Book Review

Book Review: The Lost by Claire McGowan

Today I’m welcoming my Dad back for another guest review.

TheLostNot everyone who’s missing is lost…
When two teenage girls go missing along the Irish border, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has to return to the hometown she left years before. Swirling with rumour and secrets, the town is gripped by fear of a serial killer. But the truth could be even darker.

Not everyone who’s lost wants to be found…
Surrounded by people and places she tried to forget, Paula digs into the cases as the truth twists further away. What’s the link with two other disappearances from 1985? And why does everything lead back to the town’s dark past- including the reasons her own mother went missing years before?

Nothing is what it seems…
As the shocking truth is revealed, Paula learns that sometimes, it’s better not to find what you’ve lost.

This was the latest book to come from the pile I have available to read and another new author.

I was immediately interested when I found that the lead character was not the usual male detective inspector with a passion for Fast Cars/Vintage Cars/Playing Rock Guitar/Part time magician (delete as appropriate) and was in fact a female forensic psychologist. I know it tells you this on the back cover, but I generally don’t pay attention to the cover synopsis and nor do I read through the credits which try and persuade you how good the book is before you make up your own mind.

So back to the story, it is based in Ireland and features a Daughter / Father sub-theme which was curiously similar to the last book I reviewed, Black Irish set in offshore Ireland. It also featured the main character returning to their roots which again parallels the last book and an underlying mystery of a mother who has been missing for many years.

The story this time round involved a number of themes which have affected British and Irish communities in the real life past; the problem of teen pregnancy, the influence of cult organisations from across the pond, and a few nods to the conflicts which have beset both north and south. All of this supported the main storyline of teenage girls going missing over a wide timespan.

The writing style was straightforward and the plot lines easy to follow. The early suggestion of the end result was cleverly combined with a constant doubt that the outcome would be as expected. This was supported with twists and turns along the way which suggested other possible scenarios, but I won’t spoil the end here. It involved the usual tangle of characters that all seem to obey the rule of six degrees of separation which is a regular device in this type of thriller.

In summary, the book was a good read, with interesting sub plots, the usual amount of tension, violence and love interest/disinterest, and just enough characters to support the story without causing me to constantly go back and remember who was who.

As I said, this was another new author for me and one that I would seek out again having read this book.

The Lost is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book Review

Book Review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Another guest review from my Dad today, this time a book that took him a little outside of his usual reading comfort zone.

BlackIrishIt was only the first lie…

As the snow drives down and the full force of a Buffalo winter makes itself felt, a man’s body is found. Barely recognisable, the only clues the police have are the ‘1’ carved into the victim’s face and the killer’s sinister calling card, a plastic toy monkey.

This is ‘The County’ – the 27th county of Ireland – a city cocooned in secrets, suspicion and blood feuds, where the residents will do anything to protect their own. And for Detective Absalom Kearney, this case is her one chance to prove to a community more fiercely secretive than ever, that even the most heinous of murderers can be stopped.

But as her investigation develops and the killer starts sending her cryptic messages, Absalom finds herself in a race not only to halt them but also to stop The County’s residents exacting their own form of justice.

Because at the heart of this community there is the darkness peculiar to those forgotten by society, and this darkness will affect Absalom’s life in ways she could never have imagined..

So, having previously said that I don’t care so much for non-UK based crime books, what am I doing reviewing this?

I agreed reluctantly to ‘give it a go’. This on the promise from my daughter that it would broaden my reading horizon. Well she was right, but it did not cure my prejudices completely.

The book is set in Buffalo, but within an Irish community, which presumably is factually accurate, although I did not check. It links back to Ireland so partly qualifies my UK only preference, and touches on some uncomfortable connections and topics around the troubles during the 1970/80s.

The book was enjoyably quick paced, which was curiously in line with the text in places, with a lot of fast car journeys over treacherous ice covered roads. This had me feeling fearful for the main character Absalom Kearney, a female detective returning to the ‘County’ after years away.

Absalom was strangely vulnerable at times, entering dangerous situations alone when any sane person would have taken back-up. She narrowly avoided serious injury or death. This however was all integral to the plot, so her maverick approach could be overlooked even though I was led to worry for her at times.

The sub characters were believable and sufficiently interesting and the relationship between Absalom and her father was a major factor in the whole story. There were some interesting plot points which helped to keep you guessing until revealed and the whole lot was wrapped up in some pretty gory deaths.These had to be described in great, and sometimes stomach churning detail, in order to support the overall significance of the links between the murders.

In summary, I read it and I found the psychological and crime aspects very enjoyable, but as I don’t do blood and guts in real life, was not entirely happy about that aspect of the story. That is more about me than the book, and if you like a deep thriller, and can deal with that, this is for you.

Black Irish is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book News

Book Review: The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne.

In a first today I’m handing the blog over to my dad. He’s a keen (though not speedy) reader of British set crime thrillers so I knew he was the perfect person to offer a couple of review copies of books to, in exchange for a review.

UnquietGraveThe Cold Case crime department of Derby Constabulary feels like a morgue to DI Damen Brook. As a maverick cop, his bosses think it’s the best place for him.

But Brook isn’t going to go down without a fight. Applying his instincts and razor sharp intelligence, he sees a pattern in a series of murders that seem to begin in 1963. How could a killer go undetected for so long? And why are his superiors so keen to drive him down blind alleys?

Brook delves deep into the past of both suspects and colleagues unsure where the hunt will lead him. What he does know for sure is that a significant date is approaching fast and the killer is certain to strike again…

This was my first Steven Dunne as far as I know, but as I get most of books either as gifts or from my daughter’s review pile it may not be. There was nothing familiar about the style or content so lets assume it was! (JJ – It was.)

I probably read crime and psychological thrillers more than anything else but have a distinct preference for UK based stuff. I like to be able to place locations and language in my mind. I am the same with TV. This book did just that being based around Derby, an area I know quite well.

It was a variation on the usual theme, in that the lead character D.I. Damen Brook is moved from active policing into a cold case review role. This, following a period of recovery from a previous case and more importantly a bit of a punishment for various run-ins with his bosses. It leads to some interesting sub-plots around police officers, both active and retired, who see him as some form of pariah because of his history and methods. Dunne writes these diversions well and you find yourself siding with Brook as intended, and hoping he will deck one or two of them.

The main plot revolves around a set of initially unlinked Murders and, as it is cold case, the time-span covers several decades. These are briefly but adequately explained in flashbacks to support the main plot, and overall the book moves smoothly on, so I rarely got lost or confused. Pleasantly for me I also didn’t solve the mysteries early on in the book, and the twists and turns kept me interested to the last chapter.

Whilst I enjoyed the story for what it was I did find some of the content a little unbelievable, unless the police are endemically corrupt. Unfortunately this seems to be a common plot technique which for me crops up too often, both in books and TV. The extent of corruption in this book sustained over such a long period and involving a number of characters and plot lines just went a little too far to be real.

In summary this is a book I would recommend if you like a gritty and thought provoking police drama. It was a great introduction to the writer for me, and I would have no hesitation in reading the other books in this canon, which have up till now passed me by.

The Unquiet Grave is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book Review

Book Review : A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. And three deaths, linked by a chilling forensic detail.

Working as an enforcer in London’s criminal underworld brought Dan Shaper to the edge of a breakdown. Now he’s a private investigator, kept perilously afloat by a growing cocktail of drugs. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from Mr George Glass. The elderly eccentric claims to be a New Age Messiah, but now needs a saviour of his own. He’s been marked for murder.

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind to its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying killer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.

This is Simon Spurrier’s second novel published by Headline, whilst I was aware of him as a writer I haven’t read his previous novel Contact but I’ve heard decent things about it. I was really taken by the synopsis for A Serpent Uncoiled and thought I would give it a go. I’m so glad that I did, within a few pages I was completely hooked – I read it in a morning and even put off lunch so that I could finish it.

The book opens with private investigator Dan Shaper wrapping up a case at a brothel. Once he’s finished with the case he’s planning on taking some time off to detox (he keeps himself going by self-medicating in a terrifyingly precise manner) but he gets a call that pulls him straight into another case – detox must wait.

The new case initially seems pretty straightforward and standard crime thriller fare, there is a serial killer on the loose who has warned a future victim that he’s a target. The potential victim, George Glass, is far from standard. He claims to be over a thousand years old and some sort of spiritual Messiah complete with his own following of new age enthusiasts. Very quickly the plot moves on from feeling even remotely familiar as it twists through drug fuelled hazes, passing gangland mobsters and aura seeing hippies on the way. Time after time the reader is lead along with Shaper down dead ends, as Spurrier first flings out plot threads galore and then weaves them all back in together for the final reveal of whodunnit and both how and why.

I felt by the end of the first chapter that I had a pretty good idea of who Dan Shaper was. Very quickly however I started to realise that there was more to him than being a PI, he has a hard past that is never far away leaving him with contacts in both the police and London’s criminal underbelly that he doesn’t always want. He used to be a man who would solve any problem any way, he’s trying hard to leave that life behind but it’s insisting on clinging on. He’s a hugely engaging character, I initially couldn’t quite take to him but the more I read of him the more I understood him. I’m still not sure that I could say that I liked him, but I was most definitely rooting for him for the majority of the book.

The book is filled with interesting, well created characters who all have their part to play in the plot. I found Glass’ daughter Sandra very compelling, and loved the rather unusual criminal Coram family. I really wanted to love Vince, Shaper’s closest ally, but I didn’t like some of his actions towards the end of the book so ended up with mixed feelings towards him.

The book is written in a fast and intricate manner. The plot could have spiralled out of control and ended up confusing but Spurrier has a great handle on it from start to end. It is only as he starts weaving all of the story threads together that you realise that nothing is in the book by accident, everything is there for a reason and has its part to play. It’s an intelligent and entirely satisfying read, particularly as the solution plays out for both Shaper and the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I’ve already said I put off food for it which as my friends and family know is a big thing for me to say. I’m certainly going to be catching up with Contact and looking forward to whatever Simon Spurrier writes next.

A Serpent Uncoiled is published in hardback by Headline in the UK from 4th August 2011 priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Plugged by Eoin Colfer.

Meet Dan. An Irishman who’s ended up in New Jersey and finds himself embroiled in a world of murder, kidnapping and corrupt cops.

Dan works as a bouncer in a seedy club, half in love with hostess Connie. When Connie is murdered on the premises, a vengeful Dan finds himself embroiled in an increasingly deadly sequence of events in which his doctor friend Zeb goes mysteriously missing, a cop-killing female cop becomes his only ally, and he makes an enemy of ruthless drug-dealer Mike Madden.

Written with the warmth and wit that make the Artemis Fowl novels so irresistible, though with additional torture and violence, PLUGGED is a brilliant crime debut from a naturally gifted writer with a huge fanbase.

I must start this review by admitting that until I started to read this book I’d never read anything by Eoin Colfer. I’ve been meaning to give the Artemis Fowl books a try for some time but I’ve just never got round to it. I was lucky enough to hear Eoin talk on a panel at the London Book Fair and hoped that his writing was as funny and charming as the man himself.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed, within a few pages I was hooked and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent reading the book. It’s narrated by Dan, a former soldier now turned bouncer. I’m not always keen on books written in this way but for this particular book it really worked and I found Dan to be a really entertaining narrator. The plot is full of action and whilst it had the potential to become silly Colfer always managed to keep it from going too far.

The cast of Plugged are all well created and interesting characters. They were vividly described in such a way that I could picture them all. As well as loving Dan I developed a real soft spot for ghost Zeb, his little comments and asides were very entertaining. A notable mentions must go to Mrs Delano, Dan’s slightly odd neighbour.

I found Plugged to be a really entertaining read, and it’s reinforced my plan to read more by Colfer. I don’t know if he plans to write more about Dan but if he does I shall certainly look forward to reading it.

Plugged is published in hardback and trade paperback by Headline in the UK priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin.

On the Swedish island of Öland, a little boy has gone missing.

It happened twenty years ago, and although his mother, Julia, and her family searched everywhere, no trace of him was ever found.

Until today, when his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island.

Soon, he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?

It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he is much, much closer than she thinks. . .

I read Echoes from the Dead as my third book for The Great Transworld Crime Caper. I hadn’t heard of Johan Theorin before seeing the book on the list for the challenge, but the synopsis sounded intriguing and the fact that it won the CWA Best First Crime Novel in 2009 encouraged me to make it one of my picks.

The book is set on the Swedish island of Öland, Julia left after the disappearance of Jens, her son, twenty years ago but Gerlof, her father, has remained on the island. When he receives what he thinks is Jens’ shoe Julia returns and the two of them get involved in trying to solve the case. Whilst this is going on there is a secondary plot featuring Nils Kant, Gerlof’s main suspect. This tells the story of how a young boy grows up to become a man feared by the island, capable of murder.

I have to admit I didn’t really like many of the characters in the book. I found them hard to identify with and as a result didn’t really feel invested in their stories. Gerlof in particular infuriated me, his habit of keeping secrets made me want to shake him on a number of occasions. I did find Julia to be a well created character, and maybe if I was a parent I would have been able to identify with her more – I certainly saw similarities between her and a family member who lost a child.

I did really like the way the two story lines wove around one another. Nils’ storyline was probably more interesting, but I did find that I’d predicted virtually the whole last section of his story, along with the main story. As I’ve already said I didn’t find the characters easy to engage with and so I did at times find it hard to keep going with the book.

I’m really sad to have ended my challenge with a book I didn’t enjoy very much. I think it’s probably more to do with the fact that I wasn’t the right audience for the book than anything else.

Echoes of the Dead is published in paperback by Black Swan in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Past Caring by Robert Goddard.

1910: Distinguished MP Edwin Strafford resigns at the pinnacle of his career, removing himself from the public eye. The woman he loves, and for whom he was willing to sacrifice everything, suddenly and coldly rejects him. All the reasons for his fall from grace are shrouded in darkness.

Seventy years later, historian Martin Radford is down on his luck when a mysterious benefactor offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: to uncover what exactly happened to Edwin Strafford. But this apparent good fortune swiftly turns into a nightmare. Radford’s investigations trigger a violent series of events, which throw him straight into the path of those who believed they had escaped punishment for crimes long past but never paid for…

This is the second book I’ve read for the Great Transworld Crime Caper. As soon as I read the synopsis of the book I thought it sounded like my sort of book, within a few pages I knew I’d made a good choice.

The plot is split between the present (though that’s in the 1980s, back when the book was written) and the past, as historian Martin Radford tries to investigate what happened to Edwin Strafford back in the 1910s. Edwin’s story is told through his memoir, both plots are gripping and once they started to overlap I found it increasingly hard to put the book down.

I didn’t find the characters in the book particularly easy to like, the majority of them are working to their own personal agenda and seem to have little trouble with doing whatever it takes to get to their goal. Many of the characters are however interesting, I enjoyed reading about Elizabeth, Edwin’s fiancée.

Edwin’s memoir covers his time as a politician and his experiences of the women’s suffrage movement. I found this to be very interesting reading, though as it’s a time of history I don’t know much about I couldn’t comment on it’s historical accuracy.

The book is very readable, and the jumps between the present set narration and the past account provided by the memoir were very smooth. I have previously read books that use diaries and memoirs for flashbacks that have failed in what they were trying to do – Goddard pulls it off very well. I’ll certainly be recommending this book in the future.

Past Caring is published in paperback by Corgi in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.