Blood Line, Lynda La Plante

blood lineBlood Line is the first Lynda La Plante book I’ve read for some time. It continues her Anna Travis series, of which I think I have only two more to go.

I find this series easy to keep reading. La Plante has a skill in maintaining the reader’s interest (at least this reader), even though I’ve found her work more predictable than that of other crime writers – at least in the “who-dunnit” aspect. Often it can be obvious early on who committed a crime, and the police are onto them straight away, but then have trouble proving their case.

In a way this might actually be a better reflection of reality. How often in real life does a murderer turn out to be someone the police have had their eye on from the beginning, but can’t act until they’ve been able accumulate evidence and build a case to stand up in court?

Blood Line starts with the report of a missing person, whose father is convinced his son has been murdered. The son’s fiancée hasn’t shown similar concern and has kept the disappearance quiet.
There are some twists and turns related to the life and character of the missing man. Why would he want to do a runner? Or why did someone want him dead?

This case Anna Travis’s first major test after a promotion to DCI, and her boss (and former lover) James Langton’s interference does nothing for her confidence or her ability to investigate the case. Is she overcomplicating the case and therefore heading along the wrong track as Langton insists?

Langton is certain she has enough to gain a conviction, but Travis is not convinced that she’s investigating a straight forward crime.

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The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

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The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.

A Face in the Crowd, Lynda La Plante

A Face in the Crowd is the second story in the Prime Suspect series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison and is more or less a “novelisation” of  the TV episodes.

I saw the TV version first and found the book was a very straight, unembellished retelling of a murder investigation that is complicated by racism, both real and assumed. When workmen discover a plastic wrapped body, buried behind the house where they’ve been working, racial politics, exploited by vested interests lead investigators to conflicting conclusions and tragedy before the truth emerges.

I read it at this particular time because I wanted something relatively un-taxing that I knew I could read quickly. All of the Lynda La Plante books I’ve read so far have been “page turners” so I was confident this one would be too, and would give me something I could easily get through in a day or two, this book being shorter than the others I’ve read.

While it served the purpose mentioned above, overall it was a disappointing reading experience, adding nothing to what was told in its original screen format, apart from reminding me of its intriguing story . Someone who hasn’t seen the TV show in recent years might appreciate the book more than I did. However there’s quite an interesting preface to the book in which La Plante writes briefly about her involvement with the Prime Suspect series.

I still have a few more of La Plante’s Anna Travis series left to read, as well as the three Prime Suspect prequels featuring the younger Jane Tennison. The latter also has a TV association. The first book Tennison being adapted into the TV series (Prime Suspect 1973) that set me on my first steps into the world of crime fiction. In that case, with the book being written before the series, I’m confident of a much more rewarding read than with the book featured above.

 

 

 

Clean Cut, by Lynda La Plante

Lynda La Plante writes strong, straight forward, compelling narratives that concentrate on one or two primary characters. Her style possibly reflects her background in popular TV crime drama.

While her plots have a good share of twists and turns, there is nothing complicated about her writing. I’ve previously described her books as “a page turning roller coaster ride” and that is a big part of why they appeal to me. I’ve found the “ride” starts pretty much from the very beginning of each story and I’m reluctant to get off until I reach the end. Other commitments may mean that I have to put the book down from time to time, but I’ll pick it up again as soon as I can.

My reading of La Plante has mostly been her series about Anna Travis, a detective inspector with a tendency to take her own path during murder investigations, almost compulsively following her intuition to follow up leads even when warned against doing so by her superiors.
One of those superiors is James Langton, a man with whom Travis has a complicated and difficult work (and personal) relationship. In the first book of the series, Above Suspicion, Langton is responsible for giving Travis her introduction to the murder squad to help track down a serial killer, and he assumes the role of her mentor. This book brings increased tension between them and leads to a place where trust between the two seems permanently damaged.

At the beginning of Clean Cut Langton is seriously injured in a vicious machete attack while investigating the murder of a young woman. If he survives it seems likely he’ll have to leave the police force on medical grounds, a possibility he refuses to accept, and so he pushes himself to prove his fitness, motivated in part by the desire to find the man who almost killed him.

People trafficking, voodoo and gruesome killings mix with both departmental and national politics in this book, with the latter tending to jar a bit within the story. I found repeated diatribes against illegal immigrants and lax parole practices, were handled clumsily. While they were relevant to the cases being investigated, the way they were addressed seemed forced and unnatural, not fitting into the story’s flow.

Another part I had a problem with was a statement from a confessed rapist and murderer, “You know, you people think rape is about sex. Of course sex comes into it, but you know what it’s really about? Power.”
While I see the truth in the statement (I once heard a friend who was rape victim say the same thing, that rape was about power and not sex), I wasn’t convinced by such philosophising coming from a rapist himself, or at least with the way it was presented within the context of the story.

These two personal quibbles make me see this book as the weakest of those I’ve read so far. I’m now most of the way through the next of the series and so far haven’t seen a repeat of anything like those problems in my current book (Deadly Intent)

My ongoing journey into crime fiction started with one foot striding in the direction of La Plante followed by the other stepping towards Ann Cleeves. At the moment my reading has become a figurative hop while I’ve stayed with La Plante, wanting nothing more than a driving narrative about a familiar few characters; but I’m eager to return to Cleeves soon, to enjoy her deep richness of character and setting in addition to her compelling story telling.

Why Now? ( a more extensive venture into crime fiction)

I’m approaching 60. I’ve been an avid reader since I was 5 years old, and half a lifetime ago, as a “mature-aged student”, I completed a BA degree in English literature and creative writing.

And yet, for some reason, only now do I find myself intentionally reading “crime fiction” – something that’s not really interested me before (apart from a short period in my 20s when I read a few Agatha Christies).

This interest seems to have started when a few weeks ago I watched Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect 1973 on TV. My motivation for watching had more to do with the “1973” than the “Prime Suspect” part of the title, but I got hooked on more than the 70s ambience of my youth.

Around the same time, for similar reasons I started watching the series Shetland, based on books by Ann Cleeve, fortunately catching it from the beginning.

While I’ve never been to the Shetlands, I’ve had a long lasting love of traditional fiddle music, and many years ago bought a CD of Shetland fiddle tunes. Again, while initially drawn by the potential ambience, I was hooked by the story and have watched all episodes screened to date on my local channel.

During the past two weeks I’ve bought or ordered most of the Shetland books, and all of another series by Cleeves, featuring Vera Stanhope. Those books have also been adapted for a TV series, Vera starring Brenda Blethyn.

I’m now halfway through Telling Tales, the second Vera Stanhope story after finishing the first, The Crow Trap in just two days.
I like the way Cleeves builds up the stories, using alternating points of view of the characters involved. Also the fact that the lead character (Stanhope) often remains in the background; although she always seems present, even when she’s not in a scene.

I still have a lot of potential pleasure ahead with so much more to read, but face the difficult choice between sticking with Vera Stanhope, or moving on to a volume of the Shetland series next.

At first I wondered whether watching the TV series would spoil my reading of the corresponding books (or vice versa). I haven’t found out for sure yet, but I suspect the extra richness of the books will make up for the inevitable “spoilers” revealed by the TV show. I’ll find an answer when I finish the book I’m currently reading now. Telling Tales is the next episode of Vera that I’ll be watching. I’m delaying my viewing of it until after I finish the book.

Along with Cleeves’ books I’ve also followed up that Lynda La Plante influence, her books follow a much grittier, seedier, urban path contrasting with the more rural settings of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope books.
La Plante is much more graphic in the detail of the murders at the centre of her books. In the two I’ve read so far (Above Suspicion and The Red Dahlia), La Plante’s story telling has been much more linear than that of Cleeves and her investigating police have been the focal characters, with less attention paid to the points of view of other characters.

These two books are part of the Anna Travis series, and while the storytelling is compelling, there is a degree of “sameness” between the books, with sociopathic, misogynist men being the perpetrators of exceptionally brutal murders of women, while being able to hide behind the respectable standing they hold within the community at large.

These two very different authors offer widely contrasting reading experiences.  La Plante gives a page turning rollercoaster ride though territory most us would never experience, compared to Cleeves’ more leisurely but no less compelling journey into more familiar parts of everyday society.

La Plante gives us serial killers, or others who kill for extremely nefarious reasons. Cleeves brings along the man or woman next door, with more down to earth and practical (even domestic?) motives for killing, more in keeping with the statistical fact that 80% of murderers were know by their victim.

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Note: the above was written from my own introductory experience of the work of these two writers and the TV adaptations of some of their work. The views I express therefore don’t necessarily convey a true and complete picture of all of their work.

 

Brenda Blethyn (TVs Vera) reading an excerpt from Harbour Street (a Vera Stanhope story by Ann Cleeves)

Brenda Blethyn from Beeline Films on Vimeo.

Venturing into Crime and Fiddle Music

I don’t recall ever being a fan of crime fiction, apart from a short period in my early 20s when I read a few Agatha Christie’s.

However I was recently drawn to two British TV series based on crime novels. The first was Prime Suspect 1973 (based on Lynda La Plante’s book Tennison) and the other was Shetland, based on a series of book by Ann Cleeves.

In neither case was I drawn to watch by the crime element, but by the setting.

Prime Suspect was set in “my” era – my early teens to be specific, and the draw was nostalgia. Shetland caught my attention because of the geography, the music and the culture of its location. I’ve long had an interest in things Scottish and Irish and have a sizable collection of traditional music from both countries.

After watching these TV shows I’m interested to read the books that inspired them.

The following has nothing to do with the series or the books – apart from the Shetland link, and the fact that I love this kind of music. (And I typed that in time with the music).