Thursday, 24 March 2016

Post on an icy cold morning...

It’s a cold, icy day just before Easter weekend, and the schools are closed, so I decided to take advantage of this “found time” to write my blog.  It’s supposed to be beautiful and sunny on the weekend, and if my weekly post is done, I will have more time to play!  I definitely appreciate my steaming cup of chai this morning as the wind blows the icy branches and whistles through the cracks in the doors, but I’ve got CBC Radio 2 to keep me company as I think about the past week’s readings.

I have a book and an audiobook to tell you about.  The book is The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson, a title I discovered after reading a review in the local paper.  The library didn’t have it yet, but I put in a Suggestion for Purchase and they bought it.  Set in the Scottish highlands, this book opens in 1985 with something nasty taking place in the woods: we’re not sure what is happening but we know it’s bad.  Fast-forward 28 years and meet Gloria Harkness, a middle-aged woman, divorced, with a job, a son, a house and a dog.  Her life is pretty predictable and uneventful, so when she hears a knock on her door late one night and finds an old friend from her school days on her doorstep, she does not turn her back on the opportunity to have a bit of an adventure.  Stephen “Stig” Tarrant asks for Gloria’s help in stopping a woman, April Cowan, from stalking him.  April and Stig were classmates at Eden, an alternative high school that was established by Stig’s parents nearly 30 years before, but was closed after just one year because of a student suicide, a drowning in the river under a bridge near the school during a whole-school outdoor sleep-over on May Day.  April has contacted Stig all these years later claiming that it wasn’t suicide, but murder, and tries to meet with him.  When she doesn’t show up for the meeting, Stig thinks this is the end of it, but then receives several more messages.  Stig seeks Gloria’s help because she lives nearby the old school grounds, which have now been converted to a home for the elderly and infirm.  When they head out together to the latest meeting spot, they discover April’s dead body, another suicide.  Could this be the result of her guilt at hiding the truth about the first death for so many years?  But when it is established that April was murdered, Stig is placed firmly in the frame and he must stay hidden at Gloria’s farmhouse if he is to avoid police custody.  When Gloria investigates other former students from Eden, she is amazed at her discoveries, and as one case follows another, the story becomes more complex than anything she or Stig could have imagined.  Will they be able to discover who is behind these murders before they, too, are added to the list of victims?  I have never read anything by this author, although she has written quite a number of previous books, mainly a historical mystery series featuring Dandy Gilver.  This standalone was a bit confusing and vague at first, but once I got over that and learned to just “go with the flow”, it kept me riveted to the very end.  The characters were flawed but believable, and I certainly felt for Gloria’s plight as she dealt with the various difficult situations in her life.  And the suspense was real - I could feel my heart racing as she uncovered case after case and pieced together the puzzle that would lead to a final, satisfying conclusion.  It was certainly not as polished as a psychological mystery by Minette Walters or Peter Robinson, but it was still a good book, and I’m definitely going to try another of her standalones - in fact, I’ve just put in a library request for The Day She Died.  You’ll like this book if you enjoy complex mysteries that involve family secrets from the past.  I think I’ll start giving books ratings out of 10:  This book is a 7.5 out of 10.

And I finished listening to an audiobook a couple of days ago, another mystery by British author Reginald Hill, most famous for his “Dalziel and Pascoe” series. Who Guards a Prince features Douglas McHarg, former member of the Queen's Guard who once guarded Prince Arthur, a minor British prince, and who is now a detective with Scotland Yard.  With the discovery of a severed tongue on a beach by a doctor out walking with his young daughter, a complex mystery is set in motion involving freemasons, a wealthy Irish patriarch in Boston, and a forbidden romance.  As bodies pile up, McHarg must work fast and travel far to uncover the dark secrets and hidden truths even as he is warned off the case by his superiors and targeted by the most influential men.  I thought I’d try this book out as I’m interested in mysteries dealing with secret societies (long before the publication of The Da Vinci Code!)  It was pretty good, and the narrator did a wonderful job of bringing the tough McHarg to life.  It was complex and interesting, and the whole bit about the Freemasons was enlightening, though not as informative as I had hoped (I guess that’s why it’s a “secret” society!)  I didn’t know this was also part of a series, so I may try to find other audiobooks in this series, or others by Hill in the “Dalziel and Pascoe” series.  Not brilliant, but not a bad book, I would give it a 7 out of 10.

Happy Easter, everyone! May this holiday offer you peace and joy and maybe even a glimpse of the Easter bunny!  

Bye for now…
Julie

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