Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey (2014)

 

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One of the big sellers of 2014 and the winner of the Costa First Novel Award this book has been my shelves since then.  I really wanted to read it when I bought it but over the time it has been sat there I’ve wondered whether it might be too whimsical, heart-warming or quirky for an old cynic like me and other books have taken precedence.

 However, out of the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge box at Sandown Library came “read a novel where the main protagonist is aged over 60”, so a perfect cue to discover what the fuss around this debut was all about.

 Main character, Maud, at aged 82 fulfils my brief nicely.  She suffers from dementia and when she believes her friend has gone missing she is determined to find out what has happened.  Only occasionally lucid, she has to rely on her hand-written notes but her investigation strategies are continually forced backwards by her confusion and the symptoms of this cruel disease.

 The past also intervenes as her friend Elizabeth’s predicament becomes aligned in Maud’s brain with the disappearance of her older sister Sukey just after the war, a mystery Maud has never been able to come to terms with.  Flashbacks triggered by the present events seem to bring these days back with greater clarity.

 It is the Dementia aspect, of course, which gives this gentle mystery its unusual slant just as an earlier best seller “The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time” (2003) by Mark Haddon created something similar with his young, probably autistic detective.  That condition was never really made clear in that book and so it felt more subtle than what we have here although there is little doubt that if you loved that book then this is an obviously worthy recommendation. 

 I actually had my reservations about Haddon’s novel and I didn’t find myself totally buying into this either.  I found it to be all a little too much on one level and as well as being frustrated for Elizabeth I found myself becoming frustrated as a reader as I wanted the novel to move on more than it did.  The “mystery” aspect did not work as well as I expected it to, however, the human aspect of living with dementia and the toll this takes on the family works better, but I’m not really sure that I wanted to read this type of book at this present time. The dementia and mystery elements did not integrate as seamlessly as I thought they would. 

I know I’m in a minority here as this book has been so highly praised for both of these elements and I know it is the subject matter that largely dictates my reservations.  If it feels samey it is because Maud’s world is samey and continually challenging.  I did enjoy it but not as much as I was expecting to.

 Emma Healey’s second novel “Whistle In The Dark” has been published this month (May 2018) and the initial reviews are just as promising.  I would certainly be interested in reading this as there is no doubt that it seems to confirm her status as a writer who takes a unique slant towards the crime/mystery genre.

 

threestars

Elizabeth Is Missing was published by Viking in 2014.  I read the Penguin paperback edition.

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The Pure In Heart- Susan Hill (Vintage 2005) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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The third Susan Hill novel I’ve read this year came about when I pulled “Read a Crime or Thriller novel” from the box for my third book in the year long Russian Roulette Reading Challenge that I am taking part in at Sandown Library.  I’d always thought Hill was most celebrated for her sparse, short horror tinged works of which “The Printer’s Devil Court” was an example but I am much preferring her crime series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler of which this is the second out of nine full length works. 

 Here, Hill feels like a very different novelist as she writes at length and allows the plot considerable time to unfold.  “The Various Haunts Of Men” had Serrailler pretty much in the background and I felt he was one of the least interesting characters but he’s pushed centre stage for this follow-up published a year later.

 This is a very readable novel but I can’t help but feel that the author is toying with her readership.  Last time round the crime was a long time coming, here, it happens quicker but is far from the only thing going on, which makes it unusual compared to most other police procedurals where the solving of the crime dominates.  There are momentous events happening in the Serrailler family and Hill is prepared to devote as much time to these as the unfolding of the case, but, and here’s the thing, it doesn’t frustrate, it doesn’t feel purposely slowed down and it all feels relevant.  The odd crime reader may feel a little cheated but I personally think her style has enriched her characterisation and her feel of Lafferton, the small town where these novels are set which has already endured in just two books a serial killer and this time the disappearance of a nine year old boy on his way to school.

 I’m enjoying the family stuff and look forward to seeing how plot seeds sown here will develop in subsequent novels.  However, I’m still not buying into the main character’s love life, his hot and cold emotions are being developed as a flaw but it feels a little tacked  on, as it did in the last novel, and as a result a little unconvincing.

 Susan Hill likes to provide surprises along the way and has once again achieved this.  She takes risks, not so much with characters, as in the debut (if you have read it you will know what I mean) but here with the actual case.  Things may not go exactly the way the reader expects it to and I like that.

 I’m also liking that it feels like a traditional police procedural and yet it’s not a traditional police procedural.  I can see the parallels with her horror writing as it is what is under the surface which most unsettles.  I’m fascinated to see how this series continues.

 fourstars

 The Pure In Heart was published by Vintage in 2005

The Young Victoria – Alison Plowden (1981) – A Real Life Review

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Like many people my knowledge of the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign has been based upon what I have seen in the ITV drama series “Victoria”.  There were still things that I was unsure about, namely, how the line of succession played out so that she came to the throne in the first place.  For my second book in the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge at Sandown Library I pulled out of the hat “a book with a green cover” and I chose Alison Plowden’s non-fiction work because a) it had a green cover and b) I wanted to know more about the young Victoria.

 Plowden’s book was written in 1981 although I read a paperback reprint from The History Press which was published in 2016.  It falls firmly into the category of popular history, there are no references to get you leafing through to the back of the book, a shorter bibliography than one might imagine and an author’s note which credits especially two biographies, one from 1972 and one from back in 1964.  Plowden has synthesized this information into her very readable work which suited my purposes but may frustrate the more serious historian. 

 It does read like a novel, especially with its characters that we know from the TV series here being fleshed out and it was a little surprising to find that the ITV drama does not deviate too far from the facts as presented here. 

 The characters who feature strongly in Victoria’s early years and are brought to life well by Plowden are her mother, the Duchess of Kent, whose relationship with her daughter became strained during the teenage years largely because of the influence of Sir John Conroy, who placed himself and his family close to Victoria and her mother and who the Princess came to hate.  Victoria had the most time for her beloved governess Baroness Lehzen and for Dash her dog.  The book ends with Victoria’s marriage to Albert but the most fascinating relationship here (as it was in the early episodes of the ITV series) is the one between the young Queen and Prime Minister and mentor Lord Melbourne with Victoria demonstrating anti-Tory tendencies in her desire to keep him in power.

 I still haven’t totally got the succession to the throne bit as her grandfather had so many children that it all gets a little confusing and I could have really done with a family tree appendix to sort this all out in my head.  Inexplicably, the edition I read devoted two pages at the back to completely the wrong tree, that of the House of Tudor, which has no relevance whatsoever to Victoria’s time.  That is a bad mistake from The History Press that I hope was put right in subsequent editions. 

 Alison Plowden was best known for her non-fiction on the Tudor period so that suggests that the family tree here was intended for another of her publications.  She wrote around 25 books mainly on female historical figures.   She died in 2007.

 threestars

 

Young Victoria was first published in 1981.  I read the 2016 History Press edition.  The History Press have republished a number of her books.

The Various Haunts Of Men – Susan Hill (2004) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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It’s very unusual for me to read two unrelated books in succession by the same author.  Susan Hill has benefited by producing the short “Printer’s Devil Court” which I chose as a successful reintroduction to the world of audio books- a format I’d struggled with on previous attempts and there’s also a story behind my selection of this book. 

At Sandown Library, one of the libraries I work at on the Isle Of Wight there is a year long initiative going on.  It’s the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge which involves pulling from a hat a reading theme or suggestion.  It is running throughout 2018 (new participants welcome) and will culminate in a prize draw for those open-minded and determined towards their reading choices who manage to complete 20 of these challenges.  It’s a little like the Book Bingo which I set up and which is still running at Shanklin Library, but without the bingo card and the route to success cannot be planned in quite the same way, adding a randomness which has led to the Russian Roulette title.  My initial challenge was to read a book which is first in a series.  I’d heard good things about Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime series and this instantly sprung to mind, with the first book being conveniently on the shelves.

 The most surprising thing about this series starter is the rather low- key presence of the Chief Inspector of Lafferton Police, Simon Serrailler.  He does not play much of a role in the solving of the crime here.  That falls more to members of his team, namely recent arrival from the Metropolitan Police, DS Freya Graffham and the man described as having a face only a mother could love, the enthusiastic DC Nathan Coates.  Serrailler has an in-charge role to play.  He is good-looking and known as a heart-breaker due to his playing hot and cold with female emotions.  It is intriguing that he is the character the series is built around because on this showing I found him to be one of the least interesting characters.  Probably the author is allowing him to develop over the ten more novels to date rather than having him shine too brightly in the opener with us losing interest in him.

 Also, unusually for a twenty-first century crime novel this takes quite a while to get going.  There’s a disappearance quite early on and then we are drawn into a series of characters who are using alternative medical practitioners as well as us finding out how newbie to Lafferton, Freya, is establishing herself socially in the town whilst getting the hots for her new Chief Inspector.  At one point I was concerned that the novel might be a little too pedestrian for me.

 But then, events began happening and the groundwork had been so cleverly laid by the author that it really drew me in, and, perfect reaction for a crime novel, I sped up as the book progressed.  There were twists I didn’t see coming and it ends up as a highly satisfactory read and a great introduction to a series.  I’m still not sure of the relevance of such an evocative title though.

fourstars

The Various Haunts Of Men was published in 2004 by Chatto and Windus.  I read the 2009 paperback edition.

Printer’s Devil Court- Susan Hill (2014) – A What I’ve Been Listening To Review

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I tend to steer clear of short novels.  They often feel a little sketchy for my taste, lacking in the depth of characterisation and plot which are probably the two things I seek out the most in my book choices.  I have though, often found myself attracted by the slim volumes by Susan Hill, most famous for her short novel “The Woman In Black” boosted by a long-running West End adaptation and a so-so 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.  Up to now I hadn’t read any of Hill’s books.

 That changed because the Isle Of Wight Library Service where I live and for whom I work have recently moved their platform of E-Books and Audio Books to Borrowbox, run by Bolinda, a major audio books publisher.  After training to show how much easier it was than our previous system I thought I’d do something I’d never done before and borrow an audio book.  As I know that my listening skills are fairly rudimentary I looked for something that would both appeal to me and be short and at 1 hour 40 this seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

 The joy of this new system is you can stop mid-track, easily rewind and set a sleep timer for it to switch off.  I have listened to most of this in bed in 15 minute chunks over the last few nights, long enough to stay awake and short enough to keep me following the story.  And it has worked.  I have listened to it all and have actually slept better once I’ve switched off the light.

This all may seem rather obvious to the audio book listener but my experience with this format up to now has not been great.  I did have concerns.  If I’m just listening can I actually class “Printer Devil’s Court” as a book I have read?  If I can then what about my compulsion to review everything I read?  Would I even be able to produce a review without having the book to consult?  This one was more of a problem (I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember characters’ names without seeing them written down) so I borrowed a copy off the library shelves.  This I’ve done before with my only other experience of a spoken word novel when I took out a bulky set of CD’s of Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” in addition to the book.  On first listen, I fell asleep, woke with no idea as to what was going on, checked the book to discover it was only a few pages in, which seemed such a ludicrously slow pace that I abandoned the CDs and read the book instead.  This time I told myself I couldn’t even open the book until I finished listening and I did manage to do this.

 As an audiobook it kept me entertained, it didn’t get too bogged down in detail and I wanted to know what was going to happen.  I actually feel that on this occasion I would have been less drawn in had I just read the book, as the tale is slight.  It’s a ghost story of a group of young medics who experiment with bringing a woman back from the dead.  It is rich in atmosphere but not much happens and it’s not at all scary. The horror is largely psychological as main character Hugh Meredith (thanks, book!) comes to terms over his lifetime with what he witnessed one evening.  Listening to it I was misled as to time setting.  I was in Victorian London mode until a mention of Blitz-damaged buildings made me think again.  Looking at the book I would have been even more misled by the attractive yet distinctly nineteenth-century illustrations.  I suppose it is part of the skill of the suspense writer to unsettle the reader.

stevenpaceyPrinter’s Devil Court is read by Steven Pacey

 The audiobook is narrated by Steven Pacey, whose rich tones lends it the authority and gravitas the story needs and has enough of an Alan Bennett feel to his voice to keep me listening.  I know how important the choice of voice artist is and this works well here.  All in all “Printer’s Devil Court” provided an experience I would certainly repeat and even thought I wasn’t blown away by Susan Hill’s tale I was motivated enough by it to pick up her first in her crime series featuring Simon Serrailler, a far more substantial novel, which I am currently reading.

threestars

Printer’s Devil Court was published by Profile Books in 2014.

Welcome to reviewsrevues

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Welcome to reviewsrevues.com.  If this is your first visit – where have you been?  I’ve been here since January 2015.  If you like what you read please consider clicking on the “Follow” button and then you will be notified whenever there is something new on here.   I live on the Isle Of Wight off the south coast of the UK (lovely place if you have never been).  I have been producing book reviews for websites and magazines for some time and now want a place where these can be gathered together.  I really will have a go at reading anything.  I love variation and will skip from genre to genre.   This is what you should find on the site:

  • Reviews of recently read books and pieces about books
  • Murder They Wrote – Crime book reviews
  • Female Fiction – (from a male point of view)
  • Kid-Lit (I was a Primary School teacher for many years and the habit of reading children’s books is hard to break!)
  • The Running Man (Adventure/Thriller reviews- so called because my local library, where I volunteer, uses a symbol of a running man for this fiction category.)
  • Real Life – Biographies, autobiographies, biographical fiction fits in here
  • 100 Essentials – Books and Music – Those that will have a permanent place on my shelves and hopefully in yours too!
  •  What I have been watching – TV, Films
  •  Music Now – What I have been listening to – the future Essential CD’s?

Use the indexes to find out what you may have missed.  There’s also a very good search option in the side-bar if you are looking for something specific.  Thank you for visiting reviewsrevues.com.  I hope you like what you find and that you come back soon.  Feel free to comment on any of the specific posts (you should find a Comment link underneath each post which will bring up the Comment box.)  I always reply……………….