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The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith - first book in a new crime series written by J K Rowling under a pseudonym, and it's not a bad start at all. Down on his luck (and everything else) private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired by John Bristow to investigate the death of Bristow's sister, model Lula Landry, which has been ruled a suicide, but Bristow is convinced otherwise, and Strike has to wade through the model's chequered background, high profile friends and unreliable witnesses to find out the truth. He also has to try to sort out his own private life and personal trauma (an ex-serviceman, he's still recovering from injuries sustained in Afghanistan), and is helped by Robin, his sympathetic temporary secretary.
The story bowls along, although it's very wordy (and sweary ), but well-plotted, even if some of the characters aren't totally convincing. Strike, although a bit of a clichéd PI (ex-girlfriend, debts etc) is a likeable character, and he and Robin, after a shaky start, gradually work together to become a good team. A promising debut into adult fiction for Rowling. 7.5/10
Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman - first official novel in the Merrily Watkins series about a young woman vicar who is offered the post of Deliverance Minister in the Shropshire area. She finds herself thwarted at every turn - by the elderly, outgoing bishop who seems to not want women at all, the new, trendy incoming bishop who seems a bit too friendly, her mentor Huw, and even her own daughter who is, like most teenagers, in a state of rebellion and meeting unsuitable friends. This isn't really a murder mystery, although there are a couple of suspicious deaths, in fact it's difficult to categorise as it touches on witchcraft - a small church is desecrated, and Merrily is convinced that there is evil within the Cathedral itself - and there are also many New Age and Pagan references too as Merrily struggles to hold onto her own beliefs whilst trying to help others. There is some quirky humour, and parts of the book are genuinely chilling - it's also been filmed for TV so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. But Merrily is a compelling character and it's very atmospheric, and certainly different to the usual crime/mystery series around. 7.5/10
A Question of Identity by Susan Hill - 7th in the Simon Serrailler crime series and a vast improvement on the previous instalment. Things have moved on from that and Simon finally has a personal life, of a sort, whilst his sister is having problems with her teenage children, funding for the local hospice and is also trying to find out what is going on between her father ( a cold fish if ever there was one) and her stepmother. Then someone starts murdering elderly women, and Simon finds himself in charge of yet another major crime unit. This was quite a gripping read, and even though as usual I guessed the killer's ID pretty much straightaway, it was still a page-turner. 8/10
Amy Snow by Tracy Rees - In this Victorian melodrama, on a cold snowy day, wealthy heiress Aurelia Vennaway finds an abandoned baby girl near her home, and insists that the infant is given refuge in the house. Her parents reluctantly, eventually agree, and Amy is raised by the staff, until she is old enough to work in the house herself. But Aurelia remains fascinated by her find and, much to her parents' horror, becomes friends with Amy - possibly because both are only children, and also because both are, in a way, prisoners of their backgrounds - Amy, impoverished, probably illegitimate and with a completely unknown history, whereas Aurelia, despite her wealth and privilege, is trapped by her parents' expectation of making a good marriage, and therefore providing an heir, along with all the usual social constraints of the time. Then Aurelia becomes ill, and takes a last chance at the freedom she might never otherwise have had, and when she dies (not a spoiler as you know this early on) her friendship with Amy is by no means over, for although Amy is sent packing from the only home she has ever known, Aurelia makes sure that her life is only just beginning, as she has a few little tasks for Amy to accomplish, as she sends her on a treasure hunt around England. I thought this was an enjoyable story, although the secret isn't hard to guess, and the social mores and constraints were described very well, and although some characters were a bit two-dimensional, others, such as Amy, Aurelia herself and the indefatigable Mrs Riventhorpe (a role for Maggie Smith if ever there was one) were very appealing and vivid. However I thought it could have done with a bit of editing, as it dragged a bit in the middle, but quite promising for as first novel. 7/10