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Dungeness

William Shaw- Salt Lane/ Kate Rhodes-Hell Bay

I am going to don my bookseller hat here, and say with some confidence that if you like the sound of one of these beauties, I can pretty much guarantee that the other book will appeal too.

Go on. You know you want to…

DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Murder is different here, among the fens and stark beaches. The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions. It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt…

Having made the acquaintance of DS Alexandra Cupidi some time ago in The Birdwatcher , a wonderfully atmospheric thriller set against the backdrop of the bleak coastline of Dungeness, prepare to be completely absorbed as she makes her return in Salt Lane. Not only is this a well plotted and compelling police procedural, once again using this particular landscape to its full brooding and slightly sinister effect, but Salt Lane reveals itself to be so much more.

When you cast your eye over the backlist of William Shaw, comprising of his evocative 60s series, and the aforementioned The Birdwatcher, one cannot help but be struck by the skill of his storytelling, and the strength of his characterisation. As well as unfailingly producing absorbing, moving and carefully constructed police procedurals, Shaw also uses either the zeitgeist of the period, or the locations to envelop the reader completely in the atmosphere he seeks to produce. In Salt Lane the desolate, but rawly beautiful, locale of Dungeness once again reveals itself as a centrifugal force in the book, being either a place of safety or danger in equal measure, but also effectively acting as a prism for the emotional state of both Cupidi and her troubled teenage daughter, Zoe. As Zoe seeks to deal with her emotional pain and seeks solace from the landscape, also unwittingly leading herself into the heart of her mother’s investigation, Cupidi herself finds herself at times waging an emotional and physical battle with the unique geography of the area, and the murders that occur within its boundaries.

Taking a backward step for a second, I can’t emphasise enough the weight of emotion, and more importantly the completely plausible emotion that Shaw injects into his trinity of female characters, Cupidi, Zoe and Cupidi’s mother Helen, who will be recognisable to some readers from Shaw’s previous books. I was absolutely blown away by how succinctly and honestly Shaw captured the internal and external emotional lives of these women, as they navigate their differences and similarities in the course of the book. The tension and moments of conflict are balanced beautifully with moments of epiphany in their personal relationship with each other, and the scenes featuring these three exceptional characters are a joy to read, feeling raw, true and suffused with realism. I must confess that I don’t read much ‘women’s fiction’ as that which I have encountered always has a slightly mawkish feel in its depiction of ‘women’s experience’,  but I was held spellbound by the resonance of these characters in my interpretation of how women truly are, and how that which separates them, can be seen to actually bind them together more than they initially feel.

As for the plot itself, Shaw is given free reign to expose the worst ills of a Britain caught in a monstrous wave of nationalism and post-Brexit turmoil. Against the Kent location of the book, Shaw weaves a disturbing police investigation into an unflinching and, most importantly, objective appraisal of immigration and exploitation, that boils the blood, and tugs at the heartstrings in equal measure, depending on your political viewpoint. Without resorting to soapbox declarations on the state of Britain, Shaw holds a mirror up to the conflicting sides of the immigration issue, whilst keeping the book solidly on track as a crime thriller. Consequently, Salt Lane is never less than a wonderfully multi-layered contemporary thriller, replete with the highest calibre characterisation, and a looming feel of unease. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

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DI Ben Kitto needs a second chance. After ten years working for the murder squad in London, a traumatic event has left him grief-stricken. He’s tried to resign from his job, but his boss has persuaded him to take three months to reconsider. Ben plans to work in his uncle Ray’s boatyard, on the tiny Scilly island of Bryher where he was born, hoping to mend his shattered nerves. His plans go awry when the body of sixteen year old Laura Trescothick is found on the beach at Hell Bay. Her attacker must still be on the island because no ferries have sailed during a two-day storm. Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike again at any time.

With all the claustrophobic feel of a locked room mystery, and introducing us to a little fictionally represented corner of the world, Hell Bay proves to be a real treat, and on the back of Kate Rhodes’ brilliant series featuring Alice Quentin, this introduction to a new character DI Ben Kitto can only augur well for books to come…

I know I’m always going on about location in the books I read, but I genuinely think that if,  as a reader,  you can’t imagine this all too crucial element to a story in a tangible sense the book is lost before it starts, hence my adoration of writers such as Peter May and Ron Rash whose evocation of place is always perfect. So first big tick in the box to Rhodes who deftly depicts the ruggedness and solitude of her Scilly Isles location from the opening age, and consistently and atmospherically through the course of the book. The unique feel of this landscape, and the ever present changeable moods of the sea, provides the most sinister backdrop to her story, and I love the way that Rhodes manipulates this to add to the tension and emotion of the human dramas played out against its omnipresent influence. Indeed, many of the characters have an unbreakable and sometimes damaging connection to the sea, be it by occupation, by loss or by emotional disturbance and its influence looms large in the story and readers’ consciousness throughout.

I did like the character of DI Ben Kitto from the off, with his, at first concealed reasons for returning home, and his reluctance to re-engage with people from his formative years, adding a nice degree of shade and light to his character. I also enjoyed the way that we see him slowly assimilate himself back into the community, the pace of life, the pressures on peoples’ livelihoods, the suspicions of neighbours, and the reopening of conflicts from years past. This gave a very rounded feel to the particular pressures of living within such a small community, and how the actions of one person, is so deeply felt in the lives of the others. Kitto aside, I thought Rhodes’ characterisation was excellent throughout, and loved the disparate band of island dwellers who thwart or assist Kitto in his investigation. There was a real satisfying melting pot of characters, some infinitely more demonstrative than others, and the way that Rhodes’ uses them to portray the frustrations and hardships of island life, and the rootedness or need to escape each display.

Obviously with the premise of the book being a murder mystery, Rhodes works hard to achieve a marvellous modern interpretation of a classic locked room mystery, and she achieves this admirably. With only a finite number of suspects, I very much enjoyed the sense of personal detection she encourages in the reader in true Agatha Christie style, and I found the outcome of the book entirely satisfying. Hell Bay is a particularly strong start to a potential series, I hope, and one I shall follow with interest. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- Simon Booker- Kill Me Twice- Extract

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of Kill Me Twice, a compelling and nerve-shredding psychological thriller from Simon Booker, and a follow up to his debut Without Trace which introduced us to feisty investigative journalist Morgan Vine.

Read on for a tantalising extract…

Karl Savage is dead.
He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.
So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn’t matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she’s petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he turns up outside Morgan’s window . . .

Her solicitor said the evidence against her was purely circumstantial. No jury would convict.

But here she is. And here she’ll stay, unless someone champions her cause.

They said I’d have done anything to stop Karl taking my baby, which was true.’ Angelica checks herself, swallowing. ‘But not that. Not setting fire to his flat…’ She swallows again, eyes brimming with tears.

Morgan lets Anjelica sob. She scans the woman’s bruises, the cuts on her cheek. She doesn’t need to ask how they got there. Weeks of hostile press coverage cemented the woman’s reputation as a callous killer. A heartless mother.

Mum murdered lover while sick baby cried.

Devil woman.

Time’s up.’

The overweight prison officer is in the doorway, hands on her hips.

Morgan checks her watch.

Still got twenty minutes.’

My shift’s over. There’s no one to supervise.’

Anjelica looks panic-stricken.

We don’t need anyone to supervise.’

The officer rolls her eyes.

Two minutes, make ‘em count.’

She steps outside. Anjelica starts to babble, running out of time.

The good Lord knows I’m telling the truth but he’s testing me every day. I need you to believe me. There’s no CCTV of me driving across London, the car doesn’t show up on the number plate recognition thing – the ANPR…’

She knows all the jargon. But still Morgan isn’t convinced.

You could have taken a friend’s car. Or a night bus. Or a minicab.

I need to review everything,’ she says. Her ribs are aching.

Anjelica fixes her with a glare.

Easy to write a book, make money,’ she says. ‘Harder to help people.’

Morgan forces half a smile. The woman is short on charm but has a point.

I’ll give you a decision as soon as I can.’

She gets to her feet. Anjelica follows suit, fear in her eyes, panic in her voice.

I can’t lose my baby. I can’t be in here. Not for something I didn’t do.’ She pauses, her voice falling to a whisper. ‘God forgive me for saying this, but if you don’t help me I’ll kill myself.’

The threat makes Morgan bristle with anger. The words harden her heart.

You know I’ll have to report what you just said.’

A steely stare.

Just being honest.’

The officer is back, tapping her watch, lips pursed.

I’ll be in touch,’ Morgan says. But Anjelica isn’t finished.

I read your book. It says you have a daughter.’

Yes.’

The woman stares Morgan in the eye.

Think about me tonight, when you’re trying to get to sleep. Picture me here. Imagine I’m your daughter.’

I’ll do what I can. I promise.’

Morgan follows the officer onto the landing. She turns. Anjelica is watching, twisting the tissue in her hands, a picture of anguish. Behind her head is a poster.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

——————————————————————————-

Simon Booker is an author and screenwriter who has written prime time TV drama for BBC1, ITV and US TV. His UK credits include The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Holby City and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. He has written seven plays for BBC Radio 4, worked extensively as a producer in television and radio, and as a journalist. Booker lives in London and Deal.

His partner is fellow crime writer MJ McGrath. They often discuss murder methods over breakfast.

Follow the author on Twitter @simonbooker 

Kill Me Twice is available to buy here

Coastal Crime- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh / Simon Booker- Without Trace

I don’t know.

You wait ages for crime thrillers set around the location of Dungeness, and then, like buses, three turn up at once.

So following my review in May for William Shaw-  The Birdwatcher  here are two more recommended reads that both draw on this haunting and desolate backdrop….

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSHSam Coyle’s father lived in the shadows – an undercover agent among the spies and radicals of Cold War London. That world claimed his life, and Sam is haunted by his absence. He left nothing behind but his enemies; nothing to his daughter but his tradecraft and paranoia. Now, her boyfriend Luke is missing too – the one person she could trust, has vanished into the fog on the Kentish coast. To find him, Sam must follow uncertain leads into a labyrinth of blind channels and shifting ground. She must navigate the treacherous expanse of the salt marsh…

I was absolutely blown away by Carson’s debut  Orkney Twilight which remains one of the most lyrical, perfectly plotted crime thrillers I have read to date. The Salt Marsh pretty much picks up from the events of the first book, but, fear not if you have not read Orkney Twilight as the author brings you up to speed quickly with the previous plot. It seemed to me that there was a perfect symmetry in this book, with Carson wholly appreciating the need to provide the reader with an intriguing mystery, but also to explore some more weightier themes both in the emotional facets of her young female protagonist, Sam, and the environmental issues that the disappearance of her boyfriend provides links to. The use of the coastal locations in this book (as Orkney was in the first book) firmly root us in the strange territory between the strength, desolate beauty, and mythical nature of the natural world, set against man’s mission to harness and use these natural resources for sometimes nefarious ends. Throughout the course of the Carson balances the scientific with the philosophical and the harnessing of the alchemical with themes of myth and superstition. It’s intelligent, involving, and raises the book above standard thrillers.

As Sam is increasingly drawn into a dark plot involving environmental activism, the memory and influence of her late father, an undercover operative, begins to put her in the orbit of his former employers who seek to malign or use her throughout the course of the book. Sam is an incredibly well-realised character, strong-minded and set apart from the rest of her family by her refusal to conform, or settle to anything meaningful or what is expected by others. To quote Star Wars (as one should in every review possible) the force is strong in her, and the  influence of her father resonates in her more than she at first realises. I love the balance Carson inputs in her character from moments of wilful stubbornness, to her sometimes emotional naivety, but always tempered by an admirable sense of right and wrong, and her determination to confront and challenge both. This also worked as an influence on the reader, as this book consistently makes you question what appears to be happening before you, drawing you into Sam’s confusion and her increasing distrust of those around her. My attention was held completely throughout the book, and I would urge you to read both Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh if you like your crime multi-faceted with a more literary leaning. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

———————————————————————————————–

WITHOUT-TRACEIn a change of pace, Without Trace is a humdinger of a thriller with more twists than a barrelful of adders. With summer holidays approaching and either being stuck in a caravan in rainy Rhyl, or on a flight to a more exotic beach vacation, this could be a perfect read…

Being practically impossible to review in terms of plot, due to the pitfall of numerous potential spoiler moments, I’ll steer clear of the plot as much as possible, as I read this in a vacuum avoiding every other review of it. What I would say is that from the outset, Booker has tremendous fun with his readers, all believing ourselves to be pretty good amateur detectives, in a murderous tale packed full of red herrings and twists aplenty.

As our intrepid heroine Morgan Vine, a fairly normal divorced mother of one, expends her entire strength into clearing the name of her childhood sweetheart, Danny Kilcannon, having campaigned for his release from prison, she is increasingly drawn into personal danger when her daughter disappears. Some would say that her daughter, Lissa, is such a charmless little madam, that we shouldn’t care too much about her fate, but Morgan is not to be thwarted. As her suspicions about Danny rise, and she gets drawn in deeper with two female detectives investigating Lissa’s disappearance, Morgan finds herself increasingly isolated and at physical harm. Is Danny really as innocent as she believes him to be, and just where the jiggins has Lissa gone?

This is a good old page turner, using the pace and strategic reveals so beloved of American authors like Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, and so leads to a book that one finds quite difficult to put aside as the energy and pacing of the plot drives you onwards. The characterisation has just enough clarity and depth to keep you intrigued by their personal travails, and Danny’s character in particular sways your empathy back and forth throughout. I will be honest and say that my incredulity was stretched as the end of the book approached, and the final denouement does take more than a bit of suspension of disbelief, as Morgan does suddenly morph into Lara Croft in a violent conclusion to the tale, but for all that, I quite enjoyed reading this entertaining thriller with its curve balls and false leads. Switch off, relax and enjoy the ride.

I still think the dead sheep was in on it though…

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)

 

 

 

William Shaw- The Birdwatcher

images1Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation.

He is a murderer himself.

But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it. But soon – too soon – they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William – because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood…

With a notable change of pace, period and location from his 1960’s set trilogy- A Song From Dead Lips  , A House Of Knives,  , and A Book of Scars  – William Shaw transports us in this haunting standalone to the desolate beauty of the Kent coast, and a tale that reverberates with the dark echoes of the past…

I should say from the outset that this book encapsulates the very best of European crime fiction in terms of pace, characterisation and location, drawing on the most recognisable elements of Scandinavian noir with its bleak location, sublimely controlled plotting, and the emotional but strikingly underplayed turmoil that Shaw injects into his central characters. Indeed the mantra of ‘location, location’ is the key element to Shaw’s beautiful mirroring effect of the sparse, wild nature of this area reflecting the feeling of emotional barrenness that lies within the psyches of his characters, and also draws an interesting juxtaposition between the natural freedom of the proliferation of the coastal bird community and the hemmed in feel of his characters’ existences.  Personal isolation looms large not only in his main protagonist, William South for reasons that are slowly revealed during the course of the book, but also to a certain degree in DS Cupidi, following her relocation to the area. As much as South struggles with the ghosts of the past coming back to haunt him, Cupidi is seeking to make her mark in this investigation as the new face on the squad, and there is an intuitive use of her daughter, Zoe, to provide South with a path back to normal human interaction that he has so solidly distanced himself from outside of his professional career. I loved the interplay and shifting dynamic between these three characters, albeit with some hard decisions arising from their interactions, and the way that the slowly unfurling trust between them comes to be so sorely tested. This careful manipulation of human emotion, and finding connections, is a real strength of all of Shaw’s books to date, and I would say that this book is no exception to this real craft in his writing.

In the same way as Scandinavian authors so routinely return to reference the Second World War, Shaw uses the Irish upbringing of his central protagonist, Police Sergeant William South to provide this gravitational axis to conflicts of the past. I’m always interested in the way that the past dictates and shapes our present and future actions, and whether an individual can truly escape darker periods of their life. In the story of South we see an individual who has laboured under this shadow for many years, and Shaw beautifully controls the gradual reveal of the more shadowy and violent previous life. I found it interesting that Shaw had then cast South in the role of protector and policeman, and the sharp contrast this reveals between his younger and older self, which added a certain frisson to the story overall. It goes without saying that this also serves well in manipulating the empathy of the reader, and if,  like me,  the psychological quirks and anomalies of protagonists is a real draw in your crime fiction reading this will serve you well. Once again Shaw has produced, in my opinion, an exceptionally perceptive and sensitive crime novel, that raises as many questions on human nature and redemption as it answers. Intelligent and thought provoking.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

Guest Post-William Shaw- #TheBirdwatcher

dungeness-3

To mark the release of William Shaw’s new thriller The Birdwatcher, here is a guest post by the very man himself on the rare beauty of Dungeness, a unique and bleak setting indeed…

“I was looking for a house. Not to buy, you understand, but to kill someone in.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 16_36_55These days, Google Street View is a good place to start. Writers probably use it more than they’d admit to, but where I was looking, there was no Street View. In Dungeness, the roads peter out into tracks and the Google car doesn’t bother with going off road. Maybe it’s too remote. Or maybe it’s because the track runs alongside a nuclear power station, considered a terrorist security risk, and they don’t want you knowing too much about what it looks like there.

It had all started with the location. Quite why I chose Dungeness, I honestly can’t remember. It’s a bleak, ominous landscape. I think the first time I’d gone there was for the ash-scattering ceremony of a friend, which was probably something to do with it. A sense that not everything that happens here is good. But if, as plenty of writers say, location is a character, then Dungeness was a place with plenty of it.

DSCN9674The location began to shape the material. Even though the Met Office classify these 12 square miles of shingle jutting out into the channel as a desert, in fact this apparently desolate place is teeming with wildlife. And birds too. Amongst birdwatchers, this was a legendary location. I discovered that Dungeness Bird Observatory was set up here by a group of enthusiasts in 1952. Nearby among the old pits extracted for gravel and stones, now filled with water, the RSPB established what is their very first bird reserve.

So with the location, my central character became a birdwatcher. As I’m not a birder myself, that wasn’t easy. I researched. I began to like birders. They were dedicated people, patient, with their own way of seeing the world. A plot began to evolve. And now all I needed was my murder house. So, about a year ago, I drove there from Brighton and parked by the pub known as The Pilot – another legendary location for birders, it turned out. It’s here they argue about their sightings after a long day on the shingle.

The house was easy to find. Within only a few yards of walking it was there, right next to the barbed-wire fence that reads, ‘Nuclear Installations Act 1965 Licensed Site Boundary’. A small, weathered bungalow, set apart from all the other clusters of huts and homes. Dungeness is full of these shacks, originally built by outsiders or railway workers. Now a lot of them are owned by millionaires, or wealthy would-be artists. Not this one though. Here the cladding was in need of another coat of paint. Two gables formed a simple M shape. A fishing boat sat on a trailer to the right of the small track that led up to it. The windows were all shuttered or curtained.

Perfect.”

images1Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation. He is a murderer himself. But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it. But soon – too soon – they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William – because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood…

The Birdwatcher is out now- published by Riverrun

Raven`s review to follow…

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