Book Review

Book Review : “Hollywood Hills” by Joseph Wambaugh.

The legendary Hollywood Hills are home to wealth, fame, and power – passing through the neighbourhood, it’s hard not to get a little greedy.

LAPD veteran ‘Hollywood Nate’ Weiss could take or leave the opulence, but he wouldn’t say no to a shot at celluloid immortality. And it looks like he may get his chance when he catches the eye of a B-list director or – more to the point – the appreciative eye of the B-list director’s predatory fiancée. Nate knows the Hollywood maxim – you don’t pet the boss’s cougar – but he’s got to keep his silver screen dream alive, so he agrees to add her hillside mansion to his beat.
It really shouldn’t be a problem, but this is Hollywood and although the air may be a little more rarefied in the hills, when night falls, just like in the city, anything can happen…

Up here, an ex-con-cum-butler is trying to go straight, a nattily-dressed-but-destitute art dealer has his eye on an opportunity that just might save his floundering business, a drug-addled pair of petty thieves are about to get very lucky… and Nate’s flirtation in the Hills is going to leave the crew at Hollywood Station with a deadly situation on their hands.

I love a good police story, and I love a bit of Hollywood glitz and glamour so when I read the synopsis of this book I thought it sounded like something I’d enjoy. After reading the first chapter that came complete with a pair of surfer dude cops known to the rest of their team as Flotsam and Jetsam and I thought I’d made the right choice. Over the next few chapters however new characters and plot threads were brought in and I found myself becoming less sure about what the plot of the story actually was – there were so many things going on. I stuck with it though and was glad I did as bit by bit Wambaugh wove the seemingly unrelated threads together to tell a thoroughly engaging tale. I found at times that it reminded me a lot of the tv programme Southland, a definite positive for me as I’ve been missing it for some time now.

There are plenty of interesting characters to be found within the pages of Hollywood Hills. I did find initially that I confused a couple from time to time but pretty quickly I got them all sorted and separated. Some of the characters did at times feel a bit caricaturish, for example the experienced female cop who spends all her time explaining to her female trainee the ways her male colleagues will act badly towards her. Flotsam and Jetsam remained firm favourites with me, their bromance was written so well that I would have happily read a spin off novel featuring them as the main characters.

As I’ve said after a slightly shaky start I got really wrapped up in this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I shall certainly add Joseph Wambaugh to my list of authors to look out for in the future.

Book Review

Book Review : “Darkside” by Belinda Bauer.

Shipcott in bleak mid-winter: a close knit community where no stranger goes unnoticed. So when an elderly woman is murdered in her bed, village policeman Jonas Holly is doubly shocked. How could someone have killed and left no trace?

Jonas finds himself sidelined as the investigation is snatched away from him by an abrasive senior detective. Is his first murder investigation over before it’s begun?

But this isn’t the end of it for Jonas, because someone in the village is taunting him, blaming him for the tragedy, and watching every move he makes. Someone thinks he’s not doing hisjob. And when the killer claims another vulnerable victim, these taunts turn into sinister threats.

Blinded by rising paranoia, relentless snow and fear for his own invalid wife, Jonas strikes out alone on a mystifying hunt. But the threats don’t stop – and neither do the murders . . .

I read Belinda Bauer’s debut novel Blacklands last year and loved it so I couldn’t wait to get started on reading her new book. Set in the same community as Blacklands but a few years on Bauer again weaves a tense thriller that had me gripped from start to finish.

On first look the plot line looks like something you’d find in a typical British murder drama; a small community, a series of shocking murders, people who are hiding secrets and an incoming detective who thinks he knows it all. There is so much more to the book than this however, I found that each time I started to think I knew where it was going the rug was pulled from under me as another thread of the plot fell into place. When I got to the last few chapters I sat reading with my mouth wide open, the skillful conclusion of all of the threads left me thinking about the book for days.

One of things I love about Bauer’s writing is the way that every character is treated with such care and attention. I really felt like I knew so many of the characters that were popping up, whether they were vital to the plot or just part of the background. Whilst DCI Marvel was fairly obnoxious I felt he was probably pretty true to life, and at times he had me laughing out loud. It was also lovely to see Steven Lamb return from Blacklands, and see what life had brought him next.

Blacklands was a great book, Darkside is even better. If this is the way Belinda Bauer is developing I can not wait to see where she goes next.

“Darkside” is published in hardback by Transworld books in the UK priced £12.99 from 6th January 2011. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “The Godfather of Kathmandu” by John Burdett.

Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is summoned to investigate the most shocking murder of his career. Solving it could mean a promotion but, still reeling from a personal tragedy, Sonchai is more interested in Tietsin, an exiled Tibetan lama living in Kathmandu.

But there are obstacles in Sonchai’s path to enlightenment. Police Colonel Vikorn and Army General Zinna are at war again for control over Bangkok’s network of illegal enterprises – and Tietsin has forty million dollars’ worth of heroin for sale. With his life in increasing danger, Sonchai is put to the extreme test.

This is the fourth book that Burdett has written featuring Sonchai, but it is the first one that I’ve read. I think that if I had previous experience of the books I may have found this one a little easier to read. The plot of the murder is entwined with the drugs plot which has a subplot of Sonchai’s own quest for spiritual enlightenment. I personally found the murder plot line the most interesting, but this was the one that had the least coverage. I found the spiritual plot the least interesting, and did at times find myself scanning through it rather than reading it fully.

The character of Sonchai was quite confusing I found, but I feel that this was probably well crafted – he is a man caught up in grief who is trying to balance his personal quest to live a good life with the external influences of his boss Vikorn who is steering him to instead become more corrupt. I found Sonchai’s assistant Lek really interesting but sadly he didn’t get anywhere near as much coverage as I would have liked.

I personally found the style in which the book was written to be difficult to get to grips with. Sonchai narrates the book, but he switches between the present tense and the past tense when talking about different events. I am not a fan of books narrated in the present tense, but that is very much a personal preference and it would be wrong to criticise the book on these grounds. The story itself is well crafted and I’m sure there are many people who will find it hard to put down.

“The Godfather of Kathmandu” is published in paperback on 9th December 2010 by Corgi books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “Blacklands” by Belinda Bauer.

Stephen Lamb was born to a family struggling to cope with a tragedy. Years ago when his mother was a young girl her brother was kidnapped and killed by a serial killer. Whereas the bodies of most of his victims were found, buried on Exmoor, the body of Stephen’s Uncle Billy was never found. Stephen knows that if he can find the body his family might be able to begin to heal, and so spends all of his free time digging on the moor hoping each time that today will be his lucky day. A school lesson on persuasive writing makes him realise that he has a knack for letter writing, and so he decides that maybe there might be a better way to find the location of Billy’s grave.

This debut novel by Belinda Bauer has won this year’s CWA Golden Dagger Award so I was keen to give it a go. Within the first few chapters I found myself getting pulled into the story, and soon found it hard to put it down. I kept setting arbitrary points at which I would stop reading and get on with all the things I should be doing, but as soon as I hit my stop point I found a reason to set a new point and just carry on reading.

The plot is a carefully crafted one that deals with some potentially difficult topics. A lot of time is focused on Arnold Avery, the child killer and paedophile, and at times reading what he is thinking and plotting does make for uncomfortable reading. I have seen other reviewers draw parallels with the Moors Murders and can see that for some this would be a challenging read. I personally thought the balance was well kept, and a lot of crime thrillers contain content that isn’t suited to all readers’ tastes.

I thought the characters were well crafted, and the plot was certainly engaging. I will be looking forward to reading what Bauer writes next.

“Blacklands” is published in paperback by Corgi Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.