Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Death And The Pleasant Voices

Death And The Pleasant Voices Death And The Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a read. A good mystery with the right sort of intrigue and atmosphere. The Anglo-Indian's angst was a tad exaggerated though. Poor fellow. To imagine that he was the result of two people's love for each other and yet to be so lonely and wretched.


First Line: I have never seen such lightening or such rain in all my life.

Source: Open Library

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: In Bitter Chill

In Bitter Chill In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Should have been subtitled: A Warning against One-Night Stands.


First Line: BLADE CLANKED ON FLINT.



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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every other book, nowadays, is marketed as a psychological thriller/ mystery. I wish the writers of those books would read this book first before sitting down to write yet another tale narrated by a hysterical/ neurotic female.

Immensely moving and tragic. I want to read more of Shirley Jackson.

First Line: My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.
Source: Open Library.
Other books read of the same author: The Haunting of Hill House.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mount TBR: 1st Checkpoint 2017

It's time for the year's first check-point at Mount TBR @ My Reader's Block.



I have barely started on my climb, having reviewed only one book from my shelves: The Blue Note.




My favourite character of the book happened to be Julian.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Purple Roomby Mauro Casiraghi

The Purple Room The Purple Room by Mauro Casiraghi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


"We left the courtroom in silence. Without saying a word, we each knew what was going through the other’s mind. Every moment of our life together, from the day we first met, until the exact moment when it all ended. It was the inventory of our successes and failures, many of which weren’t the same. I had mine, she had hers. Standing there, on the stone steps of the courthouse, the moment had come to leave each other for good. To go our separate ways. It was then that we felt the elation of failure. A weight had fallen from our shoulders. At long last we could abandon the struggle to love and respect each other until death do us part. We could stop feeling incompetent and guilty. We had been relieved of our duty. We were fleeing from the battlefield like two deserters. It didn’t really matter that I’d been the first to start running. Now we were the same. Alone again, face to face, just like the day we met."


Sergio has survived an accident that almost killed him but he has gaps in his memory. There is one persistent image however that doesn't let him rest: that of a woman standing against a purple wall. Lost and drifting with a sense that he has failed in his relationships, he feels that life will straighten itself out once he meets the woman again.

"The memory that I have of her, in the purple room, will disappear with me. There will be nothing left. What’s been the point of getting this far? I’d like to be able to ask those who are still pushing on, driven by some incomprehensible force. Roberto and Loredana, clinging to each other in the hope of a child. Nino and Sabrina, wrapped in each other’s arms in a hotel room in Majorca. Franco seeking comfort in Petra’s young bosom. Silvia, in love with her insects. Simonetta, with her lovely voice, full of regrets. Luisa and everyone who frequents her dating agency. Marilena. Antonella. Even Jenny and her twenty customers per night. All willing to pay in the hope of finding something that might not even exist. Trying so hard to love and be loved. Only to lose it all, end up alone, cry, suffer. Then start all over again, driven on by the hope that this time it will be better or, maybe, convinced that it will be worse, but determined to plunge right back in, up to their necks. Maybe to end up like me––staggering towards the memory of a state of grace, of a purple room on a sunny afternoon that no one will ever be able to give back to me."

The book with its poignancy reminded me of Arun Joshi's The Last Labyrinth and I liked Sergio's friendship with Roberto and Franco. Would like to read more of this author.

*

Opening Lines: I stopped waging war on the ants after I got out of the hospital. I don’t kill them anymore.

Other books read of the same author: None

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White (1937)

In 2012, Curtis Evans reviewed Ethel Lina White's 1937 novel The Third Eye, very-very favourably (read his review here). As I had liked all the books that I had read of White till then it immediately went on my wish-list. But it is  only now that Project Gutenberg, Australia has made it available (along with a host of other books by White) that I have been able to read it.





Young, spirited Caroline Watts feels (quite mistakenly) that she is becoming bothersome to her sister Lesley and brother-in-law Professor Freeman and wants to take up a job and move out of their home. Without any  professional degrees, she applies for the job of a sports-teacher at Abbey school. Professor Freemason is not happy about it but the two women (the 'practical sex' as White puts it) convince him that he is worrying about nothing.

However, Caroline too feels the same misgivings when she reaches the school on a dark, drizzling night. On inquiring about the Principal Mrs. Nash, she is told that the lady was with Mrs. Yaxley-Moore, the matron, and wasn't to be disturbed at any cost.:

"That is Mrs. Nash's private suite,.. She is with Miss Yaxley-Moore. So she must not be disturbed."

The peculiar note in her voice corresponded with the man-servant's flickering smile. It created an atmosphere of insinuation which was distasteful to Caroline.

I doesn't help matters when she is told that the previous sports-teacher had died suddenly in the same bed which she has been given:

She slept badly on her first night. Besides being homesick, she was full of nervous fancies which made her shrink from occupying a bed where some one might have died recently. For some time she lay awake, starting at every creaking board before she drifted into a semi-unconscious state in which she could still hear the rustle of the rain while her brain played the strange pranks of dreams.

She thought that she was awake, but was unable to stir, because of a heavy fear of something stirring inside the bed, which paralysed every muscle and locked every joint. She did not know how long it endured, but at last her fingers flexed again and she switched on the light.


As she sat up, she realised that she was really awake, and in a strange but commonplace room. In spite of her relief, she could not shake off the impression of her dream immediately. That sudden drainage of power in the moment of peril appeared to her the more horrible because of her own confidence in her strength and agility.

"Is it a warning dream?" she wondered with a flicker of prescience.





From the next morning, Caroline realises that there is something rotten in the school, especially in the kind of insidious hold that Yaxley-Moore has over Mrs. Nash with her claims to have a third-eye and the gift of communicating with the dead. Caroline wants to prove her  a fraud but doesn't have any conclusive proof. Then finally before the school breaks-up for the winter holidays, Caroline realises that Yaxley-Moore has been guilty of negligence towards an asthmatic girl. And now she has solid proof - in the form of two unopened bottles of medicine - which the matron should have given to the sick girl. Threatening exposure, she asks the matron not to rejoin in the next term.

However, Yaxley-Moore is not one to give up easily and along with her half-sister, Miss Bat, plans to stop Caroline from reaching the school after the break. And this is when the novel really takes off. As Caroline boards the bus on another rain-drenched evening, the nightmare begins.

She was only just entering the labyrinth, when she could not distinguish true from false—friend from foe—or know which move led to salvation or death. The poor Professor, who had preserved a touch of Celtic vision in spite of the grind of routine, had been smitten with presentiment at his last sight of Caroline's face, drowning in the fog.

Who is to be trusted, who is to be not? Who is the young wife of a naval officer? Who is the lady in brown? Who is the commercial traveller? And who is that figure in front - a man or a woman??? Are they all in league against Caroline?

By now the poison of the anonymous letters had spread through her system, numbing her sense of proportion. As she looked around her she began to suspect every one in the bus. From that moment, Someone who was her enemy was travelling with her in the Streamline Coach. Yet, because it was impossible to credit any particular person with sinister qualities, "Someone" became an abstraction of horror, rather than an actual human being.

It was this anonymous element which gradually wore away her nerve, until lethal squares seemed to crowd the board.

And what  about the aristocratic lady in fur:

"Shirley Temple in disguise," suggested the bony man, making his bid as humorist. "She wants to escape her fans, so don't ask for her 
autograph."

[This reminded me that England's captain Douglas Jardine had sent two Shirley Temple dolls to the daughters of Australian cricketer Bre Oldfield when the latter had been felled by a Harold Larwood bomb. We are definitely in the thirties.]





But to get back to Caroline's dilemma: Should she accept the invitation of a man who claims to be the professor's friend? What about the car-driver who so eagerly offers her lift? Should she stay on the bus or get down? Will she ever reach her destination?

The coach continued to roll through the forest, which stretched for miles. On either side of her were walls of dark, funereal trees—pines, Scotch firs, yews—all weeping with moisture. The ray from the lamps picked out details: the rusty stain on a rubbed trunk, like dried blood; the moonlight-blue tips of black-green shoots; the scar of a lopped branch, which glimmered whitely like a magnified eye.


Read John's comment about the dagger:)



A totally terrific ride. Hop on NOW.

*

Besides Curt, John @ Pretty Sinister Books also rates this book very highly. His review can be read over here.

*

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase and Crimes of the Century @ Past Offences.

*

First Line: FROM THE first, Professor Freeman was reluctant to let his young sister-in-law—Caroline—accept the post of games mistress at the Abbey School.

Source: Project Gutenberg Australia.

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Wheel Spins




Reading Challenges: My Kind of Mystery & Celtic Coasts

Carolyn @ Riedel Fascination hosts a number of challenges every year. She is a fantastic host, encouraging the participants by visiting the blogs and commenting on the posts submitted. And yes! There are prizes too!




Like the past years, I am again signing up for her My Kind of Mystery challenge. This year, there don't seem to be any levels of participation. So if you love mysteries or are thinking of starting on this genre, why don't you sign up over here?


The other challenge that I am signing up for is the Celtic Coasts challenge, a gathering place for all Celtic reading. Since Carolyn has not set any quota, you can do as much (or as little) reading as you please. More information, over here.



*

To see the other challenges Carolyn is hosting this year, go to her home-page.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: The Boy That Never Was

The Boy That Never Was The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another book that promises more than it delivers.

Harry and Robin are coping with the grief of losing their three old son. Though it was a natural calamity that took him away yet both are full of guilt and resentment which is straining their relationship, or what is left of it anyway.

This book seemed to drag in the beginning then seemed to perk up in the middle but the climax completely ruined it. I liked Harry and his friends - Spenser and Cozimo. He seemed more closed to them than to his own wife. Wish at least one chapter p-o-v had been provided to both at least.

All I could think at the end was that nobody really cared about the child. They all wanted him to satisfy something within themselves without really bothering about his needs and wants.

*

First Line: A storm is rising.
Alternate Title: The Innocent Sleep

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: The Blue Note

The Blue Note The Blue Note by Charlotte Bingham
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Did not enjoy.


First Line: Afterwards they said there was never to be a time quite like it again.

London: Bantam Books, 2000.
First published: 2000
Pages: 567
Source: Bought it at DBF in Sept. last year.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: What Happened At Hazelwood

What Happened At Hazelwood What Happened At Hazelwood by Michael Innes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only Innes can conjure up such make-belief and make it convincing.

"Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss..."

First Line: Nobody could have predicted just what has happened at Hazelwood, and at the moment it appears as if nobody can elucidate it either.

Pages: 237
Source: Open Library

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Top Ten (+3) Tuesday: Disappointing Books


This week, Top 10 Tuesdays meme@ The Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list books that disappointed us. These are the books that I picked up with a lot of enthusiasm and eager anticipation but which made me want to scream. And as this is a good way to vent my frustration at the books, I am presenting a list of 13 which I suffered read since I started blogging:

1. The Shudders by Anthony Abbot



Begins with a bang, ends with a whimper.


2. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson



A woman wakes up every morning with no recollection of the past. The moment I read this sanctimonious statement on page two of the book, I knew she was going to be a pain:

I ignore the slippers at my feet - after all, fucking the husband is one thing, but I could never wear another woman's shoes.

3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt




This book about elitist students indulging in Bachhanal rites simply did not work for me.

4. Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley



It should be sub-titled: How Love makes you lose your Integrity.

5. Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer




I had heard a lot about Heyer's mysteries but after reading this have grave reservations about reading another one by her.

6. Neither Five Nor Three  by Helen MacInnes




After reading this paean to McCarthyism, have never dared to read anything by Helen MacInnes.

7. The Black Spectacles by J.D. Carr




Perhaps I'd not have been so disappointed with this book had I not read it immediately after the exquisite The Burning Court by the same author. But after reading ''The Shot-Gun Wedding" scene, I wondered whether Carr himself had gone bonkers.

8. Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham



Usually I laugh-off the racist attitudes and racist assumptions present in books but this book really made me grind my teeth.


9. The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais






If you finish a book with the question; what was it all about? you can be sure you have wasted your time.

10. The Story-Teller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya





A novel that is too ambitious for its own good.

11. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon



The ending of the book was so pathetic that it completely destroyed the book for me.

12. The Farm by Tom Rob Smith


The narrator's mother, whose voice dominates throughout the book, must be one of the most annoying characters ever created.


13. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy




More than 650 pages of sheer agony.


*

Part of A Baker's Dozen series.

































































































































































































Sunday, February 26, 2017

1943: The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis

Some time in 2013, I discovered American writer Norbert Davis through his book Holocaust House Though published in 1940, the book has nothing to do with what the Nazis were doing at that particular period, it is instead a delightful read featuring a pair called Doan and Carstairs. While reading about Davies at that time, I came to know that the next novel in the series :The Mouse in the Mountain  was considered to be one of the most humorous novels ever written. It immediately went on my wishlist. But somehow or the other, never quite got round to reading it and it was only when it was announced @Past Offences that February was to be dedicated to 1943 that I decided to reacquaint myself with the pair again.


A bus-load of tourists from the US, consisting of Doan, Carstairs, Janet Martin, a young professor; the Henshaws and their son Mortimer; an heiress, her maid and her gigolo (Kid you not, that is how he is introduced in the book):

"... Patricia Van Osdel. She's the flypaper queen. Her old man invented stickum that flies like the taste of, and he made fifty billion dollars out of it"

"Is she married?" Mrs. Henshaw asked suspiciously.

"That is a vulgarness to which she would not stoop," said Bartolome. "She has a gigolo. They come! Prepare yourselves!"


Although advised not to do so, the touring-party makes its way to a remote village Los Altos. Though they are not telling, almost all of them have a special reason for wanting to visit the village. Unknown to them, the Mexican millitary too has special interest in the village. Almost before they have set foot in the village, a man is shot dead by one of the touring party. This brings the uber nationalist Lieutenant Perona on the scene and even before they know it, there is an earthquake, a murder, an attempted murder... and there is just no stopping after that.

The book was a breezy and humorous read but what struck me the most was how Davis satirized his own country and its denizens. Considering that the book was published in 1943 and the USA had become involved in the second world war, it would have been understandable even if the book had been a little jingoistic. But though it is Doan who finally solves the mystery and Janet turns out to be far more knowledgeable about Mexican history and geography than Perona, Davis also has a great time introducing humour at the expense of his fellow country-men and women. Thus as the tourists make their way to the village:


IN LOS ALTOS, THERE HAD BEEN A RUMOR GOING THE rounds that some rich tourists from the United States who were staying at the Hotel Azteca outside Mazalar were going to make the bus trip up to Los Altos. It was obvious, of course, that this rumor wasn't entirely to be trusted. Anyone with any brains or a radio knew that the people from the United States were too busy raising hell up and down the world to have any time to look at scenery except through a bombsight.


Again

Captain Perona breathed hard. "I will forgive you--this time, senorita. Mocking people and ridiculing them is, I understand, a custom in your detestable country."

"My what?" Janet said, stung.

"The United States. I have heard that its people are very ignorant and uncouth."

"They are not!"

"Especially the women. They have loud, shrill voices, and they shout in public."

"They do not!" Janet cried.

Captain Perona smiled at her blandly. Several passersby turned to look curiously at her. She began to blush, and she put her hand up to her lips. "You see?" asked Captain Perona. "Even you do it. Shouting in public is considered very unmannerly in Mexico."

Yet again:

"Senorita, you are trying to trick me into insulting you, as I understand is the custom of women from the United States. They trick a man into insulting them, and then they threaten to have the man arrested unless he marries them. They are so unattractive they cannot get a husband in any other way.... 

And of course, the thing that many from the North and South Americas complain about:

"My mother told me so. My family did not realize they had been robbed by this Ruggles criminal until she told them. But she knows. She knows everything about people from the United States because she came from there herself."

"You mean, your mother is an American?"

Captain Perona looked at her. "That is a very disgusting habit your countrymen have. Calling themselves Americans as though they were the only ones. I will have you know that Mexicans are Americans. We are more Americans than people from the United States are, because we came to America before they did."

As the world turns more insular and narrow-minded would such a book be allowed today? I am certain that if India was at war and such a book was to be published the poor author would be bombarded with the most vituperative abuses and hounded out of his home. Children of Mother India would cry hoarse at how India's culture (and especially Indian womanhood) had been degraded and how the author was an anti-nationalist, a blot on India....so on and so forth  . More than anything else it made me admire the US' (I will not call it America's lest Lt. Perona come breathing fire at me) spirit of free-thinking and the ability to laugh-at-one-self. But I wonder if the same spirit pervades the US of today?

*

Opening Lines: WHEN DOAN AND CARSTAIRS CAME down the wide stairway and walked across the pink-tiled floor that was the pride and joy of the Hotel Azteca, the guests in the lobby stopped whatever they were doing to pass the time away and stared open-mouthed. Doan was not such-a-much, but Carstairs usually had this effect on people, and he left a whispering, wondering wake behind him as he stalked across to the glassed side doors and waited with haughty dignity while Doan opened one of the doors. He ambled through it ahead of Doan into the incredibly bright sunlight on the terrace.

Alternate Title: (An Abridged version): Dead little Rich Girl



First Published: 1943
Pages: 126
Series: Doan & Carstairs #2

Source:  Many Books

Other Books read of the same author: Holocaust House





Saturday, February 25, 2017

Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse

Uncle Dynamite Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved re-reading this book. Wodehouse is a genius.

First Line: On the little branch line which starts at Wockley Junction and conveys passengers to Eggmarsh, St. John, Ashenden Oakshott, Bishop's Ickenham and other small and somnolent hamlets of the south of England the early afternoon train had just begun its leisurely journey.

Pages: 249
Source: DSPL [823 W817U]


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Literary Research and Postcolonial Literatures in English: Strategies and Sources

Literary Research and Postcolonial Literatures in English: Strategies and Sources Literary Research and Postcolonial Literatures in English: Strategies and Sources by H. Faye Christenberry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Informative but I didn't quite like the dumping together of literatures from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian Sub-Continent.

First Line: The the past engenders the present is of course undeniable; it is equally undeniable that the reasons why I write in English are ultimately rooted in my country's history.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: A Man Lay Dead

A Man Lay Dead A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have fond memories of Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn, so I picked up this book, in which he makes his debut, with a great deal of eager anticipation. The image I had of Alleyn was that of a sophisticate, well-mannered sleuth from Scotland Yard. I don't know whether my memory is all-wrong or whether he changes in the course of the series but in this he is pretty facetious, even over-bearing and rude at times.

The novel itself is a mish-mash. It begins well in a country house where guests assemble, one of them with a Mongolian dagger, to play a game of Murder. And we all know how that game would end, don't we? With hardly any suspects, it is not too hard to solve the mystery. But the writer tries to confuse the issue with some Russian brotherhoods operating in England. In fact, the book reminded me of another boring book: Margery Allingham's The Crime at Black Dudley.

*

First Line: NIGEL BATHGATE, in the language of his own gossip column, was "definitely intrigued" about his week-end at Frantock.

Series: Roderick Alleyn #1

Source: Open Library
Other books read of the same author: (Among others) Artists in Crime.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr

Hag's Nook Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first Dr. Fell. An atmospheric tale with a decent mystery. However, it also revealed to me the problems that I have with Carr. Except for The Burning Court, which I loved, and He Who Whispers, which I hated, I find it difficult to get involved with his characters. In fact, the character that I liked the most in this novel was that of Mrs. Fell. I hope to read more of her.

You can read about the book @Tipping My Fedora and @Confessions of a Mystery Novelist


First Line: The old lexicographer's study ran the length of his small house.

Series: Dr. Fell #1
Source: Open Library

Other books read of the same author: (Among Others) The Eight of Swords


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Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts

The Hog's Back Mystery The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review contains SPOILERS. So please do not read it unless you have read the book as this gives away the murderer.


Opening Lines: “Ursula! I am glad to see you!” Julia Earle moved forward to the carriage door to greet the tall, well-dressed woman who stepped down on the platform of the tiny station of Ash in Surrey.

Series: Inspector French #10
First Published: 1933
Pages: 223

Other Books read of the same author: Sir John Macgill's Last Journey




Has it ever happened to you that a line coming somewhere at the end has destroyed the entire book for you or at least lessened to a great extent your enjoyment of it? To me, this happens quite often. This mystery too which was proceeding pretty finely, despite all the plodding, suddenly lost its charm because of this line:

Alice had always hated her brother, and had kept house for him solely for financial reasons.

Where in the text was this hatred presented???????? The Campions were portrayed as a loving family and Alice, the chatterbox, seemed to be having her way always. In fact, she even dictated terms to her brother who seemed to give way to her good naturedly. Just because he turned out to be the villain of the piece the writer seems at pains to show that Alice was so innocent that she merely kept the house for him for financial reason. Excuse me, but what is presented of Alice is hardly true of this. She is too spirited to merely yoke herself to a situation she dislikes only for financial reasons. And what about the other sister???? The writer makes no mention of her. Nor of Marjorie for that matter.

A good mystery that left a bad-taste in my mouth only because of this statement that rings absolutely false. However, I give it three stars for a good mystery that had me guessing though I did suspect the doctor although not his accomplice.

And with this, I light the first candle for my bhuaji.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review: Vegetable Duck

Vegetable Duck Vegetable Duck by John Rhode
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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First Line: At a quarter to nine in the evening of Thursday, August 31st, Mr. Charles Fransham walked hastily up to the entrance of G Block, Mundesley Mansions, Battersea, and went in.

Series: Dr. Priestly # 40
First Published: 1944
Source: Open Library





Can't understand how a person who could come up with such an ingenious murder plan as well as that trick with the letter could slip so badly? Come on, no disguise when interacting (profusely, no less) with others who might very well be called as witnesses.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: An Old-Fashioned Mystery

An Old-Fashioned Mystery An Old-Fashioned Mystery by Runa Fairleigh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A post-modern look at the genre of mystery. I was getting mighty tired of it, till I read the last part, and that quite redeemed the entire book for me.

First Line: "'This chutney tastes a bit off to me,' the major said.

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Review: Shares in Murder

Shares in Murder Shares in Murder by Judah Waten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An impressive police procedural with a twist in the end. The police men investigating the murder of a woman, the reporters covering the case, the criminals associated with the case, all want to have their pound of flesh from the murder. Realistic and gritty.


First Line: The telephone rang before dawn and woke Inspector Stewart Brummel from an enjoyable dream.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Baker's Dozen: Unknown Authors 2017

I purchased a number of books from the World Book Fair at Delhi. Predictably, a majority of them were crime/ mysteries. Some of the authors and books, I had heard about but never read but there were quite a few totally unfamiliar to me. Have you read these books or authors? What do you think of them?





























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Previous A Baker's Dozen.