Coincidence …?

I’m in the midst of writing a review for a book in which I’ve said ‘the premise is an unusual one’ and when I started the review this was true, however it shares a lot in common with my current read. The books were published within weeks of each other and I’m in no way suggesting that there is any connection, copying, collusion or anything in any way underhand – it’s just pure coincidence. And I’ve noticed how frequently this seems to happen. Through a purely random choice of what to read next I’ve often spotted surprising coincidences from the small, such as two books using the same unremarkable US location, to a more fundamental plot device.

Synchronicity, coincidence? Has this happened in your reading? And can you figure out the two books I’m referring to at the beginning of my post (if it helps they were both published in 2013).


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The Cellar – Minette Walters

513Wiwdj7SLTitle – The Cellar

Author – Minette Walters

Published -May 2015

Genre – ?

This is another book that defied me to put it in a neat genre category – but that’s something I will come back to. I am a huge Minette Walters fan, having read all of her previous titles starting with The Ice House in 1992 (which won the CWA John Creasey award). Her books were all standalone stories and a mix of crime fiction and psychological thrillers with a realism akin to the Nicci French books I also love. With the last novel being published in 2007 I was therefore thrilled when The Cellar was published earlier this year. At just shy of 250 pages it’s more of a novella than a novel, but is still longer than the few ‘quick reads’ that she has written in the interim.

The main character in the story is Muna and it soon becomes clear that she is a young African girl being kept as a domestic slave by an African family somewhere in England. When one of the family’s sons goes missing they are unable to prevent strangers (the police) entering the house and so they present Muna as their brain-damaged daughter. Clearly under the control of Yetunde and Ebuka she is unable or unwilling to speak up for herself; her dreams of seeking help seem to be shattered.

What we discover from Muna, however, is that they have underestimated her. Her distressing narrative documents the horrors that have befallen her at the hands of this couple and their sons, but as the story progresses she assumes a greater and greater confidence. As she tells the father ‘I am what you … have made me’. Her mis-treatment has hardened her and removed any chance of affection and it is at a price they will pay.

The book keeps a steady pace, throwing in some unexpected twists and turns and Walters’ writing is faultless. So back to the issue of genre. Buying the book based on the author alone I was expecting something with more of a crime fiction basis, or a psychological thriller. While it has aspects of both, and reminded me of some of the more recent Ruth Rendell titles, the odd page or two at the very end made me think of Stephen King. And then I discover that the book was published by Hammer and all of a sudden it made sense.

Not quite the Minette Walters I remember, but still a topical, thought-provoking and disturbing read. You can see another point of view on the Eurocrime blog.


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Filed under 4 star

And Then You Die – Michael Dibdin

717lXEZgjoL-2Title – And Then You Die

Author – Michael Dibdin

Published – 2002

Genre – Crime fiction

Like most other bloggers, I started  my  blog with reviews of books I already owned and while it’s lovely to be given review copies, I’m still buying and being given books as presents that I  want  to read. So for September I’m skipping review copies and catching up on my own books.

One (of many) series that I am behind on are the Italian-set books by Michael Dibdin featuring Inspector Aurelio Zen. And Then You Die is the eight book in the series which started with CWA Gold Dagger winning Ratking in 1988. Despite his English roots Dibdin set the series in Italy and Zen is by birth a Venetian who has spent most of the series living and working in different areas of Italy. In Blood Rain, which preceded And Then You Die, Zen had been in Sicily and attracted the ire of the Mafia, ending in a devastating explosion.

And Then You Die opens in the coastal town of Versilia where Zen is both recuperating and lying low, but while he is trying to remain inconspicuous and blending in with the locals on the beach, a fellow sunbather is discovered dead. Those trying to ensure his protection in advance of a Mafia trial decide to move him and the first half of the book sees him relocated several times, with some more seemingly coincidental calamities wherever he goes. While the story is quite entertaining it’s not exactly gripping.

Finally, he is able to return to Rome where he is invited to head up a new specialist division and offered the opportunity to return to Versilia prior to taking up this role. This enables Zen to follow up on a love interest that had been hinted at during his earlier stay. Before he can become too involved, a face from the past returns and many of the loose ends from Blood Rain are tied up. This latter half of the book has more action, but still there’s nothing what I would recognise as a typical police procedural and felt more like a farce. I guess it didn’t help that it was some time since I had read Blood Rain and I don’t remember the story in enough detail to be overly worried by the previous events. Returning to the series Zen seems a somewhat diminished character and the book lack the dark humour I remembered from the before – or perhaps I’m just remembering it fondly…

At just 279 pages the book is more of a novella than a full length novel. For me, what it lacked in pages it also sadly lacked in plot. A disappointing read.


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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.



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.


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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.


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.


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Filed under 5 star