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

Love Like Blood – Mark Billingham

Crime Fiction
5*s

There is something doubly appealing about crime fiction with a strong contemporary feel and Mark Billingham has chosen this, his fourteenth book in the Tom Thorne series to highlight honour killings. The fact that he does this within a brilliantly constructed mystery certainly makes for compelling reading.

DI Nicola Tanner is on compassionate leave after the death of her partner who was murdered inside their shared home. Having worked with Thorne when he makes a brief appearance  in Die of Shame, she seeks him out convinced that those in charge of the investigation into Susan’s death are not interested in her belief that her murder was a case of mistaken identity, and it is actually her own life they meant to take.

The relationship between Tanner and Thorne is brilliantly handled as they work off the grid to find out the truth. When a couple of teenagers go missing Thorne and Tanner fear their own families know more than they are letting on but are they reading too much into the case?

I was delighted that Hendricks, the gay pierced and hugely sarcastic doctor who carries out the post mortems on any of the stray bodies that are sent in his direction, was back to lighten the plotline when it all becomes a bit too dark. Black humour is infinitely better than no humour at all and in all honesty, whilst she might have had ample reason to be so, Tanner is the most entertaining of detectives.

Thorne is in the form of the fictional detective is more than happy to bend the rules to suit himself although with the normally rule-abiding Tanner pushing him to do more, he has the occasional doubt about whether this is the right thing to do in this instance.

You might fear from the earlier paragraphs that this is a worthy piece of crime fiction that is tackling a sensitive subject with little knowledge of the issues. Not so. Mark Billingham has clearly researched his subject matter speaking to those who have been part of those families where the younger generation are resistant to following the rules their parents are keen to uphold for fear of becoming outcasts in their own community. The idea that murdering your own child to protect the family’s reputation is rightly abhorrent to many even within these communities, but sadly not to all. Whilst Mark Billingham more than nods his head at the former, this is not a book that preaches, he lets his characters display the emotions that echoed in my own mind but managing to steer clear of a commentary that didn’t fit the natural direction of the investigation being undertaken.

As has been the case with each of the Mark Billingham books I have read the pace is fairly furious, if you are anything like me, you will not want to put this book aside even though you are in much need of a breather from the latest piece of action. The plot is complex and involved with enough facts to underpin the occasional surprise the author springs on his reader. Just the way I like my crime fiction.

I’d like to thank the publisher Grove Atlantic for allowing me to read an advance copy of Love Like Blood ahead of publication on 20 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and to Mark Billingham for an in-depth look at an issue brilliantly threaded through a captivating crime novel.

First Published UK: 20 June 2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Mark Billingham Books

Sleepyhead [Aug 2001] Tom Thorne #1
Scaredy Cat [Jul 2002] Tom Thorne #2
Lazybones [Jul 2003] Tom Thorne #3
The Burning Girl [Jul 2004] Tom Thorne #4
Lifeless [May 2005] Tom Thorne #5
Buried [May 2006] Tom Thorne #6
Death Message [Aug 2007] Tom Thorne #7
In the Dark [Aug 2008] Standalone Novel
Bloodline [Aug 2009] Tom Thorne #8
From the Dead [Aug 2010] Tom Thorne #9
Good as Dead [Aug 2011] Tom Thorne #10
Rush of Blood [Aug 2012] Standalone Novel
The Dying Hours [May 2013] Tom Thorne #11
The Bones Beneath [May 2014] Tom Thorne #12
Time of Death [April 2015] Tom Thorne #13
Die of Shame [May 2016] Standalone Novel
Love Like Blood [June 2017] Tom Thorne #14

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Trophy Child – Paula Daly

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Bronte is just ten years old but she has a punishing schedule of piano classes, harp lessons and because her mother Karen Bloom is worried about the way she reads aloud, she also needs to fit in some drama classes to help that out. Of course she also has extra homework to ensure that she excels in every subject, but things in the Bloom household hide more than the obvious maternal pushing of Karen.

Noel Bloom is a doctor who seems to also be keen on alcohol, or maybe this is a mask for avoiding his home life aka known as Karen. Noel had left his first wife Jennifer when Karen became pregnant with Bronte. Jennifer now lives in a nursing home due to her MS which means that Noel’s first daughter Verity, now a feisty teenager lives with him too. Oh and there is Karen’s son from a previous relationship, a relationship she doesn’t want to discuss. Ewan now in his late teens is something of a disappointment to Karen and she is determined that Bronte will be far more successful.

So far so good, we have all met a Karen, a woman who imagines that the other mothers are lazy and misguided, a woman the is focussed on getting the best for her daughter no matter the cost. Then something happens which turns everything on its head and life for the Bloom family will never be the same again!

Paula Daly is at her best when she is creating characters we love to hate. She has made Karen a figure that can’t be pitied, so what emotions are left? She is also far better than many writers at creating convincing characters of the children. Although for a good part of the book Ewan was only partially visible, he too comes into his own later on, with a convincing performance that works to round the stereotypical view painted by his mother of a no-hoper.

As the plot begins to unfold the cracks in the family really begin to show and with each member taking a stance, I wouldn’t want to have lived there as they circled and protected in equal measure. Because underneath the plotline this is a story about relationships too. Modern blended families provide a wealth of complex bonds, that between Verity and Bronte being my favourite of the entire book. Two sisters who have had very different upbringings, have different aptitudes and different mothers are nonetheless siblings.

But best of all this book features the return of DS Joanne Aspinall, one of my favourite characters who first appeared in Just What Kind of Mother Are You? And she has a much larger part to play this time. She is running an investigation that involves the entire Bloom family, and she will get her answers. She also provides much of the witticisms that appear in The Trophy Child which despite the seriousness of the subject, gives the book a real jaunty feeling at times.

All in all a totally compelling read which had me engrossed, madly guessing the outcome from the very first page, all whilst giving me the impression that I was part of the investigation, if only I could sort out those red herrings from the clues that gave the answers. How did I do? Pretty badly, as usual although I had one strand cracked early on, Paula Daly was just far too wily for this amateur detective.

I would like to thank the publishers Grove Atlantic for giving me a copy of The Trophy Child. This review is my thank you to them and the incredibly talented Paula Daly.

First Published UK: 26 January 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Paula Daly

Just What Kind of Mother Are You?
Keep Your Friends Close
The Mistake I Made

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Rush of Blood – Mark Billingham

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

So you’re on holiday in Florida, you’ve met up with another two couple’s from the UK, spent time together all fairly standard stuff and then on the last day, a girl goes missing from the resort. You’re interviewed by the police and allowed to return to the UK. Would you make a date to meet up with your fellow holidaymakers away from the sun?

Well that’s exactly what the couples in our story did. It has to be said some were keener than the others to get together but they grouped together round Angie and Barry’s table they begin to get to know each other on home ground so to speak. Inevitably the conversation becomes dominated by what could have happened to Amber-Marie and how she had disappeared so suddenly. Of course it goes without saying that one uncomfortable dinner party isn’t enough for these intrepid travellers, as Ed and Sue host one as do Marina and Dave. For the reader who doesn’t have to endure the actual company, these are brilliant parties with each character showing their hand a little bit more.
Over in Florida Amber-Marie’s mother Patti Lee Wilson is naturally distraught and the manager of the resort where she has camped out is fearing she is bad for business, or he’s simply run out of what little compassion he has.

Jeff Gardner is working the case in the US and left to voice the increasingly trite sounding reassurances that the case is getting the department’s full attention. And then there is a murder in the UK and a bright trainee PC, Jenny Quinlan decides to contact Jeff and so the investigation progresses both sides of the Atlantic.

In between the dinner parties themselves not only does the investigation gather pace but we hear what the characters are doing, what worries them and, for some, what have they found on the internet that they can mull over and dissect at the next meeting. We also hear the killer’s voice but I have to admit, it wasn’t who I thought it would be.

I can safely say that none of the characters have bucket loads of redeeming features but they are all recognisable, you probably work with at least one of them! There characteristics range from mousey through to an arrogant assumption that their opinion is what everyone is waiting for, from the geeky nerd to the wannabe actress and from the neurotic to the grumpiest man on the planet – why the couples are with each other is intriguing enough let alone why they would voluntarily chose to spend time with the other couples!

In a nutshell that is the beauty of Rush of Blood this standalone novel has a different feel to the Tom Thorne books, although fans will be pleased to hear he does have a cameo role. While there is a mystery to solve it is more firmly in a whodunit than a why which makes it possible for the author to experiment with the amusing character studies which contrasts behaviour between the couples themselves and how they behave in a group situation… and the author doesn’t neglect the detectives either but I’ll let you make your own minds up about them!

I found Rush of Blood an absolutely fascinating read whilst vowing to myself to make sure I look as unfriendly as possible on any future holidays I may take!!

I’d like to thank Grove Atlantic for allowing me to read Rush of Blood. This honest review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 2012
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages:  400
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Beautiful Dead – Belinda Bauer

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

Eve Singer is a TV crime reporter, in other words she operates in a world where she not only deals with the nasty side of humanity in her reporting but she also contends with knowing that her time on the screen is limited, it will only hold up if she continues to be successful, and keep her looks. Of course as her job means that she is the person who intrudes on the grief-stricken at their most raw, sympathy for her plight may not be overwhelming. However the public face of Eve Springer isn’t the same as behind closed doors; there she cares for her father who suffers with dementia, juggling carers and confusion.

Many crime readers have tired of the serial killer motif which you could say has been done to death (pun intended) but although The Beautiful Dead does have a serial killer, and one with a particularly warped motive, this book under the skilled pen of Belinda Bauer doesn’t actually resemble those except in the most superficial way. Admittedly this book opens with a particularly gory murder scene, although even this has a welcome edge of humour to fend off any nausea, but as the killer has fixated on Eve Springer, the focus is slightly to the side of the mounting pile of bodies and struggling police investigation and firmly directed at the reporter.

With Eve firmly on centre stage with only her photographer Joe to depend on, when the killer makes direct contact she is caught between wanting to fulfil the investigative part of her role and thereby securing her job, and maybe getting one with more long-term prospects and doing the right thing by turning any possible clues over to the police and letting them do their job. I like a book where there are moral judgements to be made, and only time will tell if Eve has made the right call…

That’s not to say the killer doesn’t have a lead part to play too; they do and right from the off we are given a sense of who they are, what their motivation might be although the author stops short of giving us an idea who is next on the ‘hit list’ it is clear that the killer wants Eve’s attention and so the crimes are designed for maximum impact. Taking that as a key motivator means that this is not a serial killer with an obvious pattern, no these kills are inventive designed to be noticed by Eve rather than the police. There was one point when I gasped out aloud, I was so shocked by what I’d just read. The writing is so vivid that you simply can’t help but conjure up the scenes, even if at times you’d rather not!

I have enjoyed each and every one of this author’s books and applaud her for coming up with a different ‘feel’ to each one. This book is laced with humour of the laugh out loud type at times; disconcerting when on the next page there is another body or another terrifying phone call to contend with, but a welcome relief nonetheless. Belinda Bauer is one of the most talented writers around and once again she proves her credentials as a ‘clever’ writer in The Beautiful Dead. I was in no doubt when reading this book that every word had been carefully placed for a reason, no room for downtime with a bit of waffle during this read, this is one of those reads that despite being desperate to find out how it would end, I didn’t want to race through the pages, I couldn’t, for fear of missing something very important.

I’d urge all lovers of crime fiction to try this with one warning for those of an aversion to graphic deaths because while it never felt gratuitous within the context of the story, I can see that this won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the publishers Grove Atlantic of The Beautiful Dead which was published on 17 November 2016. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, and of course Belinda Bauer for thoroughly entertaining me with this gripping thriller.

First Published UK: 17 November 2016
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Belinda Bauer

Blacklands
Darkside
Finders Keepers
Rubbernecker
The Facts of Life and Death
The Shut Eye

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

Time of Death – Mark Billingham

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

This is DI Tom Thorne’s thirteenth outing and although I haven’t read the entire series I’ve dipped in and out over the years. This is a great example of the strength of the characterisation and plot that this author produces and is reads successfully as stand-alone novel.

Tom Thorne and his partner Helen Weeks are having some time away for a romantic break in the Cotswolds although Tom has stipulated a ban on walking and antiques shops, but still it is a break. Not for long though because when the news comes through of a crime is committed in Helen’s home town, Polesford, her ears prick up. When she finds out that one of her old friends is the suspect’s wife she rushes to support her. This leaves Tom at a loose end and he just can’t resist carrying out his own investigation – a true busman’s holiday.

I do love crimes that are set in small communities, there is something very distinctive about the way they operate, with everyone knowing so much about each other’s lives, the suspicion of outsiders, the gossip and the protection and tolerance of their own, up to a point. That line is drawn when two girls go missing and Linda’s husband is taken in for questioning based upon some strong evidence and the race is on to find the missing girls.

Unusually for a crime novel this book is as much about what happens to the family of a suspect when they are arrested as it is about the victims as well as the who, how and why element, and I really enjoyed it. Linda has two teenage children, trapped in an unfamiliar house while their own is combed by the scenes of crime officers, the tension between them all is palpable especially as they are being ‘looked after’ by the police and gawped at by the press camped outside the door. It takes a true story-teller to manage a disparate group of characters and maintain some of the most authentic dialogue I’ve read in quite some time.

There are revelations about many of the characters, some truly ingenious reasoning by Hendricks, the pathologist and friend of Thorne and Weeks, some terrifying excerpts from the victim and a real mystery to be solved. Mark Billingham gives the reader a fair shot with the clues but he doesn’t half muddy the water by manipulating the reader to look the other way whilst they are revealed.

This was a thoroughly satisfying read, one that made me want to go back and read those that I have inexplicably missed earlier on the series.

I’d like to thank the publishers Grove Atlantic for allowing me to read this wonderful book which is already available for the kindle but will be published in paperback on 2 June 2015.