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Books in January

A very cold start to the year, just the ticket for sitting by the electric fire and reading a lot!

Lies Sleeping is the 7th novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and once again Peter Grant is battling the forces of evil, in this case the mysterious Chorley and his side-kicks, including Lesley (who used to be a colleague of Peter’s but who has moved over to the dark side). Chorley is amassing a number of magic-imbued artifacts, with the aim of attacking one of the more supernatural characters in London, the being known as Punch. But is Punch more than he seems, and can Chorley really control him? And can Peter figure it all out before it’s too late?.... I’ve enjoyed this series from the beginning, but it appears that the author has been concentrating more on the graphic novel versions of his Rivers of London world, so that the regular novels are fewer and further apart in terms of publication dates than I would like. That is, I’d forgotten 90% of what went on in the previous novel by the time I got around to this one, which is unfortunate. That said, the humour and inventiveness of the storylines and the characters remain enjoyable to read, so I continue to recommend the series. I just hope nobody tries to make a film or television series of the books; please leave it to the readers’ imaginations!

Philip Progmire is a quiet, unassuming fellow, happy working as an accountant for a television company and happy with his wife Beth. But his old school chum, Dick Dunster, has a way of breaking into Philip’s life over and over again, and whenever Dunster appears, trouble - very BIG trouble - is never far behind…. John Mortimer is best known for his Rumpole series, of course, but he also wrote a fair number of stand-alone books too, including this one. It features his trademark humour and, surprisingly, a great deal of moral ambiguity and questions about the meaning of honesty in the real world. I wouldn’t consider this to be peak Mortimer, but it’s definitely worth a read; recommended.

After a first volume of memoirs sells reasonably well, Bryant’s publisher asks for more. This request leads Bryant on a trip down memory lane - specifically, to 1969, when he and May are assigned to keep watch over the star witness in a case where a shady builder has used shoddy materials and buildings have collapsed, killing people. But said witness insists on attending a country house party over the weekend, so the ultra-urban detectives are forced to put on mud boots and travel to the dreaded countryside. Unbeknownst to them, the Army happens to be taking that particular weekend in that particular part of the countryside to stage maneuvers using live ammunition…. This is Christopher Fowler’s take on the famed country house murder trope so specific to England, and as such it’s quite wild; the above description leaves out hippies, secret passages, a mythical beast, a blond nightclub singer and much, much more. One thing I’ve loved about the Bryant & May series is that the lead characters are old men (i.e., in their 80s), but this story describes their evolving methodology (and friendship) at a much younger age. As a result, this could well be the perfect introduction to these characters, because almost all of the other characters are not germane to the rest of the books. I believe that once a reader discovers these two detectives, s/he will want to know more, so go ahead and give it a try! Recommended.

When 13-year-old Chloe is sent to live with her father in Victoria, B.C., she feels that her life in Montreal has been taken from her and that nothing will ever be the same again. Her estranged grandfather has recently had a stroke and she reluctantly agrees to help him out, primarily by cultivating his garden, which turns out to be full of strange and rare produce grown from heritage seeds that her grandfather has collected over many years. In spite of herself, Chloe becomes interested in the garden and in her grandfather, and in discovering just why her father and grandfather seem to be so distant with each other. And then the garden itself becomes endangered, as developers are planning to build on the land…. I’ve always enjoyed children’s books and this is no exception; Chloe is an engaging character, a young girl who is at times quite mature and at other times quite babyish, a combination that describes being 13 years old perfectly, and the other characters provide a sense of mystery to the story. I was given an ARC of the novel through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program; the book is due to be published in March 2019. When it does come out, it will be an enjoyable read for anyone who remembers what growing up felt like; recommended!

When newlyweds Feely and Dieter go to cut their wedding cake, they are shocked to discover a severed finger inside! Luckily for them, Feely’s little sister Flavia is standing by and is able to discreetly remove the appendage before anyone else sees; and now she and her partner in the newly created Arthur W. Dogger & Associates (Flavia is the “associate”) have their very first case to investigate. This being Flavia, however, great complications soon ensue, and death is never far behind…. I imagine that everybody who has ever read a Flavia de Luce book has fallen in love with the 12 year old chemical genius who is creating a space for herself in early 1950s England; each novel contains myriad interesting characters, several mysteries spreading from one to another, lots and lots of information about the chemical composition of, well, just about everything, and, given that it’s a mystery series, at least one unexpected death. More, the complicated relationships between Flavia and her family, not to mention manservant Dogger and cook Mrs. Mullet, continue to evolve from book to book, until we reach this, the tenth novel in the series. I have been told that this is the last Flavia de Luce novel, but I’m hoping that whoever told me that is mistaken, because I will never tire of this delightful young girl and her quirky, original mind. Very highly recommended, but you must read each novel in the proper order!

Nicholas Bracewell, bookholder of the Westfield’s Men acting troupe, is in a quandary: his employer, actor/manager Lawrence Firethorn, has requested that he discover the identity of a young lady in the audience with whom Firethorn has fallen in love (well, lust really). But Nick knows that Firethorn’s wife will not put up with such behaviour, especially when it turns out that the lady in question is the young wife of London’s new Mayor-Elect. On top of that, the owner of the inn that serves as the troupe’s base is planning to sell and the new owner absolutely hates theater, putting the actors in danger of becoming homeless. And, Nick’s landlady’s apprentice has been viciously attacked by unknown men, and finally, he helps a waterman pull a corpse out of the River Thames. And that’s just the beginning of Nick’s troubles….”The Nine Giants” is the fourth in a series about this Elizabethan theatrical troupe, and like its predecessors, there are a number of inter-related stories being told at the same time. The setting is well-described - the reader can practically smell what 16th Century London would be like - and the characters are intriguing, especially Nicholas Bracewell. I’ve been reading these out of order, as I happen to find them, and I don’t think I’ve missed much by doing so. If you like your mystery reading with a dose of history, Mr. Marston’s work is well worth your time; recommended.

There you have it - and happy Imbolc, too!

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