5 star

Thirteen – Steve Cavanagh

Title – Thirteen

Author – Steve Cavanagh

Published – January 2018

Genre –  Legal / Thriller

If you haven’t heard of this book you’ve probably not been on social media this year – not only has there been a concerted campaign to promote the book but I’ve yet to hear a bad word about it. The book is the fourth in the ‘Eddie Flynn’ series and despite not having been a huge fan of Cavanagh’s debut I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Things have moved on for Flynn since the end of the first book, but not so much that I felt I didn’t know what was going on. He’s representing small-time clients, sleeping in his office and outsmarting the wrong people. Out of the blue he’s approached by a high-flying lawyer who wants Flynn to join him on a case representing a young Hollywood star, Bobby Solomon, accused of murdering his wife and chief of security. Initially reluctant to become involved Flynn is persuaded that the case isn’t as open and shut as it appears and his meeting with Bobby clinches the deal.

There are two points of view in the story – one is Flynn (in the first person) and the other is a mysterious character (third person) called Kane who is on a no-holds-barred quest that will see his involvement in the courtroom. Swapping between the points of view and knowing what’s happening (without perhaps understanding the purpose) is a great way of making the book compelling – you really want to keep reading to see how things will fit together.

I’m purposely trying to avoid spoilers, this is a book that would be better enjoyed letting it unfold as you read. There are some particularly devious moments and afterwards you do have to wonder how the author came up with them! Flynn remains a likeable character who takes his fair share of knocks – both physical and emotional – but has a decent moral compass. Kane on the other hand, despite being a monster, is depicted as being completely rational, although what’s acceptable behaviour to him isn’t quite the same as it is for the rest of us…

The Defence isn’t the first debut I’ve read where the author tries to pack too much in (and I don’t suppose it will be the last) and you wonder what the author has left themselves with for the future but in Thirteen Cavanagh shows that he can maintain the reader’s interest with fewer threads to the story but really smart plotting of those that remain. I can certainly see shades of early Scott Turow in this book and it’s going to be one to look out for on future awards lists.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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Day of the Dead – Nicci French

Title – Day of the Dead

Author – Nicci French

Published – 12 July 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

Well this is it, after seven years and seven books this is the much anticipated final instalment in the Frieda Klein series. Over the time that we’ve come to know Frieda we’ve watched the game of cat and mouse that has played out between her and her nemesis, but this is the climax of the story and it’s clear that only one of them will survive to the end.

The book opens with what appears to be a road accident and it’s quite a wait for the reader before the inevitable link to Dean Reeve and Frieda becomes clear. At the same time a young criminology student, Lola, is struggling to find a subject to write her dissertation on when her tutor suggests focussing on a person, on Frieda. Anyone who has read the preceding books in the series will know that she’s probably a bad choice – introverted, secretive, and in this book she’s in hiding.

By going into hiding Frieda is trying to save her friends and family but Lola, who is terribly out of her depth, manages to track her down and in doing so she threatens Frieda’s safety and those she’s trying to protect. Lola and Frieda are thrown together and this adds an interesting aspect to the story as Frieda steps back into her psychologist role. The book draws on some familiar themes from the series – Frieda’s love of walking, her knowledge of the rivers of London and Josef’s penchant for building work.

The tension really ramps up as Frieda tries to stay one step ahead of Dean Reeve. It adds a certain thrill to a book to know that it’s the final one in a series and that the author is free to do as they wish with the characters. The writing is, as ever, excellent and there are some twists and misdirection along the way which help to keep the reader guessing, brilliant pacing makes it compelling reading.

If there is one odd thing about this book it’s that the seven before have featured a growing and important cast of characters who have supported Frieda through the tough times but they feel a bit sidelined in this final episode. I don’t have an issue with the focus being Frieda, I was just struck by their relative absence when I’d finished.

I’m sure other readers will be able to think of some examples but for me it’s been unusual to read a series that has had a such a clear over-arching story arc that hasn’t wavered through the books. In fact this is, really, just one hell of a long book. Which makes book #8 equivalent to the final chapters – and as such the book is a fitting end. I know that the publisher is marketing this as being readable as a standalone thriller and I wouldn’t want to stop anyone reading it but you really should read the whole series.

What a series, what a climax. I’m going to miss Frieda.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
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Quieter than Killing – Sarah Hilary

Title – Quieter than Killing

Author – Sarah Hilary

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the fourth in the ‘Marnie Rome’ series and it’s a series that’s getting better and better.

Coinciding with ‘The Beast From The East’ (well, for me anyway) this is set in a grim and icy London. Marnie and Noah have been investigating what they believe to be vigilante attacks – several people who served prison sentences some years ago have been the subject of violent assaults. When the latest attack results in the death of the victim their efforts are redoubled but there is initially little evidence to go on. Investigating the victims and the original crimes opens up a whole host of further complications.

At the same time an incident at Marnie’s former childhood home blurs the boundaries between her work and personal life, and she is someone who likes to compartmentalise. DS Kennedy from ‘Trident’ is investigating the attack and believes that it’s linked to a local gang of kids. This also introduces a potential connection to her foster brother – someone who manages to insinuate himself into many of her investigations.

As the book progresses we meet another character – Finn, a young boy being held captive by ‘Brady’, with echoes of some of the aspects of the previous book in the series. It takes a while but eventually the connection to the investigations becomes clear and the role that Finn is playing is one that tugs at Marnie’s heart strings.

Noah has his own problems when he can’t find his younger brother, Sol, and he starts to receive threats – something that he should speak to DS Kennedy about but will he risk Sol being brought to the attention of colleagues? It makes it sound like there’s a lot going on but the book and the different threads don’t feel in any way disjointed.

The early parts of the book are a masterclass in how to give a reader new to your series enough information about the background and avoid an obvious device like a quick explanatory chat between two characters. Much of the book’s subject matter is centred around gangs and people bringing pressure to bear on others to act against their will; this type of social observation is typical of this series. What feels different about this book is the progress in the storyline between Marnie and her foster brother (although we’re left on a huge cliff hanger) and I wonder if the reason I didn’t love the earlier books as much as other people is connected to this thread. I’m a great one for having resolution in books! Although resolution appears to be some way off, the exchanges brought their relationship and the family dynamic into better focus. Marnie is also a great thinker – I’ve felt in the past that the character has spent too much time dwelling on issues and mulling them over – this book felt different, as if there was less angst.

Clever plotting, effortless writing and convincing characters – this is a great crime read with a social conscience.

Thank you to the library for lending me the copy. You can see another point of view on Cleo’s blog .

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The Photographer – Craig Robertson

Title – The Photographer

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 25 Jan 2018

Genre – Crime

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a fan of Craig Roberton’s writing due to his mix of gritty Glaswegian crime fiction, ability to weave in multiple plotlines and of course his very readable prose. This is the seventh book in the series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police photographer Tony Winter and it’s made for a cracking start to the year.

In this case “The Photographer” isn’t Winter but a particularly violent rapist who has kept dozens and dozens of candid photographs of young women. Potentially his victims – of course, admissible in court and available to the police – of course not!

Unusually we start without much in the way of doubt about who the perpetrator is and he’s quickly brought to the attention of the police. Initially unaware of the scale of his crimes Narey’s trip to court draws a lot of public attention and this spills over into her family’s private life when she is the subject of a hate campaign via social media. Unsuccessful in the prosecution of the man, Narey becomes aware of more victims but discovering that some have disappeared gives the story a ‘race against time’ aspect. Winter receives some help from an unidentified source which allows him to pursue his own investigation and, as you would expect, he sails close to the wind.

This is less graphic than previous books but rape is a tricky subject regardless of who is writing about it. The attacks are described in enough detail that the reader can understand the terror of the women, and the violence of the assault, but there is nothing gratuitous. The  development of the victims’s characters offers an insight to the aftermath – those who crumble and those who rise above it to become more of a crusader for the rest.

It feels like it’s in this book that the author has really found the perfect balance with the series. The split of story between the two main characters (not forgetting Uncle Danny), the fact that their relationship is more settled, perhaps less violence, or at least less gore than previous books and a resolution that I was happy with – there’s nothing to criticise. As with the recent books in the series the topics are ‘cutting edge’ tackling issues you can see in the news any evening of the week. And one aspect that I must mention is Robertson’s turn of phrase – there are moments where it’s a pure joy to read, not something you can always say about crime fiction!

A great instalment in the series, many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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The Confession – John Grisham

Title – The Confession

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2010

Genre – Legal thriller

I’ve read a little less in 2017 than in recent years and there haven’t been any particular books that stood out as a ‘five star’ read but by the skin of its teeth this book gets that accolade. Apart from anything else it’s a book that’s haunting me – it’s a number of days since I finished it but I can’t shake off some of the aspects and issues that the book brought up.

Although written some years ago it feels like a particularly timely read and in fact the situation in the US may be worse now than it was when the book was published.

Donté Drumm is four days from execution in Texas for a murder he was found guilty of committing nine years earlier. On the Monday morning Travis Boyette, a serial rapist who is on parole, approaches a priest in a small town in Kansas confessing to the crime for which Donté is due to be executed. Reverend Keith Schroeder knows nothing of the case but when he researches it as quickly as he can he can see the obvious short-comings of the case against the young black boy accused of killing a white woman. Keith must decide what he will do and what he will risk – will he believe the man in front of him and attempt to stop the execution.

In Texas Donté’s passionate lawyer, Robbie Flak, is trying every last option that his team can put together to get a stay on the execution, no matter how unlikely the chances of success.

As the time scheduled for the execution approaches tension on the streets of Donté’s hometown increases as this becomes a clearly divided race issue.

The book offers tension at every turn – will the priest risk committing a crime and aide Boyette to cross the state line, will anyone be able to save Donté, will the tension in the town boil over. And as the present-day story unfolds the reader also finds out more about Donté and his arrest and subsequent confession as well as the damage to his sanity as he spends years on death row.

The book deals with two social issues – the first is the railroading of an innocent black man into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit and then the acceptance of this by those in authority over evidence that contradicts it. The other is the use of the death penalty and the possibility of making the most unthinkable error.

It also touches on grief, I’ve been careful to avoid spoilers and this isn’t one, the family of the murdered young woman see the execution as their right and may not be willing to find that the years they’ve spent hating one person were mis-placed.

The characters are brilliantly well executed (if you’ll excuse the pun). The cautious priest, the zealous lawyer, the damaged young black man, the loathsome felon, the corrupt politicians – they call came to life on the page.

Grisham is known for his activism in trying to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners and this isn’t appealing to everyone. I’m not sure if there have been any changes in the application of the death penalty since the book was published but it’s a relief that it’s an issue we don’t have to contend with in the UK. Not a cheerful read but one that will make you think and a pacey, twisting thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

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The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

416hB6-rgfLTitle – The Constant Soldier

Author – William Ryan

Published – 25 August 2016

Genre – Historical

This a departure from William Ryan’s Stalinist Russia set police procedural series but it shares Ryan’s polished prose and evocative depiction of historical fiction.

The story is set in the last months of the Second World War and German soldier Paul Brandt has been sent back home from the Eastern Front after being seriously injured in a Soviet attack. On returning to his village he finds that the SS have built a rest hut on the outskirts of his village, a luxurious a retreat for those who manage the nearby concentration camp or need to convalesce before returning to the front.

Drawn by a glimpse of someone he thinks is familiar, Brandt takes on the role of Steward at the hut, offering him a brief insight into the lives of the men who make use of the hut or are stationed there. This is a great opportunity to see a whole range of perspectives – from the Commandant who is haunted by the past, the vindictive Scharführer guarding the women prisoners, to the visitors from the camp and of course, the women prisoners themselves.

The main plot is driven by Brandt’s efforts to make amends for a wrong he believes he did and all that he does is to that end. Brandt is wary of sharing his own trepidation and doubts but occasionally he is drawn out to say more than he should, adding an extra layer of tension to the plot. The story has quite a slow pace but this is balanced with action scenes which come from a young Russian woman who is driving a tank which is heading towards Germany. Brandt’s return home also shows the impact that the war has had on his village and the family he left behind, and how his father and sister have fared while has been away. Divisions have opened up and whilst some people have had to go into hiding others are still pursuing victory and are keen to uphold the defence of the Reich to the last.

Ryan effortlessly creates the mood and atmosphere of the last days of the war and makes the book completely absorbing. I’m not sure that I’ve read a book that’s taken this perspective on the war, disillusioned characters who have an inkling of what their future may hold.  It made me pause to consider the people in this situation, forced along with the atrocities they knew were taking place with little chance of making any difference. How did people react when the conclusion of the war (not just this war but any war) became inevitable and they were going to be on the losing side, complicit in what had taken place? It speaks volumes for a novel when it makes you consider the reality of the situation it depicts.

As a departure from the Korolev series this may find Ryan a whole new swathe of fans – if you enjoy books like Atonement and Birdsong this will be right up your street. Beautifully written, thought-provoking and emotionally compelling, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Many  thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton

8175tf2T71LTitle – Daisy in Chains

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2 June 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

One of my favourite reads from 2015 was Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and she is quickly becoming one of my favourite current authors, so I was keen to get my hands on her latest title. I can say straight away that this didn’t disappoint and is certain to be one of my favourite books of 2016.

The premise of the book is that Hamish Wolfe has been convicted of the abduction and murder of a number of young women. He’s good looking and charismatic and while this might have helped him gain the trust of his victims, it also means that he attracts the attention of women who are drawn to men behind bars. These admirers are convinced of his innocence and a small group forms, led by his own mother, to do whatever they can to get him freed.

This is where Maggie Rose comes in – a lawyer who is renowned for her true-crime investigations and her success at getting convictions overturned on appeal, Wolfe’s supporters set out to persuade her to champion his case. Reclusive and enigmatic she is reluctant to become involved – she only takes on cases that she can win.

I don’t like to give ‘spoilers’ in reviews and when I started the book all I knew was the title and the author but I probably can’t do much of a review without saying that Maggie does agree to consider Wolfe’s case. In doing so Maggie also attracts the attention of the local police force who were responsible for Wolfe’s arrest. Her initial dealings are with DS Pete Weston, the man who caught Wolfe, and they strike up an unlikely friendship – because if Maggie takes up Wolfe’s cause she will be trying to prove that Weston did something wrong.

The background to much of the story comes from letters, newspaper articles, reports and documents as well as Maggie’s own writing about how she has influenced other appeals, and some of her thought’s on Wolfe’s case. In fact the case against him does seem to have room for some doubt and as I read I was constantly changing my mind as to whether I thought he was or wasn’t guilty. When Maggie agrees to visit Wolfe in prison another dynamic is added to the story – will she be taken in, will she become one of his admirers?

The story explores some themes (like the women who fall for men behind bars) that I’ve not really come across in other crime fiction before. The ‘miscarriage of justice’ premise is not new but Maggie’s perspective and character certainly are. There is also something unusual and quite topical about the victims of Wolfe’s crimes in that they were all ‘larger’ women. While that links back to a time in Wolfe’s days as a student when he and his friends were involved in some unscrupulous activities, the reports and articles about the deaths reflect some of the issues around prejudice and social media.

The book is filled with a chilling atmosphere that Bolton weaves into the story (including an out of season fairground!!) and there are plenty of changes of pace with a mix of tension and action that kept me turning the pages. I was drawn in by the characters – Wolfe the charming killer, Maggie the petite, eccentric investigator, Weston the dependable and slightly downtrodden policeman. All of them with something at stake.

From the gripping opening to the action-packed climax this is a read that I can’t recommend highly enough. Twisty and devious this is bound to be a top read for lovers of crime fiction and psychological thrillers. It’s also a book that I want to go back and read again just so that I can see how Bolton managed to keep me guessing.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog at For Winter Nights.

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