Notes from my Bookshelf #1: Two Very Different Takes on the Crime Genre

I recently read two very different crime novels in quick succession and, although very different in every respect (apart from the presence of a corpse or two), I loved them both, which got me to thinking about how broad the crime genre is.

One was my first foray into the investigative world of Bryant and May with “Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood” by Christopher Fowler. This was not something I would’ve chosen to read initially, but I was looking for a thriller for my mum as a Christmas present and came across it, then decided to read it myself as I was intrigued by not only the fact that the detectives themselves are elderly, but also by the context of the London theatre scene and Punch and Judy.

Basically, the story revolves around the murder of a theatre company owner’s infant son one night at a party to celebrate the opening night of the company’s new production. All of the main players are reluctantly in attendance; however, the murder is committed behind a locked door with no obvious way in or out, and is somehow connected to the presence of a Punch and Judy puppet. As the investigation unfolds and the bodies stack up, apparently mirroring the narrative of the play itself, it begins to look like the puppets themselves may be committing the murders as there is no other explanation.

Not only does the book look in-depth into the history of the theatre and Punch and Judy, it keeps you guessing until the last page – I am usually pretty good at sussing out the perpetrator by about halfway, but with this one I couldn’t figure it out.

The characters are interesting, multi-dimensional and quirky in many respects, especially Bryant and May who are unlike any other detectives I have encountered. Additionally, as this was my first read of a Bryant and May novel, I was expecting to struggle to get to know the characters and their back story, but this novel could easily stand alone from the rest of the series. Having said that, I will certainly be reading more.

At the other end of the scale is “Sorry” by Zoran Drvenkar. The story unfolds around a group of friends who decide to open an agency that rights the wrongs of their clients. However, when a serial killer hires them, they find themselves involved in a series of murders from which they cannot extricate themselves. The book is written from a number of the characters’ viewpoints and, once you get into the narrative style, it is full of shocks and surprises.

And there are plenty of shocks; in fact, often the narrative is very disturbing and graphic, but you find yourself unable to stop reading until the end. This novel has a very different feel to the Bryant and May story: it is more gripping, edgy and brutal, with all sorts of twists and turns to the plot in a “race to catch the killer” kind of way, whereas the Bryant and May is a safer, gentler and more intellectual whodunnit, and more comparable to a good Miss Marples mystery.

However, albeit very different takes on the crime genre, I absolutely loved both books and would recommend them highly to anyone looking for a cracking thriller.

A Knickers-Inside-Out Kind of Day

Some days you just know you should’ve stayed in bed. Those are the days when you look down and realise you have been wearing your knickers inside out all day, which could explain why everything has steadily gone downhill since you spilled your first cup of tea that morning.

Of course, having small children (and a dog) in the house means that your day is always verged on the point of going tits up at any time – from the dog weeing on the carpet because you didn’t let him out in time to your 9-year-old actually losing an entire school bag between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Add to this the news that your other half is planning to work from home for the day and you should run screaming to your bedroom and pull the covers back over your head.

The other day was a prime example. Burnt toast; Nutella spilled down a freshly-laundered school uniform; small child doing an enormous, time-consuming poo in the toilet when you should’ve left for school five minutes ago; dog running around the house with an unravelled roll of toilet paper dragging behind him; getting lost in the park on a morning run that you have done a thousand times before; new jumper sneaking into the tumble dryer and shrinking; boss calling for an objectives chat just as you need to be at school for pick-up; dinner spectacularly ruined by attention being diverted by an argument with 9-year-old about her homework… Yes, I am talking about some major cataclysmic events here.

I am not naturally one of those people that bounds out of bed with a thrill at the thought of what the day has in store; I am more of a slope gently into the day with a scowl and the speed of a sloth. That probably says more about what I spend my days doing than it does about my personality in general – I tend to be quite a happy person a lot of the time, I like to think.

Therefore, as the January blues are upon us and we are nearing the end of a month of forced, post-Christmas austerity while waiting for payday to roll around again,  I have decided that in order to find my inner child again and embrace the endless possibilities of every day, I need to make a change somewhere.

A good start would be to put my knickers on the right way around tomorrow.

A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas

One of the most important members of our small family is Mick, our 12-year-old British bulldog. Mr G and I chose him at eight weeks old as a companion for our female bulldog, Bianca (who is no longer with us unfortunately) and from the outset he was a character. Named after Mick Jagger, I chose him out of what seemed like hundreds of puppies because he was tiny, noisy and incredibly grumpy. Nowadays, he is still noisy and occasionally grumpy, but he is not tiny.

Shortly after we adopted him, Mr G was transferred to London from South Africa and the dogs ended up enduring six months of quarantine as we relocated. He went into the kennels a puppy, but came out a hulking beast of a dog, with boundless energy (going completely against the grain for a bulldog) and no idea of his own strength. A couple of sessions with a dog behaviourist and with wallets a few pounds lighter, Mick was a reformed character with a laid-back, chilled approach to everything.

And it has been something of an adventure ever since. He is the kind of dog that scares the hell out of you at first sight, but once he has snorted at you and sniffed your legs (he can’t reach most crotches), he is a softy. Unless you are a squirrel, in which case watch your back as one day he will get up enough speed to catch you (in his dreams anyway).

Mick has a number of weaknesses, chocolate being one of them. He relishes the approach of Christmas, because that means presents under the tree, which may or may not contain chocolate. Many times we have returned home from a bout of shopping to find the presents unwrapped – none too gently – as he hunts for whatever has caught his nose. He once ate an entire box of Jaffa Cakes (including the cardboard and plastic inner), then ran around the house like a demon for an hour. On another occasion, I had placed a bag full of goodies, such as Walnut Whips and Minstrels, on the study desk, supposedly out of his reach, only to find him perched on my keyboard, having eaten the lot and with a stomach too full to climb down afterwards. It took him days to get over that tummy ache; he would sit and groan for effect, but since he was in disgrace, he got no sympathy from us. And the “k” on my keyboard has never worked properly since. Yes, I know that chocolate is poisonous for dogs, but try telling him that.

His appetite will be his downfall one day. If he thinks he has not had enough dinner, he will either bark incessantly at us until we give him some more or, if we have not closed the cupboard door properly, he will go and help himself. He also enjoys a good hand cream and has figured out how to unzip a handbag if he thinks there is one hiding inside. We have had many disgruntled babysitters, who have come downstairs after putting the girls to bed to find their handbag open, the contents strewn all over the couch and Mick nibbling on their tube of Nivea. He has lovely, soft paws though.

At the ripe old age of 12, he is still as fit as a fiddle, albeit half blind, deaf (although this could be selective) and not as agile as he once was. No matter what he gets up to – once he ate through the cat flap on our back door and got his head stuck in the hole – our family would be incomplete without him.

Of course, he does have some enemies. Stereotypically, he hates the postman, who returns his sentiments tenfold. And there are some members of our extended family that are not his biggest fans. A few Christmases ago, we had family to stay. One morning, one of our elderly male guests came downstairs in a pair of very loose boxer shorts and a gown, then sat on the couch in front of Mick and I with legs astride and everything on show. I averted my eyes and before I could think of a tactful way of suggesting he rearrange himself, Mick caught a glimpse and shot across the room at full throttle, teeth bared, head-first into his crotch, apparently thinking of meat and two veg. After dragging Mick away with some difficulty, I snorted out my apologies, but then had to remove myself completely before hysterics took over. The boxers never appeared again, thankfully, and Mick got an extra Bonio that day.

Socially unacceptable, often embarrassing and frequently amusing, he is my constant companion. Now if only I could do something about his snoring and farting. 

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Mick sitting really still in the hope that I won’t notice he is sitting on the chair.