Monday 29 October 2018

Read in 2018 - 18: Blood Guilt

Every now and then, I come across a piece of mystery or crime fiction I find so gripping that I need to pay attention on my train trips to and from work so as not to forget getting off at the right stop. "Blood Guilt" by Ben Cheetham was one such book.

The setting is Sheffield, a city I know well enough to set the inner camera in motion while reading about it. The plot is quickly told: A young boy dies in an accident. His parents' marriage does not survive the traumatic event. The father's work as a Detective Inspector at first suffers, too - then he accidentally kills another man, and the life he knew until then is well and truly over. After four years in prison, Harlan Miller is released only to learn that the son of the man he killed has been abducted.
Trying to find the boy and bring him back to his mother becomes the only reason to live for Harlan.

The reader is taken along on the fast-paced search for young Ethan, which is at the same time Harlan's search for atonement. Of course, there are some dead ends and red herrings, and more than once, it seems impossible that Harlan should ever live long enough to succeed.
The characters appear credible, although I have no way of telling how realistic some of their thoughts and actions are, since I have never been in a situation even remotely similar - and hope I never will be!

The book is not just a modern whodunnit and how and when good will win over evil. It shows what many of us would rather not think about: The capacity for crossing the border between right and wrong, light and dark, and what that can do to a person.

"Blood Guilt" was first self-published by the author in 2011. Ben Cheetham has his own website here, but he is also right here on blogger. I think I want to read "Angel of Death", too - my edition of "Blood Guilt" contained the first chapter of that, and it promises to be just as gripping.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Read in 2018 - 17: Ruth Robinson's Year of Miracles

"Ruth Robinson's Year of Miracles" is, as far as I know, Frances Garrood's fourth novel, and also the fourth I have read. In short: I think it is my favourite!

I really enjoyed meeting the cast of characters. Everyone came across fully fleshed-out, with their own personality. Most of the story takes place at a more or less rundown country house with a collection of ramshackle outbuildings. While I don't think I could stand the unkempt state of the house, it is described in a way that makes it feel like a true home.

At first, I did not have much sympathy for Ruth. A grown-up woman who is capable of holding a regular job and a flat ends up with an unplanned pregnancy - in this day and age, that is simply not necessary.

But Ruth is the kind of person you can not help liking after a while, although she never tries to elicit compassion from anyone.

Circumstances make it impossible for her to stay at her own flat or move back in with her parents, and so there is just one option: her uncles' country house.

Now, these uncles are as important to the story as Ruth herself. I won't tell you more about them, only that I hope you will like them as much as I did, and I am sure Frances had a lot of fun with them while she was writing about them.

After many more things happening - some of them dramatic, others comical -, the main storyline ends neatly in a way that should satisfy every reader. The only thing I would have liked to know more about was the main "miracle" (again, I am not going to tell you more as I want you to read the book for yourselves). There is hardly any mention of it anymore in the last third or so of the book, and the natural (or supernatural?) cause is not revealed.

So, please go and buy this book - and then read it. I don't believe you will be disappointed. There are enough bits that you may find funny (or should that be witty?), and enough to inspire some deeper thoughts, if you're so inclined - it depends on you, as the book has it all.

For my reviews of her other books, simply type "Garrood" in the search box in the upper left corner of my blog. If you want to visit Frances' own blog, click here.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Read in 2018 - 16: The Moonstone

The Moonstone

by Wilkie Collins

This mystery novel, originally published in 1869, was my train travel reading for several weeks - it is a lengthy book, but I captured my attention enough for me to want to find out what was going to happen.

The plot is simple enough: A big diamond, very important to a Hindu cult and its followers in India, is stolen by an English army officer when his regiment attacks the cult's temple during the time the British brought India under their control.

Many years later, the diamond (called "Moonstone" because it has an opaque core that shines like the moon) is given to family member for her 18th birthday. The young lady does not know of the violent history of the jewel, but soon realises nothing in her and her family's life will ever be the same again.

The moonstone is taken from her room, and the police are called. Strangely enough, the young lady, although very upset about the missing stone, refuses to cooperate with the police. Does she know who took it, or is she in some other way involved in the theft?

The number of suspects is small enough; the servants are quickly ruled out, but still there is no progress in the investigation, and the moonstone is not found.

A year or so later, the young lady's mother has died, a young servant has committed suicide, the lady is about to marry a man she does not really love, and the stone as well as its thief are still at large.

The young man who love s her returns from a trip to Europe and reopens the investigation with the help of a retired detective. Together with the oldest, most faithful and most trusted servant of the family, they solve the puzzle - not after many more dramatic events.

All this is presented as if written by the various persons involved, each from their own perspective. I most enjoyed the servant's account; he was my favourite character in the book. The others vary from humorous to dramatic, and some are really unnecessarily lengthy, but everything is within character, and leads to a rather surprising solution of the whole case.

Needless to say, the book ends well; the young lady and the man she loves are together, and the stone is restored to its rightful place.

The wikipedia entry says that the story " generally considered to be the first detective novel, and it established many of the ground rules of the modern detective novel." I had not heard of the author before, but his own entry on wikipedia is rather interesting. The picture is not mine - my free kindle version from Amazon has a very plain cover.

Friday 12 October 2018

Read in 2018 - 15: Mark Twain

Mark Twain
by Thomas Ayck

From time to time, people ask – themselves or others – questions such as „If you could choose one person, past or present, to spend an evening with, who would it be?“

For many years now, I have two favourites, male and female. My female favourite is Queen Nefertiti, and my male favourite Mark Twain.

What did I know about Mark Twain? Not all that much, admittedly. I knew his real name (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and that he began his writing career as a journalist. Of course I came across him first when I was a little girl – who has not read and enjoyed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? Much later, I learned that he had written loads more, and had a rather quirky and intelligent sense of humour not appreciated by everybody.

When I was given my kindle about 5 years ago, I went on a downloading spree of free ebooks from Amazon, many of them classical works or by long-forgotten authors. There were several books by Mark Twain among them, and I have read and reviewed some of them on my blog; here, here and here.

This year, a friend gave me not one, not two, but THREE Mark Twain biographies for my birthday! One of them is his autobiography, I am saving that for last. The first one I finished weeks ago but got round to writing and posting my review only now.

It is a slim paperpack, but crammed full of information about Mr. Clemens, his life and his work. The choice of photos and illustrations is good company for the words. The author does not put a halo above his subject’s head, but paints the picture of a man who had his strengths and weaknesses like everybody else.

I learned a lot of this book. For instance, I did not know that he was such a loving and faithful husband and devoted father, or that he was as good as bankrupt because he enthusiastically put all his money into dubious inventions. He worked hard and left quite a lot of his writing unpublished. Friendships were maintained for decades, but he could also be completely unforgiving when offended (real or imagined).

His family life was happy and close, even though his wife was sickly all her life. Their first child died at the age of 2. Three of four children and his wife died within a few years of each other; only one daughter survived him; Clara lived until 1962. He met these heavy blows with increasing sarcasm and irony, but wrote about them in his autobiography (which I have yet to read) in a very dignified manner.

For the last few years of his life, he hardly left his bed anymore, but worked on various writing projects until his death at the age of 74.

Wikipedia says: “Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well; he died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the "greatest humorist this country has produced", and William Faulkner called him "the father of American literature".

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins!

Today (3rd of October) is a National Holiday in Germany, to remember the reunion of East and West Germany. For most people (including myself), it means a welcome day off. I shall use it to blog, swap my wardrobe from summer to winter clothes, go for a walk in the afternoon with a friend (weather permitting - it is raining right now, finally!) and generally just have a relaxing day.
It being mid-week, OK and I decided not to put one of us through the hassle of travelling to the other's place; there is always next weekend :-)

Before we left Ludwigsburg for our hiking holiday (see previous posts), we went to the palace grounds. It was Monday, the 3rd of September - exactly one month ago.
The pumpkin exhibition was in full swing, and OK took many pictures which he has allowed me to show on my blog.

Maybe you remember from previous years that the pumpkin exhibition has always a theme. For instance, in 2014 it was Royalty, last year it was Rome, and in 2016, it was the circus.

This year, it was Woodland - how fitting, since we were travelling to the Bavarian Forest the next day.

Do you remember the sand sculptures I showed you? That exhibition has officially ended some time ago, but the sand is still there. Some of it has been turned into houses and landscapes inhabited by pumpkin people (who I find a bit scary, to be honest). In other cases, the existing sculptures have simply been surrounded by pumpkins.

These sculptures have been left as they were. "Caro" is an instant drink that used to be very popular in Germany. It is a bit like coffee, but made of malt and chicory, and has been produced in Ludwigsburg for decades. Every citizen of Ludwigsburg knows the characteristic smell when the roasting is going on; it is part of my childhood memories. I was surprised to find the drink has its own wikipedia entry-

As you can see, it was a beautiful late summer day, with the pumpkins lending it an autumnal atmosphere. I am always in two minds about this exhibition: It is, after all, mostly edible food that goes to waste. Also, growing so many pumpkins destined not for consumption costs a lot of water, which is even worse considering the extremely dry summer we have had this year. Therefore, I would not be sad if it were decided not to continue it in the future. On the other hand, my home town generates a lof of money from tourism, and many tourists come specifically for the exhibition. Just another one of the many questions we are faced these days.