This week’s books are linked by timing rather than theme. ‘Spoils Of The Dead’ and ‘The Ninth Metal’ have both just been published and ‘The Division Bell Mystery’ is this month’s ‘Appointment With Agatha’ group Golden Age Side Read
I’ll be visiting with an Alaska State Trooper as he settles in to a new small town by solving a murder, watching meteors hit a small town in Minnesota and change the world, and getting an insider view of Parliament as it was in the 1920s and wondering whether anything much has changed.
‘Spoils Of The Dead’ by Dana Stabenow (2021)
If Dana Stabenow writes it, I’ll try it. Her Kate Shugak series is one of my favourites set of books. I’ve read all twenty-two of them and I recommend them to anyone who’ll listen. The Liam Campbell books are set in Kate’s world. Liam and Kate have met and worked together. Yet Liam is not Kate with a Y chromosome. He’s white. He’s a Trooper and, when we first meet him in ‘Fire and Ice’ (1999) he’s a man with a tragedy in his recent past, who has been transferred in disgrace to the boonies in Alaska. I enjoyed the book but I couldn’t bring myself to like Liam. It took me a while to realise that this was because Dana Stabenow had written a character who didn’t like himself.
By the time we reached the fourth book, ‘Better To Rest’ (2002), I still didn’t like Liam much but he’d gotten his act together, he was involved in interesting things and, most importantly, I was engaged with the people around him who were all vividly drawn.
I didn’t hear from Liam again until Kate met him in the nineteenth Kate Shugak book ‘Restless In The Grave’(2012) when I enjoyed seeing Liam and the people around him through Kate’s eyes.
So now, after a nine year gap, Liam is back, But he’s not in the same place. He has a new posting and he and his wife are leaving the people and place that I knew behind them. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dana Stabenow will do with this and it gives me an excuse to spend six hours listening to Margeurite Gavin, one of my favourite narrators.
‘The Ninth Metal’ by Benjamin Percy (2021)
I’ve never read any of Benjamin Percy’s books or his graphic novels. So why did I pre-oder his most recent book? Well, Steven King recommended it on his Twitter feed. That’s not something that he does often so I took a look and decided to bite. The premise sounds like a good start for a new series. It has a small town setting for a global, world-changing event and there are a couple of murders to chew on from the start.
I’m hoping that I’ve found a new author and a new series that I’ll enjoy. If I have, my thanks will go to Steven King. If I haven’t, well you have to try new things to keep your reading fresh don’t you.
‘The Division Bell Mystery’ by Ellen Wilkinson (1932)
To my surprise, I’d never heard of Ellen Wilkinson. I thought I knew about the Labour Party in this period yet somehow I’ve missed out on one of the most prominent politicians of the day, someone who would have been recognised throughout the country after she led the Jarrow March.
She was known for her humour as well as her passionate defence of the poor and the dispossessed and I wonder if that’s part of what led her to write a murder mystery set in the Houses of Parliament after she lost her seat in 1931.
I’m hoping that I’ll get a witty insider’s view of Parliament as it was then and that I’ll also get a decent murder mystery along the way.
The signs are good. The book starts with a rich American (a billionaire by today’s standards) meeting with the Home Secretary for dinner in a private dining room in the House and then being shot while the Home Secretary is answering the Division Bell and casting his vote. I found myself imagining Elon Musk being shot while dining with Pritti Patel. I’d suspect Patel immediately but I’d be certain she’d get away with it if Cressida Dick was leading the investigation.