Do criminals read crime novels, I wonder? Perhaps it would be too much like a busman's holiday. I'm sure a great many readers of the genre are like me, rather gentle and law abiding in real life, but with an inexhaustible appetite for reading about people who are the exact opposite. I enjoy a good crime novel under any circumstances, but there's no doubt that they are my default reading mode, the one I turn to when I'm tired, unwell, or generally slightly fed up. I suppose I've been a touch of all those things recently, hence the gobbling up of rather a number of the things.
I read Ariana Frankin's Mistress of the Art of Death last September, and enjoyed it very much. The next two novels in the series sat around for a while, but I happened upon them a couple of weeks ago and whizzed through them very quickly. Set in the twelfth century -- which Franklin brings to life with an extraordinary mixture of historical accuracy and absolutely believable and recognisable characters -- the novels feature the female doctor Adelia Aguilar, who specialises in examining dead bodies. As with any series, a great deal of the charm lies in the characters, their interactions and relationships. You have to love Adelia, whose powerful intellect and dedication to her work has been tempered by the challenges of her devotion to her baby daugter and her relationship with Rowley, the child's father and a bishop into the bargain. An additional pleasure was that both these novels were set in places I knew well -- The Death Maze in Godstow Nunnery, whose ruins remain, just outside Oxford, and The Relics of the Dead in the now ruined abbey in Glastonbury. Great stuff.
I'd never heard of Elena Forbes before one of our Shiny New Books reviewers requested her latest novel, Jigsaw Man. As she is someone whose tastes I seem to share, and as I spotted the novel on Audible, where I have an account, I thought I'd give it a go. And I enjoyed it so much that I immediately downloaded the preceding novel in the series -- I think there are four altogether. These are police procedurals, which I always enjoy, and feature the rather attractive DI Mark Tataglia (Scottish Italian, said to look like a taller version of Robert Downie Jnr) and his female sidekick, DS Sam Donovan. Set in and around an area of London where I've lived myself (is there a theme going on here?), the two novels I've listened to so far both feature serial killers of admittedly a rather unpleasant kind, but the chief pleasure lies in watching the progress of the investigation, and seeing the mystery unravel. I shall be listening to the other two of these soon, though it's probably not ideal to be going through them in reverse order.
Finally, yesterday afternoon I picked up a review copy of Anthony Quinn's just published Curtain Call. Another author I'd never heard of, but the novel seems to have been rapturously received in the newspapers, and was apparently serialised on BBC Radio Four. So I had high hopes. Set in 1936, the novel takes place in London, and features an intriguing bunch of characters -- a young actress, her portrait-artist lover, a rather unpleasant aging gay theatre critic, a sweet girl who has been unwillingly recruited to work as an 'escort' (with all that implies) and various hangers-on. Some nasty murders have been going on, and everyone gets involved and implicated in various ways. Lots of background about the art and theatre worlds of the 1930s, plus the doings of Oswald Moseley and the various fascist groups of the time, and the ever present threat of exposure and arrest suffered by homosexuals. I wish I could say I'd loved this novel, but sadly I didn't. It's stylish enough, and the historical stuff adequately done, but somehow I found the whole thing a bit pedestrian, and didn't really care enough about any of the characters to get properly involved. But I'm obviously in a minority, so take no notice -- you might love it!