Friday, 28 March 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure why this book is only four stars and not five. As usual, King really shines with his characters. Dan Torrance, the same Dan Torrance whose father went a bit crazy at the Overlook Hotel in 'The Shining', is our hero in this novel. He is the aforementioned Doctor Sleep, using his shining to help the elderly residents of the care home he works in to pass away peacefully. We meet Dan at his worse (a violent alcoholic, stealing from penniless single mothers) and continue with him on his journey of recovery.
We also follow young Abra Stone (a brilliant name!) who has the shining from a young age. It's clear that she possesses brilliant powers and they are only getting stronger.
Alongside Abra and Dan, we meet the True Knot, a band of people who only look younger and younger. To keep their youthful appearance they feed off of steam. Steam is obtained by the torture and prolonged pain of children with the shining. Now you can see where this is leading.
As I said before, King creates characters with depth and emotion, characters you love to hate and characters you root for all the way. Alongside Dan and Abra there are several smaller characters that provide the humour and create lots of interesting situations.
My one criticism were the villains of this piece, really. The leader of the True Knot is known as Rose the Hat because she wears a top hat which manages to stay on her head at an unnatural angle. I didn't particularly dislike her, I just found her annoying, which is disappointing really, considering King's talent for writing viscous females (see Annie Wilkes in Misery).
For me I can pick up one of King's books and know I am going to enjoy it. The tension is incredible at times, and his descriptions of the ghosts and ghouls are vivid and horrific. More than that, I enjoy the ride of his novels, I like getting to know the characters and unravelling the plot. Although a lot of content could be taken out without great loss of understanding.
For Doctor Sleep I award four stars, for a great protagonist and a world created with complete detail. I would also say it not essential to have read 'The Shining', although there are references to it throughout.

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Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Death Of Miss Eleanor Durant

Day 2 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge was to write a fan-fiction. This was a tricky one for me as I love lots of different kinds of writing. My first thought was Sherlock or Doctor Who, both of which I adore and know inside out. But my adoration of them means I have to do them justice and quite simply I did not think I would.
I then considered writing a Jonathan Creek mystery. Again, a series I adore, and after being so disappointed with the recent episodes I knew I could write something more exciting and importantly blood thirsty. I know Jonathan has married and moved to the countryside now, but there's no need for there not be a murder, I mean, has David Renwick ever watched Midsomer Murders? Anyway, getting off track. After realising that I couldn't figure out how the murders were ever committed before Jonathan, my chance of writing one successfully was slim to none, so I decided to veer towards my other love, Agatha Christie.
I love Miss Marple and Poirot, although Poirot I think is a lot harder to write, so I plumped for dear old Miss Marple and thought I'd give it a crack. Please forgive me, it's nowhere near the genius of Christie, but it has been a lot of fun to write. As always, comments and feedback appreciated.

The Death Of Miss Eleanor Durant

Smoke gathered at the top of the room, curling and swirling around the light fixtures. Miss Marple gave the smokers a small, disapproving frown before smiling openly at the six individuals gathered in the drawing room. They were the guests of Sarah-Jane Sampson. To Miss Marple, Sarah-Jane was the daughter of her close friend Elizabeth and they had remained in contact after Mrs Sampson had passed.
“Thank you for gathering,” said Miss Marple. She was met with silence. “I have brought you all together to discuss the death of Miss Eleanor Durant.”
“I’ve already told you, me and my wife have nothing to do with this!” cried a man sitting by the fire place. He placed a reassuring hand on his wife’s shoulder. The man responsible for the outburst was Roger Cardwell, a banker in London. He and his wife were overflowing with money. Husband and wife were like chalk and cheese. Mr Cardwell was dark haired, smart and almost oily in personality. Mrs Celia Cardwell was fair and plain. She barely spoke to anyone and her let her husband do most of the talking. When Celia Cardwell was Celia Banks, she had been Sarah-Jane’s best friend.
Miss Marple smiled, her patience a long way from waning. “I have spoken to all of you Mr Cardwell and I believe I know who killed the poor girl. I simply ask you to remain here for a little while longer so everything can be cleared up."
One of the smokers, a red headed woman wearing scarlet lipstick suddenly sat up alert in her soft arm chair. “Killed?”  
“Yes Marlena, killed,” said Miss Marple.
“I thought it was an accident.” Marlena Foxx cast an uneasy gaze around the rest of the occupants in the room. “Are you telling me somebody in here actually murdered her?”
Marlena Foxx was an actress, originally born in Germany, she had immigrated to Hollywood to make her fame and fortune and was doing rather well. But Miss Marple wasn’t sure how good an actress the girl actually was. Time would tell. Sarah-Jane had met her at a charity ball two weeks previously and had invited her along on impulse.
“Yes my dear,” she answered. “Dr. Foster, can you confirm the time and cause of death please?”
The man who answered had a rotund stomach testing the limits of the tweed jacket he wore. A monocle resided in his right eye and he puffed on a pipe which glowed orange in the semi-darkness. Dr. Foster had been the Sampson family doctor for years, ever since Miss Marple had known them.   
“Of course Jane,” he said, with an over familiarity she didn’t appreciate. “Miss Durant was killed at approximately midday yesterday. She was killed with a sharp blow to the back of the head.”
“That’s impossible!” protested Mr Cardwell. “My wife found her, she fell down the stairs at seven pm. We all heard her!” He looked around the room for support and found none.
“You’re right Mr Cardwell, she did fall down the stairs, and was found by your wife just after seven. But she was in fact killed much earlier.”
“I don’t think I’m following any of this,” said a young man quietly. He sat just to Miss Marple’s right and looked very youthful. His handsome face appeared innocent and bore no trace of wrinkle or beard. The young man in question was named Alfred Ellis. He was Miss Sampson’s cousin and temporarily residing in the house.
“You see, when Miss Durant was killed, the first time, she must have fallen onto her wrist, for her watch was smashed, and the time stuck at twelve-o-five,” explained Miss Marple. To which Sarah-Jane Sampson let out choking sob. The hostess had dark hair and unusually clear blue eyes. She had been friends with Eleanor Durant at school, along with Celia.
“But I spoke to her,” pointed out Marlena suddenly rising from her chair. “At six pm, I knocked on the door of her room and told her dinner was being served. She replied to me! She said ‘just coming.’ See! She can’t have been!”
“I’m afraid body temperature also indicates she was killed long before she was found at the bottom of the stairs. Dr. Foster and I both felt for a pulse, and she was cold to touch.”
“The door was locked from the inside,” muttered Alfred. He was so quiet only Miss Marple heard him.
“Of course, the locked room mystery,” she said, trying not to show how much she was enjoying herself. Others looked at her with a mixture of pity and disbelief when she told them she had worked out how it was all done. There was a quiet sense of satisfaction when she was proved right.
“So you’re saying that someone murdered her, left a locked room, then returned, pushed her body down the stairs, relocked the room and somehow escaped again. You’ll forgive me Miss Marple, but isn’t this all a tad far-fetched,” protested Mr Cardwell.
“If you’ll just allow me to explain,” she replied, clearing her throat. “Shall we start from the beginning?”
“Please do,” said Sarah-Jane, managing to control her tears.
Miss Marple nodded. “Please stop me if any of this is incorrect.
Miss Eleanor Durant arrived yesterday morning at around ten am. She was dropped off outside the house by a taxi and then welcomed by Miss Sampson, who showed her to her room for the weekend. Dr. Foster, the Cardwell’s and I were already here, as of course, was Alfred, who lives here. Marlena Foxx was the only one to arrive after Miss Durant and she too was showed to her room, just next door to Miss Durant’s.”
“That’s correct, I was delayed,” said Marlena.
“All the guests enjoyed elevenses, right here in the drawing room where most of them met for the first time. Of course Mrs Cardwell, Miss Sampson and Miss Durant had been friends at school but they hadn’t met since then. Dr. Foster and I only knew each other and of course Miss Sampson.
But of course. I am already incorrect. Miss Durant did know others here, for she was in love with one of you.”
There was a collective gasp around the room, but Miss Marple just smiled. “You could see it in both of their faces, I’m surprised nobody else noticed. Mr Ellis, this must be terrible for you.”
The young man looked up with barely concealed surprise. “We’ve been keeping it a secret, for Sarah-Jane’s sake,” he said, indicating his cousin.
 She laughed. “You didn’t have to keep that a secret from me! I would have been thrilled for you!”
“Mr Ellis was not the only person she knew. Dr. Foster, she was indeed a patient of yours, was she not?”
“Yes, she lives within my area, she comes to my practice, but that is not a crime Miss Marple.” She noted that he had referred to her by her surname, maybe he now felt under suspicion.
“And you Miss Foxx,” said Miss Marple, giving the actress a chance to explain herself.
“Have I met her before? I really don’t remember I’m afraid.”
“You’re currently working in London, on a motion picture?” prompted Miss Marple.
“Yes, it’s called Love and Money, it’s about a bank thief and his lover. It’s very good,” said Marlena with a smug smile.
“Miss Durant told me she had a small part in the film. She also told me you were threatening to leave and if you did she would get to step into your shoes. Isn’t that correct?”
Marlena appeared visibly flustered. “I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about!”
“And Mr Cardwell was bank rolling the film, was he not? So really, you all knew each other!”
Roger Cardwell rose to protest, but before he could speak the unusually quiet Alfred Ellis spoke up.
“What does that matter Miss Marple? Who killed her and how?” He stood up from his chair and reached for a glass of whisky on the table. “I went to her room at three ‘o’ clock, the usual time I paid her a visit. There was no answer and when I peered through the keyhole I could not see a thing, so the key must have been in the other side!” He sunk down into the arm chair.
“And someone was definitely in her room, because I heard her speak!” said Marlena.
“After elevenses, Miss Durant returned to her room,” continued Miss Marple. “She said she did not require any lunch and was going to do some unpacking and have a nap after her long journey. But shortly after this, she was struck on the back of the head and the killer apparently left through a locked door which in itself is impossible.
In fact, on closer inspection, the door was locked from the outside. A scented bag was on the inside of the door, pressed against the keyhole which made it appear as though the door was locked from the inside.”
Alfred looked quite perplexed but indicated for Miss Marple to go on. “The killer returned, realising what they had done and then disposed of the body. Isn’t that right Mrs Cardwell?”
“What?” she whispered, aghast, looking to her husband for support.
“That is absurd Miss Marple. She found the body!”
“The body was never supposed to be found, was it Mrs Cardwell? You had to move it, but you weren’t strong enough and there was only one of you so you carried her as far as you could and then put her in the dumb waiter on the third floor landing.”
Marlena laughed. “Oh that is quite ridiculous.”
“It explains how you heard a female voice, when you informed her of dinner. It was Mrs Cardwell in the room at the time.”
Marlena stared at Mrs Cardwell with newfound curiosity. The banker’s wife, so timid and shy, capable of murder.
“I didn’t kill her!” she suddenly shouted. “I just moved the body! I didn’t kill her!”
A murmur spread around the room, catching and passing from each person. Mr Cardwell soothingly rubbed his wife’s shoulders.
“But she was having an affair with your husband! If any one of us were in your shoes we would feel the same. We would understand completely.” Said Miss Marple.
“What?” cried Alfred. “I don’t believe it! Show me your evidence Miss Marple.”
“I wasn’t having an affair with Miss Durant!” yelled Mr Cardwell, stepping away from his wife. Miss Marple turned to face the actress. Marlena had winced at her words, despite doing her best to cover it up.
“No, you weren’t having an affair with Miss Durant,” said Miss Marple.
“What is all this?” muttered Dr. Foster. He was ignored.
“You were having an affair with Marlena Foxx.”
“What?” Mrs Cardwell repeated, her voice small. There was no sound but the cracking and popping of the fire.
“Maybe your wife got the wrong end of the stick. You were good friends with Miss Durant. She covered for you many times while you sneaked off with Marlena. And when your wife saw the joyful, glowing face of Miss Durant, a face clearly in love, she jumped to the wrong conclusions.”
Mrs Cardwell was now crying quietly. She shook her head. “I had no idea. I didn’t ask any questions. I just did as I was told.”
“So was it you Marlena, did you ask your lover’s wife to clear up your mess? Maybe Miss Durant threatened to tell somebody about your affair. Maybe she decided she wanted a bigger part in your film.”
“No, no,” said Marlena. “It was nothing like that, thank you. If I’d have murdered her, why would I have told you I heard a voice at six? It would have been better just to keep my mouth shut!”
“Well then if it wasn’t Marlena, maybe it was you Mr Cardwell? Maybe Miss Durant wanted to tell your wife, her poor friend Celia? Your wife is loving and faithful. If you asked her to go and move a body I’m sure she would.” suggested Miss Marple.
 “No! I did not murder Miss Durant! As you said, she kept my secrets. I had no reason to murder her. I’d like to add that if I murdered her to stop my wife from finding out about my affair, then getting said wife to move the body would require a lot of explanation!” pointed out Mr Cardwell.
“So who else is left?” asked Miss Marple. “Who else would Celia do anything for, no questions asked? Someone who also has access to keys to the house? None other than Sarah-Jane Sampson.”
Miss Sampson, whose tears were now dry, did not speak for a moment. “I don’t believe this.”
“Celia Cardwell is your oldest friend, your most trusted friend. When you found out that your cousin Alfred with in love with Eleanor and planned to marry her, you just couldn’t let that happen. You loved Alfred, he was supposed to be yours. As children you had planned it. But you can’t help fate and you can’t predict the future.”
Miss Marple let out a small sad sigh. “What is this world coming to, when we can’t be happy for our friends and family?”
Dr. Foster frowned in confusion. “Well then, how did Miss Durant end up at the bottom of the stairs?”
“The latch on the dumb waiter on the first floor has always been untrustworthy. With a little investigation I discovered it had not been repaired. The pressure was too much and the body fell out and down the stairs. Also, and rather accidentally, providing Mrs Cardwell and Miss Sampson with an alibi.”
“Well I never,” said Doctor Foster.
“The police are on their way,” said Miss Marple. “Thank you for a… different weekend. I’ll come and visit you in the spring, Alfred.” With that, she packed away her knitting, picked up her small suitcase and left the room, closing it behind her.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Cops and Cannibalism (A Retelling of Little Red Riding Hood)

I love writing, but lately I've become a bit stuck on what to write, I've had a lack of inspiration, if you like. With a bit of internet hunting I came across this 30 Day Writing Challenge and thought I'd give it a crack. I like the majority of prompts, but new ideas are always welcome so feel free to suggest anything, a title to inspire, a first line, a last line or a subject. The first prompt was 're-write a classic fairy tale', an idea I've been toying with for a while. So here you have it, my own interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, with a word of warning, this is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. Enjoy!

Cops and Cannibalism

(A Retelling of Little Red Riding Hood)

“I have eyes on Wolf. I repeat, I have eyes on Wolf,” DCI Huntsman said into his radio. He kept his voice low and his gaze steady from his position behind the large oak tree in the garden of Scarlet Cotes’ Grandmother’s house.
Wolf was standing at the oven in the kitchen, there was something frying in a pan. Why is he cooking? Kidnappers don’t cook. But then, Wolf wasn’t like any other kidnapper he’d come across.
A voice crackled through the small speaker. “We’re in position, when you’re ready sir.”
“Hold it,” barked Huntsman.
This Wolf had his curiosity. For a moment longer, he just wanted to watch him. Plus, he couldn’t see Scarlet or her Grandmother. He steadily moved his binoculars to the right to the further window which revealed the living room. As expected it was full of kitsch knick knacks, garish patterns and old fashioned wallpaper, but neither girl nor Grandmother.
He trained his gaze on the upper window and felt relief sweep through him as he spotted ten year old Scarlet in her red hoodie. Tears streamed down her face, raw from crying, but she appeared strong, healthy.
“Eyes on Scarlet,” Huntsman said.
The first time Huntsman had laid eyes on Scarlet Cotes was barely forty eight hours ago. Her parents had been sitting in his office, gripping her photo so tightly. It was as if they feared she would disappear forever if they let go.
“She didn’t come home and she’s not at my mother’s!” cried Mrs Cotes. “That’s where she’s supposed to be!”
Huntsman had done his best to calm the mother down, but in this situation the words ‘calm’ and ‘mother’ are unachievable. Reluctantly she had passed over the photograph. She was a pretty girl, with dark blonde hair and wide brown eyes.
“I’ll do everything in my power to get her back to you,” he’d said.
And now he stood outside the Grandmother’s house, the kidnapper calmly cooking in the kitchen. No Grandmother in sight.
A familiar voice crept over the radio. “I’m at the back door.”
He should have known. DS Prince, always the maverick.
“Wait,” ordered Huntsman. “This guy is dangerous. We have to proceed with caution.”
From where he stood, he didn’t appear dangerous. Wolf was currently seasoning whatever was in the pan.
“I’m going in,” said Prince.
Huntsman swore under his breath, made sure Wolf was focused on his culinary abilities and then made a dash for the front door, dishing out orders to wait, to leave him and Prince alone with the suspect and the girl.
He let himself in using the key Scarlet’s mother had given him and crept into the hallway. The girl’s school bag had been upturned alongside a bag of shopping she had obviously picked up for her elderly relative. The smell of meat filled his nostrils. The smell of meat and decay.
There was a faint buzzing sound too, like a refrigerator in a quiet kitchen, but this sound was coming from the living room. He peered inside, and amongst all the fake roses and the ‘antique’ furniture was the body of the Grandmother. Insects swarmed over her body. He fought back the bile rising in his throat.
Through the beetles and the bugs he could make out great wounds in her body. She had clearly been slashed and cut up, the flesh ripped from her bones.
The stairs, the gateway to young Scarlet Cotes, were in front of him, but his main priority was arresting Alex Wolf, so he made his way towards the kitchen. He could step inside the room without being seen by Wolf, but being observed by Prince through the window of the back door.
The kitchen was a large room, the old fashioned arga taking up pride of place in the middle of the room. Clunky and mismatched cabinets and sideboards lined the room in that charming way that made the house seem warm and inviting. It would have been warm and inviting, if it wasn’t for that smell.
Huntsman crept in and would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for his radio. It bleeped. A small almost insignificant sound but in the silent kitchen it echoed at the volume of a jet engine.
Wolf whirled towards him, a gleaming knife in his hand, already covered in the blood of the dead Grandmother. The detective was momentarily distracted by the man’s eyes. They were large, deep, like black holes. With one glance he could tell there was no soul behind those enormous eyes. Wolf’s ears were also larger than average and with a lip quivering growl he revealed a substantial overbite.
He threw himself at Huntsman, who fell easily, his feet slipping on the blood splattered tiles. Wolf’s knife pressed tightly against his throat while his arms pushed and thrashed. But the man was strong, inconceivably so. In the struggle Huntsman’s hand curled around a handle. With a sneak to his right and a surging rise of hope he saw a pile of logs and the axe blade at the end of the smooth wood. He brought it down with a roar onto Wolf’s back and the large man collapsed on top of him.
“Chief!” cried Prince, rushing through the door, missing the moment.
“I thought you were ‘going in’,” grumbled Huntsman, as he and Prince heaved the dead weight off of the inspector.
Before Prince could answer a little voice in the doorway drew their attention. “Is he dead?”        
“Yes sweetheart,” said Huntsman, his outward brusqueness softening. “He won’t hurt you anymore.”


 “The victim is a thirty eight year old male by the name of Alexander James Wolf,” read the pathologist, from her file. “Outward injuries include a sharp force trauma to the back…” She frowned at the intrusion in her laboratory before adding, “DCI Huntsman, always a pleasure.”
The police officer smiled at the sarcasm in her voice.
“Well, when you’re always so welcoming,” he said, keeping himself a good two feet from the body lying on the table. “All I want to know is what he was cooking. I gather he’d already eaten some of it.”
She flipped through the pages. “Stomach contents include several pieces of human flesh. Awaiting DNA results but preliminary tests point towards Scarlet Cotes’ Grandmother, Muriel Adams.” She gave Huntsman a smile. “You don’t have to be a police officer to work that one out. Goodbye DCI Huntsman.”


Monday, 3 March 2014

Book Review: The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway #6)

The Outcast DeadThe Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elly Griffiths has done a wonderful job in creating the much loved Ruth Galloway and her world, based mostly around Norfolk and the surrounding areas. She manages to merge tense murder mystery with almost soap like drama and love affairs. Each book is also written in the present tense which brings a brilliant presence and 'up to the minute' excitement which is missing from other books.
The Outcast Dead follows Ruth and Nelson on their respective cases. Nelson is investigating the death of a little boy, the third child in a row which has died under the care of their mother Liz Donaldson. Ruth meanwhile has found the remains of Mother Hook an infamous Victorian child killer and becomes embroiled into TV show 'Women Who Kill' against her will.
It is the characters that really shine for Elly Griffiths, especially Ruth and Nelson. Their on again/off again love affair is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this series. But Nelson's team, Clough and Judy and Ruth's friends including the eclectic Cathbad round out the action and keep things interesting.
Ruth's 'love interest' in this book is American TV presenter and Victorian Historian Frank Barker, who Ruth meets while filming for the TV show. There are several new characters to meet in this area and they suitably annoying/lovely/funny. But each of them is individual and memorable. Despite Ruth's constant negative attitude about her body, she is found to be lovely by many that meet her and her thoughts and feelings about new experiences in motherhood are always interesting and heartfelt. Normally I would pick a male character to lead a novel but Ruth Galloway is one of the few exceptions that I love and cherish.
The pace of the novel and all the cases it covers is remarkably quick. It took me three days to complete this book, I literally couldn't put it down. I love how everything weaves together although there were a few little things that were mentioned once and left unresolved. They didn't really relate to the case, but I like everything to be wrapped up perfectly and this didn't happen. There are a lot of references to 'The Crossing Places', the first case that Ruth and Nelson worked on together. I haven't read that book since 2011, so I would have appreciated a bit of a refresher. Although this is just personal preference as you don't need to have read that book to understand this one.
Overall, a great read, as always, and in my opinion superior to 'A Dying Fall'. I always look forward to the next Elly Griffiths novel with glee and anticipation.

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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Book Review: As The Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton (Agatha Raisin #22)

As the Pig Turns (Agatha Raisin, #22)As the Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the Agatha Raisin series, although at this stage I have lost track of which books I have read and which I haven't. Normally you can tell by which man she is currently obsessed with however the same men keep popping up.
M.C. Beaton should really be credited for making a character like Agatha, who is actually quite horrible, nosey and interfering, likeable, warm and sympathetic.
As the Pig Turns kicks off on the discovery of a body on a roasting spit. It's a brilliant, original idea, and as events take a turn for the worst the characters go to Las Vegas, follow trucks and put their lives on the line.
As always the regular characters of this series put a smile on my face as they get themselves caught up in unexpected situations. Opening a book by M.C. Beaton feels like returning home and putting on my comfiest pyjamas.

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