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Death in the Dordogne – Martin Walker

Title – Death in the Dordogne

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2009

Genre – Crime fiction

I came to the Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police series at book 5 and have been curious to read the earlier books, so I took the opportunity of an offer with the Book People to buy books 1 – 3. There are quite a few references to a number of preceding events in the later books and I wanted to better understand some of the background. The problem I found, however, is that while the first book provides a lot of background it does it by ‘telling’ rather than  ‘showing’.

There are two main investigative threads to Death in the Dordogne – one is the the death of an elderly man, head of an immigrant North African family, and decorated former soldier. The other is the guerrilla tactics being used to deter EU hygiene inspectors, Brussels bureaucrats, who want to interfere with the traditional ways of the local market traders. It may have been published in 2009 but the issues that crop up – mistrust of Brussels, distrust of foreigners, the rise of the far right feel very current.

The pace is quite slow, which isn’t unusual for the series, there are the gastronomic delights that are a feature of the series and the ‘aspirational’ feel – who wouldn’t want to live Bruno’s life in St Denis? The main mystery is relatively simple and the resolution is one that demonstrates the ‘just’ side of Bruno, a man with a clear moral compass. The story also taught me some aspects of French history that I wasn’t aware of.

It’s an interesting perspective to go back to the beginning of a series because the first thing I wondered was ‘why start here?’. What was it about book one that marked the start? I think it’s the fact that although Bruno has been in his post for some time this is the point at which he has to deal with his first murder (after this there is a real increase in the number of deaths in the area…). The investigation demands that external resources are brought in so this is also the point where he meets Isabelle for the first time.

I have to say that if this was the first book I had read I might not have pressed on with the series. Whether as a conscious effort or not, the later books feel like the author gets better at filling in the backstory the reader needs to know without it being such an obstacle to the pace.

The book serves well as an introduction but the series is one that definitely gets better.

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Dead Woman Walking – Sharon Bolton

Title – Dead Woman Walking

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been a big fan Sharon Bolton’s books and three of those I’ve reviewed have been five star reads so when I saw Dead Woman Walking in the library I had to borrow it.

The story is told through two timelines. In the present the book opens with a hot-air balloon flight near the Scottish border that goes disastrously awry after the passengers witness a brutal attack from their lofty position. This results in a chase sequence that lasts for a couple of chapters and culminates in the death of many of the passengers. But one young woman walks away from the crash and then she runs. She is in fear for her life and trusts no-one, even as the police start to search for her, she remains on the run.

The second timeline that interweaves the first starts over twenty years previously when the two sisters who were in the balloon flight were young girls. As this timeline moves forwards documenting the girls’ relationship we learn about the reasons that led to them being in the balloon and this is where a police procedural aspect comes into the story.

There are a number of reasons that I didn’t think this book was as well written or as gripping as the previous books I’ve read by the author. It relies on multiple twists but there wasn’t enough mis-direction and I had picked up on several of them before they were revealed. It stretches the reader’s credibility – I’ve always felt that the police procedural aspects of the author’s previous books have seemed authentic but this lacked that feeling and putting in a lot of twists means the author’s trying to mis-lead the reader, which makes you question everything you’re reading. Finally it felt like it was trying to cover too much ground – there were so many different aspects to the plot. I don’t want to give too much away but for most authors just a fraction of the themes would be enough for a compelling novel.

There were some enjoyable action sequences and some interesting themes were touched on. Very disappointed that this wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous books by the author.

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29 Seconds – T M Logan

Title – 29 Seconds

Author – T M Logan

Published – March 2018

Genre – Psychological thriller

Sarah is a young mother wit a professional job at a university, her husband has moved out and she’s trying to juggle her career and childcare. Her boss is the worst kind of lecherous sexual predator and she finds that she has no-one to turn to for help when he sets his sights on her. The ’29 Seconds’ of the title is the time it takes Sarah to make a phone call to take up the offer from a mysterious Russian, repaying a debt he owes her.

The book is incredibly timely and highlights the issues that have cropped up in the #MeToo campaign. Sarah is put in the invidious position of having to decide if she wants to keep her job enough to have sex with her boss.

I could empathise with Sarah up to a point but the plot felt like it took things too far, losing some credibility (I know, it’s fiction). I’m not a fan of stories of any kind, book, film, play, that depend on a single decision, one that as a reader you would prefer them not to take, I find the outcome frustrating when you could see it would be the wrong thing to do. The author has painted Sarah into a corner where she feels she has nowhere else to turn but as soon as she has made her move (and things don’t pan out quite as she anticipates) there is someone that she confides in who would have helped if she’d asked. The other characters felt like caricatures – the repugnant boss, the mysterious Russian, the earnest best friend – but they served their purpose.

I read the book quite quickly but that was partly because the phone call of the title doesn’t happen until half way so I was spurred on to get to the crux of the story. The premise is an unusual one and the aftermath of the call isn’t what I expected.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell

Title – The Silent Companions

Author – Laura Purcell

Published – October 2017

Genre – Historical fiction

This was a book that I’d heard a lot of people raving about and when I saw the hardback on the shelves it was so beautiful that I added it to my Christmas list (and received it!). And now I’m in two minds whether or not to publish a review. It didn’t come from a publisher so I feel no pressure to be positive but I don’t mean to be negative for the sake of it. I still feel it’s worth saying what I thought because there are comparisons to be drawn with other similar books that I’ve read.

The book is set (mainly) in 1865. A little while in the future Mrs Bainbridge is in an asylum and a doctor persuades her to write down her account of the events in an effort to understand what led to her incarceration. In 1865 Elsie is newly married and newly widowed. The death of her husband has taken place at his family home, The Bridge, an old and crumbling mansion where her story starts, with shades of Rebecca. This part of the book is very much a chilling, gothic story but quite slow to develop and it didn’t have the atmosphere of something like The Unseeing. One of the issues I had was when a third timeline was introduced after diaries dating back to 1635, written by a previous owner of the house, are found in a mysterious garret. I then found the shifts through the three periods a struggle and I couldn’t take to the character who had written the diaries.

The silent companions of the title are a set of mysterious wooden figures that, sometimes, resemble some of the characters in the household and then appear where they aren’t expected. I had a quick ‘google’ to see a real example – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object. Part of my problem was that these didn’t seem as sinister to me as they should have done. By coincidence it’s not long since I read The Coffin Path and that was where I first came across these unusual figures – and these I did find creepy, perhaps if the order in which I read the books had been reversed I might have felt differently.

When the threads of the different timelines are resolved and there is a final climax to the story I was impressed by the turn of events.  It’s a shame that I didn’t find the book as atmospheric and chilling as others did.

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Perfect Remains – Helen Field

8111buIJ6TLTitle – Perfect Remains

Author – Helen Field

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a series that I’ve seen a lot of buzz about on Twitter and has glowing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I took advantage when there was an offer to download the book for free when a new book in the series was published. And now I discover it’s one of those books that the rest of the world seems to like and I have a dissenting voice, in fact I’m torn between giving it two or three stars, but I’m feeling generous.

The main character is D I Luc Callanach – half French and half Scottish he has recently transferred to Edinburgh after working for Interpol in France. He has the looks of an underwear model and a dark and mysterious past. His first case with his new team is the disappearance and subsequent murder of a young professional woman.

When I said that Callanach is the main character that’s only partly true – the perpetrator of the crimes gets his own fair share of the limelight. This is a book where you know from the outset who committed the crimes, how he is carrying them out and the deceptions he is using to trick the police. An unlikeable character I couldn’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. Obviously a disturbed individual but so disturbed that I was never sure that the motive behind his crimes even made sense to him.

There is a lesser strand to the main plot about babies being found in a park which is investigated by one of Callanach’s colleagues and I wondered if this was a means to an end for a later point in the plot; it didn’t seem properly developed but seemed more to serve a purpose.

The setting is Edinburgh but the writing didn’t get the feel or the atmosphere that told me anything about the place – it could easily have been set in the suburbs of any other large city. The dual point of view aspect was one of things that didn’t endear the book to me, while I like police procedurals I much prefer that the mystery unfolds for me as it does for the investigators, I don’t particularly like to be in on the secrets. There is a considerable amount of violence in the book. I’ve read worse, or perhaps more graphic, but it was all against women and there were certainly aspects that seemed gratuitous. There was an inevitable romance which didn’t particularly add anything to the story. To me it felt like a book someone would write who has read a lot of crime fiction and thinks ‘I could do that’. I think it needed a bit more refinement, a bit more editing, a more critical eye.

But how can I argue with all those hugely positive reviews?

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The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Title – The Wicked Cometh

Author – Laura Carlin

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s 1831 and men, women and children have been disappearing from the streets of London. Hester is a young woman who lost her somewhat privileged life when she was orphaned and was taken in by her father’s ex-gardener and his wife, which has led to her living in ever more wretched conditions. She is pinning her hopes on being able to meet her long lost cousin in London but a chance incident and injury sees her become something of a ‘project’ for the Brock family – Calder Brock, his sister Rebekah and their uncle. Hester is sent to their country house where they plan to educate her (as she has managed to keep to herself the fact that she is actually relatively well educated), she makes friends with some of the housemaids and is mentored by Rebekah.

This is a book or two halves. There is the ‘salvation’ of Hester and her burgeoning relationship with Rebekah. Then there are the ‘investigations’ as they play amateur detective in trying to find what’s become of the missing people, uncovering some unpleasant secrets in both their families along the way.

I have to say this book that wasn’t really for me. The stories and the multiple threads became quite convoluted and the author packed a lot in. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hester, for some reason I didn’t find that her character rang quite true – although nothing I can really put my finger on. The author does paint an interesting and atmospheric picture of London, demonstrating some of the contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and there is a period leaning to the writing. But the very end of the book felt like it had pushed the credibility of the story too far.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.

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Murder on Christmas Eve

Title – Murder on Christmas Eve

Author – Compilation of short stories edited by Cecily Gayford

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’m not someone who tends to read ‘seasonal’ fiction, if anything I prefer to read books set in a different season to the one I’m in. Who doesn’t want to escape into the hot sun when they’re stuck in a dreary British winter? But in this case I couldn’t resist the cover!

The stories are from a mix of writers, both contemporary (Ian Rankin, for example) to more classic crime (John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham). The setting for all is around Christmas but some are more ‘festive’ than others. I’ve read some good crime fiction short stories but the quality of these was a bit hit and miss. With the stories being written decades apart it’s difficult to know if they had all been specifically written as a Christmas short story or if they were just what the editor managed to find.

The GK Chesterton story was the longest and was a very complete puzzle and it’s always good to see Father Brown. Although I did feel that the story could have finished a few pages before it did and it wasn’t really connected to Christmas. I also enjoyed the first story ‘The Trinity Cat’, by Margery Allingham, this is probably the closest to my expectations of what the stories would be like. Many of the other stories were about a sleight of hand or a misunderstanding – perhaps the limitations of the short story format meant that this was the easiest was to present a puzzle and solve it. And some of them managed to miss the mark completely.

The collection is short and perhaps would make a good present for someone who isn’t normally a crime fiction fan.

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