“Devil In Disguise” by Julian Clary

Molly is a young singer/actress while Simon sees work as a means to an end, which is to earn enough money to be able to go out and get drunk, and the two of them been best friends since first meeting in college. While Molly is away with a touring theatre company, she stays in a boarding house run by the eccentric Lilia Delvard, whose fame and fortune days are long gone. It’s difficult to say much else about the plot without giving away too much of what will happen (I’ve even cut down the synopsis, as it gives away a little too much!).

Another fantastic piece of devlish humour from Julian Clary. I read his first novel earlier in the year, and when I saw this one in the bookshop I just couldn’t resist. It was wickedly funny, but with such a warmth for its characters, I found it unputdownable. I also lent it to a friend and he also devoured it in a single sitting, saying it was brilliantly funny and a total page turner.

It’s not perfect as I felt the denouement was a tiny, little rushed, but Clary certainly seems to have a flair for storytelling, and I will definitely be looking out for more!

A final comment as a Strictly Come Dancing fan – I loved the little mentions for the Strictly judges, particularly as the book was written when Julian was performing in the tour, but I can’t remember if it was a coincidence or whether he renamed the character of the landlady, but at the time he was partnering Lilia Kopylova, so I’m not sure if she should feel flattered or offended!

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“Agaton Sax and the Diamond Thieves” by Nils-Olof Franzén

Just a brief review for this one, as it’s an old childrens book, now out of print and pretty much unavailable.

While reminiscing about books from childhood the other evening, I found that my local library had a selection of books in its reserve archive, so I put in a reservation for a few books, including this one. When I mentioned it on The Book Club Forum, someone reminded me that Kenneth Williams had read the series on Jackanory, and the whole way through I could picture and hear him in my head so it was just like being five years old again. It was a lovely, nostalgic Sunday afternoon read that was a fabulous reminder of childhood.

“Murder Most Fab” by Julian Clary

Although Julian Clary had previously written memoir and humorous non-fiction, this is his first foray into fiction, and what a great start it is. Written in the style of a memoir, it gripped me from the first page, with a central character, Johnny Debonair, who was full of charisma and wit, and despite the dark turns his life takes, Johnny tells his story honestly and with integrity. I loved this book!

It should be noted, however, that this darkly funny tale is not for the faint hearted, as the book contains graphic descriptions of sex and prostitution.

What the book does have, and has it in spades, is brilliantly funny writing. I must admit, I’ve not had a lot of exposure to Julian Clary as a comedian, but from what I have seen, I think his style is often based on innuendo and double entendre. This is not the same style of humour on display in the book, which is more subtle at times and at others, a slap across the face, but the comic touches sparkle on every page.

I guess if you’re going to pick up a bright pink and yellow murder book, written by a notoriously risqué comedian, with quotes from newspaper reviews referring to “filthy”, “shocking”, and “high camp”, then I would hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for. However, if you can cope with this type of language and content, then you won’t be disappointed with a genuinely unputdownable book.

“Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death” by Gyles Brandreth

When Oscar Wilde starts the game of ‘Murder’ during his Sunday Supper Club, where all of the guests anonymously choose someone they would like to kill, little does he realise the chain of events he will set in motion. That very evening, the first ‘victim’ chosen in the game dies in mysterious circumstances, and the game appears to have taken a very deadly turn. Along with his trusted friend, Robert Sherard, Oscar will need to use his instincts, intelligence and power of observation to find the killer – but time is of the essence, as Oscar himself is destined to be ‘victim’ number thirteen.

This is an unusual Victorian crime novel, as Brandreth has chosen to use real people as the main characters of his book, and using the author Oscar Wilde as his detective, at a time when he was at the height of his success and fame. The story is told by narrator, Robert Sherard, who was a life-long friend of Oscar Wilde and an author is in own right, publishing poetry, novels and biographies in his lifetime, including five books about Wilde. This is a very interesting tactic on Brandreth’s part, as it allows Sherard to show us the investigation as Wilde conducts it, without giving away his thought processes and conclusions, and allowing us to try and solve the mystery as the plot unfolds.

There are plenty of Wilde’s contemporaries involved in the plot, including fellow authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker as well as artist Walter Sickert, which adds to the colour and interest of the world that Brandreth creates in the novel. It is obvious from the warmth of the writing that the author has a great regard for his subject, and on the book website he tells us that Oscar Wilde was his first real life hero. With a plot that touches on class and social issues of the time, as well as including the classic mystery elements and set in an interesting time in British history, this books is very evocative of the period and a rewarding and entertaining read.

I’d never considered to be a great reader of crime novels, but I’ve recently realised that I actually enjoy what I would call ‘alternative’ crime fiction. I don’t like modern crime, with graphic descriptions of violent crime, but I do very much enjoy period crime novels like this, or funny, light hearted crimes books like the Jasper Fforde novels or the Agatha Raisin murder mysteries. This book definitely falls in to my ‘alternative’ crime list, and I’ve found out it’s actually the second in the series, so I shall definitely be on the look out for the first book (“Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders”) and eagerly anticipating the next one (“Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile”) which will be published later this year.

“Size 14 Is Not Fat Either” by Meg Cabot

Heather Wells is a former pop-star whose manager stole all her money and ran off – sounds bad, but to make it worse her manager is her mother! Her pop career over, she then finds her fiancé with another woman, a younger pop-star, so penniless she takes the offer of her ex-finance’s brother, Cooper, to live in his home, and takes a job as an assistant director of the college residence halls, in return for remission on her tuition fees to allow her to finally finish her education. As if life isn’t complicated enough, Heather is completely in love with Cooper, her father has been in jail for the last twenty years, and last year she solved the mysterious deaths of two girls in her residence hall, which is now dubbed “Death Dorm”.

At the start of this second Heather Wells mystery, Heather is trying to deal with a new boss, start her remedial math classes, and look after college kids turning twenty-one and legally getting so drunk they have to be accompanied to the emergency room. Her day is not exactly going well, when she’s called to the kitchens of the cafeteria to deal with a situation – a cheerleaders severed head has been left boiling in a pot on the stove, but with no sign of the rest of her body. Even though she has promised Cooper that she won’t get involved in this murder investigation, she then promises her friend Magda she will try to make sure the killer is caught. She soon finds herself caught up in the nastier side of college life … and in some very dangerous situations of her own.

I love Meg Cabot! Reading her books, whether kids books like The Princess Diaries series, teenage books like The Mediator series, or adult books such as these Heather Wells mysteries, feels like catching up with a good friend who has a far more interesting life than me. She is a great storyteller, and I find all her books real page turners, and really relaxing to read. Her writing always seems to talk to the audiences she’s writing for, without talking down to anyone. The heroines of her books feel like real people, and as such are never one dimensional, but always fully rounded characters, with emotions, feelings, faults and their own individual personalities.

This second Heather Wells mystery is another cracking read, and I finished it easily in a day. Considering it’s a murder mystery, there’s no gratuitous violence or graphic descriptions of the murder. Heather feels like someone I know, and I can completely put myself in her place, providing the perfect escapism I look for in books. The character development from the first book continues, and there are a few tantalising threads left at the end to be woven in to the next one, Big Boned, due to be published early next year. I can’t wait!!!

“First Among Sequels” by Jasper Fforde

The latest in the Thursday Next series, finds us moving forward fifteen years to 2002. With Landen uneradicated, Thursday and her husband are dealing with their son, Friday, who is being a typically awkward teenager, refusing to join the Chronoguard, even though the whole family know it is his destiny, and are also bringing up their two daughters, Tuesday and (trying to break the days of the week formula) Jenny.

SpecOps has been disbanded, and Thursday is running the a carpet and flooring company … or is she? It’s actually a front for former SpecOps agents who are still carrying out their work underground, and Thursday is still working for Jurisfiction in BookWorld.

Trying to juggle family life and her job, whilst not letting onto Landen and the children that she is still effectively working as both a SpecOps and a Jurisfiction agent, Thursday is struggling to maintain normality in the real world, as well as having to deal with not one, but two very familiar cadets trying to become Jurisfiction agents.

Another great story from Jasper Fforde, with some wonderful twists and turns, for both major and minor plot points and characters. The thing I love about these series of books is that they don’t really seem to be separate stories, and that even though they all have a definite ending, there are always some little threads of plot that are picked up on and woven into one of the next books, and it feels like a warm, comfy place to revisit on each occasion. First Among Sequels is both funny and clever, with a loving nod to both classic and contemporary fiction and fictional characters, although as I’m a huge Austen fan, I would have loved to have had more Pride and Prejudice involvement in the plot, just because it’s one of my favourites and would have loved to have seen it have the same involvement in the plot as Jane Eyre did in The Eyre Affair, but that’s just me being picky. I did, however, love the idea that all the comedy had been stolen out of the Thomas Hardy novels.

Overall, another great novel by Jasper Fforde, and I’m already anxiously waiting for the next one!

“The Fourth Bear” by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crimes series continues with “The Fourth Bear”, another classic whodunnit. With Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt on enforced sick leave and excluded from the hunt for The Gingerbread Man, a psychopathic, sadistic, murdering biscuit, recently escaped from the top security hospital for the criminally insane, he unofficially becomes involved in the hunt for the missing journalist, Henrietta ‘Goldilocks’ Hatchett. Largest cucumber growing competitors, a rising star MP, a missing nuclear scientist and the Three Bears all feature in this crime caper leading Jack and his under-funded department to solve the mystery in their usual unorthodox manner, necessary when living in Reading, where a high concentration of nursery rhyme characters, other PDRs (persons of dubious reality) and anthropomorphic animals have found a safe haven.

If all this sounds bizarre and absurd, that’s because it is. Jasper Fforde has a flair for writing completely believable yet utterly surreal novels which are brilliantly funny and totally compelling. The world of the Nursery Crimes Division of the Reading Police Department is so well written and developed that it feels as though it should be real, and the attention to detail makes his novels seem like real life crime thrillers. There are also occasional crossovers into the other series of crime stories Jasper writes, the Thursday Next series based in SpecOps LiteraTec division of the Swindon police force who handle literary crimes, and in “The Fourth Bear” we meet a slightly sinister car salesman called Dorian Gray.

These books are intelligent, funny, clever and above all, cracking good reads, and I think “The Fourth Bear” is probably the best so far. There are multiple plot lines threaded throughout the story which are beautifully entwined to a fantastic conclusion, with a few twists and turns you just aren’t expecting, which is nothing less than you would expect from a mystery book. A real page turner and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jasper Fforde has become a must read author for me, and I look forward to each new book with excited anticipation.