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Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

Title – Whispers Under Ground

Author – Ben Aaronovitch

Published – 2012

Genre – Fantasy crime fiction

This is the third in the series by Aaronovitch featuring the Police (now Detective) Constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant. I read the second book in the series (Moon Over Soho) in 2014 and leaving a gap of six years has been a bit of a mistake because some of the longer story arc which continues through the series was a bit of a mystery to me – although this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Our hero, DC Peter Grant, is called to attend the discovery of a body of a young man at the end of the platform at Baker Street underground station. He’s been included in the team investigating the death because there may be ‘something off’ about it and his special skills may come into play. Grant gets his own role in the investigation, alongside the lovely Lesley, which involves a lot of exploration of the underground tunnels and sewers. The victim was the son of a US Senator so they’re also joined by an FBI agent, although this is not a particularly amicable partnership.

This book has a lot more police investigation in it and less time based at The Folly and Grant’s magical studies than earlier books and only some brief appearances by some of the River folk.

Another enjoyable read in the series.

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What She Saw Last Night – M J Cross

Title – What She Saw Last Night

Author -M J Cross

Published – April 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

You may know Mason Cross for his Carter Blake series – fast-paced, US-set thrillers, but writing as M J Cross ‘What She Saw Last Night’ moves closer to home, opening on The Caledonian Sleeper, the action moves between the Highlands and London.

Jenny Bowen boards the sleeper in a hurry and as she heads for her ‘cabin’ she has a chance encounter with a woman and a young girl. When she wakes the next day the woman is dead and there is no trace of the girl. The police investigation is perfunctory and Jenny’s concerns for the girl are dismissed as ‘fantasy’.

Jenny is at a bit of a crossroads in her life – she’s in the midst of a divorce and is returning to her family home after the death of her father. While the emotional turmoil could have caused an overactive imagination, in fact her concern for the girl gives her some purpose and direction. She starts her own ‘investigation’, trying to find a missing girl to match the one she saw – and in doing so she opens a whole, violent, can of worms.

The book is what I would describe as a ‘police thriller’ – while there is an official police involvement in the mystery the plot is more about a ‘race against time’ feeling to find the missing girl than finding a solution to the woman’s murder. There are some fast-paced action scenes – both through the hubbub of London (hard to picture at the moment) and a more remote setting in Scotland.

I quite liked the main characters but if I have any quibbles it’s that Jenny doesn’t seem to suffer much emotional impact from some of the more challenging events and for a software developer she picks herself up pretty quickly from some physical encounters.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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The Lantern Men – Elly Griffiths

Title – The Lantern Men

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – 6 Feb 2020

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

The last book I read in the Ruth Galloway series was The Dark Angel and to me it felt like a departure within the series – lots of focus on Ruth’s personal life and less on the mystery element – however this 12th book feels like a return to form. In most cases with this series it hasn’t mattered that I’ve not read the books in order but I feel I’ve missed out on some significant changes which I assume too place in the preceding title (The Stone Circle) is I do need to get a copy of this.

A creepy (or charming, depending on your point of view) convicted murder, Ivor March, offers DCI Nelson the opportunity to find the bodies of two furthermurder victims, contingent on Ruth Galloway leading the dig. Somewhat flattered by the suggestion that she’s the best person for the job Ruth becomes involved in the investigation, despite her concerns that March has other reasons for requesting her.

The dig goes ahead and at the same time another woman dies in similar circumstances to March’s victims. Nelson, supported by colleagues Tanya and Judy, leads them to investigate a small group of people who all lived with March in a remote house called Grey Walls – somewhere Ruth is also connected to. As the story unfolds the investigation circles around this limited groups and the ins and outs of their tangled relationships. As with most (all?) of the series it also draws on local folklore with the real life mystery echoing tales of the ‘Lantern Men’.

The author makes the most of the atmospheric locations, setting the action across the historic centre of Cambridge, the expanse of the Fens and the rugged Norfolk coastline. The series is one where the characters are as important and the mystery; as the series progresses the minor characters offer more to each story and there is still the on/off nature of Ruth and Nelson’s relationship which still simmers in the background. An enjoyable read and return to focus on the mystery aspects of the plot.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Devil’s Fjord – David Hewson

Title – Devil’s Fjord

Author – David Hewson

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a bit of a change in location for David Hewson, a mystery set in the Faroe Islands with all the hallmarks of ‘scandi noir’.

Newly-appointed District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsebeth are looking forward to a peaceful semi-retirement in the remote fishing village of Djevulsfjord on the stunningly beautiful island of Vagar. But when two boys go missing during the first whale hunt of the season, the repercussions strike at the heart of the isolated coastal community.

I have to say it’s not a read for the faint-hearted as Haraldsen’s first real duty in his new community is to take part in the ‘grind’ – a very bloody whale hunting tradition. Haraldsen is at the heart of the hunt and the reader isn’t spared any of the more unpleasant details. It’s during this action that there is an incident between Haraldsen and one of the boys which Haraldsen believes may have triggered their flight.

The couple are outsiders, giving them a slightly different perspective on what the locals take for granted, and this is a community with a lot of secrets that they’re not keen on sharing.  He and his wife are also pretty naive, expecting more of an idyllic retreat than a hard-working fishing village. When the two boys go missing Haraldsen feels that he’s to blame and takes a personal interest in the search for them. One of those brought in to work on the search is policewoman Hanna Olsen, although she has her own agenda. When the authorities feel enough has been done in the search Olsen and Haraldsen put their heads together to mount their own investigation.

The book delivers the usual mix of investigation and culture that I enjoy in Hewson’s Nic Costa series – albeit set in a more harsh and unforgiving environment. It also has a slower pace, more in keeping with translated / scandi fiction. An enjoyable read, especially if you’re normally a reader of scandi or nordic noir.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

91UVzYpWv9LTitle – The Colorado Kid

Author – Stephen King

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been on the lookout for a copy of The Colorado Kid since the TV series Haven was first broadcast in 2010, so I jumped at the opportunity to get a review copy of this new issue. It’s worth saying that if you’ve seen the programme it was LOOSELY based on the book and while you can see a few similarities there are definitely more differences. However, it’s difficult to read the book without picturing some of the characters and locations as those from the screen, regardless of the fact that they’re not ‘like for like’.

King wrote the story specifically for the Hard Case Crime publisher and the new edition includes an introduction from Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, an Afterword by Stephen King and is illustrated throughout. The story is a mystery that fits in the HCC covers without some of the frills and spills that other King books feature.

“The book tells the story of two veteran newspapermen and their investigation into the mysterious death of a man on an island off the coast of Maine. How does a man wind up dead on a beach, alone, with no identification, two thousand miles from home? And what does it mean to grapple with questions like that, not knowing if you’ll ever learn the answers?”

In fact the story is told by the two veteran newspapermen to a young student on an internship at The Weekly Insider. The story is an example of a real mystery, something that may have no rational explanation, something that would make folks feel uncomfortable. It’s also, through its telling, about times changing and passing on the baton.

Unusually for me I’ve actually taken away a quote from the book that really struck me – “A wave is a pretty thing to look at when it breaks on the beach, but too many only make you seasick.”

I’m one of those people who like a story with a firm conclusion, or at worst a ‘musta been’ but this is a lesson in how you don’t necessarily need either.

A good, and short, read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

Title – The Immortalists

Author – Chloe Benjamin

Published – March 2018

Genre – Fiction

I’m making a concerted effort to clear up all my outstanding reviews before the start of the next decade (😱). You can see how far behind I am – I read this just after it was published in March 2018. My intention was to do a few short reviews but as I’ve picked this up and can remember some of my thoughts I may go on a little longer.

This isn’t a book that I might normally read but sometimes a review copy prods you to read outside of your normal genre. This is more along the lines of women’s fiction rather than crime fiction and has a historical slant to it; it follows the fortunes of young four siblings who in New York 1969 visit a fortune teller, a woman who will supposedly tell them the dates of their deaths. So this question forms the premise of the book – if you know the date of your death does this become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do you still have free will, or are the choices you make and the way you live determined by the knowledge of how long you have before you die?

Which all sounds a bit deep, but armed with whatever the fortune teller has told them the siblings embark on their lives – all vividly portrayed against a near-history background. Of course for the reader the knowledge of the period they’re living through makes you want to challenge the choices some of them make and you can see disaster looming before they can!

Each character is complex and three-dimensional, their lives lived an a richly atmospheric landscape drawn by the author, all against a background that encompasses their religion (Judaism) and evokes the period of recent history (a risk when most readers will have lived through it themselves). I became really invested in the characters and their fates.

Each of the four deals with the knowledge they’re given at the beginning in completely contrasting ways and you’re still left to consider the question of destiny versus choice. But this isn’t all the book is about – it’s about family and belief and emotion and drama, a potted family saga told over forty years.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see Liz’s thoughts on LizLovesBooks and Jackie’s at Farm Lane Books.

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A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

A Deadly Thaw coverTitle – A Deadly Thaw

Author – Sarah Ward

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This the sequel to ‘In Bitter Chill‘ and opens with one of the most intriguing mysteries I’ve come across.

In 2016 the body of a man is discovered in a remote, disused mortuary and his identity brings some uncomfortable questions – both for his wife who was imprisoned for his murder in 2004 and the police who pursued the investigation. How intriguing is that??

The story is told across two timelines – 2004, when the initial murder was investigated and 2016, when the body is found a year after the release of his wife from prison. There are so many questions to be answered – who died in 2004, why did Lena confess to a murder she didn’t commit, where has the man been since 2004 and why didn’t he come forward, and who has now killed him? And of course all these questions mean that it would be easy to include spoilers – so I’ll keep the review short and hopefully spoiler-free.

Leading the current investigation are DI  Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs, with the returning characters becoming further developed as the story progresses. There’s some interesting politics, too, about investigating the possible mistakes of their predecessors and superiors.

When Lena disappears her sister, Kat, takes matters into her own hands and tries to track her down – and this creates the second pov for the book, adding to the police perspective. This means that we learn about Lena and the background to the story from others rather than directly from Lena herself. The climax of the book comes as the two investigations begin to come together.

The author’s style mixes the elements of a cosy Peak District mystery with the chill of Nordic Noir. An enjoyable read, especially if you like intriguing British police procedurals which offer a slow burn rather than a thrill a minute – well this is rural Derbyshire!

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Deadland – William Shaw

Cover DeadlandTitle – Deadland

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2 May 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

Picking up where Salt Lane left off, this is the second in the Alex Cupidi series and also sees the return of William South from The Birdwatcher.

The opening line is a real attention grabber, something Dick Francis would have been proud of! Two teenage boys who are fairly inept thieves manage to steal a bag from the wrong man. They’re forced to go on the run when they realise how seriously the victim has taken the loss and what he’s prepared to do to get his belongings back.

At the same time Cupidi involves herself in a strange mystery after a severed arm is discovered in a work of art. Whose arm is it? Is there someone, somewhere who is injured and needs help or might this be a murder? Or is there even a crime to investigate?

This is a much simpler book than its predecessors, with two main investigations and two main points of view (Cupidi and the two boys on the run). As the stories unfold the huge contrasts in the social divide between the young petty thieves who have to hide out on the marshes and the characters they come into contact with, versus the incredibly wealthy celebrity owners of the artwork add an extra dimension to the story. There is also a lesson to be learned about being taken in by the perception of ‘celebrity’.

During the course of the book we learn more about Detective Constable Jill Ferriter, who is now becoming one of the mainstays of the series. Cupidi’s home life is still an important part of the book and we learn more about the circumstances that led to her moving out to the Kent coast and Zoë, her daughter, continues to worry her.

As in the earlier books in this series and in Shaw’s Breen and Tozer series, the excellent characterisation brings the diverse cast to life. They are truly believable and that really draws you into the story. The sense of place is important, as has been the case with the preceding books, and the experience of these characters provides a different point of view of the desolate coastline and the more urban areas.

A really enjoyable read.

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The Rumour – Lesley Kara

91jKtdyk2NLTitle – The Rumour

Author – Lesley Kara

Published – Dec 2018

Genre – Psychological thriller

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that psychological thrillers can be a bit hit or miss for me.   This book was a bit of a random read that I picked up via Netgalley so I didn’t have any particular expectations, but it turned out to be an unusual plot that kept me gripped to the end.

Joanna lives with her son in a small seaside town where she’s recently returned to be closer to her mother. At the school gates she picks up a piece of gossip – there is a rumour that a woman, a notorious child-killer who was only ten year’s old herself when she killed a little boy, is living in the town.

You know that moment where you’ve been told something in confidence but your mouth just runs away with you? The sinking feeling when you say something which you know you shouldn’t? Well Joanna has that. The father of her son, Michael, is a journalist whose interest is piqued by the idea of this killer being hidden away in the town and begins to investigate the background of the case. However, in an effort to help her son make friends Joanna shares some information she heard from Michael, she soon learns how a wrong word can lead to suspicion in a small town.

As the rumour spreads a local woman becomes the target of the suspicions, adding to Joanna’s feelings of guilt – and then she starts to suspect she and her son are being targeted by the murderer, which ramps up the tension.

This was an unusual premise and, unusually for this genre, the lead character was quite likeable, although she does have  some flaws as well as an unbelievably perfect boyfriend. Towards the end it was best just to get carried along with the story and not examine the detail too much (you know that feeling where you want to go back to the beginning and see what you read?). Nevertheless it kept me reading and guessing until the end.

Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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The Long Call – Ann Cleeves

91NnYUCQyaLTitle – The Long Call

Author – Ann Cleeves

Published – September 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

It can’t be easy to embark on a new series with new characters when you’re already known for two really successful ones (Vera and Jimmy Perez/Shetland) but if Ann Cleeves had any worries then, in my view, they were unfounded.

The main character in the new series is Matthew Venn, a Detective Inspector based on the North Devon coast. He’s a quiet, thoughtful character, something of a contrast to both Vera and Perez. His parents raised him in a strict evangelical community that he rebelled against in his teens, but he’s returned to the area he grew up in and as the plot unfolds he has to face some of the events and people from his past.

A body is discovered on the shore not far from Venn’s own home, the victim is a man with a complex past and it takes some time for the team to unravel where he came from and who he is. The first witness to come forward with information is a young girl with Down’s Syndrome who attends The Woodyard, an arts and crafts community hub that incorporates a day centre for adults with learning difficulties. The Woodyard is run by Venn’s husband, ensuring the story centres around a confined group of characters.

The location of the book was one of those odd moments of synchronicity. I had just started the book when I had a weekend away in Devon and we drove to Staunton, driving through Barnstaple, across the rivers (the series is the ‘Two Rivers’) and through Baunton which features in the story. As with her other series the location is important to the story but nothing beats being able to go ‘I know where that is’ when you’re reading.

The story is quite a slow one and is more character-led than action, in some ways it has the sensibilities of ‘cosy crime’ but in others it’s unflinching in the issues it confronts. It would be hard to read it and not notice the diversity of the characters but it didn’t feel as if any of them didn’t have the right to their place in the book or felt shoe-horned in.

If you follow my blog you will know that UK police procedurals are my favourite sub-genre of crime fiction and I’m thrilled that this didn’t disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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