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This is the fifth ‘episode’ in the Cherringham Cosy Crime Series featuring amateur detective Sarah Edwards, and retired New York cop Jack Brennan. I have enjoyed this series very much so far and this episode was just as good as the ones before it.

Otto Brendl, jeweller and puppeteer, who performs Punch and Judy shows for the annual school fair, is found dead, of an apparent heart attack. However, when Jack sees a familiar tattoo on Otto’s body, he starts to suspect that the death was not an accident, and he and Sarah delve into the man’s mysterious past.

Narrated excellently, as always, by Neil Dudgeon, this was an enjoyable slice of Cotswolds drama. I love Jack and Sarah’s characters, and look forward to the next instalment.

 

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This collection consists of 55 short stories by Agatha Christie – it should be noted that less than half feature Miss Marple despite the title of the compilation, and also that all stories have also been published elsewhere. However, it’s great to have so many of Christie’s short stories gathered together in one volume. (There is also a collection of all the Poirot short stories – 51 in all – and a further one of more than 50 short stories featuring other detectives who Christie wrote about, such as Tommy and Tuppence, Harley Quin, and more.)

Essentially if you have read and enjoyed any Agatha Christie books or watched any film or stage adaptations and liked them, then you will probably enjoy reading this collection. I personally dipped in and out of it in between reading other novels, but you could just read it straight through.

As with all short story collections, some are better than others, and it comes down to people’s opinions. My favourite were probably Witness for the Prosecution, and Greenshaw’s Folly, despite the fact that the latter was a Miss Marple story and I am not overly keen on Marple (LOVE Poirot though!) There weren’t any that I really disliked, so overall I would call this book a successful read!

 

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This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, and they just keep getting better and better!

This one dives straight into the story when Strike’s partner Robin has a severed girl’s leg delivered to the office. Strike immediately and correctly deduces that whoever sent it is trying to send him a message and four suspects come to mind. While the police believe they know which one it is and concentrate all their efforts on that person, Strike is convinced it is one of the other three, and he and Robin focus their investigation on those. Meanwhile, the killer – whose identity is not revealed until the end, but who does narrate certain chapters of the book – is committing other horrendous crimes in London, attacking and mutilating women, leaving a trail of bloodshed in his wake.

As Strike and Robin get drawn further into their investigation, they soon find themselves heading towards real danger.

Considering these books were written by the same mind that created the Harry Potter series, Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling, takes the reader to some very dark places. This has been a theme in all of the Strike novels, especially this one and the preceding book ‘Silkworm’. If very gory scenes are not your thing, then be warned that this might not be a book for you. However, she writes a great story, and is very capable of springing surprises on the reader and maintaining tension throughout. The relationship between Strike and Robin kicks up a notch in this book, despite remaining platonic, and Robin is still with the odious Matthew.

Strike himself has always been a fascinating character despite his somewhat questionable social skills, and Robin has always been immensely likeable – this is maintained in this third instalment of their work. I’m reluctant to reveal more about the plot for fear of revealing any spoilers, but if you like thrillers, and/or have enjoyed the previous Strike novels, I would definitely recommend this one.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed previous novels by Sarah Waters, and had high hopes for this one. The story is set in the early 1920s, and Frances Wray and her mother have fallen on hard times, and are forced to take in lodgers. When Leonard and Lilian Barber arrive, Frances is shaken out of her small world, and drawn into their lives. However, when passion mounts, the consequences are shocking and everlasting.

This is a strange book in that it starts off being fairly slow moving – in keeping with the pace of Frances’s life. Every day is the same for her – housework and spending time with her mother, before retiring to bed. But as her new lodgers arouse her interest and she gets drawn into their lifestyle, the pace picks up. The last third of the book is a very different tone and I did get very absorbed, staying up late to find out how the story ends (without revealing any spoilers, I would have to say that I found the ending surprising, but in a weirdly anticlimactic way).

I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the book, but whereas with Waters’ previous novels Fingersmith, Affinity and The Night Watch, I couldn’t put them down, with this one I found myself not really engaging until the last part. The characters were not particularly likeable, which was not a problem, as I don’t believe they were written to be. They were believable though and the idea of Frances, being an intelligent woman trapped in claustrophobic lifestyle, was convincing.

Overall, not one of Sarah Waters’ best, but still worth the read and I will continue to read anything that she writes.

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I listened to this audiobook, narrated by Tom Kotcher, over the course of several days. it is billed as the first in the Karen Pirie series, but Officer Pirie is very much on the periphery of this story (I suspect it was to ‘test the waters’ before writing a series based around a particular character).

It’s a book of two halves; the first half is set in 1978, when four students – who are known by their nicknames, Ziggy, Gilly, Weird and Mondo – in St Andrews stable across the body of a young woman named Rosie Duff, who is vaguely known to them. She has been attacked and left for dead. The police launch an investigation which fails to find the killer, but suspicion falls upon the four lads, and follows them around for the rest of their time at the university.

25 years later, the police reopen the cold case, but things take a strange turn when two of the former students are murdered and the remaining two decide that someone is taking revenge on them for the murder of Rosie. With the police not seeming to get anywhere, the two men decide to do some sleuthing of their own.

This is the first Val McDermid book I have ever read or listened to, and I have to say that I did enjoy it. Tom Kotcher did a good job narrating, with the exception of his American accent, which was pretty atrocious. Fortunately there are only a couple of American characters and neither of them feature very heavily, so that was not really an issue.

McDermid describes the tension and atmosphere extremely well, and I did feel that the four young men were all very distinctive; their relationships with each other were also well portrayed and formed a large part of the story. As for the mystery itself – I did actually figure out who the killer was when I was about a third of the way through, but nonetheless I still liked listening to the novel.

Based on this book, I would definitely try more by this author.

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This under-the-radar British film delivered far more than I expected, largely due to the (always excellent) Maxine Peake in the lead role.

Peake is Charlotte, for whom a bad day – where she gets passed over for promotion – turns into an absolutely disastrous and terrifying one, when she arrives home and finds her cleaner smoking in Charlotte’s apartment. This leads to a confrontation with tragic consequences.

Things go from disastrous to even more disastrous as Charlotte desperately tries to cover her tracks, and finds herself in situations she could never have imagined, and looking after a young child – something she clearly has no experience with and no clue what she is doing. Eventually she calls her estranged sister Sarah (Christine Bottomley) to help, but things get (even more) worse with the arrival of shifty security guard Roger (Blake Harrison).

I really enjoyed this film – if enjoyed is the right word. It was certainly compelling; it shocked me right from the off, and although Charlotte was initially a deeply unsympathetic character, Peake’s performance was exemplary, and showed just how an ordinary person can end up in a horrific situation.

With a small main cast (the only other major character was the baby!) and a claustrophobic atmosphere, as well as tight pacing, this film had a lot of elements that I  really like in a movie. It is undoubtedly bleak (I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls afterwards to put me back into a lighter mood!), but it is definitely worth a watch.

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Amok was originally published in German, but has been translated and turned into this audio dramatisation, featuring – amongst others – Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone.

The story opens with Jan May, an esteemed psychologist, waiting for his girlfriend Leonie to arrive for dinner. Tonight is the night he is going to propose but then he receives a panicked phone call from her telling him that “they” are going to tell him she has died, and not to believe “them.” Almost instantly, a policeman appears at his door and tells him that Leonie has died in a traffic accident.

Several months later, Jan takes a radio presenter and several visitors to the radio station hostage, and takes over the programme. He says that he will be phoning a random member of the public each hour and if they do not answer with the correct slogan, he will shoot a hostage dead.

Meanwhile, police negotiator Ira Samin has decided that today is the day she is going to kill herself. Unable to get over her eldest daughter’s suicide for Ira blames herself, and distraught because her younger daughter won’t speak to her, Ira sees nothing to live for. But when Jan May says that she is the only negotiator he is prepared to deal with, her plans to kill herself are put on hold. She has to negotiate with him live on air and this  includes discussing her dead daughter and revealing intimate secrets. He demands that she finds out the truth about Leonie, otherwise all of the hostages will die.

Although that sounds like a detailed synopsis, all of the above happens early on in the story – as Ira delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Leonie, she discovers the truth at the same time as the listener.

This is the second audio dramatisation I have listened to, and I do enjoy them; in this case the cast, which includes the aforementioned Adrian Lester and Natasha McElhone, as well as other stalwarts of theatre and television such as Rafe Spall, Brendan Coyle and Peter Firth, were all excellent. The narrator who joined the seams together was Robert Glenister, who can also always be relied upon to put in a solid performance.

While the production held my attention, particularly in the first half, the story did get somewhat convoluted and far fetched in the second half, and relied heavily on coincidence. I would have preferred a straightforward hostage drama, rather than the machinations that transpired. Nonetheless, this was still an entertaining production and I would listen to other dramatisations of Fitzek’s work.

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When your main cast is Christopher Walked, Morgan Freeman, William H Macy and Marcia Gay Harden, you have to ask – why have more people not heard of this film? It’s certainly very entertaining throughout and gave us plenty of laughs. Walken, Freeman and Macy are three security guards at a Boston art museum, who are devastated when they learn that their favourite pieces of art are to be transferred to an art gallery in Denmark, and they hatch a plan to steal the pieces for themselves…

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Year of release: 2009

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Main cast: Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, William H Macy, Marcia Gay Harden

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Genre: Comedy, crime caper

Highlights: Everything! Lots of comedy, and a superb cast

Lowlights: None

Overall: Give this a watch – I can’t imagine you will be disappointed

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Dave (Gene Wilder) is deaf and Wally (Richard Pryor) is blind. So when they witness a crime, Dave sees the guilty party, and Wally hears her. Somehow between them they have to convince the police of who did it, and escape the clutches of the criminal gang who want to get rid of them.

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Year of release: 1989

Director: Arthur Hiller

Writers: Earl Barret, Arne Sultan, Marvin Worth, Eliot Wald, Andrew Kurtzman, Gene Wilder

Main cast: Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Eve Severance, Kevin Spacey, Kirsten Childs

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: All of it! Wilder and Pryor are comedy gold

Lowlights: None really

Overall: Classic comedy, well worth a visit (or a revisit)

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Lively and engaging retelling of the audacious Hatton Garden Heist which took place over Easter Weekend in 2015. This is the third film to be made about this particular event, and it features a stellar cast.

Really enjoyed it, even if I always feel a bit bad when (some of) the bad guys are so damned likeable.

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Year of release: 2018

Director: James Marsh

Writers: Joe Penhall, Mark Seal (magazine article)

Main cast: Michael Caine, Charlie Cox, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse

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Genre: Heist, crime, dramedy

Highlights: The excellent cast, especially Jim Broadbent

Lowlights: None 🙂

Overall: Definitely recommended – plenty of British humour, and although it makes the crooks somewhat likeable, it never lets you forget that what they were doing was very wrong

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