Archives for crime fiction

#BookReview ‘Dark Fire’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom is a story of political intrigue, whodunit and a Tudor weapon of mass destruction. Second in the series about Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, Dark Fire combines two criminal mysteries; the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the alchemical formula to make an ancient terrifying weapon, and the impending trial and expected sentencing of a young woman to death by pressing. Despite a tenuous connection between the two cases, and a somewhat meandering pace at times, I enjoyed this book for its further development of Shardlake, first seen in Dissolution. It is 1540, King Henry VIII wishes to anul his marriage to Anne of Cleves, recommended to him by Thomas Cromwell, and marry instead the teenager Catherine Howard. At the beginning of the book Cromwell’s relationship with Henry is weakening and this imposes time pressure on both the novel and on Shardlake. As the novel opens, the lawyer is defending Elizabeth Wentworth, a teenage girl accused by her family of killing her cousin by pushing him down a well. She languishes in the Hole in the cellars of Newgate Prison and refuses to speak. Shardlake, though convinced of her innocence, despairs of being able to help her. The alchemical
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… Sue Featherstone @SueF_Writer #books #humour #chicklit

Today I’m delighted to welcome chick lit novelist Sue Featherstone. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie. “It’s hard to pin down a single Porridge & Cream read because there are a number of old favourites that fit into my comfort-read category. Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, for instance, Noel Streatfield’s children’s stories and Josephine Tey’s whodunits. But I’m going to choose Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie, which I first read in my early teens in the late 1960s when I sneaked it off my dad’s bookcase. “Truly, Christie is the queen of crime fiction.” BUY Sue Featherstone’s Bio Sue Featherstone is a Midlander, who has spent most of her life living and working in Yorkshire. Her debut novel A Falling Friend, co-authored with Susan Pape, was published by Lakewater Press in 2016 and a sequel A Forsaken Friend followed in March 2018. The pair, who have also written two journalism text books together, are currently working on the final book in their Friends trilogy. Sue was a journalist and public relations practitioner before moving into academia 20 years ago to teach news and magazine journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. Married with two grown-up daughters, she recently welcomed her first granddaughter Iris who is ‘the
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#Bookreview ‘Down to the Woods’ by @mjarlidge #crimefiction

One thing you know to expect from a DI Helen Grace book; the first theory and suspect she comes up with will not be the killer, usually the second one isn’t either. And you believe her each time. So just when you are wondering who the killer can possibly be, the book races to its conclusion and you never guessed it though the clues are there. Down to the Woods is the eighth in the Grace series by MJ Arlidge. He is expert at twisting, turning, somersaulting the plot and part of the fun as a reader is figuring out the puzzle he has set. In the New Forest, campers are disappearing from their tents and being chased through the isolated woods before being killed. I didn’t dwell on the gruesome bits; I prefer the puzzle part of crime novels, the answers are always with the people. Apart from PD James and Susan Hill, this is the series of crime novels I keep on reading. Why? Because Helen Grace is an unusual heroine; she is strong but vulnerable, confident yet quaking inside, spiky but desperate for companionship. For the moment that support comes from her team. The secondary story of her
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: LM Milford @lmmilford #books #crimefiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer LM Milford. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. “My Porridge and Cream novel is 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie. I think it may even be the first Agatha Christie book I read and began my love affair with her writing. It’s the book I pick when I’m feeling tired and want something easy to read. I almost wrote ‘simple to read’ but of course Christie’s plots are never simple. The copy I have is old and battered and I think bought from a second-hand bookshop while browsing. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I read it, but it’s probably back in my early teens and it helped me to find the writing genre where I belong. “Miss Marple is one of my favourite characters. She looks like a fluffy old lady but underneath that outward appearance is a core of steel and a very quick brain. I love the way she solves the crime by using just her wits and her experiences of living in a quiet country village. Her knowledge of the psychology of human behaviour is what makes her so formidable. I also love Lucy Eyelesbarrow, quietly competent and
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Oh my goodness why have I taken so long to read the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom? I was absolutely gripped by Dissolution, first in this Tudor series of mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, commissioner for Thomas Cromwell. And now I want to read all the others. It is 1537. Henry VIII is king and supreme head of the Church of England. A year has passed since Anne Boleyn was beheaded and her successor as queen, Jane Seymour, has just died following childbirth. Cromwell’s team of investigators, or commissioners, are reviewing every monastery across the land. The dissolution of these institutions is expected as Catholic worship is reformed and anglicised. Lawyer Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast where the investigating commissioner Robin Singleton has been murdered. Cromwell wants a quick solution to the murder so he can tell the king the problem and solution at the same time, and so puts pressure on Shardlake to find the murderer within days. Shardlake is a great central character; a hunchback, as a boy he turned to his studies when sports and girls seemed impossible. ‘My disability had come upon me when I was three, I began
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Categories: Book Love.

#Book review ‘The Comforts of Home’ by @susanhillwriter #crime #thriller

Another Simon Serrailler novel by Susan Hill? I admit to excitement at this, the ninth outing for the Lafferton detective. It is three years since the eighth novel, The Soul of Discretion, and I feared Hill wanted to write about other things and there would be no more. And now, The Comforts of Home. I saved it to read on holiday, in the same way as a child I saved my favourite chocolate bar from my Christmas Selection Box. To be enjoyed at leisure. I admit to forgetting how The Soul of Discretion ended, so the beginning was rather a shock but also fascinating. After life-changing surgery, Serrailler goes to the remote Scottish island of Taransay to convalesce. The descriptions of this bleak but beautiful place made me want to go there. He is quickly accepted by the tight-knit community where mutual support is a necessity, where consequently everyone knows everyone else’s lives in minutiae, but where you know a death is inevitable. As temporary cop-in-charge, given the local force’s short-handedness, Serrailler uncovers a secret no one had guessed. Serrailler’s injury beings a new layer of damage to his solitary wounded soul, he would rather get up and face the day
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Kelly Clayton

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime author Kelly Clayton.  Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Naked in Death by JD Robb, pen name of Nora Roberts. “I first read Naked In Death over 15 years ago. I was reading a considerable number of books a week and was a regular visitor to the local library. I read most genres but was buried deep in a Nora Roberts phase at the time. I was searching through the Nora books when I realised I had read them all. Panic! So I kept looking along the alphabetical shelf, and almost the next author was JD Robb [Nora Roberts’ pen name for her crime series].  The book, Naked In Death, was the first of a series and it sounded good – set slightly in the future, it followed a New York homicide detective, Eve Dallas. I borrowed it as part of that week’s haul and headed home. I was back at the library the next day for the following two books in the series. The In Death books cover crime, slight sci-fi element (but very subtle), romance, friendship, the destructive nature of humans and how the past doesn’t have to define us. Eve Dallas is a tortured kick-ass
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is a whodunnit version of Groundhog Day set at a country house party. There is a twist: the Bill Murray character must live each day in a different body, a host, and solve a murder or never escape back to his normal life. I found this to be a tortuous, convoluted and mystifying plot, impossible to review without giving away clues (intentionally or not), but I will have a go. If you like conventional detective stories which follow the rules of crime fiction, presenting a challenge to be solved, this may not be for you. If you like going on a mystery journey where nothing is as it seems, you will like it. Mysteries work when the reader has something to cling onto, to make them identify with a character, to make them care, to give them someone to root for. This story has so many unknowns I spent most of the story in a state of confusion. Like Coco Chanel dressing for the evening and then removing two elements to ensure she wasn’t over-dressed, I finished this book wishing the author had undertaken a similar cutting exercise. The solution to
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Skull Beneath the Skin

A classic closed room whodunit, The Skull Beneath the Skin is the second of only two Cordelia Gray private detective mysteries by PD James. I wonder why she didn’t write more? Gray’s fledgling detective agency is relying on finding missing cats when Sir George Ralston arrives unannounced to request Gray ensure the safety of his actress wife, Clarissa Lisle, at her next performance. Lisle has been receiving threatening letters and worries about freezing on stage. Sir George seems unconvinced of Clarissa’s danger. ‘The job I’m offering is a mixture of functions. You’d be part bodyguard, part private secretary, part investigator and part – well, nursemaid.’ Which sounds unpromising but the job pays well. So Cordelia leaves for Courcy Island, location of an amateur private performance of The Duchess of Malfi in which Lisle will play the starring role. As with all James’ novels, there is a delicious laying of pragmatic fact about those in attendance mixed with literary references and poetry. Of course, Clarissa Lisle is murdered. The police arrive and Cordelia finds herself one of the suspects. There is the usual ragbag of potential murderers. The cuckolded husband; the dying former lover; the pampered stepson; the unsuccessful sister; the silent and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Love Me Not

Every book in the Helen Grace series by MJ Arlidge is fast-moving, but Love Me Not is the fastest of them all. The action happens, almost exclusively, in one day. It starts in the early morning when a commuter is shot on a rural road. Why kill a respectable wife and mother who has a socially-responsible job? As the day progresses there are more shootings around Southampton, each victim seems completely different from the others. Where is the pattern? This story is different in that the action is not focussed so much on Helen Grace and, with the exception of a few references to previous books, can be read as a standalone story. There is a gunman on the loose, shooting people at random. Or is it two gunmen? As the victims start to pile-up, a pattern begins to emerge. Will the police identify the shooters in time to stop another murder? Why are the killers staying so close to Southampton? The point-blank callousness of the murders is chilling. When the answers are found, they are unfortunately all too believable. The reader, unlike the police, knows the who but not the why and that’s what keeps the pages turning. As
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Categories: Book Love.

Famous writers, writing… James Patterson

James Patterson is not an author I’m really familiar with, apart from knowing he writes hugely successful crime thrillers and mysteries. And then I heard that he is one of those authors who gives back… with grants to independent bookshops in the USA and UK, and also in literary programmes to encourage adults and children to read. In the UK he formed a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that aims to change lives through literacy.  If, like me, you are unfamiliar with James Patterson, here are a few facts:- By January 2016, he had sold 350 million books worldwide; He doesn’t just write thrillers, but also children’s, middle-grade and young adult fiction; His first novel The Thomas Berryman Number was published in 1976 while he worked for advertising agency J Walter Thompson. It was turned down by 31 publishers, and finally won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. And so here’s a photo of Patterson at work… judging by the palm trees outside the window, he must be at home in Palm Beach, Florida.   ‘The Thomas Berryman Number’ by James Patterson [UK: Arrow] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- John Updike Peter
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: The Hoarder

Part crime-mystery, part mystical ghost story, The Hoarder, the second novel by Jess Kidd, is difficult to define. Maud Drennan is an irreverent Irish carer who has been assigned the unholy task of bringing order to the life of Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who lives with his cats in a decrepit house surrounded by piles of rubbish. The previous carer who did Maud’s job, was run off the scene. Amongst the piles of junk, though, are ghosts of Cathal’s past, clues to the disappearance of one maybe two women, and traps for Maud to fall into. This is at times a bewildering smorgasbord of imagery and description, there were times when I wanted to shout ‘give me a breather’ but the humour of Maud kept me reading. There are some giant character arcs to work through, both Maud and Cathal change and change again, not to mention Maud’s glorious cross-dressing neighbour Renata. To add to the merry-go-round of confusion, Maud is followed around in her daily life by a collection of ghosts, Irish saints that she learned about in a childhood book. Each saint passes comment on Maud’s actions adding a hilarious Greek Chorus effect to the story.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Wicked Cometh

In the dark alleyways of London, in 1831, people are disappearing; the vulnerable poor, children, elderly, homeless. Missing posters line the streets. But none are found. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is a 19th century crime thriller with two women, divided by class and background, who are determined to find the truth but who never once suspect the depth of wickedness they will uncover. When 18-year old Hester White is hit by a carriage, physician Calder Brock takes her to his London home. Cared for by his servants, he questions Hester about her birth. Ashamed of her bad luck – growing up at a country parsonage, she was orphaned and taken in by her parents’ servants whose own income declined so now they live in an East End slum – Hester hides her education with a deftly-adopted London accent. Brock rescues her as an experiment in educating the poor. He takes Hester to Waterford, his childhood home in the country, where he lives with his sister Rebekah and their Uncle Septimus. Rebekah is to be Hester’s tutor. What follows is a story of lies laid upon more lies, murder, theft, friendship and love. As the women set out to
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Categories: Book Love.

How Emma Flint writes

Emma Flint “I was obsessed with her for six years. I thought about her every single day, sometimes for hours every day… She is made up of shades of grey. She has got all these different aspects to her. I wanted to show that there’s no such thing as black and white in a real human being.” [ in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 7, 2016] Emma Flint is talking about Ruth, the central character of her debut novel Little Deaths. The story was inspired by a true crime case from the 1960s. Alice Crimmins, a New York mother, was accused of murdering her two children. Flint first read about the case twenty years ago in the weekly Murder Casebook magazine. Ruth and the nosey neighbour are based on real characters, the rest are made-up by Flint. She did most of her research online, including:- reading contemporary press coverage of the double murder; used Google Street View to wander down the streets of Queens; watched YouTube videos to nail the local accent. Crucially though, she used her own experience of growing up on the outskirts of Newcastle to add “that claustrophobia you get in a small suburb where
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: No Time for Goodbye

This thriller by Linwood Barclay had me sitting up late at night, reading just one more chapter, and one more. When Cynthia Bigge is fourteen, her parents and older brother disappear from the house, never to be seen again. No bodies are found, no signs of foul play. It is as if they just walked away. But if they weren’t murdered, why did they leave? Did they hate her so, to abandon her? Twenty five years later, Cynthia takes part in a television programme to publicize cold cases. She could never have imagined what would happen next. First, there is a mysterious letter. Then a phone call, an e-mail. Suggesting something is going to happen, hinting her family is still alive. Cynthia questions her own sanity, her husband [and the main part of the story is told from his point of view] questions it too, and their daughter Grace is seemingly untroubled except she looks through her telescope every night before bedtime to check there is no asteroid heading for earth to destroy their world. This is a classic thriller. Who to believe? Is Cynthia’s family dead or alive? Who is contacting her now, the murderer? Is Cynthia so stressed
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Nightfall

The first page was really intriguing and locked me into the character of Jack Nightingale, a police negotiator turned private detective. He is a troubled man, troubled by what he has seen through the course of his job though nowadays he earns his living from following unfaithful spouses. Nightfall by Stephen Leather is the first of the Jack Nightingale series, described as a ‘supernatural thriller’. This is a different kind of detective story, which begins when Jack is told he has inherited a mansion from a man who claimed to be Jack’s natural father. That’s not all, his ‘father’ leaves a warning: at Jack’s birth his soul was sold to the devil and a devil will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday. That’s only three weeks away. So Jack is in a race against time to find out the truth. Was he really adopted? Who is Ainsley Gosling? What is going on? Is he suffering from stress? Hearing things? Imagining things? Is he going to lose his soul? Or is it one big con? When people around him start to die, Jack begins to lose his sense of perspective. ‘You are going to hell, Jack Nightingale’ are the
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Lev D Lewis

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut crime novelist Lev D Lewis. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. “Confession, at the risk of being branded an imposter and ritually kicked off your blog: I don’t really have a Porridge & Cream read; the last thing I feel like doing when I’m ‘tired, ill, or out-of-sorts’ is staring at words. If anything, I find those states more creative than consuming; I just want to bury myself under the duvet and let my mind take over. I do have a long list of books I want to re-read, headed by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (I’ve studied Classical Civilization since I first read it, and it would be interesting to reread with that extra bit of knowledge) but my TBR pile tends to win out. There’s only one book I’ve read more than once for pure pleasure, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, so I present that as my Porridge & Cream book. It about an unnamed British huntsman who aims his rifle at an unnamed foreign dictator, just for laughs (apparently). He’s chased back to England, retreats into an underground lair and is trapped there by his pursuer.
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Only the Brave

A dead body, a bag of money, and a group of people all lying to the police and each other. Only the Brave by Mel Sherratt is third in the DS Allie Shenton books set in the Midlands city of Stoke-on-Trent. The sub-plot is a strong storyline here and it weaves in and out of the murder investigation throughout the book: Allie’s beloved sister Karen is expected to die within days. With a head full of grief, guilt, regrets and love for her sister, Allie confronts the underworld of Stoke to find the killer. Is the city’s crime lord Terry Ryder behind it all, even from his prison cell? Mel Sherratt’s books are good value easy-read novels which get you hooked from page one and don’t let you go. As Karen lies in hospital, Allie must work out which petty criminal is lying to who and why, who has the most to gain and whose fingers are covertly dictating the action. And all the while she dreads having to question Terry Ryder in prison, the man she found herself attracted to despite all her instincts and her much-loved husband Mark. And to top it all, Allie senses someone is following
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Butterfly on the Storm

This crime thriller is the first of a trilogy billed, as many thrillers are, as the new Millennium Trilogy. Butterfly on the Storm by Walter Lucius does feature horrific examples of abuse, it does feature a campaigning journalist, but for me it fell short of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. Without that expectation, I would probably have enjoyed this thriller while at the same time being irritated that so much was crammed in. The action starts from page one and doesn’t stop to breathe. A young girl is the subject of a hit-and-run accident in the Amsterdam woods. In hospital, it becomes clear the girl is a young boy, dressed as a girl dancer and sexually abused by Afghan men now living in Holland. I found the portrayal of immigrant life in Holland fascinating and almost wish the author had examined this in more depth but the story spreads out to South Africa and Russia and its tentacles become confusing. Accompanying the child to hospital is Dr Danielle Bernson who, following medical experience in Africa, is traumatized when she sees the child suffer. At the hospital, they meet journalist Farah Hafez, originally from Afghanistan, Farah’s identity was changed when she arrived as
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: The Moonstone

Before Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes and Adam Dalgliesh. Before Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The first full-length detective novel ever published was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. First serialised in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round, the story revolves around the theft of a precious stone. A diamond, actually, not a semi-precious moonstone. The title page of the first edition [below] shows the publisher as Tinsley Brothers, Catherine Street, The Strand, London in 1868. The story On her 18th birthday, Rachel Verinder inherits a large Indian diamond as a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer serving in India. However the diamond is not only valuable but has great religious significance, and so three Hindu priests dedicate their lives to recovering it. At her birthday party Rachel wears the Moonstone on her dress for all to see. Later the same night, the diamond is stolen. The Moonstone follows the attempts of Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake to identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it. The first edition Of course there are many ‘first editions’ and not all date from the original publication, they may simply be the first printing by a particular publisher. Although I could find online
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Categories: Book Love.