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

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
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, Five Star Reads

Fatal Promise – Angela Marsons

Crime Fiction
5*s

The pull I have towards crime fiction isn’t necessarily because I like studying murders or reflecting on the darker side of human nature or even that I have a desire to be a detective, it is more because the range of human emotions is there on a page for me to read, reflect on while at the same time having a mystery to unravel. Angela Marsons uses her latest book to demonstrate, amongst other emotions, grief. The team lost someone dear to them at the end of book eight, Dying Truth and we see them all cope in their different ways with their loss. There is anger, bitterness, sadness and guilt but despite all these human emotions, there is a job to do and they roll up their sleeves and do just that. This in turn gives Fatal Promise a slightly reflective feel, but at this point in the series that is no bad thing at all.

It all starts with a body… doesn’t it always? But this time the body is someone that is known to our intrepid Kim Stone – Doctor Gordon Cordell is found in the woods and so the team have no option but to revisit the case where he originally came to their attention. Although not the most likeable man on the planet, it is hard to see who would want him dead.

Meanwhile as the team had been assisting other teams while Kim Stone was out of action and Stacey who is, I must say becoming a very satisfying character in her own right, is keen to keep hold of one she started, it’s a missing girl and her instincts are screaming that someone should be looking for her.
These books get harder and harder to review. I love Kim Stone’s character, she’s strong and decisive, not keen on being told what to do but conforms enough for the reader to find her bullishness believable. Going back to my first paragraph, modern day crime fiction novelists have a challenging job. Not only do they have to come up with one plot that is credibly thought out and gives the readers enough clues to allow them to feel that they have a chance of solving the crime, they also have to keep the story relevant to the times we live in. No longer can we have maverick detectives spreading their misogyny or the like wherever they go, the readers know that the previous generation of detectives would spend their lives on courses or being put out to pasture, but nor of course do we want to read about someone who only cares about politics, we need our detectives to care about the victims, so that we do too.

Angela Marsons always gets the plotting spot on, and this is no different, in fact having two plots running side by side not only gives Stacey her time in the spotlight but also adds a layer of realism to the juggling of priorities which we know must go on in policing. The author also has the pacing right, some of her books have more of an urgent feel about them than others, and this is perhaps more on the reflective side given what’s come before, but her books always hold my interest and I know I’m in for a real treat.

If you haven’t started this fantastic series, I really urge you to do so, although for once I do recommend that you start at the beginning because they just keep getting better and for me there is no better place to contemplate the variety of experience, we have run down estates to post boarding schools, we have the big tragedies and the every day smaller disappointments and of course we have love and loss!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Bookouture for allowing me to read a copy of Fatal Promise before it is published next week on 19 October 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Angela Marsons for another entertaining, and thought-provoking, episode in the Kim Stone series.

First Published UK: 19 October 2018
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 386
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books featuring Kim Stone
Silent Scream
Evil Games
Lost Girls
Play Dead
Blood Lines
Dead Souls
Broken Bones
Dying Truth

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

A Jarful of Angels – Babs Horton

Crime Fiction
5*s

I’m not really sure how to categorise this book so I’ll simply say that as a tale of childhood with all the grim realities of adults misunderstanding you the poverty of life driven to the edges by the magical world that only children can create and yet realism seeps through as an adult watches the world filtered through the eyes of children.

Iffy, Bessie, Fatty and Billy live in a small welsh village, the sort that those of us who grew up as late as the seventies can recognise as being every and any small town. There are the local characters, the woman swapping gossip and keeping secrets and the men who roar in the background. There is the local haunted house, I have yet to find a child yet who was free to roam who didn’t have the local haunted house, the graveyards and the like to give themselves a jolly good scare each and every time boredom threatened.

The our children play in the remote town, in the shadow of the pits, in the long hot summer of 1963. They find a garden full of dancing statues, they peer into mad Carty Annie’s wares and they visit the shopkeeper for the sweets that they will suck so hard that they cause burns on their tongues. As the heat rises they are rained on by frogs and they find a skull and they find a jar full of angels. But what does it all mean, if anything? And then by the end of the summer just three of the four children remain, one is missing.

Thirty years later Will Sloane one of the policemen who searched for the missing child, returns to the town. Over the years he has been haunted, as policemen often are, by the case that was never solved. The clues that he is able to uncover lead to interlocking mysteries that beg to be unravelled but it is up to our retired detective to find the right key.

The story itself is everything a mystery story should be, but what lifts this tale head and shoulders above others is the lyrical prose and its powerful evocation of a world not yet forgotten but now I fear out of reach. It is a world that lends itself to the unsaid, the rampaging gossip counteracted by secrets kept well hidden, the adults barely alluding to the terrible things that they know.

Although I didn’t grow up in the Wales, I did spend my formative years just across the boarder albeit at least a decade later than when this story is set. Rarely have I read a book where the children are so well portrayed, so much so that it took me back to my childhood, the excitement at the start of the summer, the adventures that we would have, real or imagined and the characters that played their part in the experience. There were the predictable yells to come home for dinner, to adults wholly unconcerned with how your day had been spent their lives working to a different rhythm full of gossip and sighs and of course those adults who you stayed clear of, the reason to do seldom voiced, its knowledge spread almost by osmosis.

Babs Horton has created a very special book in A Jarful of Angels, one that transcends any real genre and one that means that her brilliantly created characters came to life through her magical prose.

First Published UK:  2013
Publisher: Babs Horton 
No of Pages: 292
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Gallows Court – Martin Edwards #BlogTour

Crime Fiction
5*s

Martin Edwards is an expert in classic crime springing from the Golden Age so I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Gallows Court, a book written in the model of all the greats. His study of the sub-genre combine with the fact that I have experienced nothing but pure joy when reading his modern crime series set in the Lake District set my expectations high; they were met.

The main setting is London in the smog but we are also drawn back to the past to an island off the coast of Ireland by way of some letters. Two more atmospheric places would be hard to find and Martin Edwards sets his pen about making sure we know it.

On the Island of Gaunt a young girl, Juliet Bretano pens her thoughts on Rachel Severnake, the woman she believes murdered her father. Ooh I love a female killer, particularly from this age as you know that there has to be some ingenuity involved.

But then in London the headless corpse of a woman is found and Scotland Yard are determined to find the killer. Meanwhile Jacob Flint has been trying to make his name at the crime desk for The Clarion and he has his eye on Rachel Severnake who recently solved a high profile case to Scotland Yard’s embarrassment. Rachel Severnake is the daughter of the man who was known as the ‘hanging judge’ but as he aged his behaviour became something of a concern and he took himself off to the island of Gaunt with his young daughter. But Rachel is in London, a London where no respectable lady would dream of walking in the particular darkness of the smog where visibility is so poor you don’t know who is lurking around the next corner.

That’s all I am going to say about the plot itself. The writing as you might expect is brilliant. The plot is complex and depends on those false clues not least what part does Gallows Court play? The fantastic scene setting mentioned earlier has a big part to play, the author using both the dangerous darkness of London and the remoteness of Gaunt to their full advantage. The characters are for the most part wily and definitely not those you should put your trust in and also for the most part are of the higher reaches of society. So far so Golden Age but I felt that the bodies piled higher and the murders more ‘on stage’ with some more modern themes as motives than perhaps you’d expect to see from that time. It is a clever author indeed who can play such obvious flattery to a style and yet gently update it for the more modern taste in crime writing. This book did have the feel of a more modern day thriller with the tension perhaps higher than those solved by our favourite crime detectives from the age. Make no mistake the stakes are high for our characters and no-one is safe until the culprit is found!

I absolutely modestly raise my cloche hat to the ingenuity of Gallows Court. I was totally immersed in trying to solve the puzzle and would like to say I was ‘on it,’ but I wasn’t really until fairly near the end.

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Blog Tour and before anyone points out to me that I’ve posted this on the wrong day – let’s just say there was some confusion!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Double Life – Flynn Berry

Crime Fiction
4*s

It is no secret that I am incredibly fond of books that use true crime as a starting point for a fictional account and so I simply had to read Flynn Berry’s second book which is loosely based upon Lord Lucan, the man who killed his nanny and then disappeared in 1974.

Claire Alden was eight years old when one night she was woken by some noise and found her beloved nanny, a young woman by the name of Emma covered in blood on the kitchen floor. Some time later she was scooped up and removed from the house. Her mother was in hospital and she was sent to stay with one of her friends with her young baby brother Robbie while she recovered. Her realisation that her father was suspected of the murder was slow but the effects it had bred an obsession that has lasted a lifetime.

In the present day Claire is a doctor. A caring woman who every now and again gives us a run-down of the ailments she’s treated that day. But she has a secret, her name isn’t Claire and she’s been in hiding for so very long whilst also watching, trying to find out what happened to her father. What sparks the latest flurry of obsession is that the police have been in touch, there has been a sighting and once again Claire lets herself believe that this might be the one, they actually might find him.
This is a dark book, full of foreboding as to what might be waiting for Claire. She looks back to their days in Belgravia followed by flight from the media and prying eyes to Scotland. What makes it all so much worse is her father’s friends seem to be working to a different reality. One where Claire’s mother had set him up for the murder, and that she’s an unfit mother.

Alongside the main theme is that of friendship, particularly that forged at a typically English public school with its societies where bonds are formed to last a lifetime no matter what. James and Rose were two of her parent’s best friends and so they are one of the subjects who Claire has tracked over the years. She’s followed them to work, she checks them out online and she wants to get inside their house and lives to find out what they know. There is a resentment that the life of privilege has not only protected her father but those friends who she suspects know more than they’ve ever let on.

Claire might be a highly functioning member of society but her younger brother has fared less well although he has no memory of their father it has marred his life too. These two damaged souls give the reader the chance to think about the often forgotten victims of crime. The children of murderers often overlooked and yet in this case they have grown up under a dark shadow indeed.

I was taken with the dual time line that works forward through the days from before the murder alongside Claire’s search for the truth. The tension is constant and the ending explosive.

I’d like to thank the publishers Orion for allowing me to read an advance review copy of A Double Life, a fascinating read that has already had me seeking out a copy of Flynn Berry’s debut novel Under the Harrow, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2017.

First Published UK: 31 July 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Murder Mile – Lynda La Plante

Crime Fiction
4*s

Jane Tennison has made it to a Detective Sergeant by the time Murder Mile begins, although being 1979 she is known as WDS just in case anybody should be any doubt that she is female. The widespread strikes that occurred in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ mean that rubbish is piling up in the streets and the rats are becoming brave. All is quiet on the night shift though until an unidentified woman is found dead, amidst the rubbish on the streets of Peckham, a less than desirable area of London.

I love this series which takes us back to Jane Tennison’s earliest years. The fairly well-to-do young woman who defied her mother to become a policewoman instead of making a desirable marriage always had the spark of the woman we know she became (through the TV series Prime Suspect) but she is raw, prone to thinking and talking far too much for her junior rank, and most crucially being female in what was very much a man’s world.

By 1979 she has been promoted and is fairly established, now the sexism is less overt, but not by any means eliminated but although these elements are not only present, but absolutely fascinating, fortunately the author has remembered that readers of crime fiction want a solid mystery to solve as well as enlightenment about the (relatively) recent social history.

So we have one dead body which despite some elementary mistakes made during securing the crime scene, is quickly promoted to a murder. With Jane forgoing sleep to secure herself a place on the investigation team she follows a lead. Where it takes her has trouble written all over it in very large letters. Alluding to interference from the Masons many of whom she knows to be in the police force, has Jane learnt how to hold her tongue at the right time.

There have recently been a few debates on crime fiction series in the book blogger world, and here we have an acclaimed writer making the most of the form by using it to develop her character. This character development is all the more believable because we know the finished article so to speak.

Having started with a fairly meek young woman, by this, book four in the series we have a far more firm and decisive woman, one who is no longer so easily put off her stride by her peers and is learning that no matter how brilliant her deductive skills, policework depends on an entire team. That tightrope is now being walked a little more carefully by the young detective.

Great characters can only take us so far in crime fiction though and of course in the hands of such an assured writer as Lynda La Plante the reader is guaranteed a solid plot, fairly told with enough red herrings to keep those brain cells ticking over and evaluating the facts while the clues unfold at a pace that feels natural to the background investigation. In fact, everything I look for in my crime fiction.

I’d like to thank the publishers Bonnier Zaffre for allowing me to read an advance review copy of Murder Mile which will be published on 23 August 2018. Not a book to be missed for those who enjoy a trip back to the past alongside good quality crime fiction.

First Published UK: 23 August 2018
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books in the Tennison Series

Tennison: Prime Suspect 1973
Hidden Killers
Good Friday

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Lighthouse – P.D. James #20BooksofSummer

Crime Fiction
4*s

One of my favourite tropes in mystery novels one where there is a limited number of suspects. This is quite hard to make believable even in times gone by, but in more modern settings it has to be a challenge to have a cast iron setting. One of the only reasonable places for this set-up has to be an island which no-one can get to, and of course no-one can leave. P.D. James has therefore sensibly chosen the secluded island of Combe off the coast of Cornwall. Even better this island is used as a retreat for under-pressure men and women, only those of the better classes need apply of course.

At the time of the unexplained death on the island was preparing for some very important guests and so the murder needs the brightest and the best to investigate, so that would be Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They all drop there current work and hurry to the island.

In the best traditions of this kind of murder mystery is that the dead person wasn’t exactly a likeable person. I say the best tradition because it is far easier to read about murder when there is a part of you that can’t help feel that it isn’t any great loss to the world. This way you can concentrate on helping the police from the side-lines without any emotional involvement wasted.

I’ve always enjoyed reading P.D. James’s novels and this one was no exception, the plotting was brilliant with many of the limited number of suspects having a reason to what the victim bumped off, it wasn’t at all easy to detect who the perpetrator was with my thoughts changing as the story progressed.

The characters are predictably an unusual bunch and most of them quite frankly not the kind you would invite around for dinner, but they were distinct with some depth and of course their own motivation for wanting the victim dead, but being unlikable doesn’t mean they are killers.

So onto the setting, an island complete with all the features of island life. The reliance on being able to escape is dependent on the tides, the visibility through the continual threat of mist and fog and of course not forgetting the main feature the lighthouse which despite being on the coast, holds centre stage within the book itself.

This book was written in 2005 and features the SARS which was the health scare of this time, being a highly infectious respiratory disease and it is worth noting that the author was the grand age of 84 at the time it was written. It did become fashionable to say that the latter books lack the originality of those written earlier but having read this one and comparing it to modern crime writers I am moved to say, I like the certain old-fashioned feel, and find some of the author’s attempt to modernise the writing more jarring than when she followed her heart and wrote to a plot that is tried and tested with her own twists which are devious and clever. The Lighthouse is the 13th out of 14 in the Adam Dalgliesh series

The Lighthouse is my eleventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that took me back to an author who became a firm favourite at the start of my foray into crime fiction.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

The Dry – Jane Harper #20BooksofSummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

Ok I know I’m a little late to the party with my reading of this one, which is more or less unforgivable given all the accolades this crime fiction book was given at the time of publication, but I admit it, I was wrong and it should have been a prioritised read far earlier on.

After all despite my preference for a good police procedural set in the UK where I understand the rules and behaviours Now I have read The Dry I have to agree that there are far worse places to set your novel than Australia. This is particularly  true of course if like Jane Harper you live in Melbourne. It is a credit to the quality of her writing that this book got optioned in so many territories from the off.

So I started the book and quickly got immersed in an outback town in the middle of a drought (not a minor one with a few weeks of no rain, but a sustained amount of heat and no rain at all) was overtaken by the murder/suicide of a farmer and his family. All the anger and worry in Kiewarra previously without a physical outlet is focussed on this tragedy. So the story starts and we have a killer sentence:

“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.”

The local policeman, Roco is investigating while Aaron Falk, a friend of the suspected perpetrator, Luke Hadler, is using his leave to help Luke’s father, unofficially. The problem is that years before Aaron Falk and his father had to leave town over suspicions that he was involved in the death of his friend, Ellie. Luke and Aaron had an alibi but that didn’t stop people talking, and believe me, this was no low-level grumbling. So Aaron is back to investigate what happened at his old friend’s farm and he can’t quite believe that his friend would have committed such an atrocity but are events from the past clouding his judgement.

“And yes, he battled the daily commute to work and spent a lot of his days under fluorescent office lights, but at least his livelihood didn’t hang by a thread on the whim of a weather pattern. At least he wasn’t driven to such fear and despair by the blank skies that there was even a chance the wrong end of a gun might look like the right answer.”

Now once again the book absolutely checks my preference for crime fiction having elements from the past intersecting with those in the present. And the mystery of what happened to Ellie looms larger the longer Aaron stays in Kiewarra.

You could say two solid mysteries, well-plotted and convoluted enough to keep the keenest of minds working on their theories is enough for an author but Jane Harper’s real skill is bringing the characters to life. Now you may not like them all but you won’t forget many of them, I can assure you of that. The characters alongside the town (which is almost a character in its own right) give the story an oppressive feel which is underlined by episodes from the past being placed throughout the book, the distinction being marked by italics and tense. Much later we hear from Ellie herself which gives us a three-sided view of life, and death.

This is a superb novel and of course I know that there is a second in the series called Force of Nature. Since I can assure you this isn’t one of those frustrating books that leaves on a cliff-hanger, I’m not quite sure how that one can possibly play out (I’ve resisted looking at the synopsis) but I am very sure that the quality of Jane Harper’s writing means that I can’t afford to miss out.

“Death rarely changes how we feel about someone. Heightens it, more often than not.”

I’m so very pleased that I chose this book to be the eighth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge, I shouldn’t have left it quite so long!

First Published UK: 1 June 2017
Publisher: Abacus
No of Pages:432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US