4 star

He Said/She Said

Title – He Said/She Said

Author – Erin Kelly

Published – April 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

I occasionally start a book with preconceived ideas because I’ve heard other people talking about it or seen it being promoted but in this case I hadn’t come across many references – I requested the Netgalley on the strength of the author without reading the blurb. Which means it’s perhaps a little odd for me to say that the book wasn’t what I expected. Without any idea of what the story would be about, my assumptions kept catching me out; the opening made me think I was going to be reading a legal thriller and then it was more about crime and rape and perceptions and then it was about stalking and then … well it keeps you on your toes!

The opening of the book is sparse on background, leaving the reader to figure things out for themselves. Young couple Laura and Kit are appearing as witnesses at a trial after an incident that took place when they were watching the eclipse in 1999. The story hinges on a momentary outburst from Laura and what may have been an error of judgement haunts her and Kit. His obsession with chasing eclipses provides a framework for the story which spans 15 years to bring events up to date and is told from their two perspectives.  But enough said – it feels important not to give too much away though!

What I will say is that the story is cleverly crafted and there are plenty of moments when you kick yourself for not having spotted the clues, but Kelly’s writing ensures these are subtle and not ‘signposted’, the moments of revelation unexpected but plausible. The characters are realistically drawn, warts and all, most of them aren’t particularly likeable but this wasn’t a book where you felt you were being forced to hate them. In the moments of tension (and there are plenty) you root for them even though you might not always agree with their choices.

An unusual psychological thriller, smartly executed,  that will keep you intrigued as the plot unravels.

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The Paris Winter – Imogen Robertson

Title – The Paris Winter

Author – Imogen Robertson

Published – 2013

Genre – Historical fiction

Our move West and a sustained busy period at work means that although I am still reading at the rate of around a book a week (call myself a blogger!!) I’m struggling to find the time to review what I’ve read and that is a real shame. I seem to have, in the process, dropped off the lists for a number of publishers, so while I never received a huge amount of ‘book post’ my average is now just one or two books a month. Which means that I’ve got the opportunity to catch up on some books that I have had waiting on the TBR for some considerable time – and this book at 3 or 4 years is by no means the longest!

Out of necessity I will post some shorter reviews but I hope that I still manage to do justice to some of the really enjoyable books I’ve read so far this year.

I picked up The Paris Winter as an antidote to a run of gripping but gritty contemporary crime fiction. The book was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Dagger, losing out to The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor. The setting is Paris, 1909, and Maud Heighton is a young English woman learning to paint at Lafond’s famous Academie. While many in Paris are enjoying the Belle Epoque it can be a difficult time for the women studying away from their families and the death of a fellow student throws Maud’s poverty into sharp relief. Rescue seems to be offered through the intervention of one of the models and a glamorous Russian; with their help Maud is employed by a young man to act as companion to his vulnerable sister.

What appears to be a lifeline for Maud is anything but. It soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems and their world of luxury hides a dark secret. I don’t really want to give anything away because I enjoyed how events played out and how Maud’s future became entangled with theirs. As the story progresses the characters of Yvette, the model and Tanya, the wealthy Russian are fleshed out and between the two we see the polar opposites of those enjoying the delights of Paris.

I loved the setting, both in terms of period and location, and the art school backdrop brought back memories of a number of books I enjoyed which featured The Slade in London. It’s beautifully written and the author made the book really immersive – getting off the train after I’d put it down I would wonder why I was in London, why it wasn’t snowing… I liked the characters, a mix of woman who showed strength but in different ways and without becoming caricatures and a plot that didn’t take the reader into the realms of the implausible.

If you enjoy historical fiction with a criminal leaning then you should add this to your TBR.

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The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton (trans. Lucy Moffatt)

51cw35zyl0lTitle – The Iron Chariot

Author – Stein Riverton (translated by Lucy Moffatt)

Published – 2017 (in English) 1909 (in Norwegian)

Genre – Crime fiction

I was intrigued by the publisher’s description of this book as being one of the greatest Norwegian crime novels of all time. Abandoned Bookshop was publishing, in a modern translation by Lucy Moffatt, what may be the first commercially available English translation of The Iron Chariot. I’m not a fan of everything that’s ‘nordic’ but I thought this should be worth reading.

The quiet idyll of a summer retreat on a Norwegian island is disturbed by the discovery of the dead body of one of the guests. The circumstances make murder seem a possibility and the the local police seem ill-equipped to investigate, so Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania to take charge. The story is narrated by one of the guests at the hotel, a young man who is staying there alone. The evening before the discovery of the body he was on a night-time walk and heard a mysterious noise – a rattling and thrumming which a local fisherman told him was the ‘Iron Chariot’, last heard some years previously on the night a local farmer died.

While the opening sees the first oppressive heat of the summer, the author uses the change in weather and landscape and moves a lot of action to the night to create a tense and atmospheric read. The pace is is a little slow but probably what what you would expect from a book of the period.  The investigations of the detective and unusual circumstances give a claustrophobic and disturbing feel as the story reaches its climax. The menace of the ‘Iron Chariot’ adds a potentially supernatural element to the story and the sinister occurrences take their toll on the narrator with an increasing feeling of oppression and sense of dread.

It’s easy to compare Krag with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (or even Columbo!). He’s an odd character who behaves a little strangely and appears to be taking an unconventional approach to solving the mysteries. His success in identifying the ‘Iron Chariot’ however, suggests that in the end he’ll get to the bottom of the murder.

The translation seems to be seamless, there’s never a word or phrase that jars. For a book that’s over a hundred years old it’s surprisingly readable and I’m sure this must owe something to the skills of the translator too! It’s remarkable when you consider the date this was published compared to other more ‘groundbreaking’ crime fiction authors who were writing in English, this really does seem to have been ahead of its time.

Well worth a read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Stasi Wolf – David Young

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Title – Stasi Wolf

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015 and in 2016 it was the winner of the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger – a great feat for a debut. So what’s the sequel like I hear you ask – any ‘second novel’ issues? I have to say that I think Stasi Wolf is the better of the two books.

Following the end of Stasi Child Karin Müller has been sidelined from her activities in the Berlin murder squad and separated from her old partner. Which means that when she is offered another job which will involved the interference of the Stasi she still accepts it. The assignment sees her sent to Halle-Neustadt, a new ‘city’ created in 1967 and known as City of the Chemistry Workers it was one of the largest construction projects on post-war Germany.

ADN-ZB Lehmann 30.4.82 Halle: Fast 100.000 Einwohner zählt heute die Chemiearbeiterstadt Halle-Neustadt. Überwiegend Werktätige aus den Chemiekombinaten Leuna und Buna sowie aus anderen Großbetrieben sind hier zu Hause. Neben modernen und komfortablen Wohnhäusern prägen Sozial-, Kultur-, Sport- und Dienstleistungseinrichtungen das Bild von Halle-Neustadt.

Halle-Neustadt

The case she is sent to investigate, set in 1975, is the disappearance of twin babies. Of course in a city that is the pride of the communist state the Stasi are keen to control how far the team is allowed to publicise the case and who they are able to question about it. As ever, Karin is determined to find justice and her empathy with the parents of the missing babies helps to drive her to find a resolution. She has to work with and despite the Stasi and the team of local police who initiated the investigation.

As a possible clue to the case there are some passages, set in the past, which are narrated by a character who the reader can’t necessarily identify but they are obviously key to the mystery.

This book felt as if it dwelt less on the comparisons of the free West versus the East and more on the new world that the Eastern German citizens were being offered. It’s clear from the descriptions that this isn’t perhaps all that it’s cracked up to be and this isn’t what the leaders would want the populace to think but from Karin’s perspective you get a feeling for both points of view.

One aspect I was curious about was Karin’s husband. In Stasi Child it felt as if there was more to his relocation than perhaps Karin knew but that was only lightly hinted at here. What we did find out was more about Karin’s own backstory and specifically an incident as a small child and the loss of her best friend.

As with the preceding novel the author brings the atmosphere of the post-war setting without filling the narrative with too much detail. It certainly conveys the claustrophobic feeling of living in an environment where the wrong word or emotion can lead to no end of trouble.

The resolution perhaps relies a little more on coincidence than I would like but it is satisfying regardless of that. Although it can be hard to judge when you have read the preceding book, I don’t think you would feel you were missing out if you read this book without reading Stasi Child first.

A great follow-up to an award-winning debut, this is shaping up to be a series well worth reading. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point to view on Kate’s blog – For Winter Nights.

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Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

51dphgk8vslTitle – Deep Down Dead

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Thriller

Before I start my review it’s only fair to say that I have known Steph (aka ‘Crime Thriller Girl‘) for a  few years and may have had a social drink or two with her at crime fiction events. I hope that readers of my blog can trust, however, that I wouldn’t give a positive review to a book because of this. In fact that does lead to some interesting thoughts about the world of bloggers, authors and crime fiction conventions / events – but for another day!

Florida bounty-hunter and single mother Lori Anderson seizes the opportunity to take on a job to help her make ends meet after her young daughter’s medical treatment. But with a higher than normal bounty comes a higher than normal risk and Lori finds that the job has a personal aspect to it that will bring back memories that she would prefer to stay buried.

The story is fast paced, with lots of action and plenty of emotional twists and turns. Some of the action sequences have a very visual quality to them and it would be easy to see them transferred to (small or large) screen. It touches on some dark themes and has a smattering of sex, violence and secrets. There are aspects that manage to lighten the mood a little and Lori is a feisty leading lady. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the story.

I have to confess that if there was one aspect I didn’t like it was Lori’s daughter. I can see how important she was to the plot and to Lori’s motivation but there was something about the too good to be true, pigtails and eye-rolling, that made me hope something dreadful would happen early on in the book!

I mentioned when I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow that while there are plenty of women writing crime fiction it feels unusual to read a thriller written by a woman. It’s therefore great to read another credible, pacy thriller from a female author. Another unusual aspect of Dead Down Dead, and one that is shared with the series by Rod Reynolds and Mason Cross, is the use of an American setting by someone who is British.

This is an accomplished debut and in Lori, Steph has created a character with a very clear and convincing voice. It’s obvious that she’s also familiar with the locations she uses and I know that she took research further than most authors by training as a bounty hunter in California.

I was pleased that the ending didn’t pan out as I thought it might and  it didn’t go for an ‘easy’ option. This is the first in a series and I’m curious to know where the next instalment will take Lori.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Murderabilia – Craig Robertson

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Title – Murderabilia

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a fan of Craig Roberton’s writing – his mix of gritty Glaswegian crime fiction, ability to weave in multiple plotlines and of course his very readable prose. This is the sixth book in the series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police photographer Tony Winter and I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint.

Set just months after the end of In Place of Death, Winter is now a photo-journalist with the Scottish Standard but that doesn’t stop him getting into the thick of it when it comes to taking crime scene photos. A particularly visual death has Winter taking the pictures of a body suspended from a railway bridge, a death Narey will be investigating but something happens at the beginning of the investigation that sees Narey confined to their home and a colleague she believes to be incompetent taking over her case.

While Narey is trapped Winter does some digging of his own but not one for inaction Narey also begins to investigate one aspect of the crime scene through the only means she can – the internet. What she finds is a world where people will trade anything and everything associated with serial killers and their victims. Unable to leave her bed she becomes more and more obsessed with what she finds and is drawn into the darkest area of the web. Where the first books in this series featured Winter’s obsession with his photography and the visual aspects of the crime scene this is Narey’s turn to be consumed by something horrific.

Normally Robertson’s books offer a view of the dark side of the City of Glasgow but in this book it’s the dark side of the internet that is centre stage and those that collect items most of us would find abhorrent. The book still manages to be atmospheric because it effortlessly captures the claustraphobia of Narey’s confinement and her obsession. She’s firmly at the forefront of this book which makes it a more emotional read than perhaps the earlier titles have been.

It’s refreshing to come across a plot and a take on an investigation which is original and Robertson on certainly achieves that here. I’m always intrigued by his books, there is always some aspect that he brings in that makes me want to go away and find out more about. In this case you might (or might not) want to try Googling ‘murderabilia’ for yourself. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Black Night Falling – Rod Reynolds

Title – Black Night Falling

Author – Rod Reynolds

Published – August 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a long outstanding review that I feel particularly guilty about not posting in a more timely manner but it’s also a post that I would swear I had written and was ready to press ‘publish’ on, but then was just a blank page…

Set a few months after the end of The Dark Inside, Charlie Yates is living in Venice Beach with Lizzie and they’re putting the past behind them. But a call from a friend suggesting that there was something unfinished about the events that took place in Texarkana draws him back to the South. He leaves Lizzie at home and arrives in Hot Springs only to find that the man whose call he was answering is dead.

Galvanised into action by this unexpected death he embarks on an investigation of his own, but unlike in the previous book he has no standing to do that so this is another obstacle he must overcome. As he starts to find out more about the events that prompted the original phone call there are threads that link back to Texarkana and he finds that his actions may have put Lizzie in peril.

Charlie is still wrestling with his demons and although he has mellowed a little after the events of the previous book, he is still quick to avoid being seen as a coward (which suggests that that’s really how he sees himself). He’s motivated by justice and revenge and is driven onwards by his conscience – he feels like the quintessential ‘good guy’ although he doesn’t always get it right.

This is incredibly atmospheric and if you didn’t know better you would imagine that the author had walked the Texarkana streets in the 1940s so what makes the writing even more astonishing is the fact that Rod Reynolds is a thirtysomething Londoner. There’s lots of historical detail and the voices of the characters really feel true to the period. There is a real feel of the ‘Wild West’ too with the dogged newspaper man facing up to the corruption he finds around him. The first book had its origin in historical events but this book proves that the author can devise his own plots without any help.

Another great read in the Charlie Yates series and if you’re after crime fiction / thriller with an unusual historical setting then this might be just what you’re looking for.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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