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imageThe misery of domestic violence has occasionally been depicted in crime fiction but it’s a subject that’s difficult to read about. There’s enough violence, intimidation and hatred in the situation that victims find themselves in without adding a murder investigation into the mix. But Sarah Hilary has done very well to do just that; set a killing in a home for victims of domestic violence without it seeming gratuitous or exploitative.

Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is in charge of an investigation to discover why a man has been wounded in a women’s refuge. Although it initially looks like a case of lackadaisical security in a place for those looking to escape violence in the home, Marnie soon discovers more complex relationships exploiting the stresses of vulnerable people.

This is a difficult book to review as to go into the plot in any depth would give away too many spoilers. There are a number of twists and turns, one of which I saw coming, which in no way spoilt my enjoyment of the book. There narrative is multi-layered and, like the best crime novels, the lines between victim and villain are often unclear.

This is a debut novel for Sarah Hilary and the first in a series featuring Marnie Rome. She has managed to give us something new with her detective inspector. Marnie has her own secrets which she partially gives up towards the end of the novel. I suspect there are more to come.

Thanks to Headline for my review copy.

It’s taken a while for me to get around to this book which is a shame as it turned out to be an excellent read. I very much Death-Cant-Take-A-Jokeenjoyed Lipska’s debut novel, Where the Devil Can’t Go, and read it first as an e-book before it was published in the UK by The Friday Project. Death Can’t Take a Joke is an even better novel that once more gives us a slice of Polish ex-pat life.

Janusz Kiszka, a stalwart of the London Polish ex-pat community, is shocked to hear of the death of his married friend, especially when a beautiful young woman lays flowers in front of his house. He discovers that the young girl, Varenka, is the lover of a wealthy Romanian whose life has been characterised by hardship and brutality. Meanwhile, Detective Natalie Kershaw is investigating the death of a man who appears to have fallen off the top of the Canary Wharf Tower. Her investigation leads to her crossing paths once more with Kiszka and being forced to accept his help as a translator.

The books in this series are dark tales of urban London and detail the squabbles and rivalries that characterise the expat communities from Eastern Europe, even when people have become wealthy. Kiszka is the star of the series, intelligent while capable of violence to protect himself and his friends. More is made in this book of the underlying attraction between Kiszka and Kershaw although both are in relationships, albeit shaky ones. The truth behind the two deaths turns out to be a surprise for readers, for differing reasons, and I’d forgotten how well the author keeps the reader guessing until the conclusion.

This is a series going from strength to strength and the subtleties of interaction between the characters is improving with each book. It would be nice to see the relationship between the two protagonists reach a conclusion, whatever that might be. Perhaps we’ll get this in the next instalment.

Thanks to The Friday Project for my review copy.

 

It takes a talented writer to write convincingly about a country that they aren’t native to. German Truth_About_Harry_Quebert-206x320writer, Charlotte Link, wrote the excellent The Other Child based in the north east of England and now Joel Dicker has written a tale set in New Hampshire that could easily have been written by a US writer.

Harry Quebert is a writer famous for his 1970s novel, The Origin of Evil. His protege, Marcus Goldman, discovers that the book was based on Quebert’s love affair with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan who mysteriously disappeared from the town one night. When her body is discovered, along with a copy of the original manuscript of Harry’s famous book, conservative America is shocked as much by the idea of a Lolita style affair as the girl’s murder. When Harry is arrested for the crime, Marcus takes it on himself to prove his mentor’s innocence. But secrets emerge that cast doubt on the accounts of all concerned.

I read the book on a recommendation of a friend whose judgement I trust. And it is an excellent page turner. In many ways, the novel is difficult to categorise. The gradual revealing of events that happened in a small inward looking community reminded me a little of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and I suspect the book is being promoted to that market. It might have been the New Hampshire setting but I was also reminded of John Irving’s books such is the slightly unreal quality of the narrative.

At 624 pages, it’s a long book but the twists and turns of the plot kept me riveted. It was only at the end that I was left with a slightly cheated air. There are a series of slightly unbelievable coincidences. I can can forgive one in a book, in fact they are often unavoidable in a crime novel, but the reader has to seriously suspend disbelief here. But, for a debut novel, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is a stunner and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from Joel Dicker.

Many thanks to Maclehose Press for my review copy.

Broken-DollsJames Carol’s Broken Dolls was a departure for me as it’s been a while since a read a book featuring a criminal profiler. However, I was intrigued by the idea of a British author writing about an American profiler but setting the book in the heart of London. It turned out to be a gripping, and wincing, read.

Jefferson Winter is a former CIA investigator and also the son of one the US’s most famous serial killers. Winter’s compulsion to distance himself from his parent’s actions is fuelled by his father’s final words before his execution: ‘We’re the same’. In his latest investigation, Winter sets out to find who is abducting women, torturing them and then releasing them once they have been lobotomised. He quickly discovers the modus operandi of the kidnapper but struggles to identify the true culprit behind the crimes.

It’s good once in a while to read a book outside your comfort zone. I don’t usually read this style of book and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy a tense thriller. There are passages written from the point of view of the kidnapper’s latest victim. Because of the case’s high media profile, she is aware what might befall her which adds poignancy to the writing. There are some passages that make you wince. This is as much to do with the threat of violence rather than what is actually depicted. But it does make for an uncomfortable read which adds to the tension.

Carol has created, in Jefferson Winter, a compelling character who will work well in a series. I’ve already got the second book to read, Watch Me, which I’m looking forward to already.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Deon Meyer writes very successful thrillers set in post-apartheid South Africa. He is most famous for Trackers, a book that bought Cobrahim worldwide acclaim and which was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger in 2012. His books form a loosely based series with a set of characters that interweave through the narratives. His latest novel, Cobra, brings back Benny Griessel to investigate a series of assassinations.

A British scientist is kidnapped from a guest house on a Franschoek vineyard. The two bodyguards who were protecting him are found murdered along with the body of an estate worker. The most significant clue left behind at the crime scene are bullet cartridges engraved with the image of a spitting cobra. When another brutal murder takes place, with similar cobra embossed cartridges left at the scene, it is a race against time to find a small-time thief who has in his possession a phone that the killers want.

Unlike some of Meyer’s earlier books, Cobra has a straightforward linear narrative. The story focuses on the tension that arises when Tyrone Kleinbooi, a professional pickpocket, attempts to extract as much as he can from the circumstances. While this makes the narrative fast paced, it does detract from the quality of the investigation that we would normally expect in Meyer’s books. I would have preferred less focus on Tyrone and more on Griessel and his team.

Meyer is a great chronicler of modern day South Africa and he always maintains a clear eyed view of how justice works in the country. I enjoyed Cobra. It’s perhaps not his best book but still a tense paced thriller.

Thanks to Hodder for my review copy. Cobra is published in the UK on the 31st July.

Sharon Bolton Sometimes you read a book that you wish you’d written yourself. I’ve enjoyed Sharon Bolton’s books ever since I discovered them a few years ago. The fact that I’ve not read her novels in any particular order, and the early ones are still unread, goes to show that if a series is well written, it doesn’t really matter in what order you read the books. A Dark and Twisted Tide is the latest thriller to feature to Lacey Flint. Flint is an intriguing character with an interesting back story. As a reader you get glimpses into the character’s past but never the whole picture. Every reveal make you want to discover more and yet the character never seems contrived. It’s a delicate balance for a writer and Bolton knows how to achieve it.

In this latest book, Lacey is is no longer a detective and is living on a house boat while working for the river police. She finds a body floating in the river, wrapped in a white shroud, and it seems that the corpse was placed deliberately for her to find. She manages to connect the killing to that of other missing women and places her own life in danger when it becomes clear that the murderer is trying to entice Lacey into becoming the next victim.

Setting the narrative in the heart of the Capital’s houseboat community gives the book an unreal quality as this is a London that we don’t normally see. Lacey swims every day in the river and the swell of the tide mirrors the relentlessness of the killings which are, at times, overwhelming in their frequency. As usual, the other characters are as well drawn as the main protagonist. In particular, DI Dana Tulloch, in her longing to have a baby with her partner, makes an interesting sub-plot.

I find Bolton’s books so compelling that often the last few chapters pass by in a blur. It was exactly the same with A Dark and Twisted Tide. and I’m looking forward to the next installment and more revelations about Lacey’s past.

Thanks to Transworld for the review copy.

20140619-065221-24741563.jpgIt’s rare to read a book that could have been published any time in the last forty years. Even historical crime usually reflects the norms of society at the time of writing. Compare, for example, Ellis Peter’s Cadfael books with the more recent Matthew Shardlake novels by CJ Sansom. Peters’ straightforward narratives would be too simplistic for a modern readership who now demands much more from its crime novels. However, The Human Flies is unusual in that it is a contemporary novel by a very modern looking writer, if his photograph is anything to go by. However Lahlum has effectively captured the feel of a 1960s locked room mystery without the book ever feeling like a pastiche of the genre.

In 1968, a young detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen, is given his first high profile murder case. Harald Olesen, a hero of the Resistance turned popular politician, is found murdered in his Oslo apartment. From the state of the room and the speed with which the murderer escaped, it is clear that the killer must be a fellow tenant in the apartment block. Kristiansen is given the near impossible task of finding the culprit until Patricia, the daughter of a family friend, who is wheelchair bound and refuses to leave her house, offers to help him by studying the clues from afar.

A locked room mystery usually only holds limited appeal for me but Lahlum does an excellent job of keeping your attention. This is achieved by teasing the reader with the suspicion that no character is who they seem. This is most effectively done with a young married couple but deception lurks around every corner. Kristiansen as a protagonist is interesting enough but the most successful character in the book is the wheelchair bound, Patricia. In some ways she is based on what we have seen before, a sort of female Ironside. But she is nevertheless a compelling figure.

The writing is crisp and gives a flavour of the late 1960s that is sometimes reminiscent of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck books. I found The Human Files to be different from the usual Scandinavian fare and it was good to read something a little bit different. I see that the author is attending Iceland Noir this year. It will be good to hear him talk about his book.

Thanks to Macmillan for my review copy. The translation was by Kari Dickson.

 

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