extraordinarily good company.

Telesa: the covenant keeper, by Lani Wendt Young. Kindle edition.

This was a book group book, a YA novel. 18 year old Leila's father dies, leaving her with only her autocratic grandmother; rather than spend her summer at an academic camp, she travels to Samoa to try and find out more about the mother who died when she was a baby.  Far from being overjoyed, her mother's family are anxious and fearful at first.  Leila settles in well at school and makes friends for the first time, but strange things are happening to her physically, and she's also awakening sexually.  There's some fascinating stuff about Samoan traditions and superstitions here, and I think if I was a teenager I'd love these; as it was, reading about the perfectly-sculpted bodies of teenage boys made me feel uncomfortably like some middle-aged voyeuse.

How the light gets in, by Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2013.

This is a stunning book.  I like this series in general; but it's rare that a book manages to totally transcend its series, and this is one of those rare times.  The title comes from Leonard Cohen's Anthem; Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in. After the events of Beautiful mystery, Gamache and Beauvoir are estranged, the Homicide unit of the Sécurité du Québec has been decimated by malevolent high-ups, and Gamache himself feels defeated.  And in the middle of all this, Gamache has a call from Three Pines - Myrna's Christmas guest never arrived, and subsequently is found dead in her apartment in Québec City.  Her secret is that she was one of a set of quintuplets who were astonishingly famous as children.  But as Gamache looks into the crime, he's also being watched... There is so much despair, beauty and hope in this book.  It's worth reading the entire series just to get to it.

The murder road, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Mike Rogers. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

There's only one road out of the village of Shawhead; and now that road is blocked by a lorry which has got stuck under the bridge.  There's no sign of the driver, but the cab is bloodstained.  Ben Cooper starts to investigate, but the villagers of Shawhead are a strange lot, and his investigation isn't the only thing on his mind, as he drives back and forth to Nottingham to visit Diane Fry.  Another extremely good book in this series, and I love Mike Rogers's Derbyshire voice.

Dirty work, by Gabriel Weston. London: Jonathan Cape, 2013.

The book starts with a disastrous surgical operation; and moves on to the disciplinary hearing before the British Medical Association.  A young female doctor is charged with gross misconduct.  We hear the entire process through her point of view, and the book's divided into four sections, one for each week of the hearings.  We find out about her, about the events around the operation, about her family background and how she became a doctor; and as we move through, it becomes steadily more disturbing.  This is definitely not one for the squeamish, either physically or morally; it's one which will stick in my brain for a long time.  Weston is a doctor and writer, and recently presented a BBC series on the history of forensics, which led me to this book.