Travels With The TBR #3- Neil Broadfoot-Falling Fast, Paddy Magrane-Denial, Stefan Ahnhem- Victim Without A Face

In the thick of the Christmas rush, as a retail drone currently battling with the lurgy too, time for reviewing has been a bit limited this month. Here’s the last little flurry of books that have made it to the top of the TBR mountain, before my end of year round-up,  and hopefully this little feature will continue next year *eyeing the Eiger sized pile of books yet to be read*….

1Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist, on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug’s curiosity and diverts his attention – especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder…and the ultimate taboo.

Having been meaning to catch up with this author, having seen him at CrimeFest this year and instantly purchasing the first two of this series. It was a wise decision, as I have now discovered a great author to add to my Scottish favourites! I was instantly drawn to the two main protagonists, Doug McGregor- dogged reporter, and his police contact DS Susie Drummond, and the relationship that exists between them. I loved the underlying feeling of them both being slightly square pegs in round holes, with McGregor’s incredible self reliance which tends to alienate others, and Drummond’s former misguided fling with a senior officer which has marked her out as an outsider to her police colleagues. However, although their professional relationship alternates beautifully between frustration and spikiness, there is a mutual respect underpinning everything, leading to some intense scenes that alternate between danger, humour and high emotion, thanks to their razor sharp characterisation.

I thought the plot was superb, and am always gratified by the exposure of political corruption, and this book takes some incredibly dark turns as the truth behind a young woman’s death at the outset of the book comes to light. Broadfoot captures perfectly the nature of family bonds with their sometimes misguided loyalty, and explores the issue of parental responsibility in both its good and worst forms. Equally, the author uses both the location of Edinburgh, and his own background as a journalist, to add further layers of realism to what is altogether a completely absorbing thriller. Highly recommended.

2A riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes. That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead. He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

Having really enjoyed Disorder , the first of Paddy Magrane’s series featuring psychotherapist Sam Keddie, I’m glad the hiatus has ended and another has appeared! This is real breakneck, edge of your seat thrilling stuff, chockfull of danger, excitement and some very bad men indeed, but tempered by an innate sensitivity to the very contemporary issue of immigration. The character of Zahra, in particular, who has experienced the very worst of human behaviour during her passage to supposed safety in Europe, is mesmeric from the very start, and she holds the reader in the palm of her hand with her mix of,  at times, extreme vulnerability underscored by a steely resolve and bravery to overcome the evil that pursues her. I adored her character, and the way that Magrane uses her so effectively to explore important issues, and bring to the fore elements of corruption, greed and expose those that trade in human exploitation. I also liked the little areas of grey that Magrane employs in relation to one of the men pursuing Zahra, which leads us to reassess our feeling towards him as the tale unfolds.

Despite the more serious issues that the book encompasses, Magrane balances this perfectly with the ‘thriller’ aspect, as Keddie and Zahra are caught up in a  desperate game of cat and mouse across a series of European locations, with all the pace and energy one would expect of the genre. There are some real heart in the mouth moments along the way, and Magrane moves us effortlessly from one impending moment of peril to the next, with a flowing and unbroken narrative. Yes, there are a couple of plot turns which may raise a mildly quizzical eyebrow, but fear not, you are so quickly moved on to more dangerous ground, that these will not deter you. Thrilling, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. What more could you possibly want? Highly recommended.

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Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Fabian Risk is the lead detective on the case. He’s also one of the children in the photograph. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood…

You and I both know that you can’t whack a good old slice of Scandinavian noir, so here’s another author to add to your Scandi wish list. Ahnhem has produced a meaty, compelling and impeccably plotted thriller, with a sizeable body count, and increasingly imaginative ways of having despatching the victims, straying into Chris Carter territory with the sheer ghoulishness of some of their deaths. Which was nice.

Fabian Risk proves himself a feisty, and lone wolfish investigator, having recently relocated to his childhood town, after an ‘incident’, putting him perfectly in place to try and outwit a demented killer targeting his school chums. With numerous twists and turns along the way, too convoluted to try and explore here, inevitably Risk finds himself at well, risk, and experiencing an isolation from his police cohorts as the plot thickens.The plot culminates in a slightly clunky and predictable endgame involving a kidnap, but can be slightly forgiven as the story up until that point, and other reveals at the tail end of the book, did diffuse my sense of annoyance somewhat. Certainly enough here to make me seek out the next in the series, and a good recommendation for you Scandi fans out there…

 

Blog Tour- A. D. Garrett- Truth Will Out (Simms/Fennimore #3)

 

TruthWillOutGIF-64coloursA mother and daughter are snatched on their drive home from a cinema. The crime has a number of chilling similarities to a cold case Professor Nick Fennimore had been lecturing on. Then Fennimore begins receiving taunting messages – is he being targeted by the kidnapper?

Meanwhile, a photograph emailed from Paris could bring Fennimore closer to discovering the fate of Suzie, his own daughter, now missing for six years. He seeks help from his old friend, DCI Kate Simms, recently returned from the US. But Kate is soon blocked from the investigation… A mother and child’s lives hang in the balance as Fennimore and Simms try to break through police bureaucracy to identify their abductor…

Truth Will Out is the third of A. D. Garrett’s series featuring DCI Kate Simms and forensic psychologist Professor Nick Fennimore, their particular disciplines reflecting the expertise of their co-creators, accomplished crime writer Margaret Murphy, and policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper. Following, Everyone Lies, and Believe No One, things are going to get particularly troublesome for Simms and Fennimore as this gruelling investigation takes its toll…

Using the abduction of a woman and her young daughter, as the central hook, Garrett cleverly links this to the on-going mystery of the violent events in Fennimore’s past, with the unexplained disappearance of his wife and daughter some years previously. My usual caveat applies that entering the series at this later point is not an issue, as all the back story is clear and concise, and despite a hiatus in my own reading of the series catching up was easy to do. With both Simms and Fennimore back on home soil, after their Stateside exploits, they once again find themselves, striving to properly solve the current case, but as usual, in Simms case, defying their superiors, and finding their personal lives and professional relationships sorely tested. For me, one of the stand out features of these books is the shifting parameters of the relationship between the two main protagonists, feeding on or fuelling the other’s particular weaknesses and strengths. Aiming to avoid spoilers, I will say that their relationship has undergone a series of shifts through the books, but in this book, the solidity of their working relationship and friendship is tested to the limit, as Fennimore embarks on some less than legal action to track down his daughter, and Simms pushes the boundaries of her involvement in the central investigation. Both Simms and Fennimore are highly intelligent but prone to a little too much introspection and self-questioning, and I like the way that Garrett explores the particular flaws and insecurities in their characters. Indeed, one of the central enjoyments of crime fiction reading is having your good guys a little tarnished, and both these protagonists fit the bill perfectly.

The plot is as you’d expect of a linear investigation into a highly emotive abduction, but heightened by the very real connection to the travails of Fennimore’s past, and cut through with authentic and eye-opening forensic detail. I was a little less than enamoured with the abduction storyline concerning Julia and Lauren Myers, but appreciated its necessity in drawing in Fennimore to the case, and the abductor baiting him. As Fennimore’s involvement in the case becomes more ingrained, some ghosts from the past are put to rest, and it will be interesting to see how Fennimore and Simms’ relationship develops in possible future books. However, my interest was firmly held throughout by the unexpected tangent concerning one of Fennimore’s students, which took the story off on a thorny and violent diversion, with an emotive conclusion, and having proved itself an interesting offshoot to the main plot itself. Once again, this addition to the series, Truth Will Out, is never less than a procedurally and forensically accurate thriller, held together by the unique and mercurial relationship of its two main characters. I must confess, not my favourite of the series to date but, intrigued that having had a central mystery solved, what lies ahead for Fennimore and Simms in the future. Recommended.

everyone-lies-200pxEveryone Lies (Simms/Fennimore Book #1)

DCI Kate Simms is on the fast track to nowhere. Five years ago she helped a colleague when she shouldn’t have. She’s been clawing her way back from a demotion ever since. Professor Nick Fennimore is a failed genetics student, successful gambler, betting agent, crime scene officer, chemistry graduate, toxicology specialist and one-time scientific advisor to the National Crime Faculty. He is the best there is, but ever since his wife and daughter disappeared he’s been hiding away in Scotland, working as a forensics lecturer. Read Raven’s review here

Jelieve No One (Simms/Fennimore Book #2)

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on placement in the United States with St Louis PD, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore follows her, keen to pick up where they left off after their last investigation. But Simms came to the US to escape the fallout from that case – the last thing she needs is Fennimore complicating her life. Read Raven’s review here

Enter The Crime Vault competition for a chance to win all three books in the Fennimore & Simms series. (Ends 30th November)

(With thanks to Corsair for the ARC)

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Travels with the TBR #1-Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone, Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit, Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

With the new frustration of a lengthy bus journey now extending my working day, I realised that this actually presents a great opportunity to catch up on some of the 150+ books in my to-be-read pile, alongside new releases. Here are the first three books in a regular series of posts…

bjorkWhen the body of a young girl is found hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. In response, police investigator Holger Munch is immediately charged with assembling a special homicide unit. But to complete the team, he must track down his former partner, Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective – who has retreated to a solitary island with plans to kill herself. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s fingernail: the number 1. She knows that this is only the beginning. To save other children from the same fate, she must find a way to cast aside her own demons and stop this murderer from becoming a serial killer…

To be honest, I usually have a slight aversion to thrillers that are constructed so whole-heartedly on the use of coincidence, and moments of sheer implausibility but I’m Travelling Alone managed effectively to keep me in its thrall from start to finish, despite my reservations…

Starting with the characterisation of detective Mia Kruger, the archetypal troubled individual, seemingly intent on ending her life and existing on a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs, that would keep most stout-hearted folks from functioning on any kind of level, she proves herself an empathetic and multi-faceted character. Having so roundly criticised other authors for using this foil before, Kruger’s journey from intense psychological bleakness to her reluctant involvement in a particularly dark murder investigation,  Bjork manages to overcome the reader’s initial scepticism regarding her character, and she was, for me, the reason to keep those pages turning. Likewise, her boss, the shuffling and put-upon Holger Munch, with his nefarious familial problems, conforms to some stereotypical character traits, and the coincidence of him being the father of a six-year old daughter, the age of the murder victims, did toy with the credibility of the reader too. However, for the necessity of the final denouement of the plot, it was understandable that Bjork had to travel this path, and Munch and Kruger, prove themselves an effective team despite their vastly different approaches to their work, and this particular investigation.

I thought the central murder investigation with the trademark Scandinavian darkness was well played out, drawing in themes of religious fanaticism, and I always enjoy a book that points the finger at the supposedly superior state of grace that accompanies those who hold religion dear. In the rural backwoods there are shown to be dark forces at work, leading to a pacey and gripping conclusion to what is a convoluted but nonetheless intriguing investigation for Munch and Kruger, despite a rather clumsy plot twist involving Kruger herself. I’m Travelling Alone is not without fault, but has enough hooks and tricks to hold its appeal throughout, and to entice this reader to read the next in the series. Recommended.

new-rabbitTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, Karen and Sean risk losing all they hold precious…

First of all, big kudos to Helen Cadbury, for introducing us in to the world of the Police Community Support Officer, a role oft neglected in the consciousness of not only the British public, but also in the world of crime writing. I immediately liked Sean Denton, with his charming mix of at times wide-eyed innocence, underscored by his strong sense of morality and his determination to see justice served for the victim. This combination of traits that Cadbury instils in his character is absolutely central to the manipulation of the reader’s empathies throughout, and also gives Cadbury scope to show how far Denton progresses professionally in the course of this thorny and sensitive investigation. I also liked the comparison we see in Denton’s character between his professionalism and intuitiveness when donning the uniform, and his hesitant and quite frankly clumsy efforts in matters of the heart. By so effectively balancing these two sides of her central protagonist, you feel as a reader a truthfulness and authenticity to the character, which enhances your reading pleasure. Similarly with the character of Karen Friedman, we encounter a woman who is doggedly searching for answers regarding her brother’s disappearance, and Cadbury takes time to push the boundaries of Karen’s character, drawing her into a criminal world, and testing her resolve as a professional, working at a migrant’s advice centre, and as a wife and mother. Cadbury really puts Karen through the wringer, but never to the point of incredulity, and I found her a particularly likeable character. Her husband, though, has less to recommend him…snake in the grass.

Drawing on the sensitive subject of immigration in the UK , Cadbury keeps a balance and fairness in her portrayal of this subject throughout, without the mealy-mouthed hand-wringing liberalism, that tends to afflict modern British fiction. Cadbury presents the desperation and exploitation of the immigrant community with an almost detached air of realism, that makes their plight all the more affecting, and allows her readers to be gently drawn into to the salient plot-lines that focus on this, while keeping solidly within the bounds of objectivity. This thought-provoking, and extremely well delineated plot carries the book along to a gripping conclusion, with many moments of tension along its way.

Hence, To Catch A Rabbit neatly straddles the bounds of crime thriller and police procedural punctuated by the  feel of contemporary social fiction. Am already eyeing up the second instalment, Bones In The Nest, in my to-be-read pile. Highly recommended.

sheersAfter the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters. The friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a devastating event changes all their lives, and Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a terrible secret.

Okay so not strictly speaking a crime book, but is billed to possess ‘a dark psychological edge’ and have heard comments glowingly positive, and exceedingly negative about this one. I will concede that  the first half of this book held me firmly in its tentacles, and flipping the action from the leafy London suburbs to heat scorched America and the military storyline, I Saw A Man was shaping up to be a terrific read. I was genuinely drawn into the grief-filled world of Michael, and the pernicious military action that had caused his wife’s death. I was also enjoying the intriguing build up of tension as Michael made his way through a neighbour’s house one hot summer’s day, and had even mange to overcome my working class aversion to posh people who do fencing, and my dislike of the name Josh.  And then within two pages it lost me. Totally. With one of the weakest plot contrivances I have encountered for many a year, this formerly well-written and engaging book, waved goodbye to the Raven, as the writing became overwhelmingly overwritten, and any previously held empathy disappeared in a flurry of florid prose. I read the last two chapters to confirm my suspicions at how this tortured storyline would play out. And it did. Oh dear…

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- A Deadly Thaw

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Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

You know that old adage about the difficult second book? Well, come closer and I’ll let you into a secret. Following Sarah Ward’s compelling debut  In Bitter Chill I’m going to boldly state that this one is even better. There, I’ve said it. Gauntlet thrown down for those foolish enough to challenge me. From the very outset I was completely hooked by this dark, suspenseful tale of Derbyshire folk, so read on and find out why…

What Ward achieves so well in this book is a perfect symmetry between the strength of her plotting and her razor sharp characterisation. The basic twist in the story upon which the whole book is played out is devilishly good, and as a long time crime reader provided a very unique and intriguing premise for a story. Woman reports husband dead. Woman convicted of his murder. Fourteen years later husband turns up dead. Again. Who was the original dead man? Brilliant. As Ward takes us on a darkly disturbing journey between the two timelines of the story, some nasty secrets centring on a string of local sex attacks come to light, flicking on the reader’s empathy switch, and completely immersing us on the dark history that comes to be revealed. Ward’s control of pace and reveal is perfectly realised throughout. With the branching out of other stories focussing on the particular personal relationships of her cast of protagonists, and a frighteningly familiar tale of police incompetence and the lack of sympathy to female victims of crime,  this book adroitly raises these serious issues throughout, but never to the detriment of this being a tautly played out thriller.

Once again, this is an extremely character driven book, and I liked the reprise of the police characters from the first book- DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damien Palmer and the wonderfully feisty DC Connie Childs- and the professional and personal interactions between them. Sadler is still firmly and solidly at the helm, and I liked the way that both Palmer and Childs sometimes resemble recalcitrant teenagers as their personal relationship takes a different turn in this book, and they continue to vie for the professional affection of their boss. There is also a strong cast around them from their under pressure senior commanding officer, Superintendent Dai Llewellyn, gruff pathologist Bill Shields and his assistant Scott, which really shores up the forensic and procedural accuracy of the book as past mistakes rear their ugly head. Equally, Ward carefully explores the sibling relationship between Lena and Kat Gray, and the tensions that arise from the aura of suspected guilt within their family dynamic, and the dangerous ramifications this holds for them both.  Ward again sensitively depicts the fear and emotional vulnerability of Lena as a person in the light of her traumatic experience, balancing this with the turbulent effect that her actions have caused in her sister’s life too, which is a real lynchpin in our engagement as a reader with them.

Great plotting, superb characterisation, the exploration of important issues, and perfectly placed moments of snappy humour make this book a perfect pick up and read. Highly recommended.

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)

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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)

 

 

Summer Thrills- Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost, Jack Grimwood- Moskva, A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

It is this time of year when peoples’ thoughts turn to summer holidays, and as a bookseller I begin to receive the inevitable requests for the best books to take to while away the time on the plane, on the beach, in a soggy tent, tramping through the forests of Borneo…

So with this in mind here are some recent reads that more than deserve a bit of that precious hand luggage space.

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CHRIS EWAN: LONG TIME LOST

Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name. But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.

Having quickly established himself as one of my particular favourites Ewan brings us, Long Time Lost, which takes us on a chilling adventure throughout Britain and Europe, focusing on the work of a small team on a personal mission to protect individuals under witness protection. From its suspenseful opening to a beautifully weighted unfolding of a dark and dangerous tale, this book totally justifies the label of ‘unputdownable’. What struck me as I was reading was the sheer cleverness of plotting that Ewan demonstrates throughout, fortified by a band of characters that range from emotionally damaged, to quirky, to downright dastardly. The two main protagonists of Nick and Kate are incredibly appealing, and with both having more layers than a proverbial onion, Ewan slowly draws back the curtain on the tumultuous events in their lives that have shaped Nick’s role as a protector, and how Kate’s character evolves as she finds herself increasingly under threat as a valuable witness. Ewan uses feints and red herrings to great effect, wrong footing our perceptions of certain characters as the story progresses. By slickly moving from country to country there is a wonderful momentum and sense of movement so just as you adjust yourself to the mortal danger our protagonists face, you are speedily transported to another setting where more tension awaits you. This also makes it incredibly difficult to know when to stop reading, as there is a real sense of you wanting to see what’s around the next corner. It’s thrilling, unpredictable and engrossing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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JACK GRIMWOOD: MOSKVA

Red Square, 1985. The naked body of a young man is left outside the walls of the Kremlin; frozen solid – like marble to the touch – missing the little finger from his right hand.

A week later, Alex Marston, the headstrong fifteen year old daughter of the British Ambassador disappears. Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox, posted to Moscow to keep him from telling the truth to a government committee, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption. But Russia is reluctant to give up the worst of her secrets. As Fox’s investigation sees him dragged deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own so his fears grow, with those of the girl’s father, for Alex’s safety. And if Fox can’t find her soon, she looks likely to become the next victim of a sadistic killer whose story is bound tight to that of his country’s terrible past …

It’s a brave writer indeed who pitches up with an idea for a thriller set in 1980’s Moscow, as we all know and love Gorky Park, and many have failed in its wake. But good news crime buddies, Grimwood has cracked it with the atmospheric and claustrophobic Moskva. With impeccable plotting, research and narrative tension, Grimwood has produced one of the best Soviet set thrillers I have read. Drawing on, and using to great effect, all the inherent and documented fear and suspicion so redolent of Soviet life within this period, Grimwood has crafted a supremely intelligent serial killer thriller, with a depth of characterisation that will draw in admirers of other exponents of this subgenre. As the depth of  conspiracy and concealment begins to reveal itself, frustrating Fox’s investigation of Alex’s disappearance, there is a crackling tension to the book throughout, compounded by Grimwood’s unflinching analysis of the weaknesses and dangers of the Soviet state that so consistently thwart Fox, giving him a slippery grasp on truth amongst the smoke and mirrors emanating from the echelons of power in Moscow. I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling your reading of this one, but you must seek this one out. It’s a terrific read, and Grimwood demonstrates again his real flexibility as a writer. Add to your wish list now.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

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A. A. DHAND: STREETS OF DARKNESS

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body. Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away. Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

Streets of Darkness is to my knowledge the first crime book set in Bradford that I have encountered, and with only having visited the city a couple of times, my curiosity was instantly aroused with the mouthwatering prospect of unexplored crime territory. Unlike other British police procedural writers, Dhand paints an entirely bleak and unflinching portrait of this city, without the little moments of affection that normally punctuate other writers’ portrayals of their home towns. The image that Dhand portrays of his city is unrelentingly grim and depressing, and there is a downtrodden air amongst its inhabitants that hammers home the true picture of inner city deprivation and neglect that this city has suffered. Even allowing for the rare moments of happiness that Virdee experiences on the cusp of the birth of his first child, his character, with all his personal torments and professional frustrations, is a perfect mirror of Bradford itself. Dhand also highlights the long standing religious intolerance experienced by those marrying outside of their religion- Virdee is a Sikh, but is married to Saima, a Muslim- and I very much enjoyed Dhand’s exploration of the role of religion in their marriage and personal beliefs. Indeed, the attendant problems of faith loom large for Virdee throughout, both personally and professionally, as he becomes embroiled in a violent and dangerous investigation, that soon threatens all he holds dear, against a backdrop of a city thrown into a state of social unrest. Virdee is a traditional maverick, and goes out on a limb in the course of the book, despite operating whilst suspended as a police officer. Despite his downtrodden and naturally pessimistic air I did quite take to him as a character,  but was a little unconvinced by the slightly schmaltzy feel when Dhand turned his attentions to Virdee’s home life.  There was also an annoyingly predictable plot device linked to this that did make me punch the air in frustration as it wasn’t needed, and rather undid the fact that this was a very well-plotted and compelling depiction of inner city strife and burgeoning violence up to that point. However, that niggle aside I would still strongly recommend this debut. Grim, violent and a welcome addition to the British crime writing scene.

(With thanks to Bantam Press 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)