Tag Archives: contemporary crime thriller

Sunday Post – 3rd December 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I’m now ready for the upcoming blog tour for Dying for Space and busy working on the notes for next term’s Creative Writing course entitled, What’s the Time and is it Raining? Setting and why it Matters. I’ve also started my major rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest again as I’m beginning to turn into the witchbitch from Hell due to not writing creatively. The signs are all there – difficulty sleeping because my brain is itching… short-tempered… suddenly finding myself wanting to cry inappropriately – at a dance on Strictly for instance… So I had better start writing something more than blog articles and teaching notes before Himself decides to spend Christmas sorting out the loft.

On Friday, my granddaughter Frances turned thirteen. She has had her hair cut into a bob and donated her thick, curly, waist-length hair to the Little Princess Trust which makes wigs from donated hair for children who have lost their hair with cancer treatment. She looks beautiful, now taller than me and turning into a feisty teen full of opinions, which is brilliant. We went for a meal at The Dragon in Rustington with her parents and my sister to celebrate, then took the grandchildren home with us. Yesterday they helped us decorate the house for Christmas – we haven’t yet quite finished as all our lights seem to have disappeared, as we apparently put them a very safe place last year. Or they have been transported into another dimension by a being that needed lights, but not baubles, a tree, nativity scene and yards and yards of tinsel…
Today is the Wrap Party to celebrate the end of the filming with the cast and technical crew of Tim’s film Hoodwinked 3. Frances and I will be attending and we’re really looking forward to it.

This week I have read:

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of the Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle
“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane.

According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft. But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.
I couldn’t put down this well-written, engrossing Victorian mystery with a twist of fantasy and will be hunting down the first book in this series in the new year.

 

Deadly Dance – Book 1 of the D.I. David Vogel series by Hilary Bonner
The discovery of the partially-clothed body of a teenage girl in the heart of Bristol’s red light district indicates a tragic yet familiar scenario. But this marks the start of a baffling murder investigation where nothing is as it first appears. Fourteen-year-old Melanie Cooke told her mother she was visiting a school friend. Who was she really going to meet? Detective Inspector David Vogel is led towards three very different principal protagonists, each of whom grows increasingly chilling. But are they what they seem? And is any one of them capable of murder?
This twisty psychological thriller was a real page-turner and the denouement was a complete surprise – I’ll be remembering this one for a while.

 

Bound – Book 8 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
Alex Verus can see the future. But he never thought he’d see this day. Manoeuvred by forces beyond his control, the probability mage has made a terrible choice: he’s agreed to work for his old master once more. Richard Drakh, the sadistic dark mage Alex escaped as an apprentice, has him in his clutches again. And this time, he won’t let go so easily.
Another cracking read about this well-written prescient mage, whose life just doesn’t get any easier…

 

Blue Shift – Book 1 of the Second Species series by Jane O’Reilly
The Earth is cold, dead and divided. The rich hide away from reality while the rest will do anything to survive. Humanity have only one hope: reaching a habitable planet. But getting there means travelling in large numbers through alien-held space, something that’s politically nearly impossible. Yet for some, fighting their way through space is just a way of life . . . Jinnifer Blue is a rich girl on the run. An expert pilot, she apprehends criminals on behalf of the government and keeps her illegal genetic modifications a closely guarded secret. But when a particularly dangerous job goes south, leaving her stranded on a prison ship with one of the most ruthless criminals in the galaxy, Jinn realises that the rich and the powerful are hiding more than she’d ever guessed. Now she must decide if she can trust her co-prisoner – because once they discover what the prison ship is hiding, she definitely can’t trust anyone else . . .
I really enjoyed this entertaining space opera. Jinn is an engaging protagonist with some hard options ahead of her – along with the rest of humanity – and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel as I want to know what happens next.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 26th November, 2017

Review of Mother of Eden – Book 2 of the Dark Eden series by Chris Beckett

Teaser Tuesday featuring Bound – Book 8 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Fade Out – by Patrick Tilley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of the Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

Friday Face-off – The pen is mightier than the sword featuring Assassin’s Apprentice – Book 1 from The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The River Keepers by Michael F. Stewart

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

8 Years Ago Today https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/8-years-ago-today/ Bloggers occasionally write about things that are very personal – and when they are passionate and effective with words, the result can be humbling and awesome…

The Stag and the Dragon II https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/12/02/the-stag-and-the-dragon-ii/ Now we are deep into winter, the magic of a beautifully crafted photographic tour is even more appreciated.

#Bookreview: A Ragbag of Riches by James Chilton https://rathertoofondofbooks.com/2017/12/01/bookreview-a-ragbag-of-riches-by-james-chilton/ With Christmas around the corner, I’m on the lookout for books that would delight the word nerd in your life – and this looks like a real gem…

A Story of Snow https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/a-story-of-snow/ Articles by this talented author are always worth reading – and this one is no exception.

Weekly Writer Wisdom: Ursula K. Le Guin’s National Book Award Acceptance Speech https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2017/11/28/weekly-writer-wisdom-ursula-le-guin/ These wonderful words from one of the most famous authors in the SFF community are worth listening to…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

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Review of The Obsession by Norah Roberts

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I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about this latest offering by Norah Roberts and enjoyed Whiskey Beach. Would I enjoy this one even more?

theobsessionNaomi Carson is a survivor. As a child, her family was torn apart by a shocking crime. It could have destroyed her, but Naomi has grown up strong, with a passion for photography that has taken her all around the world. Now, at last, she has decided to put down roots. The beautiful old house on Point Bluff needs work, but Naomi has new friends in town who are willing to help, including Xander Keaton – gorgeous, infuriating and determined to win her heart. But as Naomi plans for the future, her past is catching up with her. Someone in town knows her terrifying secret – and won’t let her forget it. As her new home is rocked by violence, Naomi must discover her persecutor’s identity, before it’s too late.

This certainly started with a bang – I was quite shocked at the start of the book when we are in the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old right in the middle of this terrible adventure. That said, it is very well handled and I loved the fact that this book mostly deals with the aftermath. News reports are always full of the terrible events surrounding a major crime – but we don’t get to see the devastating impact on those who have the bad luck to be related to those caught up in such events.

Naomi comes across as entirely credible and I love the way that Roberts builds up all the small details about her daily life and her plans for updating the neglected house, which also works as an effective metaphor for her life. Did I guess whodunit before we got to the denouement? Oh yes, but I think Roberts wrote it that we should – and this story isn’t necessarily a huge mystery about the perpetrator, more about why anyone would want to do such dreadful things, anyway.

This author is one of the most successful genre writers on the planet – her output is formidable. I began to see why as I read far later into the morning to finish the book as I simply did not want to put it down. If you are looking for an engrossing mystery with a dash of romance featuring a strong, complicated female protagonist then head on to your library – one of the advantages of reading someone so popular is that they are bound to have a copy. Or buy it – this prolific author is clearly at the top of her game with this book.
9/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2015

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It was a cracking year, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. I read 121 books this year, wrote 108 reviews and these are the best – the books that have stayed with me long after I’d closed them up and written a review about them.

Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb
Hobb is one of my favourite authors anyhow, so I was delighted when she revisited Fitz and took his story further. And this new adventure didn’t disappoint.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly thesefoolsassassin many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more… On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe. See my full review here.

 

The Straight Razor Cure – Book 1 of The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and straightrazorcurea way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. This is a strong start to a remarkable trilogy, which has stayed with me throughout the year and if you like your fantasy gritty with a strong protagonist, then I highly recommend this offering. See my full review here.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This was recommended to me by a couple of my students – and it didn’t disappoint. But whatever you do, don’t look up the reviews written in The Guardian or The Telegraph because they have seen fit to provide the main spoiler which makes a big difference to how you’d read the book.Weareallcompletelybesideourselves

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
As soon as I started reading, the surefooted first person voice pulled me in – and then about a quarter of the way in, came the revelation which I didn’t see coming. At all. This is such a clever, original book. What you think must be the themes when you start reading about the fallout surrounding Fern’s disappearance on her family, once you get past That Point, you realise there is another agenda alongside the expected issues of loss and identity. See my full review here.

 

Mars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and mars evacueesSORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well. I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm. And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived. If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Yes… I know it’s aimed at children – but this book enchanted me as well as my grandchildren and we are now all looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure in 2016. See my full review here.

 

The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes thedetectivesdaughterof celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful book, which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it. See my full review here.

 

The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
When Charlotte Gale’s aunt warns their magical family of an approaching asteroid, they scramble to keep humanity thefuturefallsfrom going the way of the dinosaurs. Although between Charlie’s complicated relationship with sorcerer Jack, her cousin Allie’s hormones, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack’s sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie’s fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems. This could have so easily been an adrenaline junkie’s dream with constant action-packed pages of chases… scary magical confrontations ending in blood and gore – and it would have still been an engrossing read. But the cool, ironic tone of the blurb nicely echoes the emotional tenor of the books.

The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are. See my full review here.

 

Window Wall – Book 4 of The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Elsewhens, the Fae gift that grants him prescient glimpses of possible futures, by simply refusing to experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his windowwalltheatre troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to force Cade into accepting the visions again, but when he does, he witnesses a terrible attack, though he cannot see who is responsible. Cade knows the future he sees can be changed, and when he finally discovers the truth behind the attack, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who can prevent it: his deadly enemy.
Meanwhile Touchstone is poised to become the best theatrical troupe in the country, though that isn’t the end of their problems. As Cade is wrestling with his own magical talents, Touchstone still have issues of their own to sort out – domestic life collides with the demands of touring; the pressure of constantly providing new, exciting plays; betrayal by someone they thought they could trust… So there is no trace of this series running out of steam – if anything it just goes on getting better. Though whatever you do, don’t pick up Window Wall first. You need to go back to the start to get a real flavour of this original, outstanding series and it would be a crime to do anything else. See my full review here.

 

Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownEmbassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerse, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

It is a huge challenge, both imaginatively and technically to write convincingly about another species that has never been seen on our home planet. No problem for Miéville, though. He nails it. See my full review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship the-long-way-666x1024that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

So is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship. See my full review here.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. theshepherdscrownAn old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other. Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists. See my full review here.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Cary
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, thegirlwithallthegiftsbecause Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work. See my full review here.

 

Lock In by John Scalzi
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever lockinand headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know – the blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. See my full review here.

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, theboneclocksdrawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. See my full review here.

Review of The Pure in Heart – Book 2 of the Simon Serrailler series by Suan Hill

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Susan Hill has always been a writer with an edge. Best known for her long-running gothic horror play The Woman in Black, now a horribly mangled film, and a series of disturbing books – see my review of I’m the King of the Castle here7505922 – she has now ventured into Crime. Will her character Simon Serrailler convince in this very crowded genre?

It is spring in the quiet English cathedral town of Lafferton when a little boy is snatched as he stands with his satchel at the gate of his home, waiting for his lift to school. Meanwhile a severely handicapped young woman hovers between life and death and an ex-con finds it impossible to go straight…

We start with Serrailler on holiday in Venice, struggling to come to terms with the shocking death of one of his team in a previous adventure. I immediately cared about this difficult, introspective man as we see him during one of his most emotional vulnerable moments, which was a smart move – because Hill doesn’t have her main protagonist emoting all over the place. You won’t be surprised to find he drifts back to work early, where he is suddenly caught up in a distressing case of a disappearing child.

But this isn’t your average crime thriller. While there is no blood or gore, it is most definitely not a cosy murder mystery, either. Hill uses the prism of her police whodunit to examine some gnarly issues in contemporary Britain. One is the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. When ex-con Andy is released from prison and is forced to move in with his sister and her family on the local housing estate, the emotional and material poverty of his life prospects are starkly portrayed. The other difficult subject Hill tackles in this book is what should happen when someone severely disabled, unable to move, speak or care for herself becomes seriously ill. How hard should the doctors fight for her life? How is the quality of life measured? And who decides?

I’m conscious that I’ve depicted this book as some worthy, hard-hitting treatise on the faultlines in our society, but it is also a page-turner with the overall tone nothing as bleak as Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry novels, for instance. Simon is one of triplets with a close bond to his sister Cat, who is happily married with children and he spends a fair amount of time popping round to see her. Hill also has a knack of writing difficult characters with compassion and understanding, so even if you don’t agree with their actions or motives, you do empathise with their problems, which meant I cared all the way through. The overarching story running through this book is the police hunt for poor little David, who goes missing while waiting for a lift outside his gate. Hill fully explores the trauma such a disappearance inflicts on the family and community – and the ending was a shock, at least as far as I was concerned. Has Hill pulled it off? Yes – I think she has.

I’m definitely going to be getting hold of the other books in the series. Like Lesley Thomson and Stephen Booth, Hill has used the genre to explore some of the trickier social problems confronting modern Britain, as well as providing an engrossing story. If you like your crime novels with depth and intelligence, then track down this enjoyable, thought-provoking book.
10/10

Review of Revenge of the Tide by Elizabeth Haynes

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I bought this book when at the successful Dark and Stormy event run by Myriad with authors Lesley Thomson, Lisa Cutts and Elizabeth Haynes at Brighton earlier in the year. It was an excellent session, with all the authors articulate and informative on all aspects of crime writing. I came away with Lesley Thomson’s latest book and this offering by Elizabeth Haynes.

revengeofthetideGenevieve has finally escaped the stressful and dangerous demands of her work – sales executive by day, pole dancer by night – and achieved her dream: to get out of London and start a new life aboard a houseboat in Kent. But on the night of her boat-warming party a body washes up beside the vessel and Genevieve recognises the victim. With her life on the line and the sanctuary of the boatyard brutally shattered, Genevieve is about to discover the real cost of mixing business with pleasure.

This is an interestingly different read from the usual run of crime whodunits I normally read. For starters, the protagonist isn’t that close to the victim, or filled with a burning desire to discover who did it. Nevertheless, the murder triggers a host of recollections that she has managed to push to the back of her head, while engrossed in ‘living the dream’. Trouble is, she took some short cuts to get the dream and they are starting to bite back…

This book is a study of people who all break the rules, one way or another… Not a single person in the book plays it absolutely straight – particularly the protagonist. In fact, she’s one of those people who create a maelstrom around her, attracting all sorts of attention and trouble and leaving a trail of trouble in her wake. Haynes could have credibly written this book making her the villain in fact. Which is one of the main strengths of this grown up, edgy thriller – no one is painted as the pantomime baddie. It is all so plausible and easily explainable – from having a good time with some friends in a club, to deciding to have a go at pole dancing, to agreeing to lap dance with the clients to… and so it goes. And neither is Haynes crass enough to go wagging a finger in our faces. But the consequences of spending a lot of time with people who don’t respect the law or anyone else very much, rubs off on those around them. The ones there for the money, for whatever reason, do not walk away unchanged… I also liked the fact that although it is reasonably gritty, Haynes doesn’t see fit to turn it into a gore-fest to prove her ‘realistic’ credentials.

Haynes has a fluent, readable style that immediately pulled me into the story and I zipped through it in a couple of greedy gulps. Nevertheless, it is style that is memorable, although I’ve read a couple of other books, since, Genevieve’s adventures keep popping into my head. If you haven’t come across Haynes’ writing and you are a fan of real-world thrillers that don’t see fit to tip into a black and white version of the world, then look out for this book. It is a classy, interesting additional to this crowded genre that is worth hunting down.
9/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Crossing Places – Book 1 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

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This series was recommended by Himself and my mother, so it was with some anticipation that I started reading the ebook.
When a child’s bones are found on a desolate Norfolk beach, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls in forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to witchcraft, ritual and sacrifice. Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers.

crossingRuth Galloway is a forty-something archaeologist who lives on her own at the edge of Saltmarsh in an isolated cottage with a couple of cats. I found her character immediately appealing and realistic. Her concerns about her weight and her single status struck a chord with me – and I suspect many other female crime fans. This series is evidently going to be something of a partnership between Ruth and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. So did I also feel an affinity with the other main character? Yes. Nelson is clearly a complicated personality and – unlike Ruth and many other detectives in other series – he is a family man with two daughters and an attractive wife. I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out during the series. The other powerful factor in this book is the stunning backdrop – the salt marshes. Griffiths evidently knows and loves this landscape and has it bouncing off the page as a character in its own right, particularly during the climactic scenes where the dangerous surroundings heighten the drama and tension during the denouement in a classic showdown that manages to provide plenty of surprises.

Of course, while a sympathetic protagonist is obviously important – this is a whodunit, so what really matters is how Griffiths handles the plot. Do we know exactly who did it halfway through the story, or does it all come as a complete surprise? I’m not noted for my skill in spotting the culprit, but I thoroughly enjoyed Griffiths’ ability to provide plenty of twists and turns, without completely losing the day to day realism that a contemporary crime thriller needs. It’s a trickier balance to achieve than Griffiths makes it look. And another potential bear pit she manages to deftly sidestep is the fact that her victim is a child.

Obviously when a child goes missing, our protective instincts are instantly aroused – whatever the circumstances, a child is never anything other than an innocent victim. However, when a story highlights this scenario there are also distressed parents to portray and possible cross-questioning of other upset children… It can turn into a mess – I’ve discarded more than one whodunit halfway through either because of the casual manner in which the parents’ grief is depicted, or it’s simply too harrowing. I wasn’t tempted to do put this book down – Griffiths treats the disappearance of a child with sufficient seriousness, yet neither was the situation overwhelmingly grim.

Small wonder that this book created the buzz it did when it first hit the bookshelves, back in 2010 – and I’m delighted that I now have another well-written, edgy crime series to read. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet sampled Elly Griffiths’ world, track down The Crossing Places – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10

Review of EBOOK The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

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I’d heard quite enough about J.K. Rowling’s latest foray into adult fiction – so downloaded the Kindle version to make up my own mind. Do I feel particularly outraged at her attempt to write under another name? Nope – after reading only a fraction of the snidely hostile reviews she accrued for The Casual Vacancy, it seemed an intelligent move to try and avoid the same bru-ha if she could. And authors writing under different pen-names for different genres is hardly ground-breaking stuff – so the big fuss it caused was just so much synthetic puff designed to fill column inches, it seemed to me.

cuckooCormoron Strike, ex-soldier with half a leg missing, is on the ropes. Homeless and heartbroken as his destructive relationship with his fiancée finally comes to an end, he also faces financial ruin. Until the brother of a dead childhood friend walks into the office, desperate for him to look into the death of Lula Landry, his step-sister and celebrity model. The police are satisfied that her fall from a balcony window in Mayfair was suicide, but John Bristow believes otherwise. He pays Strike double his normal fee to uncover the truth, which is enough for him to keep the latest temporary secretary, Robin, who seems to be working out really well.

Rowling’s strength is making us care about her characters, while spinning a page-turning story and these talents are aptly demonstrated in this entertaining, enjoyable whodunit. I rapidly bonded with Strike – whose attention to his personal hygiene in difficult circumstances I found very endearing. As he painstakingly tracks through Lula’s life, building up a picture of a beautiful super-model and the price of fame – as well as the trappings. The pressure of paparazzi hounding her every move and hacking into her phone leaves her depressed and isolated in a smart flat that she hates. As with the best crime thrillers, I found I increasingly cared about the victim as Strike unearths more details about her character and life, so that her death feels like a genuine tragedy by the end. Which is exactly what a reader should be feeling in this genre – and so often doesn’t.

I particularly relished the cast of characters, along with their unfolding backstories. There are a variety of interesting people in the frame for Lula’s murder – and I had no problem that Strike got there before me. If Rowling had been writing in limited first person viewpoint, I would have been quibbling about it, but she didn’t. Did I see the denouement coming? Although several reviewers have claimed that they guessed early on exactly who had done it, I didn’t. Not that I was bothering to try too much, as I was fully engrossed in the story. I happen to think that endings are something that Rowling does particularly well – and this time is no exception. There is a real sense of poignancy at Lula’s death that could have been avoided, if only things had been slightly different. Strike’s own character progresses well throughout the story, with a couple of dangling plot-points to keep us wondering and eager to read the next book in the series.

Any niggles? The prologue seemed a tad clunky, but once Strike appeared the pace picked up and Rowling  quickly settled into the story. I do wonder whether we actually need that awkward piece on the front of the narrative. The other issue I have is that the scene setting is patchy. In places it sings off the page. I could smell the scruffy office Strike inhabits and the glittering, ostentatious Mayfair flat was pin-sharp. However, the best writers in this genre also depict London with a similar cinematic clarity, and this is missing in The Cuckoo’s Calling. Though there is far too much to enjoy about this book to let such relatively minor weaknesses bother me – and they are noticeable is because the overall crafting of the book is so solid. I will definitely be buying the next one, whether Rowling chooses to continue using Robert Galbraith as her pen-name, or not.
8/10