Month: June 2012

Cold Grave – Craig Robertson

61oB7fIAomLTitle – Cold Grave

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 29 June 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

If you’ve read Random or Snapshot you’ll be familiar with Robertson’s gritty portrayal of Glasgow and its criminal element. In Cold Grave the focus is more on DS Rachel Narey and her (still secret) boyfriend the police photographer Tony Winter.

Narey’s retired detective father has recently had to move into a home as his health deteriorates and she believes that solving the one great cold case of his career will give him some peace. But this is a case that goes back to 1993 and, as the title suggests, is cold in more ways than one. The mystery is the horrific murder of a young girl on a Scottish island which became newsworthy in winter 1993 after the lake it lies in the centre of froze over. People travelled from all over Scotland to walk across the ice, but after the waters thawed workmen made a grisly discovery of a body left behind on the island. Almost 20 years later and the girl hasn’t been identified or the murderer caught.

Narey persuades Winter to help her and she also enlists his Uncle, ex-policemen Danny. All three of them manage to conduct their own investigation on the periphery of police activity into what may or may not be a related case. While Narey pursues her father’s main suspect and works to identify the girl, Danny and Winter follow up leads that gypsy travellers were involved, so we see yet another violent side to Glasgow.

The cast of characters is the same as in Snapshot, but we find out more about Narey and her relationships with her father and Winter. Addison is still recovering from the attack in Snapshot and is office-bound, so plays a smaller role – which frankly I was disappointed about.

It seemed to me that the language, the gore and the use of Scottish dialect were all toned down compared to Snapshot, but perhaps it just wasn’t as shocking to me the second time round. Winter still has his morbid fascination with blood, carnage and photographing the aftermath of violence, so it’s not an easy read. During the course of the book he’s called out to photograph some disturbing crime scenes, but his real obsession is Lily of the Lake.

The story itself is gripping and it’s hard at the beginning to imagine how there can be a whole book’s worth of story to come, but what you actually get is a great mix of action, tension and mystery. The aspects of the story which deal with Narey’s father’s developing Alzheimer’s offer a change of pace, but they certainly don’t lighten the mood.

I have to confess that there were one or two  incidents in the latter part of the book where I wasn’t sure if things were quite right and I was tempted to flick back a few pages to check.

If you like gritty crime fiction and don’t mind a splash of gore, then this is a book you should read. Personally I think it makes more sense if you’ve read Snapshot first, but I’m sure there’s enough background to introduce a new reader to the series.

You can see another review of this title at Emma Lee’s Blog.

Score – 4/5

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Title – The Age of Miracles

Author – Karen Thompson Walker

Published – 21 June 2012

Genre – Young adult / Science fiction

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for this review copy.

I was drawn to the premise of this book – that slowly, gradually, the earth has slowed and the days have gradually lengthened. The change has passed unnoticed until it’s announced that the night has grown by 56 minutes.

The story is told by eleven year old Julia, an only child and daughter of an obstetrician and a part-time teacher and former actress. Until the news of the change Julia’s only concerns have been school, soccer practice, and piano lessons. Suddenly her world is full of uncertainty.

The changes start off slowly – darker nights, hotter days, gradually increasing gravity, and these changes are the back-drop to Julia’s life at school. But the days keep getting longer and longer. People try to adapt, at first they change their activities to match the “time” or at least the light or dark, but then the decision is announced that the country will revert to a 24-hour clock. Then night and day are no longer tied to dark and light. Not everyone chooses to act as if nothing has happened and there are those who try carry on adapting to the days, “real-timers” and those who to build a life in “daylight colonies”. But society soon shuns those who don’t toe the accepted line.

But during all of this Julia’s story is also personal – the changes have implications for her family and her friends, as well as a budding romance.

I did enjoy the book and I liked the style of writing. It was an easy read and Julia is a likeable central character. If I have a criticism it’s that it didn’t feel like quite one thing or the other – it wasn’t quite a coming of age story but neither did it really explore the consequences of days that get longer and longer.

Perhaps it’s just my age, but Julia felt a little too old for her years – all I knew about boys at her age were that they were the opposite of girls. There’s something disconcerting about the way in which she tells the story when she obviously knows how it will end (“It was the last time I ever tasted a grape.”).

Interestingly the book made headline news in the publishing industry for the size of the deal to secure the rights to this debut. A great book for the beach or plane. You can see another review of this over at The Little Reader Library.

Score – 4/5

Drop Shot – Harlan Coben

Title – Drop Shot

Author – Harlan Coben

Published – 1996

Genre – Crime fiction

I read the first Harlan Coben / Myron Bolitar title (Deal Breaker) a few years ago, when it was one of the titles in a boxed set of mixed crime fiction from WH Smith. So for Christmas this year part of my 19 book gifts was a 10 book set of Harlan Coben titles, and I thought it about time I got around to reading some of them.

Myron Bolitar is a US sports agent, ex-basketball player, and has studied law at Harvard. He appears with two other regular characters – his partner Win (Windsor Horne Lockwood III) and his  assistant Esperanza. In Drop Shot he is representing a new star making his debut on the tennis circuit at the US Open. While Myron & Win watch their new star on the court there’s a gunshot from elsewhere in the stadium and they race to the scene only to find that the victim is Valerie Simpson – a former tennis prodigy who had recently been in touch with Myron.

Feeling in some way responsible for her death, and having his new tennis player implicated in the shooting, Myron forges ahead to investigate Valerie’s murder. Along the way he manages to uncover an unpleasant side to the tennis circuit and cross some very violent and unforgiving characters. Win plays a pivotal role in delivering justice – not necessarily with Myron’s agreement.

Myron is a proper “wise-ass”, he treats most situations, regardless of their seriousness, with humour & although it lightens the tone of the book I’m surprised that he hasn’t suffered more injuries as a result. I also find the books are very “American”. Perhaps this seems to be an odd thing to say – but some books make more references to popular culture etc than others and with the sports setting & some other references I am probably missing some of the nuances that an American reader would have no trouble with.

For me the main problem with this book was that one of the mysteries that Myron was trying to unravel seemed pretty clear to me from the outset & I found it quite irritating that the characters couldn’t see what I found to be obvious. I’m not sure if it’s just one of those chance moments where I picked up on a small clue, or whether it just wasn’t hidden carefully enough.

Let’s hope the next 8 titles are an improvement on this one!

1star1star1star

Immortal – Dean Crawford

Title – Immortal

Author – Dean Crawford

Published – May 2012

Genre –  Adventure / Thriller

Immortal is the follow-up to Covenant and is the second in the Ethan Warner series.

The story is set six months after the end of Covenant, and Warner and Lopez are working in partnership as bail bondsmen in Chicago. When a Santa Fe county coroner disappears, along with the mysteriously ageing corpse she was examining the Defense Intelligence Agency calls in Warner to find her.

Warner and Lopez begin by investigating the shooting that had produced the corpse, questioning a witness to the shooting, Tyler Willis, a research scientist and expert in ageing. Interrupted by an explosion at the laboratory where they’re interviewing Willis, Warner is distracted as he tries to help defuse the attack and during the confusion Willis also disappears.

We have a dastardly plot, a clandestine organisation, a deadly virus and the powerful owner of a global pharmaceutical company. So begins a complex story dealing with issues of ageing, mortality and eugenics.

These topics are pretty challenging ones to explore in a fast-paced action thriller, and must lead to comparisons with writers like Michael Crichton. It’s a while since I read something by Crichton and I can’t remember now whether I thought he had too much detail in the background info – but it’s certainly true for me with this book. Crawford has obviously done his research and no doubt has a vivid imagination – but there’s just too much for me.

The good news is that although still quite a long book, it is shorter than Covenant, there  is a more manageable cast of characters, and I found Warner’s own character to be more consistent. There were some threads from the previous book which got a passing mention, but they didn’t come to the fore as much as I thought they might. Crawford also takes the opportunity to develop the relationship between Lopez and Warner a bit more – which I assume means that there will be further books in the series.

1star1star1star

A Death in Valencia – Jason Webster

Title – A Death in Valencia

Author – Jason Webster

Published – 7 June 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

When I won my copy of Or the Bull Kills You earlier in the year I was lucky enough to also receive a sneaky copy of this second title in the Max Cámara series.

Set something over a year after Or the Bull Kills You, Chief Inspector Max Cámara is called to a packed beach where there is a stand-off between the Guardia Civil and the Policias Nacionales – neither wanting to make the first move and take responsibility for a body floating at the shoreline.  Cámara seizes control, and takes responsibility, only to find that the body is the subject of his current investigation – the disappearance of a well-respected paella chef.

As with his previous novel, Webster provides the reader with background on some of the atmosphere, local traditions and colour of Valencia – both the good and the bad. As well as finding out more about paella, and the colourful fishing quarter where the ill-fated chef lived and worked, we also find out more about the corruption amongst the local politicians. Add to this a missing abortionist and the visit of the Pope – Webster again tackling moral issues, challenging the reader and his detective.

The story is well-plotted, and as events unfold we see more of Cámara’s character. He’s still smoking dope and drinking, but there’s less detail here than in the earlier book – enough if you didn’t read the first one, not too much if you did. His personal life isn’t any more organised – in fact he has the rug pulled from under his feet! The relationships between Cámara and some of his colleagues are also explored in a bit more depth.

Needless to say Cámara gets himself into a few scrapes during the story and there’s an exciting climax as all the threads come together. Perhaps, as before, the contrast between the slower-paced early part of the book and the climax is a bit too marked for me, but that’s just a personal quibble.

All-in-all this is another thoroughly enjoyable read – and a little bit of Spanish sunshine for our English summer.

You can see another review over at Gav Reads.

1star1star1star1star

Rose Petal Soup – Sarah Harrison

Title – Rose Petal Soup

Author – Sarah Harrison

Published – 2008

Genre – Contemporary fiction

Sarah Harrison is one of my few regular exceptions to crime fiction. I’ve been reading her books since the early ’80s and recently realised that there quite a few titles I’ve missed, so it was time to fit one into the busy reading schedule.

Joss and Nico Carbury are in their early 60’s. Nico manages a local theatre, Joss is the Mayor for a year and they have two grown-up children. Although their marriage has had the odd hiccough things are currently on a more even keel and they’re enjoying the fruits of their working lives. They have a somewhat strained relationship with their daughter, Elizabeth, who can be a little abrupt and are surprised when she calls out of the blue to say that she plans to visit for Sunday lunch. When she arrives she has an elderly gentleman in tow – who as the lunch progresses is confirmed as her fiance.

Needless to say that there is some anxiety for Joss and Nico when their daughter announces that she is going to be marrying a man older than themselves in the next few days, and no, they’re not welcome at the wedding.

But the story isn’t an exploration of how the two couples come to term with this age difference, but is about the potential relationship between Joss and her daughter’s new stepson. When Joss meets Rob she becomes convinced that during their first brief conversation something happens that implies that there is the potential for there to be more between them. And Joss believes that this was something shared, that Rob feels the same.

What follows is a sort of teenage angst as Joss tries to deal with what, at first glance, seems to be a crush. For Joss the question is more about whether or not she should act on her feelings, for the reader it’s about whether or not she has read too much into a simple conversation.

I actually found the insight into the Mayor’s role to be as interesting as Joss’s relationship woes – a huge variety of functions she attends.

I have to confess that this isn’t the best book I’ve read by Harrison. The story is small rather than epic. Although the main character of Joss is well written and engaging I did feel that she could be quite contradictory, and the situation felt a little far-fetched.

All in all a pleasant enough read.

Score – 3/5