Blog Tour- Alex Clare- He’s Gone- Review

goneHow do you find a missing child when his mother doesn’t believe you have the right to even exist? When Detective Inspector Roger Bailley returns to work as Robyn, all she wants is to get on with the job she loves while finally being herself. When toddler Ben Chivers is snatched from a shopping centre on her first day back at work, Robyn has to find Ben- and herself- as she deals with the reactions of her police colleagues, the media and her own daughter…

Trawling the inventory of my crime reading over the years, my interest was piqued by this debut British thriller which has a unique selling point of addressing the issue of gender dysphoria. With the central police character D.I. Roger Bailley returning to work having assumed a new identity as female Detective Inspector Robyn Bailley, Alex Clare invites us into a world hitherto largely unexplored in crime fiction with the emphasis on a police officer undergoing gender reassignment…

Although not without some minor flaws, I largely enjoyed this debut thriller, particularly its focus as a police procedural. There are three central cases revolving around a child’s abduction, the discovery of a body at a building project, and a series of home invasions with elderly individuals as the target. To my mind, the first two of these cases being inextricably linked were very well-realised , and Clare’s obvious research into the balance of straightforward, and at times, mundane details of how police officers garner information and follow leads was well plotted and completely realistic. I actually felt that the third case involving burglaries was a little superfluous to the plot overall, as the predominance of the other two cases, in terms of how they were played out, and the attendant frustrations to the police team’s investigation more than held my interest throughout. I was intrigued by the child abduction case from the outset, mainly due to the characterisation of Ben’s mother, Melissa Chivers, a formidable lawyer, who was singularly one of the most deeply unpleasant individuals that one could encounter. Her spiky interactions with the police, and Bailley in particular, added a real stressful tension to the plot. I would have liked a deeper exploration of her connections to the Church of Immaculate Purity, who sounded like a very sinister bunch of bigots consumed with the belief that everyone is damned to hell, especially if you do not fit their criteria of ‘normalcy’- hence the inevitable tension and bile that Melissa heaps on Bailley. However, this slight lapse aside, I liked the quite clean, linear style of the police cases throughout, with the investigations unfolding with no clumsy coincidences or leap in the dark plot twists. There were moments of genuine tension, neatly inserted into the more linear nature of the police investigation, which added a satisfying ebb and flow to the plot as a whole.

In terms of characterisation, Clare has created a band of police officers who were both extremely believable and overall quite likeable. There are some nice instances of the camaraderie that exists between a team working together day-to-day, and the shared frustrations or triumphs that accompany the twists and turns of a police investigation. The dialogue is fluid and realistic throughout, and the conversations and interactions between her police protagonists has an easy flow to it. Obviously, by addressing the issue of Bailley’s new identity, Clare largely captures the differing reactions that Bailley experiences from her colleagues, the press, her daughter Becky and the perpetrators and victims of crime. On the whole, Clare depicts Bailley and her experiences very well, but I couldn’t help feeling that a little too much of it was surface detail, with many references to Bailley’s focus on her physical appearance in terms of clothes and make-up etc and navigating the skill of being comfortable with a handbag. I would have liked a deeper exploration of Bailley’s psychology as to her decision and motivation to change gender, and her underlying feelings as to why this was so central to her growth and acceptance as a person. There was a possible ‘in’ for this, with the introduction of her daughter into the plot, but this storyline was a little at arm’s length, being largely conducted by phone or text. I would like to have known more about Becky generally, and the fraught relationship with her father, and more to have been made of them finding their way back to each other. Hopefully, this further examination of Bailley gender dysphoria will come to fruition as the series progresses, as this is such a largely unexplored and emotive subject, with a wealth of possibilities, and Bailley’s change as a person growing into, and becoming more comfortable with, her new identity will be interesting to witness.

I think this first introduction to D.I. Robyn Bailley and her team has enormous potential in terms of a series, and with Clare’s obvious skill for plot building, attention to police procedure, and, on the whole, well-realised characterisation there is much to build on in the future. Recommended.

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

 

 

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake- Review #BlogTour

in her wakeWelcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the paperback release of Amanda Jennings’ psychological thriller In Her Wake, an emotionally intense exploration of familial relationships, attracting widespread acclaim from readers and reviewers alike…

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life, reminding us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

This is an incredibly female-centric novel, with the author quite evidently showing the amount of time and intensity she has invested into her two central protagonists, Bella and Dawn. Trying hard to avoid any major plot spoilers, the difficult emotional issues that lie between the two women as they seek to build a relationship after many years of estrangement is powerfully drawn, and Jennings spends a considerable amount of the book exploring Bella’s emotional journey in particular, which counterbalances to a degree the slight suspension of disbelief that the reader needs as the story unfolds. Bella is an entirely credible and empathetic character whose growth in stature and confidence drives the book onwards, and refreshingly, she is imbued with a host of insecurities that will be instantly recognisable to the female readership. As she seeks to overcome the trauma of her uncertain background, there is much soul searching and naval gazing on Bella’s part which worked to a certain degree, but at times, through no fault of the author, slowed the narrative down too much- this could have been addressed in the editing stage. Equally, Dawn’s story is crucial to the success of the book, and was for me far more engaging with her difficult emotional background, and her life curtailed by her fierce loyalty to her mother. The sacrifices she has had to make which have thwarted her potential for a far more satisfying life, have set her on a very different course to which she imagined. However, with the strength of the female characters so clearly in evidence throughout, an inevitable consequence of this was the more two-dimensional drawing of the male characters in the book, which did tend to descend into a rather clichéd compartmentalising of the worst male character traits, physical abuser, lothario, controller, doormat, and so on. Consequently, I found my reading experience was frustrated by this underlying feeling of implausibility and frustration as to the male characterisation, but the portrayal of the female characters was more successful and carried the book.

Back on a positive note though, I loved Jennings’ portrayal of Cornwall itself and its unique landscape and weather patterns which so cleverly seemed to echo and reflect the surge of emotions that arise in Bella. The changeable nature of the natural environment of Cornwall is consistently drawn on throughout, so like Bella you can almost feel the sand between your toes, coupled with the mercurial mixture of rain, sun and breeze, and the stomach dropping wonder of a stroll along rugged cliff-tops, with the waves crashing below. I thought this added an overall additional intensity to the emotional turbulence of the plot itself, and very much enjoyed Bella’s perambulating exploration of unfamiliar terrain. In common with Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors which draws on the Scottish folkloric traditions of the Selkie, Jennings uses the Cornish equivalent with her inclusion of mermaid myths, which provided another point of local interest in the book.

Hence, In Her Wake proves itself to be a largely satisfying example of more literary domestic noir, in the currently overcrowded market for this particular genre. The more obvious flaws in the plot, and the weaknesses evident in the male characterisation are roundly dispelled by the strength of Jennings’ female characterisation which is compelling throughout, and the unfailingly pictorial part that her chosen location of Cornwall plays within the book.

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Catch up with, or keep following the In Her Wake Blog Tour at these excellent sites!

 

In Her Wake Blog tour

Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- In Bitter Chill- Review

IBChill

Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.

Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago…

With a thought-provoking and atmospheric blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, Sarah Ward will quickly establish herself as a name to watch in the crime fiction genre. Drawing on  her experience as a seasoned crime reviewer, Ward has carefully crafted a thriller that will appeal to fans of the British and Scandinavian crime genre, with an extremely character driven novel, that pivots between an historic child abduction case in the 70’s, and the ramifications of this thirty years on…

In terms of the police procedural, Ward has created a trio of extremely strong police protagonists, and the underlying tensions that lay between them. DCI Francis Sadler is a seasoned police officer tasked with the case, but the book focuses as strongly on his two young police cohorts DS Damien Palmer, and DC Connie Childs and the petty rivalry and professional jealousies that lay between them in their attempts to court the affections of their much respected boss. In truth, it was this aspect of the book that engaged me the most throughout, and I was particularly taken with Connie who was a well-crafted and utterly believable character. It was great when she went slightly off-piste, so to speak, in her attempts to impress the boss, and gain ground on the floundering Palmer, whose private life and tribulations seemed to impact greatly on his professional performance. Tempered by the natural stoicism of Sadler, and the domestic trials of Palmer, Connie consistently shone through the book. The whiff of sexual tension between Connie and her boss was also beautifully played, but by the same token did not feel ham-fisted or out of kilter with the way that we saw their  relationship as readers, and will stoke the fire in future books I’m sure.

In Bitter Chill blog tourWith the emotive subject of child abduction, and the subsequent suspicious deaths as a result of the initial case, Ward carefully manipulates the reader as to how the past cannot help but impact on the present. As much as the book works as a police procedural, it is in her rendering of Rachel’s character, that we fully appreciate the balance Ward achieves in the book between police and victim, with Rachel’s fears and development as a person in the light of her traumatic childhood experience beautifully and sensitively depicted. There is no question that is a strong feel of underlying emotional damage to Rachel, but when deaths occur linked to her own experience, she steels herself to confront the past, and revisit those dark areas that are impacting on those around her. With her chosen career as a genealogist, she is more than used to filling in other people’s histories, but investigating her own is a far darker proposition. To be truthful, I did get a little bogged down in the more factual emphasis on the genealogy, as it is not a subject that I am overly interested in, but Ward does reign it in as the book progresses to get us back on track with the central plot.

Set in Derbyshire, the book is underscored by a strong depiction of the surrounding locale and mercurial weather conditions of this most picturesque area of Britain. Equally, and with a nod to the Scandinavian genre, Ward builds up a strong sense of the claustrophobic and suspicious nature of a small community rooted in a totally rural setting, and the close connections and inter-relations between its inhabitants. This helps to grow the tension of the plot, and equally allows us to identify the possible links between Rachel and others in the hunt for a killer, and the cause of her childhood friend’s unresolved disappearance. Enhanced by the strong characterisation throughout, and an intriguing plot with its shifting time-line, In Bitter Chill, proves itself a solid and intriguing debut, and a good addition to the British crime fiction genre. Well worth a read.

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the  Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrward1

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)