The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

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the furthest station

Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

Monday is for Murder: First Class Murder (+ a little extra!)

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It’s Monday, so it’s murder time and today I am catching up on a series I just love to bits. I’ve also got a little extra today, with a short story from the same series.  First Class Murder is book three in Robin Stevens’ wildly popular Wells & Wong series for younger readers that harks back to the golden age of British murder mystery fiction.  I am desperately trying to keep pace with the series, but am still one book behind (soon to be two, as Mistletoe and Murder is to be released before Christmas in a fetching and festive red cover!!).  Let’s battle on then, with the blurb from Goodreads:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

first class murder

Plot Summary:

First Class Murder is a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, not a retelling for juniors, so while there will be familiar aspects – the unexpected stoppage, for example – don’t expect the story to unfold in exactly the same fashion.  The girls find themselves on the train and under the ever-watchful eye of Hazel’s father; the grown-ups seem to think that the girls have got themselves into enough mischief and danger to be going on with and a change of scenery and civilised society should do them a world of good.  Even before the murder happens, Daisy is determined to scent adventure, and after the incident Daisy and Hazel must employ all of their wits and cunning to continue detecting under the nose of a variety of meddling adults.

The Usual Suspects:

There’s a real collection of weirdos colourful characters on the train, including an elderly and angry Russian Countess, a writer of appalling crime novels, a spiritual medium, a world famous magician, a purveyor of diet pills, a wealthy heiress and a familiar face in unfamiliar clothing.  All of them have a motive for murdering the poor unfortunate victim and all seem to have skills that could lend themselves to a classic, locked room mystery!

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The detecting aspect of the case has an added element of fun in this book because the girls have been expressly forbidden to engage in any detection by not one, but two, authoritative figures after the murder takes place.  This means that a lot of listening at doors and hiding under tables is required in order to get the juicy clues.  The prospect of competition is raised too, as the bumbling Doctor Sandwich and his much cleverer sidekick Alexander, are officially “on the case”.  There are some red herrings left lying about in plain sight as well as a few hints that clever clogs should pick up on fairly early on, but the entire puzzle should remain a mystery until the reveal.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheering prospect of being murdered in first class luxury

First Class Murder felt like the most fun of the three books I have read of this series.  There’s the light-hearted feeling of adventure from going on an unexpected holiday, the vaguely amusing collection of characters on the train and the lengths to which Daisy and Hazel must go to ferret out the murderer/s.  I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Alexander and the mention of the Junior Pinkertons, as I think the girls can handle a little competition and this sets things up nicely for later books in the series.  It was also a wonderful twist that the book doesn’t just become a retelling of Murder on the Orient Express, because it means that the reveal isn’t a given for anyone who has read that other classic story first.  Overall, this was an excellent, slightly quirky addition to the series and I can’t wait to back up with book four, Jolly Foul Play.

I’m submitting this book under category seven of The Title Fight Reading Challenge: a book with a word or phrase implying victory in the title.  Only one more category to go to complete this challenge! To find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still plenty of time!) just click on this large attractive button:

Title Fight Button 2016

Now I told you there’d be a little extra on this post, so I will now mini-review The Case of the Blue Violet by Robin Stevens.  It’s a little ebook novella – book three-and-a-half in the series, if you will – featuring Daisy and Hazel back at school at Deepdean.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, President of the Detective Society, one of the greatest detectives ever known – and also a fourth former at Deepdean School for Girls.

Violet Darby – one of the Big Girls – recently asked me to solve a most puzzling romantic mystery. I knew I’d be able to crack the case, and I did, in just a day and a half. It was one of my greatest triumphs (Hazel Wong, my Vice-President and best friend, is telling me that this is boasting, but it is also the truth). Hazel didn’t believe I would have the patience to write the account of it, but of course, she was wrong. I did write it down, and it came out very well.

I now, therefore, present to you: the Case of the Blue Violet.

blue violet

This novella can be knocked over in under half an hour if you’re quick and is the perfect teaser for when you are in-between the novels.  There’s no murder in this one, but instead a mystery relating to the love interest of an older girl at Deepdean.  I won’t say much about the plot because, this being such a short story, I would give too much away, but the puzzle is just as satisfying to solve as the more complex ones found in the novels.  Keen-eyed readers may have an inkling as to which way the wind is blowing here, but the brevity of the story means it’s loaded with fun and the pace is quick.  I’d definitely recommend this as a perfect pick for when you need a brain-break, or as a great taster for the series as a whole.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Pause: A YA, GSQ Review…

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I’d like to extend a warm welcome to you and your psyche and I’m happy that you’re here today to join me and my psyche as we take a look at a book that is both timely and illuminating for the YA market. I speak of The Pause by John Larkin, an Australian story that hits upon the simultaneously expansive and reductive nature of time and thought in a hugely relevant way for young people who may be finding the everyday goings-on of life too much to bear. I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

From Goodreads:

Declan seems to have it all: a family that loves him, friends he’s known for years, a beautiful girlfriend he would go to the ends of the earth for. But there’s something in Declan’s past that just won’t go away, that pokes and scratches at his thoughts when he’s at his most vulnerable. Declan feels as if nothing will take away that pain that he has buried deep inside for so long. So he makes the only decision he thinks he has left: the decision to end it all. Or does he? As the train approaches and Declan teeters at the edge of the platform, two versions of his life are revealed. In one, Declan watches as his body is destroyed and the lives of those who loved him unravel. In the other, Declan pauses before he jumps. And this makes all the difference. One moment. One pause. One whole new life.

the pause

The Good

imageThis book is based upon an incredibly simple, yet vitally important concept: that when it comes to mental illness and decisions made when not in one’s right mind, a moment can make all the difference. Undeniably, this is something that young people, with their still-developing brains and lack of life experience, can find difficult to grasp and it is the key to overcoming the feelings of desperation that can lead to an individual making a tragic and irreversible decision. Larkin has done a great service here in addressing that important technique for staving off poor decision-making when under the influence of depression or anxiety – just wait a moment. Okay? Now wait for five minutes. Great. Now another five.   If we can extend those pauses out just enough, chances are the emotions will change, the pressure will pass and there is now a window of opportunity for help to be sought and given.

Apart from the general premise on which the book is based, Larkin has done a fantastic job of creating a main character that is, in a sense, an everyman, albeit a reasonably well-off and entitled everyman. Declan is a pretty ordinary teenager who is driven to what he does after the loss of what – in the moment – he believes is his true love. To an adult reader this might seem a bit over the top, but I think Larkin has pitched this just right for reaching a younger audience, for whom events such as this really do seem like the end of the world.

The Sad

imageI did find the tone of the writing to be a little didactic at times. After introducing the pivotal decision that Declan makes early in the narrative, the story splits into a hypothetical timeline in which Declan’s story is played out, with some interjections from the Declan who didn’t Pause (essentially, Declan the dead). These interjections are good reminders to the reader, but are of the “Isn’t Declan’s life going well? Oh wait, it’s not, he’s really dead” variety which seemed a little too crudely executed for my tastes.

While I did generally think Declan was a likeable and relatable character there were a few events in the book that made me dislike him, and thus reduced my sympathy for him considerably. Firstly, his mum is a bit of a self-righteous pill who spends pretty much the whole book being rude and dismissive to her husband, while encouraging her son to do the same. Then about halfway through the book , there is a scene in which Declan complains about the overseas holidays that his father makes them go on. It was at this point that I actually said out loud (to a few odd sideways glances) “Oh you don’t like going on a free annual overseas holiday? Allow me to call you a waaaambulance! Would you like some cheese with that (white) whine?”

Needless to say, it did shift my perspective on Declan away from “suffering teen who needs care and assistance” and toward “entitled North Shore wanker who needs a good kick up the arse”.

The Quirky

imageThere are two things that this book does that sets it apart from other books about teens getting over mental health issues. Firstly, it projects Declan’s hypothetical timestream way into the future. The imagined storyline doesn’t just end with Declan getting over the issues that caused his breakdown and (possible) suicide, but pushes things out even further to hypothetical-Declan in his 20s. I found this really original as it gives a sense of how issues from around the time of his mental breakdown affect his life as an adult.

The other unusual thing that this book does, compared with others of its ilk, is address the issues that the adults in Declan’s life are having that contribute in part to Declan’s breakdown and the way in which he recovers. This allowed for growth from a lot of the characters in the book, rather than just the main character, which is often the case with YA books generally.

All in all, I felt that this is an important read for those in the target age bracket. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and found some of the events a bit contrived, I did appreciate the originality of the format and concept and I think Larkin has produced a very readable narrative that is going to be a hugely helpful contribution as a conversation starter about mental health and suicide for young people and those who work with them.

If you are a teen or new adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your friends. If you are an adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your young people.

Until next time,

Bruce