Reading Review – February

February was very similar to January reading wise. I got through another six books, two in audio form. As with the previous month, four of the books were crime fiction, one was general fiction and the other a non-fiction book. I also managed to include a novel in Spanish. Four of the authors, the crime novelists, were old favourites of mine. No surprise there!

The Blood Spilt is the second of Åsa Larsson’s series to feature lawyer Rebecka Martinsson. This one starts a year and a half after the traumatic end of the first novel. Rebecka once again ends up back in Kiruna, her home area in the north of Sweden. Another unsolved murder has taken place, again involving a priest, this time a woman priest in one of the surrounding villages. Inexorably Rebecka is drawn deeper and deeper into the dark secrets surrounding the community and the murder. In this novel we learn more and more about Rebecka’s personal life, her hopes and fears.

The Double Silence is by a fellow Swedish author – Mari Jungstedt. This is the seventh in her series of murder mysteries set in the island of Gotland, which lies off the east coast of Sweden. I have previously read the fourth and the fifth in this series, which has detective Anders Knutas as the main protagonist. But not in this one, as the lead detective is Karin Jacobsson. In The Double Silence the mystery centres around a holiday visit to the island by a group of three close couples, who share a summer holiday together every year. Out of the blue one of the group is found dead at the bottom of a cliff and another goes missing. Lots of work for Karin Jacobsson with whatever help Knutas can offer. As with most Scandinavian crime novels the family and personal tribulations of the detectives is almost as important as the crimes themselves.

After the Fire is the third in Scottish writer Karen Campbell’s police series set in Glasgow. I read the third one a few years ago, but only got round to reading the first one, The Twilight Time last month. After the Fire follows more or less immediately on from the end of the first novel.  Here too the personal histories of the detectives play an important role in the tale. In this case it is more about their personal baggage and animosities. After the Fire centres on Jamie Worth a key figure from the first novel, now a fire arms officer, and his shooting of a young girl during a raid that went disastrously wrong. Jamie is charged and found guilty of wilful killing and sent to prison. As a cop Jamie is the object of very harsh and vicious treatment by both the prison officers and the other prisoners. Part of the novel is an indictment of the dark and horrible things that go on unpunished in Scottish prisons. The novel though is primarily about attempts to prove that Jamie is innocent and himself a victim of injustice.  Enter Anna Cameron, the young detective from the Twilight Time, and Cath, Jamie’s wife. However to complicate matters Jamie was previously the lover of  Anna Cameron, and there is little love lost and a lot of mutual dislike and misunderstanding between Cath and Anna. All of which leads to a lot of bitchiness to be overcome as Anna tries to unravel what exactly did happen on that fateful night.

My final crime novel was in Spanish – Los Amantes de Hiroshima by Toni Hill. This is the third of his crime mysteries set in Barcelona and has the added pleasure of tying up a lot of loose ends from the previous two novels.  The police by chance discover the dead bodies of a young couple in the basement of an abandoned house. The couple, Dani and Cristina, went missing seven years earlier, and their bodies are found surrounded by recent wall paintings and a large sum of money. Dani was a member of music group – Los Amantes de Hiroshima, of the title. Did the other members of this group have anything to do with their murder? And who painted the walls and why? Plenty of mysteries for detective Héctor Salgado and his assistant Leire Castro to get their teeth into. To add to their problems and to our interest, Leire begins to get closer and closer to resolving the mysterious disappearance two years earlier of Ruth Valdaura, the wife of Héctor.  A very satisfying novel. I fervently hope that Toni Hill continues with this intriguing series.

The Guest Cat is a very strange novel by Japanese writer Takashi Hiraide. I have previously read a couple of Japanese novels and have not found any of them particularly satisfying. This alas was no exception, though it was mercifully short. A young couple find that a neighbour’s cat visits their house on a regular basis. The couple become very fond of the cat, but the cat gets killed. That’s about it. I don’t feel that I ever got to really know any of the characters, not even the young couple at its centre. Takashi Hiraide is a best known in Japan as a poet, and perhaps there is some deep poetic meaning or enlightenment to be found in the novel, but alas, it escaped me.

Coco Chanel – an intimate life, by Lisa Chaney, was my non-fiction book for February. A bit of a rarity for me, as I rarely read biographies and even more rarely read about fashion. However Coco Chanel is a name and brand well known even to uncouth backwoodsmen like me. Chaney’s account of Coco’s life and loves is very detailed and Coco was clearly a most fascinating and influential person. I listened to the audio version, which was well read, though given Coco’s importance in the changes in women’s clothes, an illustrated book would have been more helpful for me. The main criticism of the book from others in the know, is that Chaney plays down Coco’s willing participation in the Nazi occupation. That aside this is good and entertaining account of one of last century’s most influential women.

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