Book Group 4 – Books Read 1: A-G

About the book and a review

NonFiction  |  Fiction:  Authors A-G  |  Authors  H-L  |  Authors  M-S   |  Authors T-Z   

The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs                               A British Library Crime Classic, first published in 1961

Jim Lane’s body was found in a river near Ely.  He had been stabbed in the back, but nobody who knew him could understand why anyone would want to murder him.  But Jim was leading a double life and was really James Teasdale.  His family in Yorkshire thought he was a travelling salesman.  Those who knew him as Jim Lane knew him as the owner of a hoop-la stall in a travelling fair.

It is up to Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard to unravel the mystery of who killed James, and why – and where.  The remains of an undigested meal in his stomach showed that he was dead long before his body was thrown into the river.  So Littlejohn travels to Yorkshire to try and solve the case.

Bellairs has the knack of combining a good story with the drama of the murder and a good helping of humour.  The ending of this particular book is pure comedy.

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs 

A mysterious explosion in the offices of Excelsior Joinery Company, in the sleepy town of Evingdon, results in the death of three of the directors.   When it is discovered that dynamite was the cause, Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is called to the scene, where he uncovers a web of fraud and corruption.

He’d Rather Be Dead by George Bellairs 

Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is summoned to solve a murder in a seaside town.  The man murdered is the mayor.  He had a dubious past, but, once he had made his pile, he moved to the seaside town and turned it from a lovely small seaside town into a tacky Weston type resort.  He was hated by everyone and he enjoyed the fact.  He gave lavish lunches for local big-wigs and it was at one of these that he was poisoned.  It could have been the solicitor, the town clerk, the dentist, the doctor, et al, because he had made enemies of them all.  Bellairs describes all these characters, and the town, that you can easily visualise them.  When I have finished this book I shall certainly read more of them.

Bellairs’ style is first class – he is wonderful at description and his use of English is excellent.

The only criticism I would make is that this story is set during the second world war but no one seems to be on rations or fighting.  The town is heaving with holiday-makers who are spending a lot of money.

— I confess to a slight addiction to these British Library Crime Classics, and George Bellairs is a favourite.  I enjoy his mix of old-fashioned crime-solving with a certain humour. 

The Muse by Jessie Burton

This book starts in London in 1967, when Odelle Bastien, a young woman from Trinidad, starts work as a secretary at a London art gallery. She is taken under the wing of the mysterious and rather formidable, Marjorie Quick, who acts as her mentor and helps her develop her career. 

After a lost masterpiece arrives at the gallery, the story moves to rural Spain in 1936, where another young woman, Olive Schloss, and her art dealer father are living and where they befriend a local artist and his sister.  The Spanish section of the book is all set in the Spanish Civil War.  I didn’t really enjoy the descriptions of things which happened in the war, but it was an eye opener for me, albeit a rather shocking one.  The book doesn’t dwell on this too much, however, the setting is a vital part of the ‘who done it’ which is one of the central themes. 

As the story moves back and forth between London and Spain, the reader (and Odelle) uncovers a secret about the lost masterpiece and the artist who created the painting.  I found this a real page turner, with lots of twists and turns, and a brilliant twist at the end. I was kept guessing right to the end.

The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier

This was Daphne du Maurier’s first novel (her perhaps most famous being Rebecca) and was published in 1931.  It describes 4 generations of the COOMBE FAMILY who originate in PLYN, a small seaside village in Cornwall.  It starts with the Wedding Day of JANET to THOMAS, a thriving boat builder, who begat JOSEPH, who begat CHRISTOPHER, who begat JENNIFER.   

Janet’s marriage was a happy one, yet there was a special relationship between her and her son, Joseph.  The Coombe family built a boat and when Joseph passed his Master’s Certificate, they hoped that he would be the boat’s master.  A figure head of Janet was completed on the boat which showed her ‘Loving Spirit’ and love of adventure.  Joseph eventually begat Christopher, who  was at first afraid of the sea, but overcame this fear and tried much later to save the boat when on the rocks.  Christopher had left Plyn but returned there, as did his daughter Jennifer, who married happily and begat children.  The generations are probably still emerging there and do they recognise ‘The Loving Spirit’ of Janet?

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike 5)  by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling)

The principal characters are Cormoran Strike, a former investigator for the military police who has lost part of his leg in a bomb attack whilst serving in Afghanistan.  He had a feckless mother and was mostly brought up by his grandparents.  He has left the forces and set up a detective agency in London.

In the first book, he employs a temp, Robin, who rapidly becomes a co-detective and, by the latest book, Strike’s business partner.  Robin also has a troubled past.  She took a Psychology degree course at university, but, following being raped, the trauma drove her into the arms of boyfriend Matthew, who is emotionally abusive.  She and Strike are attracted to each other, but clearly the author will continue to keep them apart in order to keep our interest!

Troubled Blood is about a cold case, 40 years old: a doctor with a husband and small child left her practice one evening and disappeared without trace.

Despite its length, I enjoyed the book immensely; it is in the standard Agatha Christie format, lots of red herrings and the detective (always Strike for some reason) only puts it all together right at the end.  J K Rowling is a superb plotter, I didn’t see the end coming.  The characters are really well drawn and recognisable.  The action is shown from Robin or Strike’s point of view and the author is really good at getting inside the heads of the two protagonists, particularly Robin’s

Past Caring by Robert Goddard

An unemployed History teacher is invited to Madeira to stay with a friend, who takes him to dinner with a South African, who owns a Quinta estate, and he is asked to research the truth of the memoirs of the previous owner, who at one time was in Asquith’s cabinet in 1910.  As is usual with Robert Goddard, the plot thickens and gets nastier. 

If you’re interested in Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and/or the Suffragettes, you should find this absorbing.  I didn’t enjoy the beach scene, but that character is well signalled, so there aren‘t many surprises in that direction.  The main character develops in relation to the other characters, but more because they go down from their start position of conceit.  The mystery unfolds more slowly than it should, owing to the historian’s lack of guile and dispatch.  The Suffragette is the best character.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

I find Greene’s books fall into two categories, the very dark and the amusing but ultimately, slightly dark.  This falls into the second category.  It starts off as being very funny.  The main character is a middle aged vacuum cleaner salesman.  He is living in Havana and earning very little money, when he is recruited as a secret agent for British Intelligence.  The only problem is he doesn’t know any secrets.  In order to keep earning the money he starts to make things up about people he knows in order to put something in his reports.  This includes sending secret plans, which are actually drawings of a vacuum cleaner.  It all starts to go very wrong, with disastrous consequences, when the things he made up in his reports appear to start to come true.

The Confession by John Grisham

John Grisham is a very well known author of ‘legal’ books.  The Confession is made by Travis Boyette, a murderer.  In 1998 he abducted, raped, murdered, and buried his victim in a place where no-one else would find her.  A young local football star, Donte Drumm, was arrested for this crime but, in fact, had nothing to do with it.  He was convicted of this crime and  sent to Death Row, where he was imprisoned for 9 years.  Four days before the execution, Travis Boyette found out about this and decided to confess.  Did the powers that be believe him?  A Church Minister, and a Legal professional were involved but could they save Donte?  Would they watch the execution, if there were one?  The Death Penalty was not executed in most states, but still carried out in Texas?  Would Travis Boyette find the murdered girl’s body in time to save him?  How did the families of the victim and the convicted footballer react?