Category Archives: crime

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Cuckoos Calling, Galbraith, book review Everyone knows that Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym used by J.K. Rowling in her recent venture into crime fiction.

I picked up her latest book, The Cuckoo’s Calling in my local library with some trepidation. Would I like it? Continue reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

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Double Indemnity, by James M Cain

Double Indemnity, James M Cain, book review by Ruth LivingstoneDouble Indemnity is a crime-fiction novel and often cited as a classic of the genre. First published in 1936, the book remains very popular. Why?

Written in the first person, this is a crime novel told through the point of view of the murderer. The language is simple and conversational, using the idioms and figures of speech consistent with the narrator’s background, era and nationality – he is a Californian insurance salesman. While I’m sure this was perfectly in keeping with the time, the language seems quaintly old-fashioned in the 21st Century. (I guess this is an important lesson in how quickly our contemporary fiction can become dated.) Continue reading Double Indemnity, by James M Cain

Postmortem, by Patricia Cornwell

Postmortem, by Patricia Cornwell, book review by Ruth LivingstoneI had forgotten how good Patricia Cornwell is. This is her first Kay Scarpetta novel and one that I read a long time ago. As part of my Birkbeck University course, I recently had to revisit it.

This is crime fiction at its best. Kay Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia, and works with the police to uncover the identity of the serial murderer who is terrorising the city. There is no equivalent role in the UK, but Scarpetta’s responsibilities appear to be a combination of postmortem pathologist and police surgeon. Continue reading Postmortem, by Patricia Cornwell

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This is a who-dunnit, with the main protagonist being an investigative reporter who takes up a commission to write an old man’s biography. But his real mission is to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.

The journalist’s task is complicated by the fact the events took place many years previously and there is considerable antagonism displayed by other family members to the supposed biography. In addition, the journalist faces an impending spell in prison and is embroiled in a messy love life.

This is the first book of a trilogy and I confess I haven’t read the other two in the series yet.

What I liked about this book: I liked the density of the story. There was a real sense of place and the characters were well rounded. Tension and uncertainty were maintained throughout the book and the resolution of the mystery was credible but unexpected. The plot was complex. There was no artificial happy ending.

What I didn’t like: The book began slowly and I was put off by the extended family and the parade of different characters with their foreign names, making it hard to follow who was who – despite the helpfully provided family tree.

In fact, the main problem I had with the beginning of the story was my uncertainty about who to identify with. Initially, it seemed unclear who the main character was, until the author appeared to settle on the journalist. It was brought home to me how important this element is to a reader. Near the beginning of any book, we expect to know who the story is about. Who do we focus our attention on?

There is a part of the book, near the end, where a particularly horrendous series of crimes is uncovered. This is never satisfactorily dealt with (maybe it is revisited in subsequent book in the series) and almost pushed aside as being too complex to address. I felt the late revelation of this aspect of the story, and the almost dismissive trivialisation of the crimes, was unsatisfactory and undermined some of the realism of the rest of the book.

But this is a great book and well worth reading. It demands some attention. I plan to read the next two books in the trilogy, but I am waiting for some dedicated reading time to appear in my schedule.