Death on Dartmoor (Dan Hellier 2) by Bernie Steadman

The bodies in the bog…

😀 😀 😀 😀

DI Dan Hellier thought life in Devon would be quieter than his old job in the Met, but suddenly he finds he’s running two major cases simultaneously. First, enthusiastic amateur archaeologist Elspeth Price fulfils her lifetime ambition by discovering a body in one of Dartmoor’s bogs. But when the forensic expert checks it out, it turns out it’s two bodies and they’re fairly recent. And the fact that they have no heads or hands makes the deaths look a little suspicious! At the same time, some young lads buy some drugs to take at a party. The effect of the drugs is not what it should be though, and instead of getting high, the boys become seriously ill, and one dies. It’s up to Dan and his team to find who’s making and distributing the drugs before some other young person suffers the same fate…

This is a straight police procedural with an authentic feel to it. Dan is the main character but we get to know all of his team through the course of the book, including his superior officer. To my joy, they are likeable, professional and understand the need for teamwork – not a maverick to be seen! We get to know about Dan’s personal life and newish relationship with Claire, whom, as far as I gathered, he met during his last case; and we also get occasional glimpses into the lives of some of the other team members. But the vast majority of the book concentrates on the investigations and I can’t tell you how refreshing I find that after so many books where the crime comes a poor second to the traumas, addictions and abuses of the unrealistic detectives.

The bodies in the bog storyline provides the central mystery. Before they can start working on whodunit, first the team have to find out who the victims were. Steadman shows the painstaking process of checking old missing person reports, using forensic clues, and sifting through the many tips received from the public. The reader is given a clue early on about a connection the police don’t make till much later, which I found a little odd – it rather took away some of the surprise element at the end. However, on thinking back afterwards, I felt that again it made the thing feel more authentic – a sudden twist out of nowhere at the end can often leave me feeling that everything is just a little too convenient.

The second storyline, about the drugs, is less of a mystery. We know pretty quickly the main thrust of who’s running the operation, as do the police, so this part concentrates on how they go about getting the evidence to make charges. Occasionally I felt we got a little too much detail here – again authentic, but it perhaps slows the story down too much. However, there’s still a lot of interest in it, as Steadman shows how vulnerable people can be sucked into criminality against their will and then be unable to find a way out.

The story centres around an animal rescue centre where some of the major characters work, so just a quick reassurance to my fellow squeamish people – no animals are harmed in the making of this book. They’re not even put in peril, so I had no problems with reading about this aspect at all. In fact, there are a couple of fun scenes regarding one of the cats which brought a smile to my feline-loving heart.

Bernie Steadman

The book is told in the third person, past tense, has, if I recall correctly, no swearing whatsoever, and although there is some fairly strong violence, it’s not gruesomely graphic and fits with the story. All of which proves, if proof were needed, that it’s perfectly possible to tell a gritty story without disgusting or offending your audience, or normalising language that would make a docker blush.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it would have undoubtedly got the full five stars from me had the pace not got bogged down from time to time by including a little too much detail on procedures. It’s somewhat gentler in style than much of contemporary crime, but far too gritty and realistic in plotting to fall into cosy territory, all of which works well for me. Dan is an excellent lead character, his team are likeable and well enough drawn to develop their own individuality, and there’s a good deal of gentle humour in their interactions which helps to lift the tone and keep the book entertaining. I shall certainly be looking forward to seeing how this series progresses.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bloodhound Books.

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Half an hour elapsed before Merrion heard anything further. Then there was a sound of rapid footsteps, and a shadowy form, of which he could not see the outline, entered the open space in the centre of the grove. Others followed at intervals, until the turf was covered by a strange, silent multitude. They uttered no word, but Merrion could hear their quick breathing, the rustle of their garments as they swayed rhythmically upon their feet, occasionally an hysterical sob, quickly repressed. They stood there waiting, their eyes within the depths of their hoods staring intently towards the altar, hidden under the shadow of the trees.
….Then Merrion became conscious of slow and majestic footsteps advancing through the gloom. They approached the grove, but ceased before they reached the open space. And, as they did so, a queer wailing cry broke from the assembled worshippers. Merrion, staring intently from his hiding-place, could see nothing. But he guessed that the devil, the mysterious president of the ceremonies, had taken up his position in the deep gloom behind the altar.

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….The oleanders on the terrace of Villa Emma came into bloom. So did the ones in the oversized amphorae in the alleys and squares of the Old Town. Their clusters of white, pink and fuchsia flowers burst out of the dark-green foliage. From the contadini’s doorways, cases of juicy nespole released their sweet but slightly acrid fragrance onto the streets. It blended with the grassy scents of fresh fava beans consumed at kitchen tables now that the warm days of May were rolling into one another.
….On those afternoons, Anna and I enjoyed conservations brimming with mutual discoveries. You’d be amazed at how everyday actions bring those memories to mind. For example, Anna observed that olive oil linked us to our ancestors and to our land. ‘Liquid gold trickling down the slope of history’, she called it. Apulians’ modern obsession with olive oil was a remnant of how central it had once been, she said. Hadn’t it accompanied people every day? From baptism to the last rites, via their dining table, their soap, their lamps and much more? That reflection may not strike you as momentous. Yet now and then, while drizzling oil onto my food, I still picture Anna sharing the thought with me as we sat on the steps of an abandoned house, its flaking wall overrun by an early-blooming scarlet bougainvillea, watching two children walk by with slices of pane, olio e sale – bread, oil and salt.

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….Elspeth walked a little further towards the River Swincombe. Brown water seeped up towards the top of her boots. Finally, she struggled up a small incline and perched on a hummock of sphagnum moss. She poked at the peat directly in front of her with her stick, pushing the creeping moss aside. ‘Ahh,’ she said, with satisfaction, ‘I think we have our find. Look, Doctor Pargeter, look!’
….Neil craned over her shoulder. The water was shallow here, and brown with peat. He stared hard at the spot she indicated, seeing nothing except sphagnum moss, water and soft peat. Then, once he’d got his eye in, he yelped. ‘There, I see it!’ Crouching beside a jubilant Elspeth Price, oblivious to the water seeping into his boots, he leaned over as far as he dared and peered into the mossy pit. It looked like a bone. Two bones to be precise. In the shape of what could be a human elbow. He felt faint. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God, Elspeth, I think you’re right. I think we’ve got ourselves a body in the bog!’

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….But this is the life – out of the dim dressing room and towards the brightly lit stage comes the chorus. Joe is at the top of the stairs, checking the line for dirty fingernails, too much greasepaint, visible track marks. Then later he’s at the stage door, crowded with fans and young griffins eager to escort the showgirls to one of the Yu Yuen Road cabaret bars round the corner. It’s hopeless; the girls have better places to go, older, better-heeled patrons to spend time with. The swells offer dinner at Ciro’s with white-uniformed waiters and young boys serving tea, or late-night cocktails at Victor Sassoon’s brand-spanking-new Tower Club at the top of the Cathay Hotel. For the Peaches, the trick is to get dinner, go dancing, snag a little treat or two they can pawn later or some cash, all without giving it up. Late-night motorcar rides round the circular Rubicon Road, a shady back table at the Black Cat cabaret in Frenchtown, tableside at the private roulette wheels illicitly spinning in the suites of the Burlington Hotel courtesy of old-time Brit gangster Bill Hawkins, Sasha Vertinsky’s late-night Russian cabaret with the bad boys at the Gardenia on Great Western Road, champagne and Viennese torch songs courtesy of Lily Flohr at the Elite Bar on Medhurst Road – then always the fumble, the grope, the wandering hands.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 161…

Episode 161…

Despite tennis season having got well and truly underway, the TBR has taken a cool little tumble this week – down 1 to 219…

Here are a few to fill in the gaps between matches…

True Crime

Courtesy of riverrun via Amazon Vine UK. I thoroughly enjoyed French’s previous true crime book, Midnight in Peking, so am looking forward to this one very much. And it will take me to Shanghai for my Around the World tour…

The Blurb says: 1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made – and lost.
‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren – a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Eyewear Publishing. I first saw a glowing review of this one from the lovely Ann Marie at Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine. Brindisi in Puglia is one of the spots on the “compulsory” section of my Around the World tour and you have no idea how hard it is to find any books set there and still in print! So since Ann Marie thinks this one gives a great sense of the place, I jumped aboard… and doesn’t it sound like a perfect summer read?

The Blurb says: Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? That Summer In Puglia is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, eventually transform the discomforting tone with which he at first tries to keep Will and painful truths at a distance. This remarkable debut combines a gripping plot and perceptive insights into human nature with delicate lyricism.

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Crime

Courtesy of Bloodhound Books via NetGalley. I can’t remember if I saw a review for this or just selected it for the title and blurb, but it’s another one that sounds like it will fit into my desire for lighter reads over the summer. Dartmoor and murder? A classic combination…

The Blurb says: Life is good for DI Dan Hellier until the discovery of two headless, handless bodies buried in a bog on Dartmoor. But how can he identify the victims when nobody has reported them missing?

The tension mounts when the death of a young man plunges Hellier into the murky world of the Garrett family. Could the peaceful, family-run Animal Rescue Centre really be a cover for murder and other criminal activity?

Hellier is about to learn just how far people will go to get what they want. And this investigation will challenge Hellier’s decisions as he races to catch another murderer before it’s too late.

*** Death On Dartmoor was previously published as Death and The Good Son by B.A. Steadman***

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Classic Science Fiction

And staying with lighter reads, a re-read for my Classics Club list. I love John Wyndham, so am looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Bill Masen, bandages over his wounded eyes, misses the most spectacular meteorite shower England has ever seen. Removing his bandages the next morning, he finds masses of sightless people wandering the city. He soon meets Josella, another lucky person who has retained her sight, and together they leave the city, aware that the safe, familiar world they knew a mere twenty-four hours before is gone forever.

But to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, one must survive the Triffids, strange plants that years before began appearing all over the world. The Triffids can grow to over seven feet tall, pull their roots from the ground to walk, and kill a man with one quick lash of their poisonous stingers. With society in shambles, they are now poised to prey on humankind. Wyndham chillingly anticipates bio-warfare and mass destruction, fifty years before their realization, in this prescient account of Cold War paranoia.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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