The Hangman’s Song – James Oswald

Title – The Hangman’s Song

Author – James Oswald

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

It is purely by accident that I followed one book set in Glasgow with one set in Edinburgh, but other than the Scottish setting these two books are quite different approaches to crime fiction. The Hangman’s Song is the third in the ‘Inspector McLean’ series by James Oswald and the first of his books that I have read.

A young colleague attends a suicide and asks for McLean’s help when he suspects that all may not be as it seems. Initially this is just based on a hunch but as the evidence is collected it does point to something other than a simple suicide. A second, very similar suicide suggests that the police have every reason to pursue the investigation however things aren’t that straight-forward. Detective Inspector Tony McLean seems to be quite a sober man (not literally although neither is he an alcoholic) who takes his job and his quest for justice very seriously. He also seems to be a pretty unpopular one with his colleagues but particularly with his current boss. And his boss wants things wrapped up quickly and preferably without any input from McLean.

The book certainly packs a lot in. As well as trying to, virtually singled-handedly, investigate the suspicious suicides McLean is also working on an investigation within the Sexual Crime Unit (Vice) after a group of young women are discovered being trafficked from Leith. His involvement in this investigation leads him into even more conflict with his colleagues.

McLean also has a complicated personal life, supporting  Emma, a young woman who has been in a coma. This part of the story harks back to the previous book in the series and here I felt I was missing out – there is a lot of backstory and in avoiding repeating the details for readers familiar with the series I felt I didn’t really know enough about what had happened. This part of the story – exploring his relationship and helping Emma recover her memory also hints at some supernatural events.

McLean is a likeable, if rather dour, main protagonist. The disadvantage of his fragmented working relationships, however, is that I didn’t feel that I got to know any of his colleagues and I suspect that they may have played more substantial roles in earlier books. Although Oswald doesn’t shy away from violence and gore most of this is meted out out of ‘sight’ of the reader. I enjoyed the Edinburgh / Leith setting and although showing a darker side than tourists may see this wasn’t so gritty that it would put anyone off visiting! A shame that I’ve left it so long to read a book by James Oswald but I will be sure to read more in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid – Craig Russell

51OeFxi-oWLTitle – The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

Author – Craig Russell

Published – 4 August 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve heard a lot about Craig Russell’s books – largely through his connection with Bloody Scotland and The Ghosts of Altona which won the Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year in 2015. He has two crime fiction series – one set in Hamburg (The Ghosts of Altona is from this series) and the other set in Glasgow of the 1950s. The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid is from the latter – his ‘Lennox’ series.

Lennox is a private detective who operates on the fringes of what is legal – although employing an ex-policeman to help in his business he’s not above getting involved in something lucrative that isn’t strictly above board. In this case he has been approached to get access to something which is a little out of the ordinary and to complete the job he needs the skills of Quiet Tommy Quaid. Quaid is Lennox’s friend and a thief, a man everyone liked but, as it turned out, a man with a secret. When Quaid dies unexpectedly (I think as it’s in the title I don’t need to worry about that being too much of a spoiler) Lennox has some reservations about the official explanation so is more than willing to investigate in a more official capacity for Quaid’s (attractive) sister.

With a light touch on the historical detail and a snappy dressing, womanising PI this is was a very enjoyable read. Lennox makes an interesting protagonist and he has a dry sense of humour that helps to lighten the mood on what could be a very dark story. The post-war setting provides some interesting situations and it makes a pleasant change to leave behind modern technology without having to provide some sort of artifice for its absence.  The first person narration serves the plot well keeping the reader and Lennox in the dark.

I enjoyed this story which was a dark, violent and twisty story of a seedy conspiracy. There were some themes about justice, the abuse of power and what men will do when they believe one of the direst crimes has been committed. There were some thrilling scenes as well as some puzzles which added a mystery element. Although this is the fifth in the series it really did seem to me to be a book that could be read on its own – I don’t feel that I missed out by not knowing any of Lennox’s backstory.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

416hB6-rgfLTitle – The Constant Soldier

Author – William Ryan

Published – 25 August 2016

Genre – Historical

This a departure from William Ryan’s Stalinist Russia set police procedural series but it shares Ryan’s polished prose and evocative depiction of historical fiction.

The story is set in the last months of the Second World War and German soldier Paul Brandt has been sent back home from the Eastern Front after being seriously injured in a Soviet attack. On returning to his village he finds that the SS have built a rest hut on the outskirts of his village, a luxurious a retreat for those who manage the nearby concentration camp or need to convalesce before returning to the front.

Drawn by a glimpse of someone he thinks is familiar, Brandt takes on the role of Steward at the hut, offering him a brief insight into the lives of the men who make use of the hut or are stationed there. This is a great opportunity to see a whole range of perspectives – from the Commandant who is haunted by the past, the vindictive Scharführer guarding the women prisoners, to the visitors from the camp and of course, the women prisoners themselves.

The main plot is driven by Brandt’s efforts to make amends for a wrong he believes he did and all that he does is to that end. Brandt is wary of sharing his own trepidation and doubts but occasionally he is drawn out to say more than he should, adding an extra layer of tension to the plot. The story has quite a slow pace but this is balanced with action scenes which come from a young Russian woman who is driving a tank which is heading towards Germany. Brandt’s return home also shows the impact that the war has had on his village and the family he left behind, and how his father and sister have fared while has been away. Divisions have opened up and whilst some people have had to go into hiding others are still pursuing victory and are keen to uphold the defence of the Reich to the last.

Ryan effortlessly creates the mood and atmosphere of the last days of the war and makes the book completely absorbing. I’m not sure that I’ve read a book that’s taken this perspective on the war, disillusioned characters who have an inkling of what their future may hold.  It made me pause to consider the people in this situation, forced along with the atrocities they knew were taking place with little chance of making any difference. How did people react when the conclusion of the war (not just this war but any war) became inevitable and they were going to be on the losing side, complicit in what had taken place? It speaks volumes for a novel when it makes you consider the reality of the situation it depicts.

As a departure from the Korolev series this may find Ryan a whole new swathe of fans – if you enjoy books like Atonement and Birdsong this will be right up your street. Beautifully written, thought-provoking and emotionally compelling, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Many  thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

515wJ5JzzzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title – Never Alone

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 28 July 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

Elizabeth Haynes’ debut, Into The Darkest Corner, remains the book by which I judge all other psychological thrillers – the tension she creates in that book is what most other authors who choose that genre can only aspire to. Since her debut there have been two further thrillers and she has started a police procedural series, all of which I have enjoyed, so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review her newest title.

Sarah is a widow living with her two dogs in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors. With some financial difficulties and suffering a little from ’empty nest’ syndrome she offers to let an old friend, Aiden, stay in the cottage across from her house. It’s a spur of the moment offer as she hasn’t seen Aiden in a long time.

The story moves slowly with the rekindling of the friendship between Aiden and Sarah against the backdrop of her domestic life. Told from three slightly different perspectives – Sarah’s, Aiden’s (which is in the second person), and interspersed with fragments that are unattributed – adding another layer of mystery. It becomes clear that everyone has secrets but the masterly way the story develops means that you’re kept guessing.

Part of the fascination with the story is the relationship between Sarah and Aiden. Although they were close when at University they haven’t seen each other in more recent years and there was some sort of falling out that involved Sarah’s husband who was a mutual friend. This all means that the two characters are trying to feel their way through the new situation and understand how things stand between them. They both appear to have regrets about the past but it’s not clear how they want things to develop.

Something I should also mention is that there’s a decent amount of sex involved – the relationships are central to the story so this isn’t gratuitous but there is possibly more than readers of the genre might expect.

I thought Sarah was a fabulous leading character and a very credible one which seems to be particularly unusual in a psychological thriller. So often the leading lady can be a caricature rather than realistic, and frequently they’re unsympathetic. I really liked Sarah, though, and when things got tough there was no doubt who I was rooting for. I think developing the characters in this way is one of Haynes’ strengths – the more you care about them the more the you’re drawn in and the more effective the tension. The final denouement didn’t disappoint either – remaining all too believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was one of those books that may sound cliched to describe as ‘unputdownable’ but once I had started I read it at every opportunity. Coincidentally I see that, like Into The Darkest Corner, this also started during NaNoWriMo – something that seems to be a winning formula. With a small cast of characters, a remote location and a severe snowstorm the gripping story ramps up to a thrilling climax. Scandi noir eat your heart out!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Crime fiction debuts to look out for in August 2016

This is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in August 2016.

1 August 2016

51voq7CaFkLDoubt by C.E. Tobisman (from Thomas and Mercer)

When Caroline Auden lands a job at a top Los Angeles law firm, she’s excited for the challenge—and grateful for the chance to put her dark past as a computer hacker behind her. Right away, her new boss asks her to find out whether a popular GMO causes healthy people to fall ill. Caroline is only supposed to dig in the trenches and report up the ladder, but her tech background and intuition take her further than planned. When she suspects a link between the death of a prominent scientist and the shadowy biotech giant, she cries foul and soon finds herself in the crosshairs. The clock is ticking and thousands of lives are on the line…including her own.

Now this rookie lawyer with a troubled past and a penchant for hacking must prove a billion-dollar company is responsible for thousands of deaths…before they come after her.

For fifteen years, C.E. Tobisman has been an appellate attorney, handling cases in the California courts of appeal and Supreme Court. After graduating from UC Berkeley and attending law school there, she moved to Los Angeles, where she now lives with her wife and their three children. Doubt is the first novel in her new series featuring Caroline Auden. Tobisman is also the author of Inside the Loop, published by Emet Comics. Find her on Twitter at @cetobisman

25 August 2016

81va2pQZ81LNothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey (from Simon & Schuster)

Clyde Barr’s most powerful life-long instinct has been to right wrongs, a compulsion fed by a childhood tainted by domestic violence, a young adulthood working as a Third World gun for hire, and a recent stint in a Mexican prison that he barely survived. So when, only a week after his release, Barr receives a panicked, abruptly ended call from his older sister, Jen, pleading with him to “come get her” he’s grimly determined to do just that. Nothing short of dying will prevent him from keeping his promise.

Even though he has no idea where Jen is or who has taken her.

Violence erupts almost immediately as a succession of hard men block Barr’s path. Helping the ex-mercenary run his gauntlet is an unlikely ally named Allie, whose moxie and uncanny ability to read people has made her a survivor. Now, the two of them are on a propulsive, action-driven race against the clock to find Jen before the unthinkable happens…

Storey is a former ranch hand, wilderness guide, dogsled musher, hunter, bartender and locksmith, who has lived and wandered through the American West. Erik’s short fiction has been published by such online magazines as Waving Hands Review and Literary Erosion. He and his family live in Rangely, Western Colorado.

cover.jpg.rendition.242.374My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry (from Penguin Random House)

What if your life was built on a lie?

When lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind.

But when she takes on her first criminal case, she starts to find herself strangely drawn to her client. A man who’s accused of murder. A man she will soon be willing to risk everything for.

But is he really innocent?

And who is she to judge?

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist, and teaches creative writing all over the world. Recently she spent three years working as the writer-in-residence at a high-security prison for men.

81Czf+ZdSeL-2All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford (from Simon and Schuster)

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. Full of perfect strangers, it felt like the ideal place for Pen to shed the confines of her small home town and reinvent herself. But the darkness of her past clings tight, and when the killings begin and friendships are betrayed, Pen’s secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’Your secrets define you, don’t let them kill you.’

Born in London of Irish parents, Aoife Clifford grew up in New South Wales, studied Arts/Law at the Australian National University, Canberra and now lives in Melbourne.


For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune and July.

The 2016 CWA Dagger Shortlists

daggers-iconThere are currently ten daggers awarded annually by the Crime Writer’s Association but the timings of the long and shortlists for the awards and the presentation have changed a little this year. The longlists were announced at Crimefest in Bristol in May, the shortlists announced at the end of July and, according to the Crime Readers Association:

And this year you can be present when the winners are announced! The event, which will take place on 11 October 2016 at the Grange City Hotel in London, will be open to everyone. A glittering do attended by publishers, agents and of course hopeful authors, all ten of the CWA’s prestigious Dagger Awards will in 2016 be awarded at the one must-attend event.

The speaker will be James Runcie, author of The Grantchester Mysteries, as seen on TV.

Tickets are £99 for non-CWA members. Apply to admin@thecwa.co.uk for more information and see details which will shortly be up on both the CRA and CWA websites.

The ten Daggers are:

The Diamond Dagger – selected from nominations provided by CWA members – 2016 winner is Peter James and the award was presented during Crimefest this May.

The longlists for the following daggers were announced during Crimefest and the shortlists published today (28 July).

Goldsboro Gold shortlist

Dodgers by Bill Beverly
Black Widow by Christopher Brookmyre
Real Tigers by Mick Herron
Blood Salt Water by Denise Mina

Ian Fleming Steel shortlist

The Cartel by Don Winslow
The English Spy by Daniel Silva
Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
Real Tigers by Mick Herron
Make Me by Lee Child

 John Creasey (New Blood) shortlist

Fever City by Tim Baker
Dodgers by Bill Beverly
Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle 

International shortlist

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango translated by Imogen Taylor
The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaître translated by Frank Wynne
Icarus by Deon Meyer translated by K L Seegers
The Murderer in Ruins by Cay Rademacher translated by Peter Millar
Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davis

Non-Fiction shortlist

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
Sexy Beasts: The Hatton Garden Mob by Wensley Clarkson
You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) by Andrew Hankinson
A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding
Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories by Thomas Grant
John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman

Short Story longlist

As Alice Did by Andrea Camilleri from Montalbano’s First Cases
On the Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier by John Connolly from Nocturnes 2: Night Music
Holmes on the Range: A Tale of the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository by John Connolly from Nocturnes 2: Night Music
Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman by Christopher Fowler from London’s Glory Bantam
Stray Bullets by Alberto Barrera from Tyszka Crimes
Rosenlaui by Conrad Williams  from The Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis edited by Maxim Jakubowski 

Debut (unpublished writers) shortlist

Dark Valley by John Kennedy
The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins
A Reconstructed Man by Graham Brack
A State of Grace by Rita Catching
Wimmera by Mark Brandi 

Endeavour Historical shortlist

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
A Book of Scars by William Shaw
The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith
Striking Murder by A. J. Wright
Stasi Child by David Young

Dagger in the Library shortlist

Tony Black
Alison Bruce
Elly Griffiths
Quintin Jardine

I had hoped that once the lists were whittled down to the shortlist, and with the final results not being announced until October, I might manage to read a whole category. Looking at the proportion of the shortlists that I have already read books in, however (just one title) I think it’s unlikely.

So how’s your reading going – will you have read enough to judge a category? I see both Dodgers and Real Tigers appear on two lists – I’m not sure if that points to potential winners. I’ve heard good things about Mick Herron’s book but nothing about Dodgers.

Do you think there are any surprises here?

Mr. Miller – Charles Den Tex

41dD-rNkplLTitle – Mr. Miller

Author – Charles Den Tex (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

Published – 2005 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Thriller

When I posted the details of the long lists for the CWA Daggers I mentioned that it seemed odd not to have heard of all the books. Perhaps this means that a critically acclaimed book, whatever the genre, may not be commercially successful, or perhaps hasn’t had the same marketing push as others in the genre can afford. As a consequence of this post, however, I was offered a review copy of Mr Miller by Charles Den Tex which is on the long list for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger.

The author is Dutch and the story is set in Amsterdam. Michael Bellicher is a consultant working for a company we can probably all recognise – a huge corporate monolith with thousands of workers of whom much is demanded. One Monday morning he accompanies his parents to meet his brother at Schipol Airport but something happens which shakes him so much that he goes on a drinking binge and misses crucial work appointments. On his return to the office he is so afraid that he will be sacked and won’t be able to get back into the building that he hides away overnight – but he is not the only person in the building. He witnesses something he shouldn’t have seen and this males him flee the office and as he tries to make sense of what happened he finds that he is now being hunted as the perpetrator of the crime.

What happens next is a real rollercoaster ride of a thriller. The premise is that ‘technology’ is at the root of Michael’s problems and the mysterious Mr. Miller, who has a network that not only knows everything about Michael but everything about everyone else too. The more he understands the way he is being hunted the more he must abandon the technology on which he normally relies – even his credit cards. Not only is he trying to clear his name (as the body count rises) but there is also a huge conspiracy which he needs to find a way to stop.

Dealing with issues around immigration and world stability this felt very timely. There are also some much more personal issues which Michael has to deal with, some of which I’ve not really come across in this genre before. (Intriguing, eh?)

The writing style is quite unusual and I’m sure in no small part due to the translator. Whilst the language feels deliberately styled to match the content of the plot it never feels stilted, nothing jars. It would be interesting to know what Dutch readers felt about the style.

What was surprising to me is that the book was originally published in 2005. The themes are so prescient I didn’t realise until I was writing my review that it was written more than ten years ago. For a book that features technology to such a high level it also stands the test of time – remarkable when you consider how quickly ‘tech’ can seem dated. Perhaps it all seemed more fanciful when it was published!

I have to confess that this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had’t been offered the review copy. The story really delivers on the thriller aspects although I found some of the technology aspects a little distracting.

And how do I rate the CWA Dagger chances? Personally I preferred Rod Reynolds ‘The Dark Inside‘ but I have only read two of the longlist.

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