Saturday, 25 March 2017

A welcome return for an old friend

It's a great big welcome back to that Merle Haggard, country lovin' detective, Tom Thorne. In one particular chapter there is a great and memorable moment when D I Tom Thorne is driving down the road singing at the top of his voice..."The late great Merle Haggard provided the accompaniment on the drive to a retail park in Wembley and Thorne sang along to Silver Wings with rather more gusto than he managed in the school hall the day before....." After the rather poor "Die of Shame" where we were first introduced to DI Nicola Tanner, and Thorne had a very minor cameo role in the final chapter, (the only good part of that book) it's a day of rejoicing to have TT back to his investigating best...we forgive him that he enjoys the company of country music and reluctantly accepts the approach of middle age...here he is back doing what he does best solving crime and crime does not come more topical that Mark Billingham's  Love like Blood.

DI Nicola Tanner has been investigating a series of what appear to be honour killings when her partner Susan is murdered. Turning to her good friend Tom Thorne she persuades him to help her uncover the truth behind the killings within the Muslim community, contracted out to hired assassins. Reading this book it is a pleasure to catch up on the old familiar faces especially the heavily tattooed  Phil Hendricks, police pathologist,  who is arguably Thorne's only real friend and together they enjoy good beer and watching football. He is in a relationship with social worker Helen and her young son Alfie but I can't help feeling that there is little future between them. The sex they share is passable...."Neither of them, had they been inclined to talk honestly about it, would have claimed it was the best sex they ever had.." and Helen still misses Paul, her previous partner, who was tragically killed and in one poignant moment she reveals her true feelings towards Thorne....."I'm happy really. You need to know that. But I want to be honest with you, and if I could go back and stop him being killed, I would. I'd do anything to have Paul alive again"....

So for fans of Mark Billingham, "Love Like Blood" will not disappoint, it's like putting on a well worn pair of comfy shoes! The subject matter is very well chosen and of the moment, the police investigation of the finest, the characterization and familiarity of the "cast" most welcome, and the perpetrators Muldoon and Riaz evil and well suited to the task of hired assassins. I only hope that when we next encounter DI Thorne that he has resolved his differences with the lovely Helen, but sadly I fear this relationship is doomed! Many thanks to the publishers Little Brown for supply me with a gratis copy in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Monday, 20 March 2017

An engaging and warm family thriller


Alison works as a lecturer teaching stained glass creation. To help her income Alison applies for a post at a local open prison where she hopes her skills can benefit those due for early release. Kitty, following a road accident, has suffered acute brain damage now requiring 24 hour hospital care. The connection between these young ladies soon becomes apparent and as the story unfolds we learn the secrets that bind them together both in the past and the present. On first introduction the reader has naturally great sympathy for Kitty, her almost vegetable state and inability to communicate, but Alison has also been affected by events from her childhood now manifesting in her need to self harm....."It doesn't hurt enough. Never does. For it's the cuts we hide inside that really do the damage."

This story for me is stepping out of my reading comfort zone and surprisingly enjoying a style of writing where the reader becomes a bystander as events unfold through the voices of Alison and Kitty. What is particularly poignant is the fact that Kitty cannot communicate by speech and her thoughts can only remain as thoughts not shared with the other players in the book but only with the (privileged) reader. This is a very powerful story telling tool as the more you read the more you can appreciate and understand how difficult life is for someone so incapacitated . The author effectively displays the structures and need that exists within the family unit and how, even in our darkest moments, that warm felling of love and tenderness can overcome the greatest adversity. Now please do not suffer under the illusion that this is a banal and trite story, I am a reader and reviewer more comfortable with crime and horror and yet I managed to read this 400 page thriller in a day.....it is good! Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for supplying me with a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review, and that is what I have written.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Brilliant start to a new series

What on the face of it looks like a standard crime novel, albeit set within the confines of the armed forces, proves to be much more a character driven study where all the main participants are in some way tainted by past events.

Psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn is trying to understand and break down the traumatic and delicate mind of 4 year old Sami. The child appears to be suffering a form of PTSD and Jessie becomes suspicious that perhaps his parents Scott (badly injured and disfigured during a tour of Afghanistan) and Nooria know more than they are prepared to divulge. At the same time Jessie's friend and former patient Captain Ben Callan is investigating the premature death of Sergeant Andy Jackson in the stifling desert heat of an Afghanistan autumn. Callan must also live each day with the consequences of war, he carries a bullet lodged in his brain too risky to surgically remove causing him to suffer frequent epileptic type fits. Meanwhile Inspector Bobby "Marilyn" Simmons (what a wonderful name to be associated with a rock legend!)  has encountered his own difficulties, a badly decomposed body on the shore killed by severe blunt trauma to the back of the head

Sound complicated? It's not....The story and momentum gather pace until in the last few chapters all is revealed. I read at blistering speed but found it difficult to keep abreast of events and I urged on Jessie Flynn in her quest to help restore a sad and damaged Sami. What makes this a great read is the depth to which the author shows the emotional fallout present in all. Flynn is haunted by an event in her childhood in which she blames herself and has never recovered. This manifests itself in recurrent OCD....."straightening the sleeves. Taking a step back she checked their alignment, straightened again, millimetre by millimetre, until they were exactly level...." Ben Callan has a bullet embedded in his brain and cannot be removed due to fear of death...."Frontal lobe seizure is the official diagnosis . He tapped the scar on his temple. Caused by the bullet that the army surgeons decided was too risky to remove." Major Nicholas Scott, Intelligence Corps, badly burnt in Afghanistan three months previously....."the left side of his face was so badly burnt that the skin had melted, slid away from the bones underneath, leaving threads of brown, tortured tissue. Batman's Joker dropped into a vat of acid..."

This is not a story that is inundated with army rank and slang but rather a crime thriller where the main participant happens to be an army psychologist. It is the first in the start of a new series featuring Jessie Flynn and I look forward to reading the second  when released later this year. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for sending me a gratis copy of this superb story in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Welcome back Detective Robert Hunter!

I am sure I am not the only one who was disappointed when The Caller (8th outing for Robert Hunter) was not published last July and we the faithful had to wait a further 6+ months before the great Detective Hunter of the LA ultra violent crimes unit was confronted once again with a seemingly unstoppable and deranged serial killer. Hunter is not like any detective I have met before, he is highly intelligent possessing an over active mind that rarely allows him time to relax. He enjoys alcohol but not in the falling down "sozzled" way, rather his tipple of choice is single malt scotch whisky which he savours and sips....."Hunter reached for his glass and brought it to his nose. The smoky and complex aroma of the golden liquid made him smile again. He picked up a water jar and poured just a little more than a few drops into the tumbler, before finally sipping his whisky. Smooth sweet vanilla, with sooty smoke coming to the fore and a long honeyed ember finish..."

A sadistic killer is once again targeting victims in downtown LA, and his methods of execution are both bloody and ingenious. Rather than use immediate torture he makes a video call to someone very close to the victim and asks that person 2 questions. If the friend is successful in answering then the victim lives but a wrong response results in him or her having to watch a horrific and callous murder. What sets Chris Carter's books apart from his rivals is the methods that the perpetrator uses to silence his victims. We have a face destroyed by glass fragments, a head crushed in a vice, a skull penetrated with a chisel and hammer...He brought the chisel and hammer back to Cassandra's head. This time he positioned the chisel just a little left from center, and only about an inch up from her forehead........Up went the hammer. Down it came BANG...." The fact that the author studied psychology and criminal behaviour and as a criminal psychologist  worked with many serious offenders means that he can display his knowledge through the brilliant and determined Detective Hunter. My Favourite character in The Caller is Mr J (Jenkinson) married to the lovely Cassandra, who falls victim to the "demon" (I'm not spoiling the story by sharing that with you) We discover that Mr J has a hidden occupation, one that his wife was not aware of, he is a hit man for the mob, and when Cassandra meets an untimely demise Mr J is on the case.....So with Detective Hunter chasing the demon before he strikes again and Mr J demanding revenge the scene is set for a fantastic conclusion...a perfect ending that bought a smile to my face with a beautiful closing observation......

Yes Chris Carter's stories may not be deep, observational and character driven but by god they are great fun to read and once started impossible to stop. The front of the UK hardback edition states "as compelling as a box-set thriller" and that is a great description. I hope I do not have to wait 18 months before joining Detective Hunter and his colleague Carlos Garcia on another thrilling outing!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Fast paced Scandinavian crime thriller

When I started this book it really confused me. I expect Scandinavian fiction to be a slow burner with deep descriptions and weighty character development. However from page 1 we are literally thrown into the unrelenting action as Detective Sam Berger together with his trusty assistant Deer (Desire) smash rotten wooden planks and charges through the door of a ruined building, battering ram in hand, in search of another teenaged girl who has disappeared without trace.

At first I found the unrelenting pace not to my liking but as the story evolved and the complexities developed and ticked away, like the mechanics of well oiled Patek Philippe 2508, I began to settle into an enjoyable and clever thriller. In total 7 girls have disappeared and on searching through photographic evidence Berger notices that in a number of pictures, from separate crime scenes, a lady on a bicycle is always present. Her name is Nathalie Freden and if the detectives can successfully trace and connect her to William Larsson, the supposed killer then surely the case can reach a swift and needy conclusion....not so dear readers for in the hands of a very accomplished author nothing is what is seems. Very soon life for Sam Berger is turned upside down and the search is on for a sophisticated killer that stretches back many years where the skills of a murderer are honed and perfected in the seemingly innocent world of a school playground. What is the significance of a small mechanical cog left at each crime scene? and how is this connected with the theft of an expensive Patek Philippe watch from Detective Berger's prized collection?

The story is full of surprises and moved in directions that I did not expect, but equally really enjoyed, as the author presented a complex thriller in a very reader friendly format. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley who supplied me with an early gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A clever little horror story

Julie and Ken a young couple trying to save their marriage copulate in the forest, under the watchful eye of Lonny. Lonny lives in a log cabin alone with some unusual and familiar  company in his cellar. His childhood was a sad picture of incest and abuse living with his sister Delia, who he loved, and a tyrannical and abusive father Nathaniel..."a big man tall, broad-shouldered, thick -limbed who looks like a brute at the best of times." With Delia dead Lonny believes in his own twisted and disturbed mind that by sacrificing lives he can bring Delia back to life.

This is quite a clever little story part 80's horror incorporated with the flavour of a well known nursery rhyme concerning a young girl along in the forest and a big bad wolf...."The cold fluttering that she'd felt in the woods started up again. After all, she was alone, in the middle of the forest-at night no less- in the cabin of a strange man who from the look of things lived like a monk." Indeed the author invokes the image of Icarus in the final pages who forgot his father's warnings and dared to fly too close to the sun on wings of feathers and wax."

So if you appreciate biblical legends, remember with fondness early European fairy tales, crave the company of Freddy Krueger, and enjoy singing along to Dueling Banjos then quite possibly you will love A Kiss of Thorns but beware...if you go down to the woods today!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Superior nordic storytelling

Scandanavian noir is a type of crime fiction that is written with a certain realistic style that is both dark and morally challenging. In some ways it is akin to the revered English author Agatha Christie where the players are introduced, analysed and in a complex series of incidents the murderer is exposed. Although The Legacy is strictly set in Iceland I have taken the liberty of categorizing it under Scandi/Nordic noir as it contains many of the latter's  storytelling characteristics.

Detective Huldar is investigating the murder of Elisa Freysteinsson and the only witness to this horrific crime is her 7 year old daughter Margret, so traumatised by the event that she is naturally unable to communicate just exactly what she witnessed. In desperation Huldar turns his attention to an organisation known as Children's House and in particular Freyja whose field of expertise is dealing with traumatised young people. This is a difficult situation for Huldar as he had recently been involved in a short, intense relationship with Freyja which must now be set aside in the interest of justice and the care and management of a very frightened young girl.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir's style of writing is unhurried, descriptive and yet so involving. It rewards a patient reader with a superb piece of storytelling that gradually and systematically analyses and disregards the irrelevant finally exposing the perpetrator. What is the significance of using an electric appliance as a murder weapon? What are the strange short wave number codes received by a socially inept shy Karl? As the murder count rises and progress falters Huldar must use all his cunning and experience to find answers and to encourage the young Margret to reveal just who she saw on the night her mother was killed.

I work within the legal system and was very impressed how the author managed the rather delicate conversations and interviews that Freyja was obligated to implement with a very frightened child. The success or otherwise of the investigation rested to a greater part on the outcome of these interviews, would a young Margret gradually reveal the one piece of information that Huldar so desperately needed?

Many thanks to the publisher Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a gratis copy of The Legacy in return for an honest review, and that is what I have written.