Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Don’t Believe It – Charlie Donlea

Crime Fiction
4*s

2018 was the year where I finally cracked how to listen to an audio book rather than read a book. Quite a simple skill for many but I found it enormously challenging to concentrate until another blogger suggested that I imagine the author had visited to tell me the story – somehow imagining that there was someone there worked for me. But not all stories are created equally in this audio world. On the whole I prefer my audio books to be lighter than my usual reads and contemporary fiction works far better than crime fiction (somehow hearing the crimes described is too much, ludicrous I know but there we are!)

I have made one exception that worked though and this was for Don’t Believe It a crime fiction novel based upon a TV series like Making a Murderer or The Staircase or even the podcasts that comprised West Cork, all of which I’ve either watched or listed to. The format of the book is quite unlike anything else I’ve read and lent itself so well to audio that I have a suspicion that this actually may not have worked for me if I’d read rather than listened to it.

The Girl of Sugar Beach is the name of the twelve part TV series that female producer Sydney Ryan has planned. It covers a crime committed some ten years previously on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. A young man, Julian was killed at a fancy hotel resort and his college-aged girlfriend, Grace Seabold, was put on trial for murder and imprisoned. She’s worked hard, alongside her loyal friend to get her case noticed so that someone will campaign seriously for her release. Inevitably as Sydney undertakes her research into the case she uncovers stuff that could put her own career in danger. Of course the main thing we all want to know not only did Grace do it or not?

This book felt different to the many crime novels out in the market and of course it is tapping into a relatively new phenomenon where TV researchers have the money and time to probe areas that may yield answers due to the advances in forensics or the loosening of relationships which prevented the truth being told. The format also allows the author to play a little with the information because let’s face it, often these documentaries take a view, consciously or not.

The book is segmented with the story Grace Seabold herself presents. This goes back to the past and right up to the present, her story of what happened the day Julian died and as time goes on how this intersects with the evidence presented in court. We also see behind the scenes information from the proposal of the TV show to when it goes on air, which is fascinating in its own right. We sit on meetings hearing the feedback from the last episode and the planning of the next. This is a great insight into the TV world, the jockeying for ratings and the money-men demanding value for their bucks. We follow Sydney Ryan as she jets backwards and forwards, interviewing not just Grace but her friends and family, seeking out experts and working against the clock to put an episode together for the public to view. We also meet a man in hospital who has lost his leg due to cancer. It takes a little while to work out why he is there but even before then I felt he added an important contrast to Sydney looking back and Grace worrying about the here and now with her frantic schedule, instead we have a man working out what his future will hold.

A great book which as we got towards the end, I thought I had it all figured out; the author disagreed and surprised me with a different finale altogether!

I can’t leave this review without praising the narrator, Nina Alvamar, for the engaging way she told the story.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Avid Audiobooks
No of Pages: 304
Listening Length: 10 hours 31 minutes
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Move to Murder – Antony M Brown

Non-Fiction
4*s

I honestly can’t recall when I first came to hear about this historical true crime which seemed to have all the elements of a fiction, far removed from the more mundane murders where the motive, opportunity and means soon become relatively clear, but it was many years ago.  I hadn’t however read any books on the matter although there have been more than a few written and was keen to learn more.

Antony M Brown has devised an interesting concept with the publishers Mirror Books

Cold Case Jury is a unique collection of true crime mysteries. Each one tells the story of an unsolved, historic murder in an evocative and compelling way. It tells the story dramatically, like a historical novel, exposes the strengths and weaknesses of past theories and allows the readers to make their judgement on what most likely happened. Although each book is perfectly self-contained, the author providing his view at the end, readers are able to deliver their verdicts on this website, making these the first truly interactive crime tales. Beautifully presented with uniquely illustrated covers, they also contain historic documents, map and images – some unpublished before. For lovers of puzzles, mysteries and crime stories, this new collection of Cold Case Jury books will not only bring a murder story to life – it will make you part of it

And this is one of the mysteries and I for one couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit on the jury from the comfort of my own house although I have to confess voting for my chosen suspect did feel more than a little odd to say the least! I’m not sure whether choosing a murderer albeit one that is dead should be on a par with voting for your favourite contestant on a reality show.

For those who haven’t come across this true crime the facts that have puzzled many over the years are as follows:

On 20 January 1931 Mrs Julia Wallace was found murdered inside her home in Liverpool, she’d been bludgeoned to death.
Her husband William had found her body on his return from a fruitless client meeting as his job as an Insurance Agent for the Prudential Insurance, as he’d been unable to open the day at the first try his neighbours who he’d asked if they knew why were soon to the scene.
The real mystery seemed to be who was the Mr Qualtrough who’d left a message at the chess club he’d attended the evening before. This was the man William Wallace had set out to meet, but not only did Mr Qualtrough appear not to exist, nor did the address 25 Menlove Gardens East. This fact was unknown to William Wallace and everyone he asked for assistance directed him to similar addresses located in one area of Liverpool.
The unsolvable part of the mystery is if the crime was committed by the most obvious suspect, the husband, then who made the phone call to the chess club and left the message for William Wallace? And how could he kill her when he was tramping the streets looking for Mr Qualtrough? If someone had lured him away then what was there motive?

The author lays out the facts, those discovered by the police at the time, the contemporary records of the trial of William Wallace and the unusual decision to free him on appeal due to lack of evidence. He also includes information that has come to light after the death of some of the key players. This is all set out well, and at the end we are given various suspects and how likely our author believes them to be viable, he also lays his own hat down with his preferred scenario.

This was a book that I would classify as more factual ‘true crime’ which was enjoyable for the lack of drama and sensationalism alone. This was the third in this series of books which are also featured on the Cold Case Jury website.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Mirror Books who allowed me to read an copy of Move to Murder which was published on 1 November 2018.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Mirror Books
No of Pages: 247
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Wych Elm – Tana French

Crime Fiction
4*s

Having been an ardent follower of this author’s crime fiction in the Dublin Series, I was very excited indeed to hear she was publishing a stand-alone novel. It would be so easy to say this is different to that series but since one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this author’s books is the fact that each one had a unique feel which sets it apart from most crime fiction series.

This book does however focus perhaps more on the psychological aspects of crime than her previous novels with a house also playing the part of centre stage.

Happy go-lucky Toby has had an easy ride of life and when things have gone wrong he has used his charm or has been rescued by a hefty dose of luck. Life is good until he is attacked by burglars in his flat and is hospitalised. The result is that Toby is broken, both mentally and physically. With his elderly uncle Hugo being in failing health the family decide that as a temporary measure Toby should move in to keep him company. This works well returning Toby to his seemingly idyllic childhood in the Irish ancestral home and his very fond memories of time spent with his two cousins under the less than watchful eye of their batchelor uncle while their parents went off and made merry over the summers of their youth.

Anyway there is Toby coming to terms with a brutal attack, the loss of ‘himself’ and at the same time staring death in the face as the cancer that has taken up residence in his uncle’s body makes the loss of this important man inevitable. Then a skull is found by his young niece and nephew in the hollow of the wych elm in the garden bringing a whole different kind of horror to their door.

This is a long book and one that has an entirely different feel to many that the term psychological sums up. It is slow moving, our chief protagonist Toby is presented as something quite easy to grasp but equal to any mystery concerning bodies stashed in a tree Toby is left to unravel the mysteries of his own past. He is forced to examine his blindness to the injustice that seemingly ravaged around him without his registering it on any level. This is a modern tale in the sense that it concentrates on the social concerns that perhaps only the privileged in life can afford to focus on. I have to admit I did struggle a little because in many ways this book is an attack on the main protagonist with his easy privileged life, son to two professionals, never a worry in his life being knocked because his life wasn’t awful. It isn’t just that he is privileged in the way that he had enough food or warmth or clothes, but his privilege is further emphasised because he wasn’t a minority in terms of his gender or his sexuality. His crime it seems is that he didn’t recognise, as a child, that others got bullied for such things. I have to admit the strident tone adopted around this strand of the story did at times cause me to question the reasoning behind it, thereby pulling me out of what is a complex and interesting story.

This is a book that truly stands outside the norms of crime fiction because it is a book about people and society and the beliefs we tell ourselves and each other. The visible and the invisible both are uncovered by Toby our narrator through his own particular journey in search of the truth.

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the publishers Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Wych Elm ahead of publication of this edition of 21 February 2019, although it is possible to get a copy of the same book named The Witch Elm in the UK already. Confused? Yes, me too!

First Published UK: 21 February 2019
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Innocent Killer – Michael Griesbach

Non-Fiction
2*s

I’m not going to lie this book was requested from NetGalley some time ago, in fact it was published in February 2016! So why did it take me so long to get around to reading it? Well this book is strongly linked to the Netflix True Crime sensation which was  Making A Murderer, and I thought I would watch it but not being a great watcher of TV didn’t actually ever get around to it.  And then at the tail end of 2018 I did, and remembered The Innocent Killer!

True crime is always somewhat difficult to review, after all are we concentrating on the crime itself and how interesting/entertaining that is? You see what I mean? If you look at any true crime from that dimension it can seem at best completely heartless but to be blunt without the crime having some aspect to set it apart, its hard to see how you generate the interest. I’m hoping that the following review will indicate some of the areas that true crime writers need to consider when writing a book, it turns out true crime isn’t all about the crime after all.

The killer in this book is about Steven Avery, a man who lived in Manitowac County, Wisconsin, and this book concentrates for the most part on the crime he was convicted of the rape of a local woman back in the 1985 and went on to serve eighteen years in prison for the crime. Then in 2003 he was exonerated, the advances in DNA testing proving that another man was guilty of that crime. Then in a massive twist in the tale, just as Steven Avery’s civil suit was being played out in court for damages owed to him for the wrongful conviction, he was accused of the murder of a young woman photographer Teresa Halbach and in 2007 was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Michael Griesbach it should be noted is a prosecuting attorney for the Manitowac County Prosecutor’s Office and with the majority of the book going into the background, trial and the ultimate work carried out by the innocence project that led to Steven Avery’s exoneration in relation to the rape charge. This is done in far more depth than the TV series whose focus is on the murder and subsequent imprisonment with a particular focus on how sound or otherwise the conviction for that crime is believed to be.

I really did appreciate the additional details provided in this book on the original prison charge although perhaps the author’s lack of experience in writing a novel is apparent especially with the repetition, and surprisingly for a lawyer, the unusual narrative structure in places.

However once we are at the point when Steven is released from prison the book fell down for me because the author is unable to write the second part from anything like an independent perspective. He’s name-dropping his friends, piling on the absolute outrage he feels at the nasty television producers for even daring to question the integrity of the officers who serve Manitowac County, and in doing so lost any credibility from this reader. In fact it was at that point I began to seriously question why he even wrote this book. A sceptical person might say he saw an opportunity and decided to cash in on it, someone less harsh might say he was standing up for his friends, who lets not forget, very nearly had to part with a small fortune had they been deemed liable for the incorrect incarceration of Steven on the original rape charge. It was therefore with no surprise that I learnt on finishing the book that Michael Griesbach acts as an attorney for one of the Police Officers whose actions in both investigations and trials are highlighted by the TV programme.

So in conclusion, if like me you are so late to the party that it is a distant and somewhat hazy memory for everyone else, you may find the additional information on the first charge informative however I’d save yourself some rage and close the book once that part is over.

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Innocent Killer albeit over three years ago, better late than never?

First Published UK: 21 January 2016
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Lost Man – Jane Harper


Crime Fiction  5*s

 

Having come late to the party with Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, I was determined not to be left behind by her latest novel, The Lost Man, a standalone read set in the outback of Australia.

The Lost Man had me swept along into an entirely different place, a different lifestyle and that daunting and dangerous landscape. This a book that will evoke a whole range of feelings in its readers and because of that it is not for the faint-hearted.

 We start with a description of a headstone, the marker for a legend that has been mutated during the years since it was placed there to mark the place where The Stockman died and on the day in question there is another body close to the headstone, another casualty to a lifestyle which is beyond ordinary comprehension.  Cameron Bright was the middle sibling of three brothers and his elder brother Nathan, and the younger, Bub, gather at the site where he perished through lack of shelter from the overbearing sun, or was the story of his death quite that simple?

Jane Harper is a master at showing (and definitely not telling) and she takes us on a tour, into the house where Cameron ran his  to the family he has left behind, two small girls whose daddy went out shortly before Christmas to fix something on his land and never returned. Cameron was man who knew the land, it was where he was born after all and now his wife Ilse is left to cope without him. Fortunately Uncle Harry is around as is the boy’s mother although as is only to be expected the house almost hums with confusion and grief.

What Jane Harper does that is even more explosive though is to start peeling back the layers of this family. Nathan pretty much takes centre stage as we journey with him back in time and slowly, oh so slowly but perfectly so, we learn the truth about an event many years ago that is still making its mark today.

I really couldn’t tell you what I enjoyed most about this book – was it the brilliant descriptions of a place? It really is testament to the author’s prowess that she managed to conjure up the heat and power of an open landscape of the outback in Queensland, when her reader was sat with the wind and rain howling across a small island on the other side of the world. I haven’t ever been to Australia and if I did the outback would probably not be my chosen destination, and yet for the duration of this book, I was very much there in the house with Isle and her girls Sophie and Lo. I watched Cameron’s mother Liz weep in the deepest of darkness when the generator was switched off by Harry at night-time.  Perhaps the legend of the Stockman had something to do with the appeal, or equally the unravelling of a mystery that is dark, don’t for one moment imagine that the grim scenes at the beginning of the book mean you’ve passed the worst, there are shocks still to be revealed.

In conclusion I loved this book because it covers a great deal of ground, there are deeply upsetting moments but perhaps in keeping with the characters that inhabit the real-life place, there is something very measured about the delivery. No over-hyped action scenes here, just the truth which is sometimes a whole lot worse.

I’d like to thank the publishers Little Brown for allowing me to read a copy of The Lost Man, and to Jane Harper for moving me with this incredible novel. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Fractured Winter – Alison Baillie

Psychological Fiction 4*s


It’s 2015 and winter when the best friend of Olivia’s daughter goes missing. The girls are only young but in keeping with the culture they walk to and from school together. They went to school after having their break for lunch at home but Lara has a confusing message, apparently her best friend Sandra has a new friend and was meeting them instead. Sandra has disappeared into the air.

Olivia was already preoccupied by the thought her past inEdinburgh was coming back to haunt her because someone had left a note, signalling that someone, somewhere, knows she has something to hide.

Back in 1984 Marie is a lonely child with a religious mother and a volatile father. Marie bides her time, pretty much friendless and out of step with her peers, her parents being older and poorer than theirs and as she grows she is determined to escape her home and go to university. But all that changes when she reaches the age of sixteen and finds something out that changes everything.

I really enjoyed this authors debut novel Sewing the Shadows Together, her portrayal of Portobello in Edinburgh was so evocative and the past present angle convincingly portrayed. I’m so pleased to report that the author did equally well in bringing Switzerland to life. The insertion of their customs, such as the primary school children returning for lunch added to the feeling that we ‘knew’ the characters. This is an author that can convincingly switch between time periods as well as places.  Just as well really because in 1998 we meet naïve Lucy Sheridan who is at university who meets a handsome young man…  

As for the mystery in Switzerland, by its very nature that was fast and furious. We end up with two missing girls to track down, precious few clues that the police were willing to take seriously. With her teenage son and her new husband at loggerheads life for Olivia was hardly going along swimmingly and although I suspect that her constant doubting of herself was a useful device for allowing the readers to share her thoughts, personally I found her a little tiresome.  But don’t forget we have a mystery girl in the 1980s to tie into a story where she doesn’t seem to have a spot, or does she? This is a book for those with inquisitive minds who are prepared to wait for the storyline to play out.

I’ve categorised this as a psychological thriller but it reallyis a blend of genres and without the mystery of the missing girls which isn’t quiteas central to the storyline as I expected, it could easily have been on thewoman’s fiction shelf of the more robust variety. That said there were plentyof mysteries past and present to be unravelled and a few characters whose personalitiesdefinitely belong in the psychological section, all of which had me flickingthrough the pages at a rate of knots to find out what was going to happen next.

First Published UK: 9 April  2018
Publisher: Williams & Whiting
No of Pages: 366
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US


Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Liar’s Wife – Samantha Hayes

Psychological Thriller
3*s

As I recently mentioned I’ve read far fewer psychological thrillers than usual in 2018 but occasionally a book, or author has come across my radar that begs to be picked up. The Liar’s Wife was one such book; I’ve read previous books by this author, her earlier books being published long before this genre burst into popularity.

And The Liar’s Wife has a premise that you know is going to prove to be a gripping one if only to work out what on earth everyone’s motivation is!

Ella works on promotional films and one night after working a little later, as usual refusing to go for a drink with her colleagues, she gets on her bike to go home. On the way a van clips her bike and she hits the ground. The van driver, as she finds out later speeds off and an ambulance is called to take Ella to hospital.

Ella wakes from a coma to a nurse saying that her husband is on his way to visit her but Ella doesn’t have a husband. However unlike any normal person even when Ella is on the road to recovery she doesn’t tell the nurses who are devoted to her, who this man is. No she keeps quiet and lets him take her home to his house in a gated community. The thing is you see is Ella knows who the man is and keeping quiet is a far better option than that secret being exposed.

The story is full of suspense with the twists and turns kept to the right number, enough to allow the reader to get swept up in the story but not so many that the reader gets that travel sickness feeling as the road ahead is switched backwards and forwards before you’ve got your bearings.

Samantha Hayes knows how to write a good story, the tone is right with the dialogue perfectly pitched (one of my biggest gripes is that the villains in these stories often do little more than menace and grunt while their supposed charm would raise the red flags at an alarming rate of knots). I’d like to stress just how well the author recreated married life for Ella once she was at ‘home’ and the scenes were right up there on the creepy scale and I was absolutely on the edge of my seat for these. And then it all tipped over into the unrealistic territory which was a great shame as my enthusiasm then waned somewhat before the ending. That said, I will stress that part of my ‘problem’ with the genre is the number of books I have read within it. I know that if my brain starts flashing ‘I can’t believe that would happen’ types of warnings that no matter how good the author is, I’m unlikely to buy into anything else and of course what I find unbelievable won’t necessarily apply to the next person.

So if you really do enjoy a fast-moving and well-written psychological thriller The Liar’s Wife has a lot to offer.

I’d like to thank the publishers Bookouture for allowing me to read a copy of The Liar’s Wife before publication later this week on 22 November 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 372
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Lies We Told – Camilla Way

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Having somewhat overdosed on psychological thrillers during the last few years I vowed to cut down during 2018 and it’s one of the few bookish resolutions that I’ve kept, but… and there is always a but; I started to miss the rollercoaster ride that this sub-genre produces so well and I so I treated myself to a copy of a book by an author who’d previously wowed me with her book Watching Edie.

If anything The Lies We Told was even better!

The opening scene is that of a young mother who finds the corpse of the family budgie – the killer is her young daughter Hannah. But that is all in the past and the dangerous daughter is left behind while we move to Clara’s story in the present.

Clara lives a ‘normal’ life. She’s happy, a working woman with a lovely boyfriend who she’s planning to move in with when he suddenly disappears. Clara does all the normal things: checks with his friends, drives down to see his family and looks in pockets & drawers to try to find clues, but there are none. What Clara does find, of course she does, that Luke wasn’t quite the man she thought he was.
Some things are excusable though, Luke’s sister Emily had disappeared without a trace some twenty years ago. From the little Clara knows this caused untold anguish certainly to Luke’s parents, Oliver and Rose Lawson, and to a lesser extent to Luke and his brother Tom who were all left to wonder what had happened to Emily.

This is a classic psychological thriller. We have a mixture of characters, all nicely distinct and most with a little bit of good, and a little bit of bad inside them – half the fun of this genre is to work out as you are reading how the stresses of the story, and this one has enough tension to make you feel like you are walking on a high wire, are influencing your view of their actions. After all if your boyfriend went missing and then you found out that he wasn’t quite the Mr Perfect you thought he was would you cut your losses there and then, or would you feel that you had to help in any way possible to help his family find out what has happened – even if that means keeping the biggest secret of all, that Emily has returned?

The story rattles along, the psychopathic child inserting herself into the story line at regular intervals even though there is no obvious place for her – has she completely transformed? Surely not, this is a psychological thriller after all and that means that scary bad personality traits only go in one direction, yes to even more dark and scary places!

Camilla Way is the absolute best at pulling all the seemingly disparate strands together and although I confess I had worked out some elements given some well-placed clues, I was still a mile from the whole truth. The ending was perfect, not quite the resolution the reader might expect but satisfying enough to allow this one to close the book with a smile.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 385
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Murder of Harriet Monckton – Elizabeth Haynes

Historical Crime Fiction
5*s

I like reading non-fiction books especially about true crime, even better if they are back in the past; I think this is because it feel less like I am trying to gain entertainment from someone’s tragedy, and if it is new to me too, well that is the icing on the cake. The problem with some non-fiction true crime is that you don’t get a real feel for some of the characters, often the victim who is often dead before we meet them and unless they’ve been murdered for their own dastardly acts they can appear as nameless victims. It is for this reason that my preference for true crime is that which is presented as fiction using the crime itself as inspiration. This is what the incredibly talented Elizabeth Haynes has done with the story of The Murder of Harriet Monckton.

Harriet was living in Bromley Kent, she was a single woman of 23 years old; a school teacher and observed to be a devout Christian attending the local Chapel regularly. It turns out that Harriet was also around six months pregnant when she died from ingesting Prussic acid on 7 November 1843 and her body was found in the privy behind the chapel the following day. A sad end and one that because the vessel containing the poison could not be found, the only conclusion was that this had to be a murder. But who would want Harriet dead?

Elizabeth Haynes tells us at the end of this magnificent book that she has used the two inquests held as well as newspapers from the time to recreate the key characters in the book. She has done magnificently well. Every single person we come across works as an individual, and as a collective taking up their positions in their small town, they are at times terrifying in what they are willing to see, to acknowledge and to challenge. I cried for Harriet who had so much to offer but was sadly one of those women who was taken advantage of, and lost her life because of it that comes through whether or not you take the history that the author has created to be credible or not.

Bringing the forgotten back to life is the real triumph when fictionalising a real crime. No one was ever tried for Harriet’s murder, in fact once the coroner had finally concluded the inquest some two years after her death any traces of her life seem to vanish alarmingly quickly. Elizabeth Haynes states at the end of the book that she couldn’t leave this young woman without telling her story – and I heard that story loud and clear. In the hands of this undoubtedly talented lady, we are presented back with a fully rounded woman, with hopes and fears, with errors of judgement made and plans for a better future made – the facts that are contained in the recording of her life are fed into a story that can be taken at face value and read as an example of a life lived, in 1843, in Bromley so minutely were the details recreated for our consumption.

If you haven’t already guessed, I adored this book for the premise, the skill in recreating a life, the rich story that has been served up to the reader and the characters that leap off the page, The Murder of Harriet Monckton will most definitely be a book that will appear in the top ten published this year.

First Published UK: 28 September 2018
Publisher: Myriad
No of Pages: 437
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner (2011)
Revenge of the Tide (2012)
Human Remains (2013)
Under a Silent Moon (2013) – DCI Louisa Smith #1
Behind Closed Doors (2015) – DCI Louisa Smith #2
Never Alone (2016)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dying Light – Alison Joseph

Crime Fiction
4*s

As regular visitors to my blog are aware I do like my crime fiction to be served up from an unusual perspective every now and again and so when, I came across a fantast spotlight post written about this book on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist which not only indicated it was UK crime but that the setting was in part at least within a woman’s prison, oh and the chief protagonist is a nun, I had to investigate more closely. If you haven’t come across Margot’s blog before now and you enjoy crime fiction, you really do owe it to yourself to pay a visit.

The Dying Light is actually the fifth in Alison Joseph’s Sister Agnes series and although it was clear while reading the book there was possibly some background to Agnes herself that is pertinent to who she is, it didn’t in any way distract from the main story.

The story is on the surface at least, a simple one. One of the women in the prison is told her father has been murdered, not only that but the suspect is the young woman’s boyfriend, the man she was hoping to return to on her imminent release and turn over her new leaf. Everyone assumes the crime is drugs related but Cally is convinced that her boyfriend Mal is innocence, and asks Sister Agnes for help.

The mystery takes us to the dark world of crime but one with a very human face. I am usually a reader who is turned off by reading about in-fighting amongst villains or gangs but because of the way the way this is presented I was as keen as Agnes to understand why Mal would have turned on Cliff.

It helps that Agnes is quite unlike the nun personae that I expected. She’s a young woman, very devoted I’d say not so much to her faith but to doing the right thing. She has her own struggles of course, during this book, her mother is very ill and there are calls from her native France for her to return to see her matched by a reluctance from Agnes to do so. Is she, as her friends suspect, using the struggles of the women in the prison where she works a front for avoiding her own problems?

It is hard for a writer to truly transport anyone to an unfamiliar setting but I thought that Alison Joseph chose key points of prison life that her readers could easily imagine to draw us through into a building which is full of despair, and violence along with some hope for a better future. The power struggles between the women, and those in charge of them, was realistically but not overdramatised skilfully recreating the atmosphere.

I’d say that The Dying Light is a book that had me thinking about some of the issues it raised almost as much as the mystery itself. That isn’t to say this is a book you can only enjoy if you are religious, far from it, what it does is bridge the gap between the religious and the philosophical whilst never forgetting that its prime purposes is to entertain the reader.

First Published UK: 1999
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 248
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US