Friday, 27 April 2012

I Wish Upon An Infinite Book Well

Keep Calm and Read On

Death in August by Marco Vichi

I am pleased to discover another Italian author who based his novels in the city of Florence not unlike the Michele Ferrara series by Michele Giuttari which I enjoy reading immensely.

Death in August (2011) is the first Inspector Bordelli mystery set in Florence in the year 1963.  According to the blurb, Inspector Bordelli spends his days on routine work, and his nights tormented by the heat and mosquitoes.  Suddenly, one night, a telephone call gives him a new sense of purpose:  the suspected death of a wealthy Signora.  Bordelli rushes to her hilltop villa, and picks the locks.  The old woman is lying on her bed - apparently killed by an asthma attack, though her medicine has been left untouched.  Thus, the inspector begins a murder investigation.  It is obvious that the motive of the murder is money and that the obvious suspects are the wealthy lady's money-hungry nephews.  The police know they did it and the nephews know the police have no proof simply because their alibis are watertight.  At this point, how do the police uncover the mechanism of the murder?

If you enjoy Michele Giuttari's Inspector Michele Ferrara series, you will also enjoy this classic Tuscan police procedural with an inspector as delightful and down-to-earth as the city itself.

Death in August was originally published in Italian as Il Commissario Bordelli and translated into the English by Stephen Sartarelli.

About the author:  Marco Vichi was born in Florence in 1957.  The author of eleven novels and two collections of short stories, he has also edited crime anthologies, written screenplays, music lyrics and for radio, written for Italian newspapers and magazines, and collaborated on and directed various projects for humanitarian causes.

There are four novels - one of which won the Scerbanenco, Rieti, Camaiore and Azzeccagarbugli prices in Italy - and two short stories featuring Inspector Bordelli.  Marco Vichi lives in the Chianti region of Tuscany.

Find out more at

About the translator:  Stephen Sartarelli, born in Ohio, is a poet and an award-winning translator.  He is also the author of three books of poetry.  He has translated the Inspector Montalbano detective novels written by Andrea Camilleri and lives in France.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I'm looking at book cupcakes for the first time!

It is a marvel what you can find on the internet nowadays.  Anyone who loves both reading and munching on cupcakes will love the above and if you live in west London or Norwich, you can have them right in front of you and eat it too.  Do go over to Victoria's Kitchen for a visual feast:  there are bespoke cupcakes, cakes and cookies.  My mouth waters.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bodywork by Sara Paretsky

I have been reading Paretsky's long-standing V I Warshawski series on and off for a couple of years now.  The series is about a female private investigator who tackles social injustices like racial tensions (Hardball, 2009) or immigrant families (Fire Sale, 2005) set in the windy city of Chicago.

In Body Work (2010), the fourteenth in the series, Paretsky touched on the ills of money and how one's life can affect those in and/or far beyond our own circles, sometimes with disastrous consequences, although there is almost always a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.  A young painter was shot in a nightclub and the police assumed the shooter was a soldier who had flown into a rage at the nightclub.  The soldier's family hired V I Warshawski to find out what happened as they did not believe that their son could kill a woman and that is when a chain of ugly truths was laid bare.  There is a very good story in this novel and one can deduce a moral or two or three from it.  As usual, Paretsky never disappoints.

It can be read on its own but I would recommend that readers check out Paretsky's earlier V I Warshawski's novels as well.

Sara Paretsky talks about Body Work:

For more information on the author and her other books, visit

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Black Rose of Florence by Michele Giuttari

The Black Rose of Florence (published 2010, Italy) is Giuttari's fifth and latest instalment in the Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara series.  This time, Ferrara has to suss out Satan-worshipping murderers and get to grips with esoteric societies.  I hate to finish the book and sincerely hope there is going to be a new book out next year.  Highly recommended.

(From the hardback)  A strikingly beautiful young woman is found dead in her Florence apartment.  She lies on her bed, naked, a black rose between her legs.  And the murders do not stop there:  shortly afterwards, a woman is burned to death in a church, and a man is shot on the Ponte Vecchio.

Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara is all too familiar with the dark side of Florence.  But he has never seen anything of this magnitude before - he is up against a mysterious, powerful enemy who would do anything to hide his identity, and manages to control events at every turn.

As more violent deaths occur, Ferrara has to face the most dangerous investigation in his entire career and must confront deadly secrets from his own past...

About Michele Giuttari:  The author was born in 1950 in the province of Messina.  He was head of the Florence Police Force from 1995 to 2003, where he was responsible for reopening the notorious serial killer case, the Monster of Florence, and jailing several key Mafia figures.  He is now a special adviser to the interior minister in Rome, with a remit to monitor Mafia activity.  More on his website at

The Black Rose of Florentine was translated from the Italian into the English by Curtis Howard.

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Prison Diary: Volume III, Heaven by Jeffrey Archer

I have been to Hell, then Purgatory and now I find myself in Heaven.

The final volume of Lord Jeffrey Archer's prison diaries covers the period of his transfer from Wayland to his eventual release on parole in July 2003.  It includes a shocking account of the traumatic time he spent in the notorious Lincoln jail (23 days) and the events that led to his incarceration there - it also throws light on a system that is close to breaking point.

Told with humour, compassion and honesty, the final diary closes with a thought-provoking manifesto that should be applauded by the Establishment and prison population alike.

During his incarceration, Jeffrey Archer wrote three volumes of prison diaries:

Volume One - Belmarsh:  Hell
Volume Two - Wayland:  Purgatory
Volume Three - North Sea Camp:  Heaven

Not long after his release, Lord Archer wrote his first screenplay, Mallory:  Walking off the Map, ran the Flora London Marathon and worked on False Impression (2005).  Anyone interested in reading short prison stories based on Lord Archer's experiences in four different prisons during his incarceration can read Cat of Nine Tales (2005).

A Prison Diary:  Volume III, Heaven was first published in 2004 and covered the period of Lord Archer's incarceration from 15 October 2001 (Day 89) to 21 July 2003 (Day 729), when he was finally released and returned home.

Ironically, I find Volume Three the most fascinating and interesting account of Lord Archer's time in a D-category prison or what is known as an open prison, where there are no electric gates, no high walls nor razor wire.  A much recommended prison diary trilogy to get an insight into the bleak penal system in modern day Britain and of the drug culture in Britain.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Paradise by Liza Marklund

Catching up on Liza Marklund this rainy day in England.

A hurricane sweeps across southern Sweden leaving chaos in its wake.  Two men lie dead in Stockholm's Free Port, shot in the head at point-blank range.  A young woman runs for her life.

She finds refuge in Paradise, a foundation dedicated to people whose lives are in danger.

Newspaper sub-editor Annika Bengtzon is trying to piece her life together following the violent death of her fiance.  Covering the story of Paradise is the opening she needs to get her personal life and her career back on track.  But as she's about to find out, neither Paradise nor the young woman, Aida, are quite what they appear to be.  Annika's quest for the truth will force both her and Aida to confront their troubled pasts - and ultimately Annika will be faced with the most difficult decision of her life.  (paperback)

Paradise (2000) aka Vanished is the first book in the Annika Bengtzon series set in Sweden.  It was translated from the Swedish to the English by Ingrid Eng-Rundlow.  This is a highly recommended Scandinavian series which presents a depth of characterisation, intelligence and readability that puts it on the highest pedestal.

More information on the author's website:

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Easy Money by Jens Lapidus

After a brilliant run of perusing non-fiction books in the past weeks, I thought I would go back to reading crime thrillers starting with a new Swedish bestseller, a dark and brutal account of the Stockholm underworld, by Jens Lapidus, an author new to me.  

Easy Money (2006) is a crude read not so much due to its translation per se but mainly because I am unfamiliar with the criminal argot used by a certain population of people.  I wonder whether reading the book in its original language would help my comprehension, that is, if I can read Swedish?  Somehow I doubt it.  

A new genre in Swedish literature - Swedish noir thriller - and again new to me, it is packed with an overflow of testosterone and written in a clipped and minimalistic way.  The writing style can be described as cine-animated and graphic, much like how movies are made in this day and age.  It is fast-paced and unrelenting.  

I have somewhat enjoyed the book but am unsure whether I would go on to read the other two in the trilogy.  Basically, it is a gangster thriller where the troika of drugs, violence and sex is the basis for the plot.  Nevertheless, what I am most impressed with is that Lapidus writes from his experiences as a criminal defence lawyer and there is a brilliant gritty story in Easy Money if you can read noir like water off a duck's back but it cannot deter from the fact that, truth be told, the book is too uncompromising and raw for me.  Notwithstanding, I also like the fact that the author wrote the book based on the baddies' point of view in which they are human and which adds a lot of character and panache to the storyline and lets the reader follow the story from the other side of the track so to speak.  There is nothing unrealistic about the novel and that is only half of the attraction.

Lapidus shows a lot of promise and potential as a new writer.  His writing style is distinct and unique.  I would keep an eye on him regardless of my initial doubts.  The faint-hearted would best avoid Lapidus' books.  Easy Money is not so easy after all!

About the author:  Jens Lapidus is a highly successful criminal defence lawyer.  His experiences with some of the country's most notorious criminals have made this debut novel - Easy Money (2006) - the fastest-selling and most talked about thriller in a decade.  Easy Money is part of the Stockholm noir trilogy.  The other two books in the trilogy are Never Fuck Up (2008) and Life Deluxe (2011).  He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children.

About the translator:  Astri von Arbin Ahlander is a writer and translator from Stockholm, Sweden.  She cofounded the popular interview project The Days of Yore (, which features interviews with successful artists about the time before their breakthroughs.  Easy Money is her first novel translation.

I will let Lapidus tell us what his book is about:

Easy Money was successfully adapted into a film and premiered in Sweden back in January 2010:

Rating:  4/5

Monday, 16 April 2012

Murder in Greenwich by Mark Fuhrman

"Are there two systems of justice in this country - one for the rich, and another for the rest of us?" - Mark Fuhrman

If you like reading about real-life homicide investigations with a huge focus on the investigation of clues, analysis of evidence, no-nonsense details and an expertly researched piece of work, ex-cop Mark Fuhrman is the author to look out for.

This case is unique in the sense that it involved a very prominent family, the Skakels, who had lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, for nearly fifty years.  The Skakels were among the wealthiest and high-powered families in town and had family connections with the Kennedys.  Could wealth, privilege and power buy a ticket out of jail and cover up pertinent facts in a murder case?  Well, more than likely it could but the truth will out.    

Even after a tough beginning where Fuhrman was stonewalled by the police in every sense of the word when he set out to get this book project started, I am glad he persevered and pushed on until his dedication and hard work paid off in the publication of Murder in Greenwich (1998), solely for the justice of Martha Moxley, a fifteen-year-old girl on the cusp of adulthood, who did not deserve such a tragic end.  Hats off to you, Mark Fuhrman.

I must mention the fact that Fuhrman's book was written before the conviction of Michael Skakel of the murder of Martha Moxley, thirty seven years after the murder, in 2002.  Briefly, by 1982, the Moxley murder investigation basically petered out.  The police did not determine the suspect was a Skakel until the reinvestigation of the case began in 1991 with a survey of the evidence, new revelations and new rounds of DNA testing.  As a matter of fact, Fuhrman's investigations in the writing of this book set the ball rolling in naming Skakel as the killer.  In the end, Skakel was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison and to this day, remains inside.  If you are looking for a book written after the conviction of Skakel, then the only one written about it is Len Levitt and Leonard Levitt's Conviction:  Solving the Moxley Murder:  A Reporter and A Detective's Twenty Year Search for Justice (2004).

Martha Moxley was bludgeoned with a golf club on the grounds of her family's exclusive Greenwich, Connecticut, estate on 30 October 1975.

Mark Fuhrman is the controversial former LAPD homicide detective and author of the national bestseller Murder in Brentwood (1997) about the O J Simpson trial.

I do not rate non-fiction books.

An overview of the murder with police/victim's family/author interviews:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Innocence by David Hosp

This is what the author writes in the Afterword and I quote a section of it:

"... the premise of Innocence has its roots in fact and experience.  Over the past ten years, nearly two hundred individuals in the United States have had their convictions vacated after DNA testing established that they were innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted and imprisoned.  

David Hosp, the author, is a trial lawyer at the Boston-based law firm of Goodwin Proctor, LLP.  For the past two years, he has worked with a team of attorneys representing Stephan Cowans in civil lawsuits resulting from Mr Cowans's 1997 wrongful conviction for the shooting and attempted murder of a Boston police officer.  Mr Cowans was exonerated and released in 2004 through the work of attorneys and staff at the New England Innocence Project ("NEIP")."

So, from the above, you can roughly guess where this story is heading.  Briefly, attorney Scott Finn fights for doctor and illegal immigrant Vincente Salazar who was convicted of a brutal attack on a female undercover cop fifteen years ago.  Salazar has already been incarcerated for fifteen years when Finn meets with him and takes him on as a client pro bono.  In Finn, Salazar finds support in his claim for a new trial to set aside the jury conviction in his case.  Allying himself with retired detective/investigator Tom Kozlowski, Finn uncovers a web of deception and corruption that stretches from Central America to Boston's suburbs as they search desperately for the thin line between guilt and innocence.

Innocence is the second book in the Scott Finn series published in 2007.  After a dubious read on the first book, Dark Harbour (2005), I have come to love this series and highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good legal thriller on the scale of Grisham.  

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba

Sebba is the first female biographer to write about Wallis Simpson.  This book is a mediocre read and certainly not the best account of 'that woman'.  If you had not read a single biography on Wallis Simpson, I would suggest that you look for alternative books published much earlier, either by Greg King or Hugo Vickers.  Sebba's research is more like a precis, concentrating on making Simpson's unsympathetic character more scrutable and alluring.  It was more a breezy than a solid but by no means uninteresting read.  Perhaps that is best all round as it was the saddest love affair I have come across in the history of the English monarchy.  I bought this book off

Paperback blurb:  One of Britain's most distinguished biographers turns her focus to one of the most vilified women of the twentieth century - Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

'That woman', as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for ensnaring a British king and destabilising the monarchy.  Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she nevertheless became one of the most talked-about women of her generation, and she inspired such deep love in Edward VIII that he gave up a throne and an empire for her.  Wallis lived by her wits, while both her apparent and alleged transgressions added to her aura and dazzle.

Based on new archives and material, this scrupulously researched biography sheds new light on the character and motivations of a charismatic and complex woman.

About the author:  Anne Sebba read history at King's College London then joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent based in London and Rome.  She has written eight works of non-fiction, mostly about iconic women, presented BBC radio documentaries and is an accredited NADFAS lecturer.  She thinks women are endlessly fascinating and have much more complex inner lives than (most) men.  She is married with three children.  Visit her website at for more information.

That Woman:  The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor was published in 2011.

From A Wise Sage

Monday, 9 April 2012

Cosy Mysteries List

I have compiled a list of twenty-five cosy mysteries for anyone who loves to read cosies like I do.  There is a huge number out there and all are great fun to read.  Personally, I tend to choose the mystery that interest me like Hannah Swensen, Booktown, Della Cooks or tea but of course, I am going to add more to my reading when I have a moment.  You will sometimes find an author diversifying into at least one other mystery or more under their name and what a varied range to choose from.  In no particular order, I have listed only one mystery per author and if I have missed any author out in this post, I'm more than happy to compile another list soon.  Enjoy your cosies!

1)  Orchard Mysteries by Sheila Connolly

2)  Bibliophile Mysteries by Kate Carlisle

3)  Library Lover's Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay

4)  Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Child

5)  Books by the Bay Mysteries by Ellery Adams

6)  Novel Idea Mysteries by Lucy Arlington

7)  Cheese Shop Mysteries by Avery Aames

8)  Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette

9)  Country Cooking School Mysteries by Paige Shelton

10)  Hannah Swensen Mysteries by Joanne Fluke

11)  Pie Shop Mysteries by Carol Culver

12)  Clueless Cook Mysteries by Liz Lipperman

13)  Do-It-Yourself Mysteries by Jennie Bentley

14)  Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle

15)  Donut Mysteries by Jessica Beck

16)  Domestic Diva Mysteries by Krista Davis

17)  Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett

18)  White House Chef Mysteries by Julie Hyzy

19)  Flower Shop Mysteries by Kate Collins

20)  Murder 101 Mysteries by Maggie Barbieri

21)  Southern Beauty Shop Mysteries by Lila Dare

22)  Magical Dressmaking Mysteries by Melissa Bourbon

23)  Memphis BBQ Mysteries by Riley Adams

24)  Chocoholic Mysteries by Joanna Carl

25)  Della Cooks Mysteries by Melinda Wells

26)  Ballroom Dance Mysteries by Ella Barrick

27)  Lucy St Elmo Antiques Mysteries by Mary Moody

28)  High Society Mysteries by Catherine O'Connell

29)  Friday Night Knitting Club Mysteries by Kate Jacobs

30)  Mace Bauer Mysteries by Deborah Sharp

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

A thought-provoking book dealing with two very important issues in our society today:  first, it deals with one of the most crushing social stigmas prevalent in society today, that is, bullying, and secondly, the difficult or split-second choices and decisions that mothers make everyday, choices and decisions which may not always turn out to be the right ones even though at the time, they were deemed to be the best or the most fitting ones.  Consequently, "What kind of mother are you?" is one of the most devastating questions to be directed at us.  Well, this book posed exactly this question.  It looks at the mother-child relationship, the impact bullying has on all those around, especially and including the bully, and how we can address the issue constructively.

Save Me (2011) is an emotionally powerful novel.  A well-written thriller which will make you examine yourselves as mothers as well as fellow human beings.  Hopefully we can all learn and get something good out of reading it.  I highly recommend it.  

Lisa Scottoline needs no introduction having written twenty books, some of which were on the major bestsellers' list like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times.  Here, she talks about the inspiration behind Save Me and what she wants to bring across in her story with It's Your Call's Lynn Doyle:

The New York Times review - 22 April 2011

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 5 April 2012

JonBenet: Inside The Ramsey Murder Investigation by Steve Thomas with Don Davis

Yet another bewildering murder case which up till today remains unsolved and a profound mystery.  It is made even sadder as it involved the death of a six-year-old girl, JonBenet Ramsey, who was found dead in a small windowless room in the basement of her Boulder, Colorado home on Christmas Day 1996.  It makes you want to cry.  It makes you think about humanity.  It makes you question the miscarriage of justice and the unfairness of life.  It makes you clamour for justice for this beautiful little girl who puzzlingly died in her own home on Christmas night.

From the beginning, there had been mistakes after mistakes made by the police and family members and friends at the crime scene.  No matter what mistakes the police made, it was compounded by blunders and improprieties in the District Attorney's office, like sharing vital evidence and confidential case information with the suspects (John and Patsy Ramsey), their team of lawyers and the tabloid or the constant internecine battles fought between law enforcement agencies.  It would be funny if it were not so frustrating.  The author said that "someday, this case will be held up as a model on how not to run a major investigation".  He hit the nail on the head when he said that.

Who killed JonBenet?  And why?  Why were the police so careless in preserving the crime scene?  Were the parents' erratic and suspicious behaviour a cause for concern or a natural reaction to the death of their beloved daughter?  Why were the parents so uncooperative?  Perhaps the question uppermost on our lips is "What happened in that house?"  Four important questions, among several hundreds, unanswered.

In JonBenet (2000), the most authoritative and comprehensive study of the Ramsey murder, a former lead Boulder Police detective, Steve Thomas, explores the case in vivid and fascinating detail and analyses the evidence surrounding the murder.  He believes that there are two possible answers.  One is that JonBenet was killed by someone known or unknown to the family in a botched kidnapping attempt.  The other possible answer is that JonBenet was killed by her mother, Patsy Ramsey, and that her father, John Ramsey, covered up to protect his wife.

In the end, probable cause existed to arrest Patsy Ramsey in connection with the death of her daughter but because of a totally absurd justice system in Boulder, the Ramseys successfully hid behind a bevy of attorneys and to no one's surprise, she was never charged.

Only two people know what happened that fateful day:  the victim and the killer.  Even though the trail has gone cold, this case is far from over.  If you do not know much about the case and want an insider's point of view, do read Steve Thomas' book as he was the lead detective of this case right from the beginning and knew what happened better than anyone.  Regrettably, this is another story of how someone got away with murder.

Recently, JonBenet's father, John, has released a memoir entitled The Other Side of Suffering (14 March 2012) which tells the story of his deep personal anguish following the deaths of his children and wife, of how he found the strength to endure his trials and tribulations through faith in God and how he learned to hold hope, forgiveness and joy in his heart amidst the pain and sufferings in his life.

About the author:  Steve Thomas, a leading detective on the Ramsey murder case, received more than a hundred commendations and awards during his thirteen-year police career, including the Award of Excellence and the Medal for Lifesaving, for assignments ranging from recruit training and SWAT to special investigations and undercover narcotics.  Prior to the JonBenet case, Thomas worked on a multi-state task force investigating racketeering and organized crime that resulted in numerous grand-jury indictments.  Thomas has been a guest lecturer on criminal justice topics and instructed extensively on law-enforcement issues.

On the co-author:  Don Davis, an award-winning news correspondent for thirty years, with assignments from Vietnam to the White House, has written a dozen books including Last Man on the Moon (1999) with astronaut Eugene Cernan.

I do not rate books of this nature.

That I Am!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Too Many Books?

Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer

This case is a perfect example of the fundamental flaws in human nature particularly deception and of the  woeful state of the justice system.  It is another example of how 'bad people' can get away with a crime and the innocent unfairly implicated.  What led the jury to reach a verdict of 'Not Guilty' to first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse is stupendously baffling therefore, this book is very conflicting and frustrating to read and yet powerful and thought-provoking.  If you have not followed the case closely, then I recommend you read Imperfect Justice from a man who tried to convict Casey Anthony and who remains completely convinced of her guilt.

(from the hardback)  On 5 July 2011, Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder.  She'd been accused of killing her daughter, Caylee, but the trial only left behind more questions.  Was she actually innocent?  What really happened to Caylee?  Was this what justice really looked like?

In Imperfect Justice (2011), Jeff Ashton, a career prosecutor for the state of Florida and one of the principal players in the case's drama, sheds light on those questions and much more, telling the behind-the-scenes story of the investigation, the trial and the now-infamous verdict.

Too, Ashton offers an in-depth look at the complex figure of Casey Anthony, a woman whose lies he spent three years trying to understand.  And yet this focus on Casey came with its own risks;  here he details how this widespread fixation on Casey - both in the media and in the trial - may have undermined the case itself.

As everyone got caught up in the quest to understand the supposed villain, somehow the victim, Caylee, was all but forgotten - not just to the public, but, more importantly, to the jury.  (The author has dedicated this book to the memory of Caylee).

About the author:  Jeff Ashton recently retired from a thirty-year career as a prosecutor in Orlando, Florida.  He is the most experienced homicide prosecutor in the history of Orange County - and the first prosecutor in the world to introduce DNA evidence in a trial - and a veteran of more than seventy successful homicide prosecutions.  He lives in Florida.

About the co-author:  Lisa Pulitzer is a former correspondent for the New York Times and author of more than a dozen nonfiction titles, including New York Times bestseller Stolen Innocence (2008, with Elissa Wall) and Portrait of a Monster:  Joran van der Sloot, a Murder in Peru, and the Natalee Holloway Mystery (2011).

Ashton at a Question-and-Answer session at the Orlando Public Library in November 2011: