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Archive for May, 2012

Unnatural Causes (P D James)

Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh’s plan to have a quiet holiday in the Suffolk coast at his aunt’s cottage is soon shattered when one of their neighbours’ body washes up in a dinghy, sans his hands. It is not Dalgliesh’s case and the local police force handles the investigations with competence, but Dalgliesh cannot avoid the case. He finds himself getting more and more drawn into the investigation, even while trying to maintain a hands-off stance in deference of the police inspector officially in charge of the case. There is also a personal conflict that Dalgliesh is trying to deal with and hopes to find a resolution for by the end of his vacation. P D James’ writing is in her usual style – rich in character personification, rich in atmosphere and of sufficient complexity as to keep the reader guessing till the last pages.

 

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This is the first in the Cadfael Chronicles, a series of murder mysteries set in medieval England. We learn that after a life of colourful adventure, Brother Cadfael has settled into a quiet life in the Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury, where he tends to the herb gardens. When one of the senior monks decides that what the abbey needs to increase its popularity are the relics of a long-dead saint that lie in a remote Welsh village, Brother Cadfael’s Welsh background enables him to join the expedition. When the group reach the Welsh village nearest to the grave of the saint, they find that their task is not as easy as they envisaged at the start. And then one of their main opponents is found with an arrow in his back. Luckily, Brother Cadfael is not only a good hand with his herbs, but also skilled in observation and detection. But even with his shrewd mind and engaging nature, it takes all his wits & cunning to work out the mystery and then engineer the situation so that everyone emerges satisfied. Most of all the reader!

 What sets this series apart from other mystery novels is the setting – medieval England, where unexplained deaths have to be solved by ready intelligence and observation. The story is also paced just right – not very fast, yet not so slow as to cause boredom. In Brother Cadfael, we find a very likeable rogue who manages to project the right balance between his worldly experience and the serenity expected of his monk’s habit. 

 A thoroughly enjoyable book.

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I bought this book for just the one story – Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain. This collection of stories – one each of some of the most memorable crimebusters on television (and some not so well-known ones too) – would’ve been a sheer delight were it not for one minor but very irritating flaw. Some of the entries are merely excerpts, so where you are expecting an enjoyable short story the book badly lets you down by moving onto the next tale at just the point when the narration has got really interesting. Still, there are a few complete stories and those are good ones, including the aforementioned. Overall this is a good collection with with introductions in Peter Haining’s usual style. The stories – complete or incomplete – are those that one wouldn’t commonly find elsewhere.

Sadie When She Died, which is my reason for procuring this book, is a top-notch short story by Ed McBain, who’s 87th Precinct police procedurals are exemplary examples of this niche genre. The story included here is in his classic style, about a lady who gets murdered when she catches a burglar in his act. However, it all looks too easy and Detective Carella is convinced there’s more to it than meets the eye. How he bets on his intuition & wits to guide him to the real culprit makes this a very enjoyable story – voted one of the Top 100 crime stories of all time in one of the popular lists.

 

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