The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming

Moroccan

 The Moroccan Girl was my introduction to the work of Charles Cumming. This book is a page turner and I am delighted to have discovered this author. Definitely adding him to my favorite authors list and plan to acquire more of his work.

The main character is Christopher “Kit” Carradine. He’s a novelist writing about spies and espionage. One day he is approached on a London street by a man named Robert Mantis; he’s posing as a fan of Kit’s books. As Kit writes about the spy world in such detail, evidently convincingly, Mantis makes overtures to recruit Kit into the British Service.

It’s a thrilling prospect for Kit to get out of the day-to-day writing routine and do something exciting. He’s meant to hook up with a British Service contact when he’s in Morocco at a writers event. If he can also locate Lara Bartok and pass off a package, all the better. Lara is a young woman who may be on the run from her own government or she may be a terrorist. Lara was the girlfriend of Ivan Simokov, leader of the group Resurrection. This group seemed to start off with an ideal of exposing bad people, folks in positions of power who abused their positions at the expense of us regular citizens.  Eventfully Resurrection turned very violent.  Is Lara Bartok on the run because she was involved with Resurrection or is she fleeing Ivan and the people she once worked with? She is a very interesting character.

There are scenes in London but most of the flavors are in the Morocco. Casablanca, Tangiers and Marrakesh come to life in this book. You are immersed in the setting, the heat, sweat, suspicion, the colorful setting and the foods. As Kit makes his way through Morocco he is caught up with British, Russian and American agents but it’s hard to tell which side they are on. What’s the endgame?

Another interesting thing are the references to authors who were tapped by the British service to spy or act as a support agents. Frederick Forsyth and Somerset Maugham in particular were mentioned and now I want to know more about them so my reading list has grown thanks to this narrative. Hoping to read more about Kit Carradine in the future if he becomes a regular character in a series. In the meantime I will be tracking on Mr. Cumming’s other espionage novels.

Lots of food referenced but of course it’s not a foodie book. I always note the dishes or drinks when I read as I’m always up for recreating a dish that appeals. In this case I wanted to make Lamb Tagine but in the interest of getting my post done here, let’s have Lamb Kebabs.

Here’s a sampling of the meals and drinks I noted: Lamb Tagine, Chicken Dhansak,  Tarka Daal, Chablis and fish cakes, spaghetti Bolognese, fried fish and Merguez sandwiches, chicken couscous, cheese and pasta salad, baklava.
Black coffee, margaritas, gin and tonic, pints of ale, vodka martini, mint tea.

I’d like to thank NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. I was slow getting to it a “reading group” was supposed to get together for this one. Wish I had just started it earlier because I would be reading another of Cumming’s books now. If you like espionage and mystery then I highly recommend this book. Well done, Mr. Cumming.

cumming

 

More about the author – Charles Cumming

 

 

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event, Beth Fish Reads and Heather for the March Foodies Read.

BriFri  2019 Foodies Read

Advertisements

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

white nights

White Nights is book two in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. I am late getting acquainted with this series; this second book was published in 2010. The good news there is I can jump into the next story without the laboriously long wait for the author to release the latest book. Sometimes it’s nice to discover a series that’s been out a while. White Nights refers to the long period of daylight in the Shetland islands.

Our main detective character Jimmy Perez has a starring role again. Book one left it in the air whether he was staying on the island or returning to his childhood home. I haven’t seen the television series but have seen the comparisons about the books vs TV. Seems, as always, they are different. There are quite a few characters to keep up with in the book but it isn’t confusing, unless you stop reading for a bit and then go try and pick it up again. Having been ill recently, that’s what I did and had to reread the previous two chapters.

The characters are likable but I’d push Perez to be more animated. He does an awful lot of ruminating over what he should have done in regard to Fran, his love interest. As for the investigative role he’s spot on.

The book starts with a person in clown mask, handing out flyers to locals and tourists from a cruise ship.  I don’t like clowns but that didn’t put me off.   then we move to an evening at artist Bella Sinclair’s manse featuring a famous musician (Bella’s nephew) and artist Fran Hunter. They are displaying their work and hoping for sales and recognition.

It’s not a great turnout, being as clown boy sabotaged the evening by handing out flyers stating the show was canceled. Mystery number one there. During the exhibition, an Englishman staring at a portrait suddenly drops to his knees and starts crying. Perez is at the exhibition with Fran, uncomfortably mingling as a guest and not there in his professional capacity as a police officer. Now he feels the need to get the crying man and see if he needs medical attention.

What a drag for Perez, he just wants to enjoy the evening. The Englishman has no identification and claims amnesia. That’s mystery number two. While Perez is checking with other guests to see who he may have arrived with or if anyone knows him, the memory- loss Englishman disappears. Flip another chapter and he’s found hanging, an apparent suicide.

Or is it?!

We have another death then some old bones discovered in a cave near the cliffs (mysteries three and four!) The bodies are certainly piling up in this small island setting. Sometimes the story moved too slowly, my opinion, yet I wasn’t tempted to toss the book aside. It’s the flavor of the setting, a slower lifestyle and thoughtful conversations. There are only seven books in the series so I aim to finish the Shetland series this year. Maybe I will then check out the DVDs.

This book is categorized as a mystery and thriller. More mystery, not so much a thriller.

AjaWhiteNights

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event

BriFri 

Careless Love by Peter Robinson (#25 in the DCI Banks series)

carelessLove Since being introduced to the DCI Banks series years ago I have made it a mission to read all of the books in order. This is #25 and Banks is slowly aging.  I had eagerly awaited my copy from the library and plan to continue to read more in the series,  but this particular book made me realize Banks needs to retire.

Premise of the book: A pretty young student is dead in an abandoned car.  The car is not hers, she is dressed in evening wear and couldn’t have walked up to this remote road. There isn’t any ID, cell phone or handbag.  Is it suicide? How did she get there? Meanwhile a man in his sixties is found dead in a gully up further up the road.  He is also wearing expensive clothing and carried no identification.  Was it an accident or was he  pushed?

Compliments and Complaints

There were a few reviews from people who were fortunate enough to get an advance copy, a mixed bag of compliments and complaints.  One particular comment complained about the amount of music interjected, as if Robinson was “forcing a musical education” on us.  As I hadn’t read the book yet I thought that was a supremely unfair comment.  If you are a fan of Alan Banks you’ll know music is an important part of his life and you will know what he’s listening to in his car and at home.

But then I started reading the book and I have to say, that comment wasn’t too far off the mark.  For such a short book of only 300 pages there were far too many paragraphs devoted to music.  Much more than in previous books so it felt like filler. So that’s actually two complaints from me – the excess music talk and the length of the book.  Maybe it felt shorter because there wasn’t enough investigative plot.

I mentioned he is growing older and I’m good with that. However, the excessive amount of reminiscing in this book was tiresome. He’s lost his edge. As he matures in his years and the career you expect someone to slow down but this performance wasn’t up to the usual standards.

Compliment: This is the first book in the series where I recall a cliffhanger at the end. The last two lines set up the premise for the next book.  Certainly that story line won’t be ignored as a previous bad guy is involved. This can’t be explained without spoilers but I look forward to that scenario being a major plot point.  Usually there are two investigations going on at once, sometimes they overlap, but it’s easy to keep the stories and investigations separated.

Personally I think it’s time for Alan Banks to retire.  Let him go out with a gangbuster ending.  Please don’t kill him, Mr. Robinson, but let’s have one of those cracking plots that I can’t put down….and then end it.  Let Banks go out on top.  I’m a big fan and I will certainly read the next book but I hope it’s better than this one.

Food is mentioned throughout and some had my mouth watering.

Spicy Vindaloo, Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef and gravy, sandwiches of prawn, egg and chicken salad, a Spenser and Mark’s dinner of roasted chicken with vegetables and potatoes, wine, scones and tea.  The chicken dinner had my attention so here is a lovely olive oil roasted chicken dish with lots of onions, grape tomatoes and olives.

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event and
Heather for the February Foodies Read.

BriFri  2019 Foodies Read

C.B. Strike series vs Books

My husband and I both look forward to the newest books in the Cormoran Strike series so we were delighted to learn a TV series was in the works.  As usual, we had to wait for the library to get the DVDs in since we don’t have an internet feed at home.

Hands down, we enjoyed the books more.  Season 1 in the TV series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was very good.  It pretty much followed the book and I was happy with the actors portraying Strike and Robin.

strike

Last night we started watching season 2, The Silkworm, and it was rather confusing.  Honestly, I don’t know how anyone who hasn’t read the books could keep up with what was going on in The Silkworm.  The Cuckoo’s Calling had three episodes so perhaps that made a difference.  The next two stories have only 2 episodes.  There is so much information and character development in the books that I don’t think a 2 hour television session could do them justice.

We won’t be watching Career of Evil as that was a large and detailed book, two episodes can’t possibly cover it all without a sense of confusion, in my opinion.

c-b-strike1

Recently we finished the book Lethal White which I found to be outstanding.  That was a big fat book.  If that one airs as a separate show we may give it a watch, hoping it’s more than 2 episodes.  So much to cover there.

If anyone else has read the books and watched the series I would be interested to know what you think.

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event.

BriFri

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

 

clock

My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.” –  from our narrator.

This book spans over 150 years, each time period, as it switches back and forth, are pieces of  a puzzle.

Present day: We start with Elodie Winslow, a young woman with an old soul.  She’s a London archivist, engaged to be married to someone who doesn’t truly suit her.

Looking through an old satchel she discovers a sketchbook which belonged to artist Edward Radcliffe as well as a framed photograph of a striking young woman.  Edward’s story is on the book jacket.  He buys the impressive Birchwood Manor and invites a group of friends, fellow artists and their models, to spend a month of creativity and enjoyment.

But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

That was 150 years ago.  We switch to Edward’s time period and learn some of what went on, fractured relationships, love and mystery.  Now and then the narrator has her chapters, explaining what she thinks, what she observes.  She is the clockmaker’s daughter.

A quote I liked:

Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favored memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. Some events are repaired and polished for display; others are deemed unworthy and cast aside, shelved below ground in the overflowing storeroom of the mind. There, with any luck, they are promptly forgotten. The process is not dishonest: it is the only way that people can live with themselves and the weight of their experiences.” 

Besides present day and Edward’s time period, we have characters from the 1940’s right after the war.  They all play an intricate part in the story and how it all weaves together in the end.  One character is in this time frame is a little boy named Tip.  His part here and in the present day are linked as he is Elodie’s great uncle. He has a small part but it’s important.

It’s eluded that the narrator isn’t named, that we never know her name as early on her father refers to her as Birdie. He says she was named for her grandfather. Well, I won’t tell you here even though it doesn’t raise a spoiler, but it’s something revealed on pages 460 – 462 so you won’t want to miss it.  By then you are almost finished and I will say, what a story – historically rich with the lines of all eras woven together in a satisfying ending.

Kate Morton never disappoints me.  Great story as always.

Linking up with Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday as the setting is London and near rural Lechlade. Birchwood Manor is fictional but befitting many old manor houses in England.

BriFri

Day of the Dead by Nicci French {Book 8, the end of the Frieda Klein series}

dayofdead

I’m certainly a fan of a series. The more books in a series the better in my opinion. Some folks don’t like the feeling of commitment with five or more books, following the same characters on a mystery or whichever genre it may be – I figure I am going to be reading anyway and I like familiar characters, watching them grow as characters and in their personal and professional lives.

So, this is the end of the Frieda Klein series. Eight books total starting with Blue Monday and winding our way through the days of the week. As I’ve mentioned before, I read the Sunday book first so I read many spoilers. Still, I went to the beginning and read through. Sunday was the best book. Thursday was not my favorite and had a seriously slow start.

This last book, Day of the Dead, wrapped up the series and so I will no longer have Frieda, Reuben, Josef, Chloe, Jack and Karlsson in my life. Josef was my favorite of the sub-characters.

Frieda needed to disappear in the previous book and spent most of her time in this last book under the wire. A killer was on the loose and she was the target, a string of violent incidences and a conclusion that I could accept.

There was a character named Lola Hayes who is introduced early in this book. She needs a subject for her criminology classes and plans to explain how psychoanalyst Frieda Klein thinks, planning on interviewing those close to Frieda and working out a profile. By trying to discover more about Frieda she puts herself in danger and is forced, literally, to go on the run with our main character. It’s a cat and mouse game and a bloody one at that.

The beginning was slow for me and I’ll say I wanted a different ending to this eighth book saga. I wasn’t especially disappointed as all things were resolved, I would just like to have seen some characters end up differently. It’s hard to review this without giving out a very important factor that is a huge spoiler.

Lots of food mentioned throughout the book.

Butternut squash soup, burgers and beers, bowls of bean sprouts and Greek salad, a simple salad of tomato and avocado and a bread roll.

Spaghetti and red wine, a Ukrainian lamb dish and a bottle of vodka. A flat white and piece of carrot cake. Chicken sandwiches with lots of mayo and tomatoes.

“Frieda bought a cauliflower, some cheddar cheese, butter, milk and a half-baked baguette. She added a small jar of mustard to the basket, two chocolate bars, apples, a jar of marmalade and oatmeal. Later she cooked a mustardy cauliflower cheese which they ate with hunks of baguette.”

I bought a cauliflower and planned to make that cheese dish but I still haven’t gotten around to it.

 

Goodbye Frieda Klein – it was a good ride.  Lots of mystery and I would certainly watch a television series if one was developed base don her character.

Linking up with:
Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday
Heather for her August Foodie Reads

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

FrenchGirl

“We all have our secrets…

They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway…until they met Severine, the girl next door. “

I thought this was a good mystery – lots of people to suspect of killing 19 year old Severine. From the blurb above you’d think the story line was in present day France. Not so.

Ten years after the college get-together Severine’s body has been found in the bottom of a well. The last people to see the young woman alive are the six vacationing friends so they are once again drawn into the investigation. Everyone’s lives have changed so much in 10 years. Some relationships have fractured while others have deepened into a loyal friendship. There are some flashbacks but it’s basically lots of talking, remembering and suspicion about which one of the six killed Severine.

Tom, Seb, and Theo are good friends. It’s Theo’s father’s French country home where they gather and meet the mademoiselle next door. Kate was in a relationship with Seb, Lara is Kate’s best friend and Caro (Caroline) is friends with Theo, Tom and Seb. So, which of the six killed the French girl? Much is revealed about the characters and their relationships, fights, and basically lots of motive to go around.

I stare at Tom as Lara reseats herself and chatters on. He glances at me, but there’s nothing to read in his face. It was so smoothly done; I would never have guessed he was capable of such casual duplicity – once again he is the other Tom, but not Tom. I wonder, is anyone not who I thought? Maybe nobody ever really knows anyone.

Not too much food mentioned in this book:

Tom cooks “the world’s largest Spanish omelet”.

The conversation warms and expands again, slowly regaining volume after a moment of solemnity. More wine is called for and I eat chocolate profiteroles that I don’t really like because by now I’m drunk and will eat practically anything.

Girl’s night of ordering curry, drinking wine and watching a romcom.
Tom orders Kate vodka tonics on several occasions.

I’m all in for the vodka tonic and could do with a curry meal too but I plan to make that later this weekend.

tomic

I’m sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday as this is is a Scottish author and the setting is London. Also with Heather at Spirit Blog for the June Foodies Read and
Girlxoxo June’s Monthly Motif

More about the author: Lexie Elliott