Crime fiction

Career of Evil [Book Review]

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Rating: 2/5

What’s in a name, right? Does it matter if she writes under a different name, a pseudonym- Robert Galbriath? It’s J.K.Rowling! My level of excitement for every work of hers has no bounds. Harry Potter would eternally be my most favourite and inspirational work I have ever read. I don’t think this choice of mine is ever going to change. I am sure it’s the same case with many. When she came up with the Coromoran Strike series, I jumped in joy especially because she was plunging into crime. What more do I need? J.K.Rowling is my inspiration. Hence, it’s really awkward and probably even inappropriate for me to actually review her work. Can I? I want to. Setting the author aside, I decided to review the book for what it actually is.

To be really honest, though it breaks my heart to accept this, Robert Galbriath isn’t as entertaining as J.K.Rowling. I know it’s really unfair to compare the Coromoran Strike series with THE Harry Potter series- for one- the genre is extremely different. It’s very evident that JKR wanted to try something very different, to break her shackles from her original style and create a different identity for herself- probably the reason behind using the pseudonym. But I feel, somewhere, something is extremely wrong at the basic level. Is it the characters or the plot or the narration- it’s extremely difficult to figure out.

Career of Evil is the third book in the Coromoran Strike series after The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. It follows the adventures of a sober private investigator, Coromoran Strike, an ex-army man who lost his left leg on duty, and his secretary cum assistant cum partner, Robin Ellacot, a smart young woman with huge interest in detection and investigation. I read the first two books within a few months of its release. I have to admit, I don’t remember much about either of the cases- almost nothing. It’s a boon that the books aren’t connected in any way except for the leads. I vaguely remember enjoying the first book, intrigued by the case of the second book, but both the books didn’t engage me completely till the end. I purchased Career of Evil nearly 6 months ago but something stopped me from picking it up. May be because I had better options on my shelf. I pushed myself to pick this book in spite of being weary of its size. Nearly 500 pages- definitely lesser than Game of Thrones, but yet.

To be fair, this book isn’t a “bad” one but it isn’t good either. It would be wrong of me to even use the word bad or even mediocre. I could feel the hard work and honesty behind this work. Robin is facing troubles with her fiancé, Mathew, who doubts her relationship with her boss, Strike. Though Robin clears it many a times that there is nothing between them, Mathew isn’t convinced. There are lot of arguments and friction as the day to their wedding approaches. Amidst this, Robin is sent a box with a left leg of a girl. No surprises, she is shaken. Strike is highly worried- no surprise. Robin can’t stop wondering the connection between the boxed leg and the fact that her boss is amputated with the same leg. Strike accepts the weird connection and lists down three names who could have done this to get back at him- to take revenge. Two from his past career and one from his family. Brockbank and Laing from his career and Whittaker from his family, his step father who allegedly killed his mother. Robin and Strike launches three separate lines of investigation. They also have two ongoing petty investigations which they can’t suspend as they are the only source of income to their business. Separate stories for Brockbank, Laing and Whittaker are narrated making the readers initiate their own investigation based on the psychology of the three suspects. The police, led by Wardle have their own investigation too. The story is set very well, I didn’t feel any kind of a stretch till probably 350 pages. But after that, I could feel the impatience burning in me.

350 pages done and yet the case seems to have no kind of a progress. I felt stuck with the same incidents, Robin and Mathew’s problems, Strike’s dilemma over Robin and his own love life, etc. We have the past of the suspects repeated again and again. At a point I felt Robin to be more involved in the case that Strike. Strike is a very interesting character no doubt but he is too dull and uncertain in this book. We are given three suspects, neither of them are interesting enough! They have the motive and the capability to perform gruesome acts, but- as a reader, I wanted to have more connection, perhaps more inclination towards the suspects in hand. During the entire time, I felt the murderer wasn’t any of the three as I didn’t feel them to be one. It’s a shame but I began skipping loads of portions as I wanted more action, something to happen in the story- which happened way at the end and in the most disappointing manner. We have chapters from the murderer’s point of view too, his obsession with Robin and his need to kidnap her and cause her pain, a way to get back at Strike. I felt this would be the opportunity to develop Robin and Strike’s relationship. We do catch a glimpse of Strike’s concern towards Robin, but the opportunity gets wasted completely. On the whole, what started as a very interesting and dangerous case fizzles out before it reaches the end.

A big shoutout to the language JKR has used in this book. It’s amazing. Her choice of words and the intricate meaning it brings out- a reader’s treat. Honestly, I didn’t know the exact meaning of several words, but that was the enjoyable part. You understand the context of the sentence even without knowing the exact meaning, but finding it out and setting the sentence correctly- I loved doing that. Please note- it’s not a flowery language. JKR knows the knack when to use complicated and uncommon words and when to keep it simple.

I would recommend this book purely for its language. As a crime fanatic, this book was a huge disappointment.

The Big Four [Book Review]

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Rating: 1/5

Having read most of the best works of Agatha Christie, especially Hercule Poirot series, I decided to fill the missing gaps, the remaining books in the series. The Big Four is the fifth book in the Hercule Poirot series. With immense expectations, I began this journey along with Poirot and Hastings and this journey was a huge disappointment.

In almost every Poirot book I have read, it took me less than few minutes to get into the story. I am not saying that every book has to follow the same trend, but I felt The Big Four had an utterly confusing plot right from the beginning. As usual, we have Hastings as Poirot’s sidekick but with more page space. Hastings, after a brief break, decides to meet Poirot and continue being his partner. When he finds him in London, he realizes Poirot is getting ready for a business voyage. The sudden appearance of a completely confused man at their down and his meaningless rantings forces Poirot to postpone his trip and look into the matter. When the confused man repeatedly writes down the number 4, Poirot understands that the situation had something to do with the organization The Big Four. The Big Four includes an Italian woman, a Chinese man, a man of disguise and a businessman.

I couldn’t really understand the big picture of this plot. This book attempts to be something away from the usual Whodonuits. It’s more of a corporate espionage, national security kind of thing. Poirot and Hastings take on this unusual adventure, there are loads of action- Hastings is kidnapped, he even goes undercover, Poirot dies in a fire and then resurrects of course.  How much ever it was really interesting to read these action sequences, I didn’t really follow the plot. We have the fourth man of the Big Four camouflaging in various roles and the way they identify him is with the way he eats his bread?! Okay!! We have The Big Four getting the better of Poirot at many places, but Poirot’s comeback isn’t effective at all. The book was a patience tester which is very rare for an Agatha Christie work. The supporting characters aren’t interesting at all which adds to the boredom.

I really don’t have much to say about this book. It was the biggest disappointment especially it being a Poirot case. I am just going to forget I read this book.

The Girl in the Ice (Book Review)

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Rating: 5/5

This book was one of those which I started but never continued. Most of the times, those books come out as duds but not this one. I nearly cursed myself for not having read this one before when I had started. Nevertheless, I am glad I have now.

The Girl in the Ice is a pure crime investigation thriller. When Angela Douglas, a young girl from a rich family, is found brutally murdered and buried under ice, Detective Erika Foster is called on scene to lead. Erika returns from a break, after an encounter went wrong killing 5 of her own team including her husband. Plagued with guilt, Erika struggles to keep her emotions in control as she takes on this investigation. The crime scene is dotted with loads of forensic clues which questions a lot about Angela’s character. Erika faces restriction from questioning the Douglas family because of their grand connections with top level government. Jumping protocol, instinctive decisions and reckless sleuthing forces Marsh, Erika’s boss, to suspend her from the investigation. But with the help of her team, Erika continues her investigation leading her finally to the murderer. It’s really very difficult to say more about the story as that would fade the thrilling element of the book. So I wouldn’t go more into the details. All the supporting characters had different shades building suspicions in our minds.

Erika Foster, our protagonist, is a very interesting and strong character. I have always had my reservations reading woman detectives but this is the first one I thoroughly enjoyed. Erika’s pain and guilt are beautifully expressed by the author. I could easily connect to her. She is recuperating from the loss of her husband and wants to get her life back on track, but does she actually want to? That’s the dilemma she is in. She doesn’t have any motivating factor in life. Her work- she doesn’t trust herself anymore. She doubts her every action. She doesn’t have a proper place to live, doesn’t eat or sleep her well. Somehow, this state of Erika is almost similar to many other lead detectives we have on TV or books. A tragedy hit detective. Yet, Erika’s life and emotions are more authentic. I, as a reader, was definitely able to sympathize her and in a way wanted her to move on. Probably it’s because she is not an extraordinary detective. She is no Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or Poirot. She is an on-field officer who follows the clues and finds where it leads. She is definitely the reason behind the success of this book.

Apart from the protagonist, there were some really great, endearing moments which added a lot of feelings to the story. First and foremost would be the relationship between Erika and her father-in-law, Edward. Probably there were just 3 or 4 conversations between them but that was sufficient for Erika to realize she does have someone to care for her. Edward is a sweet, caring man who in spite of losing his son understands Erika’s state of mind. I am hoping to see more of them in the other books. Second is the bonding between Erika and Kate (Detective Constable). Erika finds a friend in her and the concern and respect Kate has for Erika is very warming to read.

The procedures and protocols police need to follow, which ultimately hinders their progress is very real.

The Girl in the Ice is a complete package- both thrilling and emotional. It had been a long time I was completely satisfied with a crime thriller. Highly recommended.

Cappuccinos, Cupcakes and a Corpse [Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Author: Harper Lin

The main reason I picked up this book was its cover. I know it sounds absurd but it’s true. Come on! It has a colourful pastry and an amazingly attractive coffee on its cover.  Appearances can be deceiving, as many say. Thank Goodness! It wasn’t the case with this book. The book was as delicious as cupcakes and as refreshing as a delightful cappuccino.

Corpse is a strong word and could automatically be associated with brutal murders. But this book doesn’t match the term. Don’t get me wrong. This book does have a murder, a corpse and an investigation but it’s not like those in our usual crime thrillers. This story is pleasant and the setting is magnificent. Cape Bay. The characters are adorable and you just don’t feel the time passing as you read this book.

Francessca aka Franny shifts to Cape Bay to take over the family Café after the demise of her mother. Her poor relationship choices and failure in her career supported her decision to move back to her hometown. Every day, she makes decorative cappuccinos and tasty pastries for her tourist customers. She is still low after the death of her mother and has plunged into work to distract herself from her distressed life. One day, on her way back home, she finds Mr Cardosi sitting in his garden. When she doesn’t get a response for her greetings, she checks him to find him dead. Initially, she doesn’t think about this death much but when suspicion dawns it to be a murder, Franny is interested. She finds a purpose for her life which she had been missing all the while. She gets the support of Mathew aka Matty, Mr Cardosi’s son, and the two of them begin their amateur investigation. Bold – Amateur. It’s really enjoyable to see them investigating in the most basic manner, like how a common man would think. They don’t have the resources; they don’t have the skill; but they have the determination. One small clue leads to another. They weave their own theories and hunt for proofs to back them. But all the while, the name of the murderer lies hidden within Mr Cardosi’s possessions.

The beauty of this story is the setting. Cape Bay. It’s a calm, peaceful tourist spot with a magnificent weather. It’s a small town. The neighbourhood is very friendly. Everyone knows everyone. They are all family. Even a small news spreads quickly. It’s really refreshing to read a locality like this considering the busy crowded life we live in. Equally adorable is the relationship between Franny and Matty. They are childhood friends. They have played together most of their growing up years. Education and career had taken them to different places and they had immersed in their own lives. The sudden death of Mr Cardosi brings them back together. They reminisce the wonderful time they had spent together, share their worries and sorrows. There are some very sweet and funny moments between them which are thoroughly enjoyable.

Characterwise- Franny and Matty are both so real. They are normal with no extraordinary traits. Franny is a depressed soul who is trying to fight her way back into a normal life. Matty’s entry into her life brings the much needed brightness. Her investigation is very engaging. Matty, on the other hand, is a calm and a sane man. Till before meeting Franny again, his life had only his work. He opens up to her and brings out his humorous side too. The supporting characters are nicely written. They have small roles of little significance to the story. One of my favourite parts of this story is the investigation conducted by the police and how they are out-smart the amateur investigators. Just because our leads are in pursuit of the murderer doesn’t mean their methods are correct. They cannot be better than the police, can they? At the same time, I was a little confused over the procedures. Wouldn’t the police have confiscated all the important belongings of the victim, those things which might present them with a clue to the murderer? How come everything was still at Mr Cardosi’s house for Franny and Matty to rummage through?

On the whole, Cappuccinos, Cupcakes and a Corpse is a refreshing read. It’s not extraordinary but it is so engaging that it’s difficult to put down. It’s light and entertaining. The investigation part is sufficient. The setting is soothing. It’s a quick read too. Recommended.

The Mysterious Affairs at Styles [Review]

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Rating: 3/5

Here I am with another review of Agatha Christie’s book. This is the 16th Agatha Christie book I have read this year. As much as I criticize or get greatly disappointed with her works, my temptation to pick another book of hers never ceases. Probably it’s going to continue till I finish reading all her works. Having read many of her Poirot works and being a huge fan of her Belgian detective, I decided it’s time go in series now and hence started the first book in the Poirot collection – The Mysterious Affairs at Styles. My expectations were as ever huge especially with this being the first book. I believe the first work always has the best efforts. In a way, I wasn’t wrong. The book had all the elements of a perfect Poirot mystery. This book also marked the beginning of the Poirot-Hastings partnership.

This story unfolds in a place called Styles where Captain Hastings visits his friend John Cavendish after the former gets relieved from duty after being injured in the war. Mrs Inglethorp is the matriarch of the family and the step mother of John and his younger brother Lawrence. When Mrs Inglethorp gets married again, the benefactor of the will changes from John to her husband Alfred. Mrs Inglethorp also mentors a young nurse Cynthia who also lives with the family in the house. The entire family holds a grudge against Alfred as they believe his only motive towards marrying Mrs Inglethorp is for her money. When this is pointed out by Miss Howard, Mrs Inglethorp’s friend, they fall out. Miss Howard leaves not before warning Hastings to take care of Mrs Inglethorp and protect her. Hastings is very intrigued by the overall happenings and the behaviour of the family members. He holds a soft corner for both Mary and Cynthia. One night, the family after hearing noises from Mrs Inglethorp’s room, rushes to find her dead. Hastings and the rest of the family is sure it is Alfred as he is the only one missing in the house during the time of death. Coincidentally, Poirot is at Styles and is requested by Hastings to investigate the case.

As it is evident from the cover of the book, the case involves poisoning. Somewhere all the medical terms and medical conditions causes sufficient confusion while reading. Of course when we compare it to today’s long complicated murder mysteries, it’s nothing. Also- Poirot is at his irritating best. Here is a man who just doesn’t trust anyone and he ably justifies why too. Even if he knows the truth from the beginning, he wants to make a dramatic speech at the end. At the same time, I wouldn’t deny. I absolutely love the dramatic revelation, the Poirot Speech, at the end of every book but I feel for poor Hastings. He puts his heart and soul to solve the case and aid Poirot in every way he can but Poirot makes sure to project what a fool Hastings is. It’s not easy to partner a person like Poirot. It’s impossible to deduce what’s going on in his little grey cells. So special appreciation for Hastings.

Coming back to this book. The clues, deductions and revelations are quite exciting at the beginning. It’s not about evidence or test results when it comes to Poirot. It’s all about reasoning and question every action, every movement and even the placement of every object in the crime scene. But when Poirot proves everyone including us wrong and brings in a completely different perspective, it is sort of annoying. May be because it’s forced or because our minds just don’t work like Poirot’s. The way he puts an end to all the loose ends is marvellous. There is no question left unanswered.

The supporting characters in this story aren’t as interesting and captivating like many in the author’s other works. Perhaps another reason why this book, in spite of having a great plot and excellent narrative, still doesn’t enter my top 5 works of Agatha Christie’s.

My top 5 would be, in no particular order:

  1. And then there were none (Stand alone)
  2. The Murder on the Orient Express
  3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  4. Three Act Tragedy
  5. Death on the Nile

I feel I have read all the best works of Agatha Christie and none of the remaining works are going to stand as tall as the above in the list. Nevertheless, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and pursue my journey to complete all the books.

As for this book- This isn’t a bad book but just not the best. Read it if you can’t get your hand on her best works.

Appointment with Death [Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Published: 1938

If you had noticed, I have been expressing my disappointment over my recent readings of Agatha Christie’s. Be it The Caribbean Mystery or Lord Edgware Dies or Ordeal of Innocence, nothing could match the thrill of The Murder on the Orient Express or The Murder of Roger Acroyd. I felt there were just very few fantastic works of Agatha and the rest were just mediocre. But she proved yet again why she is the Queen of Crime with this book, “Appointment with Death”.

One of the greatest things about Agatha Christie’s works is her supporting characters. In “Appointment with Death”, our hero Hercule Poirot enters nearly after 100 pages. Hence, as a reader, you get enough time to understand the characters through your eyes, and not Poirot’s. Also, by the time Poirot enters after the crime is committed, you have a theory for yourself. You check your ideas along with Poirot. The questions in your mind are asked by Poirot and you get the needed answers. This book is one of a kind experience. One of Agatha Christie’s best.

The story happens in Jerusalem and the places around. We have a group of people touring together. Dr Sarah King, a young doctor and Dr Gerard, a French Pyschologist, get acquainted during the trip. They find the American family, Boyntons, very peculiar. The matriarch of the family, Mrs Boynton is a sadistic, dominating and insensitive woman. She keeps her kids around her all the time, not letting them enjoy the trip. She has a very tight hold over them. Her family includes Lennox (elder son) and his wife Nadia, Raymond (younger son), Carol (daughter) and Jinna (youngest daughter). The story actually begins with Poirot hearing Raymond and Carol plotting to kill their mother, but that’s more like a Prologue. Anyways, all the family members act very strangely. They are always nervous and don’t talk to anyone much. The doctor duo find them very interesting especially Dr Sarah who tries to talk to them but in vain. The party then moves to Petra. Mrs Boynton, out of nowhere, allows her kids to go out. But when they are back in the evening, they find Mrs Boynton dead in her chair. Poirot enters and declares he would solve the case in 24 hours. Every one of the family members and Dr Sarah King has spoken to Mrs Boynton when they returned to the camp. So who killed her? Did one of the family members decide to kill their mother to put an end to their caged life? Or is it an outsider?

Poirot’s questioning every character and framing a timeline was really professional and methodical. Very much Poirot. Poirot always believe in dramatic revelation at the end. Even if he knows something, he keeps it to himself. Surprisingly, in this case, he was forthcoming. He expressed his views and findings as he progressed with the investigation. The case also had nearly everyone at the suspicion radar, each one having a motive to kill Mrs Boynton. Also, the entire set up was so beautiful. Just like Death on the Nile, this book was visually very appealing.

Appointment with Death is definitely one of the best works of Agatha Christie. The book works very well not just because of Poirot’s brilliance, but also because of the sheer intelligent writing of the entire case. Recommended.

The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece [Review]

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Rating: 2.5/5

Published: 1936

Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series was actually recommended by my father. It used to be very popular back in his days. It’s embarrassing not to have known such a famous series from a renowned author like Erle Stanley Gardner. Purely my ignorance. Correcting my mistake, I picked up two books from the series. One of them is The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece.

Before I get into the story part of the book, there are few things which astonished me. First, the front page of the book claims Erle Stanley Gardner is the only author to have outsold Agatha Christie. WOW! Being a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s works, I thought no one could have matched her standard of storytelling and suspense. This detail got me all the more excited. Second, one chapter into the book, I was really intrigued by the writing style. The narration had dialogues mostly and less of description. It was more like a script. Hence, I can see the story move in top speed every page. I usually love reading dialogue parts in any book. This book had 90% of dialogues. Impressive.

Perry Mason, our protagonist, is not a detective. He is a criminal lawyer, very famous and successful. Della Street is his secretary. As clever as her boss, she and Mason have some romantic track going on which I couldn’t figure out much in this book. May be it’s an ongoing one throughout the series. Jackson, another lawyer, works with Mason. Paul Drake is a private detective who Mason employs for his cases. These four characters seem to be the central ones for all the Gardner’s books.

The story. Edna Hammer approaches Perry Mason requesting him to help her Uncle, Peter Kent, who has a sleepwalking problem. She feels her uncle could have committed a crime. Mrs Kent alleges that Peter Kent tried to kill her in his sleepwalking a year ago. She has employed her own lawyers to settle her marriage. Peter Kent also has problems going on with Maddox, his business partner. Perry Mason decides to meet everyone and resolve the issues. Edna, Mason, Peter Kent, Maddox and his lawyer Duncan, and Kent’s half brother Rease stay at Kent’s residence for a night. Edna locks the sidedoor in the kitchen where the knives are kept fearing her uncle might sleepwalk and kill someone. In the morning, they find Rease dead and a blood smeared knife under Peter Kent’s pillow. Did Peter Kent actually kill his brother? How did the knife come out of the locked door? What was the motive behind killing Rease? Thus, starts the investigation.

It’s very difficult to explain the story as there are so many aspects, storylines and clues involved. Perry Mason journeys through everything and puts all the pieces together. He has a very clever way of talking, getting people to admit the truth. His interrogation and cross examining skills in the court are very enjoyable. It’s just not the evidence part of it; the story involves lot of psychology. Nearly the last 40-50 pages cover courtroom drama. It’s so pumped with energy that it’s very difficult to put down the book then.

Having said the above, I also felt this story lacked depth. As much as I enjoyed Perry Mason & Co, the rest of the characters were very weak. Edna was whiny, Kent was stupid, Maddox and Duncan were irritating. None of the characters stood out as unique. The plotline was too confused; timelines were mentioned too many times, and the breakthroughs lacked punch. Somehow, the title of the book was a giveaway too. At the same time, the revelation and explanation was very good. Mason brought out the Poirot feel.

Perry Mason is a very impressive character. May be I picked the wrong book to start the series. I wouldn’t say the story is bad, it just lacks seriousness. The story starts well but becomes dull after a point. The feel of the environment and the atmosphere I sense in Agatha Christie’s books was missing. Poirot was a detective and Mason is a lawyer and that difference definitely holds prominence in this comparison too. I’ll read a few more books in the series to decide if the front page detail of Gardner being better than Christie is true or not.

You can give this book a pass.