Doug Johnstone- Breakers

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum. On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt. With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation, unless he drags her down too…

About three years ago I reviewed a book by Doug Johnstone called The Jump , a book that remains as one of the best books I have ever read. In my original review I said that, “When people decry genre fiction as somehow not being as worthy or the compare of ‘literary fiction’,  I have no hesitation in drawing their attention to books such as this, which possesses an emotional intensity and sensitivity that is rarely encountered in any genre, harnessing emotional, and by their very nature, contentious issues that many writers in the ‘literary’ field would struggle to address in such an affecting way as Johnstone achieves.” So it will come as no real surprise to hear that in this intensely compelling read, and in my ever so humble opinion, Doug Johnstone has more than achieved this again…

Let’s start with Tyler, the central protagonist, balancing his role as protector, provider, and accomplice, at a relatively tender age, and with an over enhanced sense of responsibility and some times misplaced loyalty in his familial role. Juggling the role of caregiver and protector of his younger sister ‘Bean’, but finding himself at the behest and control of his aggressive and borderline psychopathic step brother, Tyler navigates a tense and ominously threatening path through life. Desperate to keep the equilibrium of his home life, but with his mum’s instability and dependence on drink and drugs, casting a shadow over the stability of this, one impulsive criminal act places Tyler and Bean in extreme danger. What Johnstone captures so perfectly in the character of Tyler, is that of a young man propelled into adulthood and maturity due to the extreme behaviour of others. He’s bright, resourceful, and emotionally intuitive, and a wonderful caregiver for Bean, but there’s also there’s always this sense of the child about him, dominated by his stepbrother, his tentative handling of his relationship with spiky posh girl Flick, and his unflinching acceptance of his mum’s emotional and physical weakness. He is the epitome of a young man who’s had to grow up a startling fast rate, but not to the detriment of his own strong moral code, his integrity and compulsion to protect others.

As we have come to expect of this author, Johnstone himself is also unflinching in this portrayal of a family in meltdown. The particular angst, borderline poverty and issues of abuse and anger, that all too many families encounter lay at the very heart of this book, but tangentially Johnstone also shows through the home life of Flick that this emotional paucity is equally relevant to her life, with the emotional neglect of her parents, her mother’s alcohol abuse, and the coldness of her father. She seeks attention in destructive ways and she’s financially rich, but only attains an emotional richness through her growing attachment to Tyler, and by extension, Bean too. Through this relationship we also see her bravery and resourcefulness, and the sense of her yin to Tyler’s yang that begins to become apparent as her involvement in these dark events escalates.

The authenticity of Johnstone’s characters is due in no small part to his intensely realistic portrayal of the world that Tyler and his family exist in. The book is peppered with sudden outbreaks of violence and abuse, with the overriding control of his sadistic stepbrother Barry, and the ramifications of entering the dangerous world of a hardened criminal that Barry’s foolish and impulsive actions, catapult them into. At one point Tyler berates Flick for embarking on her own ‘poverty safari’ as their life experience appear to be so markedly different, and Tyler’s world is a stark contrast socio-economically- harsh and poor, with the threat of violence a norm. As much as the book is brutally realistic, it is also tinged with sensitivity and compassion, with a strong message that a less than promising start in life is not necessarily proof of a moral deficiency, and that a good nature can overrule bad nurture. Despite the anger and tension so in evidence in these characters’ lives, I found this book tremendously life affirming, and as Tyler grows in stature and strength, he very much takes the reader with him. You’re rooting for him, and it doesn’t feel that your belief in him is misplaced. Breakers is a superb read (with an equally excellent soundtrack woven into the narrative) and once more I would heartily encourage you that, if you haven’t read this author before, you really should do so.

It would be rude not too…

Highly recommended.

 

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

 

   Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#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:

 

 

Time To Catch-Up- Malcolm Mackay- In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide, Mari Hannah-The Lost, David Jackson- Don’t Make A Sound, M L Rio- If We Were Villains, Renata Serelyte- The Music Teacher

I’ll keep it simple, and no over-sharing! One of my eyes is knacked,  and proving a wee bit troublesome, but now reading and using the computer pretty much one-eyed, which is frustrating but better than nothing! So at last- and huzzah- the time is ripe for some life changing magic of catching up on some albeit shorter reviews.  

The Raven is back.

 

The independent kingdom of Scotland flourished until the beginning of the last century. Its great trading port of Challaid, in the north west of the country, sent ships around the world and its merchants and bankers grew rich on their empire in Central America.

But Scotland is not what it was, and the docks of Challaid are almost silent. The huge infrastructure projects collapsed, like the dangerous railway tunnels under the city. And above ground the networks of power and corruption are all that survive of Challaid’s glorious past. Darian Ross is a young private investigator whose father, an ex cop, is in prison for murder. He takes on a case brought to him by a charismatic woman, Maeve Campbell. Her partner has been stabbed; the police are not very curious about the death of a man who laundered money for the city’s criminals. Ross is drawn by his innate sense of justice and his fascination with Campbell into a world in which no-one can be trusted.

It’s always interesting to see an established crime author suddenly take a wee flight of fancy. and toy with their reader’s expectations, sometimes successful, and sometimes not. Although an ardent admirer of Mackay’s work to date,  I must admit that this book perplexed and delighted me in equal measure, with its linear Chandler-esque crime mystery, replete with world weary private investigators, bent coppers, devious men of business, and a splendid femme fatale. This arc of the plot worked on every level, littered with Mackay’s trademark dark cynical humour and explosive interludes of down and dirty violence, and was a complete pleasure as always.

However, I did find myself slightly less engaged with the whole parallel history malarkey, and the punctuation throughout the text of assorted newspaper articles, historical referencing and so on illustrating the changing fortunes of Challaid throughout the years. It was disruptive to the flow, thus making the book feel like two distinctly different parts of the whole, whereas if both parts had been fleshed out into two books it would maybe not felt quite as jarring and disconnected. Despite this criticism, I feel that the Challaid story would be worth revisiting by Mackay, but maybe bound up in a more pure fantasy style, if such a thing is possible. Not without its charm, and an interesting experiment, but a little unbalanced overall, but glad to see Mackay still rocking the unfeasibly long book title, and his hardboiled edge. Worth a look though.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

Alex arrives home from holiday to find that her ten-year-old son Daniel has disappeared.

It’s the first case together for Northumbria CID officers David Stone and Frankie Oliver.

Stone has returned to his roots with fifteen years’ experience in the Met, whereas Oliver is local, a third generation copper with a lot to prove, and a secret that’s holding her back.

But as the investigation unfolds, they realise the family’s betrayal goes deeper than anyone suspected. This isn’t just a missing persons case. Stone and Oliver are hunting a killer…

And now to the first instalment of another new series from the wonderfully prolific Mari Hannah, introducing the crime detecting duo of seasoned copper David Stone, and keen as mustard sidekick Frankie Oliver. Hannah’s trademark is the sheer believability of her characters, and how quickly she envelops her reader’s interest in the world they inhabit, and she does this with her usual flair and empathy. I loved both characters, and although there is the necessary concealment of certain darker aspects of their lives that needs to be gradually teased out, unlike other pure police procedurals this never felt hackneyed or trite in its deliverance. They are both genuinely likeable, dedicated, refreshingly human protagonists, and the way they interact with and challenge each other throughout this investigation, leads to some brilliantly realised moments of confrontation, and the growth of a greater understanding of, and empathy with each other. The plot itself is probably the closest I’ve come to reading my bete noir of domestic drama, with a family on the brink of destruction leading to some very uncomfortable revelations for all, not to mention murder. As always Hannah’s timing and pace in The Lost is assured and compelling, and there’s some nice dramatic reveals, and emotive scenes, adding to the overall feel of an authentic, and hugely engaging police procedural. I also appreciated the title of the book itself, and how closely it represents and reflects most of the characters within the story. Once again, highly recommended

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Meet the Bensons. They’re an ordinary couple. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy.

There’s just one problem.

SHE’S NOT THEIRS.

D. S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet . . .

Okay, prepare to be utterly creeped out again with another dark and twisted tale from the always entertaining and unsettling David Jackson. This new instalment of the D.S. Nathan Cody series, begins with a typically dark scenario, and to be honest, and thankfully, doesn’t really let up, as Jackson ramps up the weirdness, the violence, and positively torments Cody even more than he has done previously. I like Cody’s character very much, as neurotic and strange as he is, despite wondering intermittently quite how he keeps his job. However, with the back-up of two strong female characters in the shape of his police partner, the long suffering DC Megan Webley, and his boss, the perfectly named DCI Stella Blunt, Cody’s relationships with both provides some interesting juxtapositions in terms of how we perceive his character. There’s also a nice little group of other police personnel, who provide moments of humour, succour and annoyance to Cody and Webley, but with an overarching feeling that there is an underlying bonhomie and cohesion to the team, apart from Cody going a bit lone wolf from time to time. With his trademark gallows humour, a few little pulls on our credulity, and a goodly amount of spine tingling tension, Don’t Make A Sound proves an enjoyable crime caper. Recommended.

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

A small town police investigator broods obsessively on her tragic love affair with her school music teacher in Soviet Lithuania. After the town is shaken by the murder of a teenage girl, the investigation seems to dry up. When her ex-lover, now local politician, tries to close down the case, she begins to suspect that he may have been involved…

My first entanglement with Lithuanian crime, swathed in hugely descriptive imagery, lyrical pontifications, and poetical flights of fancy, that to my mind completely overwhelmed the premise of this book as a crime novel. I like to consider myself a not unintelligent person, but must confess that after being taken off on some roaming poetical tangent for what seemed like an eon, I began to lose sight of what was actually happening. Although I am a regular reader of slightly pretentious literary fiction, and do achieve a perverse sense of enjoyment from it, this just irritated me, and I began to care less and less as we were endlessly enveloped in this loop of a exceedingly tedious love affair. With hindsight, I can’t tell you why the girl was murdered, or who did it, or if they were brought to justice, as all I remember for some reason is that electricians are full of negative energy,  and quite frankly I feel much the same. Disappointing.

(With thanks to Noir for the ARC)

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life.When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…

I have only ever submitted three one star reviews, and one of these was for a book called The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, which I rather scathingly said would probably only be required reading for first year drama students, if they weren’t out getting drunk on cheap cider. This flashed into my mind quite soon after embarking on this book, despite the promise of it being perfect for fans of Donna Tartt. As we become inveigled more and more in this group of largely egotistical, privileged, and increasingly annoying drama students at a prestigious arts academy, the allure of this being anything like Tartt is quickly dispelled. Despite being vaguely intrigued at the outset as the incarcerated Oliver, on the brink of release, reveals himself to have been refreshingly different to his dramatic cohorts, I quickly ascertained how this story of jealousy, and conflict would pan out. And it did- although I confess to skipping to the end, after trudging through 200 odd pages. There’s also a large amount of lazy writing, with substantial passages of Shakespeare reproduced that began to feel like superfluous filling, as most readers familiar with the plays that the students re-enact would not need what felt like chunks of text. Also the little references to lines from Shakespeare that pepper the students’ speech becomes increasingly wearisome, and pretentious, and merely propels their name into my roll call of writers as up themselves as Martin Amis.

I didn’t like this. I will exit pursued by bear. Now I sound like a knob too. Sorry.

(I foolishly bought this copy)

 

 

Blog Tour- Claire MacLeary- Burnout

My husband is trying to kill me : a new client gets straight to the point. This is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, Big Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in. With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship remain intact?

Having been so heartily impressed by Claire MacLeary’s debut Cross Purpose, which introduced us to the fledgling private detectives, Maggie Laird and ‘Big’ Wilma Harcus, here we go with the second outing for this thoroughly likeable duo…

At a time where the subjugation of women in society be it professionally, emotionally, or sexually has been so in the spotlight through the #MeToo campaign, MacLeary adds a wise and all too pertinent voice to the arena. Along with the sheer affability and humour of her two female protagonists, the book carries with it a larger message on the hostile and demeaning behaviour that all too many women encounter within their domestic lives. I must admit that I did find some of the episodes within the book quite difficult to read at times, having experienced a familiar situation in my own life, which did stir up some uncomfortable memories. Having said that though, I applaud MacLeary for taking these issues, and treating them in such an even handed and sensitive manner, which will not only resonate with women like myself, but also alert others to recognise those gradually increasing indicators in a relationship of an escalating feeling of unnatural control. MacLeary very much focuses the book on a series of relationships, in their myriad forms, between husbands and wives, and Maggie’s self will to emerge from the disgrace of her dead husband and clear his name, and most crucially to the story, a recognition of the power of women to take back control for themselves. We see this in the relationships of Ros, a work colleague of Maggie’s whose marriage is taking a darker turn, the investigation into Sheena Struthers who believes her husband is plotting to kill her, and in the tension that grows in Wilma’s relationship with her partner Ian. I enjoyed the equivalence between these situations, and the way that MacLeary also wove into the plot the professional pressures that Maggie, and Detective Susan Strachan face, infiltrating the masculine bastion of the police force. The plot is incredibly character driven, and I think most female readers will recognise something of themselves in one of this contrasting band of women. As I commented on with Cross Purpose, MacLeary has a knack of balancing the insecurity and self questioning of her characters with moments of real strength or sheer bloody mindedness. Not all of her women are compliant victims, and those that would appear so, are given the space to break free. I admire this aspect of her writing very much.

Before you begin to think that this all sounds a bit serious, MacLeary breaks up the emotional tension at a beautiful pace, largely due to the character of Big Wilma. She’s blousy, brash, fearless and the comic interludes including her night out a strip show, and an unfortunate pratfall in the countryside, have a wonderful comic timing. I genuinely feared for the possible dissolution of her partnership with the ‘stuck up’ Maggie, but as much as they are chalk and cheese, the banter and interplay between them is absolutely integral to the enjoyment of the book. They are a formidable partnership, and there’s plenty of mileage in them yet I warrant, and I, for one, will await the next book with interest. Highly recommended.

Catch up with 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)

Blog Tour- Olga Wojtas- Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar

Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.

Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.

But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?

In the year that all of us Muriel Spark fans are taking advantage of the centenary celebrations to revisit her books, a lovely random invitation to join this blog tour enticed me with the dangling carrot of a book with shades of Spark’s most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Quite frankly I didn’t need asking twice, and although I rarely pick up comic crime capers, my interest was piqued by this one, and into the world of Shona, I eagerly scampered…

I think apologies are due to my fellow bus travellers, and staffroom sharers, who had to endure a flurry of guffaws and sniggers as I read this. This book is an absolute hoot, packed to the gills with entertaining misunderstandings, acerbic asides, and comic set ups that although by their very nature were farcical were not annoyingly so. Wojtas has an absolute field day with the inevitable gaps in communication- contemporary Scottish vs 19th century Russian- as Shona responds to each situation with her mellifluous brogue and earthy vernacular, underpinned by her obvious raw intelligence, and mischievous delight at bamboozling those around her. Although her use of language is the primary way she establishes an exotic difference from those around her, this is compounded by her encyclopaedic knowledge of facts and figures, accrued by her ‘crème de la creme’ education, and her by day. mild mannered librarian guise. She continually trawls the depths of this knowledge,  to try to establish which period of history she has been transported into, and readily draws on it she needs to extract herself from potentially socially awkward, or perilous situations. I have read other books that have used this conceit in relation to the character, but unlike those I found this clever, witty, and brain-tickling.  I have also absorbed a host of possibly useless knowledge, that may stand me in good stead one day, during a particularly knife-edge game of Trivial Pursuit…

Still on the subject of Shona, I would like to applaud the author on putting a more mature woman- no need for the ‘o’ word- as her central character, and the additional layer of fun it brings to the proceedings. With her obvious intelligence, comes a wonderful bluntness, and sense of self awareness that carries the plot beautifully, colouring her interactions with others, but also delightfully lowering her defences at times when her slight susceptibility to flattery becomes evident. She is proudly Scottish, totally adept at manipulating situations to her advantage, and exudes an air of confidence and charisma that charms and alienates in equal measure. As potent a figure as she is in the book, Wojtas does not neglect the need to provide Shona with a consummate surrounding cast, and this she achieves with her merry band of fatuous, wealthy upper class Russian women, and Shona’s inherited serfs, who ramp up the comic aspect of the plot, but allows us to recognise the unfairness and brutality of Russian life and society at this time. With reference to that, Wojtas places both Shona and us firmly in this period with her historical detail, and a heightened sense of place and atmosphere, with colourful, rich description, and accomplished scene setting.

Although I am not an ardent fan of the time travelling trope in fiction generally, I thought this was well executed, even if an amount of suspension of disbelief was needed, and the foray into the upper echelons of Russian society from the rarefied air of Morningside in Edinburgh was easy enough for Shona to insinuate herself in. Yes, the plot was a little obvious from a fairly early stage in the case of whodunit and indeed whydunnit, but to be honest, the book just carries you along on a stream of hilarity with our gung-ho gal Shona, that this matters little. A faint air of the ridiculous, more than a few belly laughs, and you may well pick up some interesting factoids too… Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

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Banish Those January Blues… Alan Parks, Oliver Bottini, Mari Hannah, Donato Carrisi, Masako Togawa

Hello everyone. In the whole killing two birds with one stone thing, and realising I am already behind with my reviews (despite my resolution to do better), here is a little round-up of books to chase away that January feeling of gloom. As you would expect, I had issues with one of them, but you may be intrigued nonetheless, and the rest were pretty damn fine indeed.

You may need a little book retail therapy…

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn’t a random act of violence.
With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow’s wealthiest family, the Dunlops.
McCoy’s boss doesn’t want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

Gritty, unflinching, perfectly non- politically correct, and with echoes of the grandmasters of black-hearted noir, Lewis, McIlvanney, Raymond, Bruen et al, this was an absolute corker.

From the outset I was heartily entertained by the exploits of Detective Harry McCoy, with his nefarious relationships and more hands-on methods, and his wet-behind-the-ears sidekick, Wattie as we find ourselves firmly rooted in 1970’s Glasgow. The book is peppered with cultural and political references familiar to those of us born nearer that era- ahem- as well painting a grimly real backdrop for readers less familiar with the period. This is a city down on its uppers, with only occasional glimmers of the city that Glasgow was to become, and Parks’ colourful and inventive use of the Glaswegian vernacular brings a heightened level of enjoyment to the book too. The main storyline is very seedy indeed, involving as it does drugs, exploitation and abuse, which Parks determinedly lays before us warts and all. As I’ve said before I do like a book where I feel slightly soiled by the reading experience, in a similar vein to Benjamin Myers and Jake Arnott,  and Bloody January fitted the bill perfectly. It was feisty, fresh, wonderfully sordid and a sublime blast of noir to welcome in the new year. Highly recommended.

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Louise Boni, maverick chief inspector with the Black Forest crime squad, is struggling with her demons. Divorced at forty-two, she is haunted by the shadows of the past.
Dreading yet another a dreary winter weekend alone, she receives a call from the departmental chief which signals the strangest assignment of her career – to trail a Japanese monk wandering through the snowy wasteland to the east of Freiburg, dressed only in sandals and a cowl. She sets off reluctantly, and by the time she catches up with him, she discovers that he is injured, and fearfully fleeing some unknown evil. When her own team comes under fire, the investigation takes on a terrifying dimension, uncovering a hideous ring of child traffickers. The repercussions of their crimes will change the course of her own life.

Now this one perplexed me, as for the first half of the book I was submerged in the existential peace of tranquillity that gradually evolves into a more straightforward thriller. I loved the concept of this calm, ethereal figure of the monk, traversing the terrain of the Black Forest, pursued by this, as it turns out, very emotionally unstable female detective. I felt a bit like like Manny in Black Books where he swallows The Little Book of Calm as reading this induced a kind of contented relaxation in me, as Bonetti brings the natural serenity of monk, woman and forest into alignment.

Then I got bored.

And increasingly annoyed.

Boni began to irritate me with her constant self obsessed, self pitying keening, and to be honest, my interest was waning from this point. I found the child trafficking plotline slightly repetitive and circular, and I fair scampered to the end of the book just to see how things would pan out. Did feel a huge sense of disappointment in not enjoying this one more, as regular readers know my universal love for translated crime fiction, but alas not this time.

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When a mysterious DVD is delivered to Northumbria Police Headquarters, DS Matthew Ryan and Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil are among the few to view its disturbing content. With little to go on the only lead comes from the anonymous and chilling woman’s voice narrating the blood-soaked lock-up depicted on screen.
But with no victim visible, nor any indication of where the unidentifiable crime scene is located, Ryan and O’Neil get the distinct feeling someone is playing with them. What is certain is that the newly formed special unit has just taken on its first challenging case.
As further shocking videos start arriving at police stations around the country, the body count rises. But what connects all the victims? And why are they being targeted? As the investigation deepens, the team is brought to breaking point as secrets from the past threaten to derail their pursuit of a merciless killer . . 

I know I baulk every time I read the strapline, that so and so author is ‘at the height of their powers’ but, I think in Mari Hannah’s case this is absolutely fair. Not only the author of the brilliant DI Kate Daniels series, but onto a winner with this, the follow up to The Silent Room which first introduced us to Ryan and O’Neill.

Obviously you will discover for yourselves the extremely well crafted storyline, and the highly original compunction the killers have for committing the crimes they do (as usual no spoilers here), but I just wanted to highlight something else. The thing above all else that I admire about Hannah’s books is her way of really fleshing out, and roundly depicting her characters, their fears, their flaws, their missteps in communication, but also their moments of empathy, comradeship and loyalty. Every character in this book works seamlessly with the others, with fluctuating levels of trust, professionalism and friendship. Although there was a significant gap between The Silent Room and this one, I was instantly back in the groove with O’Neill and Ryan, and the brilliant Grace and Newman, who make up their merry band, as if there were just friends that I hadn’t bumped into for a while, but instantly recalling when I had last seen them, and what they’d been up to! Obviously, with my affection for the North East, I was once again, transported effortlessly to my old stomping ground of Newcastle, and the sublime, rugged beauty of Northumberland and beyond.

Cracking story, equally cracking characters, and plenty of thrills, tension and heartache along the way.

Superb.

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Sixty-two days after the disappearance . . .

A man is arrested in the small town of Avechot. His shirt is covered in blood. Could this have anything to do with a missing girl called Anna Lou?

What really happened to the girl?

Detective Vogel will do anything to solve the mystery surrounding Anna Lou’s disappearance. When a media storm hits the quiet town, Vogel is sure that the suspect will be flushed out. Yet the clues are confusing, perhaps false, and following them may be a far cry from discovering the truth at the heart of a dark town.

I must confess I did read this one a little while ago, so I may be a bit shady on the detail, but my lasting impression of this one is that I enjoyed it! Referencing my previous point about translated crime fiction, I think that Italian author Donato Carrisi consistently produces extremely atmospheric and gripping psychological thrillers and The Girl In The Fog continued this tradition. Flipping backwards and forwards in time, tracing the disappearance of the eponymous girl in the fog, Carrisi presents a flawed but fascinating character in the sharply dressed and obviously psychologically haunted figure of Special Agent Vogel. I was particularly enamoured with his one to one conversations with the seemingly affable psychologist, Flores, and the little tricks and twists in the interaction between the two men as the story is teased out. As usual, Carrisi perfectly employs the more sinister aspects of the landscape to colour the tale further, and what ensues is a claustrophobic and tense tale of the darkness of the human psyche. Recommended.

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The K Apartments for Ladies in Tokyo conceals a sinister past behind each door; a woman who has buried a child; a scavenger driven mad by ill-health; a wife mysteriously guarding her late husband’s manuscripts; a talented violinist tortured by her own guilt. The master key, which opens the door to all 150 rooms, links their tangled stories. But now it has been stolen, and dirty tricks are afoot.
A deadly secret lies buried beneath the building. And when it is revealed, there will be murder.

Another bijou delight from Pushkin, in the shape of Japanese thriller The Master Key from the late, multi-talented author Makamo Togawa. Revolving around the female inhabitants of the K Apartments, Togawa weaves a spellbinding tale of jealousy, covetousness and chicanery that I can only compare to the brilliant Patricia Highsmith. As we become involved with the everyday lives of this disparate group of single women, and the secrets they conceal, Togawa has not only constructed a compelling thriller, but also has much to say on the nature of the womens’ experiences in Japanese patriarchal society, and how they are compartmentalised and suppressed by the community they inhabit. By turns shocking and moving, but consistently engaging, I will definitely be seeking out more works by this author. An eye opening read.

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(With thanks to Canongate for Bloody January, Quercus Books for Zen and the Art of Murder, Macmillan for The Death Messenger, Abacus for Girl In The Fog and Pushkin for The Master Key)