#BlogTour- Lin Anderson- The Innocent Dead “The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing sight of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed.”

Mary McIntyre’s disappearance tore the local community apart, inflicting wounds that still prove raw for those who knew her. So when the present-day discovery of a child’s remains are found in a peat bog south of Glasgow, it seems the decades-old mystery may finally be solved. Called in to excavate the body, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod uses the advances made in forensic science since Mary’s vanishing to determine what really happened all those years ago and who was responsible. One key person had been Karen Marshall who was devastated by her best friend’s abduction. Questioned by the police at the time had led to a dead end and the case soon went cold. Now the news of the discovered body brings the nightmares back. But added to that, memories long-buried by Karen are returning, memories that begin to reveal her role in her friend’s disappearance and perhaps even the identity of the killer…

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour for The Innocent Dead by Lin Anderson, the latest addition to the Rhona MacLeod series. It has seemed an age since I last read a book in this series, so it was good to catch up with MacLeod and her cohorts once more…

The absolute lynchpin of this series to date is the character of the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod herself, who has carved an extremely successful and varied career in her chosen field. With the continuing reverberations of her last case, neatly detailed within this book by Anderson, she seems to be back on track and back in control, when this testing case of a crime committed forth five years previously, lands at her door. MacLeod sets about it with her usual professionalism and flair for weeding out those tricky inconsistencies in the evidence, working closely with her police colleagues to reveal the intricacies of these nefarious crime and to zone in on the perpetrator. What I like most about MacLeod is that, her professional career aside, is her refusal to conform to the norm. She has a sense of fun, that had been eroded somewhat by her previous case, but now seems to be back with style, and her personal life is conducted very much on her terms, with no fixed relationships. With her estranged son firmly back in life, and his arse of a father still treated by her with the strongest contempt, this provides an interesting view into what makes her tick, and how she has overcome personal adversity in her life.

DS Michael McNab provides a good counterbalance to MacLeod, their previous personal entanglement aside, being on the surface a bit of an un-reconstructed man, with his love of bikes and a roving eye. However, Anderson really scratches beneath the surface, and we begin to see a more insecure and sensitive side to his character, that you would be forgiven for thinking didn’t exist at all. Still reeling and resentful from his demotion due to the last case  that he and MacLeod worked on, he has a lot to prove if he can get past this resentment and apply himself. His character heralds some nice touches of humour within the book, and with MacLeod’s lab assistant Chrissy McInsh being an absolute hoot, this further lightens the dark investigation they are all involved with.

Although the book could be tagged as a linear police procedural, Anderson’s attention to, and research of, the forensic detail really adds some meat to the bones of the plot. Dealing with an historic murder and a difficult kill site, it is fascinating how modern methods of forensic science so effectively uncover details and evidence from the past. I loved the passages detailing the forensic procedures, the drawing on the work of other branches of forensic and psychological detection, and how with good solid police investigation a community begins to unlock its secrets, and confronts the sins of the past, where previously silence and denial were the rule of thumb.

As I said previously, it’s been a while since I read this series, but The Innocent Dead has certainly ignited my interest  to backtrack to the previous few books. There were a few developments that have happened, that I had missed along the way, and I’m now curious about. The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing site of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed. Recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: 

Lockdown Reads Round Up- Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted/ Craig Robertson- Watch Him Die/Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers/ David Jackson- The Resident @gobergmoser @CraigRobertson_ @lkauthor @Author_Dave

One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…

GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . . 

Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted.  I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.

I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…

Highly recommended…if you dare…

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

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CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die… 

I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.

Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle. 

Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.

I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)

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DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…

I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…

What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces.  And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.

What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.

 (With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)

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Alan Parks- Bobby March Will Live Forever

The papers want blood. The force wants results. The law must be served, whatever the cost. July 1973. The Glasgow drugs trade is booming and Bobby March, the city’s own rock-star hero, has just overdosed in a central hotel. Alice Kelly is thirteen years old, lonely. And missing.  Meanwhile the niece of detective Harry McCoy’s boss has fallen in with a bad crowd and when she goes AWOL, McCoy is asked – off the books – to find her. McCoy has a hunch. But does he have enough time?

Well, here is a book to gladden the heart in uncertain times, continuing on from the brilliant Bloody January, and February’s Son, both of which reached my top 10 reads of 2018 and 2019 respectively. Harry McCoy is back and with some style it has to be said. There is always a slight sense of trepidation as one book develops into a series as we start to form a connection with, and an affection for the central character. I also appreciate that this tension must be a hundredfold on the author themselves, but I’ll tell you something for nothing, I think this is possibly the strongest out of the trilogy to date. Yes. I should coco. Obviously, Parks has hit on the winning formula of writing an instantly recognisable police procedural set in 1970’s Glasgow, but it’s what the author layers into his books that make them all the more sharp and compelling…

Harry McCoy embodies all that we love in our detectives being both flawed but also a man who works by his own code that does imbue in him a real integrity and honesty. Yes, he’s a wee bit damaged emotionally, but for the most part overcomes this, and goes about his business both on and off the books with a steely focus and determination. Adhering to his own moral code naturally leads him into conflict with some of his colleagues, but it is gratifying to see that his immediate superior does know what a rough, and useful, diamond he has in Harry. Equally, McCoy’s long term friendship with one of the criminal kingpins of Glasgow Stevie Cooper, allows the stories to take an additional frisson, and it was good to see that due to one strange turn of events, Cooper is suddenly placed in a submissive position for part of the book as he succumbs to a particular weakness of the flesh.

As usual, Parks’ characterisation is a tour de force from those that work alongside McCoy, in particular his on-off partner the delightful Wattie and McCoy’s nemesis, Detective Raeburn, and on the other side of tracks Cooper’s band of merry and not-so-merry associates. I particularly like the world weary and sharp-tongued brothel madam Iris, and the truly annoying and potty-mouthed local reporter Mary. The book is also interspersed with the stream of consciousness of the eponymous Bobby March, a musician of some talent on a downward spiral of drug addiction and self destruction, that is both bleak but also profoundly touching.  Parks’ characters are unerringly vividly drawn with a nervy energy, and no matter how small or large a part they play in the overall plot, each contributes a pertinent and necessary contribution, putting a real flesh on the bones as the story progresses.

Obviously, being set in the 1970’s and in a rough and ready Glasgow, the book rejects all of the politically correct nonsense which we are so hyper aware of now, and that is a real tonic. In a nod to the more sensitive reader, Parks balances his depiction of the more sexist treatment of women, with characters such as the previously mentioned Iris and Mary, who are often far more intimidating than the male protagonists. The police are less hands off and more fists out in some cases, but context is everything, and fits perfectly with the zeitgeist of the era. Glasgow is depicted in all its grim glory, but Parks balances this beautifully with moments of pure affection for this city and its inhabitants, giving small chinks of light in its grey, downtrodden environs. I always notice this more in Scottish crime fiction, and it warms the cockles every time I encounter this acceptance and honesty about their chosen locations.

So, with no element of surprise whatsoever, you’ll probably have guessed that in Bobby March Will Live Forever, Parks has once again produced a total winner. With its grim, unflinching plot, punctuated by moments of humour, and the acceptance of both the good and the bad, both in his characters, the period, the cultural references and the location itself, I would totally and completely recommend this, and the entire series to you all. Gritty, witty and an absolute must read. Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Canongate for the ARC and apologies to the author and Anne Cater of #RandomThingsBlogTours for the delay in reviewing)

 

#BlogTour- David F. Ross- Welcome To The Heady Heights

It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever. Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks’, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail…

I think it’s fair to say that Welcome To The Heady Heights, got a firm grip on me from the outset, leading to my comment on social media that “It’s all a bit mental. And I like that,” which became a familiar refrain when my curious bookselling colleagues asked me what the hell I was reading, with my poorly suppressed sniggering in the staffroom. What can I say? The book is wickedly funny, earthy, and goes to some very dark places indeed…

Straightaway, I was sucked into this book, in common with Alan Parks brilliant Bloody January which also plunges us into the moral and social cesspool of 1970s Glasgow. As an era defined by its suppression and mistreatment of the working class and the down at heel, whilst trying to gentrify and exploit society in equal measure. Although there is an unrelenting and brutal truthfulness to the city that Ross’ characters traverse, there is also an underlying feel of extreme pride and sympathy gravitating from Ross through his depiction of the city, the era, and his cast of misfortunates. In common with the great Irvine Welsh, life is grim, but there are moments of humour, epiphany and success that underscore the general downtrodden existence of Ross’ characters, and Archie Blunt in particular, most certainly getting closer to the gutter, being on the brink of losing his job, but coerced into the fakery of the world of light entertainment. The book is a real love letter to the 70s, peppered with cultural references, yes, I’m not a fan of Bohemian Rhapsody either, scaramouche my arse, and similarly to Benjamin Myers Turning Blue, homing in the world that came to light with the recent Yew Tree investigations. Equally, Ross shines an unflattering light on the rise of the corrupt businessman in the political world, and how dodgy contracts and oiled palms led to a generation of high rise building, heralded to those misfortunate to live in them as the best thing since sliced bread. This whole dirty whiff of corruption, be it police, financial, sexual,  or otherwise permeates the story, and the threat of violence and retribution is never far from the surface.

Ross has a real talent for characterisation, and I particularly enjoyed the stress and strain that he puts Archie through as the book progresses, revealing a tenacity and strength behind his somewhat timid exterior. As we see Archie getting sucked deeper and deeper into the murky waters of the Glasgow underworld, we are also become privy to a wide and interesting array of characters from both sides of the law. A tenacious female journalist on the trail of a corrupt businessman, Archie’s less than snowy white criminal associates, a group of dodgy lads aiming for the stars, and a resolute, although belittled female police officer palmed off with missing persons cases begins to see a cabal of depravity at work. As I said, the book takes us to some very dark places, but within his cast of characters, Ross balances humour, pathos and retribution beautifully, with the Glasgow vernacular front and centre, and a resigned balance of optimism and pessimism amongst his protagonists, which adds to their realism and our reactions to them as readers. I loved the mordant wit, and the very defined sense of the goodies, the baddies, and the generally confused. Will definitely be tracking back to read Ross’ Disco Days Trilogy, as this book proved to be a wee twisted gem, giving this reader a very warm welcome to the Heady Heights. A thoroughly gritty, uncompromising and entertaining throwback to the 70s and totally recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Revisit the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

A Quick Round Up- Chris Carter- The Gallery of the Dead/ Elly Griffiths- The Dark Angel/ Craig Robertson-The Photographer

Here are three authors that I read on an incredibly regular basis, but aware that they get reviews from far loftier reviewers than myself, here are just a few thoughts on their latest releases…

That’s what a LAPD Lieutenant tells Detectives Hunter and Garcia of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit as they arrive at one of the most shocking crime scenes they have ever attended. 
 In a completely unexpected turn of events, the detectives find themselves joining forces with the FBI to track down a serial killer whose hunting ground sees no borders; a psychopath who loves what he does because to him murder is much more than just killing – it’s an art form.
 Welcome to The Gallery of the Dead.

There’s always a wonderful sense with Chris Carter that his books have a what you see is what you get feel about them, and that’s not to deride them in any way. I hesitate to use the word formulaic, but you know that there will be a central killer, brutal, mentally unhinged, and with an arsenal of gory methods of despatching their victims, to fulfil their own twisted raison d’etre. With his background in criminal psychology, Carter never fails to unnerve his readers with a plethora of individuals capable of haunting our dreams. The Gallery of The Dead ticks all the boxes as usual…

Deranged killer operating from what he believes is a perfectly normal mind-set

Interesting/bloodcurdling/”ugh gross” methods of despatching victims 

Detectives Hunter and Garcia, (who have acquired a near superhero/indestructible status from their preceding investigations) doggedly pursuing said killer, but wearing their underpants inside their trousers and not over the top of a pair of tights

Hunter beginning to realise that maybe he should be succumbing to his more ‘base’ needs and dallying with a member of the opposite sex 

An absolute belter of a closing line that references an earlier book, and is set to unleash a whole host of trouble for Detective Hunter… 

Some women read delightful nauseatingly pastel books with winsome singletons to turn on, tune in. and drop out. To unwind I read Chris Carter, the master of the dark, the dangerous and the seriously twisted, and The Gallery of the Dead is an absolute cracker.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!
So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.

I will say from the outset that over the course of the Ruth Galloway books, I have had an up and down relationship with them, but feel almost a sense of guilt if I decide not to pick up the next in the series. The Dark Angel reaches the landmark of ten books, featuring the everywoman character of Galloway, who set apart by her sheer ordinariness, intelligence,  frequent crisis of confidence, and somewhat unbelievably tangled personal relationships, has accrued a significant following of readers in her wake.

I will be honest, and say that this book didn’t really fill me with any sense of satisfaction. As the whole love triangle, now love square, rumbles on unabated, I felt that Griffiths focussing on the machinations of this neglected to provide any sort of interesting plot, despite despatching both Ruth and her on/off/on/off/on/off lover policeman Harry to the steamy surrounds of Italy. The central ‘mystery’ that Ruth finds herself embroiled was all a wee dull, and I didn’t really care who was being killed and for what reason. Also I think that Griffiths has slightly shot herself in the foot, by despatching a character one book too early, as the continuing existence of this person could easily have let them survive a bit longer to spice things up a bit. In fact, the way they were despatched was a bit ludicrous too. Also it felt a bit one-out, one-in as the closing sentence of the book heralds the reappearance of a figure from Ruth’s past, who may or may not add a bit of energy to the series.

On a more positive note, I always appreciate Ruth’s witty asides, and her day to day battles with weight, appearance, and desperately seeking to not say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I love her groundedness, and her professional demeanour, along with the insight into archaeology that arise from the books. I will read the next one, and undoubtedly the next, but unfortunately The Dark Angel didn’t quite hit the spot for me this time.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

A dawn raid on the home of a suspected rapist leads to a chilling discovery, a disturbing collection of photographs hidden under floorboards. DI Rachel Narey is terrified at the potential scale of what they’ve found and of what brutalities it may signal.
    When the photographs are ruled inadmissible as evidence and the man walks free from court, Narey knows she’s let down the victim she’d promised to protect and a monster is back on the streets.
    Tony Winter’s young family is under threat from internet trolls and he is determined to protect them whatever the cost. He and Narey are in a race against time to find the unknown victims of the photographer’s lens – before he strikes again.

And so to Craig Robertson, whose series featuring DI Rachel Narey, and her other half photographer Tony Winter, does in all senses go from strength to strength. I’ve read every book to date, and there’s not been a duffer yet, and this one ranks easily as quite possibly the most polished and sensitive yet.

The Photographer revolves around the identification of a serial rapist, who seems to be able to defy prosecution, instead given free reign to stir up the misogynistic forces on social media to persecute his accuser, and by extension, Narey herself who is steadfastly working to bring him to justice. I thought this whole storyline was handled beautifully and extremely sensitively throughout, with Robertson not shying from representing the hatred that women endure through sexual violence, and the loathsome trolls of social media who hide behind their keyboards to vent their vicious diatribes and air their foul opinions. I felt that Robertson wrote some scenes with such compassion and depth of feeling that I was genuinely moved, and it is to the author’s credit that he captured this sense of desperation, and persecution so well. I liked the way that Robertson also didn’t resort to a stereotypical sexual predator, which added an extra level of tension in his interactions with Narey in particular, finding herself in confrontation with a successful, intelligent and extremely devious opponent.

As usual, the central relationship of Narey and Winter worked well with the added dimension of their new baby, and as things become more perilous, the welcome reappearance of Winter’s Uncle Danny, who is always a tonic, and a source of comfort to the reader knowing he has their backs. Robertson always achieves a good balance between the professional and the personal, with neither overwhelming the other in terms of the narrative. Likewise his books always have a resounding realism, and it’s always interesting how this resonates with his reader’s own experiences or their views on, or experience of, the issues he constructs his stories around. As usual, highly recommended, and generally a series that it is well worth discovering for yourselves.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

*Exclusive Extract*- Anne Randall- Torn

Fancy a slice of gritty, pacey crime set in Glasgow? Well, look no further, and read this extract of Torn, the third in the series (Riven, Silenced)) featuring detectives Ross and Wheeler…

2004
The court case had been harrowing. The fifteen jurors sat in silence while the prosecution produced evidence of how a man with obsessive sado-masochistic fantasies had turned into a killer. Fourteen of the jurors were repulsed. One man was secretly enthralled. A new world of possibility had opened up for him.

2014
When an actress is found dead, the ligature marks suggest that she had been involved in extreme sex games. When DIs Wheeler and Ross begin to investigate her death, they uncover not only an industry with varying degrees of regulation but also a sinister private club where some of Glasgow’s elite pay handsomely to indulge their darkest fantasies. Club security is run by Paul Furlan, ex-army veteran and a former adversary of Wheeler. As Wheeler and Ross uncover the secrets and lies surrounding the club, they realise that their investigation is being blocked not just by Furlan but by some of Glasgow’s most influential citizens.

Meanwhile Skye Cooper, Scotland’s latest indie-rock sensation is playing the final gig of his sell-out tour but his dreams of stardom are on a collision course with the obsession threatening to consume him . . .

EXTRACT:

Angie Burns stretched to her full height of four foot eleven. She was so small and slight that she bought her clothes and shoes from the children’s section of her local supermarket. Her short red hair was sparse and stuck up in spikes around her head. She stood at the window of her flat and gazed out. She was thinking of him again. She’d been thirty-four when she’d met George Bellerose in an online chat room. Dating was to have been a fresh start for her. She’d split up with her last boyfriend three years previously and hadn’t met anyone since. Then she’d met George and she’d felt like he was her reward for being patient. Angie knew that she’d been flattered by his attention but George was definitely keen. Soon after they’d chatted, he suggested that they begin seeing each other. Things had moved very quickly, and when he’d told her that he loved her, she’d been delighted. He was a good man who, as a life coach, spent his time helping others to achieve their potential. In the first few weeks of their relationship, George had even made references to an engagement ring and venues and suggested countries where they might honeymoon. His job took him away on business a lot, but each time they reunited it had been special, although he’d never taken her out or invited her to his house, preferring instead to come to hers. ‘Cosying up together’ was how he’d described it. After a few weeks she’d felt that they’d told each other just about everything. Then one night he said he had a secret he had been wanting to talk about. That’s how it had started, innocently talking about their needs and desires. George had been his usual gentle, loving self as he’d explained that he’d tried to keep the secret from her, but it was putting a distance between them, and if she really wanted them to continue, he needed to tell her. Later, he would claim that she forced it out of him, but she hadn’t, she knew she hadn’t.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Anne Randall was born in Glasgow and after university taught English  in various secondary schools in inner Glasgow. In 2011 she won first  prize for crime fiction writing at the Wells Literature Festival.  Anne  now lives in Glastonbury with her husband, two cats and one dog. Anne’s first book in the Wheeler and Ross series, Riven, was written under the name A. J. McCreanor.

Randall has grown in confidence since her debut, and this is as assured and clever a novel of “tartan noir” as you could hope to find (Daily Mail)

Brilliant (The Sun)

A well-paced and gripping crime fiction debut (Choice Magazine)

An outstanding debut (Daily Record)

For fans of Stuart MacBride, this is a delight to read. A J McCreanor is a welcome addition to the Scottish crime scene. Glasgow is in very dangerous hands (Crimesquad)

A super story with a breath-taking ending that leaves you wondering whether the truth is better left unsaid at times. I loved this story and am keen to read more by this author in the future. She is definitely a name to watch! Highly recommended (Eurocrime)

…fast paced, exciting and gritty crime debut…fans of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid will be delighted to add a new author to the their must-read list (Candis Magazine

Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

CpcRLrnWYAAiAxqBorn into one of Glasgow’s most brutal crime syndicates, Kat Scobie has fought long and hard to forge her own path in a world where no choices are given. She thought she’d escaped. She thought she was different. But as her relatives gather to mourn the death of their most feared son, Kat is drawn inexorably back into their hellish world. And she’s not the only Scobie who resents the family dynamic. Because Ray Scobie isn’t dead. He’s near fatally wounded and hell-bent on revenge, and he knows his own father ordered his murder. Now the only person who can stop the carnage is Kat’s ex-lover John, a cop who’s so deep undercover he’s started to lose himself. With his cover crumbling around him, John’s about to discover that families can be murder…

And When I Die from Russel D McLean proved an interesting read from the outset, treading the path of established gangland writers, Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers et al, by focussing mainly on a female character either at odds with, or fully immersed in the male-centric power of a gangland family. Not being a fan of the aforementioned writers, what McLean provides here is a refreshing antidote in a usually cliché filled genre, in this tense gangland thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Glasgow.

Told from different narrative viewpoints, what McLean perfectly executes is a sensitive and believable depiction of a woman torn between family loyalty, but ingrained with a desperate need to cut these ties and strike out on her own. Kat Scobie had temporarily escaped her violent background, and the relationship she had formed with unbeknownst to her an undercover police officer, John Grogan who so easily infiltrated her family. Returning to Glasgow for the funeral of a family member, Kat is drawn back into the power play of her family, and John’s influence, at considerable physical and emotional stress to herself. She proves an incredibly empathetic and noble character, with a fierce sense of loyalty to one relative in particular, Ray, who finds himself physically threatened, and forced into a violent course of action, inveigling Kat in his personal vendetta. She finds herself increasingly conflicted, and McLean’s characterisation of the emotional turmoil she experiences is absolutely spot on throughout, effortlessly taking the reader with her, and enabling us to fully experience the gamut of emotions she experiences and seeks to come to terms with. McLean carefully interweaves incidents from her past, to bolster the ties between herself and Ray, and there is a taut and uncompromising journey for her as the book progresses.

Equally, McLean imbues his tough male protagonists with a conflicting range of emotional and violent impulses. Ray has a little understood physical condition that negates his ability to feel pain, and undercover officer Grogan is beginning to lose all sense of self due to his deep infiltration into the dark and violent world of the Scobie family, but increasingly conflicted by the powerhouse of emotions that Kat raises within him. McLean carefully manipulates the dialogue and rhythm of speech in his male characters, and in a similar style to fellow countryman Malcolm Mackay, exhibits a wonderful pared down, rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose. With Kat, there is more enhanced interior and exterior monologue, reflecting the differing emotional sensibilities between her and the male characters, and her deeper examination of the inherent danger she finds herself drawn into on her return to the family fold. In his characterisation of both Ray and Grogan, the reader is pivoted from feelings of repulsion to empathy and back again, as both demonstrate a kind of twisted nobility, counterbalanced by selfishness and a violent impulse to survive in this dark world.

McLean was a completely new to me author, and having a previous five thrillers to his name, is a writer I shall be definitely be seeking out again on the basis of And When I Die, a compelling, spare, thoughtful and at times brutally violent thriller. How could I have missed out on him? Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

malcolm

Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.

Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.

Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?

I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…

There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.

Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

dalyA serial killer seems to be roving Glasgow, targeting a range of victims from an elderly gypsy to a young female accountant and a heroin-addicted mercenary. In each case, the left hand is hacked off and sent to DCI Charlie Anderson, along with a playing card. It’s a high-profile case, made tougher by media involvement, pressure from the top brass, tensions on the team. But when Anderson’s own family is targeted by the killer, career concerns go out of the window. Now it’s life and death…

And so to Cutting Edge,  the third book by Bill Daly, featuring curmudgeonly and delightfully old-fashioned police officer DCI Charlie Anderson. Having previously reviewed both Black Mail and Double Mortice, it is with a welcome degree of familiarity that I embarked on this newest in the series, and this series is probably as close to the mainstream British police procedural that Raven consistently wanders to. I’ll tell you why…

Having been quickly disillusioned, and quite frankly bored by, by the never ending bog standard police procedural series that some writers are known for, it was good to discover someone new. With echoes of John Harvey, the real lynchpin of this series to date is the central character of the curmudgeonly DCI Anderson. He’s a real old school copper who has no truck with technology- his computer is never switched on and he gets someone to print out his emails and handwrites his replies to them- and relies on good old fashioned copper’s instinct to get a result. Although he has the world weary air of a man on the brink of retirement, and appreciates he is a bit of a dinosaur, the working relationship between himself and two of his younger officers is used to good effect, as he appreciates their newer style of investigation, and they, his straightforward and instinctive policing.

The book is infused with a dry Glaswegian humour, and by bringing in a fast track Southern officer to the team there is a wealth of opportunity for gentle teasing and joshing, which lightens the very serious investigation they embark on. Anderson also begins to show a grudging respect for the world of psychological profiling through the intervention of no-nonsense profiler Dr Orr, who has the measure of him, and archly deals with his scepticism. Through his characterisation, Daly neatly depicts the ever changing and constantly evolving world of policing, offsetting the wealth of experience on Anderson’s part, set against the changing investigative techniques he is coming to terms with, and this works very well throughout the book.

I thought this was a well-planned and executed storyline, with an intuitive use of pace as Anderson himself experiences the unwelcome attention of the serial killer, and the tension that arises from this by encroaching on his personal life. Like my fellow crime readers, I enjoy trying to second-guess the author and play along with the investigation, and was delighted by the fact that Daly managed to conceal the killer and their motivation so well by using a disparate collection of victims, and wrong-footing both his protagonists and readers along the way. By using a combination of ‘normal’ and ‘criminal’ victims there was a real sense of where would this killer strike next, and why was Anderson so central to the killer’s thinking.

Having read a substantial number of ultimately disappointing long-running police procedural series, that have grown increasingly stale, I would urge you to seek out this series. Anderson is a truly engaging character, and the books are well-plotted with an affectionate but not completely rose-tinted view of Glasgow itself. Recommended.

(With thanks to Old St Publishing for the ARC)