The Dark (Lacey Flint 5) by Sharon Bolton

Lacey’s back!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When a baby is snatched from its mother and thrown into the Thames aboard an inflatable unicorn, off-duty police officer Lacey Flint gives chase in her kayak. It soon becomes clear this terrifying incident is to be the first of many. DCI Mark Joesbury has been following the trail of a group of women-haters who have been communicating through the dark web, and had known that something was about to happen. Now he and his team know that the men involved are planning a campaign of terror, directed at women. And by getting involved in this first incident, Lacey has made herself a target…

Wow! When Sharon Bolton is on top form, there is no one to beat her. And she is most certainly on her top form in this one! Of course it’s a pleasure to meet up with Lacey and Mark and the rest of the regulars again, and to see how their lives have developed since we last saw them, which seems like a very long time ago. Dana and Helen are now the proud parents of a son, and this makes the whole terror campaign even more frightening for Dana since these men realise that one of the best ways to frighten women is to go after their children. I don’t want to reveal much about Lacey and Mark, since there may be people reading this who haven’t read the rest of the series, so I’ll just say that their running on/off relationship continues to move forward in this instalment. And Bolton continues to use her chosen setting of the Thames to brilliant effect, with Lacey still working in the Metropolitan Police’s marine unit.

The storyline is both fantastic and terrifyingly possible. It’s based on the idea of incels, which has become one of those words that gets bandied around these days, usually as an insult. However Bolton shows them not as a trivial group of disgruntled men who can’t get girlfriends, but as the basis of a seriously misogynistic movement with the aim of removing the hard won rights of women and returning them to a position of subservience within a new patriarchy. She does an amazing job of showing how feasible such an organisation would be, and compares their aims to the kinds of strict patriarchal regimes that already exist in other parts of the world, which makes the whole idea seem considerably less unlikely than it might do on face value in our (supposedly) liberal world. (As I was reading it, The US Supreme Court was in the process of removing the right to abortion, while in most of the West a heated debate is underway on all aspects of women’s rights, with many things that we have fought long and hard for suddenly seeming to be under threat amid attempts by extremist activists to silence women’s voices. Johnny Depp was suing Amber Heard, and whichever side you’re on in that one I suspect we would all agree that the sexualised abuse and death threats directed at Heard daily on social media have been a real sign that misogyny is alive and well, and very often propped up by women.)

Bolton also uses the idea of the dark web to great effect, showing it as a place where all kinds of organisations can group and recruit members, spread information and disinformation, and conspire to commit all kinds of criminal acts under the noses of the authorities but with them unable to identify the names or locations of the people involved. I don’t know whether this is true or not, having no experience whatsoever of the dark web, but I found it scarily believable.

However, Bolton knows how to get the balance right between this all too believable background and the main thriller elements that keep the pace hurtling along. There are aspects that aren’t wholly credible, but I didn’t have time to stop and think about them as my need to keep turning those pages was too strong. I did guess who the baddie was quite early on, but because this is more of a thriller than a straight mystery that didn’t matter – the tension comes from fear of what will happen in the future rather than from discovering the culprit.

Sharon Bolton

I do like the way Lacey has evolved over the series. Bolton has done it slowly and naturally, so that it feels realistic. She’s now less of a loner, beginning to let her guard down a bit with the people she has come to think of as friends. This makes her more likeable than she was in the beginning, and from my perspective that’s a good thing – I always prefer a likeable central character. And no spoilers, but the very last line left me gobsmacked – I did not see that coming! Unfortunately, or that should really be fortunately, you’ll have to read the entire series in order to find out what I’m talking about – my advice would be to start now… 😉 Great book, great series! Keep ‘em coming, Ms Bolton!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….The commissioner added, “These guys talk about a Day of Retribution, when those who’ve made their lives miserable will get what’s coming to them. We’ve been seeing increasing references to it.”
….“It’s a delicate balancing act,” Joesbury said. “They want to get their communities excited, wound up about what’s coming, without giving too much away.”
….Brabin said, “Why babies? Why was the first attack on babies? How does that fit with their woman-hating agenda?”
….“We think it’s about attention?” Joesbury said. “Terrorists want to shock, to have everyone talking about them. An attack going unnoticed would be the worst kind of failure. Well, what would cause more outrage than an attack on a baby?”
….“Killing a puppy?” Brabin suggested.
….Joesbury let his lips relax into a half smile. “I stand corrected.”

~ The Dark by Sharon Bolton

* * * * *

….While Mannering was gazing round the ruins, he heard from the interior of an apartment on the left hand the voice of the gipsey he had seen on the preceding evening. He soon found an aperture through which he could observe her without being himself visible; and could not help feeling that her figure, her employment, and her situation conveyed the exact impression of an ancient sibyl.
….She sate upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her spindle. A strong sunbeam through a lofty and narrow window fell upon her wild dress and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. Equipt in a habit which mingled the national dress of the Scottish common people with something of an Eastern costume, she spun a thread drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white, and grey, by assistance of those ancient implements of housewifery now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle. As she spun, she sung what seemed to be a charm.

~ Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott

* * * * *

….A week before he was due to leave, Katherine held a small goodbye tea party for her husband. He had few friends and most of them were also tuners: Mr Wiggers, who specialised in Broadwoods, Mr d’Argences, the Frenchman whose passion was Viennese uprights, and Mr Poffy, who wasn’t actually a piano tuner since he repaired organs mostly – It is nice, Edgar once explained to Katherine, to have variety in one’s friends. Of course, this hardly spanned the full array of Those Associated with Pianos. The London Directory alone, between Physicians and Pickle and Sauce Manufacturers, listed Pianoforte makers, Pianoforte action-makers, Pianoforte fret-cutters, hammer coverers, hammer- and damper-felt manufacturers, hammer rail-makers, ivory bleachers, ivory cutters, key makers, pin makers, silkers, small-work Manufacturers, Pianoforte string makers, Pianoforte tuners. Notably absent from the party was Mr Hastings, who also specialized in Erards, and who had snubbed Edgar ever since he had put up a sign in his workshop reading ‘Gone to Burma to tune in the service of Her Majesty; please consult Mr George Hastings for minor tunings that cannot await my return’.

~ The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

* * * * *

….He began to hiccup with nerves at the thought of facing for the seven hundred and thirty-eighth time his harsh house-keeper – his wife. There she would be, lying in the big shameless bed that filled up half the room, a bony shadow within the mosquito tent, a lanky jaw and a short grey pigtail and an absurd bonnet. She thought she had a position to keep up: a government pensioner; the wife of the only married priest. She was proud of it. “José.”
….“I’m.. hic…coming, my love,” he said, and lifted himself from the crate. Somebody somewhere laughed.
….He lifted little pink eyes like those of a pig conscious of the slaughter-room. A high child’s voice said: “José.” He stared in a bewildered way around the patio. At a barred window opposite, three children watched him with deep gravity. He turned his back and took a step or two towards his door, moving very slowly because of his bulk. “José,” somebody squeaked again, “José.” He looked back over his shoulder and caught the faces out in expressions of wild glee; his little pink eyes showed no anger – he had no right to be angry; he moved his mouth into a ragged, baffled, disintegrated smile, and as if that sign of weakness gave them all the licence they needed, they squealed back at him without disguise, “José, José. Come to bed, José.” Their little shameless voices filled the patio, and he smiled humbly and sketched small gestures for silence, and there was no respect anywhere left for him in his home, in the town, in the whole abandoned star.

~ The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

* * * * *…

So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 333…

Episode 333

After last week’s dramatic rise, the TBR has had an equally dramatic fall this week, partly due to some quick reads aided by an abandonment or two! Down 5 to 177! That’s better!

So sorry I’m behind with answering your lovely comments and reading your lovelier posts. Blame Rafa and his pals! I’ll catch up soon, promise!

Anyway, here are a few more I should get to once the tennis is over… a crime week this week!

Crime

The Truth Will Out by Rosemary Hennigan

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. No particular reason for this one – I just liked the sound of the blurb. Plus I always enjoy reading an occasional debut novel in the hopes of finding a new favourite author…

The Blurb says: Dara Gaffney is fresh out of drama school when she lands the leading role in the revival of Eabha de Lacey’s hugely successful yet controversial play.

Based on the true story of the death of Cillian Butler, many claim that Eabha had an ulterior motive when she penned it. Cillian’s death remains a mystery to this day, and Eabha and her brother, Austin, the only witnesses.

As the media storm builds and the opening night draws closer, the cast find it harder and harder to separate themselves from the characters.

As the truth of Cillian’s fate becomes clear, Dara’s loyalty to her role will be irrevocably questioned as the terrible history starts to repeat itself…

Crime

The Dark by Sharon Bolton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. So excited to see the return of Lacey Flint, one of my favourite detectives! Can’t wait to snuggle down with this one! 

The Blurb says: When a baby is snatched from its pram and cast into the river Thames, off-duty police officer Lacey Flint is there to prevent disaster. But who would want to hurt a child?

DCI Mark Joesbury has been expecting this. Monitoring a complex network of dark web sites, Joesbury and his team have spotted a new terrorist threat from the extremist, women-hating, group known as ‘incels’ or ‘involuntary celibates.’ Joesbury’s team are trying to infiltrate the ring of power at its core, but the dark web is built for anonymity, and the incel army is vast.

Pressure builds when the team learn the snatched child was just the first in a series of violent attacks designed to terrorise women. Worse, the leaders of the movement seem to have singled out Lacey as the embodiment of everything they hate, placing her in terrible danger…

* * * * *

Vintage Crime Short Stories

The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. Isn’t it nice of Martin Edwards to put together an anthology of Scottish stories just for me? 😉 I thought the BL had dumped me since it’s been a while since I received a parcel from them, so I was doubly delighted when this one popped through the letter-box!

The Blurb says: From the dramatic Highlands to bustling cities and remote islands in wild seas, the unique landscapes and locales of Scotland have enthralled and shaped generations of mystery writers. This new collection presents seventeen classic stories, spanning a period from the 1880s to the 1970s, by a host of Scottish authors alongside writers from south of the border inspired by the history and majesty of the storied country.

Featuring vintage tales by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Baroness Orczy together with mid-twentieth-century mini-masterpieces by Margot Bennett, Michael Innes and Cyril Hare, this anthology also includes a rare Josephine Tey short story, reprinted for the first time since 1930.

* * * * *

Maigret on Audio

The Flemish House by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

For some reason the Maigret novels seem to me to work particularly well as audiobooks, perhaps because of the short length, and certainly because of the excellent narrations by Gareth Armstrong. I pick them up randomly when they turn up in Audible sales, so there’s no logic to my reading order. This is no. 14 in the series according to Audible, no. 15 according to Goodreads. Take your pick! #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer

The Blurb says: A new translation, by David Bellos, of this chilling novel, set on the Belgian border.

“She wasn’t an ordinary supplicant. She didn’t lower her eyes. There was nothing humble about her bearing. She spoke frankly, looking straight ahead, as if to claim what was rightfully hers. ‘If you don’t agree to look at our case, my parents and I will be lost, and it will be the most hateful legal error….'”

Maigret is asked to the windswept, rainy border town of Givet by a young woman desperate to clear her family of murder. But their well-kept shop, the sleepy community, and its raging river all hide their own mysteries. 

* * * * *

Shardlake on Audio

Heartstone by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

An extra one this week to kick off #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer. This is the longest one on my list so I’ll get it out of the way while my enthusiasm is high(ish)! A re-read of a favourite, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Steven Crossley’s narrations of this series so far…

The Blurb says: Summer, 1545. England is at war, and Matthew Shardlake is about to encounter the most politically dangerous case of his career. While a massive French fleet prepares to attack, every able-bodied man is being pressed into military service. Meanwhile, an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr asks Shardlake to investigate claims of “monstrous wrongs” committed against a young ward of the court. Shardlake’s inquiries take him and his loyal assistant, Jack Barak, to Hoyland Priory and Portsmouth, where the English fleet is gathering. There they uncover a startling link between the ward and a woman incarcerated in Bedlam. With a fantastic backdrop of wartime intrigue and a dramatic finale onboard one of Henry VIII’s great warships, Heartstone is certain to catapult this internationally bestselling series to greater prominence.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, NetGalley UK or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Looking forward to…

Episode 5

Another selection in my occasional looks back at old reviews which I finished by saying something along the lines of “I’ll be looking forward to reading more of her work/this series/his books in the future” to see if I actually did read more and, if I did, did I like the ones I looked forward to as much as the ones that made me look forward to them?

Let’s see then…

Now You See Me by Sharon (SJ) Bolton

First reviewed 25th March 2013. This is the first in Sharon Bolton’s excellent Lacey Flint police procedural series. Although I only gave it four stars, I felt the series showed a lot of potential. I said “I’m glad I stuck with the series because in the next one, Dead Scared, Lacey came into her own in a big way.” So Bolton went on my list to remind me to read her next one. But did I?

I certainly did! I’ve read all the Lacey Flints and most of the standalone thrillers Bolton has published since then. While the Laceys were consistently good – in fact, the series continued to improve as it went along – I’ve had a more mixed response to her thrillers, finding some of them great but actually abandoning one or two. When she’s on form there’s no one to touch her, though. Her most recent one, a standalone, was typically great – The Pact. Currently my TBR has three of her books on it: a recent one that I just haven’t found time to read yet, The Craftsman; one from her back catalogue from before I discovered her, ditto, Blood Harvest; and excitingly, her new one, out this month, The Dark – the first new Lacey book in years! Even with the occasional disappointment along the way, Bolton is a firm favourite, right up at the top of the current heap of contemporary crime writers.

* * * * *

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

First reviewed 3rd April, 2013. The story of one Afghan family and their descendants as they become part of the diaspora caused by the never-ending wars in Afghanistan. I loved Hosseini’s writing, and said “Within the first few pages of this book, the reader knows s/he’s in the hands of a master storyteller.” I immediately wanted to read everything he’d written. But did I?

Well, not entirely. I quite quickly read the book he’s best known for, The Kite Runner, and though I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it to the same degree. This isn’t really Hosseini’s fault – over the last decade I have gradually developed a reluctance to read the zillions of books written by emigrants or descendants of emigrants who haven’t lived as an adult in the country about which they choose to write as if with some insider knowledge. Hosseini left Afghanistan as a young child and didn’t visit it again until around the time The Kite Runner was published, and therefore his books are clearly based on research or vicarious information rather than first hand knowledge and experience. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that, but I have come to prefer books written by people who live or have lived in the country they’re writing about, or who write clearly from the perspective of an outsider. The “immigrant experience” has surely also been done to death in recent years, and unfortunately The Kite Runner has that theme too. The result is that I’ve never got around to acquiring the only other book he has published to date, A Thousand Splendid Suns, also about Afghanistan, and I’m not sure I ever will. It’s not you, Mr Hosseini, it’s me.

* * * * *

You Have to Tell by J Sanclemente

First reviewed 7th April 2013. To be honest, this one has faded completely from my memory. My review tells me the plot is a cross between an international conspiracy and a murder mystery. I gave it four stars and said “this is a good first novel, enjoyable and even thought-provoking, and I look forward to seeing more from this author in the future.” But did I?

I did not! I have never consciously thought of the book or the author since the day I posted my review. So I had a look to see what else he had published in the interim, and discovered that I had been wrong about this being a first novel. Apparently he’s written loads in his native Spanish, and this was merely the first to be translated. And, as far as I can see, the last! If any of his books ever happen my way again, I’d happily read another, but he’s no longer on my list to look out for.

* * * * *

A Dark and Broken Heart by RJ Ellory

First reviewed 9th April 2013. This is a thrilling noir novel told from the perspective of an anti-hero of epic proportions – the man with the dark and broken heart of the title. I said “This is a superbly told and completely compelling roller coaster of a story – bleak, often violent, but never without the possibility of redemption.” I loved it so much it won the FF Award for Best Noir Thriller of 2012, the prize as always being that I guaranteed to read the author’s next novel. But did I?

I did! Ah, RJ Ellory – one of the more problematic authors on my list. He has a history of using pseudonyms to praise himself online, which might be forgivable, though posting five star reviews of your own books seems a bit… well, let’s be kind and call it quirky. What’s rather less forgivable is that he has also been caught out using pseudonyms to leave unfairly negative reviews on the books of rival authors. And yet he does write wonderful thrillers! Not all the time – a bit like Sharon Bolton, I swing from loving some of his books to being rather disappointed with others. And there’s no doubt his reputation now means he has to work harder to get my somewhat reluctantly-given approval – one reason I prefer to know as little as possible about the authors of the books I read! I’ve read maybe half a dozen of his books, some of them pre-blogging, and have City of Lies, reputed to be one of his best, sitting on my TBR. It’s been there for a long time though… must try to get over my reluctance…

* * * * *

A much more mixed batch this time – one forgotten, a couple I’ve grown reluctant about, though for very different reasons, and the wonderful Sharon Bolton! Three more men, and one woman. Thank goodness the woman is the one that is most firmly still on my list! (If you know anything bad about her, please, please, don’t tell me! 😉 )

Have you read any of these authors?
Are they on your “looking forward to” list?

FictionFan Awards 2021 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Drum roll, please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2021.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around in previous years, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2020 and October 2021* regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

(*my reviews have been running late recently so some drifted into November this year)

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction

Factual

Short Story Collections & Anthologies

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2021

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

MODERN CRIME FICTION/
THRILLERS

I’m still out of synch with most modern crime fiction and have abandoned several this year, including some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed. However, happily there have also been some that I’ve loved, proving that it’s still possible to win the judge’s approval with a good story, written well! I gave a total of seven the full five stars, and have selected my shortlist on the basis that these five were all new releases within the last eighteen months or so…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Final Twist by Jeffery Deaver

In the third and final part of Deaver’s Colter Shaw trilogy, Shaw has come to San Francisco on the trail of the conspiracy which he believes led to his father’s murder, finishing the story arc that has been running in the background of the previous two books. Here, he’ll find he is both hunter and prey, as the people behind the conspiracy try to stop him from getting the evidence he needs to bring them down.

Although it’s essential to switch off one’s credibility monitor, I enjoyed this one just as much as the other two in the trilogy. There are conventions to this kind of thriller and Deaver is a master of them, so that when he goes over the top, the reader is quite happy to go along with him. There is hardly any swearing, remarkably little gruesomeness and gore, and no graphic sex, so it’s all very tasteful despite the constant violence! I’ve enjoyed spending time with Deaver after a long gap away from his books.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

The Silence by Susan Allott

In 1997, in her flat in London, Isla Green gets a phone call from her dad in Sydney. He’s worried. He tells her that the police have been looking into the disappearance of Mandy Mallory, who used to be their next-door-neighbour back in 1967 when Isla was a very little child, and they seem to have him in their sights as a suspect in her possible murder. Isla has always been close to her dad, so she decides to go home to Sydney to support him through all this – the first time she has been home in years. At first she is convinced her father could never have killed anyone, but once she’s home old memories begin to resurface and she sees the people she thought she knew through different, more experienced eyes, and suddenly she’s not so sure any more…

The writing is terrific, the pacing is perfect, and Allott handles the subject of race and forced separations in the Aboriginal community with a great deal of subtlety, showing the differences in society’s attitudes between the two timelines and indeed with our current attitude too. The story itself is straightforward, never stretching credulity, and told with deceptive simplicity – all the complexity is in the excellent characterisation. A great début!

Click to see the full review

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The Pact by Sharon Bolton

It’s the night before A-level results and a group of six friends have gathered together as they’ve done most nights of this gorgeous summer. They’re confident they’ll get the results they need for their chosen Universities, for they’re the cleverest group in their expensive, academically-renowned school. But drink and drugs and youth are a dangerous combination, and they all agree to one last mad escapade that results in the death of a woman and her two young children. Panicked, they flee the scene, but they’re sure the police will soon trace the car they were in. And then Megan, the quiet one, the outsider, offers to take the rap for them all on one condition – that when she gets out, they’ll each do her one favour, whatever she asks. Fast forward twenty years… Megan is back, and she’s ready to call in the debt…

Goodness, when Bolton’s on form there’s no one to touch her for truly thrilling thrillers! This one grabbed me right from the start as I watched these six kids – selfish, yes, but also programmed to be high achievers by pushy parents and ambitious schools – do one stupid thing and then follow it up with another, even stupider. Even though the blurb reveals this early part of the plot, the tension that Bolton creates is irresistible, the definition of page-turning!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

The Less Dead by Denise Mina

When Margo Dunlop decides to seek out her birth mother, she discovers she’s too late – her mother, Susan, died shortly after giving Margo up for adoption. But the counselling service puts her in touch with her mother’s sister, Nikki, and they arrange to meet. Nikki has a strange story to tell, and a request to make. Like Nikki herself, Susan was a street prostitute on the Drag – Glasgow’s red light zone – back in the late1980s. Susan was brutally murdered and left lying naked in the street – one of a spate of murders of prostitutes over the course of a few years. Nikki is convinced the murders were carried out by one man, although the police disagree. The man in question had an alibi for the time of Susan’s murder, but Nikki hopes that Margo will be able to use her privileged position as a doctor to help break the alibi. At first, Margo thinks Nikki is some kind of fantasist, but events soon convince her that there may be some truth in her story…

This was a time of huge change for Glasgow, dragging itself out of the poverty and gang violence of the post-war era and recreating itself as a modern, vibrant cultural centre. Mina’s story straddles this transformation, Susan a product of the old times and Margo of a new, more affluent and perhaps more hopeful future, but still saddled metaphorically as well as literally by the city’s past. Mina’s knowledge of Glasgow appears to be encyclopaedic and this is a far more accurate depiction of the city than in the vast majority of contemporary crime fiction, written, I feel, with unromanticized affection, and the strength of the story of these despised and disregarded women well outweighs the slight weakness of the mystery plot.

Click to see the full review

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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2021

for

BEST MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

The Last Trial
by Scott Turow

Despite the quality of the shortlisted books, there was never any doubt over the winner this year. Not only is this an excellent novel in its own right, it represents the finale for one of modern crime fiction’s most brilliantly drawn characters – Sandy Stern.

Lawyer Alejandro “Sandy” Stern is old now and beginning to fail both physically and mentally, but when Kiril Pafko finds himself in trouble, Sandy agrees to defend him. Facing his own mortality, Sandy finds himself thinking back to the people who have been important in his life – his family and friends. Kiril is one of those friends, a brilliant Nobel prizewinner, who has developed a drug that combats cancer with spectacular results. Too spectacular – Kiril is on trial for suppressing negative studies into the side-effects of the drug, and for the murder of patients who, the prosecution claims, had their lives shortened by taking it. Kiril is also accused of having made a fortune by selling shares in the drug just before the negative studies became public. Although for Sandy the main aim is to have Kiril legally acquitted, Kiril is just as concerned about the damage to his reputation in the scientific community, and Sandy finds that their differing objectives mean that his client often impedes his attempts to argue the case on legal grounds.

Sandy Stern first appeared in Presumed Innocent in 1987 and Turow has used him over the series to present a thoughtful and realistic picture of how the law works in the US, slowly and not always achieving true justice, but an essential part of the democratic system of ensuring the rights of the individual. The books are always billed as legal thrillers which I think does them an injustice. To me, these long ago crossed the line into literary fiction – they are far more about the human condition in all its frailties and strengths than about exciting courtroom drama, and the writing is of the highest quality. A wonderful finale to what has been a superb series.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Literary Fiction and
Book of the Year 2021

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Poor little rich kids…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The PactIt’s the night before A-level results and a group of six friends have gathered together as they’ve done most nights of this gorgeous summer, to make the most of these last weeks they’ll all be together before going off to their various Universities. They’re confident they’ll get the results they need for they’re the cleverest group in their expensive, academically-renowned school. A privileged childhood lies behind them and now they have a golden future to look forward to. But drink and drugs and youth are a dangerous combination, and they all agree to one last mad escapade that results in the death of a woman and her two young children. Panicked, they flee the scene, but they’re sure the police will soon trace the car they were in. And then Megan, the quiet one, the outsider, offers to take the rap for them all. She knows she’ll likely go to jail, but she’s willing to do that on one condition – that the other five promise that when she gets out, they’ll each do her one favour, whatever she asks. The others grab this lifeline and agree. Fast forward twenty years… Megan is back, and she’s ready to call in the debt…

Goodness, when Bolton’s on form there’s no one to touch her for truly thrilling thrillers! This one grabbed me right from the start as I watched these six kids – selfish, yes, but also programmed to be high achievers by pushy parents and ambitious schools – do one stupid thing and then follow it up with another, even stupider. Even though the blurb reveals this early part of the plot, the tension that Bolton creates is irresistible, the definition of page-turning.

It slows down a little in the middle as we learn what our five remaining golden people have achieved in their twenty years. Tal has followed her father into the legal profession and now runs his well respected law firm. Xav is a successful investment manager. Amber has gone into politics and is being spoken about as a probable Cabinet Minister of the future. Felix has used his chemical expertise to set up his own business, from which he’s made a fortune. Dan is the least successful – he’s “only” become Master of the school the group once attended. But as we get to know them, we discover that beneath the glittering exterior of their lives, the memory of that night has affected them all to one degree or another. And now that Megan is back, all the feelings of guilt and fear are also back at full strength – maybe even more so now that they each have so much more to lose. And they don’t even know yet what favours she’s going demand in return for her silence.

After that slightly slower section it ramps up to full speed again, and never lets up till the end. I don’t want to say any more about the plot, since most of the fun comes from not having a clue what will happen next. So I’ll limit myself to saying that although Bolton dragged me far over the credibility line, it’s such a relentless ride I didn’t have time to worry about that at the time – nor even to really notice it. I believed in the characters and in their actions as they were happening and didn’t stop to analyse too deeply (and this of course is why thrillers work best when they are fast-paced).

Sharon Bolton
Sharon Bolton

Other things I loved, that made this work for me when so many other contemporary thrillers don’t (including one or two of Bolton’s own). Third person, past tense throughout, allowing Bolton to let us into the characters’ minds or keep us out as she chooses – and she uses that brilliantly to lead us on and misdirect us. It’s also much easier to put up with unlikeable characters when you’re seeing them from the outside. No “that day” nonsense – Bolton starts by telling us exactly what happened on that day back then before she brings us into the present, and what a difference that makes. She builds suspense on the basis of what might happen in the future, not by refusing to tell the reader what has already happened in the past. Similarly, no dual timeline – Bolton tells us about the past and then about the present, rather than jumping back and forward between them. And although the characters are all pretty unlikeable, they all feel believable – self-absorbed and selfish, yes, but their instinct for self-preservation is understandable even if it’s not particularly admirable.

I loved this one and raced through it, and the climax had all the thrills it needed and then a couple more. I wish all thrillers were written like this! Highly recommended.

20 books 2019Book 4 of 20

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 285…

Episode 285

Well it was all going brilliantly! Until yesterday, when it seemed as if postmen were queuing at the door with parcels from everywhere. End result – the TBR has gone back up 3 to 200. 

Horse treadmill

Here are a few I should be galloping through soon – the two middle ones are from my fast and furious 20 Books of Summer list…

Fiction

Summerwater edited by Sarah Moss

SummerwaterCourtesy of Picador via NetGalley. This had a lot of buzz when it came out and I’ve had this copy for ages, plus it’s very short, but here I am as usual – all behind like the cow’s tail!  It’s had mixed reviews, but the overall impression seems to be positive…

The Blurb says: On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

* * * * *

Thriller

Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies

Mother Loves MeCourtesy of HarperCollins. This is an unsolicited one from HC. They’ve sent me some brilliant ones I’d never have come across otherwise, and also some dire ones (or, to be fairer, not to my taste) that have been abandoned very quickly. The blurb of this suggests it’s more likely to fall into the second category, but I’ve been wrong before… 

The Blurb says: The creepiest debut thriller you will read this year!

One little girl.
Mirabelle’s mother loves her. She’s her ‘little doll’. Mother dresses her, paints her face, and plaits her hair. But as Mirabelle grows, the dresses no longer fit quite as well, the face paint no longer looks quite so pretty. And Mother isn’t happy.

Two little girls.
On Mirabelle’s 13th birthday, Mother arrives home with a present – a new sister, 5-year-old Clarabelle, who Mother has rescued from the outside world.

But Mother only needs one.
As it dawns on Mirabelle that there is a new ‘little doll’ in her house, she also realizes that her life isn’t what she thought it was. And that dolls often end up on the scrap heap…

* * * * *

Thriller

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

The PactCourtesy of Orion via NetGalley. Sharon Bolton used to be a totally safe bet for me, but her last few books have seemed more variable and have sometimes strayed too far over the credibility line, so this could go either way…  

The Blurb says: A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures – until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.

18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a ‘favour’, payable on her release from prison.

Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .

* * * * *

Maigret on Audio

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

Cecile is DeadI’ve been dipping my toe into the Maigret series over the last couple of years, but fellow blogger José Ignacio over at the excellent A Crime is Afoot plunged in head-first and has now read all 79 novels and 28 short stories. He has given a list of his favourites, and finished by saying “However, if you just want to read one before making up your mind, I would suggest: Cécile is Dead.” With an endorsement like that, it had to be the next on my list! 

The Blurb says: A new translation of this moving novel about the destructive power of greed.

Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely 28 years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long-suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 234…

Episode 234

It seems very odd to me that my plagueophobia seems to be stopping me from reading but not stopping me from acquiring books! The TBR is back at 214 – up 6! 

(Nope, no reason for this gif other than that it makes me happy!)

So I’ve thrown my reading list out of the window (making sure no one was within six feet of it at the time, of course) and picked some lighter reading till I get back to normal…

Historical Crime Fiction

Execution by SJ Parris

Courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley. I read and enjoyed the first book in this series when it came out way back in 2011, and the second book has been lingering unread on my TBR since 2014. The series is now up to number 6, and tragically, despite being so far behind, I couldn’t resist… well, it’s about Mary, Queen of Scots, after all…

The Blurb says: The sixth Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno: heretic, philosopher and spy. Perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom.

England, 1586.

A TREASONOUS CONSPIRACY
Giordano Bruno returns to England to bring shocking new intelligence to Sir Francis Walsingham. A band of Catholic Englishmen are plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth and spring Mary Queen of Scots from prison to take the English throne in her place.

A DEADLY TRAP
Bruno is surprised to find that Walsingham is aware of the plot, led by the young, wealthy noble Anthony Babington, and is allowing it to progress. His hope is that Mary will put her support in writing and condemn herself to a traitor’s death.

A QUEEN IN MORTAL DANGER
Bruno is tasked with going undercover to join the conspirators. Can he stop them before he is exposed? Either way a queen will die; Bruno must make sure it is the right one. [FF says: I wonder which Queen will die? Tense, isn’t it…? 😉 ]

* * * * *

Crime

All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I used to love this series in the early days but gradually I felt the characters evolved from being quirky to being outright cartoonish – I felt MacBride had bored of his own creations and wasn’t taking it seriously any more. So I gave up after book 8. However HC sent me this one – book 12 – and I’m happy to jump back in and see if he’s got back into his stride…

The Blurb says: Darkness is coming…

Inspector Logan McRae was looking forward to a nice simple case – something to ease him back into work after a year off on the sick. [FF says: Again? I’m sure this is at least the third book that has begun with Logan returning after a year off on the sick. Perhaps he should consider retraining. 🤔] But the powers-that-be have other ideas…

The high-profile anti-independence campaigner, Professor Wilson, has gone missing, leaving nothing but bloodstains behind. There’s a war brewing between the factions for and against Scottish Nationalism. Infighting in the police ranks. And it’s all playing out in the merciless glare of the media. Logan’s superiors want results, and they want them now.

Someone out there is trying to make a point, and they’re making it in blood. If Logan can’t stop them, it won’t just be his career that dies.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Split by Sharon Bolton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. A new thriller from Sharon Bolton is always a special treat – one of my favourite current authors…

The Blurb says: She’s got nowhere else to hide…and now he’s coming for her.

Two years ago Felicity Lloyd desperately signed up for an extended research trip working on the remote island of South Georgia.

It was her only way to escape.

And now he’s coming for her.

Freddie Lloyd has just got out of prison for murder and is on his way to where Felicity is hiding. And this time, he won’t stop until he finds her.

Because no matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you…

Tense, gripping and with a twist you won’t see coming, [FF says: well, I will now since you’ve told me to expect it! 🙄] Sharon Bolton is back in an explosive new thriller about a woman on the run…

* * * * *

Thriller

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver

Courtesy of HarperCollins again. I was a huge fan of Deaver’s earliest books way back in the Dark Ages, but he lost me with his hugely successful and long-running Lincoln Rhyme series – I could never buy into the character, I’m afraid. So I’m delighted to see him starting a new series and can’t wait to see if this will revive the old magic for me!

The Blurb says: From the bestselling and award-winning master of suspense, the first novel in a thrilling new series, introducing Colter Shaw.

“You have been abandoned.”

A young woman has gone missing in Silicon Valley and her father has hired Colter Shaw to find her. The son of a survivalist family, Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a “reward seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and private citizens locate missing persons. But what seems a simple investigation quickly thrusts him into the dark heart of America’s tech hub and the cutthroat billion-dollar video-gaming industry.

“Escape if you can.”

When another victim is kidnapped, the clues point to one video game with a troubled past–The Whispering Man. In that game, the player has to survive after being abandoned in an inhospitable setting with five random objects. Is a madman bringing the game to life? [FF says: Oooh… 😲]

“Or die with dignity.”

Shaw finds himself caught in a cat-and-mouse game, risking his own life to save the victims even as he pursues the kidnapper across both Silicon Valley and the dark ‘net. Encountering eccentric game designers, trigger-happy gamers and ruthless tech titans, he soon learns that he isn’t the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

FictionFan Awards 2017 – Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

A round of applause, please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2017.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller

Factual

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2017

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in…

MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

By modern, in this context, I mean published fairly recently rather than being about contemporary subjects necessarily. I’m still reading far less modern crime than usual as the march of the first-person misery-fest novel continues its relentless rampage – we’ve done Girls, Wives, Twins, even Husbands, but sadly we’ve still got Aunts, Mothers-in-Law and Second Cousins, Twice Removed to go. Happily, though, there have still been some great books that rely on excellent writing, good characterisation and a strong story rather than on the dubious merit of having more twists than an entire ’60s disco…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Dry by Jane Harper

Kiewarra has been suffering from drought for a couple of years now with no sign of rain coming soon. The farmers are worried, many having to kill their livestock for lack of water, and the knock-on effects are being felt through the town. As tensions rise, a tragedy occurs – Luke Hadler shoots his wife and young son, and then kills himself. Or so it seems, but Luke’s parents can’t accept that their son would have done this awful thing. So when Luke’s childhood friend Aaron Falk turns up for the funeral, they ask him to look into it. Falk is now a police detective working in the financial crimes section in Melbourne. It’s twenty years since he was last in Kiewarra, when he and his father left the town under a cloud of suspicion after another death. Many of the townsfolk are unhappy to see him back…

Aaron Falk is an excellent character and the plot is strong and well executed. Add in great writing and one of the best and most original thriller endings I’ve read in a long time, and it’s hard to find anything to criticise in this first-class début.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

A hot-air balloon is drifting over Northumberland, carrying the pilot and twelve sightseers. Jessica and her sister, Bella, now better known as Sister Maria Magdalena of Wynding Priory, are two of the party – a treat for Bella’s birthday. As they silently pass over an isolated farmhouse, Jessica sees a man killing a young woman – and then the man looks up and spots Jessica. By this time everyone in the balloon is watching the man. He only has one option – to kill them all…

Sharon Bolton appears so regularly in the FF Awards that she really deserves a category all to herself. No-one writes more entertaining thrillers than she when she’s on top form – and yet again, she’s on top form with this standalone. The secret is in the writing. Once you reach the end and look back, it’s so much fun to see how cleverly Bolton has misled and misdirected all the way through – never cheating though! She never once says anything that is inconsistent with the solution – she just says it in such a way that you don’t spot it at the time. Delicious!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Devon Knox has spent all her young life becoming a gymnast, her eyes firmly fixed on the ultimate prize of reaching the elite levels in her sport, perhaps even the Olympics. But a hit-and-run accident that kills a young man connected to the gym disrupts her training schedule, and when there begins to be suspicion that Ryan’s death might not have been accidental after all, the repercussions ripple out to threaten the stability of her family and of the whole community of budding gymnasts and parents attached to the gym.

Yet again, Abbott takes us to the murky heart of teenage girls, where hormones play their twisted games, where innocence and sexuality crash head on, where everything is so intense it can feel like euphoria and despair are the only two possible states of being. Here, though, the main focus is on Devon’s mother Katie and on the pressure young athletes are under from well-meaning parents and ambitious coaches alike. A dark plot wonderfully executed, that kept me reading into the wee sma’ hours…

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

One day in 1869, young Roderick Macrae walked along the tiny street of his village and brutally murdered three of his neighbours. He is now in custody awaiting trial, and his defence lawyer is trying to get at the root causes that led him to commit these horrific crimes. This Booker-nominated novel is presented as if it were a true crime book with witness statements, medical examiner reports and so on. The first half gives us Roderick’s own account of what led to the murders, while the second half lets us read reports from experts and then takes us into the courtroom for the trial.

The book creates a completely convincing picture of crofting life at this period – a life of hard work and poverty, where the crofters’ living was entirely dependant on the whim of the local laird. Burnet shows the various authorities who held sway over the crofters and how easily these people could browbeat, bully and abuse those under their power, who had no rights to assert and no power to protest. The book also gives a thoroughly researched and fascinating look at how questions of criminality versus insanity were viewed at the time. And Burnet does an excellent job of showing us Roderick’s crimes from all angles and then leaving us to decide for ourselves his level of culpability. Excellent writing, well researched, interesting story, fascinating characterisation – it could so easily have won…

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2017

for

BEST MODERN CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

The Long Drop by Denise Mina

William Watt wants to clear his name. His wife, sister-in-law and daughter have been brutally murdered in their home, and Watt is the chief suspect. But convicted rapist and burglar, Peter Manuel, recently released from prison, claims he knows who did the murders and can lead Watt to the murder weapon, a gun which has passed from hand to hand through the criminal underworld of Glasgow. So one December evening in 1957 the two men meet and spend a long night together drinking and trying to come to some kind of deal – a night during which the truth of the killings will be revealed.

This book is based on the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s. Mina has largely stuck to the truth, but has taken a few fictional liberties that give it an element of suspense even for people who may remember the real story. The writing is fantastic, conjuring up an utterly authentic feel for the city and its people at that time period, from the buildings still soot-blackened from the furnaces of the industrial revolution, to the hard-drinking, masculine society where violence is an ever-present threat, to the children playing in the streets. Its clear-sighted truthfulness reminded me of William McIlvanney’s portrait of the city in Laidlaw, so I was delighted when it won the McIlvanney Prize for best Scottish Crime book of the year for 2017. A worthy winner then for the even more prestigious FF Award for Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller of the year!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Next week: Best Literary Fiction
and
Book of the Year 2017

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Sister act…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

A hot-air balloon is drifting over Northumberland, carrying the pilot and twelve sightseers. Jessica and her sister, Bella, now better known as Sister Maria Magdalena of Wynding Priory, are two of the party – a treat for Bella’s birthday. As they silently pass over an isolated farmhouse, Jessica sees a man killing a young woman – and then the man looks up and spots Jessica. By this time everyone in the balloon is watching the man. He only has one option – to kill them all…

No-one writes more entertaining thrillers than Sharon Bolton when she’s on top form – and yet again, she’s on top form with this standalone. We know from the prologue that the balloon crashes leaving only one survivor. The police soon identify her as Jessica Lane, but she has walked away from the crash and they can’t find her. They don’t know why she’s made no effort to contact the authorities – perhaps she’s badly hurt or concussed and confused. So the search is on. But the killer also knows there’s a survivor, and he’s determined to get to her first. But maybe she has reasons for not wanting to be found…

The thing is that you’d imagine that twelve corpses before we even get past the prologue might make this quite a harrowing read. But not at all! Bolton negotiates the difficult task of marrying together a serious plot with some delicious humour to keep the whole thing enjoyable. Bolton doesn’t ignore the grief that the survivor feels for the death of her sister, but the need to survive means she has to put it aside as much as possible and concentrate on getting to safety. The underlying story is actually quite dark and there is some gore, but Bolton doesn’t linger over it in too much detail. If you think too much about the plot, it does cross pretty far over the credibility line in several places, but Bolton doesn’t give you time to think about it – she races the story along, with some fine characterisation, some twists that are perfectly timed and believable within the context, and lots and lots of action.

The secret is in the writing. Once you reach the end and look back, it’s so much fun to see how cleverly Bolton has misled and misdirected all the way through – never cheating though! She never once says anything that is inconsistent with the solution – she just says it in such a way that you don’t spot it at the time. Delicious!

As a result, though, it’s not an easy one to write a review about since almost anything is a potential spoiler, so I won’t say any more about the plot. But I must mention the nuns, especially the wonderful Sister Belinda, who is my favourite character of the year so far! Bella and Jessica had been very close so Jessica is well known to the other nuns and a favourite amongst them. So the police feel it’s quite possible that if Jessica is confused, she might make for the convent as a place of safety. Sister Belinda is an avid watcher of old TV police dramas of The Sweeney variety in her recreation time, so she has a fabulously clichéd vocabulary picked up from these shows and is super excited to get the chance to put her ‘expertise’ to use during the investigation. She’s just so much fun…

The sound of running footsteps made them all start. Then the refectory door opened and the round, freckled face of Sister Belinda appeared. She was breathing heavily, and her veil was crooked, showing short tufts of red hair sprouting around her glowing face like unruly weeds in a parched garden.

“Excuse me, Mother, Sisters,” she said. “But there is a police car waiting at the gate and what looks like the Black Maria behind it. Also, another car approaching from the farm and a uniformed constable coming in via the beach path. It would appear that the filth have us surrounded.”

Loved this one! A perfect mix of dark and light, superbly clever plotting, constant action and hugely entertaining – you can expect to see Bolton appear yet again on my shortlist for Crime Book of the Year.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

Listen, nations! The revolution offers you peace. It will be accused of violating treaties. But of this it is proud. To break up the leagues of bloody predation is the greatest historic service. The Bolsheviks have dared to do it. They alone have dared. Pride surges up of its own accord. Eyes shine. All are on their feet. No one is smoking now. It seems as though no one breathes. The presidium, the delegates, the guests, the sentries, join in a hymn of insurrection and brotherhood. Suddenly, by common impulse – the story will soon be told by John Reed, observer and participant, chronicler and poet of the insurrection – “we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child… The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky.” Did it go altogether into the sky? Did it not go also to the autumn trenches, that hatch-work upon unhappy, crucified Europe, to her devastated cities and villages, to her mothers and wives in mourning? “Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise ye wretched of the earth!”

* * * * * * * * *

The sound of running footsteps made them all start. Then the refectory door opened and the round, freckled face of Sister Belinda appeared. She was breathing heavily, and her veil was crooked, showing short tufts of red hair sprouting around her glowing face like unruly weeds in a parched garden.

“Excuse me, Mother, Sisters,” she said. “But there is a police car waiting at the gate and what looks like the Black Maria behind it. Also, another car approaching from the farm and a uniformed constable coming in via the beach path. It would appear that the filth have us surrounded.”

* * * * * * * * *

The crying sounded even louder out of doors. It was as if all the pain in the world had found a voice. Yet had I known such pain was in the next room, and had it been dumb, I believe – I have thought since – I could have stood it well enough. It is when suffering finds a voice and sets our nerves quivering that this pity comes troubling us. But in spite of the brilliant sunlight and the green fans of the trees waving in the soothing sea-breeze, the world was a confusion, blurred with drifting black and red phantasms, until I was out of earshot of the house in the chequered wall.

* * * * * * * * *

The Utopians dress simply and without ostentation: their clothes are made of undyed wool like the habits of Carthusian monks. And their society is unashamedly patriarchal. Wives act as servants to their husbands, children to their parents, and the young to their elders. Women are treated ‘equally’, but in reality are governed by their husbands. They also work harder – More seems oblivious to this point – since their duties include cooking and childcare as well as manual labour. Even in Utopia, it seems, working women have two jobs.

 * * * * * * * * *

My friend Ellingham has persuaded me to reveal to the public the astounding features of the Reisby case. As a study in criminal aberration it is, he tells me, of particular interest, while in singularity of horror and in perversity of ingenious method it is probably unique.

* * * * * * * * *

I shared a compartment on the night train back with a father travelling to Petersburg with his daughter for her orthodonture work. She’d stumped half the dentists in Moscow, the father explained with obvious delight. The spotlight of paternal pride is fickle and faint, but when it shines on you with its full wattage, it’s as warm as a near sun. My little prodigy. Three drunks flicked over the cabin window. I wanted to be loved as much as he loved his daughter’s bad teeth.

“Go on, show him,” he urged. She gave a great yawn. Her open mouth was a dolomite cavern. Only divine intercession or satanic bargaining could save her.

“Just a little bit crooked,” I said, then gave a wide “Aah” of my own. “Mine are a little crooked too.”

“Mine are in a dental textbook,” she declared. She had me there. Wouldn’t have been older than twelve, and already she’d accomplished more in her life than I had. Rotten little over-achiever!

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

After the first few times, when things had gone wrong, there was no point denying it, the people who’d stayed in the farmhouse had been treated well. They’d been fed, kept warm and safe. After what they’d been through on the journey, the farmhouse really wasn’t that bad.

Warily the woman stepped forward, allowing Cat to take her arm and lead her into the next room, the one where they kept the medical equipment and the records. He breathed an invisible sigh of relief. He’d got quite good at keeping them calm and cooperative.

Of course, they all panicked when they saw the leather straps.

* * * * * * * * *

The dogs were uneasy. Although he spoke to them with more than customary friendliness, and handled them with unwonted gentleness, they still mistrusted him. They nuzzled into his hands, they thrust themselves against his legs, they gazed up at him with affection; but there was always a detectable droop of appeasement, as if they sensed what was in his mind and were afraid that it might at any moment goad him into maltreating them. He was more and more aware of their apprehension, and saw himself, in furious revenge, rising and snatching a switch from the wall, and thrashing them till their noses and eyes dripped faithful blood: they would suffer his maddest cruelty without retaliation. But as he saw himself thus berserk he sat in the box and continued to pat the cringing dogs and speak consolingly to them.

* * * * * * * * *

The oilmen have arrived from Beijing for a ceremonial signing-over of drilling rights. It’s a holiday for them, their translator told me last night at the Grozny Eternity Hotel, which is both the only five-star hotel and the only hotel in the Republic. I nodded solemnly; he needn’t explain. I came of age in the reign of Brezhnev, when young men would enter Civil Service academies hardy and robust, only to leave two years later anaemic and stooped, cured forever of the inclination to be civil or of service to anyone. Still, Beijing must be grim if they’re vacationing in Chechnya.

* * * * * * * * *

All is changed and yet all remains as before. The revolution has shaken the country, deepened the split, frightened some, embittered others, but not yet wiped out a thing or replaced it. Imperial St Petersburg seems drowned in a sleepy lethargy rather than dead. The revolution has stuck little red flags in the hands of the cast-iron monuments of the monarchy. Great red streamers are hanging down the fronts of the government buildings. But the Winter Palace, the ministries, the headquarters, seem to be living a life entirely apart from those red banners, tolerably faded, moreover, by the autumn rains. The two-headed eagles with the sceptre of empire have been torn down where possible, but oftener draped or hastily painted over. They seem to be lurking there. All the old Russia is lurking, its jaw set in rage.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

FictionFan Awards 2016 – Crime Fiction/Thrillers

A round of applause please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2016.

In case you missed them last week, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2015 and October 2016 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Factual – click to see awards

Crime Fiction/Thrillers

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2016

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

CRIME FICTION/THRILLERS

Domestic thrillers continue to dominate the crime fiction market at the moment, and my distaste for them continues to dominate me! So this year I’ve been reading mostly police procedurals or thrillers, with a fair sprinkling of vintage crime fiction and some re-reads of old favourites. Despite the ongoing march of the misery-fest there’s still some great stuff out there, even if it’s not getting hyped as much as the latest “First-Person Present-Tense Grief-Stricken Drunk Girl in a Mini-Cab with a Red Coat and a Killer Twist”. And because I read more crime/thriller fiction than any other genre, it seems only fair to mention some of the books that didn’t quite make it on to the shortlist. All of these books were great reads, and I look forward to reading more from each of these authors in the future.

NOMINEES

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

night blindNightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

It’s autumn in tiny Siglufjördur but it feels like winter is on the way. Ari Thór Arason, one of the town’s two police officers, is off sick with flu, so his colleague Herjólfur is on his own as he stands in the wind and rain outside an old, abandoned house a little way out of town, watching a light inside that seems to come from a torch. Summoning up his courage, he goes to investigate. It’s only when his wife reports him missing the next day that he is found, shot through the chest…

This is a cracking start to what turns into an excellent book. The combination of Jónasson’s great descriptive writing and Quentin Bates’ flawless translation create an atmospheric sense of the isolation of this small weather-beaten place on Iceland’s northern shore. Great plotting and characterisation too – all round, this is about as good as the police procedural gets.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

a rising manA Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

The corpse of a white man is discovered in an alleyway in an unsavoury part of Calcutta, and Inspector Sam Wyndham is assigned to investigate. It is 1919, and Wyndham has just arrived in India after recovering from injuries he received during the war, so he will have to depend for local knowledge on his two colleagues – Sergeant Digby, an Englishman with all the worst attitudes of imperial superiority and a grudge against Wyndham for getting the job he felt should be his own; and an Oxford educated Indian from a well-to-do family, Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee, so called because Digby finds his real name too difficult to pronounce.

Mukherjee knows his stuff for sure, and the picture he paints of Calcutta and the Indian political situation of the time positively reeks of authenticity. His British characters are equally believable and there are many references to Scottish culture that again have the ring of total truthfulness, and are often very funny. A great novel – hard to believe it’s a début. And I’m delighted that it’s apparently the first book in a series.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

open woundsOpen Wounds by Douglas Skelton

Davie McCall is a gangster with a moral code – he doesn’t hurt women, children or ‘civilians’. But that doesn’t stop him from hurting other people – badly, when they’ve done something that crosses one of his personal lines. He’s always felt in control of his violence though, until recently, when he suddenly found he was enjoying it. Now he wants out of the ‘Life’, but he’s scared – not of what his boss might do to him, but scared that he won’t be able to change, won’t be able to leave the desire for violence behind him. Meantime, he’s still working as a heavy for Rab McClymont, who’s not just his boss but an old friend. So when Rab asks him to lean on a man, Fergus O’Neill, at first Davie’s fine with that. O’Neill was convicted a few years back of a horrific burglary that involved rape, but is now out pending appeal and is publicly accusing Rab of having fitted him up for the crime. When Davie begins to believe that O’Neill may have been innocent, he still can’t believe that Rab would have been involved in a rape, even indirectly. So he begins to investigate.

This is genuine Tartan Noir, grounded in the real recognisable Glasgow of today. The book is set in Glasgow gangster culture and has a totally authentic feel to it. As well as giving a great sense of place, using mainly real locations, Skelton has a complete grip on Glaswegian “patter”, the humour that covers the harshness of life on the edges of society. Put that together with great characterisation and plotting, and this book takes its place amongst the very best of Scottish crime writing.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

daisy in chainsDaisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

Hamish Wolfe is a prisoner, convicted of the murders of three young women. Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice, some of which have resulted in the convicted men being released. Hamish and his little group of supporters on the outside are keen to get Maggie to take on his case. Pete Weston owes his promotion to Detective Sergeant to his success in catching Hamish, and he’s adamant that no mistakes were made.

This is Sharon Bolton at her twisty, twisted best, and her best is pretty brilliant! Bolton’s skill is not just in the plotting, great though that is. Where she really excels is in setting up an atmosphere of growing tension and dread, always helped by the settings she chooses. Her descriptive writing is fabulous – the lowering snow clouds, freezing cold and short dark days of her Somerset setting all adding beautifully to a scary sense of creepiness and fear. But there’s a healthy dose of humour which prevents the book from becoming too dark, meaning that it’s a truly enjoyable read even while it’s deliciously tingling the reader’s spine. This book so nearly won…

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2016

for

BEST CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

 

magpie-murders

Magpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz

Susan Ryeland, editor for Cloverleaf Books, settles down happily to read the new manuscript from their star author – Magpie Murders by Alan Conway. Susan may not like the author, but she loves his books, a series of Golden Age style mysteries starring Atticus Pund and his sidekick James Fraser. But she will find that on this occasion the mystery extends beyond the book, and murder might have leapt from the pages into real life…

This is a fantastic take on a Christie-style murder mystery – country house, lots of characters all with secrets and motives, a nicely unpleasant victim so we don’t have to venture into grief territory, some great clues and red herrings, an intriguing detective in the German-born Pund, and a rather charming if intellectually challenged sidekick in James. It is in fact two books – the one involving Susan and “real” life, and the fictional book involving Atticus Pund and a gruesome murder in the village of Saxby-on-Avon. Like Christie, it gets that perfect balance between dark and light, depth and entertainment. Again, as with his take on the Holmes mysteries, Horowitz has shown how effectively he can play with these much-loved, established fictional worlds, always affectionately but always with an original twist that prevents them from being mere pastiche. Great stuff, that I’m sure will be enjoyed by any mystery fan.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Next week: Best Literary Fiction Award

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

Brilliant!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

daisy in chainsHamish Wolfe is a prisoner, convicted of the murders of three young women. Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice, some of which have resulted in the convicted men being released. Hamish and his little group of supporters on the outside are keen to get Maggie to take on his case. Pete Weston owes his promotion to Detective Sergeant to his success in catching Hamish, and he’s adamant that no mistakes were made.

This is Sharon Bolton at her twisty, twisted best, and her best is pretty brilliant! Told in the third person, we’re only allowed brief glimpses into the mind of each of these three main characters, so we’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth. But we’re pretty sure from early on that each one is hiding something.

Hamish is a charming, exceedingly handsome and intelligent young man, so he has even more than the usual quota of strange women declaring their love for him despite, or perhaps because of, his convictions. But is he guilty? The evidence looks pretty solid but he’s always insisted he’s innocent and there are plenty of people who are willing to believe him. Pete seems like one of that rare breed (in fiction) – an honest hard-working cop who sticks to the rules. But as Maggie begins to delve into the case it does begin to look as if coincidence played a pretty big part in his original investigation. And what is Maggie’s motivation for getting murderers released from prison? She claims it’s not about guilt or innocence but about whether they got fair treatment under the law – a moral standpoint, if true…

Bolton’s skill is not just in the plotting, great though that is. Where she really excels is in setting up an atmosphere of growing tension and dread, always helped by the settings she chooses. Her last couple of Lacey Flint books have made us all see the Thames in a new and sinister light, and in this standalone she uses the caves and tunnels beneath the Somerset coast to brilliant effect. Her descriptive writing is fabulous – the lowering snow clouds, freezing cold and short dark days all adding beautifully to a scary sense of creepiness and fear. But there’s a healthy dose of humour which prevents the book from becoming too dark, meaning that it’s a truly enjoyable read even while it’s deliciously tingling the reader’s spine.

Sharon Bolton (amazon.co.uk)
Sharon Bolton

As well as the three main players, there’s a small host of quirky secondary characters, most of them part of the little group campaigning for Hamish’s release. Bolton does address a couple of serious issues – the way some people are drawn to notorious, violent killers for all sorts of reasons, some saner than others, and how society sees and reacts to fat people (all of the victims were fat women). But she does it with a light touch so that it never feels like she’s grinding an axe or thumping a tub – she is observing rather than judging.

It’s a strange thing that sometimes the best books are the ones that require to have the least said about them. The joy of this one is in being lead so skilfully through all the various twists, constantly having to reassess one’s opinion of the leading characters as each new piece is added, so I don’t want to reveal too much. I’ll simply say that in reading over my short notes made while reading I see I’ve used the word ‘brilliant’ no less than nine times, with a couple of fabulouses thrown in for good measure, and I’ve already made space for this one in my Book of the Year roundup. (It could easily also win best title and best cover.) In case I haven’t made myself clear – highly recommended! In fact, brilliant!!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 85…

Episode 85…

And for the third week in a row, the TBR is stuck on 165. It’s not so much that books are being added this time, though, as that my reading has begun to drop off as it always does when the summer tennis season begins to build up. Somehow my mind just doesn’t seem to be on books…
Rafa Nadal Doha

Erm…what was I saying? Oh, yes – books! Well, here are some of the ones that are getting close to the top of the heap…

Factual

douglas macarthurI know nothing about Douglas MacArthur and generally speaking wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in a biography of a US general. But this one is written by the fabulous Arthur Herman, whose previous books on philosophy, the Scottish Enlightenment and Gandhi and Churchill I have loved, so if anyone can interest me in MacArthur, I bet Herman can! Courtesy of NetGalley…

The Blurb says: Douglas MacArthur was arguably the last American public figure to be worshipped unreservedly as a national hero, the last military figure to conjure up the romantic stirrings once evoked by George Armstrong Custer and Robert E. Lee. But he was also one of America’s most divisive figures, a man whose entire career was steeped in controversy. Was he an avatar or an anachronism, a brilliant strategist or a vainglorious mountebank? Drawing on a wealth of new sources, Arthur Herman delivers a powerhouse biography that peels back the layers of myth—both good and bad—and exposes the marrow of the man beneath.

* * * * *

Fiction

exposureCourtesy of NetGalley. I’ve seen several very positive reviews of this around the blogosphere, plus I have to admit I love the cover a lot!

The Blurb says: London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

* * * * *

Crime

daisy in chainsFabulous title, fabulous cover, fabulous Sharon Bolton! Fabulous! Strange blurb though… Courtesy of NetGalley again. I love NetGalley…

The Blurb says: Famous killers have fan clubs.

Locked up for the rest of his life for the abduction and murder of three young women, Hamish Wolfe gets countless adoring letters every day. He’s handsome, charismatic and very persuasive. His admirers are convinced he’s innocent, and that he’s the man of their dreams.

Who would join such a club?

Maggie Rose is different. Reclusive and enigmatic; a successful lawyer and bestselling true-crime writer, she only takes on cases that she can win.

Hamish wants her as his lawyer, he wants her to change his fate. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of a man like this. But maybe not this time . . .

Would you?

* * * * *

the widow bartonThis one is Cleo’s fault – it was her review that sent me scuttling off to… you’ve guessed it… NetGalley! Honestly, I reckon it’s a conspiracy, don’t you? And I think it’s becoming clear who is the chief suspect…

The Blurb says: We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

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

 

Tuesday Thriller! Here Be Dragons: A Short Story (Lacey Flint) by Sharon Bolton

Going undercover…

 

A summer evening in London, and Mark Joesbury is steering a Marine Unit boat up the Thames. He’s under orders but not from his superiors. An undercover mission is going badly wrong, his cover is blown and the bad guys are holding a gun to Lacey Flint’s head…

Tuesday Thriller white gunslinger

What a brilliant story! Any fan of the Lacey Flint series must read this, and it would actually work fine as a standalone too. In terms of time period, it crosses over with the ending of A Dark and Twisted Tide, tying in with things we learned in that one, while avoiding any spoilers for it. It’s novella length – I’m rubbish at converting from Kindle length (881) to pages but I’d guess about 60 or 70. Long enough for Bolton to give us a really believable, satisfying story, with as much depth as most novels achieve, but just the right length to read in one session.

The plot is great and frighteningly credible, based on a terrorist threat, which is as much as I’m going to tell you about it. It’s the gorgeous and lovely Mark Joesbury who’s in the starring role for once, and he fills it perfectly, though of course Lacey has a part to play too. As she did in A Dark and Twisted Tide, Bolton brings the Thames to life, with its shifting tides and hidden dangers lurking beneath its moody beauty, running between some of the most important buildings in the UK. Her descriptive writing really is second to none at creating an atmospheric sense of place.

Here Be Dragons

Although in a sense it’s a police procedural, because it’s based around Mark’s undercover work it reads much more like a true thriller. There’s no real detection element to it, certainly not as far as knowing who the bad guys are anyway, but there’s still a big element of suspense in not knowing exactly what’s going to happen.

And tension! Oh yes! Brilliant build-up, fantastic dénouement. Pulse-racing stuff – can’t remember when I last enjoyed a short story so much (sorry, James Joyce!). And as for the ending… trust me, Lacey fans, you’ll want to have read this one before the next novel comes along. Which I hope will be soon!! The best kind of cliffhanger – the type that leaves you satisfied but also wanting more…

Can you guess I’m recommending this one? *turns cartwheels while blowing a horn*

* * * * *

Yippee Ki Yay rating:     😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

 

It's a Bruce Willis!
It’s a Bruce!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

little black liesMore dead children…

🙂 🙂 😐

It’s three years since Catrin’s two sons were killed in a tragic accident – the result of a moment of carelessness by her best friend, Rachel. Catrin can’t forgive her and as the anniversary of the deaths approaches it seems as if she might be about to commit some drastic action. But meantime a toddler has gone missing – a rare occurrence in the sparsely populated Falklands Islands, but not unique. Two other children have disappeared in recent years and some people are beginning to wonder if they are linked. Despite her troubled state of mind, Catrin gets drawn into the search for the little boy…

This book gets off to a brilliant start. Bolton is always readable – a born storyteller. Her description of the harsh, bleak environment of the Falklands ten years after the war between Britain and Argentina creates an atmosphere ripe for tales of dread. And her characterisation of Catrin is great – this damaged, grief-stricken mother haunted by her dead sons and burning with the desire for revenge. As the book begins, Catrin is out in a boat at night and Bolton wonderfully contrasts the beauty of the stars reflecting in the water with the dangers of the unpredictable sea and the cold cruelty of Catrin’s thoughts. A truly atmospheric beginning.

Unfortunately, a great beginning doesn’t always make a great book. First off, I am heartily tired of every second crime book focussing on the murder and/or abuse of children. By all means, if an author is making a serious point about some aspect of society or the justice system, but not when it’s just for entertainment, as so many of them are, including this one. It’s not a subject that I find remotely entertaining. And as usual with these trends each new book feels it has to up the ante in order to harrow us just a little bit more than the last. I find it all a little sickening. So I admit that Bolton was always going to have to work extra hard to win me over. But, even putting my prejudice to one side, there are a couple of other aspects that left me feeling this book doesn’t reach Bolton’s usual standards.

Shipwrecks off the coast of the Falklands
Shipwrecks off the coast of the Falklands

The book is told in three voices – first Catrin’s, then Callum’s and finally Rachel’s. Callum is an ex-soldier who fought in the Falklands war and has now returned to live in the islands to try to overcome his demons. His voice and character didn’t ring true for me at all, I’m afraid. While it’s obviously true that some soldiers are left mentally scarred by their experiences, it’s become a stereotype now to have every ex-serviceman struggling with PTSD and so haunted by his experiences he is incapable of functioning normally. And I felt we had enough misery to contend with in Catrin’s grief without the need to relive Callum’s war experiences too. Especially since, in the third part, we also have to relive Rachel’s guilt along with her.

But it’s less that than the way Bolton portrays Callum’s maleness that bothers me. He thinks about women’s bodies all the time, seeing each purely in terms of her sexual attractiveness or lack of it, and fantasises about ‘shagging’ every woman he meets. He makes sexist remarks. He swears a lot. But the reader is supposed to be on his side, and to believe that intelligent women find him attractive. It all seemed a very lazy way to create a ‘male’ voice – again a stereotype and a pretty negative one at that.

Rachel’s voice didn’t fare much better for me either. Wracked with guilt, she is apparently dysfunctional to the point of borderline neglect of her children, but seems too self-aware of her own failings – almost wryly humorous about them at times. I found her unconvincing.

It’s pretty tasteless too, not only about the children, but there’s a particularly graphic and unnecessary whale scene that’s not for the squeamish either, and feels as if it’s only in there to harrow the reader still further – as if dead children aren’t enough. And the plot, which starts out brilliantly, eventually spirals downwards to a degree that stretches credulity so far as to become almost ridiculous. One unbelievable event follows another, then another, and so on, with the eventual equally unbelievable solution tacked on almost as an afterthought. The climax of the investigation in fact reads almost like a humorous farce – totally out of place given the subject matter. The book is still very readable for the most part – the quality and flow of Bolton’s writing, the sense of place and the first section in Catrin’s voice are all excellent, hence my rather generous 2½-star rating. But ultimately I found the flaws in this one outweighed its strengths.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 59…

Episode 59

 

A massive decrease in the TBR this week – to 140. I’m powering through the books but developing a backlog for review. This is due to a combination of summer, tennis and general procrastination – all of which have meant I haven’t been visiting your blogs this week either, for which my apologies! Wimbledon is underway so I may not be around much for the next week or so, but should be back properly after that, revitalised and ready to serve up some backhanded reviews and slice a few more off the reading list. Hope I don’t hit any ballboys…

Vamos Rafa!
Vamos Rafa!

Meantime, a few that are rising to the top of the heap. A mixed bag this time – the only one I feel really confident about is the Ken Kalfus…

Fiction

 

coup de foudreThis book has been a long time in the publishing – I originally pre-ordered it in January 2014, and still no Kindle version available, and I’m not sure the hardback is out yet either over here, though it is in the US. However with Kalfus I’m sure it will have been worth the wait…

The Blurb says The third collection by the celebrated author of Thirst and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies, Coup de Foudre is the groundbreaking work of literary invention Ken Kalfus’s fans have come to expect. The book is anchored by the biting title novella, a sometimes comic, ultimately tragic story about the president of an international lending institution accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid in a New York hotel. With irony and compassion, Kalfus skewers international political gridlock and the hypocrisies of acceptable sexual conduct. The stories in Coup de Foudre vary boldly in theme, setting, and tone, yet they each share Kalfus’s distinctive humor and intellect, inextricably bound with high literary ambition.

 * * * * *

 

skinCourtesy of NetGalley. I have no idea why I requested this! I must have been having a funny spell…it just doesn’t sound like my kind of thing at all. But maybe it’ll be great…

The Blurb says “Imagine a world where everyone is born with a ‘skin’ name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people.This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain.

It is AD 43. For the Caer Cad, ‘skin’ name determines lineage and identity. Ailia does not have skin; despite this, she is a remarkable young woman, intelligent, curious and brave. As a dark threat grows on the horizon – the aggressive expansion of the Roman Empire – Ailia must embark on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people, and their pagan way of life, from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced… and it is this unskinned girl who will come to hold the fate of her people in her hands.

SKIN is a standout, full-blooded debut which invokes the mesmerizing, genre-transcending magic of novels such as Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cavebear; it combines epic storytelling with a strikingly unique plot set during a fascinating period of Britain’s history.

* * * * *

Crime

 

little black liesCourtesy of NetGalley. I love Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint series, but I’m not so sure how I’ll feel about this standalone. However I think she’s a great storyteller, so hopefully she’ll carry me with her… (I’ve started it since I drafted this – hmm! Still not sure…)

The Blurb says What’s the worst thing your best friend could do to you?

Admittedly, it wasn’t murder. A moment’s carelessness, a tragic accident – and two children are dead. Yours. Living in a small island community, you can’t escape the woman who destroyed your life. Each chance encounter is an agonizing reminder of what you’ve lost – your family, your future, your sanity. How long before revenge becomes irresistible? With no reason to go on living, why shouldn’t you turn your darkest thoughts into deeds?

So now, what’s the worst thing you can do to your best friend?

* * * * *

the case of the dotty dowagerCourtesy of NetGalley. Given my growing aversion to ‘gritty’ modern crime fiction (i.e., police brutality, drunkenness and swearing), I’m hoping this title suggests something a bit more mystery and a bit less graphic…

The Blurb saysMeet the Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. The first in a new series.

Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is convinced his mother is losing her marbles. She claims to have seen a corpse on the dining-room floor, but all she has to prove it is a bloodied bobble hat. Worried enough to retain the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English Henry wants the strange matter explained away. But the truth of what happened at the Chellingworth Estate, set in the rolling Welsh countryside near the quaint village of Anwen by Wye, is more complex, dangerous, and deadly, than anyone could have foreseen . . . ”

* * * * *

 

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

So…what do you think?

Do any of these tempt you?

(Apart from Rafa, obviously…’cos he’s mine!)

Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
JANUARY

SMILEYS

Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with the brilliant idea of looking back over her reviews of the last five years and picking out her favourite books of the month from each year. She kindly agreed to let me borrow her idea (which saved me from stealing it!). I was a bit later in starting reviewing than Cleo, really getting properly underway in about April/May of 2011, so for the first few months I might have to be a bit creative in my 2011 selections.

So here are my favourite January reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…

 

2011

 

broomsticks over flaxboroughNo reviews in January 2011, so here’s one from May 2010. I have loved the Flaxborough Chronicles since my teens and Broomsticks over Flaxborough is my favourite – as always, Colin Watson pulls back the respectable net curtains of the town of Flaxborough to let us see the wickedness behind. In this case, we are treated to a coven of middle-aged, middle-class, sex-obsessed Satanists, nicely contrasted with the ‘Lucys’, a superclean team of door-to-door marketers selling soap powder. These books could be cosies were it not for the vein of sly humour that runs through them, giving them a distinct edge and making them wonderfully enjoyable reads.

 

2012

 

dead scaredThe second instalment of Bolton’s Lacey Flint series, and perhaps my favourite. The plot about a spate of students committing suicide couldn’t be much darker, and there are bits that are very unsettling and downright creepy. Having been unsure about Lacey’s character in the first book, Now You See Me, I felt in this one she had become more open and much more likeable, less of a loner and now with a sense of humour and considerably less angst – all to the good. A great entry in a great series.

 

 

2013

 

brooklynThis book, set in the 1950s, takes us from small town Ireland to Brooklyn, in the company of Eilis Lacey, a young girl forced into economic migration through lack of employment and the expectations of her family. This was the second of Tóibín’s books that I read, after the astonishing The Testament of Mary, and confirmed his place as one of my favourite writers. His prose is beautiful, and his small, quiet plots allow his characters to become utterly real. A writer who never fails to move me deeply.

 

 

2014

 

the papers of tony veitchTony Veitch has disappeared and it seems like half the city is looking for him. Laidlaw’s one of the searchers. Tony’s name has come up in connection with Eck Adamson, a drunk and down-and-out, now dead; and it seems Laidlaw’s the only man who cares. McIavanney’s use of language is superb, particularly the way he catches the tones and patterns of Glasgow dialect. Glasgow, as the sum of its people good and bad, is the character that is at the heart of the book and McIlvanney makes us weep and rejoice for it in equal measure. A love letter from a man who sees the violence and darkness of the city, but also sees it as a place of courage and heart and humour – and ultimately integrity.

 

2015

 

lamentationHenry’s last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book describing her spiritual journey to believing that salvation can be found only through study of the Bible and the love of Christ, rather than through the traditional rites of the Church. Not quite heretical, but close enough to be used against her by the traditionalists. So when the book is stolen, Catherine calls on the loyalty of her old acquaintance, Matthew Shardlake, to find it and save her from becoming another of Henry’s victims. The most recent entry in the Shardlake series is also the best – the fiction is woven seamlessly into the fact, and the picture that Sansom paints of the last days of Henry VIII’s reign is both authentic and terrifying.

 

If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for January, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

FictionFan Awards 2014 – Crime/Thriller Category – Books in a Series

Drum roll please…

 

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2014 in the Crime Fiction/Thriller Category – Books in a Series.

If you’ve been around the last couple of weeks, you might want to skip this bit and go straight to the awards. But for the benefit of new readers, a quick reminder of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2013 and October 2014 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories

Factual – click to see awards

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Literary Fiction – click to see awards

Crime Fiction/Thrillers – Books in a Series

Crime Fiction/Thrillers – Standalone Novels

 

…and…

Book of the Year 2014

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the authors’ next book even if I have to buy it myself!

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

 

CRIME FICTION/THRILLERS

 

As usual, there are far more books in contention for this category, and many of them are installments in series that I follow. So, since I found it almost impossible to narrow the entries down, I’ve decided to have two sub-categories of nominees, Series and Standalones, each with a winner, and to split them over today and tomorrow. Here goes then…

BOOKS IN A SERIES

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

the killThe Kill (from the Maeve Kerrigan series) by Jane Casey

When an off-duty policeman is shot dead in his car it looks at first as though the motive must be something to do with his personal life. His widow seems angry rather than grief-stricken and his daughter has some unexplained bruises. But a few days later a team of officers is attacked while out on patrol and it becomes clear that someone is targeting the police in general. But no-one knows why…or do they? This is the fifth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series and continues the high standard that Jane Casey has set herself in the last couple.

Click to see the full review

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Saints of the Shadow Bible (from the Rebus series) by Ian Rankin

saints of the shadow bibleWhen the ‘double jeopardy’ law is relaxed, the Solicitor General asks Malcolm Fox to reinvestigate a case from the ’80s, one involving a young DC Rebus. Meantime, in the present day, Siobhan Clarke and Rebus are back working as a team. With the new rules on retirement age, Rebus has been taken back into CID but has had to take a downgrading to Detective Sergeant, meaning Siobhan now outranks him. They are called out to what looks at first like a straightforward road accident, but a couple of things about the scene make them suspect there may be more to it than that. A fine entry in the series that, as always, has great characterisation, a complex plot and a real insight into modern Scottish life.

Click to see the full review

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the papers of tony veitchThe Papers of Tony Veitch (from the Laidlaw series) by William McIlvanney

Tony Veitch has disappeared and it seems like half the city is looking for him. Laidlaw’s one of the searchers. He knows why he’s looking for Tony – his name’s come up in connection with Eck Adamson, a drunk and down-and-out, now dead; and it seems Laidlaw’s the only man who cares. But Laidlaw doesn’t know why some of Glasgow’s hardest men seem to be wanting to find Veitch too, and the question is – who’ll find him first? Glasgow, as the sum of its people good and bad, is the character that is at the heart of the book and McIlvanney makes us weep and rejoice for it in equal measure. A love letter from a man who sees the violence and darkness of the city, but also sees it as a place of courage and heart and humour – and ultimately integrity. A great book.

Click to see the full review

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A Dark and Twisted Tide (from the Lacey Flint series) by Sharon Bolton

a dark and twisted tideAfter her recent experiences, Lacey has stepped back from her role as a detective and joined the Met’s Marine Unit, patrolling the Thames. She’s also moved to live on a houseboat moored in Deptford Creek and taken up the highly dangerous sport of river-swimming. And it’s when she’s out swimming alone one early morning that she finds the first body…

This is another excellent entry in the Lacey Flint series, with all the regulars back in fine form. By a tiny margin, not the best in the series perhaps, but still one of the best books I’ve read or expect to read this year.

Click to see the full review

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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2014

for

BEST CRIME FICTION/THRILLER BOOK IN A SERIES

 

gallowglass

Gallowglass (from the Douglas Brodie series) by Gordon Ferris

Post-WW2 Glasgow. Douglas Brodie is back working at the newspaper and beginning to recover from the psychological after-effects of his recent involvement in the Nazi war-crime trials. But he still hasn’t learned how to avoid danger. So when Lady Gibson asks him for help, he finds himself unable to turn her down. Her husband, Sir Fraser Gibson, the Chairman of the Scottish Linen Bank, has been kidnapped, and Lady Gibson has decided to pay the ransom without involving the police. So Brodie sets off with a briefcase full of cash to make the rendezvous on her behalf. Needless to say, it doesn’t go according to plan..

This is the fourth and, I believe, final entry in the Douglas Brodie series, and the award is as much for the whole series as for this individual book. Now that we have all four books, we can see how Brodie’s character has changed in the few years since the end of the war – at first an all-action man, careless to a degree of his own life and others; then having to face the source of his nightmares and realise the damage that he’d suffered in the war – and finally, in this excellent last instalment, asking himself whether he can find some kind of peace and redemption, and have a future worth living. Although each works as a standalone, I would strongly suggest reading them in order to see the skilful way that Ferris develops Brodie’s character throughout. A great series, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And a very worthy winner.

Click to see the full review

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Tomorrow: The Standalone Award and Book of the Year 2014