The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine

The Birthday Present is the 13th novel Ruth Rendell has published under the pen-name of Barbara Vine (her own middle name and her grandmother’s maiden name), beginning with A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986).  ‘The Vine novels differ from the Rendell ones as they feature deeper psychological characterization and a more sustained social critique’. (Luca Prono, 2009).

The Birthday Present tells the story of Ivor Tesham MP, a promising and ambitious Tory politician. A womanizer, his sexual preferences can be better described as ‘peculiar’. His sexual fantasies are shared by his ‘mistress’ Hebe Furnal, a married woman. As a birthday present he plans a fashionable new practice known as ‘adventure sex’. Tesham hires two men to carry out a mock kidnapping of his girlfriend with her consent. But things go terribly wrong. The car carrying Hebe handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded for a hot date collides with a lorry with fatal consequences. One man and Hebe Furnal killed and the driver is left in a coma. At this point the rest of the novel explores the aftermath of these events. The story is told from two perspectives. Rob Delgado, Tesham’s brother-in-law narrates the events that intertwine with pages of Jane Atherton’s diary, a friend of Hebe, the ‘alibi lady’. Hebe’s husband does not have a clue about her double life. The action takes place around 1990 and 1994, between the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Although brilliantly written I found the narration a bit tedious some times. It does provide though a portrait of an era with interesting references to what was going on in the world at that time together with some insights on British politics and social issues. The characters are very well defined and the story gets better at the end with a nice plot twist. Maybe I was expecting more of Rendell/Vine but overall it’s an original and compelling novel. It’s certainly worth a read.

As Barbara Vine, Ruth Rendell is the author among others of A Dark-Adapted Eye, which received huge critical acclaim and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award; A Fatal Inversion, winner of the 1987 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award; The House of Stairs, winner of the Angel Award for Fiction; and King Solomon’s Carpet, winner of the 1991 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award. Ruth Rendell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  In 1991 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for a lifetime’s achievement in crime writing.  In 1997 she was created a life peer and took the title Baroness Rendell of Babergh.

This is my second read for Typically British Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Book Chick City.

The Birthday Present has been reviewed at Eurocrime and living.scotsman among others.

Read an extract from The Birthday Present

Penguin Books

Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine

The Birthday Present (2008)

Penguin Books, 2009

Number of Pages: 278

ISBN: 978-0-141-04063-9

>2010 A year in crime fiction


This post was intended as a personal reminder before the year ends but I thought it was a good idea to share it with you and ask for some advice. Besides the books I’ve read this year I’ll start to read immediately Gunshot Road and I have The Man from Beijing and The Snowman in my TBR shelves.

Looking back into what was published this year in the U. K. I found some titles that by no means I want to miss. Among the ones I have not read which are not yet in my TBR shelves I found the followings:

Truth by Peter Temple

Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Entanglement by Zygmunt Miloszewski

Blue Lightening by Ann Cleeves

And I’ll wait for the paperback edition in 2011

Trick of the Dark by Val McDermind (Paperback 17 Feb 2011)

The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser (Paperback 1 Apr 2011)

The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards (Paperback 10 Jan 2011)

The Reversal by Michael Connelly (There is no date available yet for the paperback edition)

Do you have any other suggestion that I may be missing? Your comments are welcome.

If you have not noticed it yet I’m a list-maniac.

>I’ve Just Bought a Book on Impulse


I couldn’t resist myself and I just bought today ¿Quién teme al lobo? (He Who Fears the Wolf) by Karin Fossum. Original title Den som frykter ulven. It has just been released in Spanish in paperback, Debolsillo 2010. And although I usually buy Nordic writers translated into English I was also attracted by the fact that it was translated with a grant from NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad) by Kirsti Baggethum and Asunción Lorenzo.

Another reason why I do wanted to read Fossum again was the fact that my appreciation of Don`t Look Back, (No mires atrás) was not all that positive. What may sound something odd since Fossum is highly praised by people with whom I usually share a similar taste.

By the way I just read page 99, it doesn’t give me a clue. Maybe I should have try the hardback..

Me acabo de comprar un libro por impulso

No me pude resistir y me acabo de comprar hoy ¿Quién teme al lobo? (He Who Fears the Wolf) de Karin Fossum. Título original Den som frykter ulven. Acaba de ser publicado en español en edición de bolsillo, Debolsillo, 2010. Y a pesar de que habitualmente compro libros de escritores nórdicos traducidos al inglés también me he sentido atraído por el hecho que la traducción  de Kirsti Baggethum y Asunción Lorenzo contó con una subvención de NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad).

Otra razón por la que no quería leer de nuevo a Fossum fue el hecho de que mi apreciación de No mires atrás (Don’t Look Back) no fue demasiado positiva. Lo que puede sonar algo extraño, ya que Fossum es muy elogiada por personas con las que por lo general comparto un gusto parecido.

Por cierto acabo de leer la página 99, no me da pista alguna. Tal vez debería haberlo intentado con la tapa dura ..

>Page 99 test


According to Ford Madox Ford if you read page 99 of a novel, you’ll know whether you want to read the whole book. A new website plans to let us all try this out, Page99 Test. Taken from the Monday 27 September 2010.

‘Hay gente pa to’, literally ‘there are people for everything’, Rafael Gómez Ortega ‘El Gallo’ dixit. Probably a Spanish equivalent for ‘Some like it hot’. Which by the way it just remind me of…..

Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong

Death of a Red Heroine is a debut novel by Qiu Xiaolong. It is also the first one in a series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao, head of the special case squad, Homicide Division, Shanghai Police Bureau and his assistant Detective Yu Guangming. Although first published in 2000, the action takes place in 1990, at the beginning of the great socio-economic changes initiated by Deng Xiaoping a few months after the events of Tiananmen Square.

The book opens when the body of a young woman, wrapped in a black plastic bag, is found in a remote canal. The woman was naked. She was strangled after a possible sexual assault. Although the special squad does not have to take this case, Chief Inspector Chen decides to wait until some evidence appears before turning it over to the sex homicide group. But when her picture was distributed and posted in public places, a security man from Shanghai First Department Store recognises her as Guan Hongying (Hong for the colour red, and Ying for heroine), a national model worker, a cadre and party member, of course.

The argument of this murder mystery serves well to provide a vivid portrait of China during its transition period and it captures the reader attention and submerges him into its history, culture, poetry and culinary tradition, through multiple individual stories. For my taste the book offers a superb introduction to China and it was a worthwhile read. It won’t take me long to read the next book in the series. It is no surprise that Death of a Red Heroine was the winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel and it was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best First Crime Novel.Globus 2

This is my third Asia book on Dorte’s 2010 Global Reading Challenge.

Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). His last book Years of Red Dust will be released on September 28, 2010. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter (from his website).

Death of a Red Heroine has been reviewed by Maxine at Petrona, Norman at Crime Scraps, Craig at Crime Watch, Reviewing the Evidence, Un cadaver en mi blog (in Spanish). See also Mis detectives favoritos (in Spanish).

Qiu Xiaolong’s interview at Scene of the Crime

Read a Sample Chapter

Hodder and Stoughton

Qiu Xiaolong Official Website

Death of a Red Heroine

Qiu Xiaolong

First published in the United Sates of America by Soho Press in 2000

First published in Great Britain in 2006 by Hodder and Stoughton

Number of pages: 470.

ISBN: 978-0340-89750-8

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