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Strange Images of Death [Hardcover]

Barbara Cleverly
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

March 25 2010 Joe Sandilands Murder Mystery
It is summertime in Provence, 1926, but for Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands it's not all 'Dance and Provencal song and sunburnt mirth'. Joe is on leave, driving his way south to the Riviera while dropping off his niece at an ancient chateau in the Luberon hills. Her father is spending the season here, one of a group of talented artists who are the guests of a generous but enigmatic host. A troubling crime has been committed days earlier at the chateau, leaving a clear message that more violence is to come. To allay panic, Joe agrees to stay on and root out the guilty person. But, despite Joe's vigilance, a child goes missing and an artist's beautiful young model is murdered in circumstances eerily recreating a six hundred year old crime of passion. Helped and hindered by a rising star of the French Police Judiciaire, Joe must delve into a horror story from the castle's past before he can tear the mask from the diseased soul responsible for these contemporary crimes.

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Review

Praise for Barbara Cleverly:

"Despite her mastery at vivid scene-setting, Cleverly never loses sight of the historical puzzle that is central to her story. Simply put, it's a stunner."—New York Times

"Spectacular and dashing. Spellbinding."—New York Times Book Review

"Excellent.... Golden age fans who appreciate deceptive storytelling enhanced by the kind of in-depth characterization lacking in Agatha Christie will be more than satisfied."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"This series and its hero age well: the perspicacious Sandilands exhibits an arresting combination of Mary Russell's discernment and Chief Inspector Wexford's tenacious certainty."—Booklist Starred Review

"Cleverly's crisp prose and solid cast of supporting characters ... make the book a delight to read."—Denver Post

"Stylish and intricate.... Cleverly has perfect pitch for period and place, whether her hero is unearthing evil in India, England or France."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"A great blood and guts blockbuster."—Guardian

"Atmospheric ... intricately plotted."—Kirkus Reviews  --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Barbara Cleverly lives in the middle of Cambridge surrounded by ancient buildings and bookshops. She was born and educated in the North of England at a Yorkshire grammar school and then at Durham University. She is currently working on a new series set in the golden age of archaeology, which is also published by Constable.

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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent book in a wonderful series May 4 2010
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: He studied her sleeping face for the last time.

Scotland Yard Commander Joe Sandilands is taking Dorcas, his friend's 14-year-old daughter, to meet her artist father at an old castle in Provence. On the way, she asks Joe to find the mother who abandoned her when she was 2 years old. Upon arrival, there is a second mystery to solve. It begins with the destruction of a tomb figure, escalates to the death of a rabbit and culminates in the murder of a beautiful woman. Forced to work with French Commissaire Francis Jacquemin, known for arresting first, then forcing confessions, Joe much ensure he catches the proper killer and prevents any more deaths.

Characters; it is they who bring a story to life and Cleverly's characters do not disappoint. They are fully developed with their backgrounds established and their personalities distinct. We not only learn about Joe, for those who've not read previous books in the series, but are told of his appearance in an unforced manner.

A predominant young character can be awkward, but not here. Dorcas, his 14 year old 'niece' is someone who holds her own. She is someone I want to see remain part of the series, if not in every book but certainly in the future. There was a character I felt wasn't as strong an element as I thought might be, but I was okay with that.

Cleverly is a very visual writer, whether in panorama or in detail. You have a real sense of their surroundings at all times. I appreciate dialogue that has a natural ear and flow with a touch of humor, and she satisfies on all aspects.

This book's opening hook is very strong; suspenseful, dramatic and ultimately brutal without the reader having to witness the act.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There's something ancient and wicked here." May 15 2010
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A killer is on the loose in Provence, France, in the latest Joe Sandilands novel, "Strange Images of Death," by Barbara Cleverly. The story opens with an unsettling scene of wanton destruction committed by an unidentified and clearly mad individual. Cleverly then segues to Joe Sandilands who is driving his "niece," fourteen-year-old Dorcas, to visit her father, the charming but impractical Orlando Joliffe, a self-indulgent bohemian who is charming but not overly paternal.

Although Joe and Dorcas are unrelated, the bachelor has an easy camaraderie with this bright, sensitive, and sometimes sarcastic young lady. Joe, a Commander at London's Scotland Yard, hopes to drop Dorcas off and proceed as soon as possible to Antibes on the Riviera to enjoy his vacation. Alas, the detective's plans for a period of rest and relaxation are thwarted. One reason is that Dorcas, who was nurtured lovingly by Joe's kindhearted sister, Lydia, asks him to track down her birth mother, whom she never knew. When Joe and Dorcas arrive at their destination, the grand and ancient Chateau de Silmont, they find Orlando with a lively group of male and female companions. They are spending the summer squabbling, drinking, painting, modeling, sculpting, dancing, writing poetry, taking photographs, having affairs, and letting their children run wild. Cleverly evokes the free and creative spirit of the time (1926), when daring artists such as Picasso and Matisse experimented with form, line, and color. Surrealism was just coming into vogue. Although Joe agrees to stay with Dorcas for a day or so, he remains far longer. First, he agrees to look into the aforementioned act of vandalism and, later, the untimely and unnatural death of one of the guests. Although he is working only in an unofficial capacity, the experienced Sandilands puts his finely-honed powers of observation and deduction to good use.

"Strange Images of Death" is literate and intelligently written, although Cleverly's heavy-handed use of British period slang, laced with too many exclamation points, can be a bit irritating. Still, the author's wit, keen eye for detail, and feel for history and art make this an entertaining and appealing mystery. Joe, who speaks fluent French, joins forces with Commissaire Jacquemin of Paris and Lieutenant Martinueau of Marseilles to assemble the pieces of a complex and baffling puzzle. Although this investigation is time-consuming, Joe keeps his promise to Dorcas, making inquiries that will lead to surprising information about her parentage. Cleverly's style may not be to everyone's taste, but patient and thoughtful readers will be amply rewarded not only by the involving whodunit, but also by allusions to the "inhuman acts of destruction" that took place during the first World War, leaving many soldiers dead or scarred for life; the disturbing portrayal of decadent individuals who live for the moment; and the astute analysis of the ways in which dysfunctional people inflict irrevocable harm on themselves and others.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mad happenings in a French château April 24 2010
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Commander Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard is once again embroiled in a very strange case. He never seems to encounter a garden-variety crime.

This case arises outside his jurisdiction, in a French château in Provence. It's 1926, and Joe is off to the Riviera for a holiday. On the way he's delivering his niece to her artist father. At the invitation of the lord de Stilmont, some twenty artistic types have gathered at the château for a summer of painting, sculpting and photography.

The locals call it the Château du Diable because of certain dark crimes in its past. But Joe finds a modern crime awaiting him in the ancient fortress. Someone has smashed a priceless medieval tomb sculpture of the wantonly beautiful Aliénore de Stilmont. Very quickly the violence escalates to human murder, preventing Joe from leaving as planned.

Eccentric characters abound: the half-mad lord and his suspiciously good looking cousin, Joe's precocious fourteen-year-old niece, a lascivious ballet impresario, Joe's laid-back artist friend with four kids by four different mothers, the beautiful young artist's model doomed by her resemblance to Aliénore - and a self-important French Commissaire whom Joe must tame.

One side of Joe's face is scarred by shrapnel; the other side is quite handsome. In keeping with his two faces, Joe vacillates between showing compassion and talking like an "unfeeling bugger," to quote one of the characters. I must confess I find the satirical Joe a bit jarring.

Nonetheless the plot is clever and steeped in tantalizing themes of infidelity and questionable parentage. Followers of Joe Sandilands should enjoy this book. But I'd encourage new readers to start at the beginning of the series, with The Last Kashmiri Rose.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CAUGHT UP IN THE MYSTERY June 17 2010
By Mary Anne Campbell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is another of "can't put it down" novels by Barbara Cleverly. A different theme of an artists' colony in an old castle with children running wild and twisted artistic people. Joe Sandisand comes as a guest and then chaos happens! I collect Barbara's novels and this one is another I "can't put down".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent book in a wonderful series May 4 2010
By L. J. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: He studied her sleeping face for the last time.

Scotland Yard Commander Joe Sandilands is taking Dorcas, his friend's 14-year-old daughter, to meet her artist father at an old castle in Provence. On the way, she asks Joe to find the mother who abandoned her when she was 2 years old. Upon arrival, there is a second mystery to solve. It begins with the destruction of a tomb figure, escalates to the death of a rabbit and culminates in the murder of a beautiful woman. Forced to work with French Commissaire Francis Jacquemin, known for arresting first, then forcing confessions, Joe much ensure he catches the proper killer and prevents any more deaths.

Characters; it is they who bring a story to life and Cleverly's characters do not disappoint. They are fully developed with their backgrounds established and their personalities distinct. We not only learn about Joe, for those who've not read previous books in the series, but are told of his appearance in an unforced manner.

A predominant young character can be awkward, but not here. Dorcas, his 14 year old "niece" is someone who holds her own. She is someone I want to see remain part of the series, if not in every book but certainly in the future. There was a character I felt wasn't as strong an element as I thought might be, but I was okay with that.

Cleverly is a very visual writer, whether in panorama or in detail. You have a real sense of their surroundings at all times. I appreciate dialogue that has a natural ear and flow with a touch of humor, and she satisfies on all aspects.

This book's opening hook is very strong; suspenseful, dramatic and ultimately brutal without the reader having to witness the act. It is also, we soon learn, the first of many excellent twists within the plot, this first so subtle you don't realize it until later. Cleverly skillfully interweaves interesting historical information into the story as well as providing an adept explanation of French and English police ranks and an amazing assessment of Van Gogh's self portrait.

These are only a few examples of the deftness with which Ms. Cleverly writes as none of these caused a break in the flow of the story. Add to that an emotional secondary mystery, and just the right touch of suspense and you have a well thought out and well executed traditional mystery.

Each year I plan for the release of the newest Sandilands book to order as soon as it is available. If you've not read them, do start at the beginning of the series and set aside uninterrupted time to enjoy each one. I know why they rank so high on my "must read" list; they are excellent.

STRANGE IMAGES OF DEATH (Pol Proc-Comm. Joe Sandilands-France-Golden Age/1926) - Ex
Cleverly, Barbara - 8th in series
Constable, ©2010, UK Hardcover - ISBN: 9781849011181

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More please! Sept. 28 2010
By myz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am already going through my Joe Sandilands withdrawal, as I've just finished reading this latest installment in the wonderful series. This time Joe is in France, the story is peppered with familiar faces, rich historical detail, and insight into the human mind. After Joe left India, after the fourth book, I though I would miss the exotic setting, but Cleverly has managed to consistently grab my attention, making it almost impossible for me to put the books down. Whether Joe is is India, England, or France, the character grows on me more and more, to the point that I wish I had a cool uncle Joe like him. I really haven't got anything bad to say about this addition to the series, it will please fans of mystery as well as historical fiction. Cleverly's prose is elegant but very readable, and leaves you yearning for another adventure to take on with the dashing Commander.
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