Archives for crime fiction

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so after a spell in London’s PR world Agatha Raisin is pleased to return to Carsley. Everything seems the same, except she cannot shake her crush on neighbor – and detective buddy – James. James, however is concentrating on writing his history book and so in an effort to distract herself, Agatha takes up rambling. To cut a long story short, there is a murder, Agatha and James investigate, and all sorts of trouble ensues. This series is a great example of the ‘cozy crime’ genre, involving a bitchy walking group, a miltant leader determined to challenge landowners who block access to their land, and lots of sexual crossed wires. MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books are like that paint: they do what they say on the cover [or, it does what it says on the tin]. Read my reviews of the first three Agatha Raisin mysteries:- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death AR#1 Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet AR#2 Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener AR#3 ‘Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley’ by MC Beaton, AR#4 [UK: Constable] Buy at Amazon And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Private Patient

Published in 2008, The Private Patient turned out to be the fourteenth and last in the Adam Dalgliesh detective series by PD James and there are flashes which make me think James knew that. It wasn’t to be her last novel, though. Death Comes to Pemberley, published in 2011, was to be her last. She died in 2014 at the age of 94. Is The Private Patient her best Dalgliesh novel? For me, no. I think the thirteenth in the series, The Lighthouse, is the best. Other favourites are Devices and Desires and Original Sin. The Private Patient takes a while to get going. The first few chapters tell us about the victim, Rhoda Gradwyn, who we know will die at a private clinic in Dorset. Rhoda has a facial scar which she will have removed in surgery at Cheverell Manor. The intriguing thing for me is that Rhoda tells her surgeon she has no further need for the scar, but this seemed to get buried in the explanation of Rhoda’s background and that of the staff at the Manor. Of course, once the murder happens, the story moves rapidly. This is an old-fashioned English murder story set in a private
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Michelle Adams If You Knew My Sister, debut psychological suspense thriller by Michelle Adams [below], plus one further novel, will be published in the UK by Headline in spring 2017. If You Knew My Sister tells the story of Irini who was given away by her parents when she was three, whilst her volatile sister was kept within the family. Twenty years later, Irini receives a phone call to say that their mother has died. Irini returns home and uncovers the truth which has defined both their lives. Adams is a part-time scientist and has published six sci-fi titles under a pseudonym, including a YA dystopian series. Anneliese Mackintosh Jonathan Cape will publish So Happy It Hurts, the debut novel by short story writer Anneliese Mackintosh in spring 2017. Audio rights were sold to Audible. It tells the story of a year in the life of Ottila McGregor, a particularly significant year for 30-year-old Ottila. Mackintosh is the author of short story collection Any Other Mouth [Freight Books] which won the Green Carnation Prize, and was shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s First Book Award and Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Check out Mackintosh’s work at her website. MJ Arlidge Thriller writer
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Little Boy Blue

This book ends on such a cliffhanger I wanted to start reading the next straightaway. As the end approached I kept thinking ‘it won’t end like that, it can’t end like that’. Hide and Seek, sixth in the DI Helen Grace series by MJ Arlidge, is published in September, so not too long to wait. This is a chilling tale, one that pulls you in and turns the pages. I’d just finished a heavy literary book and needed a contrast, this book certainly provided it. As a television writer, Matthew Arlidge certainly knows how to manage tension and the pacing of his series is managed like television episodes. So perhaps it is not a surprise that Little Boy Blue ends on such a cliffhanger that it could actually be called part one of a two-part series. The murders – yes plural, isn’t it always? – take place in Southampton’s shady world of BDSM, the world of sexual role play, bondage, dominance and submission. The first victim is someone known to Helen Grace and her instant reaction to hide this acquaintance is at the centre of this hurtling story of murder and secrets. What sets this series apart? The character of
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

When a new arrival in the Cotswold village of Carsley brings competition for the attentions of James Lacey, Agatha Raisin is tempted to turn her back on her neighbour and make a reckless decision and return to London. As usual, Agatha’s decision-making is suspect and she gets herself deeper into trouble. But observation of James and her rival in love, Mary Fortune, at the gardening club give her hope that James is not convinced by Mary’s obvious charms although Mary seems universally loved by the rest of the village. Another murder mystery in Carsley gives Agatha, ably aided by James, ample opportunity for nosiness, trespassing, the making of lots of general assumptions, all tempered by common sense and observation of human nature. Sometimes Agatha seems to have a death wish when it comes to relationships, she admits she was never good at making friends, perhaps she is likeable because she is not perfect. On occasions she is rude, grumpy and arrogant. MC Beaton’s creation – this is the third in the Agatha Raisin series – is an enjoyable well-written mystery more akin with Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, than with Miss Marple. If you want an easy read one
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Re-bound dates are never a good idea, and this book starts with retired PR supremo and now amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin feeling spurned by sexy neighbour James Lacey. On the re-bound, she goes out for dinner with the village’s new flirtacious vet, Paul Bladen. It soon turns out that he dislikes cats, although he does seem to have a penchance for middle-aged ladies. When he drops dead, seemingly of an unfortunate accident, Agatha refuses to accept it is not murder. And so the second novel in the prolific Agatha Raisin series sets off at a pace, as Agatha tries to spend time with James Lacey without drooling. They ignore police warnings not to ask questions where it is inappropriate, and after breaking into the bank, and snooping around the dead man’s house, they think they find evidence of wrongdoing. Except it is not quite the wrongdoing that they expected. Another easy-to-read detective romp by MC Beaton, charming to read with your feet up on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Formulaic, yes. But very funny. For my review Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, first in the series, click here. If you like Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, try:- Etta
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin is the sort of neighbour you don’t want to live next to, if you live in a quiet picturesque Cotswold village where nothing ever happens. A newly-retired PR executive, Agatha arrives in the village of Carsley expecting a quiet retirement, a dream-like existence. But once she arrives in her perfect but soulless interior designed house, she finds real life in Carsley is not as she expected. First of all, no-one likes her. Second, no-one seems to give a fig about who she is. Third, she is bored. And so begins the first novel in this addictive series by MC Beaton, featuring busy body Agatha who things just seem to keep happening to. Desperate to make friends, she enters a village baking competition. Except Agatha can’t bake. So she buys a quiche and enters it as her own. So what, you may think. Lots of people probably do that. But when the competition judge dies of poisoning, Agatha is the key suspect. Desperate to clear her name, she turns detective. And so a new crime series is born, featuring an overweight, pompous and self-important woman who always thinks she knows best. Why is this series so good? Because Agatha
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Blood Detective

I raced through this book, a hybrid mixture of crime and genealogy mystery. Author Dan Waddell is also a journalist and genealogist, having written The Genealogy Handbook [below] to accompany the Who Do You Think You Are? television series. So, he knows his stuff and it shows. Usually a crime novel features a lead detective and team, here we have two lead characters: Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster, and genealogist Nigel Barnes. Waddell’s plotting is ingenious. The past really does come back to haunt the present. There is a serial killer in West London who leaves a clue carved into the skin of his victims. This clue prompts DCI Foster to call on the specialist help of researcher Barnes. The murder hunt takes parallel paths: Foster chases living suspects, Barnes searches the archives for the true 1879 story of a serial killer, his victims and their descendants. What is the link? The final chapters are a thrilling race against time. I really enjoyed this. The linking of historical and present-day crime was clever, and the characterization was convincing and not of the stereotypical detective form. An enjoyable mixture of fast-moving crime novel with genealogical research and historical gems about this particular
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Book review: The Lighthouse

Over the years, the character of Commander Adam Dalgliesh has become a real person. Helped by the TV series of PD James detective novels, whenever I read a Dalgliesh book I see the face of actor Roy Marsden. The Lighthouse, the 13th in the series of 14, is perhaps her best. There is no doubt that as the series progressed, the writing acquired depths earning it the label ‘literary fiction’. A lot of the action is in the mind, intellectual detection. The Lighthouse is a long way from Cover Her Face. This is another closed room mystery. The room is an island off the North Cornish coast, a secure, secluded get-away-from-it-all holiday destination for politicians, celebrities and entrepreneurs. Dalgliesh, with his team Kate Miskin and Francis Benton-Smith, become residents on the island with its small number of suspects. Dead, is a famous writer, Nathan Oliver, found hanging by a rope from the railings of the lighthouse. Nothing, from this point, is as it seems. All the island’s guests, residents and staff could have a motive. Oliver was not generally liked. But you can rely on James to unwind a story which brings unexpected depths, difficulties and an unpredictable motive for
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Ezekiel Boone The Hatching, plus two sequels, by US author Ezekiel Boone, will be published in the UK by Gollancz. The Hatching, described as a “fun as hell” thriller, is about a desperate fight against a long-dormant, ancient species that hatches from an unusual egg following a nuclear bomb drop. Comparisons have been made to Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Max Brooks’s World War Z. TV and film rights have been signed by Lionsgate on behalf of Joel Silver, who produced The Matrix and Die Hard. Boone promised the book was “fun as hell and just scary enough to make you afraid to put it down.” Due to be published in July 2016, this [above] is the US cover design. For more about Ezekiel Boone, here’s his website. Jussi Valtonen They Know Not What They Do by Finnish writer Jussi Valtonen [below] will be published in September 2016 in the UK by Oneworld. This is Valtonen’s third novel, but the first to be translated into English. The Know Not What They Do is a “sweeping literary thriller, offering a complex, multi-layered story of family conflict and the search for identity.” The story, set in Finland and the US, opens with an attack on a US neuroscience research lab by animal rights activists. One of
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Murder Room

Written in 2003 this, the 12th in the Adam Dalgliesh crime fiction series by PD James, is preceded by an excerpt from TS Eliot’s poem ‘Burnt Norton’: ‘Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.’ Time is a theme layered throughout this book. Its setting is the Dupayne Museum on Hampstead Heath, so historical time is represented by the exhibits at the museum. Time, recently passed, is examined and re-examined as part of the murder investigation. Time future, is represented by the theme of Adam Dalgliesh’s love for Emma and his courtship of her, a path not easy or untroubled. Like all Dalgliesh novels, murder happens within a tight community. The Dupayne Museum has a small community of owners, staff and visitors. At first glance the victims are not clearly attached to the museum, but this is a James novel: of course they are, we just don’t know how yet. The murder doesn’t happen for quite a while as James takes her time introducing us to the circle of potential victims and criminals, their connection to the museum and their life outside it. There is an air of the
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Isabel Costello Paris Mon Amour, a story of “desire, betrayal and devastating loss” by Isabel Costello, is to be published by Canelo on June 13, 2016. Set in France, Paris Mon Amour tells the story of one woman and two men, of love and loss. Costello [above] said: “Paris Mon Amour was inspired by my frustration with the double standards applied to women and men, especially when it’s about sex or age or both. But from the moment I started to write, it was Alexandra’s story and I’m delighted to be working with such an enthusiastic team at Canelo to share it with readers.” Read more about Isabel Costello at her blog, The Literary Sofa. Eimear McBride The Lesser Bohemians, the second novel by Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride, will be published by Faber in the autumn 2016. Described as another imaginative novel, it is the story of innocence and love of an 18-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to study drama, who meets an older actor. McBride [above] won the Bailey’s Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, originally published by independent Galley Beggar Press. Faber
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Dead Simple

Book review: A plot that twists and turns, a dramatic beginning, a likeable detective in Roy Grace and a cleverly-drawn setting. Brighton is full of potential for a crime writer looking for a setting and it is clear Peter James knows and loves the Sussex seaside city. This is a page-turner with clever ideas and a couple of twists I didn’t see coming. The story opens with a stag night which does not go to plan, a missing groom, a car crash, an absent best man and a frantic bride. As the horrible realities of the situation become clear, with no witnesses and no clues, the police struggle to find the missing groom before the wedding on Saturday. But a few things do not ring true and that, coupled with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace’s controversial use of a medium, bring fresh, if confusing, clues. Peter James has created an authentic police community which feels real from page one, this is not the first in a series where the first novel is about setting the scene and the context. James hits the ground running with a believable detective. Roy Grace is a maverick, and I like him. James spends a day a
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Categories: Book Love.