As soon as I clapped eyes on the Thriller and Suspense 2010 Challenge hosted by Book Chick City, I knew I had to join in! Mysteries are my favourite genre and I knew I couldn’t possibly fail in this:) I needed to read 12 titles this year but boy was I surprised at how many I actually read! And I was lucky enough to win the prize for July. Double yay!

So let’s see what I got through:

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn
The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva
Bryant and May on the Loose by Christopher Fowler
Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss
The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan
The Likeness by Tana French
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Einstein Girl by Philip Sington
A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot
Never the Bride by Paul Magrs
Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson
The Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory
Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson
Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

That’s right, that’s 19 titles! Pretty good going, if I say so myself:)

So, what were your favourite mysteries this year? Spill!

I’ve been trying to be good and read one book at a time. However, with this monster of a hardback, it would really do no favours to my frozen shoulder to lug it around London every day. So it stays on my bedside table for me to read at night. Which means that sometime I forget to read it if I’m distracted by the internet or the telly. Hmm. There must be a better solution to this problem. However, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox is SO GOOD that even if I let a few days slide by before picking up from where I left off, it doesn’t matter. I am continually impressed by the quality of his prose and the way he kept me hooked. There was a constant feeling of uneasiness and I have to admit I felt apprehensive throughout most of the novel. There’s something of the Victorian sensational novel about his writing which reminds me of the best of Dickens and Collins and I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed the book. If only it was smaller, lighter and not in hardback, I’d have carried it everywhere with me.

The Meaning of Night is a tale of revenge between two schoolfriends who have taken differing paths in life because of an act of betrayal at Eton. Both boys are brilliant in different ways but one hides a malevolent nature that no one suspects. Subtitled A Confession, Cox’s novel is dark, full of secrets about families, birthrights, betrayal and revenge. And his prose is so smooth you won’t even notice it’s a hefty 600 pages long.

Edward Glyver is hellbent on revenge. His adversary is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, treacherous schoolfriend, who seems to be touched by fate and goes on to a glittering literary career without even having to raise a sweat. Added to that he’s in line to be made heir to a great estate, an estate which seems to have some sort of connection with Glyver. Glyver, who left Eton prematurely and lost his chance to go to university spent many adventurous years travelling the world and gaining an informal education. As his fury grows, will he manage to trap Daunt? And to complicate the matter further, Glyver falls in love with Emily Carteret, a childhood friend whom Daunt is pursuing. There is something about the character of Edward Glyver, the protagonist, that you just can’t help identifying with and you keep hoping that things will turn out alright for him.

So many of you have said how much you loved this novel (especially Teresa of Shelf Love). And I agree totally. I have to say that Cox’s prose is beautiful and flows so smoothly I can hardly believe this was his first novel. It reminds me greatly of Charles Pallisser’s The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam which was reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Dickens’ Bleak House which, although over 1000 pages long, kept me and my friends enthralled in our early twenties. However there weren’t as many dastardly wicked villains in The Meaning of Night but more circumstances-of-fate events. It also reminded me a lot of The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber which I didn’t love so much. Partly because I couldn’t empathise with the main character Sugar. But I think I’m in the minority here.

As you can imagine, I cannot wait to read the loose sequel, The Glass of Time. I am only sad that Cox is no longer around to write more novels.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and just in time for the R.I.P. V Challenge.

* Forgot to add this is another one down for the TBR 2010 Challenge. Hurray!

You may recall I really enjoyed Fred Vargas’ first Inspector Adamsberg mystery The Chalk Circle Man when I read it last year for R.I.P. IV. I’d also read The Three Evangelists which was my first foray into Vargas’ books and loved it too (although it’s separate from her Adamsberg books). So you can imagine my excitement in going back and reaquainting myself with the enigmatic Commissaire. For me, the main draw of her books is Adamsberg but her mysteries are pretty convoluted and it’s interesting to see how she untangles all the clues and does the reveal. So I was expecting more of the same and settled down to read it. But what’s this? Seeking Whom He May Devour isn’t set in Paris and Adamsberg doesn’t do his thing until almost half way through the book. I kept reading to see what was going to happen, slightly apprehensive that I may not like it, but Vargas once again delivers and I finished the book thinking what a bloody good writer she is. I’m excited to see what she will pull out of her sleeve next in the third book, Have Mercy On Us All.

In Seeking Whom He May Devour, we are in the Mercantour region of France, amongst villages and sheep and the wolves that cross over from Italy. Lawrence Johnstone is a Canadian wild-life photographer and expert who is keeping track of a family of wolves. He’s in two minds about leaving France because he’s fallen in love with the country and with Camille Forestier, a musician cum plumber, who has finally decided to stay in one place with Johnstone. When sheep start turning up gashed and dead, rumours start to abound about a monstrous wolf on a killing spree. When Camille’s friend Suzanne is savagely killed, Camille and her friends decide to track and hunt down this killer. Suzanne had spoken of a werewolf. In deep, dark Mercantour, can such a thing really exist? Adamsberg, on the other hand is in Paris, trying to evade a young woman who is out for revenge. Somehow everytime he flicks on the TV, news of the slain sheep seem to jump out at him. He needs to go into hiding but also decides to see what this is all about. He has also caught a glimpse of his lost love Camille on tv. As Camille and her friends draw their net tighter, things become complicated and she needs to bring in someone special to help her sort out the problem. The only person she can think of she doesn’t want to meet. But Adamsberg, with his uncanny sixth sense is nearby and he comes to Camille to untangle the mystery before the killer can kill again.

Have I whetted your appetite? I want to say so much more, but it’s a mystery and you really should go into this blind. For me the biggest draw is Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. It’s refreshing to find a character who may not be perfect but is so unconcerned about what anyone thinks of him and just goes about solving problems by thinking deeply and following his instincts and without locking horns with everyone around him. There’s something deeply human about him.

You can probably read this book as a standalone, however I recommend that you start with The Chalk Circle Man just to get a deeper flavour of Vargas’ creation.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child‘s mysteries featuring FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast is one of my favourite mystery series. Although set in modern day New York, there is an old world feel reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Caleb Carr’s Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. But there is also a bit of the X-Files about it too. I like.

Cemetery Dance is the latest offering coming soon after the events in The Wheel of Darkness in which Agent Pendergast travels to deepest Tibet with his ward Constance Greene, traumatised after her near brush with death. The Wheel of Darkness comes just after the conclusion of a story arc featuring Pendergast’s diabolical brother Diogenes (Brimstone, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead called the Diogenes trilogy and which should be read in order) but Cemetery Dance can be read as a standalone. I like reading things in orders so I would recommend you go and check out Relic, the first of Preston & Child’s novels featuring Agent Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta just so you can slowly appreciate what makes him so fascinating.

In Cemetery Dance, journalist William Smithback and his wife Nora are savagely attacked on their wedding anniversary. D’Agosta and Pendergast must find out who or what perpetrated the crime, especially since the assailant is someone who has apparently killed himself two weeks earlier. As the case becomes increasingly stranger, Pendergast must turn to his encyclopedic knowledge of the rituals of voodoo and Obeah to catch the cunning perpetrator who seems to have risen from the dead.

Like the other books in the series, I really enjoyed reading this one, but it felt slightly less thrilling after the rollercoaster ride that was the Diogenes trilogy. I did learn quite a bit of the dark arts of the Bayou, and Agent Pendergast was as stylishly brilliant as usual, but I thought it could have been fleshed out a little more. However, I have no quibbles regarding the style and prose, it’s slick, easy to read and well written. The contrast between the easy, confident style of Pendergast and the brash yet heartfelt D’Agosta, struggling within the police hierarchy and mourning the loss of his friend, was nicely balanced. I don’t know why, but you can’t help caring for these characters.

I am now eagerly awaiting their next installment, Fever Dream, where Agent Pendergast will be uncovering the the mystery behind the tragic death of his wife Helen many years ago. What he had thought was an accident no longer seems so. Can. Not. Wait.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.

I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s mysteries and jumped at the chance of reading Nicola Upson’s novel featuring Tey as a fictional detective in her first outing, An Expert in Murder. I’ve long been a fan of historical fiction, and when that genre became popular in the late 80s, medieval mysteries were all the rage. I gobbled them all up, from Ellis Peters to P.C. Doherty, Candace Robb and Susanna Gregory to name a handful. You can find my list of favourite historical mysteries here. Now, twenty years later, the early twentieth century and the interwar years, my other favourite period in history, seems to be all the rage. I enjoyed Upson’s first novel and enjoyed her second, Angel with Two Faces too.

Like Tey’s novels, there is an undercurrent of darkness and claustrophobia that permeates the story. It did take me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I enjoyed it tremendously. The pace was fast, the secrets were thick and I liked the characters Upson drew in the tale, especially Josephine and her friend, Inspector Archie Penrose.

In Angel with Two Faces, Archie has returned to his childhood home in Cornwall for a holiday to be followed by Josephine. After many estranged years apart, the two have resumed their friendship, complicated by the Great War and the loss of Josephine’s fiancée and Archie’s best friend. But this holiday is marred by the death of Archie’s childhood friend Harry Pinching, found drowned in the lake. Harry’s death exposes the crack in the idyllic Cornish life, and soon Archie and Josephine find themselves embroiled in secrets and lies that can no longer stay hidden. When the village curate, one of Harry’s closest friends, is killed, they must find out what happened to Harry in order to find the killer.

Although set in the interwar years, this novel read more like a modern thriller. The secrets and shocks came thick and fast and the pace kept up until the end. I really liked the melancholy and darkness in the novel, but felt that maybe there were too many shocking truths that were unearthed in too short a novel.

One of the things I liked about Upson’s series is the relationship between Josephine and Archie. Archie has been in love with her since they first met before the Great War, and Josephine is aware of it. But the ghost of her lover and his friend is still with them, and although both have moved on, they are unable to go beyond maintaining their fragile friendship. We’ll see what happens. In a way, Upson doesn’t get too bogged down with her research and the minutiae of interwar life; there is just enough to give a sense of period which doesn’t take away from the plot.

I know there have been some mixed reviews of this book, but I enjoyed it and look forward to the next in the series, Two for Sorrow. And can I just say how beautiful the cover art is?

I read this as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.

The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot is the first in a historical mystery series featuring Nicolas Le Floch, a rookie policeman in the fledgeling police service in 18th century Paris.

Nicolas Le Floch, a Breton foundling, arrives in Paris with a letter from his guardian to learn the ways of the police. When his superior, in whose house he is lodging, fails to return home one evening, he is entrusted by the royal commissioner with finding out what has happened. In a new city and surrounded by people Nicolas is unsure whether to trust, he must unravel the mystery of the missing policeman and his connection to two feuding doctors who were both present at the exclusive brothel where he was last seen. With pressure from the royal court, Nicolas must find a way to unmask the murderer whilst keeping himself alive.

I was expecting a novel similar to James McGee’s Ratcatcher series featuring the gorgeous Matthew Hawkwood but this was a little more intellectual, a little more staid and less of a rollicking adventure; a little like the protagonist. Saying that, Parot has done his research and his novel is filled with delicious nuggets of information about France during the reign of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. There were times when I felt the plot was in danger of being eclipsed by the research, but the character of Nicolas Le Floch was sympathetic and engaging and slowly, like Nicolas himself, I grew comfortable, loosened up a bit and began to enjoy the story. The translation by Michael Glencross is smooth and the mystery and dénouement pretty interesting, although I wasn’t too surprised by the unmasking of the culprit (but then I’m a seasoned mystery reader and it takes a lot to catch me unawares.)

But what I liked most about The Châtelet Apprentice was the way in which Parot conjures what life must have been like in those times. You could almost hear the crunch of the snow, the squelch of the mud and skulk in the shadows of dark and smoky candle-lit rooms. It’s one of the reasons why I love reading historical mysteries.

On an aside, I was expecting The Châtelet Apprentice to be about Emilie de Châtelet (mathematician and lover of Voltaire) but it’s about the fledgeling French police headquarters situated at Châtelet in Paris. Oops! That will teach me not to see connections in places where they don’t exist.

Parot’s series has been a huge hit in France, and I will be looking forward to reading the next in the series published by Gallic Books, The Man With The Lead Stomach (what an intriguing title!) to see how Nicolas Le Floch matures.

I read this as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.

I picked up The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson last year partly because of the hype and partly because it had the word tattoo in it (there’s something about tattoo’s I find hard to resist) expecting it to be a good, solid thriller in the vein of Tana French or Ian Rankin, both whose novels I really enjoy. But I didn’t expect to find a crime novel that opened up a world that was familiar yet so foreign to me as I haven’t really read much Scandinavian fiction. I really enjoyed the fast-paced plot, the chase, the politics and the world of journalism that Larsson discusses in depth and, most of all, the character of Lisbeth Salander. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts that I found extremely disturbing, not particularly surprising when you know the original title in Swedish is Men Who Hate Women. Larsson isn’t afraid of showing the dark underbelly of Swedish society, something we don’t hear much about in the UK. But the book kept me hooked and I couldn’t wait to start its sequel as soon as I finished it. So why did it take me so long to read The Girl Who Played With Fire? Beats me.

The sequel is as strong as the first volume in the Millennium Trilogy and we find out a little more about Salander’s history and background. I have to admit I guessed most of what was revealed, but the pace of the plot kept me reading and I really didn’t know how it was all going to turn out. We meet some new characters as well as some old friends and enemies. And I probably don’t need to tell you that the subject matter is once again gritty and disturbing as both Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist who runs the investigative journal Millennium, and Salander are plunged into the murky world of European sex trafficking.

One of the things I liked about Larsson’s novels is the lack of excessive sentimentality exhibited by the characters. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t care for each other. In fact, Salander seems to become more whole as her past is stripped away, although it is impossible for her to be fully healed. She will always be a loner, misunderstood and targeted. However, she’s not without friends who are determined to save her.

Overall Larsson’s sequel once again gripped my imagination and attention. My only quibble would be that the dialogue could have been tightened with a bit more editing. The translation from the Swedish by Reg Keeland is smooth and natural and didn’t interrupt the reading experience. Needless to say I’ll be looking forward to reading the final volume, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, and watching the second and third films when they are released next year.

I read this as part of the TBR 2010 Challenge and the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.

was rather different from what I expected. Well, not that different as I was expecting a mystery set in the 1930s in Germany with a psychiatrist, an amnesiac lady, maybe a bit of history and science and possibly a murder. But Philip Sington delivers much, much more. The Einstein Girl brings history, science, war and the workings of the human heart together in a quiet, unassuming way which slowly unfolds and becomes a deep, sorrowful study of hope vs. reality. It’s beautifully written and slots you right into Weimar Germany and the shoes of lone psychiatrist Dr. Martin Kirsch.

The story opens with the discovery of the naked body of a young woman by a lake. Miraculously she is alive, but cannot recall anything of her past. Dr. Martin Kirsch, an eminent psychiatrist about to get married to a beautiful socialite, finds himself drawn to this unnamed woman given the sobriquet The Einstein Girl by the press, for a flyer announcing Einstein’s lecture was found near her. As Kirsch begins to unravel her past, travelling to Zurich where she studied maths and physics and Slovakia where she grew up, he slowly finds his own past closing in on him as he slowly succumbs to his own demons. But the woman’s past is bigger and more complex than he thought. Is she an imposter involved in blackmail? What is her connection with Einstein? And can Einstein’s troubled son Eduard shed light upon the mystery? As Germany finds itself tumbling into an era of tight control and hidden agendas, Kirsch finds his control of his own life slipping away. It’s a little difficult to give a summary of this novel without giving anything away, so I’ll stop here.

I confess I was a little startled that Einstein played such a big part in Sington’s novel. I was expecting just a cameo, but Sington doesn’t shy away from discussing the scientific problems which plagued Einstein’s later years prior to his move to Princeton, especially his work on the Grand Unified Theory in which he unsuccessfully tries to tie relativity and quantum mechanics together. Nor his muddy personal life with his first wife Mileva Marić.

With the appearance of Mileva and their younger son Eduard in the story, Sington has obviously researched extensively into Einstein’s private life which surfaced in 1989 with the release of letters between the couple from before their marriage. I remember the uproar that followed with several prominent academics publishing books about Einstein’s personal life, his passionate love affair with Mileva and the fate of his daughter born out of wedlock. Up until then, he was untouched, the god of modern physics, and many of his colleagues and family tried hard to keep it that way.

Although sometimes the scientific explanations reminded me of the history of science lectures I attended at college, Sington really knows his stuff but in no way does his writing try and show off that knowledge. In the end, I felt that Einstein’s scientific theories and his theories of life coalesced beautifully painting a picture of a real man. You may not admire Einstein as a husband or a father, but you cannot escape from the fact that he was a singularly gifted scientist. What Sington does beautifully is to weave a tale of the people he left behind.

After finishing this book I started The Sun and Moon Corrupted by Philip Ball, another mystery with a hint of science and history which I was looking forward to reading, but I stopped after a chapter because compared to Sington, it just didn’t cut the mustard (shame because the title is beautiful). In The Einstein Girl, Sington really immerses the reader in the culture and events of the period; you can almost smell the restrained lives of the people living in a time of uncertainty. As you can probably tell, I was seriously impressed with this book.

I read this for Nymeth’s 1930s Mini-Challenge and the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010!

OK, so we’re halfway through the year and the question is, am I halfway through all of my challenges? Let’s see, I’ve put my name down for a lot of challenges this year and at one point I thought my brain was going to spontaneously combust. However, on noting down what I’ve read, it seems I’m on track. Sort of.

Suspense and Thriller 2010 Challenge: 6/12
Flashback Challenge: 1/3
Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge: 1/5 – I missed seeing Going Postal so will wait for the DVD
South Asia Authors Challenge: 6/5 – but I’m planning to read more
TBR Challenge: 1/12 – not very impressive
Women Unbound Challenge: 4/5
Once Upon A Time IV Challenge: 1/1
1930s Reading Challenge: 0/1

Not as bad as I thought, although my TBR pile needs some serious seeing to.

I’ve also decided that I will allow myself to buy one book with every three books I read from my TBR pile (unless I really need to, of course!) Just to keep the ball rolling.

Anyway, to end on a cheerful note, I received the following in the post:

The Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory – from the lovely people at Little Brown. Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael are two of my favourite medieval sleuths.

24 Hours Paris by Marsha Moore – which I won from Me and My Big Mouth. My whole family loves Paris and it’s got some great ideas about what to do there hour by hour.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – from the lovely people at Orion Books. I have belatedly discovered the delightful Flavia de Luce in the first volume The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and can’t wait to tuck into this one.

And I found this at my library:

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde – I need a bit of Fforde fiction to tide me over until proper summer is here. I mean it, proper summer. You’re on your way, aren’t you??

As soon as I landed in Colombo, my father spoke excitedly about a book he had read recently, a book which one of my good Sri Lankan friends had said I must read. My father, who likes to read his books slowly said he finished it in two days. And being jet-lagged and unacclimatised to the the tropical heat, I began to read it that night and finished it in 4 hours. The book, winner of the Gratiaen Prize in 2003, was The Road form Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva. I had seen it last year in the bookshops in Colombo and didn’t feel an urge to read it as it was about a Sri Lankan army officer and a Tamil Tiger fighter (and I’m not such a fan of military stories). But that was precisely what made the book such a thrilling, yet profound read. It was the first book I read that tackled the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and discussed deep rooted prejudices and questions which we have all asked yet were too afraid to voice in public.

The novel begins at Elephant Pass, a strategic base in the north of Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan army is engaged in a stand-off against the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. Captain Wasantha, a Sinhalese soldier, is given the task of bringing in an LTTE informant who has turned against the Tigers and has agreed to hand over vital information in exchange for a deal. Things go wrong from the start and Wasantha and Kamala, the young female Tamil Tiger activist, have no choice but to go on the run together and try to make it through the Wanni, the heart of Tiger territory, Wilpattu National Park and down to Colombo where Kamala insists on handing over the information directly to the head of the Sri Lankan army. The two, fierce enemies at the start, must work together in order to stay alive and ward off unwanted attention from both sides of the conflict. In addition, there is the constant danger from feral army deserters who have nothing to lose. As Wasantha and Kamala work together and have no choice but to help one another, their hostility towards each other slowly erodes as they learn about their past, losses and beliefs which have led them to where they are in their lives today. Would they make it in one piece to Colombo? And when they do, will Kamala be safe? Can their fragile trust in each other survive the war?

Nihal de Silva has produced a finely written, taut, thriller dealing with difficult and complex issues in an unbiased, unsentimental, yet intelligent manner. I was severely impressed with the way he discussed the Sinhala-Tamil conflict which is so emotive and which has destroyed so many lives in Sri Lanka and the diaspora. And in Wasantha and Kamala, de Silva has shown the strength of both peoples, the horror and sadness each has had to face and the way humans are the same wherever they come from and in which ethnicity they are born.

I can’t recommend The Road from Elephant Pass highly enough. It made me think deeply about the mechanism of war and the destructive nature of hatred. As much as it is about war and has an incredibly fast-paced plot, it is also a love story between two people whose beliefs and paths in life are polar opposites, yet who are given the chance to discover each other and find a fleeting happiness amongst all the chaos and destruction around them.

Sadly, in 2006 Nihal de Silva was killed in a landmine explosion in his beloved Wilpattu National Park in northwestern Sri Lanka which features so much in his book. The Road from Elephant Pass was made into a film titled Alimankada recently in Sri Lanka which I have yet to see, but I have heard that the ending has been altered. If I were you, I’d make sure I read the book first.

I’m submitting this book for both the South Asian Authors Challenge hosted by S. Krishna’s Books and the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 by Book Chick City.