Month: January 2016

Without Trace – Simon Booker

Title – Without Trace

Author – Simon Booker

Published – 28 January 2016 (ebook)

Genre – Crime fiction

Without Trace might be a debut novel from author Simon Booker but he’s no stranger to writing crime fiction – he’s an experienced screenwriter with credits including Inspector Lynley Murders And Mrs Bradley Murders.

Although Without Trace’s main character is a journalist, Morgan Vine has missed the boat on investigative journalism and instead has been writing a weekly ‘Me and My Fridge’ column. She also does some cleaning near her home in Dungeness and runs a book group for prisoners. Oh, and one of the prisoners is her old flame, Danny Kilcannon, in prison for killing his teenage step-daughter. Vine has been campaigning for Kilcannon’s release, never having believed that he could be guilty. The book opens just before Kilcannon’s appeal is heard and after a key witness retracts their statement it’s not a spoiler to say that he is released.

Vine is still carrying a torch for Kilcannon but it’s not clear how he feels towards her. He certainly doesn’t appear to be as grateful for the support she’s given his campaign as she would like. But she’s distracted by the arrival of Lissa, her own teenage daughter, who has returned to the UK from a trip to her father in California and Lissa is testing the boundaries in every way she can.

The heart of the story is what happens when Lissa disappears. Has she just gone off in a sulk after a disagreement or is there something more sinister to it? The mysterious messages being left for Vine suggest the latter but her faith in Kilcannon is unshakeable. For a while. The writing cleverly makes you question what is happening. Booker does a nice job of leading the reader down one path with a sentence so you think ‘I know where this is going’ and then snatching it away in the next. Nothing like keeping us on our toes!

There’s a backstory which explains the relationship between Vine and Kilcannon and it also gives quite an insight into Vine’s childhood. Although disturbing it felt as if it was being delivered for the reader to draw their conclusions about the impact it had on the characters.

I do enjoy the writing style of people who have developed their skill as a screenwriter (I Am Pilgrim for example) as they really keep the plot moving along. Although the locations are integral to the story and provide some changes of pace and tension the descriptions felt quite spare, it was like looking through a camera lens and just focusing on the points that were really relevant. Dungeness itself is very recognisable and the remote, coastal location offers a great opportunity for creating suspense.

This is an unusual approach to crime fiction / psychological thrillers. I liked Vine, she wasn’t quite what I expected and I do prefer pace over long-winded descriptions. If there was one thing that jarred for me it was that I would have expected Vine to go to pieces more than she did the longer Lissa was missing.

It was impossible not to read this, especially with its focus on miscarriages of justice and see some similarities with the case of Billie-Jo Jenkins. Interestingly as the first in a series the future books will have Vine investigating more miscarriages of justice.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy of the book. You can see another point of view on Cleo’s blog. On 3rd Feb I’ll have a post from Simon talking about the difference between screen and novel writing as part of a blog tour.


Crime fiction debuts to look out for in February 2016

This look at forthcoming debuts seems to work well as a monthly collection so here we are looking forward to books being published in February 2016. For a list of debuts in January see here.

11 February 2016

51wdK96oR+LStasi Child by David Young (from twenty7)

This is the publication date for the paperback version of this historical thriller, an ebook version having been released in October 2015.

Set in East Berlin in 1975, the main protagonist, and the investigator, is Oberleutnant Karin Müller, the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic. She is called to investigate the body of a young girl who has been discovered at the foot of the infamous Wall. Evoking the period and the Cold War atmosphere this is a great novel for anyone enjoying Deutschland 83.

You can read my review here. You can catch up with David on Twitter @djy_writer

51rlVozsupLBehind Closed Doors by B A Paris (from MIRA)

The shout line for the debut from this Franco-Irish author is “Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie”. This sets the scene for a psychological thriller exploring a flawed relationship.

Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple but behind the facade lies a different story. Told by alternating between the present and the past, the early reviews of this suggest that BA Paris has written a gripping and disturbing debut portraying a poisonous relationship.

Follow B A on Twitter @BAParisAuthor

15 February 2016

41kNvwMBZCLJihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov (from Orenda Books)

An American Muslim living in Northern Ireland, although the author or co-author of a number of nonfiction books as well as writing plays, this is Toropov’s debut novel.

A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments.

Yusuf tweets @LiteraryStriver

25 February 2016

91YMbqYiNfLThe Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (from Two Roads)

Yes, it’s that Janet Ellis, and this debut is attracting a lot of attention, particularly as it sounds darker than many people would have imagined a former Blue Peter presenter would have written. Or perhaps that’s the explanation… One piece of information I have been able to glean is that Janet recently attended the ‘Curtis Brown Creative’ writing school.

There does seem to be some difference of opinion on whether this is crime fiction or not. It is definitely historical – set in 1763 and the main character is 19 year-old Anne Jacob. A coming-of-age novel with a strong female lead I have seen this described as both violent and bawdy.

You can find Janet on Twitter @missjanetellis. If you’re interested in buying a copy you might be interested to know that Goldsboro Books have a limited edition available.

Crime fiction debuts seem to be a bit thin on the ground in February – let me know if there are any I’ve missed.

In Place of Death – Craig Robertson

81v3mFYIqgLTitle – In Place of Death

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 2015

Genre – Crime

This is the fifth book in the series featuring Rachel Narey (now a DI) and police photographer Tony Winter, after Robertson took a break from Glasgow for his standalone book The Last Refuge set on the Faroe Islands.

It feels like a while since I read Witness the Dead but I was soon back up to speed – Narey has recently been promoted and she and Winter are still a couple, although their relationship is being kept ‘under wraps’ from their colleagues.

The recent promotion means that when an anonymous caller reports a dead body in an ancient stream hidden under the city Narey gets her first potential homicide case. The lead up to the discovery of the body has all the hallmark’s of Robertson’s books –  tense, dark, gory. The location of the body is mystifying – the Molendinar Burn, buried beneath Glasgow – it’s not a spot most people know about, let alone visit.

As the investigation progresses a number of other deaths are discovered where bodies have been found in a similar location to the first – places which are normally ‘out of bounds’ for most people – such as abandoned or derelict buildings. Keen to impress following her recent promotion Narey makes a bid to link the initial death with all of these others, creating an investigation into a serial killer. The story blends a police procedural with a less orthodox investigation undertaken by Winter, because it becomes apparent that he knew something about the initial death that he chose not to share and he begins his own covert investigation.

I like Narey – she’s determined, fair, straightforward and pretty gutsy but she always remains credible, what does puzzle me though is what she sees in Winter. He’s so permanently self-absorbed often not just neglecting Narey but actively going against her wishes that I struggle to understand why she sticks with him, even if he does occasionally redeem himself. Although I do recognise that this fits with a lot of real-life relationships! In this case Winter pushes Narey to the limits of her patience; their relationship was always going to test their ability to keep her work separate from his unhealthy interest in the bloodier aspects of what she does.

One thing that is very clear from this series is how fond of Glasgow Robertson is. Although his books all portray a dark and somewhat seedy side of the city, nevertheless the affection he feels comes through in his descriptions. It’s a city I don’t know at all in person but I feel that I have a really good idea of what it’s like from this series.

In Place of Death is another compelling and gritty crime thriller from Robertson that has Glasgow at its heart. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

And if you do read the book you might be interested in reading this article afterwards


Dead Pretty – David Mark

Dead PrettyTitle – Dead Pretty

Author – David Mark

Published – 28 January 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been enjoying Mark’s Aector McAvoy series, and I made sure to get a review copy (well Netgalley) of this fifth outing for McAvoy.

The story centres around a missing girl and some slightly bizarre behaviour concerning body hair and specifically armpits! McAvoy becomes too personally involved in the hunt for the missing girl (taking his young family picnicking close to where she was last seen) which, as we’ve come to expect to from Mark, has consequences for the detective.

There are always multiple threads in this series of books and in Dead Pretty the spotlight shines on McAvoy’s boss Trish Pharaoh who is in trouble on a number of fronts. There is the matter of some ‘muscle’ sent to collect on a long-outstanding debt and a man Pharaoh had arrested for murder has been released on appeal due to the failings of her own team. While she is dealing with her own battles, McAvoy is leading the search to find a missing young woman and the violent killer of a second.

The constant here is McAvoy, the gentle giant and family man, he is the heart of this series.  However it feels to me as if Mark has gone above and beyond what you expect in a detective series in the way he has developed the other characters. There is a small cast who make a regular appearance but each book shifts the emphasis, drawing more detail out in turn and filling in the backstories. In this case it’s Pharaoh who we learn more about and see behind her tough exterior, including some revelations about her feelings towards her DS.

Mark blends a gritty police procedural with a cast of strong characters and some lyrical prose. The result is a series that seems to get better and better. I notice that in my review for Sorrow Bound I was debating over the number of stars and I’ve gone for 5 here. In fairness to other books & authors this as much about the way the series has developed as this title on its own. If you enjoy police procedurals this is a series you mustn’t miss.


A Death In Sweden – Kevin Wignall

51SxwmxkiQLTitle – A Death In Sweden

Author – Kevin Wignall

Published – 1 Jan 2016

Genre –  Thriller

I’ve seen Kevin Wignall as a participant and  / or moderator at number of crime fiction events but to my shame had not read anything by him, so I was pleased to get the opportunity put this right.

The book opens, as you might imagine, in Sweden and with a death – that of a mysterious man who selflessly dies trying to save a fellow passenger in a bus crash. In Madrid, ex-CIA agent Dan Hendricks is occupied locating and extracting targets for whichever power pays the most. As he scopes out a man and his life for a suitable opportunity to ambush him, it becomes clear that while this has all the elements of a traditional spy thriller, Wignall has given Hendricks a more introspective nature than might be expected. Despite his relatively young age Hendricks is feeling a little reflective and his mood isn’t helped by the possibility that the deaths of a number of former CIA colleagues point to a ‘clean-up’ operation by their former employer.

Once the current job is completed and it becomes clear that he and his colleagues are now the hunted the pace picks up. A meeting with a former boss who’s moving to a new organisation tips Hendricks off that there’s a connection worth investigating between the mysterious death in Sweden and the man heading up the operation to target Hendricks and colleagues.

There’s lots of good old-fashioned cloak and dagger aspects to this story, a mix of traditional spy and trained assassin with a background of political intrigue and machinations. A good mix of pace balanced by more tense scenes.

I was surprised that the dialogue wasn’t more humourous – although perhaps not a first choice in a thriller it’s something you can’t fail to notice about Wignall himself. Nevertheless, the main character is likeable and despite the nature of his work he has his own moral code and a line that he won’t cross but he’s no wuss. It’s a fine line to tread in a thriller at the risk of seeming to either tone down the action or preach to the reader, but I thought it came across very credibly here.

I bought this as a ‘Kindle first’.