Crime

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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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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Paula Daly and her writing process

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly, her fifth novel, was published on 26 Jan. A mix of domestic / psychological thriller and police procedural, in a similar vein to Eva Dolan’s Watch Her Disappear it explores the internal pressures within a family and the dark side that can be hidden behind a perfect facade.

As part of the blog tour Paula talks about her writing process.

I’m often asked about my writing process. Not so much about where the ideas themselves come from, but how I go about shaping those ideas, how I go about actually writing a novel.

I can understand the curiosity. When I first started writing it was the one thing I wanted to know. I read lots of books on how to write, how to write a novel, how to write a thriller, a crime novel. I watched endless YouTube videos of authors explaining how they went about their work, creative writing teachers extolling their methods, other writers at the same stage as me, sharing what they’d learned so far.

What was clear was that there were many ways to tackle writing a novel. You can come at it from lots of different angles and still arrive at the same end point. Some writers don’t plan at all and are happy to get what Anne Lamott calls the ‘shitty first draft’ down fast, and then revise the manuscript until it’s ready. Others plan meticulously. A lot of writers do both.

I used to write freely. As in, I had no idea where I was going and I let the plot take me where it wanted it to. Trouble was, I ended up with three unpublished novels as a result. So I decided to try planning instead and I’ve stuck with that process ever since. I realise now that I need to know what I’m writing towards or I’ll go off at crazy tangents and waste a lot of time. And I find writing hard. Getting the words down on paper is not easy for me. So I don’t want to have to delete whole chapters when I’ve got it wrong.

So, once I’ve got an idea for a book, I sit on it for a while. I know when it’s a good idea because I get excited about it. And other ideas seem to start flooding in and ‘sticking’ to that original idea, making it better, more interesting, adding layers.

Then I research. Researching is great because it throws up more ideas for your plot. Often, I can actually begin to fashion a story out of what I discover during the research period. Then I start to write down ideas for scenes. Nothing concrete, just things that I think would be cool to write about, or would maybe surprise the reader, because they’d not seen something done in that way before. Once that’s done, I organise the scene list, and list of ideas, into something coherent that resembles a proper plot. This again takes practice. Structuring a novel is where most people stumble and it wasn’t until I read lots of books and articles about structure that I finally cracked it.

Eventually I’m ready to write. After around three to four months of planning, I’m ready to write Chapter One. It is the scariest moment for me because so much of what happens in my books is rooted in that first chapter. So I have to get it right.

I write seven hundred words a day (it used to be a thousand but I’m limited by back pain now) until the book is done. I edit as I go along, something that a lot of writers don’t do because it stops them from finishing the book. But I have to edit as I go as it’s the only way I understand what I’m writing about, and it’s how I keep track of my story and my characters. When the thing is finished it doesn’t need much of an edit as I’ve been through it over and over by then. Maybe just a day or two tidying up last bits and pieces before it’s ready to go out to my editors.

Then I send it off and I pray.

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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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Watch Her Disappear – Eva Dolan

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707Title – Watch Her Disappear

Author – Eva Dolan

Published – 26 Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’m trying to catch up with my blog and while a number of boxes of ‘to read’ books remain to be unpacked I do have a stack of ‘read but not yet reviewed’ books that it would be great to clear before the start of the new year. Let’s see how that goes!

First up is Watch Her Disappear which was an unusually early read for me and will be published towards the end of January 2017. This is the first of Eva Dolan’s books I’ve read and is the fourth in her ‘Zigic and Ferreira’ series based on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit.

The book opens with a gripping action scene before switching to the two main detectives, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, who are summoned to the scene of a murder. It’s obvious from the outset that the two detectives and their personal lives are important to the series and I can see that being a huge draw in making you want to read the next in the series, and the next… Fortunately, while they seem to have quite complicated personal lives it’s refreshing to read a police procedural where they aren’t afflicted by any of the more common cliches that appear (too) often in crime fiction.

I assume from the ‘hate crimes’ slant that the books have tackled some difficult subjects and certainly this book doesn’t shy away from one which is both difficult and topical. The victim of the attack was a trans woman and this opens up a whole host of issues, both for the investigation and through the complex personal life of the victim. The investigation uncovers a spate of attacks on trans women but there is also a serial rapist in the area which muddies the waters. The victim’s family had shown different levels of acceptance of her lifestyle and while the divisions felt as if they were portrayed accurately the attitudes of her friends and relations only serve to add another level of complexity to the police investigation.

As someone who hasn’t read the preceding books I didn’t feel that I was at any sort of disadvantage and there weren’t any moments where I thought that readers of the series would have more idea about what was going that I did. The plot featured a difficult subject that’s not often discussed and managed to be thought-provoking without seeming to preach, none of this affected the pace and the plot kept me guessing until the end.  The investigative aspect relied on interviews (rather than forensics) and the personal perspectives of the two lead detectives, who in themselves offered an unusual dynamic to a police procedural. All in all an excellent read.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Skinner’s Round – Quintin Jardine

51anj4bskulTitle – Skinner’s Round

Author – Quintin Jardine

Published – 1995

Genre – Crime fiction

The may be the longest I’ve taken to read a book (even longer than The Draining Lake), according to Goodreads I started this in January 2011! The delay isn’t all mine, or even the author’s but when I got halfway through I found that there was a section of pages repeated in place of the correct ones. This is number 4 of a series of (currently at 27 titles) so a replacement wasn’t easy to get hold of.

This isn’t the only reason though – I don’t understand golf, and the ’round’ in question isn’t one in a pub but one on a golf course. A body is discovered at the Witches’ Hill Golf and Country Club on the eve of a prestigious invitation golf match to mark its opening. The police investigation carries on through the duration of the match until it reaches its climax in the final round. But sadly all the references to golf and the description of the action as the different characters played a number of games were lost on me. Which contributed to the length of time it took me to read.

After the first body is discovered a letter to a local newspaper links the death to a local curse. This part of the investigation was much more interesting. A tape recording is discovered of a young  girl talking about the curse to none other than Skinner’s late wife. His colleagues believe that the reference to the curse is critical to solving the case and that leads them to find out more about the origin of the curse in the 1600s.

This book very much fits in the mould that I’ve come to expect from the series with a mix of police procedural and family life. Skinner is an unusual character because although he has the dead wife common to many lead police protagonists he does have a very happy and stable family life. Writing the character to be more of a physical character would probably stretch the credibility of an East Lothian Assistant Chief Constable but he does possess a steely resolve and isn’t a man to be crossed.

I enjoyed the next instalment in the ‘Skinner’ books but sadly the golf aspect wasn’t for me.

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