Book Review – THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1943) by Raymond Chandler

THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1943) ****
by Raymond Chandler
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 2011, 284pp
First published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton in 1944
© Raymond Chandler, 1943
ISBN: 978-0-241-95632-8
      Blurb: Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired to find a missing woman. Derace Kingsley’s wife ran away to Mexico to get a divorce and marry a hunk named Chris Lavery. Or so the note she left her husband says. Trouble is when Philip Marlowe asks Lavery about it he denies everything. But when Marlowe next encounters Lavery, he’s denying nothing – on account of the two bullet holes in his heart. Now Marlowe’s on the trail of a killer, who leads him out of smoggy Los Angeles all the way to a murky mountain lake . . .
      Comment: This is the fourth novel by Raymond Chandler featuring his highly influential private eye, Philip Marlowe. The novel was adapted from an earlier short story, written in 1939 for the Dime Detective pulp magazine and later included in the short story collection Killer in the Rain. The plot is as complex as ever but set between a tighter cast of characters than usual, so the reader is never taken to the point of bafflement. Chandler’s prose and dialogue is fluid as he unravels the mystery of a disappearing wife through his customary first-person account. Whilst the novel is not Chandler at his peak, it remains an intriguing and satisfying mystery that is as efficient as they come – its lengthening from the original short story length feels natural and includes more plot elements. The interchange of setting between the fictional Bay City suburb of Los Angeles and the mountain lake provides a neat contrast. The tie-up finale may seem a little too convenient in the way Marlowe unravels the clues seemingly very quickly, with Chandler not having shared his protagonist’s thoughts on the lead-up, but it makes for a strong and surprising, revelation in the book’s final scenes. Chandler demonstrates throughout his mastery of the form, even though here his plot is less challenging than say those of his first two novels.

The Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler:
The Big Sleep (1939) *****
Farewell, My Lovely (1940) *****
The High Window (1942) ****
The Lady in the Lake (1943) ****
The Little Sister (1949) ****
The Long Goodbye (1953) *****
Playback (1958) ***

Book Review – CASINO ROYALE (1953) by Ian Fleming

CASINO ROYALE (1953) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2018, 256pp (229pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1953
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1953
Introduction by Anthony Horowitz
ISBN: 978-0-099-57597-9
Casino Royale      Blurb: Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes – and SMERSH’s chief operative in France. As his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope of survival is to risk his paymasters’ money at the baccarat table. Across from him sits James Bond, the finest gambler in the British secret service. Bond’s mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell. midst the opulence of the Royale-les-Eaux casino, the two men face each other in a game with the highest stakes of all.
      Comment: The book that started a phenomenon. Ian Flemings’ Casino Royale introduces us to Britsh spy James Bond – 007. The story is a relatively low key beginning for Bond, bearing in mind what was to follow, but that is part of the books’ charm. By pitting Bond against an enemy agent in a card game we get to delve into Bond’s character and philosophy. His attitudes, particularly to women, may seem anachronistic today but were indicative of the time the book was written. Published only a few years after the end of World War II it demonstrated how many men found it difficult to share their emotions – their sensitivities hardened by their experience by their wartime experience. The plot is fanciful in its set-up of the card game being a vehicle by which Le Chiffre urgently seeks to recover lost funds in order to redeem his benefactors. Once we have accepted the notion then we are treated to a tense battle of wills. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the game and includes a torture scene that has become infamous over the years and is certainly extremely sadistic – even by today’s standards. Bond’s falling for his fellow agent, Vesper Lynd, plays out alongside this and leads to a shocking finale which goes a long way to explaining Bond’s approach with women in the books that followed. Fleming’s writing is also at its tightest here and he describes the card game with a depth of knowledge. The short chapters keep the reader turning the pages by either ending on a key plot progression or mid-scene. This debut work is Fleming at his most efficient and Casino Royale remains one of the best of the series.

The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming:
Casino Royale (1953) ****
Live and Let Die (1954) ***½
Moonraker (1955) ****½
Diamonds Are Forever (1956) ***
From Russia with Love (1957) ****
Doctor No (1958) ****
Goldfinger (1959) ***½
For Your Eyes Only (1960) (short stories) ***
Thunderball (1961) ****
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) **
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) *****
You Only Live Twice (1964) ****
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) ***
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966) (short stories) ***

Book Review – THE ROCKFORD FILES: DEVIL ON MY DOORSTEP (1998) by Stuart M. Kaminsky

THE ROCKFORD FILES: DEVIL ON MY DOORSTEP (1998) ***
by Stuart M. Kaminsky
This paperback edition published by Forge, May 2001, 304pp
First published in March 1998
© MCA Publishing Rights, 1998
Based on the Universal Television series The Rockford Files created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell
ISBN: 0-812-57106-1
book cover of Devil on My Doorstep      Blurb: Jim Rockford is in one hell of a mess–the credit companies are after his stuff, his buddy Angel has cooked up another scheme that is a sure thing (sure enough to get them both killed), and he’s way behind on everything. When a beautiful young girl shows up at his door claiming to be the daughter of an old flame, he’s dubious. When she claims that she’s his daughter, all the bells go off. She’s on the run, scared, and tells Jim that she thinks someone has killed her mother…and that someone is her stepfather. Whatever the outcome, Jim will do what it takes to find the truth, no matter how painful it may be. And he’ll even try not to get killed in the process.
      Comment: Kaminsky delivers a thoroughly competent novel based on the popular ’70s TV show The Rockford Files, or more accurately the ’90s revival TV movies – the period in which this story is set. This is the second of two novels Kaminsky wrote featuring private eye Jim Rockford, the first being The Green Bottle in 1996. The author is obviously a connoisseur of the series and gets the characterisations of the regulars spot on. Whilst relaying the story in the first person is par for the genre, it is an interesting approach given the series was not geared that way. It gives us the opportunity to see everything that happens in this convoluted tale through Rockford’s eyes. The approach works very well in keeping the reader hooked on the mystery elements as Rockford plays off the gangsters and the Feds as he tries to discover the truth about the disappearance of an old flame and the girl who claims to be his daughter. Whilst the plot feels a little overplayed at times the writing is good and the dialogue entertaining – notably the banter between Rockford and con-man Angel. Kaminsky also introduces an eccentric assassin who quotes classic poetry. The rest of the gangster plot is standard stuff. It’s a shame Kaminsky’s series stalled after just two books – for whatever reason – as Rockford is one of the most engaging modern private eyes and the charisma of James Garner from the TV series bleeds through onto the written page.

Book Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) by Alexandre Dumas

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) *****
by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth (2018)
This edition published by Pegasus, 2018, 814pp (760pp)
Interior Design by Sabrina Plomitallo-Gonzalez
ISBN: 978-1-64313-040-8
includes an introduction by Lawrence Ellsworth; Dramatis personae: Historical Characters; Notes on the Text; Illustrations by Maurice Leloir.
      Blurb: A new and vibrant translation of Alexandre Dumas’s renowned The Three Musketeers, following the adventures of the valiant d’Artagnan and his three loyal comrades. The novel’s fast-moving story is set in the royal court of Louis XIII, where the swaggering King’s Musketeers square off against their rivals: the crimson-clad Guards of the dreaded Cardinal Richelieu. The Red Duke rules France with an iron hand in the name of King Louis and of Queen Anne, who dares a secret love affair with France s enemy, England s Duke of Buckingham. Into this royal intrigue leaps the brash d’Artagnan, a young swordsman from the provinces determined to find fame and fortune in Paris. Bold and clever, in no time the youth finds himself up to his Gascon neck in adventure, while earning the enduring friendship of the greatest comrades in literature, the Three Musketeers: noble Athos, sly Aramis, and the giant, good-hearted Porthos.
      Comment: This brand new translation of Dumas’ classic adventure is by Lawrence Ellsworth, a student of Dumas’ fiction who had translated the Dumas rarity The Red Sphinx for the first time into the English language the previous year. Ellsworth’s expertise is evident throughout this vibrant new take on Dumas’ most celebrated novel. Having previously read the novel in a translation by Lord Sudeley, I was impressed by Ellsworth’s slant on the prose making it immediately more accessible whilst staying honest to Dumas. Any translation is reflective of the period in which the translator is operating and the only other recent translation was Richard Pevear’s 2006 take on the story. That too was well-received, but most commentators now acknowledge Ellsworth’s as the definitive version for a contemporary readership. The story seems to open up more and the often clumsy dialogue interpretations from previous versions are replaced with flowing, witty and elegant wordplay that more accurately reflects the characters. Re-reading the book has further cemented it as the classic it undoubtedly is – with its sweeping themes of romance, courage, vengeance, war, political intrigue and bold adventure irresistible. The dramatic finale is unforgettable and Ellsworth expertly captures the building tension. The intention is for Ellsworth to work through the remaining novels featuring Dumas’ musketeers, with Twenty Years After having just been re-published in hardback. For anyone who has never read The Three Musketeers, this is the version to go for.

Book Review – RESURRECTION MEN (2001) by Ian Rankin

RESURRECTION MEN (1995) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 2001
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 512pp (484pp)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-8365-6
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.
      Blurb: Rebus is off the case – literally. A few days into the murder inquiry of an Edinburgh art dealer, Rebus blows up at a colleague. He is sent to the Scottish Police College for ‘retraining’ – in other words, he’s in the Last Chance Saloon. Rebus is assigned to an old, unsolved case, but there are those in his team who have their own secrets – and they’ll stop at nothing to protect them. Rebus is also asked to act as a go-between for gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. And as newly promoted DS Siobhan Clarke works the case of the murdered art dealer, she is brought closer to Cafferty than she could ever have anticipated…
      Comment: Ian Rankin leaves Rebus out in the cold and takes him into darker territory than ever before in this long, but expertly written crime mystery thriller. Rankin weaves two distinct investigations together with great skill giving a much more prominent role for DS Siobhan Clark, enabling him to draw parallels between the two detectives. Rebus, working undercover for the Chief Constable to expose a group of corrupt cops, is as dogged and avuncular as ever. The separate cases become connected as Rankin gradually unveils the hidden secrets of the so-called “Wild Bunch” of detectives in the last-chance saloon. The story only really falters during its finale, where a plot twist feels a little too convenient but otherwise, this is a very satisfying and first-class example of crime fiction writing.
This completes my reading of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series and it is one of my favourites. Rankin relly hit his straps with Let if Bleed and then Black & Blue and from there the series reamined of a consistently high standard up until Rebus’ retirement in 2007’s Exit Music. That he returnede again five years later as a retired cop working cold cases was very welcome, but those books, whilst all well-written,  lack the bite of the core series. I still hope there is more to come and look forward to seeing where Rankin takes Rebus next.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996) ****
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS (2007) by Sarah D’Almeida

THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS (2007) ***
by Sarah D’Almeida (Sarah Hoyt)
Published by Berkley, 2007, 332pp (315pp)
Cover Art: Rick Farrell
Cover Design: Steven Ferlauto
Interior Text Design: Tiffany Estreicher
ISBN: 978-0-425-21489-3
includes 10-page preview of THE MUSKETEER’S APPRENTICE.
      Blurb: Aramis emerges from the water closet to find his lover, a duchess, murdered on her bed. The room is locked, and Aramis is the only one who could have entered it. He’s sure he didn’t do it, but no one else believes him. Even Monsieur de Treville, Captain of Musketeers, doubts Aramis’s word. Aramis must leave Paris and go on the run, entrusting the solving of the murder, and the defence of his honour, his freedom and his very life to Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan. Can “one for all” carry the day when every powerful person in France believes Aramis a murderer and when powerful interests would gladly frame Aramis for it?
     Comment: Being a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844), I was delighted to find a series of books featuri8ng the characters written by Sarah Hoyt under the pseudonym of Sarah D’Almeira. THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS is the second book in a series of five, in which Dumas’ Musketeers effectively act as detectives looking to solve mysteries in 1620s France. The books are set within the timeframe of Dumas’ novel and so include real-life historical figures as well as original Dumas characters. This particular story is basically a locked room mystery, with Aramis seemingly the only possible suspect in the murder of his mistress, necessitating the Musketeers having to work to clear his name. The writing style emulates that of Dumas without being slavish to it. Whilst written in the third person, the story is told from the point of view of each of the Musketeers as they look for clues to unravel the mystery and fight duels with the Cardinal’s guards who are looking to hunt down Aramis. Whilst this approach retains the key mystery novel device of putting the reader in the head of the detective, it also constrains the story by not opening it up to the wider cast of characters. Cardinal Richelieu, who is at the centre of the investigation, only appears in the closing chapter. This robs the story of the scale and tension between the characters that Dumas managed to create in his original novel. That said, this is still an enjoyable read and is recommended to fans of Dumas and historical mysteries.

The Musketeer Mysteries series:
1. Death of a Musketeer (Berkley, November 2006, ISBN 0-425-21292-0)
2. The Musketeer’s Seamstress (Berkley, April 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21489-3) ***
3. The Musketeer’s Apprentice (Berkley, September 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21769-6)
4. A Death in Gascony (Berkley, April 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22101-3)
5. Dying by the Sword (Berkley, December 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22461-8)

Book Review – BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) by Ann Cleeves

BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) ***
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2010
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 374pp (357pp)
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7446-9
includes 11-page preview of DEAD WATER.

Blurb: With the autumn storms raging, Fair Isle feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder . . . A woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair. The islanders react with fear and anger. Detective Jimmy Perez has no support from the mainland and must investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. There’s no way off the island until the storms abate – and so the killer is also trapped, just waiting for the opportunity to strike again.

The fourth book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is another intriguing and meticulously plotted murder mystery. The setting is ideal for an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with a small cast of characters isolated at a bird observatory on the remote Fair Isle. Cleeves spends a lot of time rounding out her characters and their motives, which slows down the pace to a crawl at certain points. The writing is, however, well crafted giving a real sense of place. The final scenes produce a nightmare personal twist for Perez. and the denouement is a brave one for Cleeves as she leaves her lead character at a crossroads. Whilst the story would have benefited from some tighter editing, it remains a highly competent mystery thriller.

Book Review – UP: MY LIFE’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF EVEREST by Ben Fogle (2018)

UP: MY LIFE’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF EVEREST (2018) ****
by Ben Fogle (& Marina Fogle)
First published by William Collins, 2018, 270pp
ISBN: 978-0-00-831922-9

Blurb: In April 2018, seasoned adventurer Ben Fogle and Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton, along with mountaineer Kenton Cool, took on their most exhausting challenge yet – climbing Everest for the British Red Cross to highlight the environmental challenges mountains face. It would be harrowing and exhilarating in equal measure as they walked the fine line between life and death 8,000 metres above sea level. For Ben, the seven-week expedition into the death zone was to become the adventure of a lifetime, as well as a humbling and enlightening journey. For his wife Marina, holding the family together at home, it was an agonising wait for news. Together, they dedicated the experience to their son, Willem Fogle, stillborn at eight months. Cradling little Willem to say goodbye, Ben and Marina made a promise to live brightly. To embrace every day. To always smile. To be positive and to inspire. And from the depths of their grief and dedication, Ben’s Everest dream was born. Up, from here the only way was Up. Part memoir, part thrilling adventure, Ben and Marina’s account of his ascent to the roof of the world is told with their signature humour and warmth, as well as with profound compassion.

Ben Fogle’s book is part-journal and part-philosophical statement. Fogle’s crave for adventure stems from a childhood of insecurity and it is his approach to life and his willingness to challenge himself that shines through. Everest is both a physical and metaphorical mountain to summit and it is interesting to contrast the drive and ambition that takes Fogle on his journey against the come-down after he has achieved his goal, the latter covered all too briefly. Fogle eloquently makes the point that life needs to be a series of goals and challenges and not just an individual one. His positive outlook is mirrored by the book’s title. Look up rather than down, keep cheallnging yourself to get better, chase your dreams. Fogle’s writing is complemented by that of Marina, his wife who gives the perspective of the spouse and family left behind to worry, whilst her husband chases his dreams in the most dangerous of locations. Marina’s spirit and selflessness shines even more brightly than that of her husband and enables us to contrast the routine of everyday life with the bold adventure of the expedition. Fogle’s travelling companions were experienced climber Kenton Cool and Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton. Victoria’s struggles with altitude sickness on the trip are well documented and ultimately caused her to abort her climb. Fogle went on to fulfil his dream and reach the top and he vividly documents the struggles of doing so, outlining the chaos on the mountain as dozens of climbers from various expeditions scramble for position. Whilst Fogle may tend to over-play his philosophy on life at the expense of the drama of the climb, often repeating  anbd sometimes labouring the same point, his book remains a fascinating insight into why adventurers test themselves to the limit.

Book Review – LET IT BLEED (1995) by Ian Rankin

LET IT BLEED (1995) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 1995
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 402pp (360pp)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-8359-5
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.

Blurb: Struggling through another Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself sucked into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost’s daughter kidnapped or just another runaway? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste paper years ago? And why on earth is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office’s Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice…

Ian Rankin’s seventh Rebus novel see the writer in maximum cynicism mode as he hits his stride taking on politics, the establishment, corporate industry and corruption. It is a complex plot the cleverly weaves its many strands into a cohesive whole. Rebus is the voice of conscience throughout, but he himself is no saint – failing in his relationships with his partner and his daughter and descending into greater dependency on alcohol. His wits remain as sharp as ever and this is his most expansive investigation to date. That Rebus is a flawed and human character makes him all the more believable and easier to forgive those failings. Whilst BLACK AND BLUE may be seen as the point where all the elements come together in the series, beginning a golden run, LET IT BLEED acts as an excellent prelude. I now only have the thirteenth book, RESURRECTION MEN, to read to have completed the whole series.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996) ****
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002)
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE (1964) by John D. MacDonald

THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE (1964) ***½
by John D. MacDonald
First published In Great Britain by Robert Hale, 1965
This edition published by Orion, 2002, 200pp (195pp)
ISBN: 0-75284-767-8

Image result for the deep blue goodbyeBlurb: Travis McGee is a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He’s also a knight-errant who’s wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half. McGee isn’t particularly strapped for cash, but how can anyone say no to Cathy, a sweet backwoods girl who’s been tortured repeatedly by her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen? What Travis isn’t anticipating is just how many women Junior has torn apart and left in his wake. Enter Junior’s latest victim, Lois Atkinson. Frail and broken, Lois can barely get out of bed when Travis finds her, let alone keep herself alive. But Travis turns into Mother McGee, giving Lois new life as he looks for the ruthless man who steals women’s spirits and livelihoods. But he can’t guess how violent his quest is soon to become. He’ll learn the hard way that there must be casualties in this game of cat and mouse.

This is the first of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels and also the first of his books I have read. My only previous experience of Travis McGee being via the 1972 film Darker Than Amber, which was based on MacDonald’s seventh book in the series and I remember it being a pretty good movie. The Deep Blue Goodbye was first published in 1964 and in both title and the actions of its hero the book has echoes of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.  McGee takes it upon himself to take into his care a psychologically damaged woman dependant on alcohol and resolve to put things right. The opening chapters in which McGee lives in the house with Lois Atkinson are reminiscent of Philip Marlowe and his obligation to the writer Roger Wade in Chandler’s masterpiece. McGee, however, blows much more hot and cold in his temperament and has less of Marlowe’s world-weary cynicism.

The plot unfolds as McGee looks to trap his target, the sadistic Junior Allen. McGee is a hero looking to right wrongs and as such is quite traditional. He manages his own time and is in control of his own destiny as he picks and chooses who he decides to help. He balances his need for income with his moral obligations to his clients. His relationships with women in the book are largely manipulative and whilst the character grows close to Lois, he also maintains a detached emotional involvement. This makes McGee’s character more complex and also more interesting. The book’s finale is both exciting and surprising and, as was customary for the day, its relatively short page count makes for a quick and entertaining read. MacDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee novels and the book left me wanting to revisit the character to see how the series developed.