Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Lion (John Corey, #5)The Lion by Nelson DeMille
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Which is the greatest Cat-n-Mouse chase story of all times? It’s surely the one that took place between a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. I loved watching them when I was a kid, and today, when i can safely say that I have grown up, a little bit, I still enjoy their antics. But, would I have enjoyed them had their show ran for say 90 mins? No, then it would have turned boring. Definitely I wouldn’t have liked watching Tom create booby traps, one after another for jerry to fall into and Jerry annoying Tom and escaping time and time again, with no plot whatsoever and within a same setting for a period of 90 mins. No wonder their shows had a running time of max 10 mins and always featured a different setting and a new storyline with the central theme of Cat-n-mouse game intact.

THE LION by Nelson DeMille was a similar story, a Cat-n-mouse chase with some add-ons like high male testosterone infused in both the Cat(Asad Khalil) and Mouse(John Corey). Everyone was out there to show how macho they are, how bad mouthed they can be. Corey was out there to prove that he is a knight in the shining armor, whose injured wife won’t come in front of him in his quest for duty. Who, like every typical American hero, must have a dumb guy-cum-political aspirant-cum-no gooder as his boss. Who must have a personal animosity with the bad guy, the bad guy must kill someone close to him, and the book being a typical DeMille book must be HUGE. Yess, this was NDM’s version of Tom and Jerry garnished with a lot of macho antics, dead bodies, Libya-Al Qaeda-Terrorist, Islamic fanaticism, and no plot whatsoever.

But, then what made this book get 3 stars? Well, beside all the faults this book had one big point in its favor. Its pace. Frankly I am not a big fan of the John Le Carre type of spy fiction, where everything happens too slow and the book is itself written in a style which shouts of pseudo-literarism. I need and love speed in thrillers, and this book had plenty. Yess although at times the macho-ness, the dialogues, the characters seemed over the top, but the pace made me race through those areas without letting me devote much time upon the faults that existed. In a way, this is a clever book without much plot but with a lot of pace which after finishing it leaves the reader like me, with a peculiar sense of satisfaction from reading a very mediocre spy thriller.

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Friday, 23 May 2014

A Quiet Flame (Bernard Gunther, #5)A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books are never meant to be happy. Although in a Crime novel the outcome, most of the time, provides a solution to a crime, and brings a criminal to justice, but often it also leaves the reader with sadness. Either connected to a character, or to the general atmosphere created by the book. A QUIET FLAME by Phillip Kerr left me sad, and on both the counts of character and atmosphere. The book dealt with a theme which was dark from the very beginning. A case involving disappearance of missing girls is dark enough, but when this whole nasty business is coupled with a the Nazi pogrom of massacring Jews, and the infamous but never acknowledged Directive 11 as promoted by Juan Peron of Argentina the book becomes a ride, which not makes the reader uneasy but leaves him with a sadness. At least it left me sad.

But, if judged from a POV of a crime novel, this book can be called mediocre at its best. The atmosphere was electric, the way Kerr jumped between Berlin and Buenos Aires was impressive. The fear, the uncertainty and the hatred portrayed by his words that were present during the 1930s, as the Nazis are on the verge of gaining power was very potent. But sadly, although these may add to the general feeling of a crime novel but it can never substitute the real plot. If the plot is shallow then no amount of Nazi, Peron or Argentina can save the book and that’s what happened for me with this book. Bernie Gunther as a protagonist had the right mix of scepticism and quick wit, but even he with his smart mouth wasn’t good enough to salvage the plot.

The plot when it started had great expectations oozing from it. It had the quality of a plot which starts with a bizarre crime and ends with a solution and motive equally bizarre and believable. But here, somewhere in between numerous jumps between periods, and more than enough characters, with one overlapping the other the plot lost its fizz. And the ending, or the part of it when it arrived almost went past me, before I realised that I had just read one solution to one of the subplots. And then the act of joining one subplot to the other and connecting the solutions to both through a single character was once again equally bad. It spoke of huge amount of coincidence. And I don’t like much coincidence in my crime novels.

On its own this book would get 2 stars out of 5. But, as I said the side dishes of atmosphere and history was very tasty, on an average I upped my rating to a 3 star.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Mother,” I whispered. “It’s me—Flavia.”

And thus starts the sixth instalment of the acclaimed Flavia De Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. As Flavia and her family awaits the return of her mother on the platform of Bishop’s Lacey, a train carrying her mother arrives. Along with the train a man comes and speaks a few words into the ears of Flavia, and then falls under the train to his death. Flavia caught in between her grief, her family and the man’s words, sets about in a dangerous and ground braking task, only to unmask the person responsible for her mother, Harriet’s death.

This is a sad, sad book. The indication was there that this might be Flavia’s last year at Buckshaw. And this turned every line of humor into sadness, as every such line made us reader realise that this is the last time the girl will say such words in Buckshaw. The mention of Gladys made me wonder how the thing will cope without Flavia, or for that matter Dogger, Mrs. Mullet and Esmeralda. But, this is also a novel of retribution, of revenge, of coming face to face with one’s destiny. Flavia gets to know why she is hated by her sisters. She comes to know how she got her Christmas wishes for new glassware, every year without hitch. She flies on Blithe Spirit just like her mother. She finds out what her father thinks about her. Most of all, she finds out who The Gamekeeper is. She finds out what her destiny has in store for us as the youngest girl of a De Luce family. This novel makes a little woman of Flavia out of the girl.

The original book deal for Mr. Bradley was a 6 book deal. So, in a way there was a sense of fear that this might be the last Flavia. But thanks to the brilliant talent of Mr. Bradley the book deal has been extended into a 10 book deal, and in a recent interview the author stated that he is well into the seventh book. The seventh book will be something every Flavia fan should and will look forward too. With different settings, and a grown up and more matured Flavia entrusted with the secrets of her family, will be a different ballgame altogether. But, whatever it may be, but keeping faith in Alan Bradley and Flavia Sabina De Luce, one can place a safe bet, that the seventh book wont disappoint, and if anything would surpass the previous six.

Though a hugely enjoyable book, but for reader who are new to Flavia De Luce series, for them I would suggest that they take up the series from the first book to get the true flavour of Flavia.

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3)A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"I was the platinum. It was going to take more than a single opponent to overcome Flavia Sabina de Luce."

Every new book in this highly entertaining series by Alan Bradley brings a new wave of smile across my face. Surely this series has to be one of the best-est and the freshest of all the crime series to come out in the recent years. Flavia De Luce grows more and more adorable as the series progresses. With her amusing interests in poison, her very distraught life being hounded by two sisters and her oh-so-heartbreaking longing for her mother Harriet, makes this book much more than just a crime fiction. This almost becomes a sort redemption of the crime writing genre from the standard factory produced books featuring meaningless violence, cliched sullen heroes trying hard to be witty, and something which is given the name of a plot without having any instance of ever being one.

Compared to this Alan bradley writes books, which are a homage to the traditional British Golden Age crime novels. Are they “relevant” in today’s time? I dont know, and frankly i dont care. They are according to me a very god example of what a crime novel should look and read like. To be precise, if a crime novel doesnt have a plot, a motive and twists then no matter of “relevency to modern times” can make it a crime fiction worth mentioning.

Take the example of this book, “A Red Herring Without Mustard”. From the very begining the plot introduces a character who is hated by another character. Within a few chapters the character gets assaulted. No sooner we have gone a few pages up, than we are gifted with a murdered body. And all through the protagonist Flavia is busy trying to clear the mess created by forgery, assault, lies and murder. Except maybe a few pages where she plans her favourite pastime of revenge on her sisters, or she tries to stop the tears that comes up to her eyes when she wonders why her sisters are so mean on her. But apart from that she searches for clues, analyses clues and at the end points out the culprit. And, what makes this book a blazing success is the presence of so many characters. A crime novel with many chracaters equals to confusion which equals to twists which equals to a great crime novel.

So, everyone, who hasn’t already met Flavia De Luce, please please pick one book and go through it. Just like me you won’t be disappointed.

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Friday, 9 May 2014

Mrs. Pollifax on SafariMrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow for a long time, I have got disconnected with the spy fiction genre. It’s strange but in fact it was this genre and the writings of Frederick Forsyth, Colin Forbes and Robert Ludlum that made me realise my unhealthy addiction towards thrillers. But, somehow I don’t feel the same affinity with the modern spy thrillers. With their over use of gadgets and other technology I feel left out. And also the whole concept of one man fighting terrorist and uncovering political conspiracy over and over again without his cover as a spy being blown, is not digestible. For me a spy thriller served as standalone novel is the best way.

Mrs. Pollifax and her “spy” thrillers though fall in the category of a series, but still manage to hold my attention till the last page. The reasons being, a fast plot with a nice twist in the end, a very modern style of writing without extra long paras or flowery language. Even the methods used by Mrs. Pollifax to solve the crime or ferret out the criminal are traditional without much emphasis on the use of gadgets. And, lastly for the protagonist, Mrs. Pollifax herself. Not a spy in the traditional sense, much more of a information collector in this book, she gets embroiled in the thick of things and uses her skills a\to come out of the whole affair unharmed and victorious. For me she represents a perfect example of what Miss Marple would have been like had she lived in USA in the 1980s.

Though not as well read in recent times as these books by Dorothy Gilman should be, the writer and her series does form an integral part of any crime fiction lover’s bibliography. A thoroughly enjoyable and fast read, like most of the books in the series.

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second instalment of the series featuring Flavia De Luce, starts of at a zooming speed when a visiting puppeteer in the village of Bishop’s Lacey falls to his death. Flavia starts to poke where she shouldn’t, but couldn’t stay away from, and discovers that the fall is not an accident and actually the murder is linked with a suicide of a boy who died 5 years ago. Cute meets Crime meets a nostalgic feeling featuring Miss Marple in this very enjoyable whodunnit .

One of the best aspect of this series aside from that it features a adorably cute 11 year old as its protagonist, is that it brings back the Golden age feeling of crime novels where the crime took place in a village, and the suspect pool was comprised of the locals. And, most often the culprit was found among these locals. As with this book, the crime though committed on an outsider had a culprit who is a local. And, as most of the villagers were present in the narration from the very beginning the whole crime solving becomes a guessing game, where any person can come out as the culprit. I for one couldn’t really guess who the culprit was until Miss De Luce clears the cobweb and explains it all. After all as Sergeant Woolmer said to Inspector Hewitt,

“With respect, could be because we’re not Miss de Luce.”

And, lastly once again Miss Flavia De Luce. I pray to God that, Alan Bradley on a fine morning doesn’t takes up in his head to make her grow. It would just take away all the fun. Reading these books made me realise one great thing, that children are far more interesting than us boring adults. A standard crime thriller featuring a dour faced, down in the dumos police man would have just turned this book into another crime fiction. But, it was for Miss Luce that we got a series which stands out like a “HEALTHY” thumb among the sore thumbs. Where in a standard crime novel would we have got lines like,

“What did Flaubert mean,” I asked at last, “when he said that Madame Bovary gave herself up to Rodolphe?”
“He meant,” Dogger said, “that they became the greatest of friends. The very greatest of friends.”
“Ah!” I said. “Just as I thought.”


“Experience has taught me that an expected answer is often better than the truth.”

Miss Flavia De Luce is one of a kind, and all credit goes to Mr. Bradley for creating such a lovely character, and not stopping at that, topping it up with plots which are strong, without much loopholes and a crime novel which is blisteringly fast, free of any unnecessary baggage and highly enjoyable to read.

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone growing up in Kolkata, I have been exposed to the Bengali brand of Detective novels from the very beginning of my reading life. These books almost always had a juvenile character, embroiled on his own or in the guise of helping an adult, in the thick of the mystery, trying to solve it. Though it was amusing at the beginning to see someone of my age fighting with culprits and solving crimes, but no sooner was I exposed to the crime writing of the west, then I started to realise what balderdash those so called “crime novels” were. And, the very thought of a policeman sharing clues with a kid was so disturbing that it almost took my mind away from the fact that those books had plots which could be easily used as a net to catch a shark. The holes were big, but not that big for a shark to escape.

So, when I found out that THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE featured an eleven year old precocious girl called Flavia De Luce as its main protagonist, I had my doubts. The same old feeling of making a comedy out of a crime thriller. But, I took the plunge, and thank God I did. If finishing the book in two days flat wasn’t proof enough to show that I devoured the book, the fact that i have decided to read all the remaining books in the series one after the another must prove that I have fallen, totally and completely, in awe of Flavia De Luce and her creator Mr. Alan Bradley.

But, this is not the first time that a crime thriller with a child protagonist had garnered such rave reviews, and actually came out as a fascinating read. But those books, be it Blacklands by Belinda Bauer or Last Child by John Hart, were standalones. The heroes never got another shot at glory. Unlike here, where Flavia not only gets to solve the crime of a dead man in their house, Buckshaw’s cucumber patch and save her father, thereby rescuing two very costly and famous memorabilia, one of them belonging to King George himself, and also solve a cold case of suicide which turned out to be murder, but also gets the chance to set herself as a little Miss Marple meets Sherlock Holmes in a series of well read and well received crime novels.

Lastly, Flavia De Luce. I don’t know in reality how to live around a child as precocious as she is, but in these pages she comes out as a character who can bring a smile even to the toughest of men. Her dialogues, courtesy of Mr. Bradley, her experiments with chemistry (a la Dexter’s laboratory) and her penchant for helping her father come out of the jinx makes her one of a kind. And, also her memory of her mother, who disappeared when she was too small to remember anything. Those lines can only bring sadness in the reader’s eyes, showing behind that bubbly little sleuth there remains a little girl who misses her mom.

Poirot is dead. And, with him went away the proverbial village mysteries, to be replaced by sour faced detectives with ecclesial taste in music, Nordic policemen for whom laughing is as bad as having to lead a normal life. Poirot wont come back, but with Flavia, her sidekick Gladys and the village has definitely brought the Golden Age Mysteries back on the map of crime writing world. And this book could have well been called Sweetness ALL over the Pie!!!

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Monday, 5 May 2014

Black Lies, Red Blood: A MysteryBlack Lies, Red Blood: A Mystery by Kjell Eriksson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson is the latest instalment in the series featuring Ann Lindell. Set is Sweden, the book starts with Lindell glowing in the light of new found love (according to her). But, no sooner had she really started feeling happy, than the “perfect man” Anders Brant, disappears from her life and apparently from Sweden without any hint as to his whereabouts or his motive. Before Lindell can figure what’s happening, a dead body with a bashed up head is found. Quickly identified as a homeless man, the police find a phone number in his pockets. And, giving credibility to the term “co-incidence” the number turns out to be Brant’s. Lindell is distressed and tries to solve another crime relating to the disappearance of a teenage girl, as she tries to find out “Where the hell, Brant is and what had he done to get his phone number in the pockets of a murdered man?”

Now, points to reckon while reading a book that has been written in a Scandinavian country.
1. Extremely brutal and twisted crime. Like one bullet used to kill three men standing haphazardly.
3. An equally twisted logic to solve and explain the crime.
4. Extremely bad translation (in most cases).
5. Extremely dark detectives.
a. They don’t know how to laugh.
b. Their lives are always down in the dumps.
c. They, always somehow in some way make the crime personal.
6. An African connection. (not frequent, but neither rare)
7. A book, despite all the above points, which is deliciously fast, and hugely entertaining to read.

Now, this particular book had none of the points mentioned from 1 to 6, except maybe the brooding detective and bad translation. Yet, it came out as a “WHY DID I PICK THIS BOOK” kind of book. The crime was pretty simple, the motive when explained to the reader was also simple, in fact it was so simple that wasting 320 pages on such a crime, and bringing it out with a name as mysterious and having no connection to the plot is a bit over the top. And the detection. This took all the cakes away. For 80% of the book everyone was speculating as to who can be the murderer, digging up names and taking with them, comparing fingerprints with no success. And then suddenly the murderer stars behaving oddly, he starts to show to the reader that he just might be the criminal, and in the penultimate chapter he is branded as the culprit. The police could have as well sat on their backs and waited for the 80% of the book to go by and wait for the man to reveal himself. This is not something I like in a detective novel. If this is a kind of thriller you are writing, I would rather read a case report. And coming to case report, the translation actually felt like that. Wooden and official.

Then what was this fuss about the book being an Ann Lindell mystery??? I mean the crime written on the blurb gets solved by everyone else but this lady. The only connection she had with the crime was that her supposed beau’s number was in the victim’s pocket, and that he did a vanishing trick. Lindell was busy trying to solve the missing kid case. And what did that case had to do with the main plot, except increase the number of pages?? And, even that case didnt get a proper ending. Or for that matter what did Anders Brant’s vacation in Brazil, his escapades with a Brazilian lady had to do with the main plot?? Except increasing the number of pages.

This book will remain as one, which had a thin plot fit for a short story, but which came out as a novel just because the author decided to stuff the whole plot with words and paras not remotely connected with the main plot. Or maybe this was that other kind of crime novel, the one with a “BROADER ISSUE” as it base. Whatever that might be!!

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Bones and Silence (Dalziel & Pascoe, #11)Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BONES AND SILENCE by Reginald Hill is the eleventh book in the series featuring Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. Dalziel starts receiving letters from a woman who has decided to commit suicide, and have also decided to let know the fat man of her decision through a series of letters. Dalziel then gets an offer to play God in a local play, as he witnesses a death of a woman. He is convinced that the husband is responsible for the crime, while all evidence along with his boss thinks it’s an accident. Things come to head when a crucial witness goes missing, as Dalziel realises that the main suspect is to play Lucifer to his God in the local play.

I normally tend to get bored by the type of crime novels where 10-15 odd pages gets filled with inter departmental chit-chat, the politics of the department, how the protagonist is trying to disobey his boss, and off course, his musical taste. These 15 pages are followed by a couple of pages of material related to the main plot, and then again the reader gets face to face with another 10-15 pages of the same stuff. All in the good name of “realistic” crime fiction.

Bones and Silence being a long book, had all the possibility of having all the above mentioned “real” points. But all it had was a tight plot, which meanders through a handful of clues. An ending which is not surprising, but still throws up a few delightful twists, and the great relation between Dalziel and Pascoe, which grows tighter with each passing book. In a way this was a complete crime novel, which justified its length.

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