Archives for crime fiction

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Follow the Leader

This police procedural is not about identifying the killer as the reader knows who it is from page one, but a chase against time. Will the police stop him before he completes his series of murders? Follow the Leader is the second in the DS Allie Shenton series by Mel Sherratt and, as well as being a story in its own right, it continues the thread of Allie’s story and of her sister Karen. So much so that the ending made me want to pick up book three and keep reading. The story is told in the present time from the viewpoint of the murderer, and Allie, plus flashbacks to schoolchildren in 1983. There is bullying, nastiness and violence at home. Patrick keeps his head down, hoping not to be noticed. Unfortunately for him, he has ‘victim’ written all over him. The schooldays segments are horribly realistic. The setting of Stoke-on-Trent is a critical part of this book and it is clear Sherratt is describing real places. The first body is found on the canal towpath. A man was walking his dog, in the same place, at the same time, as he always does. The next victim is a woman.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Innocent Blood

If you are a PD James fan, I should say up front that Innocent Blood is very different from the Adam Dalgliesh detective series. It is a psychological thriller, a slow-building mystery which starts with little steps then, as the odd details start to make sense, the tension builds. It is the story of a young woman who knows she is adopted, who exercises her right to know the names of her birth parents, and finds something she never in a million years expected. Philippa Palfrey is 18, about to go up to Cambridge, until she decides to find out the truth of her adoption. Her birth father is dead, her mother though is still alive. Philippa’s adoptive father warns caution, tells her to do her research and think carefully before contacting her mother but Philippa, driven by the need to know who she is and where she came from, goes ahead anyway. With the arrogance and naivety of youth, she embarks on a complicated path full of moral dilemma, tragedy and loss. It is a novel of family blood and relationships, violence, redemption, revenge and acceptance. Is there a threat, real or imagined, and where/who does that threat come
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Long Drop

Glasgow, 1950s. Three men meet in bar. One leaves. The remaining two men talk and drink until the early hours. They are unlikely drinking companions. A businessman, and a criminal. What are they talking about? Which one is telling the truth, or are they both lying? The Long Drop by Denise Mina is her fictional version of the night of Monday December 2, 1957 and the subsequent murder trial. It is a chilling story. Peter Manuel was a real murderer in Glasgow and the Burnside Affair happened, which makes this such an unsettling read. A woman, her sister and daughter have been killed, the girl was also raped: this is William Watt’s family, his wife, his daughter, his sister-in-law. Manuel, a known criminal, writes to Laurence Dowdall, Watt’s solicitor, to say he knows the location of the murder weapon, a gun, and so Dowdall arranges the meeting at Whitehall’s Restaurant/Lounge. Suspected by police of murdering his own family, William Watts meets criminal Manuel desperate for answers. But for a naïve, boasting businessman, he is keeping strange company. All is not as it seems. Mina populates her story with living/breathing Glasgow in the 1950s. If you have been to Glasgow, Mina’s
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

When Cordelia Gray’s boss at the Pryde Detective Agency dies, he leaves her the business… and an unregistered gun. And so begins An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by PD James, with a female private detective who is a long way away from Adam Dalgliesh, James’s famous creation, but who has been trained by an ex-copper who worked for Dalgliesh. And so the tentacles of ‘the Super’ stretch to Cambridge where Cordelia Gray undertakes her first case. She is not a female private detective in the busybodying, gossiping style of Miss Marple or Agatha Raisin, but a liberated, independent woman who is financially motivated to make a success of her business. Employed by a Cambridge scientist, Sir Ronald Callender, to discover why his son Mark dropped out of university and committed suicide soon after, Cordelia takes up lodging in the rundown gardener’s cottage where Mark died. So much is unclear. Mark left a stew uncooked and a garden fork stuck in half-dug earth. His friends feign friendliness to Cordelia but dance around her questions. Sir Ronald’s assistant/housekeeper is superior and unhelpful. The Marklands, who employed Mark in his last few weeks, are shadows on the edge of the story. Something is
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Sometimes I Lie

At the beginning of Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, Amber is in a coma. What happened to her and why she is there, is told in three strands – a series of flashbacks of the previous few days, her childhood, and her trapped-in view of life from her hospital bed. ‘I’ve been returned to my factory settings as a human being, rather than a human doing.’ I’m not sure how to describe this book. It starts off as a study of young women, sisters and friends, and turns into a pacey psychological thriller. At times I forgot the title of the novel, a timely reminder that Amber may be an unreliable narrator. What starts off as a puzzle turns into a sprint, as a mystery visitor to Amber’s hospital bed may be trying to drug her. Her husband is being questioned by the police, it is days before her parents visit, and her sister and husband are arguing at her bedside. Amber is a radio presenter with a touch of OCD, her repetitive checking of things increases as she is stressed. There are problems at work, her husband keeps disappearing, and an old boyfriend turns up out of the
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Darktown

Darktown by Thomas Mullen is a gripping book. A combination of the social history of black Americans in post-war pre-civil rights USA, and crime story, it tells the story of the first black policemen in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948 and the physical, emotional and moral challenges they faced. Page after page, and they turned quickly, I was astonished by what happened and the knowledge that similar events really took place. It is a commentary on racial divides in the USA that the summer (2016) this novel about white police brutality was published, white policemen are still shooting and mistreating black citizens. Politics aside, I read so quickly because the story of Officer Lucius Boggs and the case of the murdered Jane Doe grabbed me and made me resent the moments I wasn’t with them on the page. Twined together are the stories of Boggs and Police Officer Denny Rakestraw; one black cop, one white cop, both dissatisfied with the rules they must police and with the way black people, cops and citizens, are denigrated, both disturbed that the dead Jane Doe has been ignored. Boggs and Rake investigate alone and off-duty, risking suspension plus hatred and injury at the hands
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Hide and Seek

Different from the preceding five books in the series and even faster-paced. DI Helen Grace is in prison, awaiting trial. Unsurprisingly, as a copper she receives brute treatment from her fellow inmates. And then one of them is killed and the prisoners don’t know who to fear – Grace, who is accused of murder; a fellow prisoner; or a prison guard. Hide and Seek by MJ Arlidge is a relentless page-turner. The action switches viewpoint as Helen tries to identify the killer and prevent him killing again. Her friend DC Charlie Brooks is on the outside, trying to prove Helen’s innocence and find the real murderer, the prison governor can’t cope, and the killer is planning the next attack. Meanwhile the aggressive journalist Emilia Garanita is somehow getting photos from within the prison. While Helen is struggling to survive from one day to the next, the prison guards are under-staffed and under-pressure. Helen uses a few old prisoner tricks to unlock her cell door and move around the prison, I don’t know how realistic this is but it certainly moved the story along. How often do murders happen in a prison wing at night when the prisoners are locked in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Referendum

Scottish politics and policing offer a fertile source for fictional plots, and former journalist Campbell Hart makes the most of it. Referendum is the third in his series about Glasgow Detective Inspector John Arbogast. The heft of this series is developing nicely, as the characters and setting gain depth with each book and the plots are layered with threads from the previous books. Arbogast and his police colleagues are familiar now and Hart chooses his political setting, in the run-up to the Scottish Referendum for Independence, with care. Throw in a bent copper, an Irish thug, a BBC reporter, a family struggling with debt, and a nationalist determined to have his moment of propaganda, and there are many narrative threads to follow. A man dies beneath a bridge, suicide or murder? But then a debt collector calls on his wife, which kickstarts a chain of events involving Arbogast. As well as chasing down a missing teenager, he takes a secret trip to Belfast to research the background of a fellow officer. What he finds there leads straight back to Glasgow and a deadly climax at the partly-constructed new police headquarters building, a sparkling transparent glass and steel building. Is Glasgow’s
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Little Deaths

This is another of those novels which is an uncomfortable read. What kept me reading? The characters. I wanted to know what really happened. But of course this is fiction and characters don’t always tell the truth, only their version of the truth. Little Deaths by Emma Flint is an accomplished debut, as I read I could tell she had got under the skin of her characters. There is an intriguing set-up, we first hear Ruth’s voice. She is in prison. We don’t know why, but she compares her life now with her life before. When she was a single mum with two small children. As I read, I felt a shiver down my back: where are her children now? Starting the story with Ruth in prison surely gives away the ending, doesn’t it? Not really. This is a nuanced tale of trial by jury in 1960s America [though until the Sixties were mentioned, it seemed to be set in a curiously non-time specific period] where prejudices about women could wrongly influence outcomes, where social pre-conceptions coloured witness statements, and hearsay evidence seemed admissible if the accused was disliked. It is a tale of presumed guilt, and it should make
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Taunting the Dead

The first in the Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton series, Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt hits the ground with a bang. Literally, the murder victim has her head bashed in. Nine out of ten murders are committed by someone who knows the victim, unfortunately for DS Shenton, the husband of the victim is a local businessman/crook. Unfortunately, too, that Allie and Terry Ryder seem to have some sexual chemistry going on. And the third unfortunate thing is that Terry has an alibi. Steph Ryder is killed on a girls night out, then the story retreats to show her life in the days before she is killed. An abrasive alcoholic, she has few friends and has arguments with her husband and daughter Kirstie. She is also having an affair with one of her husband’s employees. Not a clever thing to do. The Ryders flash the cash around and accumulate enemies. At one point it seems as if practically everyone has a motive for killing her. This is a full-on read without pause so if you want a book to keep you reading through a boring journey, then this is the one for you. The action is brutal and unremitting and the pages
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Murder at Catmmando Mountain

I nearly gave up on this in the first few pages, and what an error that would have been. I am a novice to #cozymysteries that genre of crime/mystery stories which exclude violence and graphic gory details. Cozy mysteries are about character and quick-moving plot rather than bangs and flashes. Anna Celeste Burke is an American writer specializing in the genre. So, why did I almost stop reading Murder at Catmmando Mountain? It might be a journalist’s thing, but I don’t like to be told too much information upfront. But once I got past the bit about who Georgie Shaw is – she’s the narrator with a smart voice who works in PR at a tourist attraction, Marvellous Marley World, based on the cartoon characters of tycoon Max Marley – the action starts in chapter two. Then the fun starts. Early one morning, a body is found. Not just any body, a dead body. The body of Mallory Marley, obnoxious daughter of Max Marley. Lying next to the body, and dipped in Mallory’s blood, is Georgie’s scarf. Georgie, who recently moved to the PR department from Food and Beverage rather than take retirement, is forced to consider her life in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Deadly Descent

It all begins when West Kansas historian Lottie Albright receives a submission for her oral history project. Written by Zelda St John, aunt of political hopeful Brian Hadley, the piece examines torrid racist attitudes in the family’s history. This is the sort of book you settle into and read with relish. Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger is a mystery thriller which moves with steady detailed steps as the tension twists and twists like a screw being slowly turned. A first murder is followed rapidly by a second, Lottie is sworn in as a deputy and balances her twin jobs of detecting and collating historical records. The two jobs fit neatly together until anonymous letters start to arrive. Lottie is ably supported by her quiet long-suffering husband Keith, and her clinical psychologist twin sister Josie. Remember the twin thing, it is important later. Sam Abbott, sheriff of the woefully-underfunded Carlton County police, welcomes the resources of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and so distracts Lottie with research into an old dead case: the old Swenson murders. This feels like a massive diversion, but go with the flow of this book and you will be rewarded. Hinger plots intricately and draws a
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Jellyfish

Genre fiction can sometimes be a bit predictable but often that is why we buy it: because we know what we are getting and we become attached to the characters. Crime series in particular fit this description, but sometimes a new voice appears which is a little bit different. Jellyfish by Lev D Lewis is such a debut novel, featuring the Philip Marlowe-obsessed private investigator Frank Bale. Frank is a solicitor who lost his legal career because he liked the girls too much. Now he works as a PI but most often as a process server, tracking down individuals and giving them the legal papers they do not want to receive. But he longs to be a PI like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Classic detective fans will love this novel, I am sure there are loads of Marlowe references I missed. I love Frank’s wry turn of phrase, such as the goon who has a face ‘a bit wonky, like it had been painted on by children.’ But Frank doesn’t just have a smart mouth, there are hidden depths: he prefers the radio to television, he knows his Doric columns from his Ionic, but beneath the swagger is a gentle
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin: PR supremo, city lady, now retired to the Cotswolds. Where she reaps havoc as a cross between Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and Hattie Jacques as Matron in the Carry On films. This is the fifth in the series by MC Beaton, and it is helpful to read them in order because of ongoing story threads. Agatha is about to get married and she can hardly believe her good luck. And that is the key to what happens next: Agatha’s [unfortunately not] ex-husband turns up, the wedding is off, and the ex is murdered. Agatha, suspected bigamist, is now a suspected murderer too. Plus, her fiancé has done a runner. So begins another murder hunt in which Agatha stumbles along, putting her foot in it, making mostly wrong but sometimes right assumptions, and generally stirring things up. In the course of which she reviews her first marriage, and her second marriage which never happened: had she really been in love at all? These are formulaic, fantastic, funny novels that I cannot resist reading. Read my reviews here of the first four Agatha Raisin mysteries:- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death AR#1 Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet AR#2
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

How Robin Stevens writes

Robin Stevens “I do a massive spreadsheet of the murder, with the time of the murder and where everyone was in five-minute chunks leading up to it. It helps me get into the heads of the different characters, understand their motives and make sure their alibis work. Everybody has to be in the right place at the right time and all the clues have to be seeded.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 22, 2016] I wish Robin Stevens had been writing books when I was a child, I would have devoured them. My bookcase was full of Mallory Towers. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Arthur Ransome’s The Big Six and Agatha Christie. Apparently Stevens grew up reading the same books. Her detective series is very popular with eight to 12-year old girls. Her use of spreadsheets is interesting and I will try it out for my third novel, Sweet Joy. My novels are not crime stories, but they are about secrets and lies and it is essential to manage the twists and turns of the plot. Read more about Robin Stevens’ books at her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain Bill Clegg Tracy
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Nationalist

An explosion, on Remembrance Sunday. The culprit: an elderly man, a veteran, wearing a suicide vest. Scottish nationalism, the treatment of veterans and policing in Scotland are the drivers of this narrative. This story hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. It’s a while since I read Wilderness, the first in Campbell Hart’s series about Glasgow detective John Arbogast. The Nationalist was just the tonic after a tiring week, I needed to relax into a book which moved fast and didn’t demand much from me. This took me for a ride and finishes at a sprint as the end game approaches. Right up until the end, I didn’t know how it would finish. Arbogast is at times an unsympathetic character, his relationship with Rose, DCI Rosalind Ying, gets complicated and he retreats to alcohol. This gets him into trouble, trouble he cannot have foreseen would link him to the Remembrance Sunday terrorist attack. As pieces are pulled together, Hart keeps the mystery going until the end whilst weaving in the complicated politics in Scottish policing, resentments, ambition and dislike. Visit Campbell Hart’s website. Read my review of Wilderness, the first Arbogast book. 3rd in the Arbogast series, Referendum, will be
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Blood Atonement

A fascinating mixture of modern crime novel and family history research, Blood Atonement takes Nigel Barnes from London to the USA as he races against time to find answers for Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster. Foster’s first case after returning to work following injuries sustained in The Blood Detective [first in this genealogical crime series] is a dead actress and her missing daughter. Links to the actress’s past, mystery about her family and unanswered questions, lead Foster to call in the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes. Both men are strong characters who walk off the page, both loners of a kind, both lonely in love. This is a fast-moving mystery revolving around what happened to Horton and Sarah Rowley, who we know from flashbacks were teenage sweethearts planning to run away, but who only appear in records in the UK from 1891. Before that, they cease to exist. Where did they come from, and why were they running? Simply because their parents disapproved of the marriage, or something more sinister? And what has this to do with the dead actress found lying face down on her lawn in London? As he searches for the missing 14-year old, Foster finds chilling
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: Himself

I loved this book from the first page. It defies pigeonholing: at once a literary crime thriller, a fond comic tale of an Irish village, an investigation of long-buried secrets of murder and illegitimacy. Jess Kidd is a refreshing new voice, I don’t remember enjoying a debut novel this much since Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites though the two books are completely different. In 1976 Mahony walks into the village of Mulderrig, seeking the truth of his birth twenty-six years earlier. From the forest around the village, and the houses within it, the dead walk out to greet him. They are a silent cast throughout the book, do they hold the answer to the mystery? Kidd has created a village which feels alive, filled by a cast of characters so clearly drawn, and which swirls between the horrific beating of a nurse, downright nastiness, belly laughs and hallucinogenic drugs. The cast includes a pinched, controlling priest; a wizened old actress who organizes the village play from her wheelchair; a bogeyman who reputedly lives in the forest; and a pub landlord who tries to court the Widow Farelly, a nurse who has the sourest disposition visible to everyone except him. Mahony grew
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Secrets of Gaslight Lane

I found the first few chapters of this book confusing and was still confused at the end. This is partly because it is fourth in the ‘The Gower Street’ detective series by MRC Kasasian and I haven’t read the previous three, but partly because the author seems to confuse the reader on purpose. Two murders are to be solved, one new, one ten years earlier, involving the same family, in the same house. I got both events totally confused. March Middleton is the god-daughter of ‘personal detective’ Sidney Grice. It is London, 1883 and this series is billed as an alternative ‘Holmes and Watson’ detecting duo. Grice is a pedantic character, a bit like Sherlock Holmes but without the charm. I found his arrogance and language intensely irritating. March’s way of dealing with his rudeness is to plough her own furrow, defending herself and occasionally going her own way. I liked March, I kept reading because of her. We see the story from her point of view. The duo is employed by Charity Goodsmile to investigate the murder of her father. Grice and Middleton visit the scene of the crime and what follows is told in minute detail, unlike any
Read More

Categories: Book Love.