Simon Says » communiqué 034/August 2019

Simon Says: communiqué 034/August 2019

Hello everyone

I thought I’d do something different this month and talk about other people’s books—and only other people’s books.

Sound good? Let’s jump in!

What I’ve Been Reading

I always like to recommend good books and I’ve read some great books so far this year.

At the start of the year I made an effort to read new authors (new to me) and to read first novels/first in a series novels. That said, I have read some other authors.

Listed below (in no particular order) are the books that I read in the first half of 2019 which I really enjoyed. This isn’t all the books I read—just the ones that I liked and which I think other people will enjoy.

I like strong characters who are facing challenges and need to make choices where there are consequences to those choices. All of these books meet these criteria.

If you see anything that takes your fancy, head to your nearest bookshop.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

Cat Kinsella is a young Detective Constable in the Metropolitan Police Service who is attached to a murder inquiry.

The murder happened close to the pub her father runs and the investigation soon uncovers unnerving connections between her family and the victim.

Kinsella has her professional pride—she is determined to identify the killer and bring them to justice. But she also wrestles with the ethical dilemma of whether to let her colleagues know that she wonders whether her father may be the killer. He’s certainly a liar, but that’s not proof that he killed.

Sweet Little Lies is a smart and pacey novel that weaves the threads of personal and professional into a highly satisfying story.

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

I loved Sweet Little Lies so much that I bought its follow-up Stone Cold Heart as soon as it was published. It didn’t disappoint.

Stone Cold Heart gives us more Cat Kinsella making more bad decisions and covering up her poor ethical choices. It’s another great read and you can be sure I’ll buy Frear’s third book as soon as it’s out.

November Road by Lou Berney

Frank Guidry parked a car.

A few days later he is asked to return from New Orleans where he lives, to Dallas where he parked the car. His orders are that once he has retrieved the car, he is to take it to a specific location, and dispose of it. However, since he parked the car, JFK has been assassinated.

Guidry soon starts to suspect that his employer, mob boss Carlos Marcello, may have been behind the assassination of the president. And soon comes the realization that Marcello is tying up loose ends and that Guidry is one of those loose ends.

The books works both as an alternative history (albeit an alternative history which several sources promote) and as a straightforward piece of fiction.

Of all the books in this list, November Road has the best first chapter. It painted the picture of 1963 New Orleans, told me everything I needed to know about Frank Guidry, and dragged me straight into the story.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Deptford, London, 1781. A tortured body hangs on a hook in the dock.

Captain Harry Corsham—a war hero beginning his parliamentary career—finds an old friend, Tad Archer, is missing. Archer was a committed (slave trade) abolitionist who had been about to expose a secret that he believed would damage to the slaving industry.

Blood & Sugar looks at a dark period of British history and examines the forces that promoted slavery and the forces that ensured those who found the trade distasteful instead chose to look away. It looks how the British trading empire was, in part, built and financed by human misery and how the intersection of power and commerce worked to promote the industry.

The book is a powerful read, but also a great story.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

Calcutta, 1919. A senior British official has been murdered and Captain Sam Wyndham has been assigned to investigate.

Wyndham has recently arrived in India from London. He survived the Great War, but following his return from France, his wife died in the flu epidemic. For Wyndham, India is a fresh start, but India is starting to look for its own fresh start free from British control.

Working with a British Inspector and Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee (“Surrender-not” because the British cannot pronounce his name correctly), Wyndham soon finds himself poking around the dark underbelly of the British Raj as he tries to solve the murder.

Mukherjee brings a British and an Indian perspective to colonialism to shine a light on a conflicted history without drawing simplistic conclusions. A Rising Man is the first Wyndham/Banerjee novel; the fourth (Death in the East) is scheduled for publication in November this year.

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

I love Walter Mosley’s work and will read pretty much everything he writes (pretty much rather than absolutely everything because his science fiction is not for me).

In this book you’ll find many of the elements you find in his other novels: race, conflicted individuals, and redemption. If you’re a fan of Mosley, you’ll love Down the River Unto the Sea. If you’ve never read Mosley, start with Devil in a Blue Dress and then come back to this book.

March Violets by Philip Kerr

Bernie Gunther is a private detective working in pre-World War II Nazi Germany.

As readers we know what happens next for Germany. All Gunther knows is that he is repelled by the Nazis, their culture, their politics, and their tactics. Despite his repulsion, he has a job to do in a world that is controlled by the Nazis and so, despite his instincts to do otherwise, Gunther has to cautiously navigate as he investigates the murderer of a wealthy industrialist’s daughter and son-in-law.

March Violets is the first Bernie Gunther novel and is a great introduction to the series of 14 books. With Kerr’s untimely death in 2018, there will unfortunately be no more novels in the series.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Stuart Turton, the author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has said that he set out to subvert the Golden Era genre (Agatha Christie and so on). He succeeds with a book that is both an homage and a subversion, but which still tells a gripping story.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Evelyn Hardcastle dies seven times—that detail is in the title. The more interesting questions are: who is killing her, why is she being killed, and does she have to die for an eighth time?

If you love the Golden Era detective novel, then give this novel a try. It may not be for everyone, but I loved it.

Dark Pines by Will Dean

It’s the start of the Swedish elk hunting season and someone is murdering hunters. Tuva Moodyson is the only full-time journalist at the local newspaper and begins to investigate.

Tuva is deaf, terrified of nature, and the outsider in a close-knit small town where everyone knows, or is related to everyone else. Slowly she digs, pulling at threads, but soon she realizes she has to face her fears and head into the dense spruce forest.

The second novel in the Tuva Moodyson series, Red Snow, is out now and the third, Black River, is due for publication next year. There’s also talk of a television adaption, so be sure to acquaint yourself with Tuva Moodyson before she becomes a household name.

Gallowstree Lane by Kate London

Gallowstree Lane is a story about knife crime, poverty, serious organized crime, and the challenge of policing London.

The story begins in one of London’s sprawling social housing estates where an apparently unmotivated attack has left a kid bleeding to death on the street. The police investigate as best they can, but are met with silence through fear of retribution and guilt for other crimes.

But perhaps the biggest challenge to the police investigation is the other police investigation. A two year operation against an organized gang is nearing the arrest phase and the investigating officers are unwilling to let their hard work go to waste over seemingly random street violence.

I came to Gallowstree Lane without realizing it was the third in the series. I didn’t feel I missed anything by starting here, but I think I might have preferred to start with book one, (Post Mortem). Whichever book you start with, do make sure you introduce yourself to Kate London’s novels.

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald

Mary Shields is probation officer dealing with some of the worst cases—rapists, murderers, pedophiles. She’s also fighting the bureaucratic machine that believes the integrity of the flextime system is more important than monitoring murderers and pedophiles.

Worst Case Scenario deals with real human issues and offers are reflection on the current state of UK social services/probation work.

And while it will not be obvious from these few words, much of Worst Case Scenario is hilarious. If you like your humor dark, this is for you.

To Close

That’s it for this month.

Obviously you should read my books first 😄 but once you’ve finished them, introduce yourself to a new author. I hope I’ve suggested some people you’ve never heard of before.

I’m off to read some more and I’ll be back in September.

Until then.

All the best