Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A year of mystery, murder, and stories fit for television

January has arrived, and a new year begun. 2018, the year of freedom, we've decided, as my Masters is finished and the Knowledge complete. I've decided not to make any New Year's resolutions as such this year, as I really don't know what the year might hold. But in retrospect, I'm pleased to say that amidst the madness of a dissertation year, I did generally manage to uphold last year's resolution of making more time for myself.

And in the spirit of such a resolution, I read a fair few books. Upon scrolling through my Instagram the other day as 2017 came to a close, I realised that I have definitely found my passion when it comes to reading; mystery, murder, and more often than not, the combination of the two. I've really enjoyed most of the books that I've read this year, and if I haven't enjoyed them, I haven't read them. Literature Review aside, these are my 2017 reads:

The year was topped-and-tailed by my new favourite thing; cats solving murder mysteries! I mean, what's not to love? The Death of Downton Tabby was my introduction to Mandy Morton's Number 2 Feline Detective Agency, and it was the purrfect (excuse me) mix of fun, furry, gripping, and ever so slightly dark in places. Brilliant images were conjured in my mind of cats drinking beers, riding motorcycles, and enjoying fish and chips in a festival tent, to name a few. I'm currently reading another of Hettie and Tilly's adventures, The Ghost of Christmas Paws, which I'm also thoroughly enjoying, six chapters in.

From something a little light-hearted to something less so, I moved on to Morse. Addicted to Endeavour on ITV, I've always wanted to read one of Colin Dexter's novels, so I started at the start with Last Bus to Woodstock. Writing about this now, it feels so long ago that I actually read it, but I do know that I'd want to go to bed just to get into another chapter, which I always see as a good sign!

Murder has a Motive by Francis Duncan was first published in 1947. It was an easy-going read, and perhaps felt a little tame after Morse, but it had its share of tense moments and certainly was full of character and charm in the form of Mordecai Tremaine, the amateur sleuth, and its quaint setting of the village of Dalmering.

2016 was generally a year of disappointing books, as I'm ashamed to say that I judged far too many by their covers. One book that I did thoroughly enjoy, however, was my first Agatha Christie, Murder is Easy. I've always shied away from Agatha Christie, fearing that I've seen so many televised hat I'd recognise and remember the murderer all too easily. Pleased that this wasn't the case with her first book, again, I went back to the start, and chose The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hercule Poirot's debut case. Admittedly, as time went on, the story was all too familiar, but I couldn't remember precise details, and liked having clues to follow, even if I did keep getting thrown off the scent.

At Easter I journeyed home, and upon my arrival was greeted by a pile of new books on my bedside table. In the murderous groove at this point, I went for Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody. While the characters (monkey included) in this story were both relatable and likeable, I seem to remember that it all felt rather drawn out, and not quite action-packed enough for me. Nevertheless, I didn't put it down because it still quenched a little of my penchant for mystery.

I requested another Agatha Christie for my birthday. I admit, this time I was swayed by a pretty front cover, and specifically asked for the Crime Club edition of Sparkling Cyanide. Shorter than the others, this one had less action, but I liked the way it gave small glimpses into the lives of each character, bringing the reader closer to them, messing with emotions, as you began to hope that certain people weren't the murderer!

Summer came and I finally took a break from deceit and betrayal, in the form of My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell. I absolutely adore The Durrells and have wanted to read the book ever since the series began, so I was pleased to find The Corfu Trilogy for my summer reading pleasure. As I look back to the last time I reviewed some books, I praised Penguin's Little Black Classics for their optimum handbag size. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this one, so despite its content, it possibly wasn't the best choice for going away. My goodness, though, was it good for escapism. The way Gerald Durrell writes is mesmerisingly (apparently not a word) beautiful, and definitely had me wanting to visit Corfu in the 1930s. Turns out it's a lot more expensive now, and I suppose wouldn't be quite as idyllic, so I went to Ibiza instead.

As I write this, I realise that my reading habits in fact took two turns; the second was clearly, books which have been adapted for TV series. Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale was terrifyingly brilliant, and had me wanting to re-read the book. So I did. As we'd watched, I'd been frustrated that I couldn't remember to what extent events onscreen over-lapped with events in the book, so it was interesting to go back and re-visit. Having had limited success in trying to read The Blind Assassin, I was concerned that I wouldn't get back into Margaret Atwood's writing, but I was hooked, once again.

Perfectly timed once again, I finished The Handmaid's Tale on the train to Norwich, where I happened to be visiting one of my book-wormish friends (a compliment, I assure you). Rifling through her shelves, she found me City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, aka writing duo Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch which I can only describe by saying that it's unlike anything I've ever read before (there was still some murder to keep me happy though). Still fairly hefty, I was so hooked that it came with me on my holiday to Ibiza, and I barely put it down the whole time. Apparently there is a second instalment, which I hope to track down in 2018.

Another from the pile on my bedside at home, The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain had an air of Amélie about it, which I loved. Yet another setting which had me wanting to visit, the story was set in Paris, and, while no one was murdered (as such), had plenty of mystery to keep me captivated. 

Aside from Magnus Flyte's The City of Lost Dreams, and an unexpected Christmas present in the form of Krysten Ritter's Bonfire, there's currently nothing on my 'must read' list for 2018, so please, recommendations welcome!