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Trick of the dark by Val McDermid – a review

tricksml2I picked this book up at random during last year’s crime festival so that I had a book I could get signed. I chose it mainly because it wasn’t a Tony Hill novel and I think I’ve read most of those, plus it was based in Oxford and I’d spent a bit of the year working there so it was interesting to read about a place I’d visited.

I’m a big fan of Val McDermid books, and whilst I don’t think this was her best it was certainly a compelling read. The story focuses on Charlie Flint who was a psychiatrist but when a profile she did lead to a man being released and committing further crimes she is suspended. Bored and wanting to prove she is still good at her job she is sent a package which shows details of a murder at an Oxford wedding involving her old tutor. Charlie decides to visit Oxford and ends up being asked to investigate her old tutor’s daughter’s husband’s murder, which she blames her daughter’s new lover for. Charlie is happy to visit Oxford as despite being apparently happy with her partner Maria, she is thinking about having an affair with Lisa.

It all sounds very complicated and to be fair it does get a bit confusing keeping track of all the different women who seem to be interlinked but the story itself is, as to be expected, well written and draws you in to the murky world of Oxford Universities. I can’t say I particularly warmed to any of the characters. Charlie seemed incredibly selfish and self absorbed. The main suspect for the murder was Jay, who comes across as very cold and manipulating. One bit I did like was the way Jay’s background is explored as she writes another ‘misery’ memoir which is set against Charlie’s investigations into the same incidents, which I found an interesting trick.

I think it’s always difficult to read a book like this which is essentially a standalone novel, if you have enjoyed the writers main series. For fans of Tony Hill and the Kate Brannigan expecting more of the same then this may be a disappointment as its lacks the graphic punch that her previous novels have. However if it’s taken purely on a standalone merit then I think it is good. The perpetrator is relatively easy to guess (although I suspect that’s more to do with the amount of books I read which makes plot devices easier to spot rather than it being a problem with the story) and bits of the story seem a little far fetched, but then its fiction and that’s kind of the point!

If someone has never read a Val McDermid book then I wouldn’t say this is a good point to start, however if someone likes their mysteries to be more character lead than crime riddled, it’s worth a read.

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Christmas is Murder

Christmas is coming and I’m pleased to say that I have just completed all my Christmas shopping without even leaving the house! Absolutely the best and most worthwhile use of the internet in my opinion is the world of online shopping. No crowds, no rain and no carrying heavy bags on the bus. It is also the one time that being surrounded by the Hilda’s is actually useful as all deliveries go via them. Having recently been down to London and experienced the crowds at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, any chance to not have to fight through the shops is good with me! Winter Wonderland

Christmas is all about tradition and merriment apparently. The traditional drinking of alcohol from 11am, the traditional arguments over the turkey, the traditional lighting of the Christmas pudding, the traditional receiving of the Patricia Cornwell novel (that this year can’t be topped, as last year it was a gift to myself when I saw her in Harrogate so came complete with signature)

This year I have started a new tradition of my own. Thanks again to the wanders of the internet, I have bought a Christmas Tree. I’ve never had a real one before so am quite excited (although I’m sure I’ll soon get sick of needles in the carpet!) I would like to point out however to anyone who may be confused that it is a tree and not a shrub. In fact the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a tree is ‘woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk…bearing lateral branches’Christmas tree

So behold my Christmas Tree, and remember size isn’t important!

The other very good Christmas tradition is two weeks off work. This of course also gives me a reason to justify buying lots of books to read during the break. Having them delivered straight to the kindle even means I don’t have to interact with the Hildas! The latest book I’ve bought came from an exhibition I saw in London, Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men. The book is by Sarah Wise and called ‘The Italian Boy’. Apparently it reads like a ‘whodunnit’ but is a true story. The book tells the story of the notorious London Burkers who supplied corpses to medical schools in the 1800s which sounds fascinating.Best sign ever

My visit to the Museum of London also provided me with a chance to see what has to be the best christmas sign I’ve seen hung on the door of a Victorian Shop front. I wander if I can get one of these on the internet?

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The body farm

Last weekend was a total washout weather wise. Half of York was underwater, roads were flooded and the garden was a soggy mess. It was a good weekend to be a duck. It was also good weekend to stay indoors and read if you ask me. There is nothing better than a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining cats and dogs, to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a hot chocolate (Ok a glass of red but hot chocolate sounded better in that particular scenario!)

However this weekend the parents were visiting, so rather than stay indoors we braved the elements and took a trip over to Knaresborough and Harrogate. Both of these are lovely places. Knaresborough has a great walk down by the river, where you can stare at all the houses you can’t afford and look at all the amazing gardens. This is not so much fun however, in gale force winds, temperatures that penguins would moan about and sheeting rain.

This was also the weekend for the Harrogate Flower Show. Whilst a bit of mud never hurt anyone, I went on the Thursday and you needed your wellies. By Sunday I imagine even pigs would have been calling for their sties to be on stilts. Luckily I managed to dodge the worst of the showers and pretty much see everything the flower show had to offer.

One of my favourite bits was the outdoor gardens, this year the theme was ‘small spaces’ (I have to say their idea of small was a bit different to mine, they were definitely free range size, my garden is more a battery hen size) One of these ‘small’ gardens was called The Writers Pad, which was a decking area, some shelves with books on them, a seat with a bench for a laptop and a water feature. The idea being it was meant to provide inspiration for writers.

Putting aside the obvious practical issue of storing books outside in this country, whilst it was lovely and calming, it wasn’t really what I would call inspirational. I suppose it depends what type of books you want to write as to what you would want as inspiration. Beatrix Potter would have probably been quite at home in the Writers Pad, dreaming up stories for Froggy the frog.

As a crime reader personally I thought that the Farming Museum I went to on Saturday with my Dad would provide more inspiration. If they got rid of the lambs and baby rabbits, it could have been renamed Museum of killing instruments. Massive machines with big spikes and conveyer belts were everywhere. Allegedly most of them were for turnip related things, but it looked like a great place to dismember and dispose of bodies if you ask me. They even had a man trap hanging on the wall (to be used on poachers not just passing single men!)

It would be interesting to know what does inspire crime readers, do they all sit around with pictures of torture and weapons on their walls, or do they look out over calming waterfalls and flying geese (real flocks, not the Hilda Ogden version) Personally were I to write a book a nice wet day would be my best inspiration, at least I live in the right country for it.

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