Cold Malice – Quentin Bates

Title – Cold Malice

Author – Quentin Bates

Published – June 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

It’s been a while since the last instalment featuring Gunnhildur Gísladóttir and it’s great that Quentin Bates has found the time between his role as a translator of Icelandic crime fiction, to bring us up to date.

If you’re not familiar with her, Gunnhildur is a detective in Reykjavík, trying to balance her chaotic personal life with her dogged determination to get to the truth.

There are two main investigations which from the basis of the book. Gunnhildur is called to the apparent suicide of a successful but reclusive artist, as she tries to establish the circumstances leading up to his death she is drawn to the mystery of his wife’s death some years earlier.

Gunnhildur’s colleague, Helgi, spots a ‘ghost’ as he travels home from his holiday abroad, he sees the face of a man who was declared dead fifteen years previously.

As both detectives try to get to the bottom of their cases we also follow Helgi’s mysterious ghost as he returns to his home for the first time since 2004. Despite the fact that he was able to just turn his back on his family and walk away from them, he’s been following his children’s lives from afar and his return is prompted by his son’s incarceration in prison for murder.

As the detectives pursue their cases we move from the celebrity of the art world to low-life drug dealers, the ups and downs of contemporary Iceland.

The series owes a lot to the sub-genre of ‘Nordic Noir’ – it makes the most of the atmosphere and location of Iceland, and provides a commentary on topical, social issues but it also adds to this by bringing to life a cast of characters, especially Gunnhildur, who are well drawn, developing over the course of the series.

As a fan of police procedurals this series ticks all the boxes for me.

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This post is part of a blog tour to mark the publication of Cold Malice.

Find Her – Lisa Gardner

Title – Find Her

Author – Lisa Gardner

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’d like to think that I will eventually get round to reading and reviewing all the books I have sitting on my TBR pile and as this book’s been on it since late 2015 it’s proof that it’s not impossible. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is quite a difficult book to review without giving too much of the plot away.

I was gripped from the opening “When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening.” With that we learn that Flora is trapped in a coffin-shaped box, trying to figure out the constraints of her prison, not knowing what might happen if the box is opened.

Skip forward and we know that somehow Flora survived because 5 years after her captivity ended she’s developed a nasty habit of finding herself the target of some unwanted attention, attention that she is now more than capable of handling. Her path crosses that of Detective D. D. Warren when a chance encounter in a Boston bar ends with a dead body in a garage. It seems Flora has taken an unhealthy interest in young women who have disappeared.

I was completely gripped, both by the story of Flora and her survival. The book poses the question of whether Flora is a victim, or a vigilante, not something that even Flora can answer. The story of her abduction as a young girl unfolds through the book, with some hard truths that Flora herself can’t face up to. Her abduction changes her, creates a new Flora, and there are many things that new Flora will do that the old one wouldn’t have believed possible.

I enjoyed the balance of thriller/mystery/suspense alongside the development of Flora’s character – how she was broken down but then rebuilt herself and how the new Flora struggled to connect to her old life. The details of the abduction, which didn’t dwell on the sexual aspects, rang true, her experiences seemed credible as did the emotional impact. One of those books that weaves a twisty yarn but also prompts you to think about some of the issues it raises – how do people who have suffered in this sort of attack ever return to a ‘normal’ life – the one which they fought to survive for?

This book is number 8 in the Detective D. D. Warren series, not having read any others in the series wasn’t an issue but perhaps you would get more out of the book if you’re familiar with the character. While her point of view was important to the story and moving the mystery forward, it was Flora who was the star of the piece.

A real page-turner with some incredibly tense scenes and thought-provoking character development. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Dead to Her – Sarah Pinborough

Title – Dead to Her

Author – Sarah Pinborough

Published – 4 June 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve only read a few books by Sarah Pinborough but the differences between all three mark her out as a very versatile author, the settings, characters and plot couldn’t be more different but are all equally credible.

In Dead to Her we’re off to steamy Savannah, Georgia and the world of some seriously wealthy couples living the high life. Marcie knows how difficult it can be to fit in with the country club set when you’re the new, younger, second wife, so when her widowed husband’s boss brings a new wife, Keisha, home from his trip to London, a woman who is at least forty years younger than him, stunning and black, she’s quick to appraise her. But where there might have been sisterly solidarity Marcie can only see a threat to her own plans.

The story switches back and forth between Keisha and Marcie. We learn from Keisha of her less than ideal upbringing and background.  We know why she married a man old enough to be her grandfather and the price that she has to pay. Living in a house full of secrets with reminders of her predecessor all around while she is haunted by her own past.

From Marcie we find out what it takes to be part of the ‘set’ and the worries of the second wife – when you married a cheater can you ever trust them? Asked by her husband to make friends with Keisha he can’t have imagined how that request would pan out.

As the plot unfolds it moves with the slow, sultry heat of the deep south. The atmosphere is full of sex, money and black magic. And then there is an unexpected death – the plot takes off and the true nature of the members of the clique becomes clear.

A really enjoyable read with some twists and turns – perfect for fans of Big Little Lies. Thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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Summerwater – Sarah Moss

Title – Summerwater

Author – Sarah Moss

Published – 20 August 2020 (at time of writing)

Genre – Fiction

About 95% of what I read falls into crime/mystery/thriller categories but there are exceptions to this rule. After reading Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss I’ve been keen to read some of her fiction and was lucky to be approved to read Summerwater on NetGalley.

It’s around midsummer on a dated Scottish holiday park and the occupants of the loch side cabins are trapped by the torrential (but perhaps not unexpected) rain in the isolated location. Over 24 hours we get an insight into the lives of the holiday makers – from the early morning runner to the retired doctor.

As the day progresses the point of view switches between many different occupants, with a diverse range of ages and points of view. These snapshots take the form of something akin to a ‘stream of consciousness’. Despite this format, which doesn’t particularly lend itself to a more literary style, the writing is spot on – funny, graphic, dark but all well-observed and with excellent insight – in these brief sections we really get an understanding of the characters. The inner monologues add a feeling of pace despite there being little action, although as I read crime fiction a lot I was perhaps more open to the darker undertones.

Woven into these lives are points of view that reflect the breadth of the political spectrum, giving a real reflection on the mix of people you could come across, I do wonder if this might feel dated quite quickly. Reading this during the early part of 2020, when we’re all isolated, I can see a number of parallels between real life and fiction – as we’re all trapped in our homes and keeping an eye on our neighbours!

This is short read at around 150 pages but without any preamble it packs in a wealth of variety and leads to a surprising climax. Well worth a read – I look forward to getting my hands on a hardcopy when it’s published.

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Race to the Kill by Helen Cadbury

Title – Race to the Kill

Author – Helen Cadbury

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

After reading Helen’s other books in the Sean Denton series I met Helen at a number of book events and we became friends in the way that you do these days in a mix of real life and social media settings. Sadly Helen died in 2017, before the publication of what is now the final book in the series. This therefore makes the book a very difficult one to review – so no ‘star ratings’ in this case.

There are a number of reasons that this series stands out for me:- the unusual hero in Sean Denton, who started the books as a dyslexic PCSO, the beautiful writing which you don’t necessarily expect in crime fiction, and finally the social commentary and values, which if you’ve read Helen’s obituary linked above you will see were very important to her. An excellent example of using a popular genre to explore social issues. The stories always take place with a ‘small town’ setting, the characters literally rub shoulders with each other on the High Street – much more relatable than plots that cross countries or counties.

In this book the body of a refugee is found in the abandoned building of Chasebridge High School, somewhere that appears to have been a temporary home for many of the town’s homeless. As with the earlier books in the series there are several main plot lines – we also have a young woman who is working at the greyhound track neighbouring the old school, living in a caravan in the grounds she is surrounded by a family of shady characters who run the track.

Denton has some personal issues to address – his new relationship with his half-sister and the complicated relationship he has with his seriously-ill father as well as some worries about his love life. In better news he’s getting another step up the career ladder as he moves from PC to DC. He’s a lovely main character and one that you really root for in every situation.

The plots are cleverly developed, there are some surprises along the way and there is a thrilling climax. You should read the whole series.

I will miss Sean – I hope he continues to keep the people of Doncaster safe.

 

Dead Lions – Mick Herron

Title – Dead Lions

Author – Mick Herron

Published – 2013

Genre –  Thriller

This is the second book in the ‘Jackson Lamb’ series which began with ‘Slow Horses’. I read Slow Horses because so many people had been raving about the series and I did really enjoy it – the mix of dry humour, spies, the weird characters trapped in the dead-end office of Slough House, the London locations I could mentally ‘spot’. Naturally I went on to buy the next in the series and it felt like a huge let down.

While much remains the same (same setting and characters) the story felt tedious. The weird opening with the imaginary cat set the tone. I found the book really slow, despite the fact that all of the background and set up should have been done in the first book. I wasn’t particularly gripped by the plot – an old spy is discovered dead on a rail replacement bus service, alongside an attempt by some of the characters to impress a Russian oligarch. Things felt like they moved very slowly with lots of padding – what I want in a thriller is pace!

One of the parts I enjoyed was getting a better grip on why the characters had been consigned to Slough House. But this wasn’t enough to redeem the book for me.

One of those books where I can’t see why everyone else is making such a fuss. My loss I guess.

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Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

Title – Whispers Under Ground

Author – Ben Aaronovitch

Published – 2012

Genre – Fantasy crime fiction

This is the third in the series by Aaronovitch featuring the Police (now Detective) Constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant. I read the second book in the series (Moon Over Soho) in 2014 and leaving a gap of six years has been a bit of a mistake because some of the longer story arc which continues through the series was a bit of a mystery to me – although this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Our hero, DC Peter Grant, is called to attend the discovery of a body of a young man at the end of the platform at Baker Street underground station. He’s been included in the team investigating the death because there may be ‘something off’ about it and his special skills may come into play. Grant gets his own role in the investigation, alongside the lovely Lesley, which involves a lot of exploration of the underground tunnels and sewers. The victim was the son of a US Senator so they’re also joined by an FBI agent, although this is not a particularly amicable partnership.

This book has a lot more police investigation in it and less time based at The Folly and Grant’s magical studies than earlier books and only some brief appearances by some of the River folk.

Another enjoyable read in the series.

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What She Saw Last Night – M J Cross

Title – What She Saw Last Night

Author -M J Cross

Published – April 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

You may know Mason Cross for his Carter Blake series – fast-paced, US-set thrillers, but writing as M J Cross ‘What She Saw Last Night’ moves closer to home, opening on The Caledonian Sleeper, the action moves between the Highlands and London.

Jenny Bowen boards the sleeper in a hurry and as she heads for her ‘cabin’ she has a chance encounter with a woman and a young girl. When she wakes the next day the woman is dead and there is no trace of the girl. The police investigation is perfunctory and Jenny’s concerns for the girl are dismissed as ‘fantasy’.

Jenny is at a bit of a crossroads in her life – she’s in the midst of a divorce and is returning to her family home after the death of her father. While the emotional turmoil could have caused an overactive imagination, in fact her concern for the girl gives her some purpose and direction. She starts her own ‘investigation’, trying to find a missing girl to match the one she saw – and in doing so she opens a whole, violent, can of worms.

The book is what I would describe as a ‘police thriller’ – while there is an official police involvement in the mystery the plot is more about a ‘race against time’ feeling to find the missing girl than finding a solution to the woman’s murder. There are some fast-paced action scenes – both through the hubbub of London (hard to picture at the moment) and a more remote setting in Scotland.

I quite liked the main characters but if I have any quibbles it’s that Jenny doesn’t seem to suffer much emotional impact from some of the more challenging events and for a software developer she picks herself up pretty quickly from some physical encounters.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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The Lantern Men – Elly Griffiths

Title – The Lantern Men

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – 6 Feb 2020

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

The last book I read in the Ruth Galloway series was The Dark Angel and to me it felt like a departure within the series – lots of focus on Ruth’s personal life and less on the mystery element – however this 12th book feels like a return to form. In most cases with this series it hasn’t mattered that I’ve not read the books in order but I feel I’ve missed out on some significant changes which I assume too place in the preceding title (The Stone Circle) is I do need to get a copy of this.

A creepy (or charming, depending on your point of view) convicted murder, Ivor March, offers DCI Nelson the opportunity to find the bodies of two furthermurder victims, contingent on Ruth Galloway leading the dig. Somewhat flattered by the suggestion that she’s the best person for the job Ruth becomes involved in the investigation, despite her concerns that March has other reasons for requesting her.

The dig goes ahead and at the same time another woman dies in similar circumstances to March’s victims. Nelson, supported by colleagues Tanya and Judy, leads them to investigate a small group of people who all lived with March in a remote house called Grey Walls – somewhere Ruth is also connected to. As the story unfolds the investigation circles around this limited groups and the ins and outs of their tangled relationships. As with most (all?) of the series it also draws on local folklore with the real life mystery echoing tales of the ‘Lantern Men’.

The author makes the most of the atmospheric locations, setting the action across the historic centre of Cambridge, the expanse of the Fens and the rugged Norfolk coastline. The series is one where the characters are as important and the mystery; as the series progresses the minor characters offer more to each story and there is still the on/off nature of Ruth and Nelson’s relationship which still simmers in the background. An enjoyable read and return to focus on the mystery aspects of the plot.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Devil’s Fjord – David Hewson

Title – Devil’s Fjord

Author – David Hewson

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a bit of a change in location for David Hewson, a mystery set in the Faroe Islands with all the hallmarks of ‘scandi noir’.

Newly-appointed District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsebeth are looking forward to a peaceful semi-retirement in the remote fishing village of Djevulsfjord on the stunningly beautiful island of Vagar. But when two boys go missing during the first whale hunt of the season, the repercussions strike at the heart of the isolated coastal community.

I have to say it’s not a read for the faint-hearted as Haraldsen’s first real duty in his new community is to take part in the ‘grind’ – a very bloody whale hunting tradition. Haraldsen is at the heart of the hunt and the reader isn’t spared any of the more unpleasant details. It’s during this action that there is an incident between Haraldsen and one of the boys which Haraldsen believes may have triggered their flight.

The couple are outsiders, giving them a slightly different perspective on what the locals take for granted, and this is a community with a lot of secrets that they’re not keen on sharing.  He and his wife are also pretty naive, expecting more of an idyllic retreat than a hard-working fishing village. When the two boys go missing Haraldsen feels that he’s to blame and takes a personal interest in the search for them. One of those brought in to work on the search is policewoman Hanna Olsen, although she has her own agenda. When the authorities feel enough has been done in the search Olsen and Haraldsen put their heads together to mount their own investigation.

The book delivers the usual mix of investigation and culture that I enjoy in Hewson’s Nic Costa series – albeit set in a more harsh and unforgiving environment. It also has a slower pace, more in keeping with translated / scandi fiction. An enjoyable read, especially if you’re normally a reader of scandi or nordic noir.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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