Title – Dead Woman Walking
Author – Sharon Bolton
Published – 2017
Genre – Crime fiction
I’ve been a big fan Sharon Bolton’s books and three of those I’ve reviewed have been five star reads so when I saw Dead Woman Walking in the library I had to borrow it.
The story is told through two timelines. In the present the book opens with a hot-air balloon flight near the Scottish border that goes disastrously awry after the passengers witness a brutal attack from their lofty position. This results in a chase sequence that lasts for a couple of chapters and culminates in the death of many of the passengers. But one young woman walks away from the crash and then she runs. She is in fear for her life and trusts no-one, even as the police start to search for her, she remains on the run.
The second timeline that interweaves the first starts over twenty years previously when the two sisters who were in the balloon flight were young girls. As this timeline moves forwards documenting the girls’ relationship we learn about the reasons that led to them being in the balloon and this is where a police procedural aspect comes into the story.
There are a number of reasons that I didn’t think this book was as well written or as gripping as the previous books I’ve read by the author. It relies on multiple twists but there wasn’t enough mis-direction and I had picked up on several of them before they were revealed. It stretches the reader’s credibility – I’ve always felt that the police procedural aspects of the author’s previous books have seemed authentic but this lacked that feeling and putting in a lot of twists means the author’s trying to mis-lead the reader, which makes you question everything you’re reading. Finally it felt like it was trying to cover too much ground – there were so many different aspects to the plot. I don’t want to give too much away but for most authors just a fraction of the themes would be enough for a compelling novel.
There were some enjoyable action sequences and some interesting themes were touched on. Very disappointed that this wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous books by the author.
Title – Between the Crosses
Author – Matthew Frank
Published – 2016
Genre – Crime fiction
It’s difficult to believe that it’s four years since I reviewed Matthew Frank’s debut ‘If I Should Die‘ or that I’ve left it so long before reading the sequel.
Stark is now a fully fledged DC and, along with DS Millhaven, attends the scene of the murder of a wealthy husband and wife; they have been shot in their own home and there may have been a burglary. There are pressures on the investigative team due to financial cuts, they are close to breaking point and that’s before they lose a member of the team. The temporary solution is the return of an unpopular character who upsets the team dynamic, often with Stark paying the price.
As with the first book the crime and the investigation involve a limited number of characters and take place over a small geographic area. The investigative aspects are those of a proper police procedural – interviewing suspects, results of post-mortems, but without lots of unnecessary technical detail. Despite this the plot is not a simple one and kept me guessing.
Although Stark has made progress since his first appearance he’s still plagued by nightmares and self-doubt. There’s a lot of internal monologue which gives the reader some insight into his personality but his colleagues still see him as something of an enigma who it’s difficult to figure out. Stark’s background is fleshed out a little more with some of his experiences when he was a soldier and he still has some duties to perform and connections in the army that he can press for favours. This move from TA soldier (and hero) to DC really does add a compelling aspect to the series.
One thing that I particularly appreciated was Frank’s ability to leave chapters on a cliff-hanger. Perhaps he’s a fan of James Patterson…? Anyway – it does make you press on with the book even when you know you have other things you should be doing. The pace is well balanced with slower aspects of the investigation and Stark’s life being matched by some faster paced action scenes, all rounded off by a hugely exciting climax.
Stark is a great character and I’m not a huge fan of crime fiction that is character-led but this series is a pleasure to read. If you’re not familiar with the series I can thoroughly recommend it – and start with the first book because that way you’ll be able to follow Stark’s journey.
Title – The Burning Soul
Author – John Connolly
Published – 2012
Genre – Crime fiction
It’s been a while since I’ve caught up on John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series but as I went to the First Monday event where he was on the panel I thought it must be time to pick the series up again.
If I’m honest part of the reason I’d delayed was that I found the previous book in the series (The Whisperers) quite a struggle. However, I’m pleased to say that this felt like a return to form and I raced though the book.
A teenage girl has gone missing in a small town on the coast of Maine, however it’s not her disappearance that is the reason for Charlie’s involvement but a man with a mysterious past who is being tormented by anonymous messages through the post. Randall Haight’s secret is that he killed a young girl when he was only a teenager himself – he’s worried that his past will come out and he may be high on the list of suspects for the recent disappearance. He wants Charlie’s help to protect his quiet, unremarkable life. But Charlie’s not taken with him and he thinks there’s more to his story.
The family of the missing girl has its own secrets and these lead to a thread in the book which takes the story, initially, to the mob in Boston and the fight by a fading mobster to hold on to his position. Once Charlie gets wind of the connection to the missing girl he has another mystery to unravel.
This was a book that was light on the supernatural aspects that readers of the series will be familiar with. In fact the story would have worked just as well without them, but they’re part of Charlie and his story now. It was also a little light on Louis and Angel’s involvement, there was room to have them a bit more central to the story. In fact, in some ways, because the part of the story following the mobsters took away time from Charlie, I’d have enjoyed the book a bit more if the author had let him have a bit of down time.
This was just what I expect from the series – a mystery with a likeable PI to resolve it, a hint of the supernatural, a dark sense of humour and some really bad people!
Title – The Tall Man
Author – Phoebe Locke
Published – June 2018
Genre – Psychological suspense
This was one of a number of books I was lucky enough to get from a Headline ‘New Voices 2018’ event I attended in January.
The Tall Man is a book with multiple timelines and for once I had no issues with this). In 1990 a group of school friends tell each other stories about the Tall Man, the ‘bogeyman’ they are both afraid of and want to impress. In 2000 Sadie Banner believes her newborn daughter is cursed and leaves her and her husband without any explanation. In 2018 a film crew is in America making a documentary about a teenage girl who’s been on trial for murder. The Banner family and the events that took place around Amber’s sixteenth birthday have become notorious.
There are three very different women at the heart of the book and they are linked by the menace of the Tall Man. Sadie is the mother who abandons her daughter only return, a little like Snow White, when she believes the curse has lost its power. In 2018 Greta is left in the lurch by her boss and out of her depth as she leads the interviews and filming for the documentary in the US. And of course Amber, the centre of attention; what she did or didn’t do is left for the reader to try to figure out until the very end.
Greta’s role is important in driving the story forward – under pressure from her absent boss to get the scoop that will ‘make’ the documentary, she’s sympathetic to the teenager she’s trying to catch out. She provides the external point of view that balances the story.
Is the Tall Man just a playground monster or a presence lurking in the shadows? The story was cleverly written and kept me guessing. Every time I thought I’d figured it out there was another revelation and I had to have a rethink. It makes a change to read a book which has female characters that I don’t dislike. Amber was something of an enigma, Sadie who seems to be either weak or strong – depending on your point of view and Greta who is the most normal character.
Not quite the ghost story I though this would be but a very enjoyable read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy, one to look out for when it’s published in June.
Title – Hangman
Author – Daniel Cole
Published – 22 March 2018
Genre – Crime fiction
Set eighteen months after the end of Ragdoll, police in the US are investigating a body found hanging from Brooklyn Bridge, the word ‘BAIT’ carved into the chest. The potential connection to the Ragdoll murders brings an FBI and a CIA agent to DCI Emily Baxter’s desk, they want to interview Lethaniel Masse. And there starts a fast-paced, action-packed rollercoaster of an investigation. The action moves backwards and forwards across the Atlantic as more and more related crimes occur. The body count ramps up at a rate of knots and the scenarios become ever more shocking.
If Ragdoll was Wolf’s book then this is Baxter’s. I loved Wolf in Ragdoll and I think Emily Baxter may be my new favourite police woman. I picture her as Suranne Jones playing Bailey in ‘Scott and Bailey’. She’s smart as can be (underneath it all) and has (some) principles but she’s a bit of a drinker, bit of a control freak, secretive and trusts no-one. And did I say she drinks?
As with Ragdoll this is a pretty gruesome, no holds barred, book and the author certainly has a warped imagination. There are some dark issues at the heart of the story and an interesting contrast in how different characters have dealt with them. The counterbalance to this is the humour, which is dry and sarcastic and lifts the mood in the right places.
No worries about ‘second novel syndrome’ with this – it’s a cracking read with great characters – very few clear heroes and villains, lots of shades in between. If you’re tempted to pick this book up then do try to read Ragdoll – there are lots of references and it will make more sense to have read it first.
Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.
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 .
Title – Perfect Remains
Author – Helen Field
Published – Jan 2017
Genre – Crime fiction
This is a series that I’ve seen a lot of buzz about on Twitter and has glowing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I took advantage when there was an offer to download the book for free when a new book in the series was published. And now I discover it’s one of those books that the rest of the world seems to like and I have a dissenting voice, in fact I’m torn between giving it two or three stars, but I’m feeling generous.
The main character is D I Luc Callanach – half French and half Scottish he has recently transferred to Edinburgh after working for Interpol in France. He has the looks of an underwear model and a dark and mysterious past. His first case with his new team is the disappearance and subsequent murder of a young professional woman.
When I said that Callanach is the main character that’s only partly true – the perpetrator of the crimes gets his own fair share of the limelight. This is a book where you know from the outset who committed the crimes, how he is carrying them out and the deceptions he is using to trick the police. An unlikeable character I couldn’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. Obviously a disturbed individual but so disturbed that I was never sure that the motive behind his crimes even made sense to him.
There is a lesser strand to the main plot about babies being found in a park which is investigated by one of Callanach’s colleagues and I wondered if this was a means to an end for a later point in the plot; it didn’t seem properly developed but seemed more to serve a purpose.
The setting is Edinburgh but the writing didn’t get the feel or the atmosphere that told me anything about the place – it could easily have been set in the suburbs of any other large city. The dual point of view aspect was one of things that didn’t endear the book to me, while I like police procedurals I much prefer that the mystery unfolds for me as it does for the investigators, I don’t particularly like to be in on the secrets. There is a considerable amount of violence in the book. I’ve read worse, or perhaps more graphic, but it was all against women and there were certainly aspects that seemed gratuitous. There was an inevitable romance which didn’t particularly add anything to the story. To me it felt like a book someone would write who has read a lot of crime fiction and thinks ‘I could do that’. I think it needed a bit more refinement, a bit more editing, a more critical eye.
But how can I argue with all those hugely positive reviews?