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CRIMEPIECES is on holiday

Not a physical holiday unfortunately. After a trip back to Greece in June where, incidentally, this blog began I now need to spend the rest of August finishing the edits to my own book ‘In Bitter Chill’. So I’m taking a two week break from blogging and will be back in September with a bunch of new reviews.

I am, however, off to Oxford tomorrow for the annual Mystery and Crime Weekend at St Hilda’s College. It’s an event I’ve been meaning to go to for years and given the subject of this year’s lectures, ‘Crimes of the Past: War and Other Evils’, I think it will be a fascinating weekend.

As well as editing, I’m going to use my break to catch up on some books that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. It’s a mixed bag, not just crime fiction, and includes:

- Marina Warner’s No Go the Bogeyman: a rich book looking at representations of terror in fiction, art and ritual

- P D James’ The Maul and the Peartree: another non-fiction book I’ve been dying to read for a long time.

- Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone: one of the first true detective novels. I first read it as a teenager and want to see how I feel about it now.

So I hope regular readers of the blog also enjoy a restful holiday and I’ll leave you with an illustration that I discovered in PD James’ Talking About Detective Fiction. It’s a 1936 Punch cartoon entitled ‘The British Character: Love of Detective Fiction’  I think it sums up the bedtime reading for us crime fiction fans. And I’ll see you all in September.

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I read so much crime fiction that I sometimes think it has lost the power to shock me. I know this hasn’t spilled into real life as I find isbn9781444734461-detailsome of the crimes that I read in newspapers horrific. However, when it comes to fiction, very little distresses me these days. For a book to stand out it either has to be innovative, for example Pierre LeMaitre’s Irene, or well written such as K T Medina’s White Crocodile. However, Silence of the Sea, the latest book by the queen of Icelandic crime fiction, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, truly gave me the chills and I was rightly dreading the ending. It’s, without doubt, her best book yet.

Ægir travels to Portugal to deal with the paperwork to repossess a yacht  from a millionaire hit by the financial crisis. He takes his wife and twin daughters along for a holiday but when an accident incapacitates one of the crew, Aegir agrees to help sail the yacht back to Iceland. However, the crew resent the family’s presence and an air of malevolence hangs over the ship. A portrait of the wealthy wife of the former owner fascinates the twins and they claim to have seen the woman wondering the ship. When a body is found in a freezer, it unleashes a chain of events that imperil the family. Weeks later, the abandoned yacht arrives in Iceland with no trace of the occupants. Lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is employed by the parents of the missing father to discover what became of the family.

Silence of the Sea brings together two strands of this author’s writing. It’s the latest book in the series featuring lawyer Thora but also has echoes of I Remember You, Yrsa’s supernatural thriller. For much of the book, it’s not clear whether there are paranormal forces at work but the eeire emptiness of the vast ocean adds to the sense of impending doom.

The book is part locked room mystery and, hopefully without giving too much of the plot away, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Both narratives work equally well: that of the fate of the ship’s passengers and Thora’s subsequent investigation. I found the book to be both compelling and shocking and was, ultimately, glad to reach the end.

Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

White-Crocodile-cover1For a debut novel to stand out, it has to offer something special to the reader. I’ve read few crime books set in Cambodia and it’s not a country that has ever tempted me to visit. However, in the tradition of the best reading, I was completely pulled into the world created by K T Medina. White Crocodile is a story of violence and revenge against the backdrop of mine clearance in a country still recovering from conflict.

The white crocodile of the title refers to the symbol of fear and death according to a Cambodian myth. Its legend is evoked by locals in response to a series of fatalities in an area which is being cleared of mines by a humanitarian charity. Tess Hardy has taken a job with the organisation in order to investigate the death of her ex-husband, Luke. Although her marriage was characterised by violence, in her last conversation with her ex she could hear fear in his voice. When she arrives in Cambodia, she discovers that teenage mothers are disappearing from local villages and are later found mutilated and killed.

White Crocodile has a compelling narrative that grabs you right from the start of the book. At the outset there is a suspicious explosion that maims one of the other mine clearers and it’s not clear if Johnny is a victim or implicated in the conspiracy that surrounds all the killings. As the plot develops, Tess’s personal history, the killing of the outcast women and a murder investigation in Manchester are interweaved into a compelling narrative.

Medina cleverly makes sure that Tess Hardy is on equal footing with the other protagonists. She is a mine clearer in her own right and saves the life of Johnny using a mix of bravery and knowledge of  land mines. This means that in a setting of vulnerable women, despite Tess’s abusive past, she seems an intrepid and determined seeker of truth.

White Crocodile is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

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.

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