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

Need You Dead – Peter James #blogtour

Crime Fiction
5*s

I am particularly delighted to be part of the blog tour for Need You Dead which is the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James because this is a series I’ve followed from the very beginning, reading each book in order eager to find out what has happened to my favourite characters whilst knowing that there will be a cracking crime story to keep me entertained.

Today Peter James is sharing some of his research with us:

DS Roy Grace Blog Tour – Day 7
Research behind Dead Man’s Grip

While researching Dead Man’s Grip I was taken around the famous local landmark that is Shoreham Power station. Along with being claustrophobic I have always had an absolute terror of heights, so the research for a key scene in the book, involving a secret tunnel under Shoreham Harbour, where I would be making a 180 feet vertical descent down a ladder in a shaft, was horrifying! A major “oh shit” moment! Fortunately I had two very delightful and caring helpers from Rescue & Emergency Medical Services Ltd who gave me the confidence and help to do it.

Then at the launch of Dead Man’s Grip I was submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour for a stunt enacting a key scene in the book. I was nervous as hell before this event and I had the whole police dive team prepped to rescue me in case it went wrong!

Peter James has kindly provided original pieces for each day of his blog tour so make sure you catch the rest of the stops!

 

Book Review
Lorna Belling has been found dead in a bath tub in a rented flat in Brighton. Already known to the police because she’s reported her husband for domestic abuse Roy Grace sees the investigation as a good one for Guy Batchelor to be Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for a couple of reasons: one to allow him to learn the ropes and secondly because Roy has to fly to Germany to pick up his son Bruno to bring him back for the funeral of his mother.

Lorna is a hairdresser who works from home, her phone is monitored by her husband and there has been more than one nasty incident with her husband Corin who works for an IT company, but the last attack was particularly nasty. The Domestic Violence caseworker is concerned for Lorna’s safety but so far Lorna has decided to stay put with Corin and the puppies she has bred. But the flat where Lorna was found dead wasn’t her home, so why is she in a cheap rental flat with dodgy electrics?

Of course the investigation isn’t quite as straightforward as first appearances indicated and the reader is in on the action seeing the red-herrings being liberally scattered across Brighton to ensure that the Police are following entirely the wrong scent. In a bold move by the author we even know why the only link missing is who it could be. It goes to show how in experienced hands a small amount of mystery is all that is needed with this book not lacking at all in tension as the team set out to find the killer – or perhaps Lorna committed suicide after all?

There are a number of strands to be pursued by the team and all of them have a good collection of well-drawn characters to keep us fully entertained as they do so!

It is almost refreshing these days to have modern crime fiction told in a straightforward time-line and here we have the chapters headed up by the days of the week starting from the beginning and working to the end – how clever is that? Because there is so much going on there are several chapters for each day, with each looking from a different point of view and in the case of Roy Grace, some are from a different country.

As with the entire series I get as much enjoyment in meeting up with the large and varied cast of characters, particularly with the established team of police, with the author reflecting their most immediate concerns using his extensive contacts with the real crime fighters in Brighton’s Police Force to ensure all the details are bang up to date. A small word of caution, Mr James, please don’t turn Roy Grace into a political figurehead for the Police however much your sources urge you to, less is more as they say!

As always this latest Roy Grace story had me thoroughly entertained. I can also spy some interesting threads which I’m sure we will follow for a few books yet in Roy’s personal life as Bruno settles into life as a big brother to baby Noah and so as always, no sooner did I put the book down, I was eager to have the next instalment from Brighton and Hove.

I am extremely grateful to Macmillan and Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of this book, and for allowing me to be part of this blog tour – the pinnacle of my blogging ambitions! My review of course is unbiased.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead

Need You Dead, the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James, is out 18th May (Macmillan, £20.00)

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

The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins

Psychological Thriller
5*s

A book that captured me from the first page where we meet Olivia Sweetman making her way to address all two hundred guests gathered at The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons in London. All those people are amongst the jars of organs to celebrate the publication of historian Olivia Sweetman’s book, Annabel, a study of a Victorian woman who became one of the first surgeons, a woman who also had a sensational personal life too, captured within Annabel in her own words.

After the celebrations the book switches to the run up to the publication of the book, eventually as far back as when Olivia first saw Annabel’s diary in Ileford Manor in Sussex in the hands of Vivian, the housekeeper cum research assistant that Olivia would come to depend on as she juggled her television appearances as a celebratory historian, her marriage to David, busy writing and researching his own book, and her three children Dom, Paul and Jess.

I adored every word of this book, there is always something absolutely irresistible in a book about a book after all, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters, a plot that is underpinned by meticulous timing so that I became bound up in Olivia’s fight for her reputation long before I understood why she was needing to fight in the first place.

Adding to the history we also hear about beetles, more specifically the dung-beetles that Olivia Sweetman’s father studied, hence that eye-catching cover.

‘Your eye for detail, your doggedness, you’re just remarkable,’ she said, looking into my eyes. Hers really are a striking colour. At that moment they reminded me of a beetle called, Necrophilia formosa, whose iridescent carapace is somewhere between violet and royal blue and which feeds on beautiful flowers that reek powerfully of rotting fish.

So we have Olivia the modern woman juggling life and making her mark studying a woman who was forging ahead in a man’s world in the Victorian times, and we have Vivian, who outshines them both with her strangeness, her adherence to strict routines, her sharp mind which is at odds with her position as a housekeeper but most of all a character who is oh so very believable. When reading the chapters narrated by Vivian, we hear from the two women in turn throughout the book, I was strongly reminded of some of the wonderful creations of Ruth Rendell who created equally dislikeable but fascinating characters.

Olivia has Vivian in her life as a necessary evil, she looks down on the woman who she depends on to give her access to Annabel’s diary, to do the tiring leg-work during the research into this woman’s life and while she is grateful for all her hard-work, her doggedness and attention to detail, once the book is edited, she finds her relentless appeals to write another book difficult to shut down. This struggle between the needy and the needed while trying to maintain the smooth politeness that society demands that makes the entire story so believable.

Whilst the plotting is superb it is definitely the characters that lead this novel and even the bit parts are wonderfully drawn giving you a real sense of the describer and described in broad brush strokes

I do remember how grim I felt as I sat behind Maureen’s desk, unreasonably infuriated by her ‘Smile! It’s gin o’clock!’ sticker on the till and her ‘Keep Calm, It’s Only a Royal Baby’ coaster. I was fighting the urge to rip both objects up and put them in the bin. I have known Maureen since childhood, we were in the same class at primary school and she has always irritated me. She is intrusive, bossy and rather dim.

The Night Visitor will hopefully not haunt me in the way that she haunted Vivian, but these characters, the intricate storyline full of fascinating detail will stay with me for a long time to come. I can safely predict this will be one of my books of 2017.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Quercus who provided me with a copy of The Night Visitor. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Non-Fiction
5*s


The Fact of a Body
is one of the most compelling investigations into a true-crime that I have read, perhaps because that isn’t all it is. It is how one crime can have parallels into another, entirely different life. That is how Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich feels and what she sets out to show us with this mix of true-crime and a memoir.

When Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich joins a law firm in New Orleans as an intern, whose work is based on having death sentences overturned, she feels she is about to start the career she is supposed to have. The daughter of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti the death penalty. But all that turns when she watches a video of Rick Langley who has been convicted of killing a six year old boy, Jeremy Guillory. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the crime is awful but what shocks the author most is that she feels so strongly that Rick Langley should die for the crime he committed. She no longer believes what she thought she did and that has consequences on her life.

The real question she asks is why has she changed one of her core beliefs and within this book she carries out a painstaking investigation of not only Rick Langley’s life but also that of Jeremy who was the son of a single mother, pregnant with her second son at the time of the murder. Alongside this we learn more about her own life, growing up with not so much secrets as known facts left unsaid and unexamined. In this book they are thoroughly examined. It is quite clear that the crime or more accurately where the truth lies, is something of an obsession for the author. What she bravely examines within the text is why she feels that way

All three strands of the book are equally hard to read in parts but the writing is both accessible and intelligent. The author’s own story is far from being a misery memoir where the author begs us to feel her pain, instead she shows us how her family chose to deal with the blows life dealt them and the consequences, as she sees them, of those decisions. When she examines Jeremy’s life it is with tenderness for both him and his mother. Given that we know her visceral reaction to hearing Rick Langley’s voice the author writes with care about the man himself. Not to lessen his crime in any way but by delving deeper into his story and the various explanations given to the fateful evening when Jeremy was killed, tries to find the beginning of this man’s story.

Adding to the intelligent feel are some of the points of law as she was taught complete with examples that are relevant to the criminal case which was incredibly useful for those of us less familiar with the US law. Ricky Langley had gone through three separate trials by the time Alexandria was investigating, she had three different trial transcripts and three different videotaped confessions along with DNA evidence, and masses of reports written by different experts. The author herself has to decide which of these truths is the real truth at the same time she dredges her memories from early childhood and tells her truth, which may or may not differ from those of her siblings.

I actually started reading this book after using it as one of my Tuesday Opening Paragraph posts and couldn’t put it aside which I think is testament to just how compelling, if difficult, a read this is.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of publication on 18 May 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  336
Genre: Non-Fiction True Crime 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Boy A – Jonathan Trigell

Crime Fiction
5*s

A hard-hitting yet compelling novel examining what it means to be imprisoned as a child and released under a false identity. Boy A is one of two boys tried and convicted of the murder of another child. Although there are echoes of a trial here in the UK this isn’t in anyway an examination of that crime with much of the book concentrating on what happens next.

Boy A chooses a new name, Jack Burridge, to preserve his anonymity which is part of the terms of his release and then with the help of his ‘uncle’ Terry who had been a member of staff at the home he was first sent to follow his conviction. One of the minimal number of people who know Jack’s true identity. Jack has a job but first he must learn what it is like to live in a world he last left as a child.

The book skips backwards and forwards through the time periods from before Boy A met Boy B to after he left the adult prison with his new name. Each chapter starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with A is for Apple. A Bad Apple. All the way through to Z, which is for Zero in case you are wondering. Just finding the titles that match the content of each chapter must have been a challenge and the sparse language used with its short sentences is perfect for the subject matter. This book feels like a work of art as well as a captivating tale.

Fortunately, given the tough subject matter, the torn sympathies as Boy A’s life is revealed through not just his own eyes, but later on, his father’s too, there are some humorous parts to the book too, most predictably when Jack meets a girl and the attraction is mutual, but most often it is bittersweet humour with a shared moment with a cellmate before his monotonous life rolls onwards.

As we see the horrors Jack endured in prison it is almost odd that my sympathies were highest when he starts his new job and makes friends, and of course a girlfriend Michelle. It is here that it becomes apparent how hard it is to hide your entire life up to a point in your twenties. As Jack becomes close to those around him, his enormous secret puts a boundary up between them as he unwillingly hands out lies to cover the truth.

But nor is this book just about Boy A, Terry and his life at the point where they overlap tells a different story, a fairly normal one of a broken marriage leading to a strained relationship with his own son as he also guards the truth and builds the lies of the life he hopes to see prove that rehabilitation is possible.

The way the stories of Boy A, his parents, Boy B, Terry the psychologist along with Jack’s new friends and his girlfriend all intertwine, create a thought-provoking and compelling read. The book is just the right length the author resisting the urge to brow beat the reader and the ending perfectly pitched. A book to ponder over and in the end marvel at how in the right hands, such an emotive topic can be explored.

Boy A was my thirteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017. I purchased this book in April 2015.

mount-tbr-2017
 

 

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Serpent’s Tale
No of Pages:  256
Genre: Crime Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Dying Games – Steve Robinson

Crime Fiction
5*s

The genealogical expert Jefferson Tayte is back! I love this series which has taken me back to historical eras I know little about while telling a cracking story in the bargain. In this latest episode the majority of the action happens in the present day but the seeds of this action belong firmly in the past. In Washington, DC the FBI are interested in Jefferson Tayte, aka JT, so he breaks off his Scottish trip with his fiancée to return to answer their questions.

It seems that there is a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer who isn’t content with straightforward killing. Oh no, this killer comes up with inventive, and tortuous ways to dispatch his victims. JT examines the latest scene where twin brothers have been drowned in a Perspex box filled with water, an elaborate murder which indicates that this killing is as much about capturing attention as anything else. For JT finding out his former research is somehow linked to the killings is more than a little disquieting. And then comes a clue, genealogical in nature, which the FBI can’t solve without his help.

The race against time as JT uses all his skills, and his files provide the reader with facts as well as almost non-stop action with the pace relentless throughout this episode. The killer wants JT involved in the chase, but why? As the authorities have to release warnings to everyone who has employed JT’s family history services in the past, his reputation is in tatters. Living in a safe house with only a FBI agent for company it is easy to sympathise, JT is forced to try to save the chosen victims while his professional and personal life is shredded by his association to the horrendous crimes being committed.

This was absolutely brilliant, Steve Robinson has produced a real puzzle within this thriller! Or perhaps I should say lots of mini puzzles which require different aspects of genealogical research to solve. This will ensure that those readers who have hit a brick wall in their own family history research can put things into perspective; unless you are in the unlikely position of having to find a particular person’s details otherwise someone else may die!

Steve Robinson hasn’t forgotten the overall story arc which began with JT searching for his own origins following his adoption and so not only does Jean, his fiancée, play a role in Deadly Games, but another superb character that JT made contact with in Kindred also makes a substantial appearance at just the right time!

JT himself has grown and developed depth as a character throughout the series with his emotional development handled with a light but sure touch keeping the reader’s attention without being overwhelmed by navel-gazing.
I really can’t recommend this book highly enough, whilst you will be missing out if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, this will also work as a standalone novel for lovers of puzzles, mysteries and a rollercoaster of a ride.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Steve Robinson who provided me with an ARC for this, the sixth book in the JT series, this unbiased review is my thanks to him and Thomas Mercer. Dying Games has decisively knocked To The Grave as my favourite read in this series from the top spot!

First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Thomas Mercer
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction – Genealogical
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books in the JT series

In The Blood
Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.

To The Grave
A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.

The Last Queen of England
While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.

The Lost Empress

On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.

Kindred

Jefferson Tayte is good at finding people who don’t want to be found. For years he has followed faint genealogical trails to reunite families—and uncover long-hidden secrets. But Tayte is a loner, a man with no ties of his own; his true identity is the most elusive case of his career.

But that could all be about to change. Now Tayte has in his possession the beginnings of a new trail—clues his late mentor had started to gather—that might at last lead to his own family. With Professor Jean Summer, his partner in genealogical sleuthing, he travels to Munich to pick up the scent. But the hunt takes them deep into dangerous territory: the sinister secrets of World War II Germany, and those who must keep them buried at any cost.

 

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

Little Deaths – Emma Flint

Crime Fiction
5*s

Little Deaths is inspired by the true story of Alice Crimmins who was tried for the murder of her two young children in Queens, New York in 1965, and oh my, what a compelling story this is!

We are introduced to the mother, now Ruth Malone, who lives in an apartment in Queens whose two children Frankie and Cindy went missing from their bedroom. With little Cindy found strangled in a nearby parking lot a day later, Frankie remained missing for a further ten days, and then he too was found murdered. Despite the horrible crime as the book unfolds we see that Ruth was tried, not as much on hard evidence but because the former cocktail waitress did not behave as the public expects a bereaved mother to act.

I was instantly drawn into the tale, the world that Ruth lived in is one that is relatively easy to sympathise with. Her life hadn’t turned out as she expected, her dreams stunted by the birth of her two children and then she separated from her husband Frank. At the time the children went missing the two were locked in a custody battle with Ruth determined not to relinquish her children but at the same time nor was she going to live like a nun.  Contrary to the working class values that was Queens at that time, her neighbours disapproved of her association with a number of other men,added to which she cared about her appearance, drank and smoked. The hard truth is that Ruth wanted more from her life but did that mean she was the one who killed the children?  The countless crimes against Ruth mount throughout the book as the police, certain of her guilt, have her under almost constant surveillance so when she buys a new dress soon after Cindy’s body was found, her guilt was almost confirmed.

Emma Flint has provided us with one of the most complex of female characters and each incident can be viewed from differing angles and the conclusions made will depend on which angle you consider to be most realistic. This creation really takes the book way beyond a simple rehash of the crime itself. I felt I knew Ruth, I could both identify with some of her thoughts whilst at other times wonder why she made life quite so hard for herself, after all she was far from stupid – perhaps that was her downfall?

In the mix of characters we have Ruth’s mother, her ex Frank, a couple of male friends, the police and the crime reporter determined to make a name for himself, Pete Wonicke, whose obsession with the case added a whole other layer of interest to the story. On the sidelines are the former babysitter and other neighbours all who are pertinent, maybe not to the main mystery but in building the picture of the time and place. The atmosphere of this book was really spot on for both and part of what I loved so much was the feeling of being transported to a different world. The third person narrative was entirely appropriate for the book which is an exploration of values of the time as much as a murder mystery.

I know it is a cliché but once I started this book I simply couldn’t put it down, and as a result of how wrapped up in Ruth’s story I became, have spent my time since with an obsession with Alice Crimmins. From my research I can confirm that the author has clearly done hers although I’m sure the book had far more impact because I read it before learning about the case that inspired it.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book from the publishers Picador and this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 12 January 2017
Publisher: Picador
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Dead Woman Walking – Sharon Bolton

Crime Fiction
5*s

What do these items have in common? A hot air balloon, a bunch of nuns and peacocks, well they all come together in one of the most unusual of crime novels, Dead Woman Walking, written by the incredibly accomplished Sharon Bolton.

Perhaps the next question should be what do I look for in my crime fiction? After all I read a fair bit of this genre, and we’ve all read the complaints about the now almost compulsory serial killer or the amount that we have to suspend belief for the story to work or perhaps how tired a format the more straightforward police procedural can seem against the fast and furious thrillers that dominate the charts. Now I’m not saying that I consistently subscribe to these views but I will admit that even if I haven’t written the words myself, I’ve considered their merits more than once. I would say I want a book that feels unique, a story that I can believe in, one that challenges the normal format and one that has me rooting all the way for the good guy but, and here’s the difficult bit, I also like to have my beliefs challenged or at least to look at an issue from a different perspective. Sharon Bolton accomplished all of this in this thrilling tale. Yes, this book is also full of tension and intrigue and there is no better device for this than a race against time.

The day starts so well for sisters Bella and Jessica with a balloon ride to celebrate Bella’s fortieth birthday so both women are up early on the Scottish border. They get into the basket and float up above the landscape, the trees and the large isolated house, they are skimming the landscape close enough to see but far enough up to be just within the safety zone. Then one of the passengers witnesses an act of violence perpetrated by a man against a young woman. The man’s eyes meet those belonging to the person who saw it, and then the balloon crashes.

What follows, and I promise you the above is about all you get in the synopsis, is outstanding. There are so many twists and turns but none seem in the slightest way put into the book for cheap thrills, these were the real deal pirouettes of twists! All of this meant that when they came I had to take a deep breath and assure myself, yes that really happened! And this wasn’t just once, the revelations slipped into the sentence turned the entire book on its head more than once. There is also a Police investigation complete with media presence and behind the scenes differences of opinion along with more dead bodies than I’m usually comfortable with but each distinct part felt as though it was new although of course those nuns and peacocks helped!

Sharon Bolton was already close to the top of my must-read author list and this outing has established her at the number one spot. If you haven’t read any of her books, where have you been? You really don’t know what you are missing. Pitch perfect plotting and dialogue that seamlessly integrates with the characters and situation means that the readers are treated to a read that they won’t forget in a hurry.

P.S. This is probably not the book to read if you have a hot air balloon ride booked anytime soon!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alison Barrow of Transworld Books who very kindly sent me an advance review copy, up there with the best book post of the year!

First Published UK: 20 April 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Fantastic Fiction by Sharon Bolton
Standalone Novels

Sacrifice (2008)
Awakening (2009)
Blood Harvest (2010)
Little Black Lies (2015)
 Daisy In Chains (2016)

Lacey Flint Series

Now You See Me (2011)
If Snow Hadn’t Fallen (2012) Novella
Dead Scared (2012)
Like This Forever (2013)
A Dark and Twisted Tide (2014)
Here Be Dragons (2016) Novella

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

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – Kathryn Harkup

Non-Fiction
5*s

This book was an absolute delight to read combining my love of Agatha Christie’s novels with a wealth of information about the poisons she chose to dispose of her victims. For any of my potential dinner guests who may be wary, do not fear, the author warns us off using the poisons she carefully and concisely explains at various points throughout the book!

Any present-day poisoner wishing to use some of the methods suggested by Christie will be disappointed to discover that even these underhand methods are unlikely to be successful, as increased checks and balances have since been put in place.

A is for Arsenic features the fourteen poisons deployed by the Queen of Crime in her various books, some of course were used more than once! She starts the book off by talking about Agatha Christie’s time as a working in the dispensary in her local Torquay hospital during World War I and her training to become as an apothecary’s assistant. It was here that she her interest in poison began and coupled with some inspiration of real-life cases many of her books featured some hapless person falling victim to one or other of her chosen poisons.

Each chapter starts off with a piece about the book, or books that the particular poison starred in followed by a bit about the discovery, chemical make-up and tests for presence of the poison featured. We then move on to how the poison kills, without I’m pleased to confirm overly descriptive passages concerning the symptoms which can be quite grim in reality. It is here that Kathryn Harkup indicates how Agatha Christie spared her readers too. For those who are on the receiving end of the poison, next up is any antidote or at the very least what your doctor should do to help support life while the body gets rid of the poison. We are then treated to some real life cases including Glasgow socialite Madeline Smith who was suspected poisoning of poor old Pierre Emile L’Anglier who came from Jersey because she was worried about him showing her love letters to her parents but instead stood accused of putting some grains of arsenic in his cocoa.

Despite the sometimes complex chemistry which the author manages to explain without sounding condescending but does so clearly enough that I could follow most of it, the book is for the most part pure entertainment – here is another warning about why you should resist the lure of poison:

But before you rush to take out hefty life-insurance policies on your closest and wealthiest relatives, or start growing foxgloves in your garden, remember that the drug is detectable even in minute quantities.

with comments from the side lines when things get a bit heavy:

The elderly spinster consistently displays a worryingly detailed knowledge of pharmaceuticals and poison.

I have to admit I really enjoyed the final part of each chapter which returns to Agatha Christie’s novels including the victim, the suspects and the potential methods employed to deliver the poison to the right person, at the right time.

Fortunately the murderer confesses, and even goes on to explain how the deed was done, the poison was added to Mrs Horton’s tea by one of her visitors. Arsenic trioxide is poorly soluble in cold water, but is much more soluble in hot water. By dissolving the arsenic in tea the killer was able to ensure that no suspicious gritty powder was left at the bottom of the cup.

I started by making a list of the books featured that I felt I simply must read right away, and then realised I would need to read Agatha Christie back to back for weeks to get through them all!! Well there are worse things I could be reading!

Finally as with any good reference guide non-fiction book, there are notes throughout each chapter and a handy table of all the novels and the methods of killing along with a bibliography at the end of the book. What more could a girl, fascinated by poisoners ask for?

This was my eighth read of 2017 towards my Mount TBR challenge as I bought this book in September 2016, and what a brilliant buy it was!

mount-tbr-2017
 

First Published UK: 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Non-Fiction 
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Everything But The Truth – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Everything But The Truth is a psychological thriller but not of the ilk that you might be expecting from the genre. This superb read is a quieter more thoughtful book with moral dilemmas at its heart rather than the fast paced action packed books that is now the norm for books marketed under this heading. That doesn’t mean this book isn’t gripping, far from it!

Rachel is pregnant, one that wasn’t planned, well there was hardly enough time for that in her new relationship with Jack, but the pregnancy isn’t a disaster, both are thrilled about the baby on the way and Rachel is delighted to have found ‘the one.’ Rachel works in a law firm as an administrator having left her job as a paediatric doctor while Jack is working as a journalist in Newcastle having moved for a temporary role from his hometown of Oban. All is going well although the couple have yet to move in together in readiness for the forthcoming baby.

Then late one night Jack’s iPad lights up and half-asleep Rachel reads the email sent which mentions an event that she knows nothing about. Rachel begins to wonder how well she knows Jack especially when the short reply he gives the next morning, isn’t wholly convincing.

The book then follows Rachel and Jack forward from this moment where Rachel is determined to find out the truth whatever the cost, but is she right to keep digging? And what is she going to do if she ever finds out? We also see what Rachel’s life was like before Jack, when she was working I the hospital, this strand takes a while before the relevance of this becomes clear, but all is revealed later Beyond that I can’t say anything about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else.

There is no doubt that Gillian McAllister knows how to weave a tale that is complex and has space built into the narrative that allows the reader to put themselves into the character’s shoes, and yes to make judgements on that tricky morality scale. All the characters are exceptionally well drawn, Rachel and Jack behave in ways that felt absolutely realistic, but so do the secondary characters who are varied and memorable in their own right. I often think that social situations are the hardest to transfer to the page, after all those family walks where in reality no-one says anything particularly scintillating are rarely found in books, but when Jack and Rachel went for a walk with Jack’s parents and brother, it was an evocative scene full of Scottish mist with convincing everyday ordinariness.

One of the strands of Everything But The Truth linked to a personal experience of mine which meant that this is one of those magical books that really ‘spoke to me’ . In this part I had predicted the outcome, but that made it no less devastating to read the words I didn’t want to see on the page. Yes, this book had me sobbing, but it also entertained me, made me think and painted a picture of a young couple that imprinted themselves onto my memory. I won’t forget this book in a long while it had that big an impact on me. There is so much packed into this book that I really do think that there are going to be few readers that are not drawn into some aspect of this clever, fresh-feeling addition to the genre.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book for review purposes from Penguin Books and this honest review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 9 March 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 420
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Quieter than Killing – Sarah Hilary

Crime Fiction
5*s

Quieter than Killing starts with a chilling prologue; a young boy listens to the sound of a car being washed, carrots being chopped and a boy in a red bedroom surrounded by a girl’s possessions. This outwardly domestic scene has an unfathomable undercurrent that let me know from the first short sentence that the latest book in the DI Marnie Rome series, her fourth outing, was going to be a real treat.

So starts another brilliant outing for DI Marnie Rome and her partner DS Jake Noah in a race against time to work out what links what appears to be violent attacks on people who have previously been convicted of crimes as disparate as kidnapping and assault. Then the new perpetrator goes too far and one of their victims dies. Who is picking these latest victims and why won’t they reveal who is hurting them? With crimes that seem to take no account of age, sex or years since the original crime, finding the killer is going to need the sharpest of detectives. Meanwhile Marnie is left shaken when her parent’s former home is burgled and her tenants badly hurt at the same time and are in the hospital.

During earlier books in this series we’re aware of the crimes committed by Marnie’s foster brother Stephen and his mischief-making is still ongoing, as are Jake’s problems with his younger brother who has been embroiled in the local gangs. This mixture of police investigation with their personal problems is one of the aspects I really enjoy and the two worlds are becoming too close for comfort for both officers. The pair find themselves investigating the gangs and their increasingly young recruits. And then things seem to get personal and with Marnie’s boss, and chief protector and supporter, off work with a serious illness, Marnie has to learn to confront attacks both personal and professional without him at the same time she has to prove herself to the woman drafted in to lead the Murder Investigation Team.

The plotting as ever is exquisite with perfect pacing which takes us down more than one blind alley, each time the tension rises to a new height. This is the twistiest of the series yet, but the author keeps a handle on the strands so that at no time did I consider any revelation, one too many. It is refreshing to be able to relish a story without feeling as if everything is positioned just to confuse, but that these events are not only possible, but likely to happen.

Of course the most engaging of plots wouldn’t get far without great characters and whilst the two detectives are already well-defined, they show parts of their characters that haven’t been quite so obvious before and they are joined by a great supporting cast. To Sarah Hilary, it doesn’t matter if you are a goodie or a baddie, she will add layers to both surprise and delight.

So we have plot and characters and even better Sarah Hilary adds a brilliant turn of phrase to the trinity. For anyone who is under the misapprehension that crime writers can produce a great book without knowing their crime as it is all about the whodunit and less about the well-crafted phrase, all I can say is read this book and experience how great a read can be when all three come together.

I am very grateful to the publishers Headline who allowed me to read an advance copy of Quieter than Killing ahead of publication of 9 March 2017.
Previous books in the DI Marnie Rome Series:

Someone Else’s Skin
No Other Darkness
Tastes Like Fear

First Published UK: 9 March 2017
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
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