Review Catch-Up ~ August 22nd 2020

woman holding brown open notebook

This is the fourth in a series of catch up posts with short reviews of books that I’ve read over the past couple of months but haven’t been able to get round to writing about in any great detail. It’s not meant to imply that the books are in anyway inferior to those which get a post to themselves, just that I tend to read faster than I can blog and it seems better to provide a brief comment than nothing at all.

Silent Kill ~ Jane Casey

Silent Kill is a novella that fits in between the last two of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan novels and unlike the short stories from Ben Aaronovitch which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, it very definitely does add to the ongoing narrative of the series. For the last three novels Maeve, now a detective sergeant, has been plagued by the presence of DC Georgia Shaw. Georgia, a fast track entry to the force, rubs all her colleagues up the wrong way. She wants their attention, their recognition, to be included in everything that’s going on without quite seeming to realise that she has to earn both the respect and the right to the involvement that she seeks. Now, for the first time, Casey tells us a story from Georgia’s point of view and in doing so, offers some insight into why she behaves as she does.

15-year-old Minnie Charleston, a pupil at Lovelace, a private school in Battersea, is found dead in the seat she has occupied for the past few stops on a London bus. During the course of her journey several passengers have sat next to her but none of them appear to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Given that she has been stabbed one of them must surely be the culprit but CCTV is frequently blurred by other members of the public coming and going on the journey and so each of the passengers must be traced and interviewed.

As the team try to discover more about Minnie herself a disturbing picture begins to form. Clearly neglected at home (“some of the parents are more available and engaged than others,” says her headteacher) the teenager has turned into a bully and become caught up with right wing extremists. There are a good many people who might wish this young lady harm. Perhaps even more disturbing, however, for Georgia is that inevitably as we read on we see the parallels between Minnie and the police officer. Much of Georgia’s ineptitude is the result of the relationship that she has with her mother, who has never got over the loss from cancer of her beloved older daughter and who treats the younger sibling as if she is worthless. Georgia doesn’t know how to interact with and value others because she has never had an adequate role model.

Given that this occupies a timeslot before the action that takes place in The Cutting Place, I’m tempted to go back now and re-read that just to see if there is any indication that Georgia has matured somewhat as a result of the insights she seems to be gaining by the end of this novella.

After the Fire ~ Jo Spain

Tom Reynolds may have moved on from his position at the head of the Murder Squad in Dublin but even though he now holds the top job at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation that doesn’t mean that he can’t still stick his nose in when a new and interesting case develops, in this instance the aftermath of a house fire early one July morning. When it becomes apparent that the two bodies found in the house were already dead before the fire began and that the sole apparent witness is a young Russian woman who can only tell them “I couldn’t save the baby“, Tom and the team, now led by DCI Laura Lennon, have to face the fact that they are looking for something more than just an arsonist. As the facade of respectability built up by the occupier of the house, Matteo Russo, begins to crumble, Tom and Laura realise they are dealing with the consequences of a falling out within the organised-crime world. However, getting to the roots of just which gangs are involved is not as easy as it might have been at one time. The once “big“ man behind much of the crime scene in Dublin, Patrick “BLT“ Cowell, is serving a life sentence in jail and it isn’t apparent who, if anyone, has picked up the reins of his empire. If there is a new major player in town, then the police don’t know who it is.

Laura, her team depleted by the decision of the powers that be to focus on gun crime, calls in the assistance of Natasha McCarthy, head of sexual crimes, as it becomes clear that the more likely evil at the root of the conflagration is human trafficking. Tyanna, the young Russian girl still recovering in hospital, is nevertheless obviously being threatened by someone and when Nina Cusack, a drug addict, returns to her family home after a two-year absence, her parents realise that she too has been involved and is still frightened of some sort of retribution.

The investigation pinpoints an apparently respectable solicitor, Hugo de Burgh, who thinks every bit as highly of himself as Jane Austen’s Grande Dame of the same name.  Was de Burgh merely a client of what it is now clear was an active brothel, or does his presence on the CCTV point to a more sinister involvement? Former chief superintendent, Joe Kennedy, “the champion of horizontal career moves“ and still a thorn in Tom’s side, pinpoints him as “the go-to man for half of the gangsters in Dublin”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is also a murderer and an arsonist.

Meanwhile, Tom is in trouble at home. He is supposed to be on holiday and his wife, Louise, doesn’t appreciate the hours that he is putting in on what should be Laura‘s case. She is initially delighted, therefore, when he suggests they take a short break in Newcastle, less so when she discovers that he is looking for more information about the man who is now their main suspect.  However, it is in Newcastle that the case finally begins to come together and the race is now on to find and save the baby whose fate has so troubled Tyanna.

I came to Jo Spain‘s novels quite late in the series, which was a delight because it meant I had several investigations to catch up with. This latest is every bit as good as the earlier ones and if you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Tom Reynolds and his team then I recommend them to you very warmly.

Review Catch-Up ~ July 11th 2020

beverage blur ceylon cup

This is the second of a series of catch-up posts with short reviews of books that I’ve read over the past couple of months but haven’t been able to get round to writing about in any great detail. It’s not meant to imply that the books are any less worthy than those that get a post to themselves, just that I tend to read faster than I can blog about and it seems better to provide a brief comment than nothing at all.

The Finisher ~ Peter Lovesey

Murder is only the beginning. The real question is how do you get rid of the corpse? That’s the job of the finisher: tidying things up when they start to get nasty. As the most recent of Peter Lovesey’s DS Diamond series begins the finisher’s immediate task is overseeing a group of illegal Albanian immigrants, a job which includes disposing of the bodies of any who try to make a break for freedom. When Spiro and Murat take their chance to get away they know that their only hope is to run as fast and as far as they can. They are not the only people with running on their minds, however. The Bath alternative half marathon, known as the Other Half, is on the horizon and Maeve Kelly is out training for it. This is not Maeve’s preferred way of spending her time but a series of unexpected events mean that she is using it as a way of raising money for the British Heart Foundation. Her self-appointed trainer is a fellow teacher from the primary school where she works, Trevor, a man who appears to have an interest in more than Maeve’s running style. Also in training for the race is Belinda Pye and when she fails to record a finishing time and is subsequently not to be found in her lodgings, Diamond’s interest is piqued, especially when CCTV footage shows her to have been pestered by Tony Pinto. Diamond put Pinto away several years previously after he took a Stanley knife to a woman who had complained about his behaviour. The DS is horrified to know that Pinto has been released and given his presence in the proximity of the missing woman he automatically becomes the chief subject. But Pinto has gone missing as well and the search leads Diamond into the underground caverns left by decades of stone quarrying in the area where the race took place.

I’ve only recently discovered Peter Lovesey’s work. I was given the first of his novels this time last year. I wasn’t completely convinced by that and now I’ve decided to try a second, I’m not sure that I’m convinced by this either. Lovesey starts too many hares for me and I’m not sure that all the strands come together as well as they might. I’m also not sure about the tone. At times there is a sense of irony which doesn’t sit well with the subject matter. However, if you have read his work in the past and enjoyed it then this one does seem to me to be fairly typical and I’m sure you will relish it as well.

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK Sphere and NetGalley for the review copy.


The Gift: The First Book of Pellinor ~ Alison Croggon 

Alison Croggon’s Pellinor series deserves to be as well known as any of the works of high fantasy written with a young teenage audience in mind and yet I still find that this Australian author is far too rarely spoken of despite the fact that her books are every bit as good as those of authors such as Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and even Ursula Le Guin.  As part of my re-exploration of the works of children’s literature that I remember most fondly I have just re-read the opening volume, The Gift (also published as The Naming) and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I first discovered the series.

When Maerad discovers a stranger hiding in the steading, Gilman’s Cot, where she is a slave, she can have no awareness of the fact that his presence there will change her life forever. Cadvan is a Bard, a term used to describe those who hold the power of the Light against the evil of the Dark, who maintain the world in Balance, terms which will be more than familiar to those who have read the Earthsea and The Dark is Rising sequences.  And the Dark is rising, which is why Cadvan is so far north of his usual haunts, seeking the source of the evil which seems to be penetrating even the Schools of learning where Bards are trained.  His progress is being hindered by an evil force which inhabits the mountainous area where Gilman’s Cot is situated and when he discovers that Maered possesses an inner strength which, when combined with his own, enables him to escape the area, he realises that she too is a Bard, but one in whom the power has yet to fully manifest itself.

As he learns more of as he learns more of Maered’s background and experiences further evidence of the inner strength she possesses, Cadvan begins to suspect that his young charge may be more than simply a ‘baby Bard’. Prophecies speak of someone who will appear during a time of intense crisis, someone able to defeat the ultimate evil, the Nameless. Is Maered that person, the one that those Bards who still serve the Light have been waiting for? The only way to be certain is for them to make the perilous journey to Norlac, where the highest council in the land can admit her into the circle of Bards at which point Maered’s true name and destiny will be revealed. Of course, their journey is long and dangerous and some of the tribulations they meet along the path force both of them to question who can and who cannot be trusted. Neither are their travels made any easier when Cadvan is forced to add another ‘baby Bard’ to his entourage.  Who is Hem? And why does Maered feel such a strong connection to him?

I have just spent two very happy days back in the company of Maered and Cadvan and I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy the other three books in the sequence at the same time as The Gift, as it means I will have to wait a while for the second volume to turn up. I could quite comfortably have read straight through all four from beginning to end. If you enjoy the works of Wynne Jones, Le Guin and Cooper and haven’t yet read Alison Croggon’s novels then I very strongly recommend that you get hold of copies and set aside a long weekend when you can immerse yourself in some first class storytelling.


Review Catch-up ~ July 4th 2020

pile of assorted title book lot selective focus photographt

This is the first of a series of catch-up posts with short reviews of books that I’ve read over the past couple of months but haven’t been able to get round to writing about in any great detail. It’s not meant to imply that the books are any less worthy than those that get a post to themselves, just that I tend to read faster than I can blog about and it seems better to provide a brief comment than nothing at all.

Quiet Acts of Violence ~ Cath Staincliffe

This is the second in a new series by Staincliffe featuring DI Donna Bell and DC Jade Bradshaw both of whom work for the police in Manchester. I haven’t read the first novel, but it is fairly easy to pick up the fact that Bell is not only senior to but considerably older than Bradshaw, is married to a man who at the moment is unable to work and is therefore supporting both him and their five children. Jade, on the other hand, appears to be in her twenties and has come through the care system, an experience that has left her with considerable mental health issues of her own. Donna at one point comments Jade wasn’t wired like most people, the empathy gene missing or disabled, not perhaps a character trait you look for first when recruiting people to the police force.

The case that the novel is built around concerns the discovery of the body of a newborn baby in a waste bin by the homeless Collette Pritchard. Initially an appeal is put out to try to find the baby’s mother, for whose health there is considerable concern. However, when several days have gone by without any success and, given the fact that the post-mortem indicates the child was suffocated, Bell comes under pressure from her Chief Constable to turn the case into a murder enquiry. Certainly, house-to-house questioning conducted in the street where the baby was discovered throws up some interesting and suspicious characters, several of whom clearly have something to hide.

This is the first Staincliffe novel that I’ve actually finished. I have picked up her books in the past, but not really got on with her style of writing. However, this was highly recommended by somebody whose opinions I value and so I thought I would try her again. Unfortunately, I really didn’t get on any better with her style this time and, while it’s inevitable that a police procedural series will focus to some extent on the lives of the officers concerned, I thought that this actually became too central and the crime merely a device on which to hang the story of Bell and Bradshaw’s personal experiences. I’m sorry, but I won’t be going back for any further episodes.

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley for the review copy.


The Truants ~ Kate Weinberg

When Jess Walker attempts to narrow down the books she might use for her dissertation on Agatha Christie, her charismatic tutor, Lorna Clay, suggests that she adds to her selection of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Absent in the Spring not another novel, but Christie’s autobiography. What is it that these three books all have in common? It is the fact that the conduit between the content and the reader is an unreliable narrator. In a novel where the telling of stories features heavily, be they the texts studied in class or the tall stories of the Tuesday Club, unreliable narrators abound and both the characters concerned and the reader have really to be on their toes in order to work out who can be believed and who is spinning a tale.

Jess has gone to what is clearly (although never actually so identified) UEA specifically because of her desire to work with Lorna Clay. Once there she becomes part of a foursome with the beautiful Georgie, the faithful Nick and the older and mysterious Alec. Alec, coming from a controversial journalistic background in South Africa, is not afraid of challenging anyone and, despite the fact that he is ‘officially’ Georgia’s boyfriend, Jess is soon captivated by him. But, there is a mystery about his past just as there is about Lorna, her time at Cambridge and her sudden recent change of job. In a novel which at times has telling overtones of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jess finds herself caught up in an ongoing series of events the extent of which she only gradually begins to understand. As she, along with the reader, starts to unpick the truth beneath the stories she has been told, a second Christie trope begins to emerge, namely the question of whether or not it is ever acceptable to kill an individual in order to save the lives of the many.

I am a sucker for a campus novel, even more so when is it clearly set on a campus I happened to know. At the point where Georgie is quoted as having said these mattresses are like lying on sacks of Jerusalem artichokes, my immediate thought was, you have mattresses? The last time I slept in student accommodation there it was on a one inch sheet of foam; except I slept on the floor because it was more comfortable. When you add into the mix a well written first novel built around the ideas prevalent in Agatha Christie‘s work then for me you have a winner. I very much enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to anybody who has fond memories of either the Tartt novel or of Christine’s output. Kate Weinberg has gone straight on to my list of authors whose books I automatically add to the tbr pile.

With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.