All the Best Lies – Joanna Schaffhausen

Title – All the Best Lies

Author – Joanna Schaffhausen

Published – 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

This was a book I received as a physical review copy – possibly the only physical #bookpost I’ve had in 2020.

The blurb tells me that this is the third in the ‘Ellery Hathaway’ series – something I’ll come back to later.

The main characters are FBI agent Reed Markham and his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway. Markham is suddenly presented with the opportunity to work on a cold case that has a very special connection to him. The case is the murder of a young woman who was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while her baby lay in his crib mere steps away. The connection – Markham was that baby.

Markham enlists Hathaway’s help as they decamp to Las Vegas and try to pick up a forty year old trail. The original investigation focused on one potential suspect but Markham and Hathaway quickly manage to expand this to a larger pool as they discover that the original investigation may not have been as thorough as it could have been. Markham and Hathaway have different ideas about the direction they should take and there are some twists and red herrings along the way.

This was as much about family as it was about the investigation, although the rather dramatic nature of both main characters’ backgrounds didn’t make this feel like it offered much in social or psychological commentary.

There are a number of reasons this was a three-star read. I wasn’t paying enough attention and thought that the blurb on the cover about ‘An accomplished debut’ referred to this book, so felt a bit misled. Ellery doesn’t seem to be the main character, despite this being the third in her series. There was far too much reference to previous events – I could understand the plot and backstory without as much description and reference as was included. If you had read the preceding books in the series you might have found this even more repetitive. There was a a lot of focus on the development of the relationship of the two main characters (which related to the backstory) and I wasn’t particularly fussed, I would have preferred less of this and more action.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Scott & Bailey: Bleed Like Me – Cath Staincliffe

Title – Scott & Bailey: Bleed Like Me

Author – Cath Staincliffe

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

My reading is pretty consistent at the moment but I’m moving between new books (mainly birthday gifts), review copies via NetGalley and older physical review copies of books which have been sitting on my TBR for some time. This book is one of the latter – a signed hardcopy that I picked up at a publishing event in March 2013.

I think when I went to the event I had yet to watch any of the Scott and Bailey TV series, so perhaps the delay in reading this book worked out for the best.

As soon as I started reading I was transported straight back to the TV series and its characters. The book is set as a prequel to the second ITV Scott and Bailey series (I had to look that up) but I know that it was somewhere within the series timeline as there were references to incidents I remembered.

The story is more of a thriller than a police procedural – three bodies have been found, stabbed to death in their beds, at The Journey’s Inn, Lark’s Estate, Manchester. The husband and father of two of the victims has fled and his two young sons are missing. There seems little doubt over what may have taken place, the challenge for the team is to find the desperate man but, more importantly, his small sons.

The characters are just as I remembered them but the format of a book over a TV series gives you a bit more insight into the characters and their motivations. It must be a challenge for a writer to mould their work to fit something that already exists but nothing felt out of place and there was a visual quality to the writing that helped support the feeling that this was an extension of what I’d seen on the small screen.

The story itself was a good ‘race against time’ with some red herrings and action but within the confines of a police team in Manchester. The investigation is only part of the story, though, as this is also a story of the three very different, strong women who take the lead.

I really enjoyed this – it took me back to a very watchable TV series, not only reminded me of the characters but added to it by providing a more intimate connection with them.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Quickening – Rhiannon Ward

Title – The Quickening

Author – Rhiannon Ward

Published – 20 August 2020

Genre – Historical crime fiction

While I’ve not suffered the lack of interest in reading that others found during lockdown I have found that the change to my routine has made my blogging even more sporadic than normal. Somehow over the last few years I’ve gone from 50 or 60 posts a year to only 12 so far in 2020 but the latest book from Rhiannon (Sarah) Ward has prompted me to get back to the keyboard.

I had intended getting my blog post out in time for the publication date but it’s taken longer to write than I planned as I’ve deleted around 400 words and started again.

So.

Not only is there a change of name for the author but also a change of publisher and genre (as Sarah Ward she is the author of four DC Childs novels) although keeping the crime/mystery element this is a move to an historical setting – the main part of the story being taking place in 1925.

Louisa is a photographer asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex, where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction before the family move to India. She is surprised by the commission but with a baby on the way she’s keen to take the opportunity to earn some extra money. When she arrives she finds that the house is literally falling apart and its inhabitants seemed to be damaged or weighed down with grief; it’s a dark and tense atmosphere that she’s not comfortable with. She discovers that during her stay at the house an event is planned to recreate an infamous seance that originally took place in 1896.

The setting is atmospheric and there is an underlying tension which builds through the story as the secrets of the house and family are revealed. There is a lot of grief and loss in the book, something which Louisa herself is no stranger to, and this is magnified by the decay of the surroundings and the limited cast of characters.

Louisa makes a great lead, she has some modern sensibilities but the author couches these within the constraints of the period. I was fascinated both by the details around the photographic process of the period as well as those around the everyday lives of the house’s occupants. I have to wonder how on earth you can research these tiny details – if they were made up then they were very convincing!

It’s one of those oddities of publishing that I was sitting in the garden in a heatwave reading this dark and chilling mystery – it will make a great read when the nights draw in. A gothic mystery set in a dilapidated country house with a strong female lead, a mysterious child and a cameo appearance by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – what more could you ask for?

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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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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