TOPS AND BOTTOMS 2005
Sunnie Gill

 


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TOPS

DISSOLUTION (Pan Macmillan. August, 2004)
DARK FIRE (Pan Macmillan, 2005)
C.J. Sansom

Wonderful historial series set in 16th century England during the reign of Henry VIII. The protagonist is a hunchback who is a lawyer and works for Thomas Cromwell. Fabulous books. First class mysteries and the author is able to impart a great deal of history into the books without slowing down the plot one iota.

CAT CATCHER (Serpent's Tale, 2000)
EYE TO EYE (Random House Australia/Transworld Publishers, 2000)
Caroline Shaw

Lennie Aaron, former police officer, now cat catcher. She's a PI of sorts but she only does cats. Only thing is, she sometimes ends up doing more when takes on a client. Lennie is somewhat dysfunctional, a very abrasive and not terribly nice person but she gets the job done. Wonderful short series by an Australian author who wrote these and then disappeared off the radar.

COUNTRY OF THE BLIND (Time Warner Books UK, 1998)
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD (Grove Press, 2002)
ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE (Time Warner Books UK, 2005)
Christopher Brookmyre

Christopher Broomyre is one of my favourites. He is mad, bad, tacky, tasteless, politically incorrect and hilarious if you like black humour. He also is a master at the rant. Politics, society, supermarket trollies. They are all grist for his comedy mill. His books can be violent so they are not for the faint hearted.

It would be almost impossible to sum up the plots of his books in a short review such as this, so I won't even try. If you have a taste for black comedy, then Brookmyre will probably be just your cup of tea.

FIELD OF BLOOD (Little, Brown, 2005)
Denise Mina

The first in what promises to be a new series. 18 year old Paddy Meehan is a copy boy for a newspaper but she wants to be a journalist. When a 3 year old boy is found murdered and her fiancee's 12 year old cousin is arrested Paddy seizes her chance to achieve her ambition and investigates. She doesn't think the police have got it right - they've just landed on the field of vision. One of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. Paddy is a wonderfully complex character - an 18 year old. Likeable yet annoying. Shy with low self esteem but also arrogant at times. She is what many teens are: a person still trying to learn how to be an adult. It also
paints a picture of a section of society, 1980's Scotland lower income Catholic families and their dynamic.

GHOST IN THE MACHINE (Applause Books, 2000)
Caroline Graham

An Inspector Barnaby mystery. A mild mannered village solicitor known and liked by all, with a penchant for making and collecting rather gruesome medieval war machines is found dead next to one of his machines. At first police think it's a horrible accidental death, but one of his closest friends doesn't believe so and pushes Inspector Barnaby into investigating.

Caroline Graham creates multi-dimensional characters. She draws you into
village life and allows you to get to know the people so that you are about them
and then unleashes the mystery. Those who enjoy the Midsomer Murders series on tv will probably enjoy this series of books. Inspector Barnaby is every bit as likeable as his tv series counterpart and Sergeant Troy is slightly sleazy and lazy.

Non-Fiction

STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS (W.W. Norton and Company, 2004)
Mary Roach

A rather macabre but highly entertaining look at death after death. What happens to the body. The history of post mortems. Oddball experiments done on human cadavers. Body Snatchers. All sorts of off the wall information in this little offering.

BOTTOMS

BLOOD JUNCTION (Warner Books, 2003)
Caroline Carver

This book won the 1999 Crime Writers' Association award, The Debut Dagger, for the best opening chapter for a book. The opening chapter is set in the 50's and is full of tension. Then the rest of the book flips to the present.

India Cane is travelling to the remote township of Cooinda in order to try and track down her grandfather whom she has never known. Her friend has been visiting Cooinda and has contacted her to say she's found him. India's car breaks down some miles out of town and she is given a ride by one of the local police officers who is then found murdered the next day, along with India's friend. India is immediately arrested for the murders. This begins a whirlwind race to various parts of the country to stay one step ahead of the law, to discover the identity of the murderer and to try and uncover the mystery of India's family.

So what went wrong that it ended up as one of my bottoms for the year? I suspect the author spent a great deal more time and effort in crafting and polishing the first chapter than the rest of the book. I think she tried to cram too much into the story and the end result was we were left with many characters who were stereotypes and villains with motives that stretched credibility too far. In attempting to give a flavour of Australia she perhaps tried to include too many iconographic landmarks.

TRACE - Patricia Cornwell
Audio book read by Carolyn McCormack.
Full review


Dis-honourable mentions go to:

FLAMING LUAU OF DEATH (William Morrow, 2005)
Jerrilyn Farmer

I freely confess to having pet peeves in reading and this one zeroed in on one of them. I find it difficult to come to terms with characters that are too perfect. This one had the main character, Madeline Bean, organising a weekend hen party for one of her employees in Hawaii. Everyone loves this woman on sight so they open up their 5 star hotel to her, offer her free day spas, free whale watching tours, and the local millionaire immediately gives her access to his house for a party. All a little too saccharine for my slightly dark taste.

THE MURDER STONE (Bantam, 2004)
Charles Todd

Mr Todd started out writing post WWI books about a police detective who hears the voice of a man in his head that he had to execute. He moved on from that to a another character set after WWI - an old man dies leaving everything he owns to his niece - the only surviving family member after WWI. The author seems to be stuck on the theme of the losses of the war and the aftermath. In this one we had people coming out of the woodwork making claims about the old man, and the baddie in the book seemed to be almost omnipotent.

Disappointments

MAISIE DOBBS (Penguin, 2004)
Jaqueline Winspear

It had rave reviews and was well written, but I found the structure of the book just didn't work for me. The opening and closing few chapters dealt with the crux of the mystery and the entire middle part of the book went back in time and told the story of Maisie's life. I found the gap between events at the beginning and end of the book just a little too great for me to remember the little details that make a book a satisfying read.

CROSSBONES (Scribner, 2005)
Kathy Reichs

While CROSSBONES is the latest in the Temperence Brennan series, it isn't an investigation of a mysterious death so much as an academic exercise to determine whether some 1st century bones are those of Christ or not.

I found the whole premise of the investigation to be too flimsy to justify the book.
The author stated at the beginning that the idea of someone unearthing the bones of Christ intrigued her so she wrote a "what if". It may have intrigued her but it didn't me, I'm afraid.

THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE (Pan Macmillan, 2003)
Rennie Airth

I thought the author's first book, RIVER OF DARKNESS was terrific. I was pleased to get my mitts on the follow up. Alas, I found the plot to be very similar to the first book. Too similar for my enjoyment.

 

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