Crime

The Exiled – Kati Hiekkapelto

Title – The Exiled

Author – Kati Hiekkapelto (translated by David Hackston)

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the third book in translation from Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto in her crime fiction series featuring Senior Constable Anna Fekete and the next book in the series after The Defenceless.

In The Exiled Anna has returned home from Finland for her holiday but on the evening of her arrival her handbag is stolen. The next day a man, presumed to be the thief, is found dead on the banks of the river. Anna’s training demands a thorough investigation by the local police but they are quick to wash their hands of the whole incident and close it as quickly as possible. Undeterred Anna pursues her own investigation, making the most of the resources she has and a burgeoning relationship with a local policeman.

Initially her focus is on the refugees who are living in camps in the area but a coincidence leads her to discover a much more personal connection to events and to distressing secrets at the heart of those she grew up amongst.

This is very much a book about home and family. While The Defenceless painted a picture of immigration in Finland, here it is her own home town that is under pressure from the refugee crisis, it’s also a place with a divided population  – Serbs and Hungarians and a small population of Romani. For Anna her return to Kanisza makes her consider if this is actually her home or if rather Finland is her home, and what ‘home’ means to her. At the same time she is spending more time with her family and the repetitive questions from all and sundry about ‘settling down and having children’ give her cause to reflect on the future. These aspects of Anna’s own story in the book and her relationships with her family which means this has a slower pace than other ‘police procedurals’ might.

Again this has a seamless translation without a moment when the writing reminded me that I was reading something which wasn’t originally written in English.

Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on Jackie’s blog ‘Never Imitate’.

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The Wrath of Angels – John Connolly

Title – The Wrath of Angels

Author – John Connolly

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

When I recently read and reviewed no. 10 in the Charlie Parker series I remarked on how I’d not particularly enjoyed the previous book in the series which had deterred me from reading more. Sadly The Wrath of Angels reminded me what had put me off.

Charlie Parker is told a story about the discovery of the wreckage of a small plane hidden deep in the woods in Maine, not just hidden but appearing as if it’s being absorbed by the forest around it. Two men stumbled across the sinister wreckage – no sign of bodies but some money and a list of names. Despite the sinister nature of their discovery they made off with both the money and the list but as in good story telling traditions ‘no good came of it’. Parker begins to investigate the names on the list and discovers a series of premature deaths which sets him off on a course that will ultimately lead to him trying to find the plane.

Parker isn’t the only one in search of the plane and the list and this brings in characters who have appeared in previous books, including the hideous Brightwell. The story is a mix of chase and quest as Parker tracks down a number of people, rivals, who have appeared earlier in the series to…  Do you know what, I can’t think why he wanted to track them down – there was lots of to and fro between different factions that just felt like filler.

The book has a much more supernatural component than its predecessor and it felt more gruesome. It did offer a lot of tension, atmosphere and great writing, but it didn’t grip me. Perhaps there were too many characters, too much dashing about and switching of points of view to hold my interest. It was also a test of memory, it would have been be drawing on books I’d read seven or eight years ago – that’s a lot of other reading I’ve done since.

Not my favourite in the Charlie Parker series.

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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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Death in the Dordogne – Martin Walker

Title – Death in the Dordogne

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2009

Genre – Crime fiction

I came to the Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police series at book 5 and have been curious to read the earlier books, so I took the opportunity of an offer with the Book People to buy books 1 – 3. There are quite a few references to a number of preceding events in the later books and I wanted to better understand some of the background. The problem I found, however, is that while the first book provides a lot of background it does it by ‘telling’ rather than  ‘showing’.

There are two main investigative threads to Death in the Dordogne – one is the the death of an elderly man, head of an immigrant North African family, and decorated former soldier. The other is the guerrilla tactics being used to deter EU hygiene inspectors, Brussels bureaucrats, who want to interfere with the traditional ways of the local market traders. It may have been published in 2009 but the issues that crop up – mistrust of Brussels, distrust of foreigners, the rise of the far right feel very current.

The pace is quite slow, which isn’t unusual for the series, there are the gastronomic delights that are a feature of the series and the ‘aspirational’ feel – who wouldn’t want to live Bruno’s life in St Denis? The main mystery is relatively simple and the resolution is one that demonstrates the ‘just’ side of Bruno, a man with a clear moral compass. The story also taught me some aspects of French history that I wasn’t aware of.

It’s an interesting perspective to go back to the beginning of a series because the first thing I wondered was ‘why start here?’. What was it about book one that marked the start? I think it’s the fact that although Bruno has been in his post for some time this is the point at which he has to deal with his first murder (after this there is a real increase in the number of deaths in the area…). The investigation demands that external resources are brought in so this is also the point where he meets Isabelle for the first time.

I have to say that if this was the first book I had read I might not have pressed on with the series. Whether as a conscious effort or not, the later books feel like the author gets better at filling in the backstory the reader needs to know without it being such an obstacle to the pace.

The book serves well as an introduction but the series is one that definitely gets better.

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Sunday Morning Coming Down – Nicci French

Title – Sunday Morning Coming Down

Author – Nicci French

Published – July 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the seventh in the series of eight books in the Frieda Klein series and a review that I feel particularly guilty about. I made a bit of a fuss to get the review copy of the book as I so wanted to make sure I read and reviewed the whole series and then look – my review is about a year late! What can I say except sorry…?

If there is one thing we’ve learned about Frieda it’s how much she values the sanctuary of her home, so when a body is discovered under the floor it’s a clear, unequivocal message. Perhaps more significantly it’s the tipping point for Frieda as there is general acceptance that Dean Reeve is still alive – an important moment for her.

The main driver of the book is that it isn’t Freida who is coming under attack – it’s her friends and family. But is it Reeve who is behind the onslaught or is it a copycat? The multiple potential targets adds pace (where did all these friends come from!?) and tension. This is also an opportunity to find out more about each of them.

Frieda does dip her toe back into her psychotherapy, but the sessions have become secondary to her investigations.

It’s impossible not to have in the back of your mind, as you read this book, that this is the penultimate in the series. So without reading a word it’s easy to be pretty sure that both Frieda is going to survive to make book #8. Is that a spoiler? No – just common sense. It’s not unusual that within crime fiction the characters ‘go on a journey’ it’s just more overt here. The climax of book 1 will be, I imagine, book 8 – the pleasure is the way the story unfolds, the journey.

This is too close to the end of the series to consider reading this as a standalone, the story is interesting enough but you would be missing so much. I would recommend beginning with Blue Monday. But roll on number eight!

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
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The Story Keeper – Anna Mazzola

Title – The Story Keeper

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 26 July 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s been a long wait since Anna’s excellent debut ‘The Unseeing’ was published and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been looking forward to reading her second novel. Before I go any further I should say that it doesn’t disappoint!

Set on the Isle of Skye the book opens with the arrival of Audrey, running away from her family and an event which, at least in the early part of the book, is only hinted at, she is set to take up a post collecting folklore. She hopes that a return to Skye, which she remembers vaguely from  some time in her childhood spent in the area, is a way to recapture a connection to her mother, who died when Audrey was ten. Her new employer is the imperious Miss Buchanan, she is to stay with Miss Buchanan and her nephew in their family estate – the neglected and brooding Lanerly Hall.  Audrey isn’t feeling particularly confident about her ability to do the job she’s been employed for but she’s burned her bridges. And then she discovers the body of a young woman on the shore by the Hall.

While making some efforts to collect stories from the crofters Audrey asks tentative questions about the dead girl. The answers are a mix of superstition based around the folktales and more ‘earthly’ explanations. Her discovery of another girl’s disappearance only deepens the mystery. But as events play out Audrey becomes more isolated and weakened by the toll her involvement takes on her.

There is a social history aspect to the book, communities ravaged by the land owners and struggling, protective of their heritage and suspicious of outsiders. The factual background to the events which took place are probably not well known by most people and it’s always a positive to learn something from a work of fiction, especially when it’s done seamlessly, without the reader feeling that they’re being given lots of information. The folklore offers an interesting insight – does it develop as an explanation for the things which have no rational explanation; do the stories represent the truth or a warning?

I’ve read a number of historical fiction books recently which have this type of gothic feel to them but this one hits the mark in creating the dark and claustrophobic atmosphere with a set of compelling characters. There is a real sense of menace pervading this book and despite the July publication date it would be perfect for curling up on a dark night in front of a log fire.

I’ve seen comparisons to the excellent Burial Rites but for me it was similar to Burial Rites crossed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Like Burial Rites the location is hugely important – rugged coastline, isolated communities, brutal weather. Audrey stands up as the heroine of the piece – conflicted,  isolated, trying not to be defined by her past but at a time when women weren’t expected to act on their own. She has an inbuilt sense of justice but acting on it isn’t always the best course of action.

The story develops into multiple threads and there were some surprises in the way it plays out and the directions it takes. It’s unusual for a debut author not to be embarking on a series but other than the dark subjects and the compelling writing it was quite different to The Unseeing although equally enjoyable (in a dark and moody way). Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Animal Instinct – Simon Booker

Title – Animal Instinct

Author – Simon Booker

Published – April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I decided to make a list of the books I’ve read but need to review and it came out at a depressing twenty plus, so I need to make an effort to catch up and that means shorter reviews but more progress (hopefully). First up is Animal Instinct by Simon Booker (author of the Morgan Vine series). This has been published as an ebook and an Audible audio book.

Joe Cassidy is an ex-policeman trying to get his life onto something of an even keel after the resolution of disturbing case, the details of which are only hinted at. If you’ve read Kill Me Twice you may remember Cassidy – he was a minor character living in his shack on the Dungeness beach. When the daughter of a childhood friend goes missing Cassidy is asked to help find her. But not only is Cassidy off the police force he has also separated from his wife and she’s leading the police investigation into the disappearance.

Cassidy’s friend is the owner of a zoo which was where Bella was working when she disappeared and the place is the original source of the two men’s friendship. When Bella’s body is discovered the police view her father as a suspect and he wants Cassidy to maintain his involvement in an effort to track down the real killer.

This is a book of two halves. In the first there is the investigation into Bella’s death, albeit complicated by Cassidy’s relationship with his wife and her involvement in the official investigation and the fact that his son is hiding something that may be related to the murder. He’s also both helped and hindered by a journalist who is trying to get a scoop on the story. The second half sees the implosion of the family in the wake of the murder and ramifications that could rival a Greek tragedy.

For all the crime fiction I’ve read (and it’s a fair amount) this is the first book I can recall that had a zoo / wildlife park setting and dealt with issues such as animal rights and the sort of fanatics that can be attracted to this sort of cause.

I enjoyed the book, it was compelling and well-plotted, even if the climax pushed the bounds of credibility it did make me go ‘blimey’ (or words to that effect) as I was reading. I hope that a series develops for Cassidy – there’s unfinished business that I’d like to find out the resolution to.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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