#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)

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#BlogTour- Doug Johnstone- The Big Chill “Far from overpowering our perception of these characters with the darker aspects of their experiences, Johnstone cleverly insinuates touches of dark humour, and moments of pure joy into the narrative too.” @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life. While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.  But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

When I reviewed A Dark Matter, the first of this trilogy, I knew from the outset that Doug Johnstone had produced something very special indeed. Focusing the book on this triumvirate of utterly compelling female characters, grandmother, mother and granddaughter, running their dual businesses of funeral home and private investigation, the scene was set for an usual and original series, and the second book, The Big Chill, does not disappoint…

The characterisation of the three generations of the Skelf family, Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah is damn near flawless, with Johnstone capturing perfectly the lives, joys, loves, losses and insecurities of the women with an astute touch. His depiction of each is unfailingly perceptive, bringing their individual character traits to the fore, whilst never losing sight of the disparate differences between them that comes with age and experience. Dorothy teetering on the edge of a new attachment, but still in thrall to the memory of her late husband, Jenny trying to put the duplicitous actions of her ex-husband behind them and embarking on a new relationship, and Hannah who carries all the indignance yet insecurity of youth in her relationship with her mother and partner.

All three are still working through the fallout of the previous book, and as much as you want to see them put this behind them, the past has a nasty way of informing their present, as events play out. As all three seemingly operate in a separate space, due to the differing investigations and trouble they find themselves in, but, there is always an unerring feeling of connection between them. As events threaten to overwhelm them individually, and bring further troubles to their door, this bond which waxes and wanes, but never disappears, is the glue that binds them, and bolsters their personal and emotional strength. Johnstone depicts all this with a sure-footedness and efficacy that imprints these characters fully in our minds, and as such draws them into our consciousness resonating with our empathy, and heightening our connection to them.

As much as I enjoyed the story and plotting, with the individual travails and peril the women experience, I always feel with Johnstone’s writing that something deeper dwells at the heart of his books. Somewhere, from the mists of time, I recall the following quote (reportedly from an Irish headstone) which captures for me the essence of these books to date, “death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal” and these themes, intrinsically bound up with the notions of grief and mourning, seems to me at least, the driving force behind this series. Aside from the central setting of the funeral home, which by its very definition is a harbinger of death and loss, every character is experiencing some kind of love, loss or pervading aspect of grief that arrives in the wake of the experiences they have. Grief for loved ones and lost relationships, or personal grief caused by betrayal, deception or the uncovering of unpalatable secrets, and equally how to come to terms with all these different aspects of loss and sadness is handled sensitively throughout. Grief is the surest measure of love there is.

However, far from overpowering our perception of these characters with the darker aspects of their experiences, Johnstone cleverly insinuates touches of dark humour, and moments of pure joy into the narrative too. Again, the author draws on his scientific background too, to introduce some more cosmic ruminations, which are both enlightening and thought-provoking, and seek to highlight our own small space in an ever changing universe. All of these strands in The Big Chill lead to a rounded and ultimately satisfying read, underscored by his affectionate and, at times, raw depiction of the book’s Edinburgh setting. Highly recommended. How could it not be?

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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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)

 

Doug Johnstone- A Dark Matter #BlogTour

Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events. Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined. As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…

So, where to begin with A Dark Matter,  as Doug Johnstone once again shows the complexity and diversity of his writing, making him one of the most accomplished writers in the crime genre at the moment. You genuinely never know where his writing is going to lead you, and always has the power to surprise…

I must confess to not knowing where to start with this one, as this is the book which has come closest to rivalling The Jump my favourite of Johnstone’s books to date. I think for my review I could easily just concentrate on the intuitive, realistic and pretty near flawless characterisation that Johnstone creates with this triumvirate of forthright and engaging dynasty of women. From matriarch, to daughter, to granddaughter, there is a real sense of the reader being utterly drawn into their world, coming to terms with the loss of their husband, father and grandfather Jim, and using their combined emotional strength and survival instincts to overcome grief, and emotional dislocation. It’s a rare thing indeed for a male author to so capture the real essence of what it is to be female, how we navigate life and relationships and the particular bonds that we form be it with those closest to us, and those that we encounter in other spheres of our lives.

I felt the characterisation was incredibly intuitive and truthful, and completely drew me into these women from the outset, reeling from grief, but with an innate sense of the will to do good, and to right wrongs.  I liked the way that although for much of the book they are following their own paths, there was a real strength and spirit of understanding that arose as the story progressed as we see them navigating the stages of grief and abandonment, before a dawning realisation that their sum of the parts was an altogether more powerful thing indeed. By following this path with the characters, this a wonderfully structured and multi-layered narrative, as we pivot from one woman to the other and the varying strands of investigation they all embark on to keep both sides of the family business ticking over. I also enjoyed the way that Johnstone also puts them under an incredible amount of stress throughout, strengthening their ingenuity and forcing them into courses of action that only heighten their resilience and repairing the tears in their previous relationships with one another.

From the first unusual, but singularly life affirming scene, which so brilliantly undermines the solemnity and overblown ritual of traditional funereal rites, to Johnstone’s ingrained exploration of the inseparable relation of death to life the book addresses some weighty themes indeed. The author’s own background in science imbues the book with some interesting digressions into the world of science and one paragraph in particular regarding dark matter being the glue of the universe, also sparked in me the feeling that in this book there was a parallel feeling of love and family loyalty, particularly in the female characters, of being the glue that held them together, albeit with a few bumps and challenges along the way. Obviously, with the central location of the book, there is much about life and death to muse on along the way, and teamed with the diversions into science there is a real sense of continuity and circularity in Johnstone’s observations on mortality and our place in an endless universe which is fascinating. 

As I mentioned in my introduction there is such a diversity in Johnstone’s writing that each book is like a present waiting to be unwrapped. The only consistent theme I can detect in his work is the love of Edinburgh, the good and the bad, and the attention to its landscape and environs is a constant presence in this book and others. He is a genuinely surprising writer, and I always look forward to what he will produce next, and what dark and twisting explorations of the human spirit he will take us on next. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

A Reading Round Up- Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper/ Rob Hart- The Warehouse/ Laura Sims- Looker/ Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land/ Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Time for another quick round up as the ‘I’ve read these’ mountain continues to grow, but time for reviewing decreases for a little while. Although not going the whole hog with a reviewing spreadsheet, (the pinnacle of blogging time management), plans are afoot for some better time organisation, so hopefully will be up to full speed soon as I’ve read a host of excellent books of late. Anyway, let’s get to it and hope you enjoy this eclectic mix of recent reads…

Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper: London, 1855. In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. The city is soon alive with talk of the foreign killer and his striking accomplice: a young woman dressed in widow’s weeds. Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn’s sleeplessness led her to the river that morning, but was it only thoughts of her drowned husband that kept her awake? She has always been wilful, haughty, different… but is she a murderess? To clear her name, Birdie must retrace the dead man’s footsteps to Orkney and the far north. A dangerous journey for a woman alone, but one she must make in order to save her neck from the hangman’s noose…

A definite change of direction and style from one of my favourite authors, and despite not being a massive reader of historical crime fiction, I enjoyed this book very much indeed. The story traverses between 19th century London and Orkney, and opening with the discovery of a dead man on the fetid shore of the River Thames, Carson immediately places us firmly in the feel and atmosphere of this burgeoning city.

As with her previous series, Carson once again demonstrates her intuitive and precise approach to scene setting, and as we journey with Birdie to the remote reaches of Scotland, as she flees a trumped up murder charge, Carson cleverly draws comparisons between the claustrophobic intensity of le in a teeming city, and that of a small coastal community. Carson also expands the story significantly to draw on the story of the ill-fated journey of William Franklin to Canada and beyond, and having recently read Michael Palin’s book Erebus, about Franklin and his exploration, it was really satisfying to have an overlap in the realms of fiction and fact, demonstrating again Carson’s attention to detail and her skilful interweaving of the plain facts into incredibly readable fiction.  Aside from the historical accuracy and sense of time and place, Carson creates in Birdie a truly empathetic and brave protagonist. From the familiar surroundings of her life in London, this determined and feisty girl embarks on a journey of discovery, not only to a completely alien community, but on her own mission to unmask a murderer and clear her name. Again, Carson adroitly mixes a commentary on the patriarchal nature of the time and how women’s lives are defined and shaped by their correlation to such an ardently male society, but cleverly pushes a subtext of how women can escape from, or manipulate this overarching definition of 19th century society. Indeed, the female characters within the book all demonstrate this inner will to defy and challenge the patriarchal norm, and exhibit a strength of character that is to be admired, despite the perilous situation that Birdie amongst others find themselves in.

There is always a slight flicker of tension, but also anticipation when an author you admire decides to travel a different path with their writing. However, my fears were quickly assuaged and Carson has only succeeded further in endearing myself to her writing, her superlative plotting, characterisation, and her innate ability to thoroughly immerse her reader in the world she presents. Highly recommended.

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Rob Hart- The Warehouse: Amidst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme. Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems. And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it…

As a person employed in the increasingly fragile bricks and mortar bookselling trade, I have my own axe to grind about the almost world domination of a certain online retailer. Consequently, I felt honour bound to read this fictional critique of the world of globally powerful organisations that control, monitor and manipulate our shopping habits. I absolutely loved this clever and inventive thriller set in the world of Cloud, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the all powerful corporations currently strangling free enterprise, and consumer choice across the globe. Within the Cloud all workers are monitored, corralled and totally controlled, so although they have the dubious honour of a job where millions don’t, Hart constructs an interesting analysis of this grand manipulation of the workforce, and how easily these people can find their services dispensed with. Indeed, this world that Hart has constructed is scary in the extreme, as elements of it already exist in certain workplaces, and to be honest some of the other indignities that the workers suffer are all too easy to imagine coming to pass as the years progress. As each layer of scurrilous corporate behaviour is revealed, Hart has produced not only a tense, nerve shredding thriller, but a damning indictment on the world of big business, that will strike a chord with most people I’m sure who care about the evils of certain areas of global capitalism.

However, before you begin to think that this is all a bit preachy and big business bad, free enterprise good, Hart has actually produced a damn fine, unsettling and nerve shredding thriller, that will appeal to most readers of dystopian fiction. This is Nineteen Eighty-Four for contemporary times, whilst not losing the thrust of the thriller form, with action, suspense and pace beautifully controlled throughout. Both Paxton and Zinnia are compelling characters, and I really liked the way that Hart builds their relationship and depicts their sharply contrasting experience of life within the Cloud. Zinnia’s militancy is superb from the get go and she is a total firebrand, set against Paxton’s slowly growing awareness of the suppression of the corporation, and the ethical dilemmas he proceeds to do battle with.  This is certainly one of the most tightly plotted and clever dystopian thrillers that I have read for some time, and a grim reflection on the all too recognisable power of the virtual retailing world. Highly recommended.

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Laura Sims- Looker: The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like. The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night. There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?

A slim but ultimately satisfying read, very much in the territory of Notes On A Scandal, but with a nod to the familiar creeping unease of writer like Patricia Highsmith. This is  an intense and claustrophobic read, depicting the maelstrom of envy and covetousness that one woman exhibits, as she studies the seeming perfect life and family of ‘The Actress’ who lives in her street. As the intensity of her scrutiny and jealousy increases, Sims ramps up the transition of  The Professor from her initially emotionally wounded and depressed state into something increasingly akin to a Hitchcock thriller, as she slowly makes inroads into ingratiating herself into The Actress’ life. I read this pretty much in one sitting, and would suggest that this is the perfect way to approach this book to really get the full experience of the increasingly creed unsettling tale that Sims unfolds. Although I found the ending a little disconcerting, for the most part I enjoyed the book, and how Sims carefully manipulates our empathy and relationship with this woman on her descent to irrational behaviour, and how emotional trauma can take an individual on a strange and troubling path in their lives. Recommended.

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Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land: War is coming to No-Man’s Land, and Connor Fraser will be ready. A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of historic Stirling. For DCI Malcolm Ford it’s like nothing he’s every seen before, the savagery of the crime making him want to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track and prove all the doubters wrong. But for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s merely a grisly distraction from the day job. But then a bloodied and broken corpse is found, this time in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast. With Ford facing mounting political and public pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

Neil Broadfoot is a consistently excellent crime writer and I have read many of his books, so all the signs were there that this would be a cracking good read- and so it proved to be. What I like about Broadfoot’s books is the less linear and more complex plotting that he employs, tackling big themes but never losing sight of the fact that his characters caught up in these webs of deceit need to be credible. In Connor Fraser, ex police officer and now security specialist, Broadfoot has has come up trumps, marrying the image of the tough guy with a more cerebral edge, similar to genre stalwart Jack Reacher. Fraser is a character that will appeal equally to men and women, and supported by another great character in the shape of female journalist Donna Blake, who proves an excellent foil for him but also being a likeable and determined protagonist in her own right. Broadfoot slowly fleshes out both his principal characters, putting them through the wringer, but not afraid to balance their more dangerous experiences with some good character analysis, particularly Blake balancing her compulsion for career advancement with the attendant difficulties of being a single mother. As the story segues between Fraser’s former experiences in Northern Ireland, and a series of pretty visceral and inventive murder around Stirling, Scotland. Broadfoot keeps the action flowing, as a dark conspiracy comes to light, affording Broadfoot the opportunity to put a more socio- political slant on the main plot, which resonates with the troubled times we currently find ourselves in. Very pleased to report that the first of this new series augurs well for further books, and there will be much to enjoy from Broadfoot in the future. Highly recommended for thriller lovers everywhere- it’s a damn good twisty one…

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81KAJMvXg5L__AC_UY218_ML3_Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate: At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life. Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit,  and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Well, here is a major revelation for everyone, but I have hardly ever read science fiction, and over the years I cannot recall ever finishing a book that I have idly picked up in this genre. I’ve always found this strange as I do have an abiding fascination with space and enjoy movies in this genre. Finding myself, book-less one lunchtime at work and drawn by the cover, I picked up a proof of this one. Between lunchtime and finishing the commute home, I had fair whipped through it, and was really pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray back into this genre for some time. I obviously didn’t know a huge amount about Chambers started but was delighted to find out that her writing is informed by her own family’s involvement in the world of space, giving a glorious reality to the experiences of Chambers’ characters, and although speculative, sowing the seeds of possibility for generations to come. I loved this microcosm of humanity, with just four principal characters, and how they co-exist in such a compressed space, millions of miles and years away from home, and how we are given such an insight into their relationship with each other. I also liked the passion that each character exhibits for their own particular specialism be it geology or meteorology for example, and went into complete geek mode for the more intricate science that Chambers balances with her examination of these peoples’ lives, hopes, fears and thirst for discovery. Needless to say, I shall be seeking out other books by this author, and would like to extend a personal thank you for awakening a new interest in me for this genre- fortunately, I have been taught… Highly recommended.

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(Thanks to Head of Zeus for a copy of Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper, Bantam Press for  Rob Hart-The Warehouse, and Hodder for Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I bought Laura Sims- Looker and Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land)

 

 

 

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)

 

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#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)

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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: