A Darker State – David Young

Title – A Darker State

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015,  last year it was the second novel in the Karin Müller series – Stasi Wolf, and now we have the third instalment in A Darker State.  Set some months after the end of the second book, Karin is feeling a little more domesticated with her newly extended family. Her break from work doesn’t last long, however, when she gains another speedy promotion and a new apartment, but as she well knows, everything has its price and she is soon involved in a new case following the discovery of the body of a young boy.

Berlin, Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz

Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz, Berlin Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-U0416-0017 / Schulz / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The investigation is slow to develop – it seems that the different divisions within the police and bureaucracy weren’t up to much in the way of cooperation. Karin isn’t one to give up easily though, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of the previous books in the series. The case is brought closer to home when it becomes apparent that there may be a link between the young man’s death and the disappearance of the son of one of her co-workers and as a new mother Karin is more sympathetic than perhaps she might have been in the past.

The missing boy is Markus Schmidt and throughout the book there are chapters told from his point of view where we get to find out about his backstory as the events unfold that see him become ever more distant from his parents. His story is both sad and his treatment despicable, a thought-provoking thread to the story.

We get a tiny glimpse more into the relationships between the main characters and find out that there is more to Tilsner/Jäger’s relationship than we might have thought. And just when I thought that Karin’s ex-husband had been forgotten we get a tantalising hint that all isn’t as it should be.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised at what was going on behind the Berlin Wall and this gives the author the opportunity to develop some real-life incidents into more gripping fictional ones. The political divisions and the controlling influence of the Stasi also allow for dramatic and tense situations and regardless of how the reader knows Karin she still ends up at the wrong end of the legal system.

Young writes really immersive historical fiction – there’s never a moment when the writing takes you out of the book and makes you question what you’re reading. The book is both a mystery and has its thrills and of course Karin is a great leading character. So do you need to have read the previous books in the series? This would probably make enough sense if you read it first but you would miss some of the backstory and character development that are relevant in the series.

Another enjoyable piece for Cold War crime fiction – many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.



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.


Managing the TBR pile

A few bloggers were posting last year about their efforts to manage their To Be Read (TBR) piles. I considered a post then but ti seemed a better use of my time to actually write some reviews! As well as a TBR ‘pile’ I have a second type of TBR which is my ‘read but yet to be reviewed’ pile which is equally frightening!

I wrote a roundup post at the end of 2016 which reviewed where I was with my outstanding reading. I have to confess that I’m not necessarily showing much progress! On a sort of positive side the number of books arriving from publishers has dropped off dramatically. Moving house hasn’t helped and the occupiers of our old house may be getting into crime fiction books, I was really busy with work in the first half of 2017 so I neglected my blog and the contacts at publishers change so it’s easy to drop off a specific list.

To be honest it’s not really an issue, it isn’t as if I will run out of books to read. The only problem I really see is that if, as a blogger, you’re not reading the ‘next big thing’ you can lose a new term of reference that becomes commonplace  (like comparing a book to Gone Girl, which is still unread on my Kindle).

So my plan to keep up in 2018 is this:

At the end of the year I cleared into a box enough physical books from my ‘to read bookcase’ so that there was no longer a stack of books beside it, everything is now on the bookcase, including the books I was given for Christmas. I will read books in the order in which they arrive and if there are any gaps when there are no new books I’ll pick one up from the bookcase. I’m averaging a bit over a book a week which means one book on my commute and part of another book in the evenings or weekends, and it’s better if that book is a hardback as I don’t like to shove them in my work bag.

As far as reviewing goes I’m aiming to keep to reviewing a book as soon as I’ve read it. If I can do that and occasionally write a review for a book from the read but yet to be reviewed pile I should feel under less pressure. Which is all well and good but I couldn’t manage last year!

So how am I doing (I realise we’re not a full month in to 2018 yet)?

I have read:

The Fear Within which arrived on 30th December and reviewed it here
The Ice which was a birthday gift from July and as a signed hardback I wouldn’t take out of the house – still needs reviewing
A Song From Dead Lips which I treated myself to just before Christmas I reviewed here
Turn a Blind Eye – 2018’s first #bookpost I read and reviewed here

Currently reading:

The Photographer, which I got as a NetGalley is my current read.
At the same time I’ve also started reading The Silent Companions which was a Christmas present.

Next to read will be:

A Darker State which is the third in the Karin Müller series and arrived earlier this month.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright which I received as a NetGalley

Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb which I received as a free download when I signed up to Lounge Books.

Perfect Remains by Helen Fields which I bought on a Kindle offer.

The Hangman by Daniel Cole which I received from Netgalley.

I went to the Headline “New Voices 2018′ event in Bristol during the week and came home with two books, The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke and The Wolf by Leo Carew.

So this should take me through to the end of Feb and let’s ignore the fact I might have asked for one or two books that haven’t yet arrived.

Let’s see how I manage sticking to this!

So how do you manage your arrivals and keeping on top of your ‘to read’ books?

Turn A Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Title – Turn A Blind Eye

Author – Vicky Newham

Published – 5 April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books that got a mention in my look forward to 2018 and I’m thrilled that I got a copy so early in the year.

The book is set in East London and embraces the diverse multi-cultural aspects of the communities there. When the body of a head teacher is discovered in her office by a colleague at Mile End High School Detective Inspector, and former pupil, Maya Rahman is keen to lead the investigation, even though this means cutting short her leave to do so. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept, suggesting, if nothing else, that the murder was premeditated.

Like any good police procedural the book follows the pattern of increasing body count, increasing pressure on the team and a number of possible suspects. The setting of the school provides quite an enclosed environment which narrows down those potentially involved to a rather limited pool. With her own history at the school Maya takes on a determination to solve the murder and to protect the reputation of the school – two things which don’t always require the same action!

The pace varies through the book to give some fast-paced and intense scenes, balanced by the necessarily slower parts of the investigation and more introspective scenes for the main characters. Of the characters it’s Maya that we come to know best with a number of scenes taking place in the past, filling in important aspects of her backstory. Maya’s scenes are told in the first person, making them seem more immediate and bringing the reader closer to the character. She is a Muslim (although seemingly not a particularly devout one) of Bangladeshi origin, at the beginning of the book she suffered a loss but she’s anything but the traditional dysfunctional detective.

There are two other points of view used in the book – Steve, the teacher who finds the body at the beginning of the book, and Dan, a new DS unexpectedly thrust on Maya as a new colleague, who is an Aussie and has left his young family behind to work in the UK. There’s quite a lot of police detail and although I’m a fan of police procedurals I am tempted to think that this might be a case where the reader doesn’t need to know too much about different systems and acronyms.

Drawing on her own experiences teaching in the area the author paints a vivid picture of live in an inner-city school and some of the issues that they face – whether that be from dealing with the multi-cultural aspects of the students and their families or the wider pressure on performance and reputation. The book touches on a number of social issues, both specific (such as forced marriage) and the more general issue of what happens when different cultures collide in the same environment and how it can feel to be an outsider.

Vicky has set herself a huge challenge in writing in such personal detail from the perspective of a character from another culture. Authors are obviously doing this all the time, after all their job is to make things up, but there are going to be some people who will be able to read this with a much more informed eye that I can. I think the shame is that there aren’t many authors bringing a range of cultural experience to the genre. It will be interesting to see how the series develops in the future and which characters make it into the second book.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can follow Vicky on twitter and her detectives have their own twitter account too. You can see another review of Turn a Blind Eye on Liz’s blog.


A Song From Dead Lips – William Shaw

Title – A Song From Dead Lips

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m a huge fan of police procedurals. It was only when I read (and loved) The Birdwatcher that I discovered William Shaw had also been writing a police procedural series and just before Christmas I treated myself to the first three books (book no. 4 is the most recent to be published).

Set in London in the late 1960s (the book opens in 1968) the series is ‘Breen and Tozer’; Breen is DS Cathal Breen and Tozer is WPC Helen Tozer. Breen is a member of the Marylebone CID and not its most respected officer. Tozer is assigned to work with him as a Temporary Detective Constable at a time when WPCs were expected to do nothing much more than make the tea.

The initial case Breen investigates is the discovery of a young woman’s naked body in an alley close to Abbey Road. The investigation, both to identify her and to find her killer, proceeds quite slowly but the lack of pace doesn’t feel like an issue. The book is a pleasure to read and as Breen works on the case a number of other threads come in to play and we also find out more about Breen as a character. He is certainly one of the more enlightened members of the CID and that, perhaps, has something to do with his lack of friends in the force. He’s willing to give Tozer an opportunity and listen to her point of view where other colleagues only subject her to sexist jibes. Of course their relationship isn’t all plain sailing but compared to much recent crime fiction it’s refreshing to have two characters who may have their flaws but also manage to be likeable. The book does speed up and there’s a good, old-fashioned car chase and an exciting climax.

This is the London of The Beatles and the White Album, of hippies and John and Yoko, “Rivers of Blood” and anti-Vietnam protests. Shaw captures the feeling as effortlessly as he did the desolate setting of The Birdwatcher. The details are skilfully dropped into the story and I can’t be the only person to have read the book and have had some ‘I remember that’ moments. Writing about a past that your readers may remember feels like a risky choice but I can’t imagine that Shaw has made errors in the setting, it feels absolutely real.

Shaw uses the plot to highlight political issues of the time, and not necessarily those you might be familiar with. One of the characters is from Biafra and I now know more than I did when I started the book about the struggles in Nigeria / Biafra at the end of the 1960s. The theme of ‘outsiders’ and their treatment is also a strong one throughout the story and unites most, if not all, of the threads.

If I do have a quibble (and I gave this 4 stars rather than 5) it’s around the resolution of the main plotline. But I can’t say anything more without giving the game away! Having looked at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I think this is just me.

Regardless of this I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series and finding out more about how the relationship between Breen and Tozer develops. A cracking start to a series!


The Fear Within – J S Law

Title – The Fear Within

Author – J S Law

Published – November 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the follow up book to Tenacity (now called The Dark Beneath) by J. S. Law. So there are two burning questions – did James suffer from ‘Difficult Second Book Syndrome’ and is Dani (Dan in Tenacity) Lewis still the kick-ass maverick that she was in the first book?? I’m pleased to say that the answer to the first certainly appears to be ‘no’ and I’m not left in any doubt that the answer to the latter is a resounding ‘yes’.

The book is set a few months after the end of Tenacity/The Dark Beneath and Dani has not long returned to active duty. After an action packed opening the main plot is Dani’s investigation into the disappearance of Natasha, a young woman who has gone missing from HMS Defiance. It quickly becomes clear that what could be someone who has just not turned up for work is actually something more sinister. As the investigation moves forward the timeframe shifts between Dani’s timeline and the months leading up to Natasha’s disappearance and her experience on the ship. Although the destroyer is less claustrophobic than the submarine in the first book, the confines of a warship present their own issues for the crew and especially for a young woman fresh out of training. An advantage in the shift of the main location is that Dani gets to work more closely with her colleagues which gives more insight into her character.

This seems more complex than the first book with multiple threads that intertwine. It links back to its predecessor because Dani is still determined that there was more to the case she solved and this provides a longer story arc that could potentially carry on over more of a series.  There’s a lot of reliance on coincidence, on people knowing each other, which in another setting might push the credibility, but with a naval one it’s difficult for an outsider to doubt its authenticity.

With its unusual setting the author has the opportunity to give readers something a little different to the run of the mill police procedural and he certainly grabs that opportunity with both hands. This is at the thriller end of police procedurals and at the gorier end too, there are no punches pulled here. As with the first book the author is hard on his heroes and even harder on the villains and victims. You need a strong stomach for some of the scenes and while in the first book there could have been criticism of his treatment of women, the men seem to suffer equally here. Dani, with her sense of justice and relentless determination to seek it at all costs goes some way to counterbalance the bleakness.

The Fear Within will make sense if you read it without having read the first book but it would make a whole lot ore sense to read the series in order.

Many thank to the publisher for the review copy, you can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.


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.