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Book Bites: 14 October

Published in the Sunday Times

Broken Ground ****
Val McDermid, Little Brown, R325

Val McDermid is not known as the Queen of Tartan Noir for nothing – apart from her cleverly crafted plots she serves up fabulously atmospheric settings. In this latest offering we find ourselves deep in the Highland countryside where a body is unearthed from a peat bog. As it has evidently been there so long it falls to DCI Karen Pirie and her historic cases unit to solve the mystery. Pirie, described as “a dumpy wee woman with bad hair and terrible dress sense” is a deliciously grumpy character, given to such observations as “What they needed was support, not some strutting Glasgow keelie who thought he’d been sent to be their saviour.” Rich with idiom and description, this is a satisfying escape. Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The Insomnia Museum ***
Laurie Canciani, Head of Zeus, R265

At 17, Anna can’t remember ever being outside her father’s crammed flat. She can’t read and spends her time re-watching The Wizard of Oz with a plastic Jesus figurine. Her father, a drug addict and hoarder, leaves only to bring back more junk for them to tinker with for their Insomnia Museum. Then one day her father doesn’t wake up and Anna calls the only other person she knows, a good Samaritan she met through the closed door. Anna’s experience of the outside world is dreamlike and distorted, creating an almost untrustworthy narrative where the reader encounters dysfunctional characters in a violence-ridden council estate from a child-like perspective. It makes for a dizzying read. Sally Partridge @sapartridge

Agatha Christie: The Mystery of the Three Quarters **
Sophie Hannah, HarperCollins, R320

If this is a homage to the Queen of Mystery then Hannah has somewhat failed. This is tedious, with an enormously pompous, arrogant and twirling mustachioed Poirot that is very much like Kenneth Branagh’s bombastic creation in his film Murder on the Orient Express. Four letters accusing four people of murdering Barnabas Pandy are sent to them by someone pretending to be Poirot. The detective is at once insulted and intrigued. Who sent these letters? Who is Pandy? And was he murdered? It’s a dry read. There is a lack of pacing and Hannah’s normally clever plotting becomes obvious. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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