I have finally started Martin Edwards’ famed Lake District Mystery series with The Coffin Trail, the first in the series. The title has been chosen for the name given to the tracks which were used to transport bodies from the remote village to one with a graveyard. The symbolism of bodies being strapped to the horses for their final journey is one that resonates throughout this book.
As the book opens we meet Daniel Heard and his girlfriend Miranda buying Tarn Cottage in the fictional village of Brackdale on a whim while visiting the area for a short break. Daniel has tired in his role at Oxford University but it is Miranda who is the driving force behind the move, after all as a freelance journalist she can submit her copy from anywhere. Daniel has visited the area before, the last holiday before his policeman father left home to be with another woman and while there he met, and became friends with, Barrie Gilpin who lived in Tarn Cottage. The cottage is being sold for a song because Barrie Gilpin was widely suspected by police and villagers alike to have murdered a young woman. He died of an accident before the murder was discovered and his poor mother was shunned by the locals.
Meanwhile DI Hannah Scarlett is wondering if she can get her career back on track after a disastrous collapse of a trial compounded by even more disastrous public relations. She finds herself leading a new team set up to examine whether advances in forensics can solve any of the old cases. With a retired detective to assist and her trusty partner they begin leafing through the old files.
As Daniel probes the villager’s memories about Barrie, treating this personal quest he begins to ruffle a few feathers to say the least and Miranda is none too pleased. With some loose ends to tie up about his father, who died without Daniel ever making peace, who was on the original investigation the claustrophobic nature of life in a remote village becomes ever more apparent.
I enjoyed The Coffin Trail which was first published in 2004 for being a ‘real’ police procedural series. There were no clever tricks but straightforward investigations by both Daniel and Hannah Scarlet into what happened to the young woman who was laid out on Sacrifice Stone, it can’t be accidental that this was the place for pagan rituals. There are lots of characters within this book and of course being the first in the series, more time is spent giving these a background to be built on later, this gave the first section of the book quite a slow feel, but with solid writing and the fabulous scenery that Martin Edwards captures, keeping me entertained, I certainly didn’t have a chance to become bored.
Once the investigation gets underway it appears that the crux of the matter is going to be examining those old alibis rather than the more straightforward DNA results that DI Hannah Scarlett’s bosses were hoping for. And we all know what that means, yes my favourite, old secrets and lies will be exposed! There is no doubt at all that plenty of skeletons, of the kind that hide in cupboards, are rattled. As secret after secret is revealed the inhabitants of Brackdale will most likely never be the same again.
After really enjoying the characters of historian Daniel Head and the fairly level-headed and yet not to be pushed around, DI Hannah Scarlett I am now looking forward to reading the second in this series, The Cipher Garden which fortunately already resides on my kindle! I have a feeling this is a series I can trust to give me a solid mystery in a straightforward style relying on the writing alone to be the entertainment.
First Published UK: 1 July 2004
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 228
Genre: Crime Fiction – Police Procedural Amazon UK Amazon US
I’m a fan of dual time-line stories but suspect that these are far trickier to pull off than the big hits in the genre suggest, I have read my fill of poor imitations where the connections between past and present are weak or worse still, contrived. Books where all too often, one of the stories shores up the other to such an extent that you feel it was only invented to appeal to those of us who enjoy this form of storytelling. The House of Birds is not one of these poor imitations, better still the story in the present is about a man, Oliver who has walked out of his highly paid job and is ‘considering his options!’
Oliver met Kate when he was a twelve-year-old boy and together, one sunny day, finding themselves outside Kate’s Great-Aunt’s house decided as a bit of a dare to investigate. They made their way through the overgrown garden and Oliver climbed up to peer through one of the upstairs windows. What he saw in the room made a memory that he never quite shook off, coming as these vivid memories often do, just before his life changed, and he moved away from Oxford. Years later Oliver and Kate meet again and start to build a life together. Kate’s family has been split into two sides for years over an ongoing dispute of inheritance of the house in Oxford but now it has been passed to Kate. With the house in a poor state of repair and Oliver at a loose end, he decides to use his time organising the repairs and renovations. Once there he finds a story, written by a woman called Sophie.
Sophie’s story is set in the 1920s where she is trying to gain access to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, but not having anyone to write a letter to allow her entry she is turned away. So starts the beginning of my enormous sympathy for this young woman, one whose husband returned from the war a different man to the one who left. This is a woman who has a love of books, of language and of learning and yet she is tied to the house where her staff have not enough to keep them busy but go some way into bringing life into a house where husband and wife have little conversation and who sleep in separate rooms.
The link between past and present is far from clear, even to Oliver as Kate had never mentioned a Sophia, so the first mystery is how the document ended up in the house at all. But like me, he could not fail to be captivated by Sophia’s story and when the pages come to an end, he wants to know more and without Kate’s knowledge tries to find out more which means talking to the side of the family who believe the house belongs to them.
Already enthralled by the story I was especially thrilled later on when mentions of Crete, in particular, Knossos, and the renovation of the site by Arthur Evans in the early twentieth century because I visited the site on my holiday this year. We had a very knowledgeable guide Maria, and so I know that Morgan McCarthy has done her research well from the titbits that correlate perfectly to all that I learnt about the site. With many pieces of information that are lightly sprinkled throughout the book, from myths and legends to the difference between a labyrinth and a maze, battles and kings and queens, meant that this was a book that taught me some new things too without it ever feeling anything apart from the fabric of the book itself.
This book has some outstanding characters who run the gamut of emotions of humans around the world, and some of these are mirrored between past and present. Sophia has a sister, and there is sibling rivalry, there is love, there is duty and there is guilt and greed… I could go on. This isn’t a fast moving book but the language is beautiful and the writing evocative. I had one of those sad moments when I reached the very satisfying ending, where I genuinely missed the characters I’d come to know and love.
I was delighted to receive a copy of The House of Birds from the publishers Headline. This unbiased review is my thank you to them
First Published UK: 3 November 2016
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
A story with two threads, both successfully executed is the stuff that makes this crime fiction lover’s heart sing. Mary-Jane Riley pulled off both complex story-lines so well that I was frequently incredibly reluctant to part with my kindle, I just had to know how things played out. And yet this was a book that snuck up on me, not that it started badly, far from it, but the more I turned the pages, the more immersed in the story I became, as the plot wound tighter and tighter, and would not let me go!
Alex Devlin is a reporter, she submits pieces to magazines, using whatever inspiration she can find. Fifteen years before Alex’s sister Sasha’s twins, Harry and Millie Clements went missing. Although Harry’s body was found a few days later, no trace of Millie was ever found. Two people were convicted for their murder; Martin Jessop who had committed suicide a little way into his sentence and Jackie Wood who provided him with an alibi. When the news breaks that Jackie Wood has just been released from prison due to the expert witness in the case being discredited Alex desperately wants to give her sister some closure because Sasha still faces a daily battle to keep going. Her marriage to the twin’s father disintegrated in the aftermath and she has a history of self-harming. Then Alex hits on the idea to interview Jackie Wood to see if she can find out the truth…
With a bit of detective work Alex finds Jackie living in a caravan in Sole Bay in Suffolk which isn’t too far from her home in Norfolk. With the scenes set out of season, the descriptions of the seaside were about as far from the picture postcard variety as you can imagine. This works perfectly as a background of a meeting filled with suspicion, recrimination and a dash of hope – but which emotion belongs to which woman?
In the second strand of this tale we meet Detective Inspector Kate Todd who was starting out in her career when she found Harry Clements’ body and no matter how successfully she’s built her career or her long-standing relationship with Chris, she has never forgotten that day. Watching the release of the woman who was involved, only serves to bring the memories back to the forefront of her mind as she ponders how the family of those two small children are faring.
A good crime fiction novel often doesn’t actually depend on the murder that is at its heart, it depends on the character’s reactions, the plotting and the outcome and Mary-Jane Riley delivers on all three and cleverly avoids dwelling on the death of Harry although of course both children are at the forefront of many of the exceptionally well-drawn character’s minds. What sets this above many other crime fiction books is that the book reveals the complex emotions that many of the characters experience, and we get all that by watching them in action. This author hasn’t fallen into the trap of soliloquies full of woe, instead we see how Alex reacts when she goes to check on her sister Sasha. We also see her switching roles, from sister, to mother to reporter and in another superb twist, the object of one crime reporter’s particular interest in the case. With the clues to what really happened all those years ago coming from different viewpoints, I honestly couldn’t put this book down, it is that well-plotted with enough red-herrings and mysterious incidents, to keep even the keenest of crime fiction readers on their toes.
This is quite an emotional read and not just because of the tender age of the victims. I found myself sympathising with both Alex and Kate and also surprisingly Jackie. The author has made it easy to put yourself in each of these very different character’s shoes, and eloquently builds a picture of their lives after the crime was committed.
After reading The Bad Things, I had to purchase the next in the series After She Fell which is currently available at the bargain price of 99p on Amazon.
First Published UK: 27 August 2015
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
At the moment I am reading The Silent Hours by Cesca Major, an epic tale set in wartime France. I’m loving this historical novel and having a chance to be completely involved with the wonderful characters.
I’ve gone a bit off-piste this week as I’ve just finished My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, a touching story and compassionate tale about a nine year old boy separated from his mother and baby brother. Set in the UK in the 1980s, this book also provided a healthy dollop of nostalgia.
A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one.
Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not. As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.
Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home. NetGalley
Never fear though the dark side of life is never far from view, and next up I have Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre
A gripping standalone psychological thriller about marriage, manipulation and murder by the internationally bestselling author of Alex
Sophie is haunted by the things she can’t remember – and visions from the past she will never forget.
One morning, she wakes to find that the little boy in her care is dead. She has no memory of what happened. And whatever the truth, her side of the story is no match for the evidence piled against her.
Her only hiding place is in a new identity. A new life, with a man she has met online.
But Sophie is not the only one keeping secrets . . . NetGalley
What are you reading this week? Do share your links and thoughts in the comments box below.
Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.
My opening paragraph this week comes from The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
An epic, sweeping tale set in wartime France, The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically;
Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss. Amazon
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro
1952, St Cecilia Nunnery, south-west France
They are talking in hushed voices through the grille in the door. Sister Marguerite has a distinctive southern accent and, even when she is trying to speak quietly, her words seem to echo off the thick stone of the corridor walls with an energy for which she is often chastised.
‘She said something,’ she insists, pleading with her listener.
‘Marguerite, we’ve discussed this before…’ The voice sighs.
From my bed I tilt my head to catch a glimpse of its owner: Sister Constance. Although her voice is firm, it doesn’t fit her face. The woman seems to have aged twenty year in a fraction of that time. Her watery eye are practically hidden in the folds of her face her lips are thing and cracked. Even from this distance I can see the veins in her hands, the large blue lines protruding from her skin look like the great rivers on a map of France.
Yes, I’m moving away from murder and mayhem this week to an epic as I fancied a change of genre, place and time period.
So… would you keep reading? Please leave your thoughts in the comments box below.
This is the ultimate read for those who love a peek behind the curtains!
Sofie and Dean have moved from Manhattan to suburban Connecticut, an exclusive address, and one much to former bookseller Sophie’s delight, where there is a book club to join. Maybe if she knew what was going to happen next, she’d have reined in that enthusiasm a bit! Well to be fair she doesn’t seem too sure once she meets the other book club members, especially as the leader, Priscilla forgot to inform her that she needs a pair of shoes to be worn exclusively indoors, for book club meetings, on account of her white carpets and furniture complete of course, with a maid to serve cups of tea, which of course must on no account be spilled.
Priscilla is married to Gordon, a much mousier man than his bossy and controlling wife and within a moment of meeting her the state of her marriage is apparent:
Priscilla saw no hope. What she saw was her husband, Gordon sleeping beside her. Just looking at him she felt a surge of irritation. She’d reached the point where everything about him irritated her.
Susan is Priscilla’s best friend who has suspicions about what her own husband, Harry is up to but Priscilla is better at complaining about the neighbours than she is to being sympathetic:
‘Nothing,’ Priscilla repeated firmly. ‘If you kick up a fuss you’ll just drive him away. Besides, this kind of thing happens all the time.’
‘I know… but not to me and Harry,’ Susan said plaintively.
‘Apparently it does.’
Meanwhile Ashley second wife of Stewart has only been admitted to the Mystery Book Club because of her husband’s connections, they had preferred Pam the first wife! One of the newest members of the book club, before Sofie’s arrival is Julia, whose husband Alex has got some ladies in the neighbourhood hot under the collar.
And then there is a murder…
This was a far better read than I anticipated with the book club meetings and various social drinks and dinners underpinning the book which I read with half-shocked amusement both sexes puffed and preened and jostled for position. The book chapters are entitled by the month, and almost always start with anxiety not to meet Priscilla’s wrath for not reading her choice of book. Sofie is exempt, being a true-book lover and already having acquitted herself quite nicely with her quiet confidence around the subject of mystery novels, has been accepted, whether she likes it or not. Further prompts are given throughout the chapters about the characters appearing, which is helpful with so many Stepford wife types.
The murder of course means that the focus switches to the detectives and as each household is questioned more secrets are uncovered.
‘I remember the interview, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which one she was. All the women out here look the same to me – every one is blonder and thinner than the next. It’s creepy.’
The husband of the murder victim wants Sofie’s help as she has already provided some clues, he badly wants the detectives to stop focussing on him, and Sofie feels this is something worthy of her attention. After all she is intrigued and sees an opportunity to emulate her heroine Miss Marple, decides to find the truth. So alongside the official investigation we have the amateur detective chatting to the other neighbours to try to uncover the events that led up to the killing.
With red herrings and misdirection aplenty this moves from being a fairly amusing book about spoilt housewives with far too much time on their hands, to a tightly plotted tale which never loses its sense of humour as so many secrets escape and when the truth is out, it would seem like life in their exclusive street will never be the same again.
This is a hard book to categorise, it is I suppose a fairly gentle mystery, possibly edging towards a cosy, but whatever it is, it kept me thoroughly entertained. The inclusion of The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie means that imagining how Miss Marple would perhaps behave if she was transported to twenty-first century wealthy Connecticut, is perhaps inevitable.
First Published UK: 18 Decmeber 2007
Publisher: Plume Books
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Crime Fiction – Mystery Amazon UK Amazon US
Well this has been an interesting week for blogging as up until Saturday morning we had no internet and no phone line. During the second wave of storm Angus on Monday night it mysteriously packed its bags and left for a holiday. Happily all order is now restored but I apologise for my lack of comments which depended on limited availability; happily for this post I had mostly prepared all my posts before disaster struck!
I had a lovely surprise to receive my very own copy of Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard containing my quote on the inside.
I was part of the blog tour for Edward Glover’sA Motif of Seasons on Monday which the author provided a lovely excerpt of his book.
My excerpt on Tuesday came from The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley, a book that sucked me in with its subtle hook of missing twins whose reporter aunt searches for answers on the release of the woman accused of perverting the course of justice.
My This Week in Books post detailed my reading of the aforementioned book and the upcoming The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy; it really has been an outstanding reading week.
On Thursday I posted my first review of the week of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. If I had any doubts about this author’s brilliant writing, which I didn’t, they would have been blown away before the first page was done.
On Friday I posted what is my most anticipated (by me) post of the year; Reading Bingo 2016. Struggling with internet issues tested my patience with my formatting but I really enjoyed deciding which of my reads would be placed in which box, and for the first time ever, I completed every square. What books would you choose?
From the poll other book blogger have done pretty well this year too!
My second review of the week was posted yesterday; another brilliant read with the thirtieth book published by Val McDermid – Out of Bounds which has not one but two cold cases for Kate Pirie to solve.
This Time Last Year…
I was reading Friday On My Mind by Nicci French the fifth in the Frieda Klein series. I really love this series and this episode went straight into the action. I particularly enjoy having such a switched on chief protagonist, psychoanalyst and uncoverer of truths in-chief, who has her own villain to outwit. Even better she is backed up by a cast of realistic characters and a stellar plot.
You can read my review here
When a bloated corpse is found floating in the River Thames the police can at least sure that identifying the victim will be straightforward. Around the dead man’s wrist is a hospital band. On it are the words Dr F. Klein . . .
But psychotherapist Frieda Klein is very much alive. And, after evidence linking her to the murder is discovered, she becomes the prime suspect.
Unable to convince the police of her innocence, Frieda is forced to make a bold decision in order to piece together the terrible truth before it’s too late either for her or for those she loves. Amazon
Stacking The Shelves
Well after weaning myself off the daily deals on Amazon for quite some time by not opening the email, this week has provided temptation on an entirely different scale and I have acquired a restrained 4 books at a bargain price! This is my present to myself in anticipation of an entire month of festivity still to go before the big day!
First up is Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes, a much-loved author of mine, and this, her latest book, had been on my wishlist from before the publication date.
Elizabeth Haynes’ new psychological thriller is a brilliantly suspenseful and shocking story in which nothing is at it seems, but everything is at stake.
Sarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie.
When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah’s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It’s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son’s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant.
After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust.
But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he? Amazon
And then I found My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald, an author who has thrilled me with the variety of her books starting with my personal favourite The Cry.
When she starts her new job as a parole officer, Krissie is happy and in love. Then she meets convicted murderer Jeremy, and begins to believe he may be innocent. Her growing obsession with his case threatens to jeopardise everything – her job, her relationship and her life.
Perfect for fans of Julia Crouch, Sophie Hannah and Laura Lippman, My Last Confession is a dark and compelling psychological thriller that traces a young parole officer and her dangerous obsession with a convicted murderer. Helen FitzGerald is also the acclaimed author of The Cry, which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year award. Amazon
After having finished The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley earlier this week I couldn’t resist the second in the series After She Fell.
There are so many ways to fall…
Catriona needs help. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.
When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest.
Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall…
Lastly I simply had to purchase the latest in the Patrik Hedstrom and Erika Falck series, The Ice Child which is book 9, written by the highly talented Camilla Lackberg. Another already on my wishlist. This is a series that just keeps getting better, I couldn’t put down the last in the series, Buried Angels
SEE NO EVIL
It’s January in the peaceful seaside resort of Fjällbacka. A semi-naked girl wanders through the woods in freezing cold weather. When she finally reaches the road, a car comes out of nowhere. It doesn’t manage to stop.
HEAR NO EVIL
The victim, a girl who went missing four months ago, has been subjected to unimaginably brutal treatment – and Detective Patrik Hedström suspects this is just the start.
SPEAK NO EVIL
The police soon discover that three other girls are missing from nearby towns, but there are no fresh leads. And when Patrik’s wife stumbles across a link to an old murder case, the detective is forced to see his investigation in a whole new light. Amazon
Four books for the absolute bargain price of £4.49!
Since my last post I have read 4 books and managed to gain 4, so my TBR is still standing at 178 books! Please note dear reader the gradual reduction in NetGalley books – I’m aiming to get to single figures by the end of 2016.
93 physical books
14 books on NetGalley
Well once again I’m going to give some of you the heebie jeebies by admitting that I have jumped in at number four in the Karen Pirie series! I do have The Skeleton Road on the TBR and I really should have read that one, at least, first. But I didn’t and this book was entertaining enough that the slight hints regarding previous characters has given some spoilers but Out of Bounds was entirely readable as a stand-alone novel.
After a car accident where young and reckless joyrider Ross Garvie, crashes a land-rover killing his three passengers and leaving himself in a very bad way routine blood samples are taken. When put into the database they provide a familial hit for a particularly nasty rape and murder some twenty years previously. The problem being our young joyrider was adopted and so the cold case lawyer has to go to court to ask for his records to be released. I loved this part, rarely do we see the actual pleas to the courts for legal directives in police procedurals and it was good to have a little aside from the investigation and of course it adds tension, is permission going to be granted? And ultimately how ethical is that?
Meanwhile there has been a suspected suicide on a bench, Gabriel Abbott has died due to a gunshot wound to the head. The investigating officer wants this one wrapped up without any fuss but a link to a terrorist killing of four people twenty years previously means that Karen Pirie isn’t so sure. Pushing the boundaries of her remit to the very edge she begins making enquiries into both the past and present case.
I have a particular love of the past colliding with the present in my crime fiction reads and so I knew before I started that I was highly likely to enjoy this book, after all there is not one but two cases where what happened in the past is linked to the present. That said, I had almost forgotten how much I love Val McDermid’s writing, it’s been a while since I picked up one of her books despite being a fairly early adopter of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series I stupidly let her drift to wayside.. no more! I particularly love Karen Pirie’s character. She is tough without being overbearing and despite some huge personal issues (this was where I should have read the series in order) she forges onward not impervious, but with a quiet determination, which I fully admired. But out of everything it is her relationship with the rather dim Jason, her second (and only) in command. This relationship more than adequately indicates the nature of our chief protagonist as well as providing a good few laughs along the way. With Jason being so slow on the uptake it also gives the author a platform to make sure the reader is following any complexity without ever sounding patronising – brilliant pairing and for this alone I want to read more of this series.
Val McDermid also keeps the present very present indeed. In this book there is a side story which concerns a number of Syrian refugees who have been relocated to Scotland and without spoilers I would just like to make the link to my review of Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult;, this is the way I prefer to read about the sensitive issue of racism, because there was no doubt what the author’s view is, but in no way did I feel I was being asked to pick a side in an argument, and I learnt things that I didn’t know.
In a swift conclusion, two great main storyline which are well-plotted, a fantastic array of characters, all realistic and rounded along a superb vignette of contemporary issue all nicely packaged in a straightforward police procedural with no complicated structure at all – no wonder Val McDermid is such a hit, not just in her native Scotland but around the world. If you love crime fiction and haven’t read any of the previous twenty-nine books that this talented woman has published, where have you been?
I received my copy of Out of Bounds from the publishers Little Brown Book Group and this unbiased review is my thanks to them.
First Published UK: 25 August 2016
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
This is one of my favourite posts of the year so there was no question of me repeating this following my relative success in filling in the squares in both 2014 and 2015
I purposely don’t treat this like a challenge by finding books to fit the squares throughout the year, oh no! I prefer to see which of my (mostly) favourite books will fit from the set I’ve read. As you can imagine this becomes a bit like one of those moving puzzles where one book is suitable for a number of squares… and then I’m left with empty squares which I have to trawl through the 136 books I’ve read and reviewed to see if any book at all will fit! This keeps me amused for many, many hours so I do hope you all enjoy the result.
Click on the book covers to read my reviews
A Book With More Than 500 Pages
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult clocks in at 512 pages covering the injustice of a Ruth Jefferson, the only African-American nurse on duty when a baby gets into difficulty. With the parents white supremacists who want to blame someone Ruth is charged with murder. Not a comfortable read and I applaud the author for wanting to address racism and using an absorbing tale to do so.
A Forgotten Classic
I came late to Beryl Bainbridge so I’m going to count this as a modern classic. I’ve read three of this author’s books so far, my favourite being Harriet Said. The story is based upon a murder case involving two teenaged girls in New Zealand, a case that was also the inspiration for the film Heavenly Creatures. The author creates two young teenage girls using them to reveal the push and pull of their relationship which is ultimately their undoing.
A Book That Became a Movie
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain has lots to recommend it although I admit some of the politics towards the end, went over my head, but the tale of a young woman nursing through World War I, having put her hard one academic ambitions on hold, was incredibly poignant. With the inevitable loss of friends and family her grief for herself and her generation is palpable The film was released in 2014 to great acclaim.
A Book Published This Year
As a book reviewer I have read lots of books published this year but decided to feature one from my historical fiction selection. The Ballroom by Anna Hope tells the tale of life in an asylum in West Riding, the year being 1911. With a mixture of men and women housed in the asylum the author not only writes us a great story, but has accurately researched what life was like from the perspective of inmates and attendants.
A Book With A Number In The Title
I give you not one but two numbers in this title: The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood is a book I denoted ‘quirky’ but I’m so glad I read it. The story concerns the relationship between Ona Vitkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who has lived in the US since she was just four, and a boy Scout with a passion for the Guinness World Records. Touching without ever being overly sentimental this is one that will linger in my mind for quite some time.
A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty
Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain was written by Barney Norris who was born in 1987. This book not only touches on the history of Salisbury but weaves stories of five fictional characters in a literary, but oh so readable way. An accomplished novel that doesn’t let an obvious love of language interfere with a great story.
A Book With Non Human Characters
Well I’m giving you double for your money with this book, not only is there a ghost in The Little Stanger by the fabulous Sarah Waters, there is also a Labrador that plays a key role in the subsequent downfall of the Ayres family. This spooky story is narrated by a country doctor in 1940’s Warwickshire and has plenty of other themes to enjoy even if you, like me, are not a fan of ghostly goings-on.
A Funny Book
A Man With One Of Those Faces is a crime fiction novel written by stand-up comedian Caimh McDonnell. I know crime mixed with humour doesn’t sound as if it should work, but it does! A Man With One of Those Faces is full of observational humour with some truly entertaining characters without sacrificing a great plot with a whole heap of action to keep you on the edge of your seat.
A Book By A Female Author
So many great books by so many fab women – in the end I chose My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry which falls into one of my favourite genres, psychological thrillers of the domestic variety. This tale mixes past and present with a whole heap of flawed characters and is told by two separate narrators Lily and Carla and they reveal more and more about themselves, and those around them. An extremely tense read which was utterly satisfying.
A Book With A Mystery
What better mystery can there be than that of a missing policeman on Dalziel’s patch? Pictures of Perfection is the fourteenth in the Dalziel & Pascoe series written by the outstandingly talented Reginald Hill and this book was an absolute delight to read. With a horrific opening scene, the book then switches to the more genteel setting of a country fair in 1980s rural Yorkshire. Fear not though this isn’t window dressing, the plot is superb with a proper mystery to be solved.
A Book With A One Word Title
Like last year I have read six books that have a single word as their title but I have chosen Viral by Helen Fitzgerald because of the very contemporary storyline. Viral examines what happens when a sex act carried out in Magaluf ends up online for all Su Oliphant-Brotheridge’s friends and family to see but despite that taster, this story didn’t go in the direction I expected it to.
A Book of Short Stories
Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel is a collection of five novellas all looking at manipulators and the effect on the lives of those they choose to manipulate. The author picked five different characters and settings to explore this theme and I have to admit, not being a huge fan of short stories, the common thread was far more appealing to me than some other collections.
For my free square this year I have decided to go with the book with the best opening sentence; Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent: ‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’
With the rest of this book more than living up to the first line there was so much to love not only does the author keep the tension stretched as taut as could be, despite that opening revelation we have a wonderful Irish setting as background.
A Book Set On A Different Continent
The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford is a novel that ends up in Baghdad recreating a trip to an archaeology dig that Agatha Christie made following the divorce from her first husband. This wasn’t so much of a mystery rather a historical novel using Agatha Christie herself as the centre of the story of three woman all making this trip for very different reasons. An unusual and rewarding read with an exotic setting along with a fantastic mode of transport.
A Book of Non-Fiction
I have read some brilliant non-fiction books, mostly about murders, and a fair proportion about poisoners, my interest (or obsession) of the year, so I am going with Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun. Florence Maybrick is the subject of this book, a middle-class woman living in Liverpool in 1889 when she stood trial for the murder, by arsenic, of her husband. While the majority of the book is relatively sympathetic to Florence, the author cleverly takes apart the arguments in the last section leaving the reader to make up their own mind if she was guilty or not.
The First Book By A Favourite Author
I enjoyed In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward so much earlier in the year that I had to buy the second in the series, A Deadly Thaw. The setting in Bampton Derbyshire was stunning which made the awful tale of the disappearance of two girls back in 1978 all the more shocking, especially as only one of those girls returned home. Rachel Jones went home but now an adult a suicide prompts her to find out what really happened all those years ago.
A Book I Heard About Online
Since blogging I find most of my new author finds on-line and to be honest, it is fairly easy to persuade me I must read crime fiction or psychological thrillers, I’m more resistant to other genres. But all the rave reviews about The Versions of Us by Laura Bennett, a sliding-doors novel had me intrigued – and what a great find this was. The incident that kicks off the three different lives in The Versions of Us is a student falling off her bike whilst studying at Cambridge University in October 1958 and the three tales that follow are all equally brilliant. This was an absorbing read especially taking into consideration the complicated structure.
A Best Selling Book
Peter James’ Roy Grace series consistently makes the best seller list, and also happens to be my favourite police procedural series so it is only right and fitting that Love You Dead is featured for this square. For those of you who also enjoy not only the mystery but also reading about Roy Grace (and his beautiful wife, Cleo), some key story arcs are cleared up in this, the twelfth book in the series. Mystery fans don’t need to worry either, the key plot is a good one featuring a pretty woman at its heart.
A Book Based Upon A True Story
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year! With the Icelandic landscape as a backdrop to Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s final months awaiting trial for the murder of two men, we see the family she had been sent to stay with learning to adjust to the stranger in their midst. Be warned if you haven’t read this book, it is devastating, I had grown to love Agnes and yet her fate was sealed and no amount of wishing can change the course of history.
A Book At the Bottom Of Your To Be Read Pile
The Mistake by Wendy James is a book inspired by a true event rather than based upon it and one that had been on my TBR for a couple of years. In The Mistake we meet Jodi Garrow whose comfortable life as the wife of a lawyer unravels when a nurse in a small town hospital remembers her from years before when she gave birth to a little girl, there is no sign of that baby and Jodi does her best to cover up the truth but the media are determined to find the truth.
A Book Your Friend Loves
I introduced a friend to the wonders of DI Kim Stone this year and she loved the series, in fact, despite not being a book blogger, she told me about the upcoming release of Blood Lines by Angela Marsons before I knew it was happening! This series goes from strength to strength and her characterisation underpins a fantastic multi-stranded mystery as our protagonist tries to find the link between the stabbing of a compassionate, well-loved woman and a prostitute.
A Book That Scares You
I rarely get scared by a book but from the opening excerpt of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe this book had me well and truly spooked by A Tapping At My Door by David Jackson. With opening scenes of a woman hearing a tapping sound, I was glad I wasn’t reading this on a dark night on my own. But this isn’t just a spooky police procedural, it is incredibly clever – I can’t tell you exactly how as that would spoil it but this was a book with a superb plot, probably one of the best I’ve read this year. That with a lively and interesting character in DS Nathan Cody, a Liverpool setting and more than a dash of humour, means it was an all-round great read.
A Book That Is More Than 10 Years Old
I decided to pick the oldest book that I’ve read this year and this one was first published in 1926 so in fact 90 years old; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered by many to be one of the best written by Agatha Christie and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book narrated by a doctor and one of my very favourite detectives, Monsieur Poirot leading the search for the murderer of Roger Ackroyd, killed in his very own study if you please – oh and of course the door was locked!
The Second Book In A Series
I have a love of 1920s London and Fiona Veitch Smith’s creation Poppy Denby, journalist at The Daily Globe had her second outing in The Kill Fee, this year. The mystery had its roots in Russia and the revolution and Poppy romps her way around extricating herself from ever more tricky circumstances made for a delightful and informative read.
A Book With A Blue Cover
I can’t let this square go without asking has anyone else noticed the increase in blue covers? The one I’ve chosen was my surprise hit of the year; The Museum of You by Carys Bray – a story about a twelve-year-old girl putting together an exhibition about her mother wouldn’t normally make it onto the TBR, let alone be loved so much… but the lack of overt sentimentality in this book along with an exceptional array of characters made it a firm favourite for 2016.
Well look at that, for the first time ever I have completed every square!
How about you? How much of the card could you fill in? Please share!
Eve Singer is a TV crime reporter, in other words she operates in a world where she not only deals with the nasty side of humanity in her reporting but she also contends with knowing that her time on the screen is limited, it will only hold up if she continues to be successful, and keep her looks. Of course as her job means that she is the person who intrudes on the grief-stricken at their most raw, sympathy for her plight may not be overwhelming. However the public face of Eve Springer isn’t the same as behind closed doors; there she cares for her father who suffers with dementia, juggling carers and confusion.
Many crime readers have tired of the serial killer motif which you could say has been done to death (pun intended) but although The Beautiful Dead does have a serial killer, and one with a particularly warped motive, this book under the skilled pen of Belinda Bauer doesn’t actually resemble those except in the most superficial way. Admittedly this book opens with a particularly gory murder scene, although even this has a welcome edge of humour to fend off any nausea, but as the killer has fixated on Eve Springer, the focus is slightly to the side of the mounting pile of bodies and struggling police investigation and firmly directed at the reporter.
With Eve firmly on centre stage with only her photographer Joe to depend on, when the killer makes direct contact she is caught between wanting to fulfil the investigative part of her role and thereby securing her job, and maybe getting one with more long-term prospects and doing the right thing by turning any possible clues over to the police and letting them do their job. I like a book where there are moral judgements to be made, and only time will tell if Eve has made the right call…
That’s not to say the killer doesn’t have a lead part to play too; they do and right from the off we are given a sense of who they are, what their motivation might be although the author stops short of giving us an idea who is next on the ‘hit list’ it is clear that the killer wants Eve’s attention and so the crimes are designed for maximum impact. Taking that as a key motivator means that this is not a serial killer with an obvious pattern, no these kills are inventive designed to be noticed by Eve rather than the police. There was one point when I gasped out aloud, I was so shocked by what I’d just read. The writing is so vivid that you simply can’t help but conjure up the scenes, even if at times you’d rather not!
I have enjoyed each and every one of this author’s books and applaud her for coming up with a different ‘feel’ to each one. This book is laced with humour of the laugh out loud type at times; disconcerting when on the next page there is another body or another terrifying phone call to contend with, but a welcome relief nonetheless. Belinda Bauer is one of the most talented writers around and once again she proves her credentials as a ‘clever’ writer in The Beautiful Dead. I was in no doubt when reading this book that every word had been carefully placed for a reason, no room for downtime with a bit of waffle during this read, this is one of those reads that despite being desperate to find out how it would end, I didn’t want to race through the pages, I couldn’t, for fear of missing something very important.
I’d urge all lovers of crime fiction to try this with one warning for those of an aversion to graphic deaths because while it never felt gratuitous within the context of the story, I can see that this won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the publishers Grove Atlantic of The Beautiful Dead which was published on 17 November 2016. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, and of course Belinda Bauer for thoroughly entertaining me with this gripping thriller.
First Published UK: 17 November 2016
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US