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 : The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith.

SPoLaFSWho would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

When I travelled by plane for the first time on my own I found myself paying far more attention to my fellow passengers, and thinking about the fact that on a long haul flight you spend more time sat next to a complete stranger than you might in the space of a year with a distant relative yet you often get off the plane still knowing absolutely nothing about them. So when I heard about this book I was really intrigued by the plot, it sounded like something I’d really enjoy.

Enjoy? I absolutely loved it! Within the first few pages I was completely wrapped up in the story, from Hadley and Oliver first meeting to their plane journey and then their respective stories in London. The plot is lovely, and sweet, with plenty of funny bits, making it a really really good romantic comedy.

Hadley and Oliver are both great characters, I really enjoyed getting to know them both. The budding friendship and romance between the two of them felt really genuine and played out well. I also liked the way the supporting characters were written, Hadley’s dad and stepmom-to-be in particular.

I thought this books was brilliant, it’s a slim book so a fairly quick read, but one that I know I’ll be revisiting time and time again.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is published by Headline in the UK.

Book Review

Book Review : The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I heard lots of wonderful things about this book from friends whose opinions I really trust so when I won a proof copy I was really excited to discover what all the fuss was about. I picked a suitably cold and rainy day, curled up and let myself be transported back to 1920s Alaska.

This book is absolutely beautiful. It tells the story of Jack and Mabel who have moved to Alaska in the hope of a new life after the heartbreak of losing a baby. The book follows the couple as they adjust to a whole new way of life, we get to experience the life of the homesteaders from hunting to coping with the cold and lack of sunshine, and to becoming a part of this small community. Then the mysterious Faina appears in their life, everyone has their own theory on where she has come from and why. Whatever her story, her influence on both Jack and Mabel is both instantaneous and significant.

There are so many wonderful characters in this book. I found myself drawn to both Jack and Mabel, and I loved the way that the book took into account both of their feelings rather than focusing solely on Mabel. The way they related to one another was beautifully written, at times I almost felt like I was peeking through the window and eavesdropping on them. I also loved Garrett, and the way we got to see him grow from a boy into a man over the course of the book. And then of course there is Faina, mysterious, magical Faina. She’s such a quiet character, yet she fills every page she appears on, and when she disappeared (as she periodically does) I found that I was missing her as much as the other characters.

The book is written in such a way that you are entirely transported into it. The descriptive writing really brings the reader into the harsh world of wintery Alaska. As I got towards the end of the book I tried to slow down my reading, I wasn’t ready to return to the real world. I did of course reach the end, and there was only one thing to do – I sat there and hugged the book, still captured under the spell it had cast over me. It’s been a long time since a book has made me feel like this, I know I’m going to be going back and re-reading this book many times to recapture that feeling.

The Snow Child is published in hardback and eBook by Headline Review in the UK from 1st February 2012. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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 : Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder.

When PI Nick Heller moves back to Boston to set up his own agency, he soon gets an urgent case even closer to home than expected.

Alexandra Marcus – teenage daughter of hedge fund titan Marshall Marcus – has been kidnapped. But it’s no ordinary kidnapping – and it’s not even clear what they want. She’s been abducted by professionals and buried alive in an underground casket. A video camera is streaming her desperate pleas live over the internet. With only a limited supply of food and water, her time is quickly running out.

A close friend of the family, Nick is more determined than ever to catch the perpetrators. But when Marshall is arrested for fraud, Nick uncovers some powerful enemies and a conspiracy that reaches up to the very highest levels of government. Faced with opponents well-protected by wealth and position, Nick must play a dangerous game if he hopes to flush out those responsible before Alexa is buried for good…

I have heard great things about the first Nick Heller book, Vanished, so when I got the chance to review Buried Secrets I jumped at it. I was a little unsure of whether not having read Vanished would put me at a disadvantage for enjoying Buried Secrets, but it certainly didn’t seem to. Whilst I’m sure there may have been little references that I missed but I never felt confused or as if I’d missed anything.

The plot is pretty gripping, we’re introduced to Alexa first and get to know her a little before she is kidnapped and buried alive. Her story is narrated in the third person, and I think this works well – reading the descriptions of both what is happening to her and what her kidnapper is doing lends itself to the narration. I found some of the passages describing her situation challenging to read, it really felt tense and claustrophobic.

Nick is introduced after Alexa is kidnapped, we get to see him dealing with a client before he gets the call about her case. I liked this, it meant I got a feel for him before he was thrown into the kidnapping case. In contrast to Alexa’s story the Nick thread is narrated in the first person. I sometimes find shifts in storytelling like this a bit clunky and awkward, but Finder pulls it off brilliantly. I think again that it works well for the type of narrative, I liked being able to follow Nick’s thoughts as he progressed through the case.

The plot is pretty involved, Nick has to uncover layer upon layer of lies and cover ups. I think Finder just about gets away with some of the more extreme plot points, though a couple did make me shake my head a little. It certainly felt like Nick had some convenient contacts and inside knowledge. That said, the reveal at the end of who was behind everything did work for me.

The need at times to suspend belief didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book at all, once I’d started reading it I found it very hard to put down and finished it in two sittings. I loved the occasional mentions of comic books, I always enjoy geeky references in the books I read. I’m certainly going to be going back and reading Vanished, and I’m sure I’ll probably give some of Joseph Finder’s other books a go too.

Buried Secrets is published in paperback by Headline in the UK priced £13.99. 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

Book Review : Cuckoo by Julia Crouch.

A dark, juicy, deliciously unsettling, read-it-in-one-sitting psychological drama.

Rose has it all – the gorgeous children, the husband, the beautiful home. But then her best friend Polly comes to stay. Very soon, Rose’s cosy world starts to fall apart at the seams – her baby falls dangerously ill, her husband is distracted – is Polly behind it all? It appears that once you invite Polly into your home, it’s very difficult to get her out again…

When I sat down to start reading Julia Crouch’s debut novel I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The synopsis appears to give you an idea of what the book is but as you get drawn deeper and deeper within the book the plot almost seems to swallow you in. I found that the further into the book I got the harder it was to put down, I was more and more gripped with the more I read.

The major characters are all really well written. I found them to be very three dimensional, no character was all good or all bad. I loved that it was written from Rose’s perspective, I found that when she was wondering about what was going on I was wondering too. Within in this I liked the fact it was written in the third person rather than the first – for me this helped to build the suspense.

Cuckoo feels very realistic as you read it. I think it taps into the world of friendship so well, most people will find thoughts that resonate with how they’ve felt about a friendship in the past. I think the fact it is so believable makes it all the more creepy. There are twists and turns throughout the book, but the ending still managed to blow me away. This was a book that stayed with me for days, I kept catching my thoughts wandering back to it.

If this is what Julia Crouch writes for a debut novel I’m very excited to see what’s going to come next.

Cuckoo is published in hardback by Headline in the UK from 3rd March 2011 priced £19.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.