Month: June 2019

Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone

816HGaMoWLLTitle – Fault Lines

Author – Doug Johnstone

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while and if I’m honest I was slightly put off by the blurb. While I do read speculative fiction books they’re definitely the exception rather than the rule and it was the ‘reimagined contemporary Edinburgh’ that caused the delay in my starting. In fact I needn’t have delayed, the premise concerns the discovery of a man’s body on a volcanic island in the Firth of Forth, the reimagining having created a volcanic island, but in fact this is actually the only part of the book that is different to contemporary Edinburgh, in every other way this book’s world is ours.

The body is discovered by Surtesy, a PhD student, and the dead man, Tom, is her boss and her clandestine lover. In a decision she may come to regret she abandons the body and waits for someone else to make the discovery. In the meantime she receives a mysterious message from someone who knows something they shouldn’t.

The story is told from Surtesy’s point of view and her life wasn’t a particularly happy one before her lover’s death. She is sharing a house with her younger sister, who is something of a rebel, and her best friend from the university, and they seem to spend a lot of time drinking or taking drugs. They’re all living in the house that was Surtsey’s family home as her mother is in a hospice along the road.

As the discovery of Tom’s body opens up a police investigation aspects of Surtsey’s life come under the spotlight and she has to acknowledge the damage that her affair has done. At the same time she has to contend with her terminally ill mother with whom she has an uneasy relationship, then there is another death of someone close to her.

This is a book that just didn’t do it for me. I did find the ‘mysterious message’ aspect of the story gripping and it added an extra level of tension. I do think it could have a better sense of the place, I felt that the volcanic island could have been off any piece of coast and it wouldn’t have made too much difference to the story. I enjoyed the writing and was swept along with wanting to reach the end but I didn’t really like Surtsey too much, I was confused by the need for the volcanic island and I figured out the ‘whodunnit’ too soon.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Craftsman – Sharon Bolton

81ofF+-8H-LTitle – The Craftsman

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been a fan Sharon Bolton’s books since I read Sacrifice, I missed The Craftsman when it was published so picked it up on an offer in (whispers) Tesco.

The story is told across two timelines. The book opens in the present (1999) with a dramatic scene in a graveyard, as it transpires a location that has some prominence within the story; it’s the funeral of Larry Glassbrook – former casket (or coffin) maker and convicted child-murder. The story is told in the first person by Florence Lovelady, now an Assistant Commissioner in the police, who has returned to the place, and the case, where her career was made. She and her teenage son are staying in the village for a couple of nights which seems to be in order bring some closure for her. As the day of the funeral unfolds the disturbing and chilling details of the death of the final teenager to die are revealed and it becomes clear why Glassbrook was so reviled.

While in Sabden Lovelady takes a trip to Glassbrook’s house, where she roomed as a WPC when she was in the local police,  while there she makes a discovery that makes her wonder if Glassbrook acted alone and implies that she may now be a target.

The story then skips back to 1969, the disappearence of the teenagers and the investigation to find them. This is a ‘Life on Mars’ type of leap, where the male-dominated force didn’t take kindly to any input from a woman, WPC or not. Sabden is a villlage in the shadow of the infamous Pendle Hill and not a welcoming one for the young Flossie Lovelady. So Lovelady is an outsider in lots of ways but seems to be the brightest person on the force – picking up on clues no-one else spots and eventually becoming a target herself. The location isn’t used by chance – the connection to the Pendle witches and the history of witchcraft is an important one and Lovelady herself finds a connection to some of the women in the local coven.

As the case is resolved the story moves back to 1999, Lovelady’s opened old wounds and yet again finds herself at the centre of the action.

I found the events of the case in 1969 a little flatter than most of Bolton’s police procedurals. It’s not a fault in the writing but a result of the structure of the story – giving the end of the investigation and the solution to disappearences upfront means that the opportunities for tension and jeopardy were reduced. Afterall, however damaged Florence may now be in 1999 we know that she survived whatever came her way.

The real tension and the real ‘creepy’ aspect of the story came towards the end of the book when the timeline returns to 1999 and Florence decides to pursue the idea that the case wasn’t resolved correctly.  There is one scene when she is in a house in the dark at night that I found particulalry tense!

Even if this was a little slower in the middle than I would have liked it was still an enjoyable (if dark) story. Lovelady was an engaging main character although she could be frustrating and behave inconsistently at times – but then we can all be a bit like that! The setting and the hints of witchcraft are used with quite a light touch, particularly at the beginning of the book – I can be quite critical of the use of supernatural elements in crime fiction but nothing here felt out of place.

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