Destroying Angel – S. G. MacLean

Title – Destroying Angel

Author – S. G. MacLean

Published – July 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

This is the sequel to The Black Friar and is the third in the ‘Seeker’ series.

It’s 1655 and Seeker has been sent to a small village on the North York Moors, asked to distribute orders demanding ever more restrictions on behaviour in new anti-Royalist laws. As an aside he is also tasked with tracking down a Royalist supporter who may have gone to ground in this, his family’s seat. What starts out as two simple tasks soon draws Seeker into hotbed of intrigue.

He starts his task by accepting an invitation to eat with the family of local businessman and local Commissioner, Matthew Pullan. It transpires that the village is in a state of fervent excitement as the following day The Trier (enforcer of Puritan morality for the villages) is due to sit to hear an accusation that the local vicar is accused of ungodly acts. The strained dinner highlights some of the resentments bubbling beneath the surface of the village and then one of the attendees becomes seriously unwell.

Seeker takes only a passing interest in events, pursuing his search for the missing Royalist, until the point when a young woman dies and he subsequently realises that events in the village have a very personal and unexpected connection to him. This gives rise to a variety of threads within the story – the search for the missing man, a murder investigation and a personal quest – all against a backdrop of suspicion, allegations, and petty power struggles.

The period is one where neighbour turns against neighbour and a small accusation can have huge repercussions. It’s also a time when the accusation of ‘witch’ can be a dangerous one and women need to be circumspect in how they appear. So the village is a tense place.

The personal side of the story is a very important one for Seeker and goes someway to explaining the dark character that readers will be familiar with. He is still not a man to be trifled with but his sense of decency shows through when he pursues an investigation onto the death of a young girl when there is no expectation on him to do so.

This story had less espionage than its predecessor and was more of a conventional murder mystery, the larger political picture also took a back seat to the ‘micro’ politics of the villages. The historical detail felt well-researched and certainly provided an immersive experience of the period. The book definitely would work without having read the previous title but it’s a good series that’s worth seeking out.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Last – Hanna Jameson

Title – The Last

Author – Hanna Jameson

Published – 31 January 2019

Genre – Dystopian thriller

I was a huge fan of Hanna Jameson’s debut – the dark crime thriller Something You Are; The Last is a departure in a number of ways but is no less thrilling. Set in a dystopian near future this is a contemporary thriller using the possibilities that a small leap in current events could create. This isn’t a genre that I read particularly often but the book called to mind both The Last Policeman series with its lead up to an apocalypse and Station Eleven which is set further post-apocalypse. The Last is somewhere between these, on the cusp of events as the realisation that the world is forever changed takes hold on a small group.

American professional historian Jon Keller is in a hotel in Switzerland, attending a convention, when the news breaks over breakfast that there has been a nuclear attack. Ever the professional Keller starts to record the events for posterity, or so that he can make amends with his wife who he left back in San Francisco.

A small group of survivors, a mixture of hotel staff and guests, remain at the hotel, the others having left despite the warnings that there is nothing outside for them. After the initial news reports the communications fail and the group needs to consider how they will survive. When they discover the body of a small child. Keller takes it upon himself to investigate

The hotel is enormous (thirteen floors and almost a thousand rooms) and set in an isolated location. Combine this with the very small group of survivors and this gives the setting a very eerie feeling. Needless to say that the pressure on the group  begins to take its toll as some seek to place blame for the events leading up to the nuclear strike, suspicion mounts over the identity of the killer and tempers flare as resources run low.

Although narrated in a straightforward way, as the days pass there is an element of backstory which fills in details of some of the events that took place once the news of the attack started to spread as well as an explanation of Keller’s relationship with his wife. He’s not a particularly likeable character and as he works his way around the group ‘interviewing’ them it doesn’t increase his popularity. He is also putting his own spin on the situation in the unlikely event that he should be able to give the diary to his wife.

The crime aspect is an interesting one as it gives the sense of a locked room murder and the investigation is one with limited methods at Keller’s disposal. The book is dark and doesn’t ignore the fate of those who decide that they can’t face the future. There are some interesting twists and turns to the plot and a sense that there was some sort of fate or destiny which placed the particular people in the group. I’m not going to say anything about the ending as I want to avoid spoilers but look forward to talking to other readers about it at some point!

A complex story mixing a crime story, with events which are catastrophic but plausible. A great read to start off the year. Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley.

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Crime fiction events in 2019

My post listing the 2018 events was one of the most popular I published last year so it would be remiss of me not to carry the listings on to 2019.

Remember this isn’t all literary events (there are plenty of lists of those and there must be hundreds of events) but it is a list of the main dedicated crime fiction events taking place in the UK (with a few notable additions).

I aim to maintain the list and update it as dates are confirmed so do let me know if there’s anything I should add.

January

Nothing uncovered so far – perhaps we’re all busy reading!

February

22 – 24 February – Granite Noir 2019, Aberdeen’s crime writing festival
This is the third year for this crime writing festival featuring some of the most celebrated talent from the Nordic Noir scene alongside Scotland’s own Tartan Noir authors.

27 February – Noir at the Bar, Edinburgh
An evening event, check the FB page for info on this and more events – https://www.facebook.com/NoirattheBarEd/ 

March

8 – 10 March – NOIRELAND International Crime Fiction Festival, Belfast
The 3-day festival will be showcasing the amazing talent emerging from Ireland currently.

29 – 31 March  Quais du Polar – Lyon
I can’t see yet that a programme has been published for 2019 – the festival is free, a short flight from the UK and much of the content accessible for English-speakers.

April

11- 14 April – Books by the Beach, Scarborough
Not a dedicated crime fiction event but this does get a good contribution from crime writers.

May

3 – 5 May – Newcastle Noir, Newcastle
Programme release at the end of January, tickets on sale in February (weekend passes & panel passes), & the venue for the Friday night cabaret revealed

9 -12 May – Crimefest – Bristol
A four-day convention drawing top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world.

June

12 – 15 June – Captivating Criminality, Bath
The sixth UK conference from the Captivating Criminality Network, ‘Metamorphoses of Crime: Facts and Fictions‘, will examine the ways in which Crime Fiction as a genre incorporates elements of real-life cases and, in turn, influences society by conveying thought-provoking ideas of deviance, criminal activity, investigation and punishment.

21 – 23 June – Alibis in the Archives, Gladstone Library, Hawarden, Flintshire
An event run in association with the Crime Writers’ Association and The Detection Club.

29 June – Bodies from the Library – British Library, London
A one day conference with an exciting programme of discussions, presentations and panels on the Golden Age of Detective Fiction Writers.

July

18 – 21 July – Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate, Yorkshire
Four days of Europe’s biggest come writing event, this year Mari Hannah Child is the chair of the Programming Committee. Special Guests already announced include James Patterson, Jo Nesbo, MC Beaton and Stuart MacBride.

August

August – Bute Noir, Bute
No confirmed dates at time of writing

16 – 18 August – St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend – Oxford
The 26th year of this unique conference – https://www.sthildas.ox.ac.uk/content/2019-st-hildas-crime-fiction-weekend

September

11 – 15 September – International Agatha Christie Festival – Torquay, Devon
The festival is now a biennial event, the next 5-day festival is scheduled for 11th-15th September 2019.

12 – 15 September – Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, Norwich, Norfolk
The Noirwich Crime Writing Festival is an annual celebration bringing together superstar crime authors, exciting new talent and fans of all things crime fiction.

September – Bloody Scotland – Stirling, Scotland
No confirmed dates at time of writing. Scotland’s festival celebrating crime writing – bringing together leading Scottish and international writers, showcasing debut voices and encouraging new writers.

26 – 28 September – Capital Crime, London’s West End
The brains behind this new event are David Headley, MD of  Goldsboro Books and organiser of the infamous ‘Crime in the Court’ and novelist and screenwriter Adam Hamdy so it has excellent credentials.

September – Margate Bookie, Margate
No confirmed dates at time of writing.

28 – 29 September – Morecambe & Vice, Morecambe
The third year for this event, “there will be panels and talks & trials and debates as authors and guests from around the globe gather to converse, consider and confabulate over crime in all its many facets”.

October

4 – 13 October – Cheltenham Literary Festival, Cheltenham
I wouldn’t normally include this festival as it’s so diverse and doesn’t have the same focus as most of the other events listed here but it’s worth a check of the programme when published.

October – Killer Weekend 2018, London
No confirmed dates at time of writing.

October – Crime Writing: Truth, Myth, Death and Mayhem at Darkfest, Portsmouth
Part of Darkfest – no confirmed dates at time of writing.

November

Mid-November is the biennial Iceland Noir, next due to take place in  2020. No news yet on the location a festival taking place in this slot 2019.

December

All busy shopping for books …

Managing the TBR pile – part 2

In January I wrote a post about my TBR and how I planned to get a handle on it.

On the plus side it’s been easier than I thought to keep the physical number of books on my ‘to read’ list from growing – mostly because I’ve received a lot less in the way of review copies. The converse of this is that my reading time was mostly during my commute and I stopped working in London in September and then our new puppy arrive in November. It seems a new puppy isn’t conducive to reading… So I do need to make an effort to find the time to read (and of course review).

My 2018 plan was to:

  1. stop the books on my ‘to read’ bookcase creeping onto the floor
  2. read books in the order they arrive
  3. review books as soon as I have finished it

I’ve pretty much managed #1. There are a couple of books propped against the bookcase and I have taken off the part-read books but I did some rearranging during the year and was able to take a few books out of boxed up ‘to read’ books.

It might have been a bit of a cheat but in October I cleared from the shelves a stack of 7 books that I’d started but put back as I’d abandoned them. They weren’t completely abandoned (yet), my intention being to either finish them or really give up on them and get rid. Giving these all another try, so far I’ve managed to get into one of them which I’ve got much further with than I did before. 6 more to go.

I’ve not managed #2. I did try at the beginning of the year but sometimes I don’t want to read a lot of historical crime or police procedurals in a row so will swap between genres rather than read the next arrival.

I’ve definitely not managed #3 because a book I had read last January and planned to review at the time of the earlier post is still waiting. In fact there are 21 physical books that I’ve read which are waiting to be reviewed and there must be a few on my Kindle too.  although I’ve posted a lot more review in 2018 than I did in 2017.

Something that I’ve added into the mix is that I’ve also borrowed a handful of books from the library. If I’ve been enjoying a series, especially if I’ve been reviewing it, this is the cost-effective way of keeping up. There is an extra discipline there, however, in having to write the review before returning the books.

Now for some other stats. That ‘To Read’ bookcase has 179 books squashed on it, there are 103 books to read packed in boxes and there are 39 still to read on my kindle. All ‘give and take’ any Goodreads updates I’ve missed. So I’m not going to run out of books in the near future (apparently this is about 6 year’s worth)!

According to Goodreads I’ve read 51 books, which is the same as 2016 and the last I’ve recorded in a year on Goodreads.

I’ve no specific plans for 2019, I do need to get some new routines first as life is different now to how it was 12 months ago. I also need to (take a deep breath) clear some of the shelves of books I’ve read and make some space for newer books. It seems having cleared the piles of ‘to read’ books I might have shifted the problem to elsewhere…

So how do you manage your arrivals and keeping on top of your ‘to read’ books? How has 2018 been for your TBR?

Breakdown – Jonathan Kellerman

Title – Breakdown

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

In the past I used to receive some specific hardback books at Christmas which I would then devour over the next few days. Initially this was a Dick Francis and then it became a Jonathan Kellerman; habits change, as do publishing dates, so over the last few years this hasn’t happened. It also doesn’t seem as if I have the chance to read much during the day at Christmas any longer, but a spare pair of hands with puppy-sitting and a long-neglected Kellerman on my TBR and I seized the opportunity!

This is number 31 in the Alex Delaware series, a series that’s had its ups and downs, and I’d say that this was a ‘middling’ book. The main thread of the story is that five years previously consulting psychologist Alex Delaware evaluated the young son of a disturbed actress, Zelda Chase, as a favour for a colleague. The colleague has since died and when the actress is sectioned after some bizarre behaviour Delaware is called in because of his tenuous connection. He tries to help the young woman but Delaware is unable to find out from the woman, who has been living on the streets, what has happened to her son. This leads to a bit of an obsession as he tries to find the boy and even enlists Milo’s (LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis) help in trying to track him down.

The woman is released and Delaware and Sturgis sort out some accommodation for her but she still doesn’t offer any insight into what happened to her son. Then her body is discovered in the grounds of a grand estate in a prestigious area of LA. It  takes a while but eventually they have to give credence to Zelda’s belief in a dreadful event in her past.

The scene-setting at the beginning with the events when Delaware first encounters Zelda and her son are quite tedious but worth persevering with. After the death of Zelda the book takes on more of an investigatory feel with the focus on Zelda and her story – how she died, how she came to be homeless. Then more women go missing.

Less in the way of red herrings and twists than some books in the series, more Hollywood and acting than some. The relevant information which is important solving the case comes quite indirectly to the pair and that felt a bit frustrating. If the story was about Delaware’s search for Zelda’s son he seemed to forget that was his purpose sometimes and then that thread would get back on track. Oooh – and one inconsistency late on in the book that irritated me.

The pairing of Delaware and Sturgis works well, but then Kellerman has had a lot of time to develop the partnership. In fact thinking back to when the series was first published having a gay cop in Sturgis could well have been cutting edge. The pair bounce ideas off each other and discuss their theories, which helps to take the reader along with their train of thought.

Kellerman’s writing has a very specific feel and it’s like putting on a comfy pair of slippers for me but I know it’s not a style that appeals to everyone it’s an aspect that I really like, and for me it helps to bring the characters and situations to life. This was a book more about investigation that psychology, but no less enjoyable for that.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. Probably a 3.5 star rather than just a 3.

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A House of Ghosts – W. C. Ryan

Title – A House of Ghosts

Author – W. C. Ryan

Published – 4 October 2018

Genre – Historical thriller / supernatural

This is not just an excellent read but is a beautiful book to own. I read the netgalley which means that my hardback copy, with its gold embossed cover, map and illustrated chapter headings, can stay in pristine condition!

The starting premise of the book is terrific. It’s the winter of 1917 and on a tiny island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering in an attempt to contact his two sons who have already been lost in the war. He has a very specific guest list and this attracts the attention of military intelligence who ensure that included in the invitations are a number of people in their employ. As the guests gather a storm descends on the island, cutting off the route back to the mainland.

So we have a house party on an island, a raging storm, spies, ghosts, and guests with secrets. Excellent! The setting is Agatha Christie-esque but deals with much more serious issues than she would have tackled in her books. Some of the guests have profited from the war and commercial decisions aren’t always the same as ethical ones, people’s actions have had unpleasant consequences.

I’m not sure if there has been an increase in the books which have a ghostly or supernatural slant to them or I just happen to have read more recently but what sets this book apart is its unambiguous approach to spirits, an approach I really liked, although this does mean they don’t necessarily add to the suspense with the story.

There is a strong cast of characters and everyone adds something to the story. The main characters are Kate Cartwright, a bright, young woman with her own connection to the Highmount family, and Irishman Captain Robert Donovan, a veteran of the war and with plenty in his own past that he would prefer no-one knew about. There is a hint of chemistry between them but the relationship that unfolds is very within keeping for the period setting. One common trait in Ryan’s writings is the ‘reserved hero’, in the Korolev series and The Constant Soldier this is more due to the necessity of the situation but while that is to some extent true in this book it also reflects the etiquette of the time.

The book is neatly plotted with many layers and although the elements may make it sound like it’s all about the action there are some serious themes at the heart of it, including the treatment of those who have served at the front and returned. The writing had a very visual quality and by the end I felt as if I might have seen a film rather than read a book, my recall of the scenes being very vivid. An excellent read for dark winter nights.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley.

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The Savage Shore – David Hewson

Title – The Savage Shore

Author – David Hewson

Published – 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books I was most looking forward to in 2018, a continuation of the Nic Costa series which saw the last book (Fallen Angel) published in 2011. I had been enjoying the series and worried that we’d heard the last of Costa and his colleagues, so I was thrilled to hear that another book was coming.

The team that you would be familiar with if you’ve read the earlier books are in Calabria, in the south of Italy and far away from their comfort zone. They are there to try to arrange the extraction of the elusive head of the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian version of the Mafia, who is also offering up the overlord of the Costa Nostra – the most wanted man in Italy. The assignment is cloaked in secrecy, including the reason behind the man’s approach to the police and his intention to turn state’s witness. The high-stakes and sparse information don’t make this a comfortable assignment.

Costa is required to go undercover with the man’s family and must prove himself in a number of ways before he will be accepted by those in the ’Ndrangheta. This offers a few thrills and is a test of Costa’s metal. Once he has been accepted the story twists and turns as the opportunity comes for the authorities to make their move.

While Costa has the main part of the story there is an interesting aside for Peroni, who strikes up a friendship with a young widow running a small waterfront cafe. It seems that organised crime affects every one in the community and true to character Peroni risks the group’s cover to step in.

Background to the history of the location and the ’Ndrangheta is provided by extracts from the fictional ‘Calabrian Tales’ which weaves its own set of myths and legends alongside the rise of the Bergamotti family, their traditions and their values.

I’ve always enjoyed reading this series of books and Costa has been an interesting character to follow as he has developed. He takes his role-play a little too seriously and there are some thought-provoking incidents while he is undercover and towards the end of the story.

I really enjoyed the mix of thriller/mystery, the unusual location and the historical aspects to the story, and I thought these worked well using the extracts of text rather than having a character ‘telling’ lots of information. The place and people offer a glimpse of a way of life that’s long gone for most people and the vivid writing easily conjures up this new location. There are even a few meals thrown in for good measure (not quite to the level of Camilleri, but mouth-watering nevertheless).  And it’s always good when a book you’ve been looking forward to delivers.

Many thanks to the publisher for the Net Galley.

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