Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez, books by Ann Cleeves

The Vera Stanhope novels by Ann Cleeves are currently being shown as four episodes on ITV in the UK (the photo shows the actress Brenda Blethyn (right), who plays Vera, with the author), and doubtless elsewhere in the world subsequently. As I have reviewed all four books, I thought I’d write one post to aggregate these links, for the interest of those who know Vera only as a TV character but who might want to get to know her better.

The Crow Trap (# 1)

Telling Tales (# 2) (Episode 2 of the TV series)

Hidden Depths (# 3) (Episode 1 of the TV series, reviewed at It’s a Crime!)

Silent Voices (# 4)

Ann Cleeves has written many other novels, of course, among them a series called The Shetland Quartet. These are excellent crime novels, which I highly recommend for their sense of location, atmosphere, and strong characters. Each is set on a different island and tells a distinct story, but the novels are linked by police detective Jimmy Perez, his colleagues and the woman he comes to love. I have reviewed these books for Euro Crime.

Raven Black (# 1)

White Nights (# 2)

Red Bones (# 3)

Blue Lightning (# 4)

There are rumours both of a fifth novel in this series (if so it will have to change its composite “quartet” title!), and that these books might also find their way onto the TV screen. Read more about the author, her books and lots more at Ann Cleeves’s very good website. She has also recently started Tweeting as @AnnCleeves .

Book Review: The King’s Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

The King’s Speech
By Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Quercus, 2010.

Having enjoyed the film The King’s Speech I decided to read the associated book, written by the grandson of Lionel Logue, George VI’s speech therapist, together with a journalist. The book covers a longer period of time than the film, being a biography of Logue from birth to death and, from his early manhood to his death, of Albert, Duke of York/George VI, rather than the snapshot provided in the film version.

The book is most successful in its portrait of the relationship between the two men, which conveys something of the touching trust between a shy, gentle man growing into his role and his sympathetic therapist so well portrayed in the film. Logue’s early years in Australia and his establishment of “speech therapy” as a discipline are certainly interesting, at a time when elocution was considered to be much more important generally than it is these days — in which regional accents are rightly valued, but, sadly, at the expense of lack of diction to the point of incomprehensibility. Yet the account is not exactly compelling, perhaps because of the “whistle-stop tour” writing style. Later, the potted story of Word War II told via the speeches the king gave during it is also of some interest if you don’t know much about this piece of history, though it might seem superficial to readers who do have such knowledge.

I find most of the book somewhat bland and sycophantic both to the British royal family and to Logue’s family. I’m not interested in reading salacious or private details, but this exceptionally restrained (sanitised?) account of both families does lack colour. I realise, upon reading the book, just how much was made up for the film to provide life – for example there is no hint here that the Duchess of York (the future Queen Elizabeth) first approached Logue to ask him to help her husband (let alone her trouble in operating the lift); nor is there any suggestion that Logue had the Duke jumping round his consulting room while swearing to music! Just sufficient details of Logue’s methods are provided to keep the interest of the reader alive, but I was surprised that the authors had decided not to provide more details of Logue’s treatment strategy, given that they’d decided to keep to such a respectful account of the personalities involved.

In sum, the book is mildly engaging – clearly there was much affection between the king and Logue, and this book, by the use of letters and newspaper articles, captures this relationship between two thoroughly decent chaps very well. On the other hand, though it is clear from the book that much was simply invented for the film, one can’t help feeling that the film provided a deeper emotional resonance, even though it clearly exaggerated many aspects of the king’s speeches for dramatic effect. I cannot end this review without very much taking issue with the subtitle of the book, prominent on the cover: “how one man saved the British monarchy”. That, surely, is going too far.

I purchased my copy of this book.

The King’s Speech on Amazon (UK): book and DVD. There are plenty of Amazon customers’ reviews of both book and DVD at these links if you wish to read other opinions of the book (or film).

Book Review: One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls
Hodder and Stoughton, 2009.

I am not the target demographic of this piece of light fiction by most counts, but even so it passes the time amiably enough. The plot is an old chestnut: two Edinburgh undergraduates, one rich (Dexter) and one poor (Emma), don’t quite get it together on their final day before leaving university but recognise that they have a connection. The book covers their “will they, won’t they?” relationship over the next 20 years by focusing on each anniversary of that day to provide a snapshot of their lives over this time.

The author writes engagingly and is witty, which is just as well, because I don’t find the doings of 20-somethings in 1980s and 1990s London (mainly) that thrilling – having “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”. We see how feckless Dexter, who barely scraped a 2.2, falls straight into presenting a highly remunerative if shallow TV show immediately upon returning to England from an extended gap year, but becomes a total mess with partying, drugs etc; and we see how the politically correct and upright Emma, a first-class honours student, is reduced to waitressing in a chain Mexican restaurant, renting a box room with no windows from another college friend, while attempting to write.

After a few years (chapters), I almost lost it with the book because Dexter is so appallingly shallow that one could not be in the least interested in him, and Emma is just too much the downtrodden victim of life. One or two gems kept me reading, though – Emma’s hilarious attempt at writing a crime novel (and her other sporadic spurts of creativity) and Dexter’s fractious relationship with his parents, for example. Slowly, as time goes on, the two protagonists shift positions, Dexter becoming more mature and Emma more confident, almost despite themselves.

The format of the book, with each chapter covering the 15 July on successive years, is initially rather forced in that some pivotal event has to happen on that day so we have something to read about. The book matures with the characters, however, as the author changes the style sufficiently to keep the idea fresh while keeping to his chosen framework.

I did become quite interested in the relationship between Dexter and Emma in the final years as they both grew up and had to face up to personal problems that they had never anticipated and could not control – however, the dramatic ending, although sad and shocking, struck me as somewhat manufactured. The coda, covering the subsequent few years and also going back to the original date while Dexter and Emma were at university to provide a bit of context for how it all began, is a nice touch. What can I say in sum? The book (commercially very successful in the UK) is a pleasant read, with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments as well as the odd dose of genuine emotion.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Author’s website, including excerpt from the novel and the “mix” tape made by Emma. There is also information about the author’s other two books, Starter for Ten and The Understudy (neither of which I’ve read though my daughters enjoyed the film of the former).

There are 720 customer reviews of this book at Amazon (UK), average 4 (out of 5) stars, as well as lots of enthusiastic quotes from newspaper and magazine reviews. Other reviews/articles about the book are everywhere, but a couple can be read at: The Telegraph and The Guardian.

About the upcoming film of One Day.

Book Review: Below Zero by C J Box

Below Zero by C J Box
Joe Pickett #9

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, here in his ninth outing, is still freelancing for the eccentric state governor Rulon. He’s in the process of rescuing a wounded eagle and catching the couple of petty criminals responsible for shooting it when he gets a call from his wife Marybeth. Her news is shocking – April, the Pickett’s adopted daughter who was killed in a misguided FBI operation six years ago, has apparently contacted Sheridan, the couple’s oldest daughter, on her cellphone. Could April really still be alive?

Plagued with guilt about his (blameless, in fact) role in April’s death, described in Winterkill, Joe immediately asks the governor for leave of absence while he attempts to track down the caller. He’s quite severely limited by the mores of teenagerdom, however, because April, if it is indeed her, will communicate only with the 17-year-old Sheridan, and only by text message as she claims to be in a situation where it is too dangerous for her phone to ring.

Joe begins to pin down both the location of the girl and to find out more about the situation she is in (which the reader knows more about than he does, and which is certainly precarious). I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but a couple of nutcase-whackos who are determined to reduce the global carbon-dioxide budget off their own bats are at the core of the plot. This motivation and the actions it inspires are too bizarre for me to find very interesting – though in the USA nothing is too mad to be true, I suppose.

As usual with this strong series, there are plenty of redeeming factors: the domestic elements are very strongly depicted- the family relationships involving April are particularly poignant. And the author has plenty of pithily conveyed observations about the terrible effects on children when parents or guardians are utterly irresponsible as well as being members of an extremist-survivalist cult, a double-whammy for poor April six years ago and part of the reason for Joe and Marybeth’s lasting guilt about her.

Below Zero, as with the previous novels in this series, is a compelling read, particularly if you have been following Joe’s earlier travails. The author is adept at providing sufficient variation in each novel to avoid bland formula, while building on previous events to create a believable world in which we care about what happens next to Joe, Marybeth and their daughters. He’s also solid on not providing easy answers to the dilemmas he proposes, whether personal, political or social. I’m hanging on in there for the next instalment(s).

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2010. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

About this book at the author’s website (providing more details about the plot than I do here), with excerpts from reviews. Read full reviews of this book at: Spinetingler (brief); Gregg’s Stuph-n-Junk (good review despite title of blog!); and Bookreporter.com.

My reviews of the previous novels in the series:

Open Season (# 1)

Savage Run (# 2)

Winterkill (# 3)

Trophy Hunt (# 4)

Out of Range (# 5)

In Plain Sight (# 6)

Free Fire (# 7)

Blood Trail (# 8 )

Book reviews published during April

During April, five of my book reviews appeared at Euro Crime. I can recommend all these titles, though Rendezvous is more “women’s commercial fiction” than crime and as such was not my personal cup of tea.

The Redeemed by M R Hall (England/Wales, series)

Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon (USA, Italy setting, series)

Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissonoto (Italy, debut novel)

Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef (The Netherlands, France setting, standalone)

Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar (Spain, second in series)

I’ve reviewed other books on this blog, again all highly recommended. (Slightly more of a US bias here, as many of my European reviews are for Euro Crime.) They are all crime novels apart from Intuition, which is a very good piece of fiction centred on a scientific research institute.

Blood Trail by C J Box (USA, series)

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (USA, series)

The Sentry by Robert Crais (USA, series)

Intuition by Allegra Goodman (USA, stand-alone)

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell (Sweden, series)

I have read a lot of other books during April, some of which I shall review either for Euro Crime or here, and a few of which I won’t – either because I didn’t enjoy the books very much or, in the case of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels (now finished all six) because there are plenty of existing reviews of these superb classic novels and I could not add to those.