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23154785What’s it all about?

The Annihilation Score is Book 6 in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, so probably not a good place for new readers to start, but very exciting for old hands like me 🙂

This time around the focus is on Mo O’Brien, an agent for the Laundry, which is the secret government agency which deals with occult powers and the threats they present. Mo has a very special set of skills alongside wielding a bloodthirsty possessed violin as her main weapon.

Ordinary people are developing superpowers and the Laundry needs to work with the mainstream police force to contain the potential threat. Of course it’s not as simple as that and there are consequences (with a capital C).

Why did I want to read it?

I have been reading this series since it started and enjoy watching the characters develop and the shift in tone as different threats are dealt with; everything from megalomaniacs wanting to take over the world, Lovecraftian entities from other dimensions, underwater beings and, of course, vampires. Wouldn’t miss new entries in the series for the world.

What did I think about it?

I really enjoyed this entry in the series, with its shift in focus away from Bob, our normal protagonist, to his wife Mo. The story stands or falls on whether you like Mo as a character or not and I do. I particularly liked the fact that a significant number of the leading characters in the story are women, and that they aren’t spending all of their time snarking at each other, but find a way to work together despite tensions in their working and personal relationships.

But the great joy in this series for an old civil servant like me is the accuracy of the bureaucracy that always arises when different bits of the public sector have to work with each other more closely than they would like, and the jockeying for position and advantage that results. Setting aside the whole occult thing (obviously) some of the situations will be recognisable to anyone who has worked in an office environment, especially within government. Gives an added depth to what’s already a good story.

I already have book seven in the stacks, and book eight has been pre-ordered, so more Laundry shenanigans to come.

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24343739I have taken quite a while to get round to writing about They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper because it’s really hard to know quite where to start. To help set some context I was going to quote from the blurb on the book’s Amazon page but I got quite cross reading the thing because it makes some claims (especially about the scholarship involved) that I don’t think really hold up. It’s basically a bonkers book.

What’s it all about?

So Bruce Robinson, former actor and most notably director of Withnail and I, has spent at least fifteen years researching the case of Jack the Ripper and this enormous book is the result of his labours. And it really is a huge thing so I’m glad I had the Kindle version (you may have read in one of my Sunday Salon posts that I saw this in a book shop teetering on the edge of a shelf, only just managing not to plummet to the floor due to its sheer size). Robinson has a preferred suspect and his book is all about proving he’s right, why the guy did it and how he managed not to get caught.

Why did I want to read it?

I will put my hand up and admit that I’ve long been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, though I am well aware that it is all petty lurid stuff. I’ve read enough to be clear that a lot of the ‘facts’ out there are just theories, and some of those are fairly crackpot. So I was interested to see what this latest one would reveal. Also it was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction which gave it a certain additional interest.

What did I think of it?

Well. I’ve always been a great believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think plots and conspiracies can happen; they manifestly have, and some of have been very successful. But to my mind those are the exceptions, and so when it became clear right from the very beginning of this book that the identity of Jack the Ripper was protected by a consipracy that is so enormous that it would collapse under its own weight I felt a familiar sinking feeling.

Robinson identifies the Ripper as Michael Maybrick, a surname that may be familiar to some of you because of the Ripper diaries that were floating around some years ago where James Maybrick was outed as (potentially) being Jack, having been (allegedly) murdered by his wife. The diaries were eventually discredited, but the theory here is that Michael was Jack, murdered his brother and set him up to be the Ripper, and because he was that kind of guy, framed his hated sister-in-law Florence for the killing, with the collusion of the police and the judiciary, because *gasp* Freemasonry.

Yes, it’s the Freemasons what done it, or at least covered it all up. Knew who it was all along etc. and sacrificed the truth to protect the establishment.

I don’t think this holds up because it simply doesn’t make sense, and there is a definite air of selecting material to support a theory and ignoring the bits that don’t fit. Perhaps the Ripper sections on their own, though fairly potty, make some sort of case, but the mashing together with the Florence Maybrick case (which was a clear miscarriage of justice and Robinson is right to be angry about it), just doesn’t work IMHO.

The book is exhausting to read because the author is so angry about everything; it felt like the man was writing the whole thing with his CAPS lock on. It was like being shouted at constantly. His obsessions and prejudices shine through and his language is crude and at times inappropriate to my mind, and that really jars. There were a number of “wow – did he really just say that” moments

But…..

Having said all that, it’s also quite entertaining – even funny in places – and he makes some very good points about the Ripperology industry. BI certainly never consdered abandoning the book at any point. But having dumped all this information and conspiracy theory stuff on his readers, the whole thing gets a bit rushed and then. Just. Stops. A bit like Jack the Ripper himself.

A real oddity of a book.

The Burning ManWhat’s The Burning Man all about?

Still under the auspices of the City of London Police, Bryant & May and the remainder of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are pulled into the investigation of the death of a homeless man during anti-capitalist protests in the city. The man was killed when a bank (in whose doorway he was sleeping rough) is firebombed. But of course there is much, much more to it than that, as an apparent random act is followed by other deaths by fire that indicate that someone is using the rioting as a cover for a protest of his own.

Why did I want to read it?

As I’ve said ad nauseam on this blog, I love these books and look forward to each one, snaffling it as soon as it’s published. Added frisson this time as I got my copy signed (see more of that below), and it might be the last we see of the PCU in this form. Which will be sad if true.

What did I think of it?

Another great story, as always full of plausible events with a strong sense of place and a delight in the characters, building on years of development but never (I think) shutting out the new or casual reader (though of course you always get more out of a series when you read them in order IMHO). And once again Christopher Fowler brings London to life with details of its history and legends underpinning the plot. For a start I am going to have to go and find Crutched Friars next time I’m near the Tower. And it was great to have a relatively rare foray outside of London, to visit the bonfires of Lewes on Guy Fawkes Night. The Book God is a Sussex man and I’ve had the opportunity to see a number of these amazing bonfires being constructed, though never been there on the big night itself, so interesting to see them incorporated into the story in such a significant way.

But back to the story; I was slightly anxious reading this as it seemed that the series was coming to an end, and although the thing that I feared did not come to pass there are significant changes for a number of members (actually probably all of them now I come to think of it) of the PCU. I understand there’s going to be a collection of short stories later in the year but this may very well be the last novel, which makes me sad.

IMG_0378As I mentioned I was lucky enough to get to Forbidden Planet on publication day to finally meet Christopher and get my book signed. He was as lovely and charming as I had expected and it was a real treat to meet him after more than 20 years of reading his books (I first read Darkest Day on holiday in Istanbul in 1993), and I hope to be reading them for many more years to come.

IMG_0214What’s it all about?

The Fuller Memorandum is the third in the series of novels set in The Laundry, the really really secret bit of the British Civil Service that deals with nasties from other dimensions, the Old Ones and their ilk.

This time Bob Howard, our hero, is contending with secret dossiers, the odder-than-usual behaviour of his scary boss Angleton, zombie killers, Russian counterparts, apocalyptic death cults and the end of the world being a bit more imminent than originally thought. But at least he has an understanding manager.

Why did I want to read it?

I’m working my way through the series in order (as is only right and proper). Thoughts on The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue have already been shared as linked. And it’s paranormal-civil-servanty-espionage after all.

What did I think of it?

I think this is probably my favourite of the Laundry Files so far. Bob has a bit of a problem at the beginning of the book which means that he isn’t working as normal when all the oddness starts happening, so that adds a slightly different perspective as he has to do quite a bit of sneaking around.

But what makes this a particularly fine entry into the series is that we lean more about Mo, Bob’s wife, who also works at the Laundry, and the toll that her duties take on her (she sees some really really nasty stuff as part of her day job) as well as finding out quite a bit about Angleton (one of my favourite characters), information that serves to explain a lot about his position int he organisation.

Chuck in some authentic Russian history with an occult twist, a very unpleasant cult who are actually dying (in more ways than one) to get those other-dimensional through to our side to wreak havoc on the world, season with really black humour and some proper horror and you have a gripping story that I couldn’t put down. Made all the better for an old civil servant like me because of all the bureaucratic nonsense, which is not that far from the truth (except for the zombies of course). Looking forward to continuing with the series.

18751801What’s it all about?

Two women have been murdered. Different methods, but both around 1 am on consecutive Sunday mornings. Seems to be coincidence until a third body turns up and the police can’t avoid the fact that they are connected which of course = Serial Killer. The events take place on the three Sundays before Christmas so obviously the press dub said murderer The Advent Killer.

As panic spreads across London, DCI Antonia Hawkins, leading her first murder investigation, must stop a cold, careful killer whose twisted motives can only be guessed at, before the next body is found

Thus endeth the blurb

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I must have read something about this somewhere or had it recommended by someone because I put it on my Christmas list and lo and behold, it turned up under the tree. And was devoured, mostly on Boxing Day. I like a good serial killer. In fiction obviously, not real life, though I did work with someone who was booked to go on a civil service training course with Dennis Nielsen. But that’s another story.

What did I think of it?

Like I said above, I read most of it in one day; it’s ideal for curling up under a blanket on the sofa, if you like that sort of thing which I of course do. It’s a fairly undemanding read in many respects but none the worse for that. A solid police procedural with a likeable lead character and all the things I have come to expect in this sort of story:

  • a detective out of their depth, with a complicated personal life and occasional flashes of intuition, in this case made more interesting by the detective being female and apparently the victim of institutionalised misogyny
  • sidekick, with whom lead detective has History of some kind, is brought in to assist once the out of depthness has been recognised by those Higher Up,
  • time pressures – this case must be solved by X otherwise Y will happen (or not happen)
  • a killer with a Mission which makes sense only to them (even after we all know what it is)
  • the Red Herring
  • and of course, it all gets Personal

All of which is done really well and the story moves at pace and you really do want to find out what it’s all about.

Except I actually guessed (and it really was a guess) who the murderer was within the first 90 pages, just because I’ve read and/or watched loads of these things and I just though “I wonder if it might be…..” It didn’t spoil the book for me because I couldn’t actually believe I was right and even if I was I wasn’t sure how it was actually possible (you find out in an aside quite late on in the story) but the Motive was revealed slowly throughout the book and I did want to know what that was all about. Poor thing, no wonder things turned out the way they did…

Anyway, I liked DCI Hawkins a lot, so much so that I’ve ordered the sequel. It’s called My Bloody Valentine. I think I see a pattern here…..

19561902What year are we in? The Laws of Murder is set in 1876.

What is Lenox’s case?

One of Lenox’s friends has been shot in Regent’s Park and the murder may be tied to an aristocratic ne’er-do-well that Lenox has been after for many years. In helping Scotland Yard work the case (after a short period of some estrangement) it becomes clear that matters are not what they seem. At all.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Quite a bit about mourning dress and Victorian funerals and the business of booking fixed berths on ships to allow cargo to be transported abroad (regardless of what that cargo might be). No questions asked. ‘Nuff said.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Lenox has given up his seat in Parliament and has set up a professional detective agency with Dallington and two other colleagues (identified at the end of the last book but not mentioned here by name because *spoilers*) and it’s all taking a while to settle down. Dallington may be in love but is it reciprocated? All the McConnell and Lenox domestic arrangements are happy and harmonious. We see a bit of the background to the lives of Scotland Yard policemen and not all of it is edifying.

Did I enjoy it?

I did enjoy it very much. Like the previous books in the series it is an easy and likeable read, comfortable in a good way as you revisit characters you’ve watched develop over time. Seeing rich people behave badly is always a pleasure (and why I have always preferred Dallas to Eastenders) and the crime(s) and the purpose behind them were ingenious and well thought through. And nice to see that the new detective agency has its premises in Chancery Lane where my old employer used to be based.

However, I shall never look at convents again in quite the same way.

IMG_0170What’s it all about?

Murder is the sequel to Mayhem and picks up a few years after the events of that book, focussing very much on the Dr Thomas Bond (trying to avoid spoilers here) who is trying to deal with the aftermath of those events, hoping to finally win the love of Juliana, now widowed and the mother of a young son, and the arrival of a handsome American, Edward Kane, a friend of Juliana’s late husband who in trying to put his mind at rest on the past events may stir up some of Bond’s demons. In more ways than one.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoy Sarah Pinborough’s work and thought this was going to be the second in a series rather than a direct sequel. Ordered it as soon as it was announced.

What did I think of it?

As I said above I was not expecting this to be a sequel; in my head I had convinced myself that this was going to be a series of nasty (in a good way) serial killer novels with Bond as the hero hunting down the bad guys. All of this based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, all based on assumptions rather than any hard evidence. even starting to read the book I thought that we were running through the events of Mayhem as the background to something entirely different. However, it quickly became clear that I was in for something entirely different as the events of Mayhem come back to haunt Bond in rather horrible ways with a kind of horrible inevitability in the events that were unfolding. Or so it seemed.

This was an interesting reading experience for me, one in a line of dark books with very human dilemmas underscored by creepy supernatural elements and a fair dose of nastiness. But because it was so dark I actually had to set it aside on a couple of occasions because it was almost overwhelming. This is a credit to Sarah’s writing; the triggers for me were not the obvious nastiness but the realistic portrayal of the impact of unrequited love (I have some experience in this area – don’t ask, best left alone – and just found it painful to read) and the descent of a man into madness.

But I’m glad I persevered because there are a couple of events in particular which push the story into really dark territory and I was desperate to know how this was all going to work out. I had a tiny wee suspicion of what might happen at the end which was mostly right though not delivered in quite the way I expected.

This was my eighth read for RIP IX and I’m definitely going to continue exploring this author’s work.

An Old BetrayalWhat year are we in? An Old Betrayal is set in 1875

What is Lenox’s case?

Lord John Dallington is ill and asks Lenox to help him with a case by meeting a potential client at Charing Cross station. However, the meeting doesn’t take place as planned and also seems to be connected with the death of a quiet and retiring country gentleman. As Lenox works with Dallington and Scotland Yard it becomes clear that a deeper and more sinister plot is afoot, one that might strike at the monarchy itself.

Apologies for the burst of melodrama there 🙂

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Not a huge amount, though the way that people try to get access to Queen Victoria is quite interesting, and the murkiness of British politics is reinforced once again.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Dallington is quite ill but struggling on, McConnell and his wife Toto appear to be having marital problems, there is a rival detective agency involved run by *gasp* a woman, and Lenox looks like he’s finally going to have to decide whether he priers politics or detection.

Did I enjoy it?

Huge fun. More complex in some ways than the others in the series and clearly meant to be a game changer. Alway good to have Queen Victoria pop up in her indomitable fashion and the motivation for the crimes is both obscure and mildly gothic. Looking forward to seeing where the series will go from her. Next volume is already pre-ordered.

IMG_0130What year are we in? A Burial at Sea is set in 1873

What is Lenox’s case?

Lenox is a rising star in Parliament and has been asked by his brother and other influential politicians to undertake a mission to Egypt, ostensibly to discuss how Britain might become more involved in the Suez Canal, but actually to meet an informant who can tell him whether the French government knows the identities of British spies in their country and has been bumping them off. While on his way aboard HMS Lucy he has to investigate a number of gruesome murders and a stop a potential mutiny.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

I learned a lot of genuinely interesting stuff about the Victorian navy and our view of diplomacy (in relation to the French at least) at that time. Lots of research clearly went into writing this book but it never appears heavy-handed.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Lenox and Lady Jane are expecting a baby. Lenox’s nephew Teddy has joined HMS Lucy as a member of the crew.

Did I enjoy it?

I think this may have been my favourite of the four, partly because of the setting on board ship which was both unusual and interesting but also because of the gruesome nature of the murders and the motivation of the killer which is rather more complex than it at first appears. The French are suitably dastardly which is always good fun. Recommended this to the Book God who has a great interest in the British Navy and it seems to have been a hit so far.

9780312616953After the success of my binge-read of the Maisie Dobbs books (which I talk about here and here) I decided to do it again, this time with the series of novels about aristocrat, MP and private detective Charles Lenox, set in London in the late 1860s and early 1870s and written by the American author Charles Finch. Like Maisie, Lenox is a very engaging character whose personal life forms a backdrop to and often becomes closely entwined with the cases he investigates.

The main characters alongside Lenox are his best female friend and now wife Lady Jane, his best male friend and useful medical man Thomas McConnell, and his former protege Lord John Dallington. There are now seven books in the series with an eighth coming out later this year, and I read the most recent four in a row in less than a week.

Firstly – A Stranger in Mayfair

What is Lenox’s case?

A fellow MP asks Lenox to look into the murder of his footman who has been beaten to death an alleyway behind the house n which he worked, and it’s clear that all is not what it seems, either in the household itself or the young man’s personal life.

What did I learn about that I didn’t know before?

Quite a bit about the sport of boxing and how a new MP is inducted into the life of Parliament.

What’s happening in Lenox’s personal life?

Newly married, starting his career as an MP, trying to settle down into his new life and leave all that sleuthing nonsense behind.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes I did, a good story to ease myself back into the series after a break of some time, I guessed part of the reason for the murder but not the perpetrator.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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