Tag Archives: crime thriller

Sunday Post – 28th July, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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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.

At last I have had a slightly easier week. I wasn’t teaching on Monday or Tuesday, though I had my very last Creative Writing course on Friday, when I was running my one-day Summer Surgery. It was a low-key affair with just six students so we were able to relax a bit as we heard people’s writing and discussed any writing issues. The mighty Ros, our wonderful admin assistant who has been unfailingly prompt, professional and supportive, presented me with a lovely bouquet of flowers that she had made for me. And in case you are now heartily sick of hearing about my leaving Northbrook – I promise that was my very last course for them, ever…

I painted the bathroom cupboard and towel rail this week, as well as made a start on sorting out the grandchildren’s rooms. We have broken the back of sorting out the toys they no longer play with and probably would have finished spring-cleaning their rooms, but we were coping with record-breaking heat as the temperature climbed to the high 70s and into the 80s during Wednesday and Thursday. Himself was struggling as he far prefers the cold and even I was finding it a bit of a struggle – the desk fans we have throughout the house were not up to job of keeping it remotely cool, especially as the back door had to be shut as that dangerous concrete canopy was removed. The builders have done a wonderful job – it came down with the minimum of mess and drama and having seen some of the horrible situations our former neighbours got into when tackling that job, I was very grateful. This coming week our new back door is due to be fitted.

Yesterday, my sister and I went into Chichester to shop for her son’s wedding next week. It went like a dream – she found a fabulous dress with matching jacket, shoes, handbag and fascinator as well as another dress, jacket and gorgeous sandals for the evening reception. Fortunately, I have a dress already in my wardrobe that will do – and today we collected a linen suit we ordered for Himself and added a shirt, belt, shoes and socks. It’s been a while since we have had a wedding in the family, so we are all really excited about it.

Last week I read:
The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold. This novella follows about a year after the events of The Prisoner of Limnos.
I thoroughly enjoyed this latest slice of the ongoing adventures of Penric and his demon as he struggles to free himself and two small girls caught by pirates who are planning to sell them into slavery.

 

Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Two years after the initial invasion of Hayden’s World, the newly reinforced Hayden Militia is in a state of stalemate with the remaining enemy forces but neither side is content to leave things at that. The alien alliance has dispatched their varsity to clean up the resistance on Hayden while the USF has officially activated Task Force V, the latest and most advanced combat ships built by humans. In the end there are some things you decide in the skies, but some can only be settled in the mud.
This military science fiction series continues with the second book, where events go on ramping up as those dastardly aliens show no sign of going home…

 

A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
On Halloween night, the Smith Museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event — the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when forensic archaelogist Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds a nasty surprise waiting for her…
Listening to this one on audiobook, it is my favourite book in this series so far as I just love the way the occult is so skilfully entwined amongst the action in this classy police procedural.

 

Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare
All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.

All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.

All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.

However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt.
This engrossing WWII thriller gives us a real taste of the terrible Italian campaign, in amongst a threat other than the German guns in this well-written page-turner. Review to follow.

 

The Dry – Book 1 of the Aaron Falk series by Jane Harper
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.
I can see why this debut crime thriller caused such a fuss – I spent most of a warm evening engrossed in this one instead of tackling a stack of chores that needed doing. Review to follow.

 

The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen
Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.
It took me a while to get into this entertaining children’s fantasy adventure – but once I got into the world and the flashbacks ceased, it proved to be great fun. I shall certainly consider reading this one to my grandson next year…

 

 

How To Steal a Dragon’s Sword AUDIOBOOK – Book 9 of the How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Viking Berk heir Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless are target of dragon rebellion — filled with the meanest Razor-wings, Tonguetwisters, and Vampire Ghouldeaths. Only a King can save them, a champion with all of the King’s Lost Things. Hiccup will have to outwit a witch, fight his arch-enemy, and beat back an army of bloodthirsty dragons with just one sword.
I have read and reviewed this one, but this time around I had the pleasure of listening to David Tennant’s wonderful narration of the audiobook edition.

 

My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE NOVELLA The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Teaser Tuesday featuring Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of the Haydon War Cycle series by Evan Currie

Review of INDIE Ebook Honor’s Flight – Book 2 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

Sunday Post – 21st July 2019

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

Peanut Butter in the Middle, a New Release Children’s Book https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2019/07/22/peanut-butter-in-the-middle-a-new-release-childrens-book/ This is a book about and for the middle sibling, who often struggles to define their relationship within the family…

Does Gotham Need Batman? http://melfka.com/archives/16468 Joanna raises an intriguing issue in this thoughtful article about the role of the lantern-jawed hero versus those colourful villains.

10 Book Settings I Need More of in my Reading Life https://thebookishlibra.com/2019/07/23/top-ten-tuesday-10-book-settings-i-need-more-of-in-my-reading-life/ Suzanne, whose book review blog I enjoy following, listed her favourite settings – which had me wondering which ones I particularly enjoy. What about you?

Voting for the Hugo Awards https://earthianhivemind.net/2019/07/23/voting-for-the-hugo-awards/ Stephanie gives us the shortlist for this year’s Hugo Awards as it is now time to vote.

Author Jean Lee Interviews…Me! https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/author-jean-lee-interviews-me/ No – confusingly, this is not me – it is book blogger Anne Clare discussing the interview with Jean about the release of her debut novel. It was this interview that prompted me to pop along to Amazon and buy a copy… And I’m very glad I did.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

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Review of Ebook NOVELLA Anachronism by Jennifer Lee Rossman #Brainfluffbookreview #Anachronismbookreview

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I obtained an advanced reader copy of this novella from the author on the understanding I would provide an honest review. This is another of those quirky offerings from the award-winning Grimbold stable – they certainly have an eye for intriguing reads…

It’s the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she’s the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war…

Petra Vincent is at the end of her rope – or rather, the edge of a bridge. Her world is falling apart around her and she sees no way out of the meaningless existence the future has in store. But when stranded time traveler Moses Morgan tells her that she will one day lead the country out of the rubble of a nuclear civil war as President of the United States, she’s intrigued – and when another time traveler starts trying to preemptively assassinate her, she realizes Moses might be telling the truth…

So this is an action-packed story where the main protagonist, Petra, finds her life turned upside down by an encounter with Moses, just at a point in her life where everything is going wrong. I found Petra sympathetic as her problems were immediately believable and contemporary and I also liked the fact that it took her some time and a frightening encounter before she began to accept that he might be back from the future with a very important message.

Unfortunately, his appearance draws down other attention, which is far less welcome. Davenport was a convincing villain and I was really rooting for Petra to survive so that she could become the great leader Moses knows from his history books. As she goes on a desperate road trip to meet her estranged father, this turns into a classic chase. What I hadn’t expected, was the ultimate twist at the end – I certainly didn’t see it coming and it was a doozy. I went back and reread the start just to ensure that Rossman hadn’t cheated in any way – she hadn’t. It’s really clever and memorable and turns the book into something else altogether.

This is an entertaining, well-written take on the time travelling trope and if you enjoy those types of stories and want a fast-paced read, then I highly recommend this one.
10/10

Review of Vowed – Book 2 of The Blackhart Legacy series by Liz de Jager

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a family with particular skills who have appointed themselves as guardians to protect humanity from the beings of the Otherworld who make their way into our dimension and cause havoc – see my review of Banished here. Would the second book manage to match the entertaining start to this series?

Kit Blackhart must investigate why children are disappearing from a London estate. However, their parents, police and fae allies claim to know nothing. And as yet more children disappear, the pressure mounts. Luckily, or unluckily, government trainee Dante Alexander is helping Kit with the case. Yet just as her feelings towards him begin to thaw, his life falls apart. As Kit struggles to unravel his problems and dangerous secrets, she meets fae Prince Thorn in her dreams – but their relationship is utterly forbidden.

vowedI immediately caught up with what was going on in Kit’s world, with the strong first person narrative that bounces off the page. Kit’s character is well portrayed and is completely convincing as a strong, opinionated teenager who has had a tough time. It’s a balancing act – too much misery and angst and the pacing would be compromised, while too much action without any consideration of what’s been going on would give Kit all the depth of a pavement puddle. It’s a trickier task to accomplish than de Jager makes it look, as I liked Kit’s moments of introspection.

There are a few scenes where the first person narration is interrupted by third-person viewpoint episodes featuring Thorn, the fae prince who featured in the first book. As Kit’s personality is so strongly established throughout the book, I didn’t find these sections jarring, and was interested to see what is going on with him. As in the first book, I had made some assumptions as to where the storyline would go – only to suddenly find it had peeled off into quite another direction. This certainly was the case with Kit’s investigative partner, Dante, who suddenly finds himself facing a sudden challenge while trying to track down the missing children, that is going to have some long-term ramifications. I am hoping that his relationship with Kit isn’t going to develop into the dreaded triangle, as so far I’ve enjoyed their partnership and would prefer it to stay platonic.

I also very much like the dynamic of Kit’s role within a large, extended family which she doesn’t know very well. While there are times when she enjoys being part of the Blackhart clan, it isn’t all hearts and flowers finding yourself in the middle of a large family. I also very much liked the fact that Kit at times really misses her nan. Far too often within this sub-genre, people die in one book where there is a short grieving section – and then for the rest of the series, the dead character is barely mentioned again.

As for the ending – well… I didn’t see that one coming! However, I thought the case was going to be resolved, the conclusion was quite unexpected and thought-provoking. This gives the series real impetus – and I’m now keen to get hold of the third book, Judged, and find out what happens next.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno

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I’m a sucker for a good sci fi adventure and when I saw the cover for this one, I was on my way to requesting this one from NetGalley before I got halfway through the rather chatty blurb…

titanbornMalcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders. Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal.

For starters, don’t pay too much attention to the Prologue – written in omniscient pov, it is a dry-as-dust info dump that gives no indication of Bruno’s writing ability and as all the world-building is perfectly adequately explained within the story, I’m not even sure why it’s there. Feel free to skip it. Because once we get to the beginning of the story in Malcolm’s viewpoint, his character pings off the page.

Basically, he’s a bounty hunter that is paid to tidy up the flotsam that runaway capitalism produces and he’s been on the job for the past thirty years. He’s arrogant, greedy, judgemental and selfish – oh and sexist. And I really cared about him. Bruno has written a blinding anti-hero, here. It takes a degree of skill to successfully depict someone with quite so many flaws as a credible protagonist, but Bruno has triumphantly succeeded in this gritty, thought-provoking critique on where our subjection to mega-corporations could lead. Especially if we choose that path to fund our way into space.

Which manages to make this book sound like some long-winded treatise on society’s flaws – and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a full-on adventure-driven tale, where Malcolm and his new, very unwelcome partner are trying to stop a gang of desperate terrorists from attacking Earth and oust his employers from Titan. There are shoot-outs, chases with plenty of death and mayhem, all filtered through Malcolm’s dry, slightly cynical viewpoint.

I loved it and found I was reading faaar into the early morning to discover what happened at the end – although I reckoned I had a pretty good idea where it was headed… Until I didn’t. Until something else entirely different occurred, leaving me winded and a little shaken. Did it work? Oh yes, it did. I’m not going to forget this one in a hurry. It comes very highly recommended and reminded me all over again why THIS is my favourite genre of all.

I received a NetGalley arc of Titanborn from the publishers in return for an honest review.
10/10

Review of KINDLE ebook The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of the Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

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I was very impressed with A Kind of Vanishing – see my review here. Recommended by my mother, the book focussed on the disappearance of a little girl and was unlike anything else I’d ever read. I’d loaded this book onto my Kindle, and then got overtaken by all those old fashioned solid books stacked up by my bed – until Lesley came to talk to West Sussex Writers in an amazing interview. I recalled what a smart, original writer she was, and immediately turned to The Detective’s Daughter stacked in a dusty corner of my Kindle. Would I enjoy it as much as A Kind of Vanishing?

thedetectivesdaughterKate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes of 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.

As in A Kind of Vanishing, Thomson takes a major event – Kate’s murder – and in addition to presenting us with a whodunit, which is every bit as engrossing as any in this crowded genre, she adds an extra layer. The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful read 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.

And if you’re a reader who appreciates complicated, quirky characters then you’re in for a treat. Stella, the detective’s daughter, is a sharp-edged young woman still trying to come to terms with her father’s decision to put the Kate Rokesmith’s case above his responsibilities towards his daughter and his wife. The other character struggling to cope with parental abandonment is Kate’s son, Jonathan, who was discovered near his murdered mother, aged four. We learn what happened to him once he grew up – another layer of loss woven into this murder that Terry Darnell didn’t manage to solve before he died.

I’m conscious that so far, I’ve managed to make this book sound as much fun as a dirge in dark – but there are shafts of humour running throughout the narrative. Stella, the main protagonist, runs a cleaning agency and has a slightly grumpy, enjoyably ironic take on humanity. She takes on Jack, who already has a night job driving trains but comes with his own dark reasons for needing to keep himself also occupied during the day. For reasons she can’t really fathom, she finds herself teaming up with Jack as she finds herself going back over her father’s notes regarding this one unsolved case that haunted him throughout the rest of his life. The case he was working on when he dropped dead of a heart attack…

In many ways, this is a classic whodunit, complete with an interesting pool of possible suspects, but what hooks me is the extra something else that Thomson brings. Her detailed, forensic examination of her cast of characters and the liberties she takes with viewpoint means there are short sections where I wasn’t sure whether we are in Stella’s memories, or in the mind of the dead detective, Terry Darnell – which breaks all the rules. However, I didn’t really care – because there are those writers who manage to make the Writing Rulebook redundant while they weave their own particular voodoo, and Thomson belongs in that exclusive club.

If you enjoy your crime fiction on the literary end of the genre, laced with interestingly different characters and an engrossing plot – I’ll guarantee you won’t see who did it until Thomson wants you to – then track it down. It’s worth it.
10/10

Review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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I tracked this book down after a number of my students and online friends recommended it. Would I enjoy it as much as they did?

thepayingguestsIt is 1922 and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in the south of the city, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed. Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances – an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster – find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. And the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun…

That’s as much of the very blurting blurb I’m prepared to include, as the rest of it lurches into Spoiler territory and given that this is such a cracking tale, having the shine knocked off it in any way would be an outright sin. However, I will disclose that there are some fairly explicit sex scenes between two women – while it is handled with tenderness, if you find such material difficult to deal with, then this isn’t the book for you.

The protagonist, Frances, is sleep-walking through her life, numbed by the loss of all her dreams, the death of her brothers during the war and any prospect of escaping the drudgery of trying to keep the house in one piece over their heads. Waters beautifully portrays the ashy wasteland of her life without any handwringing self-pity. In fact, it is Frances’ stubborn ability to endure that is one of her greatest strengths – and weakness. Waters builds up a detailed portrait of her main character by walking us through her life, giving us a plethora of period details that has me humbly giving thanks for my washing machine, dishwasher, wet-wipes and nifty throw-away duster mops…

It is really important that we strongly bond with Frances in the early stages of the book – because if we don’t really care about her and feel appalled at having a ringside seat as she atrophies in front of us, then we’ll clearly struggle later on. Because the story morphs from being a beautifully depicted period piece about the plight of women at a particularly grim time in English history into a police investigation, culminating into a classic courtroom drama. A drama with Frances caught up right in the middle of the action…

I had intended this morning to read for half an hour, and then get up. An hour and a half later, rather drained and emotional, I tottered out of bed, having completed the book. It is a triumph. Waters manages to weave a thriller in amongst her wonderfully observed early 1920’s landscape that is a masterpiece. No wonder everyone was so effusive in their praise – and I am now joining the chorus. If you haven’t yet read this gem, and your taste runs to historical thrillers interleaved with a strong, convincing love story, then track it down.
10/10

Review of EBOOK Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves – Book 4 of The Shetland Quartet

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My mother – a crime fan – treated me to this ebook as an introduction to Ann Cleeves. I do dimly recall that she mentioned it was the last in the series and I should get the best out of Cleeves’ work if I started at the beginning of Jimmy Perez’s adventures. But by the time I read it, I’d forgotten her advice. So, given that I’ve never read any Ann Cleeves’ mysteries before, did it matter?

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancée, Fran, to his parents. It’s a community where everyone knows each other, and strangers, while welcomed, are still viewed with a degree of mistrust. Challenging to live on at the best of times, with the autumn storms raging, the island feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder… When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair, the islanders react with fear and anger. With no support from the mainland and only Fran to help him – Jimmy has to investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. With no way off the island until the storms abate – Jimmy knows he has to work quickly. There’s a killer on the island just waiting for the opportunity to strike again…

blue lightningCongratulations to Pan – I think the back cover blurb is the best I’ve read for a while. It gives a sense of the flavour and richness of the story without presenting us with any major spoilers. And it is spot on with the allusion to the old fashioned feel of this tale. Set within an isolated community and a limited number of suspects, all of whom could have had strong reasons for murdering the rather unpleasant victim, the story reminds me of the Agatha Christie thrillers I grew up reading. However, Cleeves ensures that nod to the past is just that – as her protagonist is far more vulnerable and riddled with doubts than the imperturbably self-assured Miss Marple. And as subsequent events unfolded, I was jolted from treating this as an intellectual puzzle, and became fully engrossed in the story while Cleeves ramps up the action and the emotional tempo with wonderful descriptions and shrewd observations sharper than the knives her murderer wields.

Murder mysteries are often defined by their surroundings – think of Stephen Booth’s Derbyshire landscape; Colin Dexter’s Oxford cityscape and more recently, Dana Stabenow’s Alaskan scenery. Ann Cleeves sets these stories in the Shetlands in a landscape she clearly knows well and loves. Her description of the sudden storms, dramatic harsh scenery and the isolation of the natives is pin sharp. And this is a landscape with teeth. The characters are defined by their reaction to this bleak, magnificent backdrop, which also controls their behaviour. When a storm hits this part of the world, everyone is confined indoors for days at a time and the island is cut off.

Even though I had not read the other books, I was intrigued with Perez’s personal life and willing his lover, Fran, to bond with his family and the landscape, enabling Perez to return to his family home should he wish to do so. That Cleeves is a writer at the height of her powers rapidly became apparent and I just relaxed into the action and got swept along, confident in the knowledge that I was in the hands of an experienced and talented storyteller. She took me along a twisting story full of incident and details that gave insights into possible suspects and the murder victim. As with the best whodunit, Blue Lightning is an exploration into human behaviour and what exactly makes some of us tick – and a very few, break the ultimate taboo of taking another life.

So, after this eventful, excellently written journey – does Cleeves provide us with a suitably exciting denouement? Oh, absolutely. I read this late into the night and found myself genuinely moved by the climax. I read far too many books to weep easily, but this one had me crying at the end. However, before rushing out to grab a copy of this book – perhaps you would be advised to listen to my mother – and start at the beginning of this wonderful series with the first book Raven Black. I know that I shall be off to track this down, so I can read the rest of this excellent series in the correct order.
10/10

Review of The Black Tower by P.D. James

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Here’s an admission – somehow I’ve got to this stage without reading a P.D. James… So I was reasonably pleased when I got given this volume of The Black Tower, which charts a slice of Adam Dalgliesh’s career. However, I didn’t rush to open it up – after all, I reasoned, I’ve seen the TV series, so I expect it will be a fairly uninspiring read, now that I know what’s in store…  How wrong can you be?

Commander Dalgliesh is recuperating from a life-threatening illness when he receives a call for advice from an elderly friend who the black towerworks as a chaplain in a home for the disabled on the Dorset coast. Dalgliesh arrives to discover that Father Baddeley has recently and mysteriously died, as has one of the patients at Toynton Grange. Evidently the home is not quite the caring community it purports to be. Dalgliesh is determined to discover the truth about his friend’s death, but further fatalities follow and his own life is suddenly under attack as he unmasks the evil at the heart of Toynton Grange.

And there you have it – the blurb. All fairly straightforward stuff. But what I hadn’t expected was the sheer excellence of James’ prose that bares Dalgliesh to our gaze, complete with all his doubts, vulnerabilities, minor irritations – along with his pin-sharp observations and ever-busy brain. Her scene setting is well balanced with the action and given through Dalgliesh’s eyes, so that we experience his observations about the ugly Victorian pile that is Toynton Grange and the eerie Black Tower. Having been born and bred in Dorset, I know the stretch of coast where James has more or less set the story and it is, indeed, atmospheric and weird.

This is not a breathless, action-driven story. Dalgliesh is debilitated, guilty and depressed when he arrives at Dorset and convinced that as soon as he returns to London, he will be retiring from the Force. So the mood is low-key and doesn’t get any bouncier when the Commander discovers that his elderly friend has already died. And so starts the steady trickle of wrongness that continues to build through this story. James is very good at continuing to ramp up the tension, so that I stayed up way past midnight to reach the denouement.

Of course, creating a big old build-up is all well and good – but the catch is that then, you have to deliver a suitably strong climax. Does James tick that box? Oh, yes – she certainly does. I’ll remember the ending of this chilling thriller for a very long time. All the more for her implacably calm pacing and pitch perfect control. Want to know how to write a superb crime whodunit? Read The Black Tower. It’s an engrossing, readable thriller written by a master craftswoman at the height of her writing powers – and if you haven’t read it, you should… really.
10/10

Review of Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

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If your taste in whodunits runs to a beautifully crafted plot, a cast of complex characters depicted with thoughtfulness and realism, set within the Derbyshire countryside – then Stephen Booth’s books are a must. He was one of the visiting speakers on the West Sussex Writers’ Club Day for Writers a few years ago and his session on character development and motivation was excellent. He also came scaredtoliveacross as a thoroughly nice, unpretentious chap. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a crime journalist who has lived in or near the area his writes about for most of his life – and it shows. The Peak District is every bit as crucial to the atmosphere of Booth’s plots as Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh, or Colin Dexter’s Oxford.

It was an ordinary house fire with tragic consequences: a wife and two children dead. But then for DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper the ordinary always means trouble.  Trouble like a bereaved family living in fear. Trouble like the shocking assassination of an elderly woman living alone in a quiet Peak District village. What could be the motive for inflicting such violence on harmless victims?

To find the answer, Fry and Cooper must direct their search far beyond Derbyshire to the other side of Europe, in a land where the customs are even more unfathomable than the language. With a little help from Europol, they discover some of the reasons why people can be scared to live – and the connection at the heart of the enquiry that proves to be the most surprising revelation of all.

Scared to Live is the seventh book in this superb series, which follows the careers of DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper. And they are fully stretched when in the same week an arsonist kills a woman and her two children in a house fire, swiftly followed by a shooting of an elderly, reclusive woman. Fry, recently promoted over Cooper, is anxious to prove herself and move on from this comparative backwater, while Ben Cooper, born and bred in the area, cannot imagine living anywhere else. To get the full effect of the delicately nuanced relationship between these two, I recommend that you go back and read the series from the beginning, starting with The Dead Place.

If you are expecting the book version of CSI – complete with car chases and graphic gore – then this isn’t the book for you. But as Fry and Cooper trudge through the investigation, the often low-key exchanges and steady accumulation of evidence nevertheless makes compelling reading. And when the occasional burst of violence explodes across the page, as readers, we feel the shock along with the victims. In these days where dead bodies litter our TV screens on a nightly basis, it’s a neat trick to pull off.

I also enjoy Booth’s gift of capturing a character by a gesture or a few words and his wonderful descriptions of the Peak District’s stark beauty – which is often used as a metaphorical counterpoint to the plotline. There is a compelling scene at a local tourist spot, where one of the chief suspects is finally tracked down by Ben Cooper. But for me, what makes Booth stand out, is his interest in the motivations of his criminals. Throughout the book, we have shafts of insight about the all the main protagonists – and by the end of the story, not only do we know whodunit, but why. And in this book, the irony of the denouement is every bit as bleakly haunting as anything you’ll encounter in a literary masterpiece.

I’m delighted to note that his latest book The Devil’s Edge is due out this April. Once I’ve bought it, I’ll hide my mobile phone, take the day off work and settle down to read. Go on – try him. I’ll be surprised if you can stop at just one…

9/10