Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid

Cover of Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

I bought this ages ago and forgot about it until recently. Val McDermid’s an excellent writer and though I prefer her early work to her current output she’s always been great at grounding her books in what seems to me to be real world police work. I feel this book is where she’s decided that all the research she’s done for her fiction might as well make a book of it’s own.

McDermid leads us in an orderly manner through all kinds of crime scene investigation techniques, from things like fingerprints that we’re all aware of, to topics such as forensic archaeology and psychology, and the crawling insects that appear on the cover and peppered over the pages have their part to play as well. She pulls in dozens of true crime cases to illustrate where the techniques have been used successfully, and also includes examples where they’ve failed or been wrongly applied. I’m not really a true crime reader but this was an excellent layperson’s guide to the science of forensic investigations. Easy to read if not always easy to stomach. Suffice to say I won’t be trying to dispose of any bodies after reading this!

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

I enjoyed this. A different take on a mystery as we move to Lagos and meet the narrator, a nurse called Korede, who is helping her fashion designer sister, Ayoola, dispose of her boyfriend’s body. Gradually, as is given away in the title, we see that this isn’t the first time that Ayoola has been in this situation and we start to doubt her motivation for this murder. The background to the sister’s lives is revealed slowly. The story is full of detail about a city that’s completely alien to me, but peopled with a cast whose actions and motivations are familiar the world over. A good read that’s quick and light, but with a heavy dark heart.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

Cover of The Dark Flood Rises

I need to read more Margaret Drabble. This was thoroughly excellent. A kind of ramble about ageing that stretches out from Fran Stubbs, a seventy-something year old retiree-refusenik who works in something to do with care homes. The story takes in her recently bereaved son, an elderly gay couple in the Canary Islands, a friend who lives in a retirement community set up as a mock university college, her housebound ex-husband who she provides with home cooked meals, and numerous other related characters. I want to say they are larger-than-life, but really they aren’t. I can quite believe in all of them and the relationships between them. The characters are all approaching death in different manners, and there’s a theme, from the title, of flood waters rising around them that plays out sometimes in literal as well as metaphorical terms. A thought provoking and enjoyable read, and it probably sounds as if a book about getting inexorably closer to death ought to be depressing but it definitely wasn’t.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Cover of My Brilliant Friend

This is a book that’s so lauded that I feel guilty for not really enjoying it that much. The beginning felt like I was having a thousand characters dumped on my head and even with the aid of the table in the front of the book I couldn’t keep them straight. Once we got past the childhood part of the book and the characters reached adolescence I started to find it more entertaining rather than a memory exercise. By the end I’d come around to it and might even read the following books, though I think I’d better not leave it too long or I’ll have to do all that learning over again.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Cover of Trick Mirror

I didn’t expect to read this cover to cover as it’s a collection of essays, but they were well written and flowed from one thing to another that they felt like a whole book and kept me turning the pages. The author is way younger than me but I was nodding away with her all the way through as she threw eloquent feminist light on life experience. A lot of the book is auto-biographical which is why it hangs together so well.

I felt the book improved as it went on though I see many other people think the early essays are better. I felt distinctly called-out in the early pages of the book when she disparaged her child-self for using starry night and pastels when writing her first webpages: those are still two of my three stock goto themes (ssssh, rainbows are the third) and I’ve been putting the web together more-or-less professionally for twenty-five years now. And her teenage reality tv experience write-up was so far outside my experience that I didn’t really know what to make of it, though I enjoyed the reflections of the group of contestants on the experience. I thought that her later explorations of rape and other sexual abuse in academia and the bizarre capitalist phenomenon of weddings were the best bits. It was an interesting read and I’ll be looking out for the author in future.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Cover of Normal People

I enjoyed this book but I’m super surprised to find that it lists about ten different awards and shortlistings on its cover. I would have said it’s the sort of book that I like but I wouldn’t have been at all sure that everybody else would like it too. Obviously I’d have been way wrong.

A tale of two young Irish people and the intertwining of their lives from the end of their school years and through their college lives. It kept reminding me of Iris Murdoch in some kind of weird literary echo. This is a university tale featuring people two decades younger than me; Murdoch wrote about academia way before my time but I read her during my academic years (and have forgotten almost everything but the way the books made me feel, maybe I should read her works again now).

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but better.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3) by Abir Mukherjee

Cover of Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3)

The strongest outing yet for Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee, who I noticed he did start to call “Suren” in this book – an abbreviated version of his full Indian name rather than the the anglicisation “Surrender-not” which sounds like a slur to my ears but also sounds typical of the colonial period and the British treatment of anything they couldn’t be bothered to understand.

Calcutta in the 1920s really came to life here; from the grand mansions to the opium dens to the military enclosures to the boatmen on the Hooghly river, and the city is populated by groups from all parts of India, including peacefully protesting followers of Mahatma Gandhi, the ever-present British military and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) is about to visit. What could go wrong?! I like the way the author shows all the diversity within the population, no one’s ever just an “Indian”, you learn all about the different peoples who make up India along the way. I think I said in writing about one of the earlier books that Sam (as a white British man) seems too liberal for his time, but I think it works better than way for the modern reader.

The plot in this book took a bit of getting into, there’s a real web of plot lines being spun and they all get tangled up together very knottily. I liked how Sam covering up his increasingly worrying opium habit was an essential part of the conundrum rather than just period and place specific decoration to the story.

I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Disappearance of Emily Marr by Louise Candlish

Cover of The Disappearance of Emily Marr

A very holiday sort of a read. I loved that it was set on the ÃŽle-de Ré where I holidayed a few years ago, it’s a place that’s near the top of my list of places I want to go back to. It’s a perfect sort of a place to pick to go and hide out in exile from the world. (Damn, now I’ve told you and won’t be able to hideaway there myself!)

Tabby turns up on the island when she’s near penniless, she was travelling with a boyfriend who dumped her, and she falls in with “Emmie Mason” who it seems is in exile there. The story goes back and narration from Emily explains what happened in her life before this. Tabby slowly pieces together her friend’s background. I loved the first Candlish book I read for its twist that I didn’t see coming, and this one is pretty good at twisting things around too. It’s not like some books where “you’ll never guess the ending” is the whole point and if you do hazard a guess that turns out to be in the right ball park you feel cheated though; I think it’s a good book whether you foresee the twists or not.

I’m intrigued by the cover I can see on goodreads for this book. There’s obviously been a change of marketing strategy for the author at some point. The copy I have has a very dark thriller-ish cover; this one is a brighter chicklit-ish holiday read sort of a cover. The novel is somewhere in between, and I think you’d enjoy it if you like either one of those genres.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Paper Son (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12) by S.J. Rozan

Cover of Paper Son (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12)

I’m the wrong person to ask if this is a good book. I was super delighted to find that there was a new book in this series, the twelfth, it’s been several years since the last one and I’d thought the series was dead. It goes far away from the usual New York setting as Lydia and Bill head to the Mississippi Delta to investigate a murder among distant cousins of Lydia’s. I loved being back with the characters and though I was a bit disappointed that “New York” was missing as a character I think the story worked pretty well, the change of scene added a different dimension, and Lydia and Bill needed some time away.

It was great, and I really hope there will be more before too long.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Only Human by Susie Boyt

Cover of Only Human

I’ve really enjoyed some of Susie Boyt’s other books in the past but this one didn’t really do it for me. One of those cases where I think it’s a case of “just me, not the book” though. One of the things I’ve liked about her other books in how realistic the characters are. This one features a marriage guidance counsellor who is rather falling apart and I never quite believed in her, her relationships or the most of the couples whose relationships she was counselling. Everything seemed to be that little bit too overdone.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.