Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories - PD James

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A superb collection of stories by the master storyteller.

I have always admired James' crime stories. This collection is a testimony to that and here there is not one but about a set of four that showcase how good she is at what she does.

Apparently, these stories were commissioned to be included during christmas time in newspapers. These four gems have been taken out of archives to be published as a book.

Her preface offers an insight into what a short story must do. It reflects her methodical approach bearing in mind the various elements to consider when writing a short story. Brilliant - and for a student of the craft - invaluable.


Mistletoe murder is about a widow being invited to a strange country house for christmas, the second is about an illicit affair that goes wrong. The Boxdale Inheritance is where Dalgeish makes an appearance and stays on to highlight the twelve clues of christmas. 

What works:
  • The stories showcase her ability as a good storyteller. They are atmospheric, strange yet they highlight the human tendency and the way the mind works when provoked to commit a crime.
What doesn't:
  • A few more stories would have really made it a reader's dream come true.

The other Child - Lucy Atkins

A compelling thriller with a great plot.

I have been reading a lot of thrillers lately and somehow they seem to centre around domesticity. It is amazing how these writers churn out thrillers from the mundane domestic lives. But then that is what makes a good writer. I had never heard of this author before but I liked the premise. 

I looked her up and found this was her first book but her approach felt quite "different"  and refreshing to other writers. 


Tess is a photographer and mum to Joe. She meets Grey, a paediatric  surgeon and falls in love with him. Things move fast when becomes pregnant and they decide to marry. She decides to fold up her life in the UK and moves to the States to be with him. However, things don't go to plan. She finds adjusting difficult and Greg too distant. Weird things start happening around the house and secrets are waiting to tumble out of the closet.Tess needs to find out what it is and whether it was worth building this new life.

What works:
  • The writing style. It is compelling and forces you to stick to it. I was reading an Elizabeth George novel alongside and had to abandon it to get to the end of this gripping story.
  • The plot. I am always fascinated by the English and the Americans. Atkins brings out the cultural differences so well and perceptibly so.
  • The characters are strong. Tess and Greg are great protagnists and it is very easy to relate to them. Atkins uses lack of communication so well to build tension in the story. 
  • What was also different was the ending. It results in Tess making a choice. I loved the way it ended, which gave the story a very contemporary feel to it. 

What doesn't:
  • Halfway through the book, the plot was becoming slightly predictable and it felt like Atkins was creating suspense and twists to confuse things. Thankfully, when the confrontation and action takes over and made for a superb rollercoaster ride.
For me, a basic criteria for a good book is that it should keep me hooked. This one did and quite enjoyably so. Since her next book is out only next year, I am on a lookout for her debut novel. 


Friday, 9 December 2016

The Private Life of Mrs Sharma - Ratika Kapur

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A fantastic read by a fresh voice

Indian fiction is an alltime favourite and each time I discover a new voice, it is exciting, thrilling even. This book has been a happy discovery. I found it on the shelf marked new reads at our local library. The inital chapter blew me over and a quick search told me that this book was much talked about and the writer was said to be a promising talent to watch out for.


Although the first chapter suggests otherwise, Mrs Radhika Sharma is a married working woman who reflects a blend of tradition values and modern aspirations. She is unapologetic and it is her strong voice that moves the story forward. However, there comes a point when the personal and the duty collide leading Mrs Sharma to make a tough choice. 

What works:

  • The title is so enticing that it adds to the curiosity factor and the thin volume suggests a tight plot with no meanderings.
  • The monologue that opens the book is so strong and powerful that it had me hooked. The voice is strong, yet is Indian in tone and mentality. 
  • The character of Renuka is so relatable. She is aspirational yet bound by traditions. She represents the modern Indian woman and the plot is reflective of today's generation.

What doesn't:
  • The ending was disappointing. After a mindblowing start, a promising plot, the finale is a bit of a disappointing. The story ends with a abrupt ending which though unexpected is not satiating. It could have ended better.
Overall, a great change from stories that celebrate the poverty and the helplesssness of the Indian middle class. The book is positive, optimistic despite the struggles faced by the protagnist.

A great read.Recommended.