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

Out of Bounds – Val McDermid

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

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

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Laidlaw – William McIlvanney

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I read this book on Fiction Fan’s recommendation since this book was gave this her FictionFan Crime Thriller Award Winner back in 2013, yes I know, I don’t like to rush to read promising books!!

Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw is investigating the rape and murder of pretty young Jennifer Lawson who was recently reported missing by her father. Detective Constable Harkness is there to assist him, newly transferred he has been warned about Laidlaw’s unorthodox methods. But the police aren’t the only ones investigating this crime – Jennifer’s father is determined to find the killer first.

Set in 1970s Glasgow hardly a page is turned that doesn’t have a snarl or a raised fists which alongside the nervousness of the women all reinforce the menace that stalks through this book. Times are hard in Glasgow with the national industries closing down and so these hard men need to make their mark on the world in the way they know best, through violence.

Unsurprisingly since this book was originally published in the 1977 the sense of time is shockingly well done including the bigotry that ran rife in Glasgow at that time. I’m not sure that poor Jennifer would have put up with the way her father ruled her and her mother quite as meekly in this day and age. His uncompromising manner had meant that there were hints of a secret boyfriend after she chose someone unsuitable in his eyes a while earlier, but was her murder committed by someone she knew, or was it perhaps a chance killing. That’s what the maverick that is Laidlaw intends to find out. But, he is considered unusual for a policeman in those macho times, because he cared about the causes of crime as a fellow officer commented:

“You’ll have to wear wellies when you work with him. To wade through the tears. He thinks criminals are underprivileged.”

Whilst the mystery itself is fairly run of the mill when you discount that this is the first of the genre now known as ‘Tartan Noir’ the beauty of this book is in its language. It is a joy to turn the page and find something pretty much quotable on practicably every page.

Sunday in the park – it was a nice day. A Glasgow sun was out, dully luminous, an eye with cataract. Some people were in the park pretending it was warm, exercising that necessary Scottish thrift with weather which hoards every good day in the hope of some year amassing a summer.

Partly because of the lyrical language this reads quite unlike most crime fiction; it isn’t a book to be devoured to find out whodunit because we know who the perpetrator is fairly on, the question is who will get to them first, the police or local justice? This is book to savour to think about the views of all involved even those who are apparently viciously elbowed out like Jennifer’s mother by the men determined to find their man and make him pay.

The one element which worried me ahead of reading this novel was the inclusion of the dialect; I’m not a big fan of dialect in a book but I honestly didn’t struggle with the inclusion in this one either in terms of meaning or with the inevitable slow-down it usually causes adapting to unfamiliar letter patterns which tend to pull me outside of the story. This was one book where those short and infrequent bursts of dialect did add rather than detract from the story particularly when I worked out Laidlaw’s use of it himself gave a pointer to the type of person he was conversing with!

An all-round enjoyable read which I’m delighted to have finally read – the next two in this trilogy are now on the wishlist and I don’t intend leaving it quite so long to get around to reading them.

First Published UK: 1977
Publisher: Cannongate Books
No of Pages 304
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dead Hour – Denise Mina

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

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!