Two short reviews – September 2015

In an(other) effort to make a dent in the (ever-increasing) pile of books I’ve read but not yet reviewed below are two short reviews for The Domino Killer by Neil White and The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason.

91O4gmwxFPL._SL1500_Title – The Domino Killer

Author – Neil White

Published – July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

A lawyer by profession Neil White has managed to find the time to write nine crime fiction novels and The Domino Killer is the third in his “Parker Brothers Trilogy”. The brothers are Sam (a detective constable) and Joe (a criminal defence lawyer) and the setting is Manchester.

The story is told from several points of view – that of Sam and Joe – as well as a mysterious killer. The story opens with the discovery of a man who has beaten to death in a local park and his murder becomes swiftly linked to another recent, and still unsolved, attack. At the same time Joe comes face-to-face with a man that he believes is linked to a tragedy in the brothers’ past.

The two threads progress with Sam involved in the police investigation and Joe undertaking some investigative work of his own. At the heart of the story is a deceit that Joe has been hiding since his teenage years and when he is forced to confess there is fallout that affects the relationship with his brother as well as his closest colleague.

While I enjoyed the story of the brothers which ends with some gripping action scenes I have to confess to having skipped a few passages (shock!!) but I’m not sure that it really needed more than 400 pages to tell the story. I was also at a disadvantage, and a victim of circumstance, in not having read the preceding titles in the series. I am curious if any mention is made in the earlier books about the brothers’ sister – perhaps it was a teaser that paid off in the final book – something people following the series would appreciate more than perhaps I did.

 

515tqOJGpWLTitle – The Draining Lake

Author – Arnaldur Indriðason (translated by Bernard Scudder)

Published – 2004 (2007 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

I stared reading this book before going to the inaugural Iceland Noir in 2013 and I finished it last month – so just shy of two years. Which I think will tell you something abut my feelings about this book and I realise that anything I say here will risk the friendship of the scandi/nordic crime fiction fans – but this was so dull!

The water levels in a lake in Iceland have dropped, exposing a skeleton alongside an old Russian radio transmitter. The mystery of the remains is investigated by Detective Erlendur and in the course of the investigation he meets a woman whose husband vanished in the 1960s. Erlendur’s obsession with those who are missing fuels his desire to find the man and he tracks down the car he was driving at the time of the disappearance and this leads him on a search for a missing hubcap.

Peppering the book is a second thread providing the backstory about a group of Icelandic students who went to study in Leipzig during in the 1950s.  The relevance of the narrator of these sections is kept hidden but it is clear that he became disenchanted with communism during the time in East Germany.

The story is a mystery and as Indriðason is committed to keeping a low body count in his books this means that it is more credible than many that feature serial killers, but it perhaps also explains a lack of pace. For me, however, the sense of loss that pervades the book, Erlendur’s dour demeanour and the grim experience of those in Leipzig made this an unrelentingly gloomy read.

1star1star1star

2 Comments

Filed under 3 star

The Well – Catherine Chanter

51yfvMatgNLTitle – The Well

Author – Catherine Chanter

Published – 2015

Genre – Fiction

Hard on the heels of The Testimony this is another book that’s hard to categorise. Although there is a more traditional element of crime fiction, The Well is set in a near future where there is some sort of climatic disaster taking place, which puts this on a “semi-post-apocatlytic” footing. Unlike The Testimony, however, there is just a single voice and a single point of view; our narrator is Ruth who has recently returned to her home under a version of house arrest.

Home for Ruth is The Well, a literal oasis in a drought stricken country. Ruth and husband Mark set out to escape to the country from a turbulent time in London. When they chose The Well it was a smallholding like any other in a rural English village. When a lack of rain started to affect the country the change passed them by because The Well seemed unaffected. As their continued ‘good fortune’ alienated them from their neighbours word spread and people arrived to see for themselves. These arrivals included Ruth’s daughter and grandson and a group of nuns the ‘Sisters of the Rose of Jericho’. The Sisters see Ruth as an essential part of their worship and as she becomes increasingly estranged from her husband she is drawn into the women-only group and their religious fervour.

The book opens as Ruth is returned to The Well and her contemplation of the events that brought her there provides the backstory. Gripped by grief over the cataclysmic days that led to her incarceration she doesn’t prove to be a particularly reliable narrator but Chanter manages to hold back the key events from the reader until quite a way into the story. The threads of the story mix together the mystery that surrounds Ruth’s incarceration with the unusual climate at The Well. During her incarceration Ruth is grief-stricken and withdrawn and her interaction is limited to only a handful of characters, meaning that a lot of the story is told as she reminisces on events before the pace picks up when the events reach a climax both in the present and in her memory.

If I were to draw comparisons I would say that this was somewhere between Joanne Harris’s Chocolat and Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson. There’s a mix of religion and religious fervour that they all touch on with women at the heart of the story. They also mix religion with the unexplained (which of course The Testimony deals with too). Chanter’s prose is beautifully written and evokes the charm of The Well and its idyllic setting.

I found it hard to ignore, however, the occasional break with the fictional setting that had been created (how do you get flowers from a garage during years of drought …?) and the odd anachronistic detail could be jarring – better to not think about the impact on the outside world too much. As with The Testimony the first person approach does mean that the true external impact on the rest of world isn’t really communicated which isn’t always so easy to ignore as a reader – there are some ‘whats, whys, hows’ that could have been answered.

The Well won Chanter the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2013, which is for an unpublished debut novel by a woman. Thank you to Peters Fraser + Dunlop for the review copy of the book.

1star1star1star1star

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 star

The Testimony – James Smythe

51xmaBhFtNLTitle – The Testimony

Author – James Smythe

Published – 2012

Genre – Science fiction (see below)

My first issue in writing this review has been trying to decide what genre to describe the book. I know that pigeonholing something with a specific genre isn’t important, but it does provide a clue about what to expect from a book. So thriller – maybe, apocalyptic – sort of, sci-fi – ish, speculative fiction – perhaps. I can say definitively, though, that this isn’t crime fiction.

The book is set in our world, as we would recognise it, but slightly in the future – the clue is that Obama was the American president a couple of terms prior to the events taking place. The story is told, and I’m quoting the blurb here as ‘synchronous events told by multiple voices’. Everyone (with few exceptions) experiences the same unexplained phenomenon. This is the start of ‘The Broadcast’, initially a noise like static which has no obvious source. The unintelligible noise is followed by a voice – but who is it speaking? The premise is that different people, cultures, religions react differently to this voice and have opposing views about its origin. The dividing question is whether or not this is the voice of God. Which makes this sound perhaps a more worthy and dull story than it is.

As the accounts follow from, initially, 26 characters who are a mix of of ages, sexes, cultures, beliefs, locations and occupations there are also a range of reactions to and experiences of the aftermath of the noise and voice. From a British MP to a nun in Rome, from an American schoolgirl to Indian doctor. Whilst individuals reach their own conclusions about the meaning, if any, of the voice, a terrorist promises to punish ‘false believers’. Unrest brought about by the voice is compounded by bombs exploding and an unexplained illness.The combination of events leads to a situation akin to something apocalyptic.

I have to confess that the different voices that all appear in quick succession in the opening and their conversational style took me a while to grasp. The disadvantage of involving such a lot of disparate points of view is that it takes a while to move the plot forward. As the book progresses however, the number of contributors falls until there is a smaller number of core characters left at the end.

I don’t read a huge amount of sci fi (that’s what I’m calling this now) but it seems to be the best genre for exploring issues and this touches on questions about what is religion and what happens if people are forced to confront their beliefs in a more tangible, physical way.

The story is all about the individuals’ experience and their perception of events which provides insight into the events but is still a very personal perspective. Perhaps, though, this isn’t in the book’s favour because this limits the reader’s understanding of the global scale of what is taking place.

All the characters have own way of dealing with the events – religion, science, sceptic, believer and they all seem credible but perhaps in having so many people the book loses something at the heart of it. This was an enjoyable read that raised some interesting scenarios.

I bought this book. You can see other points of view at Reader Dad and For Winter’s Nights.
1star1star1star1star

3 Comments

Filed under 4 star

Life or Death – Michael Robotham

41VFuCadhWLTitle – Life or Death

Author – Michael Robotham

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre –  Thriller

Why is it easy to ramble on about books that you’re not so taken with but when it comes to one you love it’s really hard to articulate the reasons? Or perhaps it’s just me… So this has probably tipped you off that I really enjoyed Life or Death and that I probably won’t be able to get across what it was that made it such a great read.

The premise of the book is a simple but intriguing one, although at first glance it would be tempting to think it’s one that, after a bit of explanation, would be come a run of the mill thriller. The day before he is due to be released after a decade in prison Audie Palmer escapes.

The book opens with Audie making his escape and keeps up the pace as it switches between a number of points of view. He has always been something of an enigma to his fellow inmates, although he has drawn considerable attention as his sentence was related to a heist on an armoured truck carrying $7 million which are still missing. Investigations at the prison focus on Moss, the guy who’s been in the next cell to Audie and the closest thing he has to a friend. But Audie has kept his plans to himself and no-one can shed any light on the reasons for his escape or what he might intend doing on the outside. The points of view include Moss – who becomes more involved in the hunt for Audie than he could have anticipated, and Special Agent Desiree Furness, a diminutive FBI agent, but the story is very much Audie’s. In crime fiction I prefer a single point of view but thrillers work much better when you can follow the hunt as well as the hunted!

As Audie is tracked down by a number of different people his backstory comes out and Robotham is skilful in keeping the reasons for the jailbreak and the story behind the heist under wraps until a pretty long way into the book – which makes it even more of a page turner! The writing has a very visual quality and brings the action vividly alive. There’s also an attention to detail which made me think of the series by David Mark that I so enjoy.

Audie is a great central character, in some ways not a typical criminal or the usual hero for a thriller. He’s been unlucky but has maintained his dignity. The other characters are equally well drawn, especially the FBI Agent (I would have liked to have seen more of her) but Audie is the heart of the story in more ways than one. Although I figured out some aspects of the plot sooner rather than later, there were plenty of aspects that surprised me and plenty of thrills, but it’s a thriller with lots of heart.

You can see another point of view on Fair Dinkum Crime. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book.

1star1star1star1star1star

1 Comment

Filed under 5 star

Author interview – J S Law

JS LawIt might have taken me a while to get to my second author interview but I’m thrilled that it is JS Law, whose debut Tenacity is published this week.

Tenacity is your debut, can you say a little about the story – what’s your elevator pitch?

Elevator pitch huh? Well, it’s Girl Gone from a Train meets The Bourne for Red October!!!

Or, a trifle more accurately, it’s about a female investigator from the Royal Navy, Dan Lewis, who’s called in to investigate a murder-suicide onboard a nuclear submarine. She’s an ultimate outsider – female in a very male dominated environment, a crusher (military police) – and when the submarine hatch closes, I don’t think there’s a locked room environment quite like it.

How have you found the process of getting your book published?

Getting published is a hard old slog, no question about that. I know some very talented, or very lucky, people just write the one book and it becomes a phenomena and fair play to them, but they’re few and far between. For the rest of us it’s about learning how stories work, writing some very bad novels as we start to hone our skill, and then submitting and hoping we get picked up by an agent.

And really, when you get picked up by an agent, that’s not the end of the road, but it is the point at which you get really great, market-savvy advice from someone who is invested in you and your book, and that is a huge help.

I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown, and this led to a three month re-working of Tenacity before we sent it out to publishers. Tenacity then sold at auction to Vicki Mellor at Headline and I was delighted, but that again led to another round of heavy re-writes. So it’s a long journey, but very, very worth it.

What drew you to crime fiction as a genre?

I tried a few genres and have completed novels that are horror (really, really awful!), Fantasy (I think I was being pretentious at the time and called it a Phantasy – it was terrible), Erotica (Oh hell yeah, I went there, and it was before 50 Shades – truly dreadful) and then hit upon thrillers and crime. I think my writing started to improve when I began writing in this genre and I really started to enjoy it more too. Once I started going to events like Crimefest and Harrogate, and met other authors in the genre, I was hooked. It should have been obvious really, as the vast majority of my reading is in Crime Thrillers, so I think I’ll be happy here for a long time to come.

Your investigator is a Royal Navy Special Investigator, have you ever crossed paths with one yourself?

Errr, I’ve crossed the Regulators on several occasions as young sailor – stories for the bar maybe?

What facts were you surprised to find yourself researching? 

You know what!! I dread someone looking at my search history, I really do – I think all authors must be the same. The things I Google about decomposing bodies and how people look when they’ve been suffocated and stuff…

Fortunately I do have some great friends in the medical profession who spare my search history sometimes and humour me by answering my odd questions.

The things that surprise me the most though are things I should know and have forgotten. I spent years walking on and off submarines and then have to Google pictures on the web because I can’t remember what the ship’s name boards look like or some such thing. You use it or lose it, definitely

What have your former submarine colleagues made of the book – do they think they can spot themselves?

You know, this made me more nervous than anything else – how would the submarine community react to the book – but it’s been hugely positive so far and several of the guys have read and enjoyed Tenacity, which is a huge relief. It’s also worth noting that it was only in my last few years of service that people found out that I wrote at all, as I’d kept it secret for many years (I don’t know why) so for them, this all seems to have happened very quickly and they’re very much behind me.

In regards to spotting themselves – they aren’t in there and I’ll never say otherwise ;-)

Have you found the writing process differs for the second book?

Definitely! When you write your first book you have carte blanche and can do as you please. You can twist and turn, add or remove characters at will, and stop and write something completely different if you choose. For me, I found getting the second book flowing much more difficult. All of a sudden I had markers laid down – a main character who already had a forming background and personality – supporting characters who we wanted to see more or less of – a location and a theme (the Royal Navy) that we wanted to stick with – and my new story had to fit within these markers, and comfortably engulf them.

I started book 2 twice, each time writing around 35 thousand words before I abandoned it. But, with help from Jonny and Vicki, (and this is where excellent agents and editors really are worth their weight in gold) we were able to locate the problem and I’m now off and running on book 2 and feeling much happier about it. In fact, I’m very excited about it.

Who are the writers who have inspired you?

So many, but to list a very few – Cormac McCarthy’s use of language is just phenomenal; William McIlvanney’s ability to present a ‘sense of place’ is second to none; Thomas Harris has a rare ability to create tension that you can actually feel through the pages. But there are so many others who have also helped to inspire me – Mark Billingham, Peter James, Val McDermid, Stav Sherez the list just goes on and on and I could wax lyrical about each of them, what they do brilliantly, and what it is that really helped me to develop as a writer.

I think the thing is, when you want to be a writer, you need to read books from these authors, as well as newer authors in your genre, and alternate between reading for fun and just enjoying it, and then reading to understand what these authors are doing, how they drive the story forward, how they foreshadow events and bring about amazing plot twists. Read it to study, slowly, take notes if you need to, and try to learn your craft from their work.

What are you reading at the moment?

Just finished The Dying Place by Luca Veste – Very, very good!

Next up is The Defence by Steve Cavanagh – really excited, reviews have been amazing!

After that on the TBR pile are

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – top ten bestseller by an amazing author – I can’t wait to get to this one.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl and Dark Places were excellent – so really looking forward to this one.

But…. I don’t really read fiction when I’m writing my first draft, so it’ll be The Grudge by Tom English and other rugby related non-fic until mid-October, I’m guessing.

Thank you very much for having me on the blog ☺ see you at the launch xx

Thank you to James for taking the time to answer my questions – you can find out more about him and Tenacity at www.jslawbooks.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Interview

Tenacity – J S Law

51mWy+KLpDLTitle – Tenacity

Author – J S Law

Published – 30 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

Tenacity is the debut crime fiction novel by J S Law (or James if you bump into him in the bar at a crime fiction festival) and one of the debuts that I have been looking forward to reading. Before entering the  shady world of crime fiction writing Law had an amazing CV – including ‘Senior Engineer and Nuclear Reactor Plant Supervisor’ in the Royal Navy Submarine Service. I don’t suppose there are too many people who can say that!

With such an unusual occupation it is perhaps no surprise that, following the old adage of writing what you know, this debut features an investigation on a submarine. Law’s main character is Dan – Lieutenant Danielle Lewis, an investigator and part of the Royal Navy’s Kill (Crimes Involving Loss of Life) Team.

The book has a gripping opening and sets up some of Dan’s backstory which involved an investigation into a serial killer. For a number of reasons, some of which are only hinted at in the early chapters of the book, Dan has just returned to active duty. She is initially tasked with investigating the suicide of a submariner who was discovered hanged on nuclear submarine HMS Tenacity. It subsequently becomes clear that this may not be a straight-forward investigation as the man’s wife had been found beaten, raped and murdered not long before her husband’s suicide.

As with many books set in similar institutions, everyone is hoping for a quick solution which supports their preferred outcome, and in this case time is tight as Tenacity is about to set back out to sea. Of course Dan is more conscientious than that and insists on trying to carry out a thorough investigation, and this means spending considerable time on aboard the submarine. It’s here that this book really comes into its own. One of the joys of reading fiction is the glimpse it can offer into a world which the reader is never likely to see for themselves – and in this case it’s the claustrophobic life on a submarine. In putting Dan into this all-male environment and one where her presence isn’t welcomed, Law creates something which is dark and atmospheric (both literally and figuratively!). She’s isolated in this oppressive and toxic environment and horribly violated. Although not particularly gruesome or violent there are some scenes where Dan suffers at the hands of men which I found quite disturbing – it’s weeks since I read the book and the images have stayed with me – this is powerful writing.

In trying to reach a resolution in her investigations Dan’s backstory becomes clearer and more relevant; she’s a complex and damaged character trying to do a tough job in a man’s world. She’s a female lead who doesn’t kowtow to anyone (even when she probably should) and although she does have ‘baggage’ it’s not of the clichéd variety. Law really brings the setting alive for the reader without the need to disrupt the pace by showing off his inside knowledge.

The ending sets the reader up neatly to want to pick up the next book in the series, and I for one can’t wait! Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see other points of view at Northern Crime, Grab This Book and Liz Loves Books.

1star1star1star1star

1 Comment

Filed under 4 star

Two short reviews – July 2015

In an effort to make a dent in the (ever-increasing) pile of books I’ve read but not yet reviewed below are two short reviews for The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney and Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.

91x4gFZhsML._SL1500_Title – The Liar’s Chair

Author – Rebecca Whitney

Published – Jan 2015

Genre – Psychological thriller

This debut psychological thriller has a gripping opening – a woman driving home to her husband, having spent the night with her lover, kills a man in a hit and run accident. Despite her attempts to keep the incident secret, she quickly confesses to her husband what has happened and he arranges for the matter to be ‘dealt with’ for her.

What soon becomes clear, though, is that this is no normal relationship and while they give the appearance of being a happy, wealthy and successful couple, there are some control issues in their relationship. While Rachel becomes more and more obsessed with what she’s done her husband attempts to exert more and more control over her.

There has been a trend towards fiction which features unsympathetic characters and The Liar’s Chair seems to fall into this category – I didn’t like and couldn’t feel any sympathy for, anyone. I felt that Rachel’s belief that she was suffering from psychological abuse by her husband wasn’t convincing, and with the exception of one or two incidents the events didn’t support this.

Not for me I’m afraid.

51j2aZKyhYLTitle – Love Like Blood

Author – Marcus Sedgwick

Published – 2014

Genre – Historical fiction

This is quite an odd story and Sedgwick’s first adult novel after a successful series of Young Adult / Children’s fiction. The story follows Charles Jackson, a man who glimpses something horrific in the basement of of museum outside Paris shortly after the Liberation. He becomes a consultant haematologist and by chance he has the opportunity return France in 1951, and he takes the opportunity to return to the site of the encounter. Although he is disappointed at what he finds, he is beguiled by a young woman who he encounters by chance and then (coincidentally) he sees her with the mysterious man from the museum basement. From then on this is a gothic story of obsession – with the woman, with the man, with blood.

There is a mystery here – what is it that Charles is following, what lies at the root of his obsession? Sadly, however, I didn’t really care. As with The Liar’s Chair – I could neither empathise with him, nor was I convinced of his motivation.

1star1star1star

2 Comments

Filed under 3 star