Month: November 2011

The Dead Won’t Sleep – Anna Smith

Title – The Dead Won’t Sleep

Author – Anna Smith

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime

This is Anna Smith’s debut crime novel after a career as an award-winning crime reporter in Scotland, and she sticks to the subject she knows best.

The book is the first in a series featuring journalist Rosie Gilmour, and is set in Glasgow, somewhat oddly, in 1998. A 14 year-old prostitute has been taken on a boat by three high-ranking policemen when one of them discovers that she has died. In the hope that they can remain undiscovered they tip the girl’s body overboard, but 6 months later her decomposing corpse is washed ashore.

Reporter Gilmour receives a tip-off that the death is connected to a number of senior policemen who already have a reputation for being corrupt. The story then follows her efforts to gather the evidence she needs so that the paper can go to print with her exclusive. But once there is a rumour that she has a lead on the story the culprits make every effort to stop her.

Coincidental to this she becomes involved in a second investigation that is also pretty unsavoury, and which makes for equally difficult reading.

The Glasgow we see through Gilmour’s eyes is a seedy and dark one, where poverty, drugs and prostitution are rife. This background and the crimes themselves can make for grim reading. Smith manages to keep the tension high throughout, making for quite a page-turner.

Gilmour is a strong female character with some serious issues in her background. Another thread within the book concerns her personal relationships and her upbringing in the same deprived area of the city as she seeks some resolution.

Interestingly there are a number of small references to Gilmour’s backstory, which made me feel as if I had perhaps missed an earlier book, but in fact this was actually a good way of making the character more realistic, rather than having just one huge introductory piece about her.

The cover suggests that the book is “As good as Martina Cole” but I’m not a huge fan of Cole and found this much more enjoyable.  Whilst this is not an easy read Gilmour is a great leading character, despite her flaws, and I look forward to reading more about her when To Tell the Truth is published in 2012.

Score – 4/5

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A Gathering Storm – Rachel Hore

Title – A Gathering Storm

Author – Rachel Hore

Published – 2011

Genre – Fiction

This is the fifth title by Rachel Hore, following on from the success of A Place of Secrets, which was a Richard & Judy Bookclub selection. I have to confess that I didn’t enjoy Place of Secrets when I read it, and I nearly gave up when I thought that A Gathering Storm was going to follow the same formula. Fortunately I didn’t, as it actually turned out to be an enjoyable read.

After Lucy Cardwell’s father dies she discovers references to Rafe Ashton, her great-uncle and someone she had never heard mention of, amongst his things. Lucy’s father seemed to have been troubled before he died and when she is presented with the opportunity to visit the village where her grandmother grew-up she takes it. In fact after a disagreement with her boyfriend she makes a spontaneous decision to spend a week there.

Trying to find out more about her family’s history, Lucy is introduced to Beatrice Ashton, an elderly village resident in her eighties, who happens to be Rafe’s widow and the former best-friend of Lucy’s late grandmother Angelina.

So the similarities to the previous book are an “intrepid” young woman in the present in an unsatisfactory relationship who has a chance meeting with a handsome stranger. At the same time she becomes involved in finding out more about a story from the past.

But there the similarities end. Beatrice herself tells Lucy her story, and it’s told in a very straightforward way. During her stay in Cornwall Lucy visits each day and over the week Beatrice tells the story of how she met Angelina, grew up alongside her family, and then how their lives took separate paths after the breakout of World War II. Beatrice’s story is fascinating. There’s obviously a secret that she’s been keeping all these years and this is alluded to very early on, but the reader doesn’t have their suspicions confirmed until almost the end of the book. Beatrice’s story is of her coming of age during the early years of WWII, and I have to confess to having a soft spot for these stories (Sarah Harrison’s Flower’s of the Field comes to mind, although set in WWI).

Lucy’s own story is a simple romance, but ties neatly into the story Beatrice is telling, as her love interest is a soldier on leave. The threads of sacrifice for your country are mirrored without it feeling contrived.

There were one or two places I felt a little let down by the book, a few mysteries which went unsolved, but as one of my complaints from the previous one was that all the loose ends were tied up to neatly, it’s hard to be critical. The story had none of the supernatural elements of its predecessor and although I wasn’t too fussed by Lucy, Beatrice’s character was welll written and I really felt for her.

Score – 4/5

What happened to solitary authors?

If you had asked me a year ago to picture an author, any author, I would have imagined them in their study, sitting in front of a typewriter, or at a push keyboard, studiously tapping out their latest story. But it seems I may have to revise this for something a little more sociable.

Over the last year (thanks largely to Twitter) I have discovered that there are a whole host of events where you can get to meet and chat to many leading authors. Yesterday is a perfect example – we went to Reading Town Hall to hear some of the talks at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing. This is apparently its fourth year – but without Twitter I’m not sure I would have heard of it.

Our first session was a “TV Detectives” panel event, chaired by Simon Brett, with a panel comprising MR Hall, MC Beaton, James Gurbutts and David Hewson. They shared their experiences of working with TV including scriptwriting, having their books adapted for TV and writing a novel based on a TV series. There were some horror stories of what can happen when you hand your work over to others, as well as some more light-hearted stories. The consensus seemed to be that you need to accept that you are relinquishing control and not worry too much about the detail. Although it seems that success with TV can be lucrative!

We were also treated to a powerful reading by David Hewson of the opening passage to his adaptation of the hugely successful series The Killing – his equivalent of the opening scene from the TV. The book will be launched at Crimefest Bristol on May 24 2012 and as I’ve not seen the series I am very much looking forward to the novel.

The evening finished with a double-act of Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride, who obviously know each other well, leading to much banter. Both read from their books – Mark from “Good as Dead” and Stuart from “Birthdays for the Dead”. Great readings, but a little unfair to leave us in suspense – especially Stuart as his book won’t be out until next year!

Discussions covered the merits of writing a series versus stand-alone books, and whether or not your main character should age in real-time. There was a little cross-over with the earlier session as Mark shared some of his experiences from the Thorne TV series, something which seems to work very well for him. Their conversation, peppered with anecdotes, also touched on the use of humour in the darkest moments of their books, feedback from readers, and Marmite (yes, really). This was followed by a lively Q & A session, including Marmite-related suggestions!   

The two sessions were a very enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening and I will now have to add several new authors to my wishlist!

But these are the latest in a number of events I’ve been to this year.  My first experience was at the summer’s “Crime in the Court” event hosted by Goldsboro Books. An opportunity to meet around 40 crime fiction authors – from SJ Bolton to Laura Wilson. This was followed up by September’s “History in the Court” event with a great turnout from historical fiction authors. You don’t have to have read any of the author’s work to have a conversation – they’re more than happy to tell you about their writing, and it does encourage you to pick up their titles when you see them in the shops.

These few events are only scratching the surface – there are such a wide-range of festivals and events – from Aberdeen to York, from poetry to horror, and it seems almost every weekend you could be out meeting authors. So get out from behind those pages & say hello – they don’t bite!

Covenant – Dean Crawford

Title – Covenant

Author – Dean Crawford

Published – 2011

Genre –  Adventure / Thriller

Covenant is the debut novel from Dean Crawford, a Surrey-based author. The hardback was published in October 2011 and the paperback will be out on 10 November 2011.

How do I begin to describe this book? Well it’s quite long (almost 700 pages) and pretty much all of those pages are action packed. The story has multiple threads and the action takes place in both the USA and Israel / Palestine. The main thread of the story is the disappearance of Lucy Morgan, an American paleontologist, last seen in a restricted area of the Negev desert in Israel. Lucy has been investigating a dig-site independently and found remains and “whatever it is, it didn’t evolve on this planet”. Unfortunately there’s a peace treaty about to be signed to bring stability to the area, and the authorities are reluctant to get involved, so Lucy’s grandfather persuades war correspondent and ex-Marine Ethan Warner to help. Warner is a troubled man, though, and has his own agenda when it comes to visiting the Middle East.

Coincidental (or is it?) to Lucy’s disappearance, three bodies are found in an abandoned house in Washington DC, apparently the result of a drugs overdose, but the investigating officers aren’t so sure. Toxic fumes from one of the bodies which hospitalise a surgeon during the autopsy only increase their suspicions that all is not what it seems.

There’s also an evangelical preacher, a Senator who has his sights set on the White House, and a mysterious military organisation called MACE.

Warner is our action hero – accompanying Lucy’s mother to Israel he soon gets on the wrong side of the authorities there and plenty of action ensues – car chases, fights, explosions, aerobatics. Warner is determined in his quest to find Lucy, though, and bring those responsible for her capture to some sort of justice. Some of the action is pretty brutal and described in graphic detail.

For me the characters were a little lacking in depth, in Crawford’s defense there were a lot of characters, but there are a few more main ones who could have done with more development. Warner himself was an odd mix of violent and sensitive.

The language at times is a little flowery, especially considering the subject matter and I think I would have expected something a bit more masculine and down-to-earth from this author & in this genre.

I found the main premise of the book an interesting one, and something which I think will see me having a search on Google to find out more. It all made sense at the time, but I’m curious to know how much of the background Crawford provided is based in fact – or if I’m on Google “fact”.

It’s no surprise that Crawford counts Michael Crichton and Wilbur Smith amongst his favourite reads, but I would hazard a guess that he’s also read some Clive Cussler. And I noticed at least one nod to Indiana Jones too.  A fun read with a complex plot and plenty of action.

Score – 3/5 (or 3.5 if I allowed half marks )