Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Ice Child – Camilla Läckberg

Crime Fiction
4*s

The Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series of which this is book 9, are set in the small fishing town of Fjällbacka are Scandi-noir books which whilst full of murder, fortunately from my point of view on the whole avoid the more stark violence of this genre’s reputation. Camilla Läckberg’s stories tend to link past crimes to a current investigation and The Ice Child is no different in that respect. Whilst Erica is writing another true-crime book about an infamous husband killer, Laila is in prison convicted but has steadfastly refused to talk about the crimes she has committed. Patrik is involved in the re-appearance of a teenage girl who went missing from a nearby riding stables four months ago. Tragically her surprise reappearance does not end well.

I think this is a series that to get the best from it, you need to have read the earlier books. The back-stories of the various police officers in Fjällbacka are ever-present as is that of Erica’s sister Anna who in short is forever facing some trauma or another. Luckily in this episode she is let off rather tamely with a fairly run of the mill relationship issue.

Interspersed between the back story of Erica’s visits to the prison to meet with Laila who frustratingly is still holding back on what happened decades before and the ongoing investigation into missing girls across Sweden are some excerpts of Laila’s thoughts. I do enjoy this kind of device where we the reader, get to know more about the crimes than the investigator. In this case in Camilla Läckberg’s recognisable style these short excerpts openly beg the reader to ask the questions which move the storyline along.

I started this post by saying on the whole the gruesome factor is lower down the scale than many in this genre, be warned though, this is no cosy mystery and there were some descriptions in both timelines that were shocking for the twisted thinking behind the crimes committed. It is no longer enough to simply be stabbed it would seem, now bodies must be mutilated, abuse must be extreme and everyone in the vicinity of a crime must be vigilant in case they are somehow caught up in the murderous spree. The latter certainly is part of what helps to keep the tension high in this book with the reader on the lookout not only for the killer but anxious about anyone who may fit the profile and with many scenes set at the riding stables there are a few to choose from.

I love the myriad of characters in these books, especially the interaction between the police and their trusty receptionist heart-warming, especially as some of them are seriously annoying, mentioning no names – Bertil, but they are a ‘work-family’ which add a lighter side to offset the horror in the past and the present.

It is relatively rarely that I get not only the name of the killer but the whydunit too but I did manage to outsmart the author this time getting full marks for both parts which in no way dented my enthusiasm for the book. As always I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode, The Girl in the Woods, which surely must be out soon?

The Ice Child was my twenty-sixth read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in November 2016.
mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 10 March 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins
No. of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books in Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series

The Ice Princess (2002)
The Preacher (2004)
The Stonecutter (2005)
The Gallows Bird (2006)
The Hidden Child (2007)
The Drowning (2008)
The Lost Boy (2013)
Buried Angels (2014)

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

The Bad Things – Mary-Jane Riley

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

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

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blackwater – James Henry

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

Well James Henry has worked hard to shake off the shadow of Inspector Jack Frost who he brilliantly recreated in the three prequels he wrote following the demise of their creator R.D. Wingfield. In Blackwater there isn’t a whiff of Jack, although as these books are set in the 80s, the policing isn’t quite what we expect in these more enlightened times. This has the added advantage that the police are far more interested in actual action than meeting targets and getting overly involved in the politics of policing, although the whiff of them is just blowing faintly on the breeze!

Our chief protagonist in the force in Blackwater is Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry, a sympathetic character who is struggling with his approaching fortieth birthday albeit with fortitude. His decision to stop smoking whilst those around him continue with abandon and to give up his position on the Boxing team is giving his boss serious cause for concern. Nick Lowry is married to a nurse, Jacqui, and although he may not fully understand why, his marriage isn’t as healthy as his New Year’s resolution. Conveniently our book covers the time the clock strikes midnight on 31 December 1982 and before too long a headless corpse is discovered on the salt marshes of Blackwater.

Meanwhile we get to hear from some smugglers with a shipment who have lost their way but are determined to start 1983 with the money they were promised but luck isn’t on their side. The discovery of the corpse has delayed them further and without the name of the buyer, it looks like they may have a long wait. Without mobile phones to handily use to pass on messages through the food-chain to explain themselves, life quickly becomes very complicated.

James Henry brilliantly gives us a sense of time period and place. The complexities of Colchester’s CID co-operation with the smaller, and often cut-off West Mersea police force are engagingly recreated for our pleasure. With the larger force at least making a nod towards more progressive policing, West Mersea are very much stuck in another time, where knowing someone is a ne’er-do-well, is reason enough to arrest and charge them for the next available crime. The author gives us some of the much loved products and historical facts to reinforce the time, without going over the top and trading on reader’s nostalgia. The setting helps here too, Colchester is a garrison town and the army features strongly as tensions rise between them and the locals, any patriotic goodwill from winning the Falklands War certainly doesn’t trump the soldiers spending their Christmas leave on using their wages to woo the local ladies.

The plot is complicated and with quite a few characters, including a very promising young female officer, to keep track of this isn’t a book to read if you don’t have plenty of concentration. Fortunately each change of view or place is helpfully signposted by giving the date, time and place, take note dear reader, especially at the beginning or I fear you may get in a terrible muddle! The switches frequent the viewpoint ever changing and with both actual and moral crimes being committed you do want to know what is what. With a steadier hand than our original two smugglers though, James Henry brings this to a fitting conclusion in the very model of a proper police procedural, with the loose ends tied up but leaving one thread to enable him to give us another episode, hopefully in the not too distant future.

I was given a proof copy by the author well ahead of the publication date of 14 July 2016 and I’m afraid I couldn’t wait until nearer this date to sample the goods!!

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

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

Well what can I say? I first read this book many, many years ago and it has always stayed in my mind as my favourite of all Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, and after this re-read, it still is.

Although there is no Poirot or Miss Marple detecting, in fact there is practically no detection at all, there have to be more murders in this book than in any other of her novels!

For those of you who haven’t read this book the basic plot is a simple one: Ten people are invited to Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, by someone they believe they know some for work and some for pleasure. Only the very slow will not realise that the most common name seems to be one Mr or Miss U.N. Owen (Unknown). We meet the various guests as they travel down and they range from the old General to the young(ish) schoolmistress. In each of the bedrooms hangs a copy of the verse:

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one

One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

In total seven men and three women are in the dining room when a disembodied voice accuses the guests of wrongdoings in the past. Before the night is out there is one dead guest and one missing china soldier figure from the original set of ten… And so the mystery begins and what a terrific one it is. Not only does the reader have the pleasure of trying to identify who the killer might be from the clues given but this particular reader got great enjoyment of working out how the next death would fit with the rhyme.

In the beginning of my copy there is a quote from Agatha Christie’s biography which states that it took a tremendous amount of planning to avoid becoming ridiculous. The prologue goes on to say that she was delighted that it was so well received but the person who was really pleased with it was herself.  I can understand why!

Again being a book of its time, first published in 1939 it isn’t without some racism, in fact part of why it took me such a long time to find a good second-hand copy was because I only wanted one with this, the most modern of its titles, the others too unacceptable for my bookshelf. Even with the new title you can’t get away with some stereotyping about Jews but this wouldn’t have made the nation wince at the time it was written, as it did me. Indeed one of the reasons I like re-reading Agatha Christie’s novels are for the contemporary views at the time they were written, and in this one, although there are fewer examples we do have a few, such as those about the spinster Emily Blunt.

If you are one of those people who haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s books, this is still my favourite and a great place to experience the Queen of Crime’s ability not only to think up a great plot but to execute it with aplomb!

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Dead Centre – Joan Lock

Historical Fiction 3*s
Historical Fiction
3*s

This is the seventh outing for Inspector Best a kind-hearted and dedicated detective in Victorian England. When Dead Centre opens it is 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee but also a year of unrest with unemployment in England high when the only options for destitute people was the dreaded workhouse.

In Trafalgar Square the masses congregated, in the daytime for political speeches, at night to sleep sheltered by the walls and the fountain they bedded down for what must have been an uncomfortable rest. When one man finds his place taken by a dead body, Inspector Best is called to investigate the suspicious event. Taking his young protégé Albert with him they identify potential suspects, was it to do with the fact that the dead man had been a rising star in the Social Democratic Federation but has recently resigned or could it be connected to his job at the dockyards where he was a ‘caller-on’, a man who decided which men had work that day, and who didn’t. The latter role caused Albert to don a disguise and join the desperate men.

Parallel to this storyline is that of Albert’s fiancée, Florence a member of the Salvation Army who had witnessed a crime (in an earlier book) but the perpetrator Stark had disappeared but Best is sure he has seen him among the masses in Trafalgar Square. Protecting Florence is nigh on impossible though with her route of visits taking her to some of the worst alleys and hovels in London, rescuing the poor by introducing faith into the lives. Albert can’t do it, even when he is not working undercover at the dockyards he is on his feet for twelve hours plus a day, he barely gets to see Florence let alone keep her safe.

This is a very interesting book, clearly incredibly well-researched and although there is a mystery, the solving of it comes via public marches, gypsies, working-conditions, the Salvation Army and politics and to be honest after the convoluted journey I didn’t really care. That said if I really wanted to know more about this period of history, I’m not entirely sure that I would choose this genre to do so as fascinating as it has been. The book did develop some pace before the end in a fantastic description of that year’s Bloody Sunday when the dissatisfied mounted marches to diverge on Trafalgar Square on 13 November 1887 and young Albert, probably my favourite character is ordered to repel the protesters as part of the establishment’s determination to uphold a bill that forbade gatherings in Trafalgar Square. By this stage the author had lost the somewhat irritating habit (or poor editing) that meant that some of her points were reiterated in subsequent chapters and I was easily able to picture the melee that ensued.

In conclusion this is a fascinating read but far more so for the historical elements than the mystery which I felt would have been lifted out of the research with more in-depth characterisation as the protagonists were just a little too worthy and provided little contrast although maybe if I’d read the previous books in the series, which are referenced in this one, these wouldn’t have fallen a little flat. I will probably pick up this series from the beginning for the well-researched insights into Victorian life as a contrast to the more bloody investigations in modern crime novels.

I did get approved for a copy of this book by Endeavor Press but sadly the title quickly got archived before I had a chance to download it so I bought my own copy.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe – Agatha Christie

Mystery  4*s
Mystery
4*s

The Queen of Crime surpasses herself on the sheer ingenuity of the mystery in this book, one which I don’t remember reading before, with a closed house murder set at the dentist’s office.

As well as an inspired setting of a dentist practice with only one entrance where everyone is admitted by the slightly goofy doorman with a penchant for American detective stories the author also provides us with a good selection of easily identifiable characters. There are the two dentists, Mr Morely who is shot dead, initially a possible suicide and Mr Reilly who has a drink problem but appears to have an affable nature. With Poirot’s teeth fixed he leaves the house and passes Mrs Sainsbury Seale who loses the buckle of her shoe when exiting the car, she goes into the house. Apart from her there is the mysterious Greek Amberiotis and the brilliant banker Alistair Blunt.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe features the wonderful Inspector Japp who is called in when Mr Morely’s body is found and soon discovers that his secretary Gladys Neville was called away to visit a sick aunt on a false pretext, the telegram she received was a hoax.

This is quite a political novel with Alistair Blunt standing for the old order where overspending is frowned upon and his careful management of the country’s money seemingly vital but there are many who want to try a new way, those that believe that the conservative old guard are stopping the country from moving forward, the American Howard Raikes being one of them. Howard Raikes despises Blunt’s policies but he does like his niece Jane Olivera. Another body is found and Poirot is persuaded that Blunt is the target, something backed up when unsuccessful attempts are made on his life.

As is often the case in an Agatha Christie novel we are presented with many pieces of the puzzle as the characters and the lives they lead are revealed but it takes a better reader than me to fit them into any semblance of order and find out whodunit. This is another spectacular ending, not quite as ingenious as Murder on the Orient Express, but not far off.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe was first published in 1940 and is one of my favourite sets of Agatha Christie Novels, those that feature the line of a nursery rhyme.

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

The Outcast Dead – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

The Outcast Dead features a fictional baby-farmer, made more gruesome by the addition of a hook to replace her missing hand.  Mother Hook as she was known after her death was tried, found guilty and executed for killing children in her care so the discovery of a body, which could be this infamous woman, real name Jemima Green during a dig at Norwich Castle prompts the TV series Women Who Kill to turn up to film ‘the discovery.’ Phil, Ruth’s boss at the University is keen to take part as the archaeology team work on identification of the remains.

800px-Norwich_castle

Norwich Castle

Meanwhile DCI Nelson is plunged into the worst kind of investigation, an investigation into a mother whose third child has just died.  Nelson is cautious of her innocence but equally anxious not to upset the bereaved mother when he is plunged into the disappearance of a young child and he race against time to find her before it is too late.

I have only read the first in this series (The Crossing Places) featuring Ruth Galloway, something I must rectify as I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about Ellie Griffith’s unglamorous forensic archaeologist, so fortunately I got the references to the death of Scarlet Henderson which still haunts Nelson but this was easy to read as a stand-alone in its own right.  Ruth is a real woman who clearly adores her daughter but also loves her job and is passionate about recording all that she can discover of the bones that she discovers.  She is pragmatic about her Phil’s vanity and there are some delightfully catty asides aimed at him.  She is delighted to explain her work to a wider audience whilst not enjoying being the focus of attention during filming.

Although the writing style (in the present tense) does take some getting used to I soon managed to immerse myself in this book, the wonderful imagery, tense relationships and a genuinely gripping plot which is fast paced. The reason why these books work for me is that there are a myriad of relationships that underpin the crimes being investigated.

Quercus were kind enough to allow me an ARC in return for this review which has paid off for them as I have already purchased Dying Fall to listen to on audio! The Outcast Dead was published on 6 February 2014.

Girls who got pregnant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had few options if marriage wasn’t an option, particularly if they weren’t living in rural areas where the children could be passed to members of the immediate or extended family.  One of the more favourable options was to give their child to one of the woman who were known disparagingly as baby-farmers.  These women were paid to take care of the child.  If the payment was made as a lump sum the less scrupulous in the profession weren’t averse to hastening an infant’s death, often using opiate based medicines which quietened the child at the same time, thereby making more room and another lump sum.

Read my reviews of some other books that feature baby-farmer’s here:

The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies a fictional account that features Amelia Sach who plied her trade in Finchley

The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money by Alison Rattle is a non-fiction account of the baby-farmer Amelia Dyer

Caversham Lock by Michael Stewert Conway is a fictional account featuring Amelia Dyer

The Outcast Dead – Amazon UK

 

 

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

Dead Man’s Time – Peter James

Crime 5*'s
Crime
5*’s

What a relief the waiting is over, it is June and here is the 9th Roy Grace Novel by Peter James. Peter James is one of those authors you can rely on; always a good plot along with well-rounded characterisation which results in an enjoyable read.

Dead Man’s Time has an extra dimension with the root of the story based in 1922 Brooklyn. Brendan Daly is taken in the middle of the night and his young son Gavin who was taken to England by his aunt along with his sister Aileen never saw him again. In 2012, ninety-eight year old Aileen, is the victim of a vicious and brutal robbery. Roy Grace is heading up the investigation along with the other members of his team familiar from previous books in this series.

Roy and Cleo now have a young son Noah and are adapting to sleepless nights and a jealous dog Humphrey. Roy’s missing wife Sandy also makes her obligatory appearance too with Glenn Branston’s on-going problems with his ex Ari. I really love these secondary story lines which give the reader something in addition to the crimes committed.

As always this is a stand-alone novel but due to the development of characters you may prefer to work your way through the eight previous books starting with Dead Simple (Ds Roy Grace 1)

All the books in the series so far…

Dead Simple (2005)
Looking Good Dead (2006)
Not Dead Enough (2007)
Dead Man’s Footsteps (2008)
Dead Tomorrow (2009)
Dead Like You (2010)
Dead Man’s Grip (2011)
Not Dead Yet (2012)
Dead Man’s Time (2013)
Want You Dead (2014)