Review of ‘The Ambitious Card’ by John Gaspard

King of Diamonds playing cardAvailable from Amazon.  Published originally’The Ambitious Card’  (published August 2013) will be the first in a mystery series (as yet unwritten) about magician, Eli Marks.  Eli is a magician in the sense that he is a conjuror, with his feet firmly on the ground, relying on his own skill and a little sleight of hand.  This is very different from being a psychic, someone who claims to have special powers which enable them to make contact with ‘the other side’ and even to offer therapy.  Eli and his uncle Harry (also a magician), who run the magic shop ‘Chicago Magic’, count themselves as ‘sceptics’, or as the TV station calls it, ‘debunkers’.  When Eli ‘debunks’ the celebrity psychic, Grey, on a high profile, Halloween, psychic show, he expected a few insults but not that Grey, the psychic himself, would be murdered within hours, or that this would be the start of a number of murders of psychics.

Another  problem for Eli is that his ex wife’s current husband is Homicide Officer Fred Hutton, who, when he realises that Eli had been on the scene, arrests him, over and over again, more or less every time another psychic is murdered.   Eli has a moment of madness when he sings the song ‘Mediocre Fred’  (No, I hadn’t heard of it either!)  to the recording tape, when he is left locked up in the interrogation room;  this lends a bit of humour to the story, but nothing to the character of Eli, who most of the time is quite straight up and down.   The ex-wife, Deirdre, is a motherly figure, who takes it upon herself to rescue Eli from most of the scrapes he manages to get into.  Another complication is that the King of  Diamonds appears at every murder scene, which seems to implicate Eli further – perhaps a little too obviously.  It couldn’t be that Eli was being set-up, could it?

There is a love interest, bumbling psychic Megan, who was too much too dumb for my liking, and it is Eli’s  involvement with her that leads him to the denouement in Minneapolis’s scary Wabasha Street Caves.

The storyline is well-written, in that it holds the reader’s interest, and the plot just about works.  I wasn’t completely convinced by it, although the murderer was fully integrated into the story throughout, and well camoflagued. A loose end in the plot was the British journalist, Clive Albans, who was mocked throughout, for being too eager to learn magic tricks, always there (although how he kept appearing was never clear) and for aiming to write about the murders – as if no American would even dream of such a thing – and even at the end of the story, there was no obvious point in this character being included. Clive was painted as a sort of Wodehouse look-alike. I generally got the impression that the author didn’t like Brits very much.

The background to the story was well-researched, or based upon what the author already knew, particularly his knowledge of magic tricks and the magic show industry. John Gaspard made things easy for himself by basing the novel in his home town of Minneapolis, but his frequent references to landmarks, roads and districts, without any further illumination, occasionally made the book read like the local newspaper.

There were generally too many characters, even though crime novels do tend to have more characters than other genre books (because you need a range of suspects, obviously). However, I didn’t feel I knew Eli Marks, his lovely Uncle Harry, or any of the characters very well, especially as many of them appeared for a chapter or two then got murdered.

Well, Dear Reader, would I recommend ‘The Ambitious Card’? Would I read another Eli Marks mystery? Yes, I would do both.

Another Hallelujah

'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' logoAlfie Dog has published my Christian story, ‘The Millionaire‘.  Feel very chuffed because the Christian market is one I really want to get into.  However, Dear Reader, I must warn you that, should you wish to read ‘The Millionaire’, you would have to pay a whole 39p to download.  The expense of it all!  Seriously, though, I wonder how most literary sites manage, as every editor tells me that running a website is a very costly business.

This afternoon I’ve managed to sub another story.  Actually, this particular story has been on the point of being subbed for about a week.  It’s been a case of… just need to fix that little bit… oh and that sentence could do with improving too and… why don’t I add this?  This morning I read it through aloud and what a revelation.  I can tell you, Dear Reader, that you wouldn’t have wanted to be my dear reader with the story as it was then.  Doesn’t editing, and getting something finally right, take a long time?

Anyway – fingers crossed –  it’s gone.  To a womag!  Oh yes.  Should you chance to remember what I wrote on my ‘About’ page (Why should you?), you will recognise getting published in womag as one of my ‘targets’ – to quote from the horrible world of work.  In our workplace, we are said to have achieved a target if we take appropriate steps towards it, so there!  I have taken ‘steps’.  Another step I have taken is to download online versions of ‘My Weekly’ fiction and the whole of ‘The People’s Friend’ from the  Newsstand app on my iPad, which is altogether more convenient than going up into town to buy  the paper-based versions.

When choosing where to sub, I heeded the advice of Julie Wow about story lengths, that between 1200 and 2000 words often means 1200 or 2000 words.  As my story came up comfortably as 1400, I subbed it to a womag where the editor, in an interview, said, quite specifically, ‘anything in between’.  Talking of advice, I found much invaluable information and guidance from womagwriter blogspot and the blog Sally Jenkins Writer.  I’m sure you are very much aware of these, Dear Reader, but I’m mentioning them just in case.

Meanwhile, I’d better stop blogging and think about what else I can sub before Christmas.

Review of ‘No Man’s Nightingale’ by Ruth Rendell

Available from Amazon .  Published August 2013.

It’s always a pleasure to return to Ruth Rendell.  Although I’ve been reading her detective stories for over two decades, she always has something fresh to pull out of the bag.  Mind you, she has come a very long way from her first novel and first Wexford story, ‘From Doon With Death’, published in 1964, which featured housewives in suburbia, one of whom ‘dressed for dinner’ every evening at home.

Reg Wexford is also one of the most endearing and enduring detectives, with just the right mixture of familial warmth which never drifts into sentimentality, coupled with a measure of lovable self-consciousness and awkwardness.  ‘No Man’s Nightingale’ finds Wexford in retirement, reading Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, and his old number two, Mike Burden, promoted into his old job.  Frustrated at having no official authority, Wexford worries about treading on Burden’s toes and his conscience agonises excessively over issues which rapidly become insignificant.

The plot concerns the murder of a Sarah Hussein, modern-thinking woman vicar of mixed race and single mother.   As there are no obvious suspects, the police – with Wexford’s help – need to trawl through her life to find the culprit.  Is it her daughter’s father?  Or an ex-boyfriend?  A member of her former husband’s family?  All of these are dangled tantalisingly in front of the reader.  But, as Burden keeps telling Wexford, he isn’t interested in motive.  There’s this gardener who had been working a few houses away; he had the opportunity, despite having no connection with the victim.  Burden has always been a bit of a stooge, a Dr Watson who comes up with the obvious idea, which is then shot down in flames by Wexford; this strain was particularly apparent in this novel.  However, the plot worked, despite being very complex and including human interest issues, such as the romance between the victim’s daughter and Wexford’s grandson and the disapproval of Wexford’s daughter (the boy’s mother).

One of the joys of reading Ruth Rendell is her prose, generally so rounded that you don’t notice it.  She writes long fluid sentences, with vivid descriptions – not like this one at all.  In fact, she describes to excess, although her descriptions are always interesting.   The reader surely doesn’t need to know about every room of every house a character visits?  Chapter One begins with a short punchy sentence ‘Maxine was proud of having three jobs.’ , although Maxine was not one of the main characters.  Ruth writes in  the third person and in the past tense.

The phrase ‘No Man’s Nightingale’ derives from Jordan(1), a religious poem by George Herbert:Nightingale (bird) in tree.

I envy no man’s nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
         Who plainly say, my God, my King.
No, I can’t see the connection with the storyline or characters either.
Would I recommend this book, Dear Reader?  Definitely.  Without reservation.