Month: February 2014

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Title – Someone Else’s Skin

Author – Sarah Hilary

Published – 27 Feb 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of a handful of British crime debuts which is getting a lot of love on social media sites (alongside Luca Veste’s Dead Gone and Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home).

The main protagonist is DI Marnie Rome – a strong and solitary figure but a brilliant detective. Rome is accompanied by DS Noah Jake when they visit a woman’s refuge to try to secure a statement from a young Muslim woman whom they believe has been injured by her own family. They suspect that the young woman’s brother was responsible for an attack with a scimitar which has severed a man’s arm and need her help in making a case against him. On their arrival at the shelter, however, they walk into the middle of a stabbing – with the husband of one of the women bleeding on the dayroom floor. This unexpected attack gives the plot an additional thread as the detectives try to get to the bottom of the stabbing as well as pursuing the original case they were assigned. Hilary then takes the story in some surprising directions as the plot unfolds.

Like any detective worth their salt, Rome has her share of secrets and has herself suffered loss, in fact she’s seen at close quarters the effect of murder on those left behind. Her background circumstances explain her unwillingness to open up to others, but also provide her sense of purpose and make her unrelenting in her work. Jake is also an unconventional choice of character for a detective and he and Rome make an unusual team.

This is a well-written debut with a strong female lead. As well as delivering a satisfying police procedural the author also brings issues of domestic violence, in all its forms, to the fore.

You can see another point of view on the blog One Word at a Time.  Thank you to Headline for my review copy.

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The Burning – M.R. Hall

Title – The Burning91mZ45OJZzL._SL1500_

Author – M.R. Hall

Published – 27 Feb 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the sixth title in the crime series by M R Hall featuring coroner Jenny Cooper – which surprised me and means that I must have missed a book after The Flight! As it happens the books are easy to pick up mid-series, so if you haven’t read any of the others before don’t be put off.

The story starts with the deaths of three members of a family in a house in the small village of Blackstone Ley. Neighbours saw the house go up in flames but it soon becomes evident that a gun was involved and that something may have provoked a quiet father to murder his step-daughters. As the reader we know that there is more to the deaths, however, suggested by the brief opening chapter. This means that rather than follow Cooper’s train of thought as she tries to unravel the evidence, the reader is watching her pursuing dead-ends, waiting to see if and when she will discover the truth.

The use of the role of the coroner as the main protagonist is an unusual approach – the advantage is that it gives Cooper the ability to move outside some of the constraints of a normal police investigation, although I imagine most real coroner’s have quieter lives! There’s a good deal of time given over to Cooper and her private life – which manages to be pretty complicated. Now that she seems to have got her drug problem under control, her troubles are of the more romantic kind. I do like Cooper as the lead – she’s strong, (mostly) independent and  occasionally fearless bordering on reckless.

There is an injection of humour from Cooper’s assistant, who seems to have suffered an injury to the part of her brain which ‘controls appropriate social responses’ – the good news is that I also found her to be less irritating than she was before.

This feels less like a thriller than The Flight and more conventional crime fiction, and as with The Flight the attention to detail is evident.  An enjoyable, well-plotted read.

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This Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash

Title – This Dark Road to Mercy512u5QBMBLL

Author – Wiley Cash

Published – 30 January 2014

Genre – Contemporary fiction

Cash’s debut A Land More Kind Than Home was one of my favourite book’s of 2012, so I was particularly looking forward to seeing what direction he would take with his second novel.

There are certainly many similarities between this and his debut. Again one of the main characters is a child – in this case Easter, a 12 year old girl who is currently living in a foster home with her younger sister. Much of the story is seen through Easter’s eyes – she’s seen a lot for her age and has something of a world-weary view. The story shifts between the view points of three main characters – as well as Easter there is Brady Weller, guardian to the girls, and a mysterious character called Pruitt.

It’s six years since Easter has seen her father, Wade, when he shows up at a baseball game she’s playing in at the foster home. It’s not an emotional reunion – there’s been a lot of water under the bridge for Easter. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Wade has signed his rights away to his daughters, which means he takes (relatively) drastic action in order to spend some time with them. When they inexplicably disappear from the foster home Weller feels bound to help track them down. In fact Weller has his own family issues, especially with his teenage daughter, and it’s easy to see that this influences his behaviour.

What seems to be important here is that the main character in the book – Easter’s father Wade – is only viewed through the eyes of others so his motives remain a mystery. Cash manages to make the fiction thought-provoking, and he certainly cements his ability to evoke small-town America, but somehow the story didn’t connect with me in the way that his debut did.

Amongst my misgivings is the fact that I felt the plot seemed more like a short story rather than a novel, which did little to reduce my impatience for something to happen. Although when it did it was quite surprising and in fact made me think of ‘No Country For Old Men (the film – I’ve not read the book!).

Wade is an ex-baseball player and the sport permeates the story. Unfortunately it’s a game I know very little about and I always feel at a bit of a loss in books where baseball features prominently – much like I imagine an American would feel when faced with stories featuring cricket. Despite reading plenty of books where baseball is significant to the plot, I’m just none the wiser and find it very hard to picture what is happening.

There were also a couple of aspects of the story, or backstory, that were alluded to but never stated explicitly, and I’m not the sort of reader who likes to fill in the gaps for themselves!

I know that there are already some fans out there, but I’m afraid that this just didn’t do it for me. You can see another review over at Raven Crime Reads. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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