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
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
For the seventh outing of Jefferson Tayte, a genealogist now based in the UK with his wife Jean, JT as he is more fondly known, is asked to discover the four-times-Great-Grandfather of his client, Damian Sinclair. His trail takes him from a crumbling, literally, pile in the Southern Highlands of Scotland, Drumarthen, to Rajputana (now known as Rajasthan) with strong links to the East India Company.
If you have followed JT’s previous adventures you will have learnt that genealogy can be a dangerous business, something JT himself seems to forget with a sense of abandon as soon as any juicy mystery comes along.
Damian Sinclair is unlike most of JT’s clients, he and the wider family have done a massive amount of research into their family. It’s soon revealed that this isn’t out of simple curiosity about their family heritage but because wrapped into the history is a missing ruby, one that would significantly change the owner’s life and there is no better motivation than a treasure hunt to help fill in those gaps on the family tree. Damian Sinclair assures JT he is not interested in the ruby and even though the reader can hear the audience hissing, JT puts his scepticism about the truth of this statement aside, and agrees to work on the case.
JT is introduced to the wider family and it is revealed that packet of letters were found that might hold the link to the jewel written in 1820s from a travelling companion in India back to the woman’s brother. These seem to be missing, all apart from one. Do these letters hold the key to the mystery?
The characters are brilliantly portrayed, Steve Robinson has ensured you will be able to tell them all apart by making them distinct, if in the main, individuals that you don’t need to waste a whole heap of sympathy on. After all you don’t want feelings of sorrow for these fictional characters to slow the trail to finding the truth, do you?
While JT is seeking the truth from the past, there are disturbing events in the present with an ‘Golden Age’ type mystery involving a syndicate formed to find the ruby. We therefore have Detective Inspector Alastair Ross being kept busy with the odd dead body too.
As with the previous books in the series, not only are the stories incredibly informative showing the impeccable research carried out by the author, they also have a sense of fun too. The story as it unfolds by letter from life in Colonial India completely transported me to a very particular way of life. The historical part alone was a fabulous story while with the danger in the present and a mystery which seems to hinge on greed provides a puzzle which seems to confound the finest of minds. Steve Robinson created a thoroughly interesting, informative and entertaining read in Letters from the Dead.
I’d like to thank and the author Steve Robinson and the publishers Thomas & Mercer for allowing me to read an advance review copy of Letters from the Dead which was published on 14 August 2018. Perfect for lovers of genealogy as the author manages to weave some actual resources into the book without overshadowing either the historical angle or the mystery playing out in the present it also caters for a wide range of interests from history to those who crave a damn good mystery!
First Published UK: 14 August 2018
Publisher: Thomas Mercer
No of Pages: 348
Genre: Crime Fiction – Genealogical Amazon UK Amazon US
If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, not to worry, each of the books stands alone with only a very fleeting mention of anything in JT’s private life that has gone before.
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.
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.
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.
Washington, DC: Twin brothers are found drowned in a Perspex box, one gagged and strapped to a chair. It’s the latest in a series of cruel and elaborate murders with two things in common: the killer has left a family history chart at each crime scene, and the victims all have a connection to genealogical sleuth Jefferson Tayte.
Hoping his insight and expertise will help solve the case, the FBI summon Tayte back to the capital. But as he struggles to crack the clues, the killer strikes again—and again. Tayte is known as the best in the business, but this time he’s up against a genealogical mastermind who always seems to be one step ahead.
With the clock ticking and the body count rising, Tayte finds himself racked with guilt, his reputation and career in tatters. The killer is running rings around him; is it only a matter of time before he comes for the ultimate target?
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
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
No of Pages: 420
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
This is the story of Peter Manuel, not a recreation of his crimes scrawled baldly across the page but a nuanced look at the man, both behind the vile acts he perpetrated and the one that he was in his own mind. In Peter’s head there was still the possibility to be another Peter, the one who was a writer and was famous for something other than burglarising, vandalising and raping. When he met the long drop (the method used for hanging in Scotland) he wasn’t the other Peter though, he was the man who wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.
Denise Mina has created a night Peter spent with the father of one of his victims. A father, husband and brother-in-law to three women who didn’t live to say what their last night was like but William Watt wants to know, particularly as he was arrested for the crimes himself, and so his lawyer Laurence Dowdall, having secured Manuel’s agreement, accompanies the men on a meeting in a restaurant one wintry Glaswegian night in 1957. Laurence Dowdall leaves the two men to it and they spend the entire night drinking, visiting clubs before finally winding up drinking a cup of tea in a car outside Manuel’s house, his mother a mere shadow behind the curtains.
The nuanced and assured storytelling is gripping with details oozing out of each sentence, not just about the crimes but about the characters, the essence of the lives they lived and the Glasgow of that age before the slums were cleared and Glasgow was cleaned up. It tells the story of a whole community which had violence running through it. The men jostling for position, just as Manuel and William Watt did in the pub, desperate to hold prime position, not to be outdone by lesser men. Being hard was what it was all about and the men who both protected and beat their women with fierce pride.
Of course we do learn about Manuel’s crimes too in a similar fashion, this isn’t a linear story telling, it is all the more captivating because we wait for the details; the half-eaten sandwich left abandoned at the murder scene, the empty bottle of whisky left on the sideboard for the police to find after the shock of the broken bodies left in the bedroom have been discovered. There is no doubt that Peter Manuel was not a nice man but we also see him through his parent’s eyes. One particular scene about their visit to the prison is one that I suspect is seared into my memory for ever, the emotions roll off the page in an understated manner which pulled at my heart-strings all the more for those that remained unsaid. I have a particular respect for writers who leave the reader the space to fill in the gaps, to allow them to put themselves in the shoes of a mother of a murderer without justifying the emotions she felt and what she might feel in a week hence.
This without a doubt is one of the best books I’ve read based on a true crime with this relatively short book being jam-packed with details which are wide-ranging. It did help that I had recently watched the television drama In Plain Sight, because previously I hadn’t heard of this man, although I’m now aware that for years afterwards his name was used as a synonym for the bogeyman for Glaswegian children.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of The Long Drop prior to the publication by Random House UK on 2 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thank you to them and of course the incredibly talented Denise Mina.
First Published UK: 2 March 2017
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
I am thrilled to welcome Joanne who blogs at Portobello Book Blog and Alison Baillie author of Sewing the Shadows Together to put a book on the map in the suburb of Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland. Joanne and Alison have taken the role of interviewer and interviewee to bring Portobello to life – they have kindly provided all the wonderful photos that accompany this piece.
Sewing the Shadows Together gives us the beautiful setting of a seaside suburb of Edinburgh, Portobello, as the backdrop of a horrible crime, that of the murder of a young teenage girl, Shona McIver.
Can the mystery of who killed her possibly be solved more than thirty years later? Tom, Shona’s brother, hopes so having heard that the man who committed the crime is to be released from hospital which coincides with his return from South Africa to scatter his mother’s ashes and to attend a school reunion.
Portobello is a coastal suburb of Edinburgh the capital of Scotland. This residential area has a promenade stretching between Joppa and Craigentinny.
Without further ado I will hand over to Joanne and Alison.
Hi Alison – when I first heard about your book, I knew I just had to read it as it’s not just set in Edinburgh, but right here in Portobello where I live! What made you decide to set the book here?
Portobello, the beautiful seaside area of Edinburgh, is where my mother was born and brought up. As a child I spent all my holidays here with my grandparents so it has always been a very special place for me. I love the long golden beach, the promenade running along it and the grey-stone Victorian villas. Later my first teaching post was at Portobello High School and it was then that the idea for Sewing the Shadows Together first came to me.
Thanks Alison – I know that you were inspired (if that’s theright word) by really awful events which took place in and around Edinburgh. Can you explain about that and say a bit more about what the book’s about?
Yes, Joanne. Around that time there were two tragic events that made a lasting impression on me. Firstly, in 1977 two seventeen-year-old girls disappeared from the World’s End pub on Edinburgh’s Roval Mile. I knew this place well as it was near Moray House College where I had done my teacher training. The bodies of the girls were found a few days later, but the identity of the murderers was not discovered for many years. This uncertainty and lack of closure had a devastating effect on the families, and I think every young person in Edinburgh at that time felt very aware of the crime. It could have been any one of us who went out for a drink on a Friday night.
Then in July 1983 something happened in Portobello that affected me deeply. A five-year-old girl disappeared while playing on the prom. Her body wasn’t found until twelve days later, three hundred miles away. She was one of the victims of the serial killer, Robert Black. Even though I didn’t know the family, I could identify with them so much as my sons were about the same age and we often played on the beach near the place where she disappeared.
In the days before she was found the atmosphere in Portobello was charged with fear and bewilderment. The whole town was on edge, desperately hoping the little girl would be found. Rumours and suspicions ran through the community, and even my granny’s garden and shed were searched by the police, I will never forget that mixture of hope and apprehension before the body was discovered.
I wondered then how her family and friends would ever be able to come to terms with what had happened. And so the seeds of Sewing the Shadows Together were sown. In it the lives of Tom, the brother, and Sarah, the best friend, of a teenage girl murdered in Portobello are scarred by the tragedy for their whole lives. They meet up again at a school reunion many years later and when the local misfit who’d been convicted of the crime is proved innocent, suspicions fall on family and friends. They discover dark secrets before the real killer is eventually revealed.
I remember being in holiday in the Borders then and the police searching the river for the missing Portobello girl. I didn’t live here then: I lived in Leith. Both places have a really strong sense of community. When you and I were first in touch we realised we knew a lot of people in common in Portobello. That sense of community is one of the reasons I love living here. Do you have a favourite place in Portobello?
The sense of community is very strong in Portobello, and it is one of the reasons I loved it, especially as a child. My grandparents had both been born and brought up in Portobello, so they seemed to know everybody and we had relatives on every corner. My grandfather was very sociable and it took ages to walk along the High Street with him as he stopped to tip his hat and greet everyone we met. I loved walking round with my grandmother too as she could talk about the history, the long-gone pier, the ice-cream parlours and the first family to have a motor-car.
My favourite places have to be the beach and the prom. When I go back to Portobello now I always walk there, looking across the Firth of Forth to Fife and smelling the sea air. Sewing the Shadows Together starts with Tom coming back to Portobello and walking along the prom and for him like me the place is full of memories, such as the red-stone swimming baths where we learnt to swim.
Another favourite place has to be my grandparents’ house in St Mary’s Place, a quiet street not far from the prom. I loved it, a typical grey-stone Victorian villa, which I used for HJ Kidd’s house in the book. It was a very short walk down James Street to the beach and when I go back to Portobello I always walk down from there to the prom as I did as a child. My grandmother had lived in one of the red-stone tenements on the corner of James Street and the prom when she was young, and I used that flat for Tom’s childhood home. Just writing about this takes me back to this place I love.
Yes I love the prom too. I walked along the beach this morning and even though it was dull and a bit misty, it was still beautiful as the sea was so calm and peaceful. When I was reading Sewing the Shadows Together, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the geography wasn’t quite as it should be and some places had different names. Why did you decide to do that?
I wanted to capture the atmosphere of Portobello, rather than be strictly geographically accurate. I also didn’t want to the scene of tragic events, for example where the body was found, to be too recognisable. I therefore invented an imaginary park, moved buildings to fit in with the story and changed the names of institutions, like the school, because they were not true to life.
Well I think you did an excellent job of making Portobello a character in itself in your book. As you know, I really enjoyed Sewing the Shadows together. If anyone would like to read my review you can read it here
Now don’t forget to hop over to see Susan The Book Trail to see the details of the book setting on her wonderful map.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to both Joanne and Alison for this wonderful post which I had a sneak preview of before recently reading Sewing the Shadows Together. It is wonderful to see the pictures, to read the inspiration behind the story and of course read the book itself which is my favourite type of crime fiction, one that brings the past and the present together.
All books featured in this #BookOnTheMap project will get a place on the Master Page listing crime fiction by their destination with links to the wonderful collaboration between authors and bloggers.
Please email me at email@example.com if you would like to participate in this feature.
Well once again I’m going to give some of you the heebie jeebies by admitting that I have jumped in at number four in the Karen Pirie series! I do have The Skeleton Road on the TBR and I really should have read that one, at least, first. But I didn’t and this book was entertaining enough that the slight hints regarding previous characters has given some spoilers but Out of Bounds was entirely readable as a stand-alone novel.
After a car accident where young and reckless joyrider Ross Garvie, crashes a land-rover killing his three passengers and leaving himself in a very bad way routine blood samples are taken. When put into the database they provide a familial hit for a particularly nasty rape and murder some twenty years previously. The problem being our young joyrider was adopted and so the cold case lawyer has to go to court to ask for his records to be released. I loved this part, rarely do we see the actual pleas to the courts for legal directives in police procedurals and it was good to have a little aside from the investigation and of course it adds tension, is permission going to be granted? And ultimately how ethical is that?
Meanwhile there has been a suspected suicide on a bench, Gabriel Abbott has died due to a gunshot wound to the head. The investigating officer wants this one wrapped up without any fuss but a link to a terrorist killing of four people twenty years previously means that Karen Pirie isn’t so sure. Pushing the boundaries of her remit to the very edge she begins making enquiries into both the past and present case.
I have a particular love of the past colliding with the present in my crime fiction reads and so I knew before I started that I was highly likely to enjoy this book, after all there is not one but two cases where what happened in the past is linked to the present. That said, I had almost forgotten how much I love Val McDermid’s writing, it’s been a while since I picked up one of her books despite being a fairly early adopter of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series I stupidly let her drift to wayside.. no more! I particularly love Karen Pirie’s character. She is tough without being overbearing and despite some huge personal issues (this was where I should have read the series in order) she forges onward not impervious, but with a quiet determination, which I fully admired. But out of everything it is her relationship with the rather dim Jason, her second (and only) in command. This relationship more than adequately indicates the nature of our chief protagonist as well as providing a good few laughs along the way. With Jason being so slow on the uptake it also gives the author a platform to make sure the reader is following any complexity without ever sounding patronising – brilliant pairing and for this alone I want to read more of this series.
Val McDermid also keeps the present very present indeed. In this book there is a side story which concerns a number of Syrian refugees who have been relocated to Scotland and without spoilers I would just like to make the link to my review of Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult;, this is the way I prefer to read about the sensitive issue of racism, because there was no doubt what the author’s view is, but in no way did I feel I was being asked to pick a side in an argument, and I learnt things that I didn’t know.
In a swift conclusion, two great main storyline which are well-plotted, a fantastic array of characters, all realistic and rounded along a superb vignette of contemporary issue all nicely packaged in a straightforward police procedural with no complicated structure at all – no wonder Val McDermid is such a hit, not just in her native Scotland but around the world. If you love crime fiction and haven’t read any of the previous twenty-nine books that this talented woman has published, where have you been?
I received my copy of Out of Bounds from the publishers Little Brown Book Group and this unbiased review is my thanks to them.
First Published UK: 25 August 2016
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at this book which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 when I realised that it made a neat fit with my recent historical crime reads, both factual and fictionalised.
I have to admit I was slightly confused when I opened the first page to a realistic looking statements from the residents of Culduie, I was sure this was a work of fiction but apart from the smattering of Scottish dialect this could have been lifted from my recent non-fiction read, The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane by Jane Housham, which was set only three years prior to His Bloody Project. So we are in August 1869 and the residents of Culduie are giving their views of Roderick Macrae, who is accused of three murders.
The book is structured as if it were a work of non-fiction with the longest section given over to Roderick’s only statement, written at the behest of his advocate Mr Andrew Sinclair while he was awaiting trial at Inverness Castle, having been swiftly detained after the bodies had been found. The account of Roderick Macrae is surprisingly well crafted considering the boy was just seventeen, a crofter who had grown up in a small village and one whose boundaries he had rarely crossed. This discrepancy however had already been covered within Graeme Macrae Burnet’s foreword to the book, if you are going to pick up this book, don’t skip this section!
This was a book that kept my interest on so many different levels. I didn’t know much about the life of a crofter, I know far more now. Life in a small Scottish village was tough, ruled by the Laird through his minions, the crofters pretty much lived from hand to mouth, hoping for a good harvest to keep them in food throughout the black months. Roddy was one of four children living with their father following the death of their mother a year earlier. Jette, Rodderick’s sister acting as mother to the two youngest children, kept house and looked after their strict, morose father. In short a grim life that is hard to imagine. When a new Constable is elected to look after the Laird’s interest in Culduie, life takes a turn for the worse.The most I will say about the section containing Roderick’s account is that it raises a few questions and I’m sure each reader will have a slightly different take on the information. It also introduces us to a range of characters, some of which we naturally met within the statements, others only appear through Rodderick’s eyes.
I loved the structure of the books, I was continually reminding myself that this was a work of fiction, and following the preface, the statements and Roderick’s account we finally get to the trial itself. Here, if you didn’t already have enough questions, you will have plenty more to add to the pile! What is brilliant is that I still have questions, I still want to know more about a few of the characters – yes this is a book I want to read again, knowing what I now know to see what else the pages will give me in the way of certainty. For me the mark of a cracking good read.
Although this book isn’t a crime thriller read in the normal sense of the word, there is very little doubt who committed the murders, it more than makes up for it with the whys. For those readers who enjoy something that challenges the norm, and definitely one that makes you think, you really don’t want to miss out!
First Published UK: 6 November 2015
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
In an insular community just seven miles from Glasgow the shadow of the murder of Sue Melrose and her two young sons back in 1992, still casts darkness over a row of houses. Up on the hill above the street Jock Aird sits and surveys all that he owned, watching the current inhabitants of the street. The man convicted of the young mother’s murder and that of the two boys and the family dog sits in prison protesting his innocence.
Meanwhile DCI Colin Anderson is waiting to hear if he is to be allowed back to work after a year on sick leave since his last case which saw him lose his lover and nearly his life. DI Costello is anxious, not sure whether he is fit to come back to work or not, but also longing to get away from her desk bound job and back to action.
Fortunately a new discovery means that action is about to come DI Costello’s way, and against a brooding backdrop of relentless rain which only serves to increase the claustrophobic atmosphere we meet the characters who live in the street in August 2015. The old case is reviewed with an aim to shore up the conviction against the man sat in prison, Andrew Gyle, reviewing those horrific images from twenty-three years before, combing the files and carrying out the necessary traces on those who were connected to the case.
Caro Ramsay executes this dark tale with a deft pen. The plot is fairly complex with many characters from the past and the present all seemingly with something to hide or infected by dark minds makes this far from a cheery read, but one that digs deep into the souls of all those involved. This is an author that doesn’t depend on left-field revelations, the clues are there for the denouement and I’m proud to say that I used these to work out the whodunit although I wasn’t quite there with the why. Not an easy task when there are many suspicious events, lots of people with nefarious intent but also some shining examples of the better side of human nature to keep this story from becoming so bleak that it seemed impossible to finish.
This is the seventh in the Anderson and Costello series and none of the books I have read, and no I didn’t start from the beginning (just for a change) read like the more traditional police procedural. Aside from Anderson’s return to work interviews and the brief that as much information about the new discovery was to be kept from the media, this story doesn’t concern itself with police politics. The members of the team are all individuals borrowing little from the stereotypical police cardboard cut-outs that are commonly used in such tales. We do hear a little about the protagonists private lives, mainly about Anderson’s struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted on him, and his family, but refreshingly the core of the story is kept to the forefront at all times.
If you like your crime thrillers to be full of thrills, you can’t go far wrong with this one but be warned, there are fairly graphic descriptions and if rats freak you out, this is not a bedtime story for you!!
Published UK eBook: 1 August 2016
Publisher: Severn House
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
I really enjoyed the first book in the Paddy Mehan trilogy: The Field of Blood and the slightly overweight, under confident trainee journalist in the sexist environment of the news room in 1980s Glasgow really got under my skin. Denise Mina has come up with an incredibly appealing combination of a thriller mixed with a hint of nostalgia at a particular time in history when everything was changing.
The Dead Hour is set about three years later and Paddy riding in the ‘night call car’, the one that follows the police radio around the city looking for newsworthy stories when they are called to one of the better areas in Glasgow. It seems to be a case of domestic violence, one that the attending police officers aren’t too interested in and despite being disturbed by the woman’s appearance there isn’t a great deal to call in about this on, and well the woman didn’t want Paddy’s help and the man had pressed a £50 note into her hand which Paddy hasn’t declared… until the next morning when a woman’s body is discovered. She was murdered; brutally beaten, tortured and left to die, Paddy has to readjust what she saw against this new knowledge.
What follows is a well-timed mystery set against the back-drop of this Scottish city largely struggling with poverty. Paddy is the only wage earner in her household, and the family’s position looks more precarious when the newspaper is forced to make cuts to the workforce. With office intrigue, a personal life that is over-shadowed by her Catholic upbringing and a fierce ambition which is at odds with society’s ideas of what should be important to a young woman.
I loved the 37 short chapters that move the story along at a pace which simply begged for just another one before I closed the book and although the underlying storyline wasn’t quite as compulsive as the previous one, there was never any doubt that this was a story being told by an assured writer. There are plenty of opportunities for Paddy to put in her black throwaway lines that make these books such a joy to read.
“It was Lord of the Flies without table manners.”
And of course there is plenty of references to the eighties, that decade of superb fashion:
“Paddy saw short ra-ra skirts and ski-pants and nipped waists. It was a bad time for big girls.”
But running through the book is the scourge of drugs, a less welcome aspect of the decade which is possibly why I didn’t enjoy this story quite so much. Reading about drug dealers and their petty rivalries and the effects on those who fall under their spell just isn’t really my cup of tea, although I’m sure that Denise Mina has accurately captured them in all their glory as she has done with the local police who have a whiff of corruption surrounding them.
“You’re only a year older than me. How come you dress like Val Doonican?” He sat back and smiled at her, pulling his V-neck straight. It wasn’t his usual toothy matinee-idol smile but a coy asymmetric face crumple. “I’m a polis. This gear is cool in the polis.”
As this book ends on a bombshell, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be reading the last episode of this trilogy, The Last Breath, in the not too distant future and I can tell you I big plans to investigate the entire back-catalogue of work. After all if I can be captivated by a book that focusses on my least favourite aspect of crime I know for sure that this is one author that will be forever on my watch list!