Adult Fiction, Christmas 2018, Crime, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

I love a good drama no matter how it’s presented. Be it radio, television, book or on the big screen, each method has a thoroughly unique way of bringing the story to you. This is one of the reasons I love storytelling, there are so many possibilities. Each begins with the storyteller themselves and then the reader/viewer/listener comes along and creates their own version. We all see things with different eyes and I believe each reader/viewer/listener will experience the story in their own unique way. Our beliefs and our personalities all have an effect on what we take from a story. We won’t all love or hate the same things and when we enter a story, as individuals, we interpret it in our own way.

I do love to read the books from which the stories originated but I’m not precious about which should come first. For example when I was younger I found The Lord of the Rings difficult to get into, that is until I saw the films. I was swept away by Peter Jackson’s vision and it encouraged me to return to the novels and now I find their complexity absorbing and fascinating. There is generally so much more in the books themselves and I found it easier to dive into them after being spellbound by the films.

One of the most heavily adapted authors over the years is the wonderful Agatha Christie. I have quite literally grown up on the adventures of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. It’s easy to be swept away by a new adaptation on our screens but I’d love to take a moment to remind you of the pure joy of falling into one of her novels and discovering her stories exactly how she intended them.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is possibly not as festive a read as the title suggests, for as you’d expect murder casts a shadow over the festivities. I was given, by my husband, a beautifully produced hardback edition, published by Harper Collins, for my wedding anniversary in October. It’s been a while since I’ve actually read an Agatha Christie novel so I very much looked forward to this festive treat. The inscription alone was enough to assure me I was in for something special.

My Dear James,

You have always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers, and I was therefore seriously perturbed when I received from you a word of criticism.

You complained that my murders were getting too refined – anaemia, in fact. You yearned for a “good violent murder with lots of blood.” A murder where there was no doubt about its being murder!

So this is your special story – written for you. I hope it may please.

Your affectionate sister-in-law,

Agatha

I was completely absorbed by Agatha’s superb plotting and characterisation skills. I absolutely adore these classic, old fashioned mysteries. I recently read that she began writing her stories at the end and worked her way backwards. The complexity to them certainly fits this method. What fun she must have had! There are generally several possibilities as to who the murderer could be and she drops clues a plenty along the way. When watching the screen adaptations I often find it hard to discover who the guilty party is, it is difficult to squeeze all the vital information in along the way but as I read I found myself nodding, “Yes, but of course!”

In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas we see the gathering of an estranged family at Christmas time. Old Simeon Lee is a ‘thin, shrivelled figure of an old man’, a man looking forward to a Christmas surrounded by his family. Yet this old man is not feeling sentimental. He is a wicked, cruel man who is intent on stirring up a hornets nest. As the family slowly gather Agatha gives us an insight into their relationships with the old man. Before long old Simeon Lee meets a violent, bloody end and any one of them could have been tempted to yield the knife. Yet the murder took place behind a locked door with only the victim discovered inside. A complicated case but one that Hercule Poirot expertly unpicks.

The book is rather wonderful and I was immediately curious to see how it was transferred on to the small screen. Thankfully ITV player currently has a number of the wonderful adaptations starring David Suchet as Poirot and so I was able to settle down with a selection of festive treats and watch. The adaptation was of course changed to suit the time constraints of television and also some details had been tweaked but I still enjoyed it immensely. For me the book was the winner as generally we can discover so much more about character and plot that may not always come across on the screen. I also preferred Agatha’s original detail. Reading the novel also reminded me of where all these programmes that thrill and entertain us come from. It all begins with words on paper and for me that’s an exciting and inspiring thought.

Synopsis

It is Christmas Eve. The Lee family reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture, followed by a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed. But when Hercule Poirot, who is staying in the village with a friend for Christmas, offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man.

For more information why not visit the Agatha Christie website here.

“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Macbeth.

 

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Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby is intrigued when she is invited to attend the auction for the Death Mask of Nefertiti. Held on the country estate of Sir James Maddox, a famous explorer, the auction promises to be a controversial and newsworthy affair.

Representatives from the world’s leading museums are gathering to bid on the mask, which was discovered in Egypt. Poppy quickly sniffs out that the mask was not the only thing found that night: the underground chamber also contained a dead body.

Poppy and her colleagues from The Daily Globe, who are trying to stay one step ahead of their rivals from The London Courier, dismiss rumours about the mask’s ancient curse. But when one of the auction party is murdered, and someone starts stalking Poppy, the race is on to find the killer before “the curse” can strike again…

1-6The Cairo Brief is the fourth in the POPPY DENBY INVESTIGATES series but it is the first that I have read. Although some references are made to previous storylines I in no way felt that I was missing vital information so please don’t worry if you’re starting here too. Of course like me, once you’ve read The Cairo Brief, you’ll probably be itching to read the previous three novels too!

I’ve always been a fan of an Agatha Christie type of thriller. I love the gentle (yet deadly), old fashioned mystery that has a host of characters and circumstances expertly woven into the story with many motives and possibilities. I adore trying to work out who the guilty party is and this novel by Fiona Veitch Smith ticks all the boxes for me.

So what’s right about it? Firstly, the time and setting.  It has that brilliant 1920’s atmosphere and style.  Secondly I love the historical element of the story.  Based around antiquities theft, Fiona has drawn on this interesting, controversial and emotive subject to create an intriguing storyline.  Do check out her guest article below about Poppy Denby and the murky world of antiquities theft.  It makes fascinating reading.

Another important element of this story is how Fiona combines a mixture of fictional and real characters into the story.  Bringing authenticity and a sense of the time in which is set.   Of course the main protagonist is Poppy herself, our amateur sleuth/journalist who has ‘a nose for murder’.  Just like Agatha Christie’s  Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, you know the killer is in trouble if she is around.   She’s feisty, courageous and smart, and definitely a woman who knows her own mind. The police are also well written and though we see their own investigation from afar, they aren’t made out to be bumbling fools and but part of a collaboration between journalists and law enforcement to get to the bottom of the crime. I love the way the plot gradually unfolds, with the mystery thickening throughout the novel until it finally reaches it’s climax.  Can you work out who did it?  If you’re anything like me you may well change your mind several times before the end.

For me this is the perfect novel to curl up on a winters afternoon/evening, perhaps with  a glass of mulled wine (or like Poppy, a glass of Sherry) by your side and lose yourself in a little escapism and mystery.

Now read on for some an insight into antiquities theft from author, Fiona Veitch Smith…

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Guest Article by Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby and the Murky World of Antiquities Theft

Think back to the last time you were in the British Museum. Or any national museum in a European or North American country. Did you stand in awe of ancient artefacts from Africa, Asia or South America? Did you wonder how they managed to travel so far from their native lands? Most of these artefacts were collected by European adventurers and archaelogists during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but not all of them were legally acquired.

This is the backdrop to my new Poppy Denby Investigates book: The Cairo Brief. An ancient death mask of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti is up for auction in London. Representatives from some of the world’s leading museums are there to bid for the mask, but so are two people from the Cairo Museum, claiming the mask was stolen and should not be up for sale at all. When one of the auction party is murdered, our intrepid sleuth sets about finding out not only who dunnit, but also how the mask came to be in London in the first place.

As part of my research for writing the book I did a short online course in art and antiquities theft, with the University of Glasgow (Future Learn). I learned about subsistence looting where local people consider ancient artefacts fair game to earn a living. I also learned about some of the convoluted routes that were taken to ‘launder’ artefacts so that when they got to the West they appeared to have come through legitimate channels.

I then went on to do further reading into some of the more controversial antiquities held in Western museums. One of these is the Bust of Nefertiti at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. This was found by a German archaeologist called Ludwig Borchardt in 1912 and was the springboard for my story in The Cairo Brief. The mask in my story is fictional, but the Borchardt bust of Nefertiti is the real thing. However, up until this day, it is said that the bust was stolen by the Germans and the Egyptians want it back.

Just last year there was a high profile case in America of a Christian arts and crafts chain called Hobby Lobby that was found to have illegally acquired Iraqi artefacts (over 5,000 of them!). They were fined $3million and had to return all the artefacts. The company claimed they were unaware of all the regulations and procedures, but the US Department of Justice said that they had gone ahead with the purchase despite being warned that it may not all be above board.

And then today, just as I was preparing to write this article, I read that a delegation from Easter Island have come to London to beg the British Museum to return one of their statues that was stolen in 1868. It’s a heartrending tale in which the leader of the delegation tearfully told the director of the British Museum: ‘you have our soul’. They have offered to make a replica of the statue, free of charge, in return for the original that is not to the people of the island simply a piece of art, but a part of their national psyche. I will watch this case with interest.

“Twenty thousand pounds! Is that the final offer from New York? Dr Mortimer? Herr Stein? No? All right then, for twenty thousand pounds the death mask of Nefertiti is going… going… gone!” Albert Carnaby, auctioneer in The Cairo Brief.

1-5Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and university lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her 1920s mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee, was a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17. Book four in the series, The Cairo Brief, has been shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize. For more on the series visit www.poppydenby.com

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Many thanks to Fiona for such an interesting article and some great links.

Thank you so much also to Rhoda Hardie for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.  I can’t wait to catch up on the previous three Poppy Denby mysteries.

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Adult Fiction, Crime, Science Fiction, Thriller

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

I thoroughly enjoyed reading a sampler of this time travelling thriller; it kept me guessing throughout and left me on a knife edge wondering how it will end.

Psychology of time travel1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…

2018: When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

A fascinating, thought provoking thriller about time travel, murder and a conspiracy that threatens to explode through time.

Four female scientists invent a time machine in 1967. They can only travel from this point in time, back and forward at will. When the initial trip is made by all four women the consequences are unknown and the whole project is put at risk when one of the women suffers a very public breakdown. Labelled as a liability and shunned by the group she tries to rebuild her life as best she can but always the thrill of time travel stays with her and as we revisit her fifty years later she is filled with the desire for one final trip. But the consequences of messing with the fragile fabric of time can be catastrophic and can set in motion destructive and dangerous events.

Visiting three time different periods in time, Kate Mascarenhas guides us expertly through the story and not once did I feel disorientated or unenjoyably lost. There is an element of trying to fit the pieces together but that is one of the things I love about a thriller, trying to work out the conclusion from the clues scattered throughout as the story builds up to the culmination of the (presumably) murdered women discovered by Odette in 2018.

This is a thriller unlike anything I have read before and I found it fascinating. The only frustration from reading this excellent sampler is that I will not discover what happens until August 2018. I will have to wait patiently for the answers… if only I had a time machine.

The Psychology of Time Travel is published by Head of Zeus on the 9th of August 2018.

Thank you to Head of Zeus and Netgalley for the sampler.

Discover more about author Kate Mascarenhas here.

Oh just one more thing… I love the cover image for this title.

 

 

Adult Fiction, Crime, Liz Robinson Reviews, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Blue Night by Simone Buchholz – a guest review by Liz Robinson

I have this on my tbr pile and I’m so excited to get to it – as you can see Liz absolutely loved it – here’s her review…

Blue NightThis was a dream of a read for me, relatively short, different, beautifully written, and full of jarring, jolting impact. ‘Blue Night’ is the first in the Chastity Riley series, was a number one bestseller in Germany, and has been fabulously translated by Rachel Ward. After a particularly difficult case (which involved in-house corruption) Chastity Riley, state prosecutor in Hamburg, has been transferred to witness protection. Chastity’s next case propels her straight back into the main ring, she has to throw her guard up and come out fighting. The introduction surprised me, raw and gritty, yet written with a lyrical beauty, it really sets the tone. Simone Buchholz shoots abrupt, short sentences across the page, her writing is sparse and to the point, yet connected deeply within my heart and mind. I adored the sections which freeze-framed the characters in time, they burst with energy and information, almost popping with intensity. It feels as though you are on a collision course with the ending, which exploded in dramatic style. Constantly surprising, ‘Blue Night’ is an original, firecracker of a read, it will undoubtedly be one of my books of the year, I absolutely loved it.

Synopsis:

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital – almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles – Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in. Using all her powers of persuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and finds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs.

When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull life on witness protection really has been short-lived…

Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hardboiled poetry and ascerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series, from one of Germany’s bestselling authors.

Blue Night was published by Orenda on 28 February 2018

I’m really looking forward to reading this title and will post my review at a later date.  Do let us know if you read it too!