Saturday, 25 February 2017

Absurd plot and hollow characters

DI Helen Grace is, in my opinion, not mentally fit to hold a senior rank in any police force. Due to a difficult childhood (which unfolds as the story progresses) she needs to punish herself, to feel hurt, to cleanse herself and wipe out painful memories. With this in mind she is a client to Jake the local S & M guru, but not only is this a regular past time (not passing judgement here) she wants, needs begs him to really hurt this someone fit to carry the duties of a Detective Inspector?... has some incident in the past created this lonely woman?  This is one lady living on the edge and deserves instant suspension....."Helen cried out in pain and looked down to see her fingernails dug into her palm. She had drawn blood in her frustration and anger"...."she fought the urge, digging her nails into her wounded hand. The pain flowed through her calming her"....

The plot in this crime story is frankly absurd. A serial killer is kidnapping two helpless individuals and hiding/locking them in a safe and impossible to find location. A gun is the only other item present and the incarcerated are faced with an impossible conundrum...kill or be killed. The person who remains is permitted to go free, and one such example is the second kidnapping...... Ben and Peter are attending a meeting in Bournemouth and returning home the car apparently develops a mechanical fault somewhere in the New Forest. With no mobile phone reception, and therefore little hope of rescue, they are surprised and but relieved when a van this rescue or something more sinister? So how did the killer know that the car would break down at this particular desolate junction? Apparently he had hammered a large nail into the petrol tank and calculated exactly where the vehicle would come to rest and he could then resume his dastardly deed. Ben had ensured that the car was full of fuel before departing Bournemouth and the author assures us that once the car is fueled the driver or indeed any driver would fail to look at the display directly in front of him and therefore not notice the plummeting fuel gauge. What a ridiculous assumption, indeed if we accept that this could quite easily happen surely the killer must have known that there was a great possibility that Ben would see the plummeting fuel gauge and therefore stop immediately.

There is a point in the story where DI Helen Grace is convinced there is someone within her group who is feeding and leaking information to the press. So without proper evidence she accuses Charlie and Mark, both experience detectives, (although Mark is on the verge of becoming an alcoholic.. another clich├ęd policeman) of being the source of that leak. This is an atrocious way for a senior officer to treat her staff...accusations based on assumptions. By carrying out such a callous act Grace is splitting the team apart and lowering morale....would a senior boss really do this? I think not....

So with a questionable plot and a dysfunctional cast of characters....are there any redeeming features? The last quarter of the book does contain a few surprises and rather than abandon the story it kept me reading until the end, with a conclusion that leads the reader quite naturally forward to the next story in the series....but I for one shall not partake and can only hope that DI Helen Grace receives the medical help she so obviously needs!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A slow burn that does not work for me..........

William South is a policeman in the flatlands around Kent. He is a loner by nature and this is reflected in his past time of bird watching: a hobby that requires stealth, patience and a love of being by oneself. However, when his neighbour Bob Rayner is murdered the responsibility falls to him and his immediate superior DS Cupidi to bring the perpetrators of this vile crime to justice. South spent his childhood in the troubled streets of a 70's Belfast and is no stranger to death and suffering his father having been supposedly  murdered by paramilitaries present in the province at that time.

This story has a certain slow tempo and style, South is not a man to be hurried and he approaches his job in the same meticulous manner is his bird watching. He forms a connection with Cupidi whose daughter Zoe it would appear is keen to learn the principles of bird watching and South is almost forced to allow her to accompany him on "twitcher" expeditions. There is a presumption by the reader that South and Cupidi have a mutual romantic interest in each other but the author fails to explore this and their feelings never develop beyond their working environment. The author uses South's troubled childhood to introduce an element of intrigue as past and present collide in a bloody conclusion.

I found the whole story to be somewhat boring and lacking in any real warmth towards the characters. It is told in a present and past time line and indeed William's childhood was the most exciting and dangerous part, in contrast to his laborious and humdrum Kent existence.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Murder in the scorched Australian landscape

In a parched, dry community, a few hours travelling distance from Melbourne, the bloody killing of Luke, Karen and Billy Hadler has occurred. Attending the funeral is childhood friend and serving policeman Aaron Falk, who becomes involved in the criminal investigation thus resurrecting some painful 20 year old memories. As the investigation proceeds and the list of suspects mounts some long forgotten events tear the heart and soul from the good inhabitants of Kiewarra as they struggle for answers in this rain starved oven.

From the moment I received a gratis copy of this book from the publisher I knew I was about to read something extra special. The very texture and feel of the dust jacket with its depiction of red burning heat and rawness immediately set the tone for the harshness of the landscape and the brutality of the content. The author expertly portrays a suspicious people attempting to come to terms with a hidden killer in their midst as they dig out a living on a landscape starved of rain for two years...."They gazed around and were always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land. The space was the thing that hit them first. There was so much of it. There was enough to drown in. To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight." Falk is unwelcome as there are suspicions over the death of Ellie Deacon many years ago, and he is viewed as having a pivotal role with his then childhood friend where does the truth lie?

This book succeeds with me on so many levels. It is a first class crime story full of deception and subterfuge making it almost impossible for the reader to identify the killer, who when exposed is totally unexpected. It is a story of heartache and greed and ultimately survival as to exist here means coming to terms with the effects of drought and the harsh day to day hand to mouth existence. It is a story of suspicion and mistrust all played out under the unrelenting heat of an endless sun sucking the last ounce of energy from anything that moves...."Soon, they'd discover that the vegies didn't grow as willingly as they had in the city window box. That every single green shoot had to be coaxed and prised from the reluctant soil, and the neighbours  were too busy doing the same on an industrial scale to muster much cheer in their greetings."...

Many thanks to Little Brown the publishers for sending me a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. I cannot recommend highly enough!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Fast and furious but lacking soul.........

Joseph Knox is one of a new breed of crime writers creating gritty stories based around the northern industrial gang ridden Manchester belt. What he does he does extremely well exposing vice and corruption in the underbelly of inner city life. Aidan Waits is a detective living on the edge quite happy to accept the odd little gift, enjoy a crafty snifter, or test the strength of his septum by sniffing copious amounts of cocaine. When his boss Superintendant Parrs confronts Waits, outlining his numerous misdemeanours, he suggests a solution that will benefit both parties. Aidan must agree to infiltrate and feedback intelligence on the activities of gang supremo Zain Carver and the only way to achieve this is to go deep undercover......

Although this is a well written story and there are many and varied characters on show in a city overflowing with illegal late night activity, it was not a novel I particularly enjoyed. I realize that this is probably the first in a new series, by a writer who some may well view as a new Lee Child or Simon Kernick, but for me as a standalone work it failed to inspire. I need my crime to be riddled with characters who appear to be strong on the surface but are consumed by doubt and indecision. I want to explore their weaknesses and to be shown how this impacts on their daily existence not only for them but for the immediate family and loved ones. I read this story in two sittings and found the content more akin to a script for a well made tv series, enough to keep me entertained but little to entice me to return.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Spooky and atmospheric tale

Eltonsbrody an eerie Gothic mansion in the Caribbean under the patronage and possible  madness of Mrs Scaife. Into this tropical paradise enters Mr Woodsley seeking accommodation close to Bridgetown in Barbados.

The story written in 1960 is typical of the horror writing of that period. The author does a wonderful job of portraying Mrs Scaife as a kindly yet possible dotty keeper of the inn! As the story gathers momentum the fear element increases and the reader begins to understand that all is not well in the house of Eltonsbrody and in particular its owner Mrs Scaife. There is some beautiful and elegant prose that greatly adds to the overall atmosphere in this Gothic tale of intrigue and growing uneasiness...."The soft swishing rustle of the casuarinas might have been a spirit-voice warning me of danger."......."And it was human hair. Human hair which must have been forcibly uprooted from the head which had once borne it."...."The wind. Just the wind whooping now, moaning now, whining in under the eaves, shaking the windows downstairs."....

My thanks to the good people at Valancourt Books for supplying me with a gratis copy of this spooky little tale, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

First class crime thriller

Revolver is a story about a family stretching over three separate time periods. It's 1965 and Officer Stan Walczak together with his partner George Wildey is patrolling an area of Philadelphia known locally as the Jungle. This is not a good chapter in American History and events attributable to racism are an everyday occurrence. The police officers have arranged to meet local snitch ,Terrill Lee Stanton, at a nearby taproom where in unexpected incident has devastating and far reaching consequences.

It's 1995 and homicide detective Jim Walczak is made aware that Terrill Lee Stanton is about to be released. Jim suspects that Stanton was to blame for the death of his father but he was never actually incarcerated for this offence. Jim is determined to find the truth whatever the cost.

2015 and Jim Walczak's  daughter, as part of her dissertation, is reinvestigating the death of her grandfather Stan. What she discovers will question everything that went before and lead to surprising and shocking revelations.

The author of this story has embarked on a difficult balancing act. In attempting to rediscover the truth, he needs to hold the reader's attention as the storyline flits between the harsh and difficult reality of policing a racially divided 60's Philadelphia and the modern world as seen through the eyes of granddaughter Audrey. Duane Swierczynski performs this task with ultimate ease creating a thoughtful story that challenges the reader as he expertly brings all the separate threads together in a surprising yet very fitting conclusion.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Too much dialogue and not enough character exploration

I'm probably best described as an old fashioned reader of crime and I love character driven stories where the protagonist is a 24 hour meticulous cop with a deeply flawed self. I can think of no better examples of this than John Rebus; Ian Rankin's truer than life drink sodden Scottish detective. Another fine example is Michael Connelly's creation Hieronymus Bosch, the son of a prostitute brutally murdered, secluded in his penthouse overlooking the city of Angels, a city portrayed by the author in prosaic and very realistic manner. He is a driven loner separated from his wife, rebuilding his relationship with his daughter. The point here is that I, as a lover of crime, need to understand the foibles and eccentricities of the main character for the story to have any heart or sincerity. This just does not happen in Quieter than Killing.

DI Marnie Rome and her assistant DS Noah Jake are investigating a series of random attacks on the streets of a very wintry and cold London. Those who are the subject of the attacks all have one thing in common, they have just been released following a period of imprisonment for similar acts of violence. So who is carrying out these new attacks, is it some sort of vigilante seeking revenge and retribution? In addition  Marnie's family home has been ransacked, is there a connection between the two events? Is her foster brother Stephen involved? even though he is incarcerated for the murder of her parents.

I have real problems with the plotline here finding it very odd and very confusing in the telling. The action is certainly fast and the characters, situations and events as they occur full of exuberance and vigour, but lacking any real credibility. I think it is vital in all good detective stories to really try to understand the main characters, what makes them the people they are. What drives them to this 24 hour obsession they have with their job. Dedication on this level must undoubtedly lead to the unravelling of close partner relations and possibly the introduction of alcohol dependency. Yet we never get to see the other side of Marnie she has a very dedicated partner Ed but the author never explores this relationship in any real detail. I need Marnie to be more human I want her  to display character flaws that each and every one of us is genetically predisposed to....unless of course she is a robot! We therefore have a story without any real soul or heart ( possibly excluding the character of Zoe Marshall social worker with a good and emerging part) that is full of constant action but never seems to take the time to explore the personalities on display in any great depth.

Yes I am old fashioned in my choice of detective story but I am open to change, sadly however Sarah Hilary's DI Marnie Rome will not be the instigator of that change. A special thank you to the publisher Headline who supplied me with a gratis copy to read and review which unfortunately was flawed with typing errors. It does not make for easy reading when the name of the author and the book title are displayed randomly throughout the story in large print. This is not an  uncommon occurrence and more time care and patience should be spent by publishers in the marketing and presentation of the kindle/mobi edition.