Rebecca – a review


I was unsure whether I could count Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as my fifth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019, but at least it is the February/March book for  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club group so I can tick that off.

Then, I read the word ‘mystery’ in a description of the book.

Rebecca

by

Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave. 

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

Review 5 stars

This was a classic that I thought I had read, but I hadn’t. Now I’m glad I did as it’s memorable and worthy of multiple reads.

Although the novel is described as gothic – and by some as a romance – for me it was also a mystery. Its style by today’s standards might be called dated and yet it was ahead of its time – as was the author.

Much of the narration is as chunks of description mixed with reflection and conjecture by the un-named protagonist living in the shadow of Rebecca. In comparison with the title character, this new Mrs de Winter seems naïve, powerless and at the mercy of others. At first, it would be easy to dismiss her – even the novel – without giving either a chance…without understanding the heroine or the shy author.

I grew up in a world not dissimilar to Manderley, albeit one that had lost its glitter but not its attitudes. I felt myself intimidated by scary and overbearing people – especially when I did something wrong. Society and doing the right thing frightened me.

Especially when such amazing people as Rebecca were being fawned over.

Rebecca may be the deceased wife of Maxim de Winter, but she pervades the story, the house and the grounds. She’s on everyone’s lips. It’s a clever device making her so dominant, giving the novel her name, and naming her, not the protagonist. And it works. The reader is fooled along with the new Mrs de Winter into believing the myth – until the doubts appear.

Mrs Danvers, doth protest too much, methinks. She is the archetypal retainer that creates fear and doubts. Rebecca haunts Manderley in one way, Mrs Danvers in another – a brilliant creation, reminiscent of other classic scary presences. A living vampire?

All the characters are distinctive. All reminded me of people I had met – even worked with. The mannerisms felt familiar, whether Beatrice, the loquacious sister, or Frank Cawley, the faithful agent for Manderley. Even Maxim de Winter was real with all his faults and guilt buried.  

If I had to befriend just one, it would be Jasper. The dog? Yes, the faithful exuberant spaniel.

One other character enfolds the novel – Manderley. The house becomes character, atmosphere and setting. At first magnificent and untouchable with buried secrets. Manderley fills the narrator’s thoughts, not just the house but the gardens and the sea coves. As the protagonist’s thoughts change so do the descriptions of setting, of home, of the weather, of the vegetation. Or is it vice versa? The weather changes and then her thoughts?

But they are all one, interacting as the plot unfolds – setting and thought and events. The past even before Rebecca. Even before Manderley. The sea and the fog.

Cliffhanging language that I need to immerse myself in again.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Worse than Dead – a review

My fourth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019 was a return to familiar territory with Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, set like my current ‘work in progress’ in North Wales. I have already reviewed Brass in Pocket, the first book in the series.

On then to my review of Book 2.

Worse than Dead

(Inspector Drake #2)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

A ferry leaves Dublin…The chief engineer lies dead on the car deck …There’s a killer on board…
Inspector Drake is called from a seminar on cyber crime to meet the ferry docking at the port of Holyhead. Frank Rosen the chief engineer lies on the car deck a knife through his heart. For the first time Drake knows where the killer is but he doesn’t know who. 
When Rosen’s house is ransacked the night after he’s killed Drake knows the killer was looking for something. The data stick Rosen’s wife finds may hold the clues. But the codes and numbers on it only complicate the investigation.
And then Drake’s cousin makes contact and tells him he has information. But can Drake rely on him or does he have another agenda? And when the team discover a direct link to drug dealing in North Wales and beyond there are powerful forces at work. 
Drake’s cousin drags Drake’s family into the middle of the case that piles the pressure on Drake who’s facing regular counselling for his OCD and the prospect of losing his father to cancer.
When Drake’s superior demotes him and acts entirely against protocols Drake knows that something is wrong. Establishing the evidence takes him to Dublin and Cardiff and then on a last minute chase over North Wales to the ancient Fort Belan hoping that he will catch the killer.

Review 4.3 stars

I was hoping that this second Book in Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series would transport me back to North Wales. I was not disappointed.

This was the country I remembered from living there a few years – without the criminal element. That darker side was the world of the first book, providing Detective Inspector Ian Drake with another baffling case.

When Frank Rosen, a ferry’s Chief Engineer is found murdered on the car deck, Drake knows that the killer must still be onboard. But the investigation is complicated when his team is forced to let everyone disembark before a suspect can be identified. A link to drug dealing complicates matters further, especially when different police departments must be involved.

Puleston uses his background as a retired criminal lawyer to lend authenticity and detail to the working of the police and the criminals. Both sides play devious games – fortunately, Drake is not easily fooled in the end.

But he continues to struggle with his OCD as he did in the first book. This idiosyncrasy and his addiction to Sudoku make him a memorable protagonist, although I don’t warm to him. The rest of his team – Caren Waits, Dave Howick and Gareth Winder – have their own traits that we see through Drake’s OCD eyes primarily. I wondered if this was an unusual team or maybe not.

Drake’s Detective Sergeant, Caren had more scenes in her POV than in Book 1, and these helped me get to know her better. POV scenes for Howick and Winder added their perspective but to a lesser extent. Even though Puleston called Caren by her first name throughout, and all the male officers by their surname – which felt strange – I still couldn’t relate to even her.

Conflict weaves its way in the story but comes with the territory even for police with their own rivalries. The domestic tensions are there for Drake and others, echoing real-life experiences of police families as well as the impact of crime on lives.

There are again too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. This is a failing in many books so perhaps forgivable in the final analysis when the plot comes together. A few surprises were in store and most complexities were resolved. But one scene from a different POV confused me – or is to be resolved in the next case.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #3 as this novel whet my appetite for more from North Wales. The place and people of this beautiful country infused the writing, from scenery to language.

Story – four stars

Characters – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

Ninth Step Station – a review

My third ‘cloak and dagger’ read of 2019 was a new approach for me – serialized fiction released in episodes week after week. The publishers, Serial Box offered me an ARC as I had read and reviewed a novel by one of the four writers, back in September 2017: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. I am grateful and glad I agreed to read the ARC for Season 1 of Ninth Step Station.

Ninth Step Station: The Complete Season 1

(Ninth Step Station Series #1.1-1.10)

by

Malka Ann Older (Goodreads Author), Fran Wilde (Goodreads Author), Jacqueline Koyanagi (Goodreads Author), Curtis C. Chen (Goodreads Author)

A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. 

In the city of drone-enforced borders, body-mod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda.

Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

Review 4.4 stars

I was pleased to receive this serialised fiction as an ARC from Serial Box Publishing as it was an exciting read.

This police procedural set in a near future Tokyo consists of ten engrossing episodes written by different authors, including at least one, Jacqueline Koyanagi whose debut novel I’ve read and reviewed.

The style is reminiscent of US crime series, but with its own interesting approach as the sense of an imminent future pervades but doesn’t take over the plots. This could be ‘tomorrow’ with China occupying part of Japan and a sector of Tokyo, and with the US playing what is meant to be peacekeeper. Ninth Step Station has some fascinating characters, interesting plots, futuristic tech and very real political intrigue.

US peacekeeper Emma Higashi (Japanese-American) is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda at Nine Step Station, one of the key TMP stations. The cases they are tasked with solving are standalone, but there are overarching events that carry through the novel/series with the usual TV-style cliff-hanger to lead into Series 2.

The crimes in the ten episodes vary from suspected suicide and domestic violence to assassination and terrorism with differing levels of technological involvement such as body-mods, drones, data mining, and data sleeves – all realistic evolutions of existing tech. The data sleeves especially play a key role in enabling people to instantly communicate and interface – although this is also a city troubled by regular power-cuts/blackouts. However, the war and the gangs/Yakuza make solving crimes challenging with some data irretrievable and some information obscured by human evasiveness.

Each of the writers gives an individual feel to each episode, yet together they create a seamless story with consistent and evolving characters, a realistic-feeling Tokyo post-occupation and those building overarching events. The TV-style structure means the episodes are formula to some degree, but they are enjoyable – although not as complex as some mysteries I read.

Both the two main characters and the supporting players are distinctly portrayed, and there are developing attributes and discoveries as the episodes unfold. The misunderstanding and conflicts arising between the two protagonists due to cultural differences, personal secrets and political agendas create a more complex relationship than an instant crime-fighting partnership and that relationship has room to grow. I was also pleased to see that the issues of gender bias and sexuality were addressed – although not as suspected.

Not knowing Tokyo, I assume that the world-building does build on the present city, although I realise that the format only allows the setting to receive less attention than the stand-out characters who are what will pull me back here.

I look forward to the sequel as there is plenty to build on in Ninth Step Station.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – a review

As intended, my reading in 2019 is leaning towards mysteries and crime – although there will be a few other genres to break the pattern a little. This mystery read is one of the stranger entries, but still highly enjoyable.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

by

Stuart Turton (Goodreads Author)

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. 

There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit. 

We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer. 

Understood? Then let’s begin…


Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

            Review 4.7 stars

This was a ‘must buy’ from the blurb and from reviewers I follow – and I was not disappointed to bump this ahead of other books.

Lost in a forest and unsure who he is, not recognising his body or exactly what’s going on, is where the protagonist and the reader find themselves. An opening that enticed me in as I discovered where ‘I’ was and why – well, not exactly. At first, we meet the first host body for the first-person protagonist that needs to identify the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle to break a cycle that he has become trapped in.

This is Groundhog Day meets Cluedo with Agatha Christie pulling the strings of a cast that echoes the Golden Age of Mystery. Except this world feels darker with death not limited to one-time only. Although the mystery elements are classic and the basic plot may seem easily solved by some readers, it is not the mystery that makes this novel, but the intricacies caused by a repeating day with the hosts and other players evolving with the unravelling of the secrets.  

This is the mysterious world that is Blackheath, a crumbling country house with characters hiding as many secrets as the plot. Everyone seems to be guilty of something or hiding their past. The faded grandeur was evocatively described in a language smeared with decay and dread. A mystery convention twisted by the theme. This was a house of layers that Aiden had to uncover with his host bodies.

Host bodies that added their own idiosyncrasies to the investigation. He must work with their limitations such as ageing bodies or their own agendas. This is no simple body-hopping as he must pull their minds to his task – or in some cases use their own intelligence. And as he hops there are dangers from shadowy antagonists to losing his mind to his host’s.

Each character is distinct especially the hosts, whom the reader gets to experience from their perspective and Aiden’s – in a clever way…without spoiling the gameplay. Full marks to the author for painting such amazing portraits and evolving their behaviour as the day repeats. Some seem to be tortured by their own actions – their consciences perhaps.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers so I’m sounding as devious as the author. There are clever twists to catch out everyone – even readers, even if some are ahead of the game. But I was surprised although I had my suspects. With a sprinkling of clues – and red herrings – to mystify hosts and readers, I enjoyed the ingenious plotting that must have taken a wall of sticky notes. The author’s notes clarify the process and added to my admiration.

My only minor quibbles were ‘shooting’ described as ‘hunting’ – I come from a shooting-hunting country house background – and a few unnecessary dialogue tags where the speaker was obvious.

The ending was unexpectedly artful with even ‘the puppet master’ stunned. After reading this novel, I’d recommend this to mystery readers looking for something different from the norm and open to other genre elements sneaking in. Or are you afraid of getting trapped re-reading this tome?

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – five stars

2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge


Yesterday, I posted my 2018 books and hinted at another Challenge as well as the Goodreads Reading Challenge. While the Goodreads target includes all genres, this other one is restricted to the genres that my writing falls into. My current WIP is a police procedural but the Cloak and Dagger Challenge encompasses other related genres.

If you want to learn more, visit the sign-up site at: https://www.booksmoviesreviewsohmy.com/2018-cloak-and-dagger-challenge-sign-up/

However, here are the rules copied from the site:

Challenge Rules:

  • You can read any book that is from the mystery/suspense/thriller/crime genres. Any sub-genres are welcome as long as they incorporate one of these genres.
  • You don’t need a blog to participate but you do need a place to post your reviews to link up. (blog, goodreads, booklikes, shelfari, etc.)
  • Make a goal post and link it back here with your goal for this challenge.
  • Books need to be novellas or novels, please no short stories. (At least 100 pages +)
  • Crossovers into other challenges are fine.
  • The Challenge will be from Jan. 1st to Dec. 31st. (Sign up ends March 15th)

This year we are doing the link up a little different. Both Barb and I keep forgetting to do the link ups each month so I thought it would be easier on us if we did Quarterly link ups, so there will be four review link-ups. (Jan-March, April-June, July-Sept and Oct-Dec)

There will be a monthly link up so that others can check out your progress and look at your reviews. At the halfway mark and at the end we will have a giveaway for those participating.

If you tweet about your progress or reviews please use the hashtag #CloakDaggerChal so others can see it.

Levels:

5-15 books – Amateur sleuth

16-25 books – Detective 

26-35 books – Inspector

36 – 55 – Special agent

56+ books – Sherlock Holmes

My 2019 Cloak and Dagger Books

Looking back at my diverse 2018 reads according to Goodreads, I managed to read 11 ‘Cloak and Dagger Books last year – that made me an Amateur sleuth.

But I’m not aiming to read any Cozy Mysteries in 2019, so my aim is to reach the Detective level. Is that realistic?

This is my current list of ‘eligible’ books based on the paperbacks on my desk and on my US & UK Kindles. However, the ones on the UK Kindle, I am unable to access except on the Kindle Cloud reader – such as the rest of the brilliant Fiona Griffiths series. Plus, I am likely to see some tempting reviews that I have to act on as well – and I have some unbought ‘wants’ at Amazon.

  1. The Things You Didn’t See by Ruth Dugdall – read and reviewed: https://rolandclarke.com/2019/01/09/the-things-you-didnt-see-a-review%EF%BB%BF/
  2. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – I’m currently reading this unusual mystery that feels like Cluedo crossed with Groundhog Day with Agatha Christie pulling the strings.
  3. Murder Keeps No Calendar by Cathy Ace – a short story collection from Welsh Canadian author, Cathy Ace whom I first discovered when I picked up a paperback in a Welsh market.
  4. The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey by J. Michael Orenduff – 8th in the Pot Thief Mysteries series but can be read out of order. I won this in an author giveaway.
  5. The Fake Date by Lynda Stacey – a psychological thriller that received excellent reviews, especially from a reviewer I follow. Plus, the protagonist has amnesia like my detective.
  6. A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang – one of my January free Prime reads with an unusual premise.
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – the February/March selection for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club and an overdue read.
  8. Hunter’s Chase by Val Penny – a ‘well plotted’ crime novel reviewed by an author I rate.
  9. No Life Until Death by Garry Rodgers – Vancouver-based police procedural from a retired RCMP homicide detective whose informative blog I follow.
  10. The Silent Dead/Death in the Lakes by Graham Smith – first in police procedural series set in the Lake District, UK.
  11. The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin – the premise of a female comic book writer tackling crime and the sample hooked me.
  12. The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury – a historical mystery set in 12th century Wales so three reasons to tempt me.
  13. The Lady of the Lakewood Diner by Anne R. Allen – a comedy whodunnit with Woodstock era characters and more. And a writer that I follow and admire.
  14. The Inside Passage by Pendelton Wallace – first in the Ted Higuera suspense thriller series.
  15. Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett – set in an area of the UK, Kent, that I know well, plus this is the first book in the Kay Hunter series.
  16. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham – a must-read as I’m a fan of Welsh detective Fiona Griffiths; this is the fourth novel in the series.
  17. Montbel: A French Murder Mystery by Angela Wren – another visit to the Cevennes is due so I must read this Jacques Forêt Mystery, the third outing in enjoyable series. See my review of Book 1 at https://rolandclarke.com/2017/09/12/messandrierre-a-review/ .
  18. Shallow Waters by Rebecca Bradley – police procedural by a retired police detective set in Nottingham, UK. Second in the D.I. Hannah Robbins series.
  19. Marred by Sue Colettta – the first in a series by the respected crime writer that deals realistically with the attempt to bring a serial killer to justice.
  20. The Spy’s Bedside Book by Graham Greene (Editor), Hugh Greene (Editor), Stella Rimington (Introduction) – collection of short stories.
  21. A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay – it’s about time I read another novel by one of my favourite authors, and this one involves memory loss as well.

This feels like a daunting list, but it’s only mid-January so there’s no reason to panic, Jonesy. If you have any suggestions as to books I should add, comment away.

I might have a larger task with the fourteen additional books that I need to read for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Children’s books, and novellas?