Cruel Mercy – David Mark

Title – Cruel Mercy

Author – David Mark

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been missing DS McAvoy so it was a relief to finally catch up on book 6 in the series. This book sees McAvoy even further out of his comfort zone than normal as the action takes place in New York City. Three Irishmen who have arrived in New York, one is dead, one is in a coma and one is missing. As the missing one is Roisin’s little brother strings have been pulled and McAvoy has been allowed to cross the Atlantic to see if he can find out what’s happened – because if he can’t a huge family feud will engulf those he loves. If there’s one thing that drives McAvoy it’s his love for his wife!

If McAvoy normally seems like a fish out of water then the change of environment does nothing to improve the situation but he remains true to his character in his dogged determination to get to the bottom of whatever mystery he’s presented with. He’s given a contact in the NYPD and the Detective seems like a decent guy but it doesn’t take McAvoy long to realise that he is being played in all sorts of ways. Detective Alto has his own agenda and he’s happy to try to manipulate McAvoy to get what he wants.

The author makes the most of the location – with Irish priests, bare knuckle fighting, Feds, Mafia mobsters and Chechen gangs. The book picks up some of the atmosphere of New York but with a wintery setting it shares a lot in common with Hull. The story (as is usual in this series) is complex with lots of seemingly disconnected threads. This is perhaps the reason that the opening of the book feels a little disjointed; there are a number of different points of view and it’s not clear at the start (in some cases it isn’t actually resolved until the end of the book) who the characters are.

Like a jigsaw all the pieces come together to make a satisfying final result but for some of the way it felt like there were a few annoying bits of sky lying about that were never going to fit in! This is a challenging read. The topics the books tackles and some of the violence are at the opposite end of the crime fiction scale to ‘cosy’. There is some brutal violence and some depraved behaviour, it’s complex and you need to keep your wits about you.

It’s great getting reacquainted with McAvoy again but the change of location did mean that, for me, there were some downsides. I missed the team spirit that closer proximity to his colleagues would normally give and a disembodied Trish Pharaoh via Skype is a pale imitation of the real thing. There have been some storylines in earlier books in the series concerning McAvoy’s colleagues that I really wanted to see develop or be resolved but these were neglected. And of course there’s Roisin and Aector together – a force to be reckoned with but not quite the same when they are on different continents.

An enjoyable if challenging read but not quite Aector McAvoy at this best. Thank you to the library for letting me borrow the book. You can see another point of view on Puzzle Doctor’s blog.

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The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Title – The Wicked Cometh

Author – Laura Carlin

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s 1831 and men, women and children have been disappearing from the streets of London. Hester is a young woman who lost her somewhat privileged life when she was orphaned and was taken in by her father’s ex-gardener and his wife, which has led to her living in ever more wretched conditions. She is pinning her hopes on being able to meet her long lost cousin in London but a chance incident and injury sees her become something of a ‘project’ for the Brock family – Calder Brock, his sister Rebekah and their uncle. Hester is sent to their country house where they plan to educate her (as she has managed to keep to herself the fact that she is actually relatively well educated), she makes friends with some of the housemaids and is mentored by Rebekah.

This is a book or two halves. There is the ‘salvation’ of Hester and her burgeoning relationship with Rebekah. Then there are the ‘investigations’ as they play amateur detective in trying to find what’s become of the missing people, uncovering some unpleasant secrets in both their families along the way.

I have to say this book that wasn’t really for me. The stories and the multiple threads became quite convoluted and the author packed a lot in. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hester, for some reason I didn’t find that her character rang quite true – although nothing I can really put my finger on. The author does paint an interesting and atmospheric picture of London, demonstrating some of the contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and there is a period leaning to the writing. But the very end of the book felt like it had pushed the credibility of the story too far.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.

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A Darker State – David Young

Title – A Darker State

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015,  last year it was the second novel in the Karin Müller series – Stasi Wolf, and now we have the third instalment in A Darker State.  Set some months after the end of the second book, Karin is feeling a little more domesticated with her newly extended family. Her break from work doesn’t last long, however, when she gains another speedy promotion and a new apartment, but as she well knows, everything has its price and she is soon involved in a new case following the discovery of the body of a young boy.

Berlin, Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz

Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz, Berlin Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-U0416-0017 / Schulz / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The investigation is slow to develop – it seems that the different divisions within the police and bureaucracy weren’t up to much in the way of cooperation. Karin isn’t one to give up easily though, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of the previous books in the series. The case is brought closer to home when it becomes apparent that there may be a link between the young man’s death and the disappearance of the son of one of her co-workers and as a new mother Karin is more sympathetic than perhaps she might have been in the past.

The missing boy is Markus Schmidt and throughout the book there are chapters told from his point of view where we get to find out about his backstory as the events unfold that see him become ever more distant from his parents. His story is both sad and his treatment despicable, a thought-provoking thread to the story.

We get a tiny glimpse more into the relationships between the main characters and find out that there is more to Tilsner/Jäger’s relationship than we might have thought. And just when I thought that Karin’s ex-husband had been forgotten we get a tantalising hint that all isn’t as it should be.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised at what was going on behind the Berlin Wall and this gives the author the opportunity to develop some real-life incidents into more gripping fictional ones. The political divisions and the controlling influence of the Stasi also allow for dramatic and tense situations and regardless of how the reader knows Karin she still ends up at the wrong end of the legal system.

Young writes really immersive historical fiction – there’s never a moment when the writing takes you out of the book and makes you question what you’re reading. The book is both a mystery and has its thrills and of course Karin is a great leading character. So do you need to have read the previous books in the series? This would probably make enough sense if you read it first but you would miss some of the backstory and character development that are relevant in the series.

Another enjoyable piece for Cold War crime fiction – many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Photographer – Craig Robertson

Title – The Photographer

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 25 Jan 2018

Genre – Crime

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a fan of Craig Roberton’s writing due to his mix of gritty Glaswegian crime fiction, ability to weave in multiple plotlines and of course his very readable prose. This is the seventh book in the series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police photographer Tony Winter and it’s made for a cracking start to the year.

In this case “The Photographer” isn’t Winter but a particularly violent rapist who has kept dozens and dozens of candid photographs of young women. Potentially his victims – of course, admissible in court and available to the police – of course not!

Unusually we start without much in the way of doubt about who the perpetrator is and he’s quickly brought to the attention of the police. Initially unaware of the scale of his crimes Narey’s trip to court draws a lot of public attention and this spills over into her family’s private life when she is the subject of a hate campaign via social media. Unsuccessful in the prosecution of the man, Narey becomes aware of more victims but discovering that some have disappeared gives the story a ‘race against time’ aspect. Winter receives some help from an unidentified source which allows him to pursue his own investigation and, as you would expect, he sails close to the wind.

This is less graphic than previous books but rape is a tricky subject regardless of who is writing about it. The attacks are described in enough detail that the reader can understand the terror of the women, and the violence of the assault, but there is nothing gratuitous. The  development of the victims’s characters offers an insight to the aftermath – those who crumble and those who rise above it to become more of a crusader for the rest.

It feels like it’s in this book that the author has really found the perfect balance with the series. The split of story between the two main characters (not forgetting Uncle Danny), the fact that their relationship is more settled, perhaps less violence, or at least less gore than previous books and a resolution that I was happy with – there’s nothing to criticise. As with the recent books in the series the topics are ‘cutting edge’ tackling issues you can see in the news any evening of the week. And one aspect that I must mention is Robertson’s turn of phrase – there are moments where it’s a pure joy to read, not something you can always say about crime fiction!

A great instalment in the series, many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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Managing the TBR pile

A few bloggers were posting last year about their efforts to manage their To Be Read (TBR) piles. I considered a post then but ti seemed a better use of my time to actually write some reviews! As well as a TBR ‘pile’ I have a second type of TBR which is my ‘read but yet to be reviewed’ pile which is equally frightening!

I wrote a roundup post at the end of 2016 which reviewed where I was with my outstanding reading. I have to confess that I’m not necessarily showing much progress! On a sort of positive side the number of books arriving from publishers has dropped off dramatically. Moving house hasn’t helped and the occupiers of our old house may be getting into crime fiction books, I was really busy with work in the first half of 2017 so I neglected my blog and the contacts at publishers change so it’s easy to drop off a specific list.

To be honest it’s not really an issue, it isn’t as if I will run out of books to read. The only problem I really see is that if, as a blogger, you’re not reading the ‘next big thing’ you can lose a new term of reference that becomes commonplace  (like comparing a book to Gone Girl, which is still unread on my Kindle).

So my plan to keep up in 2018 is this:

At the end of the year I cleared into a box enough physical books from my ‘to read bookcase’ so that there was no longer a stack of books beside it, everything is now on the bookcase, including the books I was given for Christmas. I will read books in the order in which they arrive and if there are any gaps when there are no new books I’ll pick one up from the bookcase. I’m averaging a bit over a book a week which means one book on my commute and part of another book in the evenings or weekends, and it’s better if that book is a hardback as I don’t like to shove them in my work bag.

As far as reviewing goes I’m aiming to keep to reviewing a book as soon as I’ve read it. If I can do that and occasionally write a review for a book from the read but yet to be reviewed pile I should feel under less pressure. Which is all well and good but I couldn’t manage last year!

So how am I doing (I realise we’re not a full month in to 2018 yet)?

I have read:

The Fear Within which arrived on 30th December and reviewed it here
The Ice which was a birthday gift from July and as a signed hardback I wouldn’t take out of the house – still needs reviewing
A Song From Dead Lips which I treated myself to just before Christmas I reviewed here
Turn a Blind Eye – 2018’s first #bookpost I read and reviewed here

Currently reading:

The Photographer, which I got as a NetGalley is my current read.
At the same time I’ve also started reading The Silent Companions which was a Christmas present.

Next to read will be:

A Darker State which is the third in the Karin Müller series and arrived earlier this month.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright which I received as a NetGalley

Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb which I received as a free download when I signed up to Lounge Books.

Perfect Remains by Helen Fields which I bought on a Kindle offer.

The Hangman by Daniel Cole which I received from Netgalley.

I went to the Headline “New Voices 2018′ event in Bristol during the week and came home with tow books, The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke and The Wolf by Leo Carew.

So this should take me through to the end of Feb and let’s ignore the fact I might have asked for one or two books that haven’t yet arrived.

Let’s see how I manage sticking to this!

So how do you manage your arrivals and keeping on top of your ‘to read’ books?

Turn A Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Title – Turn A Blind Eye

Author – Vicky Newham

Published – 5 April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books that got a mention in my look forward to 2018 and I’m thrilled that I got a copy so early in the year.

The book is set in East London and embraces the diverse multi-cultural aspects of the communities there. When the body of a head teacher is discovered in her office by a colleague at Mile End High School Detective Inspector, and former pupil, Maya Rahman is keen to lead the investigation, even though this means cutting short her leave to do so. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept, suggesting, if nothing else, that the murder was premeditated.

Like any good police procedural the book follows the pattern of increasing body count, increasing pressure on the team and a number of possible suspects. The setting of the school provides quite an enclosed environment which narrows down those potentially involved to a rather limited pool. With her own history at the school Maya takes on a determination to solve the murder and to protect the reputation of the school – two things which don’t always require the same action!

The pace varies through the book to give some fast-paced and intense scenes, balanced by the necessarily slower parts of the investigation and more introspective scenes for the main characters. Of the characters it’s Maya that we come to know best with a number of scenes taking place in the past, filling in important aspects of her backstory. Maya’s scenes are told in the first person, making them seem more immediate and bringing the reader closer to the character. She is a Muslim (although seemingly not a particularly devout one) of Bangladeshi origin, at the beginning of the book she suffered a loss but she’s anything but the traditional dysfunctional detective.

There are two other points of view used in the book – Steve, the teacher who finds the body at the beginning of the book, and Dan, a new DS unexpectedly thrust on Maya as a new colleague, who is an Aussie and has left his young family behind to work in the UK. There’s quite a lot of police detail and although I’m a fan of police procedurals I am tempted to think that this might be a case where the reader doesn’t need to know too much about different systems and acronyms.

Drawing on her own experiences teaching in the area the author paints a vivid picture of live in an inner-city school and some of the issues that they face – whether that be from dealing with the multi-cultural aspects of the students and their families or the wider pressure on performance and reputation. The book touches on a number of social issues, both specific (such as forced marriage) and the more general issue of what happens when different cultures collide in the same environment and how it can feel to be an outsider.

Vicky has set herself a huge challenge in writing in such personal detail from the perspective of a character from another culture. Authors are obviously doing this all the time, after all their job is to make things up, but there are going to be some people who will be able to read this with a much more informed eye that I can. I think the shame is that there aren’t many authors bringing a range of cultural experience to the genre. It will be interesting to see how the series develops in the future and which characters make it into the second book.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can follow Vicky on twitter and her detectives have their own twitter account too. You can see another review of Turn a Blind Eye on Liz’s blog.

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A Song From Dead Lips – William Shaw

Title – A Song From Dead Lips

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m a huge fan of police procedurals. It was only when I read (and loved) The Birdwatcher that I discovered William Shaw had also been writing a police procedural series and just before Christmas I treated myself to the first three books (book no. 4 is the most recent to be published).

Set in London in the late 1960s (the book opens in 1968) the series is ‘Breen and Tozer’; Breen is DS Cathal Breen and Tozer is WPC Helen Tozer. Breen is a member of the Marylebone CID and not its most respected officer. Tozer is assigned to work with him as a Temporary Detective Constable at a time when WPCs were expected to do nothing much more than make the tea.

The initial case Breen investigates is the discovery of a young woman’s naked body in an alley close to Abbey Road. The investigation, both to identify her and to find her killer, proceeds quite slowly but the lack of pace doesn’t feel like an issue. The book is a pleasure to read and as Breen works on the case a number of other threads come in to play and we also find out more about Breen as a character. He is certainly one of the more enlightened members of the CID and that, perhaps, has something to do with his lack of friends in the force. He’s willing to give Tozer an opportunity and listen to her point of view where other colleagues only subject her to sexist jibes. Of course their relationship isn’t all plain sailing but compared to much recent crime fiction it’s refreshing to have two characters who may have their flaws but also manage to be likeable. The book does speed up and there’s a good, old-fashioned car chase and an exciting climax.

This is the London of The Beatles and the White Album, of hippies and John and Yoko, “Rivers of Blood” and anti-Vietnam protests. Shaw captures the feeling as effortlessly as he did the desolate setting of The Birdwatcher. The details are skilfully dropped into the story and I can’t be the only person to have read the book and have had some ‘I remember that’ moments. Writing about a past that your readers may remember feels like a risky choice but I can’t imagine that Shaw has made errors in the setting, it feels absolutely real.

Shaw uses the plot to highlight political issues of the time, and not necessarily those you might be familiar with. One of the characters is from Biafra and I now know more than I did when I started the book about the struggles in Nigeria / Biafra at the end of the 1960s. The theme of ‘outsiders’ and their treatment is also a strong one throughout the story and unites most, if not all, of the threads.

If I do have a quibble (and I gave this 4 stars rather than 5) it’s around the resolution of the main plotline. But I can’t say anything more without giving the game away! Having looked at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I think this is just me.

Regardless of this I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series and finding out more about how the relationship between Breen and Tozer develops. A cracking start to a series!

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