Good Girls Don’t Die – Isabelle Grey

good-girls-don't dieTitle – Good Girls Don’t Die

Author - Isabelle Grey

Published - October 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

After a bit of a dip over the summer, when it seemed I wasn’t particularly enjoying the books I was reading, there have been a few recently which have been much more engrossing, and this is one of them. Another writer with a background in journalism and TV this is Isabelle Grey’s third novel and her first police procedural.

The story centres around the disappearance of a female university student who has been reported as missing by her parents. Taking the lead on the investigation is Detective Sergeant Grace Fisher on her first day at work in a new team, having moved to Essex from Maidstone in Kent. The reasons behind the move are initially held back from the reader but Grace is obviously keen to impress her new colleagues. What becomes clear as the plot develops is that there was a serious and very personal incident which prompted her move. The background is important as it has implications for Grace’s confidence and how she chooses whether to act or not.

Part of the way through the story a second point of view is introduced – that of Ivo Sweatman, London-based chief crime correspondent for the Daily Courier – a newspaper that epitomises everything that is reviled in tabloid journalism. Sweatman himself is something of a contradiction. He is out to get the ‘story’ whatever it may be and regardless of the cost to those involved but he does have a conscience. There is something about Grace which prompts Sweatman to, occasionally, act on her behalf, not that she would thank him!

As suspicion falls on a number of men who have links to the missing girl and subsequent victims, the impact plays out in a way that you might anticipate by picking up any tabloid paper. This hinders rather than helps the investigation, which is also at risk because of the actions Sweatman takes to try to get the story with the perpetrator before the police get their man. Adding the journalistic element to the story in parallel with the police investigation feels like an unusual approach in crime fiction. although it’s an inevitable one in real life.

This is a really contemporary police procedural that is bang up-to-date with its use of social media, as well as reflecting the modern drinking culture. Grace is a very likeable lead character and the writer makes her easy to empathise with. Her backstory is an unusual approach to the traditional ‘damaged’ detective with the benefit of not feeling contrived.

I wasn’t particularly taken by surprise by the final denouement, but I don’t think that this is a weakness in the story, it felt more credible than plots where dozens of suspects and red herrings pepper the story.  An enjoyable modern take on a police procedural with a  an engaging lead character, I hope that this will be the first in a series.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view on Book Addict Shaun’s blog.

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You – Caroline Kepnes

YouTitle – You

Author - Caroline Kepnes

Published - September 2014

Genre – Psychological thriller

This is another debut novel by an author who already has a background in writing – both as a journalist (covering pop culture in the US) and for television. As with books like I Am Pilgrim and The Informant, this is evidenced by a clear and confident writing style, great use of pace and a credible voice for the characters.

I’ll start by prefacing my review with the caveat that this book probably isn’t for everyone. It is an unusual and exceptionally vivid portrayal of an obsessive relationship, the ‘relationship’ between the main characters is gripping and tense, but also sexually explicit and that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The story is told in the first person by Joe, who is running a bookstore (or shop as we say in the UK) in New York City. When Beck walks into his store (shop) he just knows that she’s the girl for him, even though all she does is buy some books and be pleasant, or at a push maybe a little flirty. But there are no boundaries for Joe and payment for the books by credit card is enough to get him started  with what we would call stalking.

One of the strengths of the book is the use of the ‘stalker’s’ point of view to tell the story when we’re used to the victim being the focus. It’s not always clear in You whether the subject of Joe’s obsession is quite the conventional victim but there are certainly a few casualties amongst her friends along the way. I never really felt any empathy for Joe but I also didn’t feel a great deal for those who crossed him. Despite his warped view of the world and what is acceptable there was something quite fascinating about him. The different point of view means that the tension isn’t from anticipating what the stalker might do, which would be more effective from the victim’s pov, but in the relationship, in the sending of text or emails, in what the object of Joe’s obsession tells her friends and how he will interpret this.

An interesting thread running through the plot is the use of literature. From the opening scene in the bookstore, to some more critical later ones, Joe judges people on their book choices and their knowledge of what they’ve read. Now some of this did pass me by a bit as I’m not hugely familiar with all of the books mentioned but there was a use of older literature (Paula Fox) versus popular US fiction (King, Brown). This begins as seeming worthy and snobbish, but Joe’s attitude to the more popular end of the market changes as the book progresses.

The author makes good use of various social media and mobile phones, an aspect which although prevalent in everyday life doesn’t yet seemed to have found its way into crime fiction. She embraces the use of technology rather than trying to contrive situations which disable or remove it.

Did I also mention that this is a very funny book? There is a lot of humour – much of which is derived from the point of view Joe takes which is so different to the way ‘normal’ people might perceive things. There is also more laugh out loud humour – I particularly liked the use of ‘pantafuckingloons’ and hope to one day put it in a sentence of my own!

This is an unusual, absorbing and ultimately disturbing read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If the use of many and varied profanities and some graphic sex scenes don’t put you off then be sure to read this book! (And if I felt I could recommend it to anyone without that caveat it would have been 5 stars.)

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on My Book Muse.

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The Bloody Meadow – William Ryan

The Bloody MeadowTitle – The Bloody Meadow

Author - William Ryan

Published - 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

People talk about the ‘difficult second album’ and since I’ve been blogging I’ve noticed that there is also the ‘difficult second novel’ where after years of crafting the first, a second has to be produced in short order. This is a problem that William Ryan certainly doesn’t seem to suffer from, The Bloody Meadow is as well written and carefully plotted as its predecessor The Holy Thief.

Set in 1937, not long after the events in The Holy Thief, Captain  Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev has been waiting for some fallout from this earlier case and anticipates his imminent arrest. When the knock at his door finally comes, however, it’s the first step in another investigation which will again force his involvement in matters that he would rather steer clear of. The case is the death of a young woman in Odessa who was working as a film production assistant on ‘The Bloody Meadow’ and Korolev is hopeful that he can determine that the cause was suicide and he can swiftly return home. Needless to say life doesn’t seem to go smoothly for Korolev and he becomes involved in a  murder investigation where he has to tread carefully.

Despite the investigation taking place in Odessa a couple of characters from the first book reappear – most notably the writer Babel who is involved in the film production but also one of the less savoury ones. The setting also removes Korolev from his colleagues and he has to seek support from the local CID – including a young female detective whose presence helps to lighten the mood.

The political situation is what sets this series apart. Korolov is an appealing and engaging character that the reader roots for and he’s put in tremendously difficult situations. That’s not so different from the premise used in any number of police or detective stories, but in Korolov’s world the situation is constantly shifting. The military hero of today could disappear tomorrow. Korolov doesn’t choose his allegiances, they are forced on him and he has to balance his sense of right and wrong with a pragmatic approach regarding his own well-being. The investigation touches on some of Russia’s relatively recent history and this contributes to some of the numerous strands to the plot. The period also means that there is little room for forensics and DNA, just good old-fashioned detective skills. As with The Holy Thief there is lots of fascinating historical detail, but never any overly long explanatory passages, the research never gets in the way of the pace of the story.

There are some references made about Korolev’s past and I would be interested to find out more about the experiences that have shaped him.

If you were to pick this book up without reading its predecessor I’m sure that it would make complete sense, but starting at the beginning would be more rewarding! You can see another point of view at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

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The Informant – Susan Wilkins

the-informantTitle – The Informant

Author - Susan Wilkins

Published - November 2014

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller

This is a debut novel by Susan Wilkins who has a wealth of experience as a writer on TV dramas (such as Casualty and Heartbeat) and it shows. The book is a really enjoyable read with lots of action and the writing style means it’s very easy to visualise where the characters are and what’s taking place.

The main character in the book is Kaz Phelps, a former teenage tearaway who is being released from prison after serving a six year sentence for a crime her younger brother Joey committed. We already know that Joey is a bad lot from a graphic murder in the prologue, but despite indications to the contrary Kaz doesn’t believe Joey is beyond redemption. The siblings have been brought up in a gangster family, their father has been the head of the family business, but on her reluctant return to the family home Kaz finds that he’s confined to a wheelchair and Joey has taken control of their empire.

The book is told from multiple points of view and this includes those on the inside of the police investigation. They have been trying to catch Joey for some time and see Kaz’s release as an opportunity for them. Not only does this provide the reader with insight into their efforts but also into the politics of those involved and this is an important part of the story. Detective Chief Superintendent Turnbull manipulates an inexperienced officer to try to go undercover in order to persuade Kaz to inform on her brother – by any means he can. Turnbull comes across as something of a Machiavellian character and this adds an extra dimension to the plot.

The book covers a lot of ground with plenty of action, but not at the expense of developing the characters – especially Kaz herself and Nicci Armstrong who is the main investigating officer. They are similar in many ways – portraying positive female characters even if they are at times on different sides of the law. They both have strong family values that are put to the test.

For a crime thriller this offers a story of more depth and breadth than other in the genre but still offers some grit and gore!

You can see another point of view at Book Addict Shaun. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book.

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Season of the Witch – Árni Þórarinsson

season of the witchTitle – Season of the Witch

Author Árni Þórarinsson  (translated by Anna Yates)

Published - 2005 (2012 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

We met Arni Thorarinsson when we attended Iceland Noir in 2013 and I’ve managed to get to his book before we head back again later this month. He is an experienced Icelandic journalist and has published a number of screenplays and crime novels – this novel was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize and I believe it’s the only one currently available in English.

The story is told in the first person by Einar, a journalist (specifically a crime reporter) who has recently been transferred from Reykjavik to the small town of Akureyi.  His transfer is the result of a change in management at the newspaper and due to some personal issues he seems to have had with alcohol. In fact this novel is the fourth in the series featuring Einar so Icelandic readers probably have a better idea of the background than those of us reading only this title. Einar is pretty disgruntled at the move, not only is he missing the more exciting buzz of the capital city, he’s also missing his daughter who has stayed behind and this is compounded by the fact that he doesn’t get on with the only other permanent employee at the Akureyi office.

As the lone reporter Einar is required to cover all sorts of stories and these include the death of a woman on a rafting trip, a local school production of an Icelandic folktale and a missing dog. However, he can’t put his investigative skills behind him and he soon becomes involved in a police investigation when the leading actor from the play disappears. Assisted by Jóa, the photographer temporarily assigned to the paper, he pursues the stories to the bitter end.

The book offers much of what you would expect from Nordic fiction. There’s a thread that deals with local politics and the subject of immigration, one that I think most people will recognise wherever they live. There’s a sprinkling of folklore as well as more contemporary issues like drugs.  Thorarinsson gives you a feel for the country and its people without spending a lot of time on long descriptive passages. It has a steady pace and a likeable lead character, a few twists and turns and the odd humorous moment to lighten the mood.

I try not to look at other reviews of books before I write mine, but when I updated Goodreads I couldn’t help but notice that it has a fairly low rating and I really can’t see why. Personally I hope more titles are translated.

You can see another review on the Petrona blog.

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Falling – Emma Kavanagh

FallingTitle – Falling

Author - Emma Kavanagh

Published - 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

This is an interesting debut by an author who knows something of the ins and outs of those involved in major incidents, having worked as a psychologist with the police. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill police procedural, however, but follows four people in the aftermath of a plane crash.

The first of these, and for me she felt like the main character, is Cecelia. An air hostess on the doomed plane, she is a wife and mother but is in the process of walking out on that life. The other female character is Freya, who has to cope with the grief of losing her father and in doing so she begins to find out more about him and her parent’s relationship.

There are also two male characters. Tom is Cecelia’s husband and a policeman  – he has to deal with the aftermath of the crash, the breakdown of the relationship with his wife and a murder investigation. Finally there is Jim, a retired police officer who believes that something dreadful has happened to his daughter.

I was quite caught up in the opening scenes of the story, when the disaster is unfolding (I wouldn’t recommend reading this on a plane) and was intrigued with the introduction to the characters and wondering how they would fit together (as surely they must). Although covering a relatively short period – just a couple of weeks – things then move quite slowly. I would have preferred less time given over to the individual narrative of each of the characters – far too much introspection for me. This provided the opportunity to provide backstory for the characters, but its effect was to slow down the story.

I would be curious to know if my perception of the split between the four characters is borne out by the proportion of pages in which they feature, but this certainly felt for me that it was more Cecelia’s story than anyone else’s. This was unfortunate for me as I didn’t really take to her character. She is someone who has a secret in her past which is eating away at her and destroying the relationships she has tried to build. What she really needed was therapy! I found her frustrating and would have preferred that more time had been given to the police investigation.

It will be interesting to see the direction Kavanagh takes with her future novels. Many thanks to the publisher for my review copy. You can see a different point of view on Rebecca Bradley’s blog.

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Moon Over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

moon-over-sohoTitle – Rivers of London

Author - Ben Aaronovitch

Published - 2011

Genre – Fantasy crime fiction

This is the second in the series by Aaronovitch featuring the Police Constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant. The first thing I would say is if you haven’t read Rivers of London (book 1) then do so!

When jazz musician Cyrus Wilkinson suddenly  dies and there is a hint of magic about the corpse, Peter is handed the case. His first step in the investigation introduces him to the whirlwind that is Simone, the dead man’s lover and someone who is soon to be a huge distraction for Peter. Suspecting that the jazz element of Wilkinson’s life is particularly relevant to his demise, Peter uncovers a string of similar deaths amongst musicians. This leads us to find out a bit more about Peter’s background, especially his relationship with his jazz musician father.

This book shares the same mix of action and humour as its predecessor, and as you would expect from the second in a series it allows the characters to develop further. (It also has more adult themes.) The story takes place just a short time after the end of Rivers of London and there are a lot of aspects of the story, especially the characters’ personal lives, which are carried on – so I say again – read book 1 first.

To be honest, in coming to write the review I can remember a lot of aspects of the book – it’s packed with huge array of different elements, but I also struggle to remember how they all fit together. It’s a busy plot with lots of different threads, and of course the magic aspects add another dimension which is absent from more conventional police procedurals. An enjoyable book – but pay attention!

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