The Replacement – Patrick Redmond

51deE1X+L-LTitle – The Replacement

Author – Patrick Redmond

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre – Psychological thriller

It’s an odd way to start a review but I must say up front that I really didn’t like this book. If the trend is for books with dislikable characters at their heart then this has them in spades. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down, it is like the literary equivalent to gawping at a car crash.

The story starts by featuring the Randalls, a well-to-do family living what appears to be an enviable life; it is certainly one where appearances seem to matter more than people’s feelings. We’re rapidly introduce to the characters: mother Caroline who is at the heart of village life, the recently retired lawyer father, and the twin sons in their twenties who are both trying to live up to their parents’ expectations. We’re also introduced to Stuart whose life no one would envy. The same age as the twins, he is working for an estate agents, worrying about his elderly grandmother, having lost his parents and sister at an early age. The cast of characters goes on with extended families and girlfriends. All have their part to play in the condensed saga (it takes place over just a few months) that unfolds.

The author begins by providing some insight into the personalities involved and by and large they all come across as unpleasant in one way or another – they are all manipulative, devious and scheming. Appearance is everything and ruthless behaviour at the cost of others is the way to get ahead. Stuart is the complete contrast to this, perhaps showing that his life without entitlement has bred a more pleasant person.

The main plot starts when Stuart and the Randalls’ paths cross and an unexpected connection is discovered. Stuart’s introduction into the Randalls’ life is divisive and this brings out the worst in all involved. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the characters are also fickle and their feelings can change in the blink of an eye (or in response to a single sentence). And just when you think that the behaviour can’t get any worse there’s an incident which is truly shocking.

The tension in the story is delivered by the relationships and the reactions of those involved – and the belief that if you hang on until the end of the book then someone must rise above the rest. The story is also full of secrets and there’s some pleasure to be taken in waiting to see if and how people will be found out.

Redmond has created an intriguing book and an unpleasant cast of characters, with a story that is a cross between a family saga and a psychological thriller.

You can see another review of this title at Raven Crime Reads. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse – Piu Marie Eatwell

71BPoOmnNpLTitle – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse

Author – Piu Marie Eatwell

Published – 2015

Genre – True Crime

There’s quite a broad spectrum of books which fall into the ‘true crime’ category – from those that are purely factual to those which ‘fictionalise’ events such as ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ or even put real characters into their crime fiction, as in ‘The Dante Club’. Piu Marie Eatwell’s book is very much towards the purely factual account with her story of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, but with an element of characterisation of those involved which helps bring the story to life.

The book is based around the Druce-Portland case which arose in 1897 when Anna Maria Druce claimed that her late father-in-law, Thomas Druce, had been the alter ego of the 5th Duke of Portland. She was petitioning for the grave of Druce to be exhumed in the belief that the coffin would be empty as the Duke had faked the death of his Druce persona. The claim would then see her children become the heirs to the Portland estate.

On the face of it this seems to be both a ridiculous claim and one that could easily be resolved. However, the book covers the the origination of the case in 1897 to its ‘resolution’ in 1908, with background pre-dating the claim thrown in for good measure. And as if that’s not enough, I was lucky to read the paperback which was updated following further information that came to light as result of the publication of the hardback version. So the case wasn’t as straight-forward as it might seem!

In setting the scene we discover that the 5th Duke was remarkably eccentric and the suggestion that he lived a double-life for some years seems more credible. The complexity of the case is compounded by the secrets people were driven to keep during the morally superior Victorian period. The legal saga was well publicised at the time and the sums involved in the Portland estate drew the interest of a number of men who were keen to manipulate the situation to take their share of the spoils. The full story sees multiple claims being made and subsequent investigations which aimed to unravel the various deceptions.

The book is obviously exactingly researched but the author’s interpretation of events and the inclusion of background which places the issues in context makes this a fascinating read.

You can see another review of this title at Fleur in her World. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton

81-jyQP7n-LTitle – Little Black Lies

Author – Sharon (SJ) Bolton

Published – 2 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction / psychological thriller

I would normally wait until closer to the date of publication but I enjoyed this book so much that I can’t wait to tell people about it. If you met me at Crimefest and asked what the best book I’d read so far this year was then you will have heard me extolling the virtues of Little Black Lies already. I have to say that this is likely to be a shorter review than normal because I don’t really want to give very much of the story away.

The setting is unusual, it’s the Falkland Islands, and the remote location, rugged landscape and isolated community give Bolton a great setting, reminiscent of nordic / scandi noir.

The story, set in 1994, takes place over 6 days and is told in three parts, each from a different point of view. We start with Catrin, an Islander who lost her two small sons in an accident for which she holds her former best friend Rachel responsible. As the third anniversary of the boys’ deaths approaches she has come up with a plan which will put an end to the grief that still envelopes her. Her plans are interrupted when she is drafted in to help search for a small boy who has disappeared, and it seems this is not the first time a child has gone missing.

The other points of view are Callum, a former serviceman who fought on the islands and returned to settle, and Rachel, Catrin’s former best friend. Rather than swapping  pov through the book, the three sections are discrete and this gives you a much better feel for the three individuals. Using the different characters and their different perspectives is used to hide some facts and reveal others, which keeps the reader guessing.

I’ve not read all of Bolton’s books (yet) but there are certainly similarities in the themes of this book which are familiar from Sacrifice and Like This, For Ever. The death and loss of children can be seen as taboo and the grief and the devastating effect this has had on Catrin are both moving and credible. But having isolated herself from everyone who cares about her, Catrin is moving through to anger and revenge.

Bolton has a compelling way of writing and I know ‘page turner’ is something of a cliché but I really couldn’t put this down, I just had to find out what happened next. This is by far the book I have most enjoyed so far this year, a skilfully woven story with engaging and sympathetic characters that uses multiple perspectives to ingenious effect.

Thank you to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.

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Huntress Moon – Alexandra Sokoloff

91g9XdWmvoL._SL1500_Title – Huntress Moon

Author – Alexandra Sokoloff

Published – 2012

Genre –  Thriller

When I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow I commented on how unusual it is to find a thriller written by a woman so it may seem odd to be reviewing another so soon. But where The Distance was along more traditional spy thriller lines, Huntress Moon feels more like a cross between a police (well FBI) procedural and a thriller.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke witnesses the sudden death of one of his undercover agents. The death appears to be an accident but Roarke noticed a woman at the scene, someone that he felt he had a connection to, and he becomes a little obsessed with her presence there. Searching for an explanation for the agent’s death he focuses on the mysterious woman and quickly finds that she, or someone matching her description, has figured in the deaths of at least two other men in two other states. The information he has access to is sparse, so he hits the road to talk to the other investigators first hand.

As Roarke is pursuing his investigation we’re introduced to the woman herself. We know that she is fleeing the scene of the death but her motivation is kept hidden from the reader until well into the book; the author uses the present tense for the ‘huntress’ character which works well to conceal her thinking and plans.

Rather than detailed police work the investigation depends on hunches and gut feelings and even hints at supernatural explanations, but everything is explained rationally although not necessarily explicitly. When I went back to check the book to write my review there were a few occasions which made me go ‘of course’ as everything fell into place – so pay attention! Although the action takes place over just a few days there’s a backstory which dates back many years and it’s here that the reader is rewarded with the explanations for the behaviour of both the main characters. I also learnt a lot about the prevalence (or lack of) of female serial killers.

Sokoloff has created two very engaging characters and it’s hard to choose who you want to emerge triumphant from the chase.  As well as clever plotting and great characterisation I also enjoyed the descriptions, especially of the landscape. While it didn’t intrude on the pace of the book it was enough to give me a vivid picture of places I’ve never visited.

Huntress Moon is the first in a series of books featuring Agent Roarke which explains the loose ends left at the end, so it won’t be long before I start the sequel Blood Moon. You can see some other points of view on Vicky’s blog and Lizzy’s. Many thanks to the author for the review copy of the book.

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A whirl of criminal events

9780718181338Crime events can be a bit like buses – you can go for weeks without one and suddenly three come along at the same time! On Tuesday I was able to meet author Julia Heaberlin during a whirlwind trip to the UK from her home in Texas. Julia was here to promote the forthcoming publication in August of her new psychological thriller ‘Black Eyed Susans’, “A chilling new thriller that gets into the heart and mind of the killer, and the victim . . .” It was lovely to get the chance to chat to Julia, and find out more about the book. She has carried out some fascinating research for the book and it will be interesting to see how this translates into the plot.

Black Eyed Susans is published by Penguin on 13th August 2015.

KW-online-logoOn Wednesday I was thrilled to be invited to the launch of ‘Killer Women‘, a new collective formed in London by a group of like-minded female crime fiction authors. The group of 15 writers aims to “Provide innovative events, debates, talks, interviews and workshops to libraries, bookshops, festivals, book groups, literary and arts organisations, clubs and academia.”

The authors cover a range of sub-genres – including thrillers (Helen Giltrow), psychological thrillers (Colette McBeth, Louise Millar) and police procedurals (Jane Casey, Laura Wilson). There have already been a number of appearances of KW, with a debate ‘Deadlier than the Male?’ at the Trouble Club and a spotlight session at this weekend’s Crimefest in Bristol.

Following the launch there are number of  articles about the aspirations of the group, see Shots,  The Guardian and The Independent.

CFlowreslogo-2015Last but by no means least was this year’s Crimefest event. The annual convention for lovers of criminally good writing. Taking place over a long weekend the convention consists of multiple author panels, spotlight events and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to meet and chat in a relaxed atmosphere (the bar) with the many authors in attendance.

The headline events for the weekend included Lee Child interviewing Maj Sjöwall and Jake Kerridge interviewing Catherine Aird and James Runcie (although not at the same time I hasten to add).

Highlights for me, however, were to be found in the more run of the mill panels which offered the opportunity to discover new authors and find out more about those I’ve been reading.

On the Friday one of the most entertaining panels was “Playing God With Your Characters” which was discussed by Amanda Jennings, David Mark, Linda Regan, Stav Sherez and moderated by Christine Poulson. The participants had some quite different perspectives on the ‘lives’ of their characters and this led to an animated debate. It’s much more interesting for the audience to see authors with differing points of view!

It’s difficult to choose between two of the panels I attended on the Saturday – Thrillers: Brains Or Brawn, Who Kicks Best Ass – with Lee Child, Chris Ewan, Zoë Sharp and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir moderated by Tom Harper, or Things That Go Bump with A.K. Benedict, Oscar de Muriel, J.F. Penn, Mark Roberts and moderated by Kevin Wignall.

It was a packed room for the panel featuring Lee Child and the discussions did tackle some issues beyond the brains vs. brawn one. This included the difficulties in actually writing an action sequence and the realism of TV and film action compared with the written descriptions. I was particularly interested in the views on the difference between crime fiction and thrillers, the consensus being that crime fiction starts with a bad situation and is about discovering its cause (who, why etc) whereas thrillers are about preventing a bad situation happening. The shorter comparison was ‘ticking clock versus whodunnit’!

In my view, however, any panel which has Kevin Wignall as its moderator is not to be missed, and this panel considering the use of the supernatural in crime fiction didn’t disappoint. With discussions ranging from the links between supernatural and religion  to chocolate or cake the session lived up to my expectations.

But of course the real highlight is all the new friends I’ve made. So now I’ve unpacked my bags, squeezed my new books onto their shelves and caught up on some sleep. Until the next time!

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The Distance – Helen Giltrow

51+joA7zDzLTitle – The Distance

Author – Helen Giltrow

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre –  Thriller

Name a female thriller writer. No, not crime fiction, not psychological thriller, a plain old-fashioned thriller. Come on… Not easy is it? If you make that British female thriller writers…? Well the good news is that you can add Helen Giltrow’s name to a very short list.

Charlotte Alton is a single woman about town, wealthy, sophisticated – no one would suspect that this is a front and that she is also known as Karla, who buys and sells secrets, and gets people new identities. The story is told from several perspectives, but Karla / Charlotte is the main one. She’s strong and driven and human and fallible. She is contracted to get a man inside The Program, a futuristic, experimental prison, to find a woman who doesn’t exist. If this isn’t intriguing enough, the man that she will be sending into the prison is someone she has an emotional attachment to. And all of this takes place while a US Secret Agent is in London to root out an informant who has an uncanny knack of selling high quality information.

It takes place over a month and there’s lots of pace and action but it’s also brutal and there are some graphic scenes of violence. There are multiple threads and it’s easy to occasionally wonder where the particular storyline is heading, but Giltrow doesn’t let the reader down and they are all tied up (except the few that are left for the second book!). There’s more than a nod to traditional cold war spy escapades but there are plenty of aspects that bring the story bang up to date.

I really enjoyed Giltrow’s writing style, there is something about the detail that she includes that reminds me of Nicci French – perhaps in a previous life their Frieda Klein was a spy! This is a great, intelligent thriller and an outstanding debut.

You can see another point of view from Crime Thriller Girl. Many thanks to the author for the copy of the book.

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Unravelling Oliver – Liz Nugent

51nS4DcFkQLTitle – Unravelling Oliver

Author – Liz Nugent

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction / psychological thriller

This was a book recommended (and leant to me) by Rhian of Books and Entertainment UK so it came with great credentials. With an attention-grabbing opening line “I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.” it didn’t disappoint.

The story is told by multiple characters whose paths have crossed those of the eponymous Oliver and his wife Alice. They share their thoughts on Oliver in a chatty and very individual style, with Oliver making his own contribution.  Of course multiple perspectives on the same event offer an interesting view of how characters perceive their own role in what has come to pass.

The opening chapter and his seemingly unprovoked attack on his wife certainly don’t paint Oliver in a very positive light and this is reinforced as those who knew him tell their stories, but of course they never really knew him at all! Oliver, in his apparent arrogance, seems unaware of his unpleasant personality and the ruthless way he treats those around him.

The backstory of the characters and the places that their stories intersect with Oliver’s give the reader an insight into the circumstances that shaped his character. As the different contributors recount their experiences, not necessarily in chronological order, the author teases with the deceits and secrets that lie at the heart of the story.

As the story unfolds we see behind the facade that Oliver (and to some extent Alice) have created and the cracks in their apparently enviable lives. Perhaps Oliver’s behaviour has been shaped by the way his father behaves towards him when he’s sent away to school but although Nugent managed to make me feel some sympathy for her monster, it wasn’t enough that I could forgive him the worst of his deceits.

The story and the disparate threads are neatly drawn together as finally we find out what precipitated Oliver’s attack on his wife and whether or not, in the end, he realises what he has done to all those whose lives he touched.

You can see Rhian’s thoughts on the book on her blog.

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