Downfall (Joel Williams 4) by Margot Kinberg

Did he fall or was he pushed?

😀 😀 😀 😀

While playing truant from school, a teenage boy climbs the scaffolding on a nearby construction site, and falls to his death. The police investigate, but there are no suspicious circumstances and no apparent motive for anyone to have wanted to harm Curtis, so it’s filed as a tragic accident. Two years later, Joel Williams, ex-cop turned University professor, is carrying out research along with two colleagues into a for-profit organisation that provides schools for young people viewed as at-risk. This organisation, Second Chance, runs the school from which Curtis truanted that day. As Joel and his colleagues dig into the organisation’s records, they notice some odd discrepancies that start them wondering if there might have been more to Curtis’ death than had been thought…

I shall start with my usual disclaimer: regular visitors will be well aware that Margot and I are long-time blog buddies, so you will have to assume that there may be a level of bias in this review, but as always I shall try to be as honest as I can.

This is Joel Williams’ fourth outing, so his character is well established by now. His police background means he still has contacts on the force, so when he finds himself involved in investigations, his old colleagues are generally happy to have him help out. As a result, the books have a good mix of being part police procedural, part amateur detective, while still feeling realistic and credible. Joel is no maverick – he works with the police, handing over any information he finds promptly, and leaving the serving officers to carry out formal interviews, arrests, etc. Joel is also pleasingly normal, with a stable home life, and a job that he enjoys.

In this one, there are two connected strands. At the same time as Joel is researching Second Chance, another organisation is offering to make a substantial donation to the University of Tilton where he works, in return for being allowed to set up a permanent research facility on methods of providing services designed to keep troubled young people from ending up in jail. So we see Joel struggling to decide whether such organisations can really be run with the best interest of students at heart, or whether corners will be cut in pursuit of profit. His research into Second Chance and the events of the story will feed into his eventual decision whether to support the new initiative. I found this aspect of the book particularly interesting because I worked for some years in a not dissimilar for-profit organisation and struggled with some of the same questions, though fortunately none of our pupils or colleagues were murdered!

Because of the research angle, the book takes us off campus this time, giving us a wider picture of Philadelphia with its mix of affluent and more deprived neighbourhoods. As Joel and his fellow researchers look into Second Chance, we get some insight into how organisations like this are funded and monitored, and Kinberg gives an even-handed picture of the benefits and potential pitfalls of these kind of semi-detached facilities. And she doesn’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the story is the tragic death of a young boy, allowing us to see the effects of this on his mother and friends.

Margot Kinberg

Another interesting story from Kinberg that, partly because of the age of the victim, felt a little darker to me than her last book. In truth, I had a good idea of whodunit from fairly early on since the pool of suspects isn’t large, but the interest of the book is more in watching how Joel and the police go about getting enough evidence to prove that Curtis was killed and to make a charge stick. One that has enough of the police procedural about it to appeal to fans of that genre, but with the added element of Joel’s amateur involvement allowing it to retain a feeling of the traditional mystery novel too. Recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Joel’s investigations in future novels.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….After another short rest, Curtis finally made it to the third floor. It hadn’t been easy, but he was fifteen – old enough to get all the way to the top if he’d wanted to. He finally reached the beam he’d been dreaming of sitting on – perched like a bird over the city street below. When he got to the beam, he slowly straightened up and prepared to walk to the end of it. He knew he could do it: all it took was concentration. Foot in front of foot. He focused carefully and started moving. Then he heard it again – that same noise he’d heard earlier. He stopped for a moment but didn’t hear anything. Still, he couldn’t help feeling like someone was watching him.
….All of a sudden, the world spun out of control as Curtis felt a hard push from behind and lost his balance. He scrabbled frantically to grab something – anything – to keep him from falling…

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….Seated with Stuart and Brent Tarleton in the cool shade of the porch of Tara, her father’s plantation, that bright April afternoon of 1861, she made a pretty picture. Her new green flowered-muslin dress spread its twelve yards of billowing material over her hoops and exactly matched the flat-heeled green morocco slippers her father had recently brought her from Atlanta. The dress set off to perfection the seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties, and the tightly fitting basque showed breasts well matured for her sixteen years. But for all the modesty of her spreading skirts, the demureness of hair netted smoothly into a chignon and the quietness of small white hands folded in her lap, her true self was poorly concealed. The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, wilful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor. Her manners had been imposed upon her by her mother’s gentle admonitions and the sterner discipline of her mammy; her eyes were her own.

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….It would be easy to blame the Chernobyl accident on the failed communist system and the design flaws of Chernobyl-type reactors, implying that those problems belong to the past. But this confidence would be misplaced. The causes of the Chernobyl meltdown are very much in evidence today. Authoritarian rulers pursuing enhanced or great-power status – and eager to accelerate economic development and overcome energy and demographic crises, while paying lip service to ecological concerns – are more in evidence now than they were in 1986. Could the nuclear Armageddon called Chernobyl repeat itself? No one knows the answer to this question. But there is no doubt that a new Chernobyl-type disaster is more likely to happen if we do not learn the lessons of the one that has already occurred.

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….So we two poor terrestrial castaways, lost in that wild-growing moon jungle, crawled in terror before the sounds that had come upon us. We crawled, as it seemed, a long time before we saw either Selenite or mooncalf, though we heard the bellowing and gruntulous noises of these latter continually drawing nearer to us. We crawled through stony ravines, over snow slopes, amidst fungi that ripped like thin bladders at our thrust, emitting a watery humour, over a perfect pavement of things like puff-balls, and beneath interminable thickets of scrub. And ever more helplessly our eyes sought for our abandoned sphere. The noise of the mooncalves would at times be a vast flat calf-like sound, at times it rose to an amazed and wrathy bellowing, and again it would become a clogged bestial sound, as though these unseen creatures had sought to eat and bellow at the same time.

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….“Yes,” I said, “every single Blainer is the crème de la crème by virtue of our outstanding education. But a depraved novelist claimed that this epithet applied only to a small coterie, the pupils of one particular teacher. And in a salacious misrepresentation of our beloved school and its irreproachable staff, she portrayed that teacher as a promiscuous adulteress who was prepared to prostitute her pupils. Pupils whose prepubescent sexual fantasises she described in sordid detail.”
….I had to clutch a nearby gilt salon chair for support, and to let my pulse slow down. I pride myself on my self-control, but this is a wound that will never heal.
….A lady sitting nearby leaned forward eagerly: “Please, Shona Fergusovna, may we have the name of this book and its author? In order that we may avoid it, of course.”

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 153…

Episode 153…

The drop in the TBR continues for the sixth week in a row – down 1 to 218! OK, maybe not the biggest dive in the world, but still…

Here’s another batch of some that are teetering on the edge…

Short Stories

Courtesy of Pushkin Press via NetGalley. The only Chekhov I’ve read is one short, and pretty dire, detective story, (though I’ve enjoyed performances of some of his plays), so I’m hoping this collection will convince me his reputation as a master of the short story is deserved…

The Blurb says: New translations of the greatest stories by the Russian master of the form.

Chekhov was without doubt one of the greatest observers of human nature in all its untidy complexity. His short stories, written throughout his life and newly translated for this essential collection, are exquisite masterpieces in miniature.

Here are tales offering a glimpse of beauty, the memory of a mistaken kiss, daydreams of adultery, a lifetime of marital neglect, the frailty of life, the inevitability of death, and the hilarious pomposity of ordinary men and women. They range from the light­hearted comic tales of his early years to some of the most achingly profound stories ever composed.

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Crime

Just published, the latest in Margot Kinberg’s Joel Williams series. Many of you will know Margot through her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

The Blurb says: They Said It Was a Tragedy. They Said It Was an Accident. They Lied.

Second Chance is a Philadelphia alternative school designed for at-risk students. They live on campus, they take classes, and everyone hopes they’ll stay out of prison. And then one of them dies. When Curtis Templeton falls from a piece of scaffolding near the school, it’s called a tragic accident. A damned shame. A terrible loss. And everyone moves on.

Two years later, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams and two of his colleagues do a study of Second Chance for a research paper. When they find out about Curtis’ death, they start asking questions. And no-one wants to answer them.

The search for the truth takes Williams and his research partners behind the scenes of for-profit alternative education – and straight into the path of someone who thought everything would stay buried.

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Fiction

This has been sitting on my Kindle since March 2013, from back in the good old days when the Booker used to showcase Commonwealth talent rather than being just another small cog in the American cultural domination machine. I don’t really know why it’s taken so long to reach the top of the heap, because it sounds very much my kind of thing…

The Blurb says: Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize & Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

A powerful, taut and intense tale of a friendship overshadowed by betrayal, set against the tawdry hopes and disappointments of a post-apartheid South Africa.

When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not-young, optimistic, and full of big ideas. The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank re-establishes a liaison with a woman, one that will have unexpected consequences. A self-made dictator from apartheid days is rumoured to be active in cross-border smuggling, and a group of soldiers has moved in to track him, led by a man from Frank’s own dark past. Laurence sees only possibilities-but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.

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Scottish Crime

Courtesy of Severn House via NetGalley. I read surprisingly little Scottish crime (too many of them portray a grim, violent, gun-totin’, gangster-ridden culture I don’t recognise) so this will be my introduction to Caro Ramsay’s work. I can only hope it’s better edited than the blurb, which I’ve copied exactly from Goodreads…

The Blurb says: When a six-week-old baby is stolen from outside a village shop, Detective Inspector Costello quickly surmises there?s more to this case than meets the eye. As she questions those involved, she uncovers evidence that this was no impulsive act as the police initially assumed, but something cold, logical, meticulously planned. Who has taken Baby Sholto ? and why?

Colin Anderson meanwhile is on the Cold Case Unit, reviewing the unsolved rape of a young mother back in 1996. Convinced this wasn?t the first ? or last – time the attacker struck, Anderson looks for a pattern. But when he does find a connection, it reaches back into his own past . . . 

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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