Day of the Dead – Nicci French

Title – Day of the Dead

Author – Nicci French

Published – 12 July 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

Well this is it, after seven years and seven books this is the much anticipated final instalment in the Frieda Klein series. Over the time that we’ve come to know Frieda we’ve watched the game of cat and mouse that has played out between her and her nemesis, but this is the climax of the story and it’s clear that only one of them will survive to the end.

The book opens with what appears to be a road accident and it’s quite a wait for the reader before the inevitable link to Dean Reeve and Frieda becomes clear. At the same time a young criminology student, Lola, is struggling to find a subject to write her dissertation on when her tutor suggests focussing on a person, on Frieda. Anyone who has read the preceding books in the series will know that she’s probably a bad choice – introverted, secretive, and in this book she’s in hiding.

By going into hiding Frieda is trying to save her friends and family but Lola, who is terribly out of her depth, manages to track her down and in doing so she threatens Frieda’s safety and those she’s trying to protect. Lola and Frieda are thrown together and this adds an interesting aspect to the story as Frieda steps back into her psychologist role. The book draws on some familiar themes from the series – Frieda’s love of walking, her knowledge of the rivers of London and Josef’s penchant for building work.

The tension really ramps up as Frieda tries to stay one step ahead of Dean Reeve. It adds a certain thrill to a book to know that it’s the final one in a series and that the author is free to do as they wish with the characters. The writing is, as ever, excellent and there are some twists and misdirection along the way which help to keep the reader guessing, brilliant pacing makes it compelling reading.

If there is one odd thing about this book it’s that the seven before have featured a growing and important cast of characters who have supported Frieda through the tough times but they feel a bit sidelined in this final episode. I don’t have an issue with the focus being Frieda, I was just struck by their relative absence when I’d finished.

I’m sure other readers will be able to think of some examples but for me it’s been unusual to read a series that has had a such a clear over-arching story arc that hasn’t wavered through the books. In fact this is, really, just one hell of a long book. Which makes book #8 equivalent to the final chapters – and as such the book is a fitting end. I know that the publisher is marketing this as being readable as a standalone thriller and I wouldn’t want to stop anyone reading it but you really should read the whole series.

What a series, what a climax. I’m going to miss Frieda.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
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The Dead Good Reader Awards 2018

In April readers were offered the opportunity to nominate their favourite books and authors from the past year, the most popular forming the shortlists for the Dead Good Reader Awards which then go to a public vote. To qualify, books must have been published in any format within the past year. The winners will be announced at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in July.

The shortlists are out and the vote is currently open to the public and closes on 18th July – https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/dead-good-reader-awards-2018/.

While I do have some firm favourites in the more general awards (such as Best Duo or ‘Wringer’ award) I’ve read very few of the specific books that have been shortlisted. More surprisingly for shortlists that have come from reader nominations there are a number of books and authors that I’ve not heard of at all.

The categories and shortlists are:

The Holmes and Watson Award for Best Detective Duo

Arthur Bryant and John May – Christopher Fowler
Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles – Tess Gerritsen
Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson – Elly Griffiths
Marnie Rome and Noah Jake – Sarah Hilary
Rosie Strange and Sam Stone – Syd Moore
Gino Rolseth and Leo Magozzi – P J Tracy

The Whodunnit Award for the Book That Keeps You Guessing

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
The Lucky Ones by Mark Edwards
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
Skin Deep by Liz Nugent
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The Cabot Cove Award for Best Small Town Mystery

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan
Dark Pines by Will Dean
The Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman
Hell in a Handbasket by Denise Grover Swank
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Chalk Man by C J Tudor

The Wringer Award for the Character Who’s Been Put Through It All

Jack Reacher – Lee Child
Frieda Klein – Nicci French
Lottie Parker – Patricia Gibney
Ruth Galloway – Elly Griffiths
Michael Devlin – Tony Kent
David Raker – Tim Weaver

The House of Horrors Award for Most Dysfunctional Family

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown
Blood Sisters by Jane Corry
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
The Good Samaritan by John Marrs

The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths
Killer Intent by Tony Kent
Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister
The Fear by C L Taylor
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

So if you have favourites from this list it’s time to get voting. Just one or two categories that I’ll be voting in.

Death in the Dordogne – Martin Walker

Title – Death in the Dordogne

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2009

Genre – Crime fiction

I came to the Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police series at book 5 and have been curious to read the earlier books, so I took the opportunity of an offer with the Book People to buy books 1 – 3. There are quite a few references to a number of preceding events in the later books and I wanted to better understand some of the background. The problem I found, however, is that while the first book provides a lot of background it does it by ‘telling’ rather than  ‘showing’.

There are two main investigative threads to Death in the Dordogne – one is the the death of an elderly man, head of an immigrant North African family, and decorated former soldier. The other is the guerrilla tactics being used to deter EU hygiene inspectors, Brussels bureaucrats, who want to interfere with the traditional ways of the local market traders. It may have been published in 2009 but the issues that crop up – mistrust of Brussels, distrust of foreigners, the rise of the far right feel very current.

The pace is quite slow, which isn’t unusual for the series, there are the gastronomic delights that are a feature of the series and the ‘aspirational’ feel – who wouldn’t want to live Bruno’s life in St Denis? The main mystery is relatively simple and the resolution is one that demonstrates the ‘just’ side of Bruno, a man with a clear moral compass. The story also taught me some aspects of French history that I wasn’t aware of.

It’s an interesting perspective to go back to the beginning of a series because the first thing I wondered was ‘why start here?’. What was it about book one that marked the start? I think it’s the fact that although Bruno has been in his post for some time this is the point at which he has to deal with his first murder (after this there is a real increase in the number of deaths in the area…). The investigation demands that external resources are brought in so this is also the point where he meets Isabelle for the first time.

I have to say that if this was the first book I had read I might not have pressed on with the series. Whether as a conscious effort or not, the later books feel like the author gets better at filling in the backstory the reader needs to know without it being such an obstacle to the pace.

The book serves well as an introduction but the series is one that definitely gets better.

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Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award for Contemporary Fiction 2018

Announced during Independent Bookseller’s Week this prize is awarded annually to an outstanding work of contemporary fiction, rewarding quality storytelling in any genre. The jury of ten consists of team members from Goldsboro Books, DHH Literary Agency and The Dome Press.

Longlist:

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
American War by Omar El Akkad
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
The Ice by Laline Paull (I’ve read this but am yet to write my review)
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

The longlist will be reduced to a shortlist, due to be announced on 30th August and the winner will be awarded £2,000, and a beautiful, handmade, engraved glass bell, at a party at the bookshop on 27th September 2018.

I’m starting to think I need to set up my own award – the only way I’ll manage to read a decent proportion from any list!

Have you read any of these? Who would you have your eye on as the winner?

The McIlvanney Prize longlist 2018

Following the launch of the Bloody Scotland programme for 2018 the longlist for the McIlvanney Prize has been announced. The award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1,000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones. The initial longlist has been compiled by an independent panel of readers from eligible books which must have been first published in the UK between 1st August 2017 and 31st July 2018 and either written by someone who is born or domiciled in Scotland or set in Scotland.

Longlist:

Lin Anderson for Follow the Dead
Chris Brookmyre for Places in the Darkness
Mason Cross for Presumed Dead
Charles Cumming for The Man Between
Oscar De Muriel for The Loch of the Dead
Helen Fields for Perfect Death
Alison James for Now She’s Gone
Liam McIlvanney for The Quaker
James Oswald for No Time to Cry
Caro Ramsay for The Suffering of Strangers
Andrew Reid for The Hunter
Craig Robertson for The Photographer

The next stage is a formal judging process and the panel comprises of chair Craig Sisterson, journalist and book reviewer, alongside Susan Calman, comedian and crime fiction fan, and journalist Alison Flood.

I’ve only read one book on the list (another woeful contribution from me) but The Photographer is really excellent, so perhaps I’ve managed to read the winner! What about you – any tips for a winner from this list?

Sunday Morning Coming Down – Nicci French

Title – Sunday Morning Coming Down

Author – Nicci French

Published – July 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the seventh in the series of eight books in the Frieda Klein series and a review that I feel particularly guilty about. I made a bit of a fuss to get the review copy of the book as I so wanted to make sure I read and reviewed the whole series and then look – my review is about a year late! What can I say except sorry…?

If there is one thing we’ve learned about Frieda it’s how much she values the sanctuary of her home, so when a body is discovered under the floor it’s a clear, unequivocal message. Perhaps more significantly it’s the tipping point for Frieda as there is general acceptance that Dean Reeve is still alive – an important moment for her.

The main driver of the book is that it isn’t Freida who is coming under attack – it’s her friends and family. But is it Reeve who is behind the onslaught or is it a copycat? The multiple potential targets adds pace (where did all these friends come from!?) and tension. This is also an opportunity to find out more about each of them.

Frieda does dip her toe back into her psychotherapy, but the sessions have become secondary to her investigations.

It’s impossible not to have in the back of your mind, as you read this book, that this is the penultimate in the series. So without reading a word it’s easy to be pretty sure that both Frieda is going to survive to make book #8. Is that a spoiler? No – just common sense. It’s not unusual that within crime fiction the characters ‘go on a journey’ it’s just more overt here. The climax of book 1 will be, I imagine, book 8 – the pleasure is the way the story unfolds, the journey.

This is too close to the end of the series to consider reading this as a standalone, the story is interesting enough but you would be missing so much. I would recommend beginning with Blue Monday. But roll on number eight!

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
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The Story Keeper – Anna Mazzola

Title – The Story Keeper

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 28 July 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s been a long wait since Anna’s excellent debut ‘The Unseeing’ was published and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been looking forward to reading her second novel. Before I go any further I should say that it doesn’t disappoint!

Set on the Isle of Skye the book opens with the arrival of Audrey, running away from her family and an event which, at least in the early part of the book, is only hinted at, she is set to take up a post collecting folklore. She hopes that a return to Skye, which she remembers vaguely from  some time in her childhood spent in the area, is a way to recapture a connection to her mother, who died when Audrey was ten. Her new employer is the imperious Miss Buchanan, she is to stay with Miss Buchanan and her nephew in their family estate – the neglected and brooding Lanerly Hall.  Audrey isn’t feeling particularly confident about her ability to do the job she’s been employed for but she’s burned her bridges. And then she discovers the body of a young woman on the shore by the Hall.

While making some efforts to collect stories from the crofters Audrey asks tentative questions about the dead girl. The answers are a mix of superstition based around the folktales and more ‘earthly’ explanations. Her discovery of another girl’s disappearance only deepens the mystery. But as events play out Audrey becomes more isolated and weakened by the toll her involvement takes on her.

There is a social history aspect to the book, communities ravaged by the land owners and struggling, protective of their heritage and suspicious of outsiders. The factual background to the events which took place are probably not well known by most people and it’s always a positive to learn something from a work of fiction, especially when it’s done seamlessly, without the reader feeling that they’re being given lots of information. The folklore offers an interesting insight – does it develop as an explanation for the things which have no rational explanation; do the stories represent the truth or a warning?

I’ve read a number of historical fiction books recently which have this type of gothic feel to them but this one hits the mark in creating the dark and claustrophobic atmosphere with a set of compelling characters. There is a real sense of menace pervading this book and despite the July publication date it would be perfect for curling up on a dark night in front of a log fire.

I’ve seen comparisons to the excellent Burial Rites but for me it was similar to Burial Rites crossed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Like Burial Rites the location is hugely important – rugged coastline, isolated communities, brutal weather. Audrey stands up as the heroine of the piece – conflicted,  isolated, trying not to be defined by her past but at a time when women weren’t expected to act on their own. She has an inbuilt sense of justice but acting on it isn’t always the best course of action.

The story develops into multiple threads and there were some surprises in the way it plays out and the directions it takes. It’s unusual for a debut author not to be embarking on a series but other than the dark subjects and the compelling writing it was quite different to The Unseeing although equally enjoyable (in a dark and moody way). Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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