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39. The Lewis Man by Peter May

The gimmick here is it's set in the Outer Hebrides, something I can resist even less than Castillo's Amish series or Cleeves' Shetland series.

A perfectly preserved body is found in a peat bog on Lewis.  The authorities are hoping it will turn out to be Bronze Age or earlier, but when the pathologist washes it off and finds an Elvis tattoo, that's the end of that theory. 

Except for one thing, not much more than average. I stayed up way too late to finish it, and was truly disappointed.  The bones of a great story were there, but it just didn't work that well for me.

The exception is that I found it incredibly evocative of the landscape.  I've only been to Lewis and Harris, so I can't vouch for his description of the southern islands, but it really made me feel like I was right there.  So I guess it's a success in that I'm trying to find the time to take another trip up there, and this time to make it to the other islands.

40. Death of an Expert Witness by PD James

Although I haven't read this before, I've seen the television adaptation, so no great surprises.  After having read the more recent Dalgliesh outings, reading an earlier one (published and set in the late 70s) was interesting. 

The thing that struck me most was that the 18 year old girl let her mother "make" her eat breakfast when she slept in, thus making her late for work, and indeed that her parents had a say in where she worked, and that this was seen as normal and acceptable.  Totally alien to my world.

41. Breaking Silence by Linda Castillo

Third in the series about the ex-Amish chief of police set in a part of Ohio with a significant Amish population.  Not nearly as good as the first two.  While it's nice that the two main characters finally put a definition on their relationship and stop playing games with each other, that part took up too damn much of the book.  (Castillo has another life as a romance author, and it kind of showed here).

Also (I hadn't appreciated this in the second novel), this third volume about brutal mass murder takes place within a year of the first instalment; giving Painters' Mill a higher per capita murder rater than Midsomer.  I mean, I kow my personal bias is that I'll stay in the city where it's safe, thanks, this is a bit ridiculous.
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9. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

I love PD James.  She's one of my favourite detective story writers ever, managing to produce works that are both comforting and thought-provoking at the same time.

I really struggled with this one, though.  Which I will own as my failing, not hers.  The idea is that it's a sequel to Pride and Prejudice where somebody gets murdered.  Darcy and Elizabeth live in his big house and have some perfect children (who are neither seen nor heard) and live in perfect rich people domestic bliss. One of the reviews on the cover describes it as "pitch perfect".

It is.  Therein lies my problem.  I persisted through the scene-setting parts (which was, thankfully, shorter than in many of James's books, some of which don't get to the murder till 1/3 through) despite the characters' preoccupations with duty, money and social standing which give me the stabby rage.

It got better during the actual detecting bits, but they didn't last long and gave way to the tedium of the inquest and trial, which hinged more on reputation than evidence.

It's incredibly well done, but completely not for me.  I suspect this answers the question of whether I'd love or hate Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
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There is the tiniest possibility I'm getting into a rut

36. A Certain Justice by PD James

I don't believe I have anything to add to previous reviews I've done of her work. Still miles ahead of much of the competition though.

37. Last Rituals by Ursa Sigurdardottir

Icelandic crime fiction. Up till this book, Sigurdardottir had only written young adult stuff, and it kind of shows - the murder is really grisly, the main character has sex and has to deal with her teenage son getting his girlfriend pregnant, but it still reads a bit like it's at a YA level. Which probably explains how I got through it in two days even though it's not nearly as good as it could have been (give any number of other authors the elements that went into this and it could have been excellent).
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53. The Skull Beneath the Skin by PD James

I've never read any of the Cordelia Grey mysteries before (I believe there are only two). It does stick to James's formula (the murder takes place on an island with only a handful of suspects who are all stuck there, the characters are all well-read people with little social contact outside work).

I really enjoyed this, quite possibly more than (at least some of) the Dalgleish mysteries.  I wonder why she hasn't written more Cordelia Grey books.

54. The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin

Another one recommended by [livejournal.com profile] nwhyte .

The Baltimore in question is a small village in West Cork, Ireland.  Who knew? 

In 1631 almost the whole village was kidnapped by pirates from Algiers and taken back there to be white slaves.  Although little is known about the fate of these people, there is enough documentary evidence from other Europeans enslaved by Barbary pirates (who were often Europeans converted to Islam) at the time that Ekin is able to write a convincing account of slave life in the Barbary states.

Additionally, this is a story where everything is more complicated than it first sounds (it's about Ireland in the 17th century, so that's not surprising) and Ekin makes a convincing case that the villagers were sold out by a corrupt landowner who wanted their land. 

He also makes claims that the captivity of so may Europeans in the North African states which had more social mobility than Europe had an important impact on the history of western civilization, which though I'm not entirely sure I buy, are something really interesting to think about.

This book is not that long (it's thick, but has the largest font I've seen in a book in a long time) and is an easy, quick read.  It's only when I've come to the end that I've realized just how much is packed into it.

If you read anything set in the 16th-18th centuries there's a lot of underlying fear of being taken slave by Barbary pirates; this is the first factual account of it I've read and the scale of piracy in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coast was tremendous.

Recommended.


I might slow down on the books front for the next few weeks; I've got my usual other books on the go too, but I finally started Neal Stephenson's Anathem this week so, as they say, I may be some time.

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62. The Private Patient by PD James

The latest PD James number, and quite possibly the best thing she's written since Original Sin (I *heart* Death in Holy Orders too, but Original Sin is the one that really sticks with me).

It has all the usual ingredients of an Adam Dalgliesh mystery. The ending is unsatisfying, but that's explicitly the point. The quality of the prose is outstanding in places.

By comparison, the latest Kathy Reichs novel is even less excusable than I thought it was at the time.
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39.The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
I finished this just before we went away. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] badnewswade for the recommendation. I had a blast with this.

For those that don't know, this is LA Noir set in the 40s and 50s but written in the late 80s. For the most part it brings 40s LA alive in the same way as Chandler does, though once you know, there's some things that stick out. For example, Ellroy uses "fuck" a lot more often than Chandler, and the sex is more explicit. Or so it seemed to me. There's also a lot about how quickly LA was changing in the post-war years (a key plot twist involves the removing of the "LAND" from the end of the "HOLLYWOOD" sign), which I don't know if anyone was picking up on at the time.

I think I need to go watch the film again. And get hold of the rest of the LA Quartet, and then watch the film of LA Confidential again.

40. The Murder Room by PD James
Another long flight, another PD James mystery. See my review of The Lighthouse. I think everything I said there applies.

Which isn't to say I don't love this stuff.

41. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Interesting counter-factual in which Roosevelt is defeated by Charles Lindbergh (the aviation hero and Nazi sympathiser) in the 1940 election, from the point of view of a small Jewish boy living in New Jersey.

Never having read any Roth before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Mostly I just found it an interesting and reasonably well-written counter-factual history exercise, but there was a part at the end that made me cry. Books don't make me cry. Ever.

While I did enjoy this, I'm not in any great hurry to read the rest of his stuff, which doesn't really appeal.

42. Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve
Sequel to Mortal Engines, a recent Bibliogoths selection which was universally loved. Most excellent airplane reading, because it's easy but exceptionally good. The action never stops. Once again, really high body count for a Young People's book, yet still not as dark as Philip Pullman.
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34. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Thought I'd expand my horizons with the American hard-boiled sub-genre.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book; in which the nameless Continental Op solves the murder of the man who hired him to come out to Personville (better known as Poisonville). However, it goes downhill from there - the Op vows to clean up the town, which is run by various corrupt characters, but all that happens is that he gets them to bump each other off and it's most unsatisfying. Early on a character who is a union agitator appears and discussion about how badly the mine workers are treated by the mine owners. I thought there might be some political comment in there but nothing comes of it. Plenty of comment about the stupidity of Prohibition, though.

There's some good & witty writing in there, but there's also some incomprehensible dialogue and less than seamless prose. I haven't been put off trying further of his works, but I'm not exactly rushing out to read more any time soon.

35. The Lighthouse by PD James
All the usual ingredients of a PD James novel - murder in an isolated community full of characters who are all loners or otherwise social misfits.

Even though James has set it in the present (published 2005) and touches on terrorism and Dalgleish even gets SARS, it still feels like a period piece.

Which isn't to say I didn't love it - read the whole thing on my way over to Canada.

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