Month: September 2015

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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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.

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