Tuesday 30 January 2018

Granny Smith

There are four books so far in the Granny Smith series, with another due later this year. All are very cheaply priced on the Kindle - there is also a very entertaining audiobook of the first Granny Smith novel available from Audible.

Why not check out the senior sleuth.


It had been a while since I have read the likes of the character Miss Marple from Agatha Christie. Now Granny Smith has fulfilled that void in my reading life. Granny Smith is not exactly old,  but irrespective of that, everyone has been calling her Granny. She is a young at heart woman who has a trait to be curious about everything that is happening around her. So when her friend Sheila gets engaged to Nigel, who is younger than her, Granny Smith gets suspicious. The following murder in the town makes Granny even more curious and on she follows the cluesr, much to the chagrin of Detective Inspector Miskins.  AMAZON FIVE STAR REVIEW

Let's dispel one misapprehension, okay? Granny Smith is nothing like Miss Marple and G.M. Dobbs is nothing like Agatha Christie. Having said that, this is fun to read. The Welsh elements, the humour, the familiar characters and a well-developed plot combine to produce a better than average cozy mystery. What more could you ask for? Apart from the next in the series? AMAZON FOUR STARS

I was brought up on Miss Marple. I loved the idea of an old lady solving cases through sheer nosiness and this is a modern day version.
It starts with a murder at the Village Fete. Unfortunately for the murder, she happens to be Granny Smith's next door neighbour and when the poor husband of the victim is arrested, Granny Smith leaps on her bike into action. With a surveillance team comprising of long suffering husband and gay son, she is on the case!!
A lovely easy read and a good plot- a real winner :) AMAZON FIVE STAR REVIEW

 downloaded this book and couldnt put it down its brilliant granny smith is a no nonsense lady that has an way of getting to the truth which is sheer brilliance she really is miss marple on steroids cant wait for the next book in the series. Amazon five star review

The eccentric Welsh pensioner gets her teeth (usually gripping a corn-cob pipe) into solving the mysterious murder of a friend in the village. Despite being ignored and warned off by the police, she persists. This delightful short story makes great family reading with plenty of humour. I can just imagine a nice TV comedy series from this. 

Amazon five star review

Book Review: Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham

'Writing about cultures and religions that are not your own brings with it a degree of responsibility, and so it should. I have endeavoured to do so with care, sensitivity and, crucially, with respect. In Love Like Blood I have tried to display the utmost respect for Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and for those who practice their religions peacefully. ' Mark Billingham

Tackling a subject like this in a crime thriller is fraught with perils, but Billingham pulls it off and at no point does the book stray into needless sensation - This is the 14th novel featuring the author's series character, Tom Thorne - (I've been on a bit of a Billingham kick lately and this is the third novel of his I've read this month - back to back reading I add. This brings me up to date with the character, I believe there's a new Thorne novel due later this year) - and the subject matter gives the book a sharp edge. Razor sharp; you could slice a finger turning these pages.

When Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner's partner is murdered in their own home she is left seething with the need for vengeance and justice. She has been investigating a series of honour killings in the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities and she is convinced the murder of her partner is connected, but Tanner is pulled from the case, put on compassionate leave. She won't leave the investigation alone though and drags Tom Thorne into her case; unofficially of course. The book contains all the usual elements of a successful thriller - there are hit men, red herrings galore, more twists than a Curly Wurly and above all an engaging team in Thorne and Tanner. This book is nothing short of excellent and gives great insight into  honour based violence, which is something that is more common than we realise.

Official figures are that there are around a dozen or so honour killings in the UK each year, with around five thousand each year globally - a thousand of these killings take place in Pakistan alone. However according to the police many of these crimes are unreported and if you include assault, mutilation and kidnapping in with honour based violence then the figures are totally staggering. It is estimated that the true figure for the UK alone would be 20,000. Any woman who deviates from some arbitrary patriarchal law is at risk. You can be killed for simply smiling at someone the wrong way.

Billingham, in this book tries to separate the religion, of which he shows the utmost respect, from the honour crimes of which he hates, but he is walking a tightrope creating a fictional thriller around such an emotive subject. He pulls it off though....he pulls it off really well. The book does what it is supposed to  as a thriller, keeping the reader turning the pages, giving us believable characters but at the same time allowing us a glimpse of a world in which we know very little about.

'I've always thought if you write a book with an agenda,' Billingham told the Independant newspaper
at the time of the book's original publication. 'That you are going to write a bad book. 'And I stand by that. Even if I am writing something topical the story has to be front and centre. And it has to be character driven.'

'Honour killings have also been documented in Jewish and  Christian communities,' Tanners says in the book. 'If fact I think the only ones without blood on their hands are Buddhists and Rastafarians...maybe Jedis.'

All in all then another exceptional thriller from a crime writer who is at the top of his game...and one that could, excuse the cliche, have been ripped from today's headlines.

You can read the details of the true case that inspired Love Like Blood HERE

Friday 19 January 2018

Book Review: Time of Death by Mark Billingham

This is the 13th book in Mark Billingham's series featuring his tough as old boots detective, Tom Thorne - I've not read the entire series but after really enjoying the previous book in the series, The Bones Beneath (review HERE) I felt the immediate need for more Thorne and so I started on Time of Death.

Like The Bones Beneath, which was something of a departure from the standard London setting of the novels, Time of Death also uproots Thorne to a different location and presents him in a somewhat unfamiliar situation. This time Thorne is not on a case at all, but on holidays with his partner Helen Weeks (also a cop and the main character in Billingham's novel, In The Dark which I have but have not yet read). However their planned holiday is called short when Helen decides to return to her hometown, Polesford in Derbyshire to comfort an old friend whose husband, Stephen Bates, has been arrested on suspicion of child abduction.

When one of the missing girls turns up dead, the police believe they have their killer and all of the evidence seems to suggest so, but Tom Thorne is not so sure and his suspicions soon put him at odds with the local police force while he heads towards a showdown with a ruthless, and bat-shit crazy killer. There is also suspense because the reader knows the second girl is still alive - will Thorne get to get before she too is finished off?

The main narrative though concentrates largely on Helen and her relationship with her old friend Linda  Bates- it shows how the lives of innocent people, namely Linda and her two children are torn apart when her husband, the children's stepfather is arrested initially for abduction and then charged on counts of both murder and abduction. As the evidence mounts up against the man a press feeding frenzy begins and the Bates family find themselves under siege from not only the press but hordes of angry people who seem to take it upon themselves to punish the family for the alleged crimes of Stephen Bates. This aspect of the story is handled extremely well and avoids the trap of becoming soap opera'ish. Not once does the ordeal the family go through seem anything other than real...real, unfair and bloody tragic.

Now the unspoken rule with crime books is that the author can't just pluck the guilty party out of thin air at the end of the book, the reader must have met the guilty party  during the narrative, and using this logic I figured I sussed it all out by the mid-way point. There were enough clues to point me in the direction I took only to have the rug pulled out from beneath my feet towards the novels end. It's at this point that you can stand back and see where the author led you on a merry dance - and in this book, Mr Billingham dances so well.

To sum up, Time of Death is a bloody excellent thriller with real depth of character, and Tom Thorne, Billinghams's main character, has become an excellent creation - an Everyman copper, who you'd quite like to sit down and share a pint with, but keep him away from the jukebox or you could end up line dancing down the high street after a bellyful of strong ale.

Thursday 18 January 2018

I read a book this week....it was weird.

I picked up and read a book this week, perhaps for the first time in several years - it was weird.

 I should clarify that statement - when I say I picked up a book, I mean a physical book (a paperback to be precise) and yes it was the first time I've done this in a long long time.  I felt as if I'd fallen down the rabbit hole, as I turned the pages on what felt like an ancient artefact. As I say it was weird.

That's not to say I've not read a book in years. Far from it, I've always got a book on the go, but I think that the only fiction I've read for at the very least four years, likely even longer, has been on my Kindle. It is now my preferred method for reading - fiction, that is. I still prefer physical books for research, non-fiction and all that, but fiction is so much more convenient when done electronically. With the latest eReaders having built in screen lights you don't need a lamp, you don't need to fold a page to create a bookmark, or stuff an old envelope
between the pages to mark your place, and my ever so slim eReader easily fits well into the pocket on my ever so macho man-bag. It goes everywhere with me. I've replaced my eReader several times - upgrades mostly though recently a can of Monster energy drink burst in that macho man-bag and ruined my beloved Kindle Paperwhite. I almost cried but quickly got another Paperwhite.  I couldn't live without the device.

Strange when initially I scoffed at the idea of eBooks - I'm a lifelong book lover, I have thousands of books taking up space in my home, but I suppose that like most bookish people I initially took the plunge into eReaders out of curiosity. My first eReader was an elonex from Borders (remember them) - that was around 2010, I think. And although I quite liked it I didn't fall in love with it, and maybe after a year I upgraded to one of the Sony eReaders. I resisted the Kindle at the time because back then the Kindle wouldn't allow ePub files and only used Amazon's own coding system - was this
Mobi? I'm not sure, to be honest. I don't think it was - I think in the early days the Kindle used its own unique coding system before adopting Mobi as the standard. Perhaps someone reading this post will be able to clarify in the comments section. Anyway back then I didn't want to be tied into one place to buy my eBooks.

Now the Sony was an improvement on the Elonex - the page turns were faster, eBook availability was far superior and for a good few years I was happy with the device. I would estimate that by this point I was reading digitally quite regularly, but I think physical books still came out top in the reading stakes.

I only moved to the Kindle when Amazon launched the Paperwhite - and to be honest since then I've not looked back. I read around 50 novels last year, and all these were on my Paperwhite. And as I say it's now got to the point where a physical book feels awkward in my hands. I also like the easy availability of books on the Amazon Kindle Store, and how I can press a button and have the book on my device in seconds. And these days a lot of books, the kind I like anyway, are only available in digital editions. And of course I can get eBooks elsewhere and simply slide load them onto my device via the USB cable and the free Calibre software.

Of course Amazon's flagship eReader is now the Oasis - and I am thinking of getting one, but at the moment I'm happy with my Paperwhite. I see no reason to upgrade. Perhaps another Monster Assault somewhere down the road, will prompt me to do so but for the moment I think I'll stick with the Paperwhite. Those Oasis devices are bloody expensive, you know.

Of course my home is still full of books and whenever an author I follow launches a new book, I get the hard-cover which sits unread in my collection - I then buy the eBook where available and read that. Are other book lovers like this, I wonder! Has digital reading taken over your reading life?

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Book Review: The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

I've not read any of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne novels for a few years - there's no real reason for that but I followed the series for maybe the first five books, getting the books as they came out,  before I started reading other series crime novels. I wanted see how other's authors tackled the problem of carrying the same character through a series of books and I went through a lot of Rebus, the entire Jack Frost series and of course the excellent Wallander books. Since then I'd become hooked on Nordic Noir and have been reading the likes of Jo Nesbo and going through the Jowall and Wahoo's Beck books. So many book and so little time.

I'd always intended to go back to Tom Thorne but for some reason (probably because I always had my nose buried in some book or other)  I never got around to it...until now. Reading the blurb for Billingham's twelfth Tom Thorne thriller I discovered that Stuart Nicklin played a big part - Nicklin was the deranged serial killer in the second Thorne book, Scardey Cat, and it was this reason that attracted me to the novel. My memories of Scardey Cat is that it was an exceptional thriller - it's a cliché to say you couldn't stop turning the pages but in the case of Scardey Cat I remember that as being true. In the years since then and now it seems that  Nicklin's become Thorne's Moriarty and from what I learned reading The Bones Beneath he's appeared in bit parts in several of the Thorne novels I've missed. I'll have to remedy that and go read the ones I've missed because, The Bones Beneath is absolutely brilliant.

It doesn't matter if, like me, you haven't read the entire series because in terms of the story, The Bones Beneath reads just a standalone thriller, it can be read on its own without any loss of enjoyment. It's pretty much a self contained story but of course there has been a lot of character development during the earlier books, but Thorne's just as I remember him, though these days he seems to be in a loving relationship and has only just returned to his Detective Inspector role after being busted back to a uniformed officer, for something that occured in one of the previous thrillers.

The Bones Beneath gives us Billingham's answer to the locked room mystery - well sort of, since the bulk of the book takes place on a remote Welsh Island with a limited cast of character. The weather's turned nasty and there is no way off the island which Thorne shares with deranged killer, Stuart Nicklin, another killer who is anything but deranged named Jeffrey Batchelor, seveal other police officers, a few prison guards and a myraid group of people who live on the island. The reason we are here is that there was once a young offenders hostel on the island, and Stuart Nicklin had been an inmate. Now Nicklin reveals that he once killed a fellow inmate there and wants to reveal where the body is to finally bring closure to the family - echoes of the real life drama when Ian Brady cruelly refused to reveal where he had buried the body of Keith Bennet despite the anguish this caused the young boys mother. Brady of course took that secret to the grave with him.

Nicklin though wants to show where the body of his victim is buried, but he has several conditions - firstly that his fellow, Long Lartin (a Catagory A high security prison) inmate Jeffrey Batchelor comes on the trip, and that the police officer leading the search is none other than his nemesis, Tom Thorne. Of course we know Nicklin has his reasons for these conditions but when the truth comes out towards the end of the book, you think - 'Shit, why didn't I spot that?'

The book plays out far differently that the reader expects and the suspense is excellently built up until we are, here's a variation on that cliché again, turning the pages at the speed of knots - the nautical term is apropos given that the sea plays such a part in the book.

Welcome back Tom Thorne....let's not leave it so long next time.

Saturday 6 January 2018

Harry Secombe who replaced Tony Hancock is replaced by Andrew Secombe as the BBC recreate the behind the scenes drama of the Missing Hancock scripts.

I've written several times of  my love of legendary comedian, Tony Hancock - you can find Hancock related posts HERE and HERE. So I was cautious a few years back when I heard that the BBC were going to re-record some of the missing shows from their archives with a new cast - I need not have worried  - Actor, Kevin McNally does a remarkable job reinventing Hancock. So good that if you played these episodes to someone they'd never know it wasn't Hancock they were listening to. In fact the entire cast have done an amazing job - Kevin Eldon sounds exactly like Bill Kerr,  Robin Sabastian is camply spot on as Kenneth Williams and whilst, Simon Greenall may have not quite nailed Sid James' distinctive smoky voice he does at least get his trademark laugh. And of course the scripts are pure Galton and Simpson.

When I heard the first series of these recreated episodes I loved them - I now own most of them as audiobook thanks to the wonderful service that is Audible . The background on the episodes is that the BBC recorded 103 episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, recognised by many as the first sitcom, for the BBC Light Service, but 20 of these episodes were wiped. For many years the scripts for these missing episodes were thought to have been destroyed but when the scripts were re-discovered the BBC decided to recreate the episodes - there is, after all, still a massive audience for the genius of Galton and Simpson's Hancock's Half Hour.

Now just over Christmas I caught the third season, of The Missing Hancocks and it is now that they get totally surreal. Back in 1955 when the original episodes were recorded, Tony Hancock was having a dispute over the fact that the recording of his successful radio series was clashing with his lucrative theatre work. Hancock felt he was getting pressure from both sides - the BBC and his theatre producer. Hancock's response to this was to vanish - he buggered off to Rome without telling anyone. The BBC were in trouble - Hancock was a hugely successful radio series, and rather than cancel they brought in Welsh comedian, Harry Secombe, famed for among other things, his work on The Goon Show. In the end Secombe did three episodes - A Trip to France,  The Crown Jewels and The Racehorse - so successful was Secombe that the BBC had plans to change the name of the series to, Secombe's Half Hour should Tony Hancock fail to return. However, Hancock did return and the first episode of his return saw him and Bill Kerr visiting Swansea to thank Secombe for standing in.

Like father like son - Harry and Andrew Secombe
The story of Hancock vanishing is interesting - when producer, Dennis Main Wilson went to the Adelphi Theatre to give Hancock the first script for the second series of the sitcom, which was due to be recorded that weekend he was told he wasn't there, had vanished. Frantic telephone calls to Tony's wife and agent failed to reveal the whereabouts of the star. Main Wilson then went around all the bars Hancock was known to frequent but he wasn't found. Shortly afterwards Main Wilson received a surprise telephone call from Chief Superintendent Ginger Rose of Scotland Yard - the policeman had tickets to attend the recording of the shows and he wanted to know what the star of the show was doing on a plane to Rome. Main Wilson felt that the recordings would have to be cancelled but the BBC said they would go ahead with a replacement. Welsh clown, Harry Secombe was drafted in and recorded his episodes directly following recordings of Goon Show Episodes.

Now when the BBC came to record these episodes as part of The Missing Hancock series they could have simply done them with Kevin McNally playing Hancock himself, but instead they opted to re-create them as faithfully as possible and drafted in Andrew Secombe to play his father's part. In fact in the fourth of the Secombe episodes Andrew is actually playing his father rather than his father's version of the Hancock character,  as Kevin McNally's Hancock come to Swansea to thank him for his involvement.

"These programmes have long been a source of curiosity among the family, developing an almost mythic quality - indeed I had no idea that the scripts still existed until I got the call from Neil Pearson! I'm thrilled to be a part of the very talented team bringing these episodes of a much-loved series back to life. Who'd have thought taking over the family business could be such fun?" Andrew Secombe.

The episodes can be heard on the BBC website.

Thursday 4 January 2018

D is for Deceased - An appreciation of Sue Grafton

I'm old enough to remember reading the first book in Sue Grafton's Kinsey Malone series not long after it first came out - A is for Alibi was originally published in 1982, I was seventeen at the time, and I can clearly recall picking up the brand new paperback copy in the Wishing Well, a great bookshop that once stood in Tonypandy. Thinking back I reckon that this must have been around 1984 or possibly 85.

Since then there have been another 24 books, the series ended with Y is for Yesterday, which was published earlier this year. Fans of the series, which has become known as the alphabet mysteries, know that the final book in the series, Z is for Zero was due to be published sometime later this year - this was already set in stone before the recent news that author, Sue Grafton had passed away at the age of 77 from cancer. However Grafton's estate have stated that the author became ill after completing Y is for Yesterday and couldn't start work on Z is for Zero. They have ruled out the use of ghostwriters to finish the final book in the series, so it seems that the alphabet will end with Y. In a strange way it's almost fitting since many of the cases in Grafton's books remained open after the final page, so the alphabet series will, by all accounts, never be closed.

Grafton's private eye novels were trailblazing in that they were the first to truly represent a female protagonist in the hard boiled crime setting - with Kinsey Millhone she showed that a female heroine could carry a series just as well as the more traditional male dicks. Back when Grafton started out the hardboiled mysery genre was pretty bleak for females - female characters were either femme fatales or the corpse, but Grafton and other writers (Sara Paretsky introduced her gal gumshoe, V.I. Warshawski that same year.) changed the face of the genre and entertained scores of readers along the way.

'She is my alter-ego,' Grafton told the Seattle Times of her series character, Kinsey Millhone. 'I’m an introvert, so doing half of what Kinsey does is beyond my poor capabilities. But it’s fun to get to live her life without penalty!”

Over the years Grafton has won just about every award crime fiction can offer, and has picked up a legion of readers. There is no doubt that her series featuring the tough, Kinsey Millhone will continue to pick up readers for years and years to come. The author has left a significant legacy behind her. Published in 28 countries and 26 languages-including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. She's was an international bestseller with a readership in the millions. She will be remembered  for her distinctive style, her realism, her deft hand with character, her acute social observances,
and an incredible gift for storytelling.

Grafton was a giant in the crime fiction field and she will be greatly missed - RIP.


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