Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shroud for a Nightingale (Published in 1971) - Authored by PD James - Murders of nursing students

Published in 1971, Shroud for a Nightingale is the fourth in the Adam Dalgliesh Series written by the Mistress of Murder – P. D. James. This book portrays a new side to the crime writing skills of James; with her using her vast personal experience (as a nurse during the War) to accurately develop a setting which involves nursing. The book is almost a Horror story with the mystery being solved in the end by the famous Dalgliesh. James has a lovely style of mixing the usual with the unusual. She will describe to the tee every character in the book. But locales and their description are sparse leaving the reader to imagine the places where the crime takes place.
The book takes place in the Nightingale House, a place which instills fear in the heart of the reader right from the onset. The women in the Nightingale House learn to nurse and take care of the suffering. However, when Miss Muriel Beale, the General Nursing Council’s inspector of the Nurse Training school comes to inspect the Third year students’ teaching sessions for the day, she is instead confronted with the murder of a third year student by the name of Nurse Heather Pearce.
Before the faculty can decide whether the death is a result of a prank gone wrong, or a suicide, another death takes place, that of Josephine Fallon. The schools surgeon consultant, asks the police to look into these deaths. Enter Scotland Yard’s finest detective, Adam Dalgliesh. Along with everyone else’s character, we now have Dalgliesh’s point of view and very strong opinions about everyone. Dalgliesh follows up every clue and red herring thrown into the story. He creates a work space at the foreboding brick manor known as Nightingale House. He interviews suspects, listens to the lies spun by them and discovers relationships and discrepancies. The mystery of the murders is only revealed at the end by Dalgliesh, along with the murky side of all the suspects, doctors and nurses.




Once the culprit is revealed, we feel bad for her. But, James has a wonderful way of making the reader feel like they should have all along known who the culprit was, given the fact that there were inconsistencies in the story, and things that didn’t add up in the relationships formed by the perpetrator. From the start, the book has a thrilling feel to it. The setting, the suspects, everything says horror. Another plus point of each one of James’ novels is her wonderful use of words you do not come across every day, for instance, antiphonal (meaning to recite or sing alternately, by two groups). James’ writing is old fashioned that way, but soothing in the general sense. She wants you to focus on imaging the scene of the crime but gives you a complete description of suspects so that you can try guessing who the murderer is. In that way, as a reader we feel part of the story and Adam Dalgliesh’s sleuthing team.  
What makes P. D. James’ novels masterpieces in mystery and murder, is the fact that the crimes in her book are not that of a random psychopath but are almost always personally motivated. This makes the stories all the more dark and thrilling.

Shroud for a Nightingale (Published in 1971) - Authored by PD James - Murders of nursing students

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unnatural Causes (Published in 1967) - Authored by PD James - Killed by his own manuscript

Unnatural Causes, published in 1967 is the third installment in the Adam Dalgliesh series by P. D. James. The author, P. D. James acclaimed as the “Reigning Mistress of Murder” by Time magazine, uses the basic structure of a classic British mystery, and turns it into something more. Her writing style is not only civilized, but very perceptive. She has 15 crime novels and an autobiography – “Time to be in Earnest” to her name. In 1999, she received the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award for long-term achievements.
The story in this book, opens with Detective Adam Dalgliesh, enjoying a quiet retreat of sorts at his Aunt Jane’s cottage, at Monksmere Head, somewhere of the Suffolk coast. P. D. James does a wonderful job describing the stormy seas that surround England. With long walks on wind swept shores and tea by crackling wood fires, James’ description of Dalgliesh’s well-earned break leaves the reader wishing they were in his place. However, when the grotesque murder of a famous crime writer - Maurice Seaton takes place, the reader is immediately transfixed, wanting to know what happens next.
With all the crime novels written by Maurice Seaton, he as the victim would never have imagined what his death could be like. His body is found mutilated, chopped at the wrists and floating ashore in a dinghy. Ironically, the scene of his murder seems to be described by him in his latest manuscripts, for his new novel. Seaton’s death causes widespread horror among his friends and neighbors, which include a cynical drama critic, a celebrated recluse, a rakish young heir and a terrified woman waiting for the killer to turn up at her house. Local Inspector Reckless has been assigned the task of finding Seaton’s killer.




Contrary to his name, Inspector Reckless is described as a very methodical and cautious man. He requests the help of Dalgliesh, who now feels that his vacation has sadly been cut short thanks to this murder. He involves himself in the case but only as and when the Inspector consults him. What follows is a thrilling mystery with unusual suspects and a fact made clear by James, that evil is lurking everywhere, especially in small towns and villages amongst a closed group of people.
Through Detective Dalgliesh, James uses the premise that the motive behind any murder is usually one of the 4 L’s, namely Loathing, Lucre, Love or Lust. And in this story, with P. D. James’ typical fashion of writing, it takes the reader a very long time to figure out which one is the motivating factor.
Like her earlier books, Unnatural Causes is also a very quick read. It is direct and to the point. This means that the reader can enjoy a good murder mystery without having to keep track of sub-plots and sub sub-plots, which very often prove to be nothing but frustrating and irrelevant.
Overall, Unnatural Causes is yet another interesting and entertaining book by P. D. James, but at the same time it teaches the reader a lot about human nature and provides psychological insight into the human mind.

Unnatural Causes (Published in 1967) - Authored by PD James - Killed by his own manuscript

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Mind to Murder (Published in 1963) - Authored by PD James - Second adventure for Dalgliesh

Acclaimed writer P. D. James was part of the British Police and Criminal Law Department before she ventured into the world of writing novels. Her background in the Civil Service is very clearly depicted through her skillful writing, which contains rich and vibrant descriptions of her characters. Her writing has clearly evolved with her second novel in the Adam Dalgliesh series, where she has poignantly depicted the character’s personal life.
A Mind to Murder is certainly more descriptive than its predecessor and the story line and plot setting definitely have a ring of authenticity to it. This is because James uses her experience to carefully describe characters and settings in the book. For example, the victim of this book is a hospital administrator in a London Psychiatric outpatient clinic. James herself has enough experience in that field to accurately describe the workings of the hospital and the heartbreak of mental illness, having had to take care of her husband – a physician who was a patient for more than 20 years before his death.
A Mind to Murder is about Steen Psychiatric Clinic – a well reputed clinic situated in London. However its formidable façade crumbles when the hospital administrator, a Miss Bolam, is found murdered in the basement of the clinic with a chisel driven through her heart and totem from the art therapy lab placed on her chest. Miss Bolam is described as a total Girl Scout, who wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Who then could conjure such hatred towards her? Detective Adam Dalgliesh is called in to investigate the murder.




Dalgliesh then has the task of interrogating patients, doctors and other staff of the clinic. He must follow up every clue and solve every puzzle so as to uncover the murderer. This draws him into the world of psychiatry, drugs and deceit. Dalgliesh sifts through the suspects’ anxieties and desires, to uncover which one of them could have an unresolved conflict that led to the murder of Miss Bolam. The story has set pieces of suspects in a closed environment. As a result the reader begins to speculate who the killer could be.
James has developed the character of Detective Dalgliesh in this novel and has shown him to be a widower who is thoughtful and brooding. He is shown to be a child of respectable and notable parentage, and someone who enjoys writing poetry.
James’ study of the human mind and human nature are plainly perceptible in this book. A clear example of this is the inner conflict that Dalgliesh feels when he searches the home of the victim knowing well that it is an invasion of her privacy. Like before, James does not lay all her cards on the table, but reveals them as and when necessary in the book.
The book is a short and quick read with only 224 pages. Overall, A Mind to Murder is interesting and like any good murder mystery one has to pay attention to every detail, unless they want to miss out on a clue.

A Mind to Murder (Published in 1963) - Authored by PD James - Second adventure for Dalgliesh

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cover Her Face (Published in 1962) - Authored by PD James - The first Adam Dalgliesh murder novel

Born in 1920 in United Kingdom, P. D. James has been acclaimed as “the greatest living mystery writer” by People’s Magazine. Having worked in the British Police and Criminal Law Department for a large part of her life, and also as a result of being a magistrate and Governor of BBC, P. D. James has an appealing sense of mystery writing. As a writer of crime novels, it is essential to keep the reader in suspense and try surprising them with an unusual or unexpected end, and P. D. James does exactly that. Original Sin and Death in Holy Orders are some of her more well known works.
Cover Her Face, is P. D. James’ debut novel into the realm of crime and mystery. The novel is the first in the Adam Dalgliesh Series, which recounts the deductive skills of the dashing Scotland Yard detective. The book opens with a dinner party being hosted at a medieval manor house by Mrs. Eleanor Maxie at Martingale. Her dinner guests include her son and daughter, Stephen Maxie and Deborah Riscoe. Among the other guests are Dr. Charles Epps, Bernard Hicks - the vicar, Miss Liddell - the warden at a Refuge for girls and Catherine Bowers, who had been in a relationship with the owners son Stephen Maxie. Serving at this dinner party is Sally Jupp - the help, hired at the recommendation of Miss Lidell.
Sally Jupp, both beautiful and headstrong, has her sights set high, and believes in doing anything to get there. She catches the eye of Stephen Maxie. He is all praises for Sally. However, this does not please the other house guests. Especially Deborah, who feels that Sally is going to cause trouble and Martha Bultitaft - Maxie’s long time domestic help. A few days later, when Deborah goes to visit her brother at a hospital, she sees him talking to Sally. Sally claims to be visiting on the pretext of returning Stephen’s father’s medicines. Stephen is once again all praises for the beautiful Sally.




On returning to the manor, Sally behaves highhandedly and taunts Martha for not taking proper care of her husband. Not doing a very good job of keeping herself in her master’s good books, Sally adds more fuel to the fire by turning up in the exact outfit and accessories as Deborah on the day of a fete. This does not go down well with anyone. Later, Sally announces that Stephen has asked her to marry him. Everyone is shocked and Miss Liddell especially, is distraught. Words are exchanged between Sally and Liddell. The next day, Martha goes to wake up Sally, incorrectly assuming that Sally has overslept. Instead, she finds Sally dead in her bead, strangulated and apparently drugged. The local police call for Scotland Yard to send an experienced homicide detective. Enter Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. He interviews the family and friends.
The Detective unearths a lot of secrets pertaining to Sally Jupp and the Maxie family. In spite of many twists and turns, Detective Dalgliesh discovers the identity of the murderer, who is then convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison. Even though the book is not as descriptive as P.D James’ other novels, the story is a good first novel in crime and mystery. It helps the reader create images and scenes in their minds, and build on the descriptions provided. As a mystery the book is brilliant. It creates a level of suspense till the very end, and surprises everyone with an unexpected ending.
For readers who enjoy a good detective novel, “Cover Her Face” is definitely a must read. With plentiful suspects, and twists and turns throughout, the book keeps the reader enraptured to the very end.

Cover Her Face (Published in 1962) - Authored by PD James - The first Adam Dalgliesh murder novel

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bolt (Published in 1986) - Authored by Dick Francis - Protecting would be family

Kit Fielding, who was first introduced in Francis’s Break In, makes a second appearance in Bolt. He is a professional jockey, in keeping with the high standards of Dick’s main characters; he is uncompromising on principles and a fine specimen of how a model citizen ought to be. Kit’s boss is Princess Casilia de Brescou - the owner of some of the best horses and racetracks in the country, while his trainer is Wykeham Harlow. At one of the many races she has organized, Kit finds her in an argument with a man who seems rude and arrogant. She requests Kit to accompany her to the London mansion where she resides with her husband Roland, a businessman. Kit’s fiancée Danielle, Casilia’s niece, is also there and vying for her affections is Prince Litsi, his employer’s cousin. Of late, Kit has noticed that Danielle seems cold and somewhat distant, and he begins to wonder if she has lost interest in their relationship. Roland’s unpleasant sister Beatrice Bunt is also at the mansion.
On inquiry, Kit finds out from Casilia that the man she was speaking to at the racecourse was none other than Roland’s business partner Henri Nanterre, from France. The latter seems upset that Roland is opposed to the concept of using plastic, and non metals in the firearms that they manufacture - making such weapons a tool for terrorist attacks. This difference of opinion leads onto becoming the main bone of contention between the two men. One night, intruders enter the stable and shoot two of the horses in the stable with a captive bolt pistol or stunner, also used by veterinarians. Of the two horses killed, one was to a prospective participant in the Grand National Steeplechase. On the other hand, Kit finds out that Henri is the brain behind the attacks and killings - even Beatrice seems to be siding with him.




Nanterre bribes the avaricious Beatrice to get Roland to sign the papers meant to start the manufacture of the forearms. Intimidation and warnings become frequent as Henri religiously starts to plague Roland with threats of dire consequences unless he concedes to do as told. Just as he is about to give in to Henri, Roland is stopped from signing off the deal and handing matters to Nanterre when Kit steps in - raising security around the mansion and stables, employing guard dogs and a bodyguard for the businessman.
Even Danielle is stalked one night after she finds the tires of her car flattened and chased around dark streets, she seeks Kit’s help - he comes to her rescue willingly, seeking the golden opportunity to endear himself to her once more. Prince Litsi is targeted next, and almost loses his life, falling from an under construction viewing platform, but is saved as Kit asks the crowd to cut his fall by laying their coats and jackets on the ground. This is when Kit and Litsi put aside personal differences and unite to defeat the evil Nanterre. He is also pitted against the vile Maynard Allardeck - his sister Holly’s father-in-law, a steward with enough clout to destroy the humble jockey’s career.
An interesting read, typical Francis story, dungeons and dragons, knight in armor. Enjoyable!

Bolt (Published in 1986) - Authored by Dick Francis - Protecting would be family

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hot Money (Published in 1987) - Authored by Dick Francis - Fighting to save his father

In case you were wondering about the origin of the name of the book, Short term money flowing between financial markets is referred to as hot money. The equestrian loving Dick Francis makes an unexpected foray into the world of finance with his 1987 novel Hot Money. The Pembrooke family is as bizarre as you get ‘em - the patriarch Malcolm has raked in the moolah from trading gold, he is pleasant natured, supposedly lucky and much married (five wives!!). He has kids, they have kids and the kids have kids - so that makes for a huge extended family! In all there are NINE kids, and the ‘witches’ - as he calls his wives.
Wife no. four is Coochie, she seems the best of the lot, and no. five is Moira - deceased, rather murdered. The killer or killers seem to be after the money that Malcolm has amassed over the years, making both him and his series of spouses – easy targets. Aggravating the situation is the fact that Malcolm stubbornly resists increasing the allowances of his exes and seven kids - they are obviously heckled and are waiting in the wings for him to kick the bucket. The usual family drama ensues - mums poisoning the children’s impressionable minds given their vantage position of maternity.
The spouses and offspring are up in arms when Malcolm starts to donate his wealth to charity, and spends an alarming amount of millions on horseracing and buying colts! An attempt is made on Malcolm’s life as well - this sets alarm bells ringing as he is faced with the raw facts of his mortality. Whom can he trust and turn to for help in his brood of nine? Ian Pembrooke- assistant horse trainer and amateur jockey. He is also Malcolm’s weapon of choice against the unseen enemy, although estranged for three years, yet the father relies on his son’s solid principles and ethics to garner support in his hour of difficulty.




The father - son duo set about to track down all possible enemies (and there is a list, mind you!), amidst sorting out differences in their own relationship. Ian decides that the only way he can save his father is to find the enemy, agreeing to be his bodyguard. Ian advises his father to remain out of sight, and in the meanwhile, he interviews members of the Pembrooke family to try and find out the motive behind the killing of Moira, and the bomb blast in the mansion where both his father and Ian were present, that could have killed them instantly.
A story that highlights the crumbling relations of a family against the dark backdrop of avarice, conspiracy and ensuing violence. The surviving wives and their kids are suspect; the spouses of the kids aren’t to be let off the hook either, so they too are implicated in the conspiracy theory.
Ian Pembrooke is hallmark Francis - he is dependable, principled, high on values and ethics - making the stark contrast with the villains in the novel - he is clearly a favorite from the beginning. Although some critics believe that this constancy and homogeneity in most of his characters is also a cause for boredom of the reader - yet, the popularity of Francis has not waned in all the years that he had been known to churn out stories, even after his tragic passing in 2010, his son took upon himself the mantle to keep the legacy from dying out.

Hot Money (Published in 1987) - Authored by Dick Francis - Fighting to save his father

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Proof (Published in 1984) - Fake liquor and murders - Authored by Dick Francis

Thirty two, handsome and eligible - Tony Beach, entrepreneur, wine connoisseur, equestrian enthusiast. Widower since six months. His livelihood is a mixture of retail and outdoor catering of drinks - and, Jack Hawthorn, horse race trainer asks him to organize one of his victory-dos.  Jimmy, Jack’s secretary discusses with Tony, that his boss may have been served spurious liquor by one of Jack’s owners - Larry Trent, and wants to know if Beach has the expertise to tell a genuine scotch from a fake (the Laphroaig, malt from Islay, says the label, not the taste!). The malt distraction aside, all else seems to be going well at Jack’s party, when the laughter turns to screams as a horsebox breaks in and buries people, taking the marquee down with the guests in it! No one was driving, it stood alone, and after awhile, the sound of neighing drowned the sounds outside. An important Sheikh is killed; Jack and Jimmy are severely injured as is Flora, Jack’s wife. Sadly, Larry Trent is killed.
An investigator later discloses that the restaurant that Larry had owned was under the scanner for selling spurious liquor - especially the famed Laphroaig isn’t what it claims to be, more of grain whisky than malt. When Tony accompanies the investigating officer to the Silver Moon dance, he tastes the said malt and pronounces his judgment, after which the officer prohibits the sale of alcohol in the restaurant. Tony also learns that before his death, Larry had bragged that he could pass off substandard booze for the real stuff. The duo meet Paul Young the company representative, who is flummoxed and taken aback at the charges Detective Sergeant Ridger is filing, but puts up a brave front. The investigator (Mr. Wilson) grills Tony about his whereabouts and what he saw on the day of the tragedy, did he see anyone other than the four year old child besides the horsebox? Was there a possibility that someone else could’ve been in the horsebox as it rolled downhill, crushing the Sheikh?




When Flora and Tony investigate the prints in the horsebox, they are struck by the fact that many of the prints are those of a child - could the little boy have managed to finally live out his childish fantasy of driving a big car, and could he have mistakenly released the brake that cost eight lives? Meanwhile, the Silver Moondance has been looted and plundered - when Tony goes to find out what’s actually transpired, he is met with Ridger’s dark silhouette in the basement, near the wine cellars - the wine list and bottles are missing, no liqueurs, beers, malts or any alcohol is left in the restaurant.
In an office, Tony finds Paul Young in a state of unconsciousness, and another two corpses in the office - one is that of a constable, seated on a chair, head between his legs, and the other of a man, on the floor, his head and neck encased in plaster of Paris, identified as the wine waiter - Zarac. An intriguing read, Proof is one of Francis’s finer novels, engaging and entertaining. Loaded with interesting facts about wines and liquor, it is also a book that uplifts the reader in terms of Tony coming to accept that his inferiority is only a figment of his imagination, in fact, he is brave and is a hero.

Proof (Published in 1984) - Fake liquor and murders - Authored by Dick Francis