The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

81qtTUM3F+LTitle – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Author – Stuart Turton

Published – 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of those books that feels as if it’s had so much coverage that there is little point adding my own thoughts, but here I am anyway.

As well as receiving a lot of coverage on social media the book won the Best First Novel prize in the 2018 Costa Book Awards, Best Novel in the 2018 Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, it was shortlisted for a New Writers’ Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards, Debut of the Year at The British Book Awards, and longlisted for a New Blood Dagger and Gold Dagger at the CWA Awards. Despite all of this, and hearing the author speak at an event, it actually wasn’t what I expected when I started reading.

It’s certainly an unusual take on crime fiction, a genre that has its fair share of formulaic plots and tropes. It’s so unusual that it’s a struggle to sum it up; my description would be a cross between Groundhog Day and Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock films. I enjoyed the premise and the mystery that’s at the heart of the plot. The premise meant that there were multiple points of view from multiple characters, some more likeable than others. However this also meant that the author was striving to make them all seem different and I found some of them to be a little two dimensional.

The real problem for me, though, is that it was so intricately plotted with lots of back and forth between characters and times that I, literally, lost the plot. I couldn’t keep a grasp of who was doing what, where and when, all I could do was assume that the author had plotted the timelines out chronologically and knew where his characters where and what they were doing at any given time. It was this complexity that meant it wasn’t a winner for me – it was making me read too quickly and I was too confused to have my own take on what was happening – I was just swept along without feeling involved.

An unusual and perhaps challenging read – just not for me.

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The 2019 CWA Daggers – a new Dagger

I’m a little late to the party on this one so I hope you’ll bear with me.

In August the CWA announced a new annual Dagger, the first in over a decade, to recognise the contribution of a publisher to the genre. Officially described as “Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year”, to quote the CWA’s press release “Publishers and specific imprints are being nominated by a representative group of leading book reviewers, booksellers, festival organisers, bloggers, literary agents and journalists, with the eventual winner to be designated from the shortlist by the CWA Board.”

In September the shortlist was announced (as below) and as you can see  was a mix of small publishers and imprints from larger ones.

Faber & Faber, one of the world’s most established publishing houses founded in 1929, publishes bestsellers in the genre alongside the novels of the legendary P.D. James.

HarperFiction, an imprint of one of the world’s largest publishing companies Harpercollins, publishes some of the best commercial writers around, including major crime and thriller authors.

HQ, a digital imprint of HarperCollins launched in 2016 with the ambition of publishing books that are ‘bold, brave and inclusive’ on the bestseller lists.

No Exit Press is one of the UK’s leading independent publishers of crime fiction. Over its 30 years of business, it’s published numerous award-winning titles and prides itself on uncovering new talent.

Orenda Books was established in 2014 by Karen Sullivan, the former managing editor of Arcadia Books, with a focus on literary and crime fiction. Orenda, a First Nations word, translates as ‘the mystical power that drives human accomplishment’.

The crime imprint Pushkin Vertigo was launched in 2015 by Pushkin Press, publishing crime classics from around the world.

Bloomsbury Books launched its imprint Raven Books in 2016, specialising in literary crime, thrillers and suspense, as ‘home of the best and the brightest in new writing for all those who love their books with a touch of the dark side.’

With the exception of Penguin (and Puffin when I was small) I’d never taken any notice of who the publisher of a book was until I started blogging. After I started to receive review copies I obviously paid a bit more attention. (I have to confess, however, that imprints are still a bit of a mystery to me. ) What I can say is that from a blogger and reader perspective there are some publishers who have a consistent style to the type of (crime) fiction they publish (take Orenda Books, for example) and others who have a broad spread and a much more commercial slant. Of course the practical difference as a blogger is the willingness of the publicity department to engage with bloggers and develop a positive relationship with them – something that must be good for  both parties.

And the winner is… well, was, announced on the night as No Exit Press.

Do you have a favourite publisher based on the quality (and it’s bound to be subjective) of the crime fiction they publish?

 

The Long Call – Ann Cleeves

91NnYUCQyaLTitle – The Long Call

Author – Ann Cleeves

Published – September 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

It can’t be easy to embark on a new series with new characters when you’re already known for two really successful ones (Vera and Jimmy Perez/Shetland) but if Ann Cleeves had any worries then, in my view, they were unfounded.

The main character in the new series is Matthew Venn, a Detective Inspector based on the North Devon coast. He’s a quiet, thoughtful character, something of a contrast to both Vera and Perez. His parents raised him in a strict evangelical community that he rebelled against in his teens, but he’s returned to the area he grew up in and as the plot unfolds he has to face some of the events and people from his past.

A body is discovered on the shore not far from Venn’s own home, the victim is a man with a complex past and it takes some time for the team to unravel where he came from and who he is. The first witness to come forward with information is a young girl with Down’s Syndrome who attends The Woodyard, an arts and crafts community hub that incorporates a day centre for adults with learning difficulties. The Woodyard is run by Venn’s husband, ensuring the story centres around a confined group of characters.

The location of the book was one of those odd moments of synchronicity. I had just started the book when I had a weekend away in Devon and we drove to Staunton, driving through Barnstaple, across the rivers (the series is the ‘Two Rivers’) and through Baunton which features in the story. As with her other series the location is important to the story but nothing beats being able to go ‘I know where that is’ when you’re reading.

The story is quite a slow one and is more character-led than action, in some ways it has the sensibilities of ‘cosy crime’ but in others it’s unflinching in the issues it confronts. It would be hard to read it and not notice the diversity of the characters but it didn’t feel as if any of them didn’t have the right to their place in the book or felt shoe-horned in.

If you follow my blog you will know that UK police procedurals are my favourite sub-genre of crime fiction and I’m thrilled that this didn’t disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Silver Road – Stina Jackson

Title – The Silver Road

Author Stina Jackson (translated by Susan Beard)

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a compelling and darkly atmospheric debut with a seamless translation by Susan Beard.

In a remote part of Northern Sweden middle-aged teacher Lelle spends the long summer nights searching The Silver Road – the main road linking the remote villages – for his teenage daughter. Three years ago he left her at a bus stop early one morning and she hasn’t been seen since, he makes the most of the midnight sun to explore the fringes of the road for any trace of her.

While he is doing this, teenage Meja moves to the area with her mother, Silje. They have come to live with a man her mother met online and Meja hopes that this will finally be the relationship her mother has been looking for.  It quickly becomes apparent that Silje has a whole host of problems, which may explain their previously rootless life. The isolation of the location is something new for Meja, who is keen to escape from her mother’s way of life, but nevertheless she manages to make friends with some young men who work on a nearby farm.

The two threads connect when autumn arrives and the school year begins, Lelle has to stop his search and return to teaching at the school where Meja is now a pupil.

It’s a slow burn of a book, but that is something you should expect from Nordic Noir. Lelle’s desperation is captured through the slow nights of his search and the seemingly futile efforts of the police. The setting is atmospheric and there is a dark intensity to the story that keeps you reading despite the lack of action. I liked the characters of Lelle and Meja, and as a flawed lead Lelle might have fitted into some recognisable stereotypes but there was nothing formulaic about him.

An unusual and compelling read. Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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The Mausoleum – David Mark

Title – The Mausoleum

Author – David Mark

Published – February 2019

Genre – Historical crime fiction

A departure from David Mark’s successful Aetor McAvoy series, this an historical mystery set in the late 1960s.

In a small village in the Scottish borders two women are thrown together when a storm of epic proportions forces them to flee the weather. As they dash from the graveyard they were in  lightning strikes and a tree splits open an old tomb, revealing a body, a body which is dressed in a suit and isn’t the dusty bones they would have expected. They make it to the house of one of the women, Felicity, and at the height of the storm her neighbour, Fairfax, stops by. When they tell him about the incident he rushes off to look but never returns. When the storm passes, the body has vanished and the authorities refuse to believe their claims.

The women strike up an unlikely friendship, one that both of them need. Cordelia has a murky past with many secrets but the recent loss of her small son has plunged her into a dark grief that has shut her off from everyone and everything.  She is much more a modern woman than Felicity, one who is more likely to embrace the freedoms that the 1960s will offer her. Felicity is a woman who is stoical, doesn’t shed a tear and just gets on with things, not that that’s how she really feels. As the two women both make a tentative start on their own investigations into what they saw they are drawn together to forge a friendship – particulalry under the pressure of those who would rather they stopped asking questions.

The book owes something to ‘scandi noir’ – a remote location, a main character (Cordelia) who is an outsider, repercussions from a war that people are trying to put behind them and unrelenting bad weather. In fact the hottest day of the year was the perfect time to read this, so permanently sodden were all the characters.
In common with Mark’s other books he shows a deft touch in making his characters realistic and Cordelia and Felicity are well drawn, two completely different characters who complement each other in their friendship. The tentative way that their friendship starts also feels very realistic. He also has a real feel for the period and it was easy to picture him talking about the homes of my grandmothers.

This was an excellent mystery, an insight into the friendship of the two women and a reminder of the social norms of the period (and how things have changed). If I were to draw any parralllels I’d say a cross between Exposure by Helen Dunmore and the TV series The Bletchley Circle.

Thank you to the publisher for the NetGalley. You can see another point of view on The Puzzle Doctor’s blog.

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The 2019 CWA Daggers – shortlists & winners

Updated: Winners are in bold and were announced in October.

As has become traditional the CWA Dagger longlists were announced at Crimefest in Bristol in May. The Diamond Dagger has already been confirmed and the shortlists for the remainder have now been published. The winners of all the CWA Daggers will be announced at the Dagger Awards Dinner to be held on 24 October.

The Diamond Dagger – selected from nominations provided by CWA members – 2019 winner is Robert Goddard and the award will be presented at the CWA Dagger Awards Dinner in October.

The shortlists for the following daggers are

Gold Dagger

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

The Puppet Show by M W Craven

What We Did by Christobel Kent

Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon

American By Day by Derek B. Miller

A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood

 

 

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

Give Me Your Handby Megan Abbott

Safe Houses by  Dan Fesperman

No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

To The Lions by Holly Watt

Memo From Turner by Tim Willocks

 

 John Creasey (New Blood)

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newham

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Overkill by Vanda Symon

International Dagger

A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon, translator Daniella Zamir

Weeping Waters by Karin Brynard, translators Maya Fowler & Isobel Dixon

The Cold Summer by Gianrico Carofiglio, translator Howard Curtis

Newcomer by Keigo Higashino, translator Giles Murray

The Root of Evil by Håkan Nesser, translator Sarah Death

The Forger by Cay Rademacher, translator Peter Millar

Non-Fiction Dagger

All That Remains by Sue Black

An Unexplained Death by Mikita Brottman

Murder by the Book by Claire Harman

The Feather Thief by Kirk Johnson

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

CWA Short Story Dagger

Strangers in a Pub by Martin Edwards in ‘Ten Year Stretch’, edited by Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller

Death Becomes Her by Syd Moore in ‘The Strange Casebook’ by Syd Moore,

The Dummies’ Guide to Serial Killing by Danuta Reah in ‘The Dummies’ Guide to Serial Killing and other Fantastic Female Fables’

I Detest Mozart by Teresa Solana in ‘The First Historic Serial Killers’ by Teresa Solana

Bag Man by Lavie Tidhar in ‘The Outcast Hours’, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Debut Dagger (unpublished writers)

Shelley Burr – Wake

Jerry Krause – The Mourning Light

Catherine Hendricks – Hardways

David Smith – The Firefly

Fran Smith – A Thin Sharp Blade

Historical Dagger

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Destroying Angel by S G MacLean

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

Tombland by C J Sansom

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney

 

 

Dagger in the Library longlist

M C Beaton

Mark Billingham

John Connolly

Kate Ellis

C J Sansom

Cath Staincliffe

 

So how’s your reading going – will you have read enough to judge a category for yourself?

Blood & Sugar – Laura Shepherd-Robinson

81+E4V5p1LLTitle – Blood & Sugar

Author – Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Published – January 2019

Genre – Historical Fiction

This is a debut by Laura Shepherd-Robinson,  a murder mystery set within the landscape of the slavery trade.

In June 1781 an unidentified and mutilated body is found hanging at Deptford Dock, branded with a slaver’s mark. When Captain Harry Corsham is asked to investigate the disappearance of old friend and committed abolitionist Tad Archer he is drawn into the dangerous world of Britain’s slaving industry.

What follows is an atmospheric and immersive mystery that plunges Corsham into the dark heart of the slaving port of Deptford – a place that bears little resemblance to the modern day area of London. As he tries to uncover what became of his old friend he enters a community keen to protect its secrets and profits.

One interesting approach within the story is the shades of grey that lie between the slavers and the slaves and abolitionists, not all matters are as cut and dried as they might appear. And as ‘freedom’ is a theme in the story, Corsham has his own secrets and has something in common with those who have made an ‘accommodation’ to get by.

In starting the book I did wonder if I’ve read anything else set in the same period and wondered why not – is it me that’s missed a swathe of historical fiction or is it not seen as being suitable fictional setting?

In a way this is quite a topical book, it would be difficult to watch the TV news and not notice the language used by some politicians to describe groups of people. While we might not be about to embark on a new era of slavery it does make it easy to see how the treatment of groups of people, to their detriment, can be sanctioned by those in power.  It’s also timely as people rethink the modern day links to those who pursued and profited from slavery.

It’s disturbing to find that the incident at the heart of the investigation is based on real events and it’s perhaps easier to take in the horrors of the trade in reading this mystery than in trying to read a more objective non-fiction telling. It’s always a positive to learn from the fiction you read!

A fascinating, dark and atmospheric read with a convoluted mystery at its heart. Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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