2009 Mystery Recommended books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time (after A Fine Balance), and so I was so excited about the release of Sarah Water’s new book that I ordered a copy from America, just so I could read it a few weeks before it’s UK release.

The Little Stranger is a Gothic, ghost story set in rural Warwickshire just after WWII. The central character is Dr. Faraday, who one day is called to  a crumbling mansion to treat a maid who is so scared by things she has seen in the house that she wants to leave. Dr. Faraday is intrigued, by both the house and the Ayres family who live there, that he makes an effort to return to Hundreds Hall as often as he can. Increasingly strange events occur in the house, frightening and mystifying everyone who witnesses them.

The Little Stranger is very different to Fingersmith in both the style of writing, and plot development. The plot was linear, very easy to follow and structured like a fast-paced  thriller. The quality of  Sarah Water’s writing is still high, but I think that this book will be much more accessible to the general public, and slightly disappointing to her old fans. The Little Stranger has much more in common with books like The Thirteenth Tale or The Seance, both of which I really enjoyed reading too, but don’t require as much thought as Water’s earlier books.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, as although it wasn’t predictable, it didn’t have any of the clever plot twists that she is famous for. I shouldn’t really complain though, as the book had me captivated throughout . All the characters were well developed, and the storyline was reasonably plausible. It was a gripping, spooky tale – perfect for a cold, dark Autumn night.



1940s Crime Mystery

The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin

The Moving Toyshop is a Penguin classic crime book, originally published in 1946. It is a light, supposedly comic, mystery set in Oxford. The story begins with a poet returning to Oxford late one night. He finds the body of an old woman in a toyshop, but the next morning the toyshop, and the body have vanished. The police are not interested in a crime, which to them doesn’t seem to exist, so the poet persuades his friend, an English professor, to help him investigate.

I found the references to Oxford fascinating, as I was born there, and have visited it fairly frequently. The geography of the city hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years, but the attitude of the residents is very different – people seemed to trust each other a lot more then! The language is very quaint, and it is lovely to read a book so full of Englishness! There was a brief mention of the male nudity on the banks of the Thames, which I was vaguely aware of, but I found a fascinating article about the history of this section of the river here.

My main problem with the book was that it was a bit too whimsical for me. I don’t find this gentle humour very funny, so I think the main attraction of this sort of book is lost on me. There were lots of other little things which irritated me, but what annoyed me most was the way everyone readily admitted their role in the crime. The “I’m going to kill you, but first let me tell you everything I’ve done” scene was the worst offender!

Overall, I found this be be a light, reasonably entertaining mystery, and would recommend it to anyone who loves Oxford.

2000 - 2007 Mystery

A Conspiracy of Violence – Susanna Gregory

It has been a while since I’ve had to use my brain to try and work out a murder mystery, so I picked up this book as I hoped it would fulfil my detective ambitions, with a bit of period detail added to make things more atmospheric.


In the beginning I struggled with the number of characters. Most of the characters are based on fact, so if you had a greater knowledge of this period in history then this probably wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, I only know the basics, so all the Lords and Government officers quickly got too confusing for me.  


There were a few interesting scenes, but I got bored by the political discussions and nearly gave up 70 pages in. I wish I had! I soldiered on for another 100 pages, but it didn’t get any better. In the end I got distracted by another book, so decided not to finish it. It’s probably a great book, if you’re into the politics of Restoration England, but I’m just after a good story.