Review: Alex Hourston – In My House

I did an event with author Alex Hourston back in the summer and she made her debut novel, In My House, sound absolutely fascinating. I had another panel with her last week in East Grinstead library and I was determined to read the book in advance of our event. I’m glad I did as it’s a beautifully written book full of descriptive prose. It’s also a mystery in the non-traditional sense where the deception at the heart of the book is slowly revealed.

The protagonist of In My House, Maggie, lives a carefully controlled life near London’s Queen’s Park. At Gatwick Airport, returning from a walking holiday, a young woman pleads for her help. As a result of Maggie’s intervention, Anja is freed from the grasp of a people trafficker and asks to meet Maggie to thank her in person. Gradually Anja becomes a part of Maggie’s life but her rescuer has a secret that she’s anxious to keep hidden.

This debut novel is distinguished by its outstanding writing. I’m a big fan of long descriptive passages and I loved in the sense of place and characterisation. It’s clearly a story the author spent a long time crafting. Although the opening scene revolves around the exploitation of vulnerable women by traffickers, the book has a wider vision than this. It looks at the ability of people to start again and the extent to which we ever change.

I thought the secret at the centre of the book was heartbreaking which doesn’t make for an easy read. But Hourston makes the scenario completely believable and we’re able to identify with both Maggie and the choices she makes. In My House is a slow, intelligent and beautiful read by a talented writer. I could have read it in one sitting if I’d had the time.

Review: G J Minett – The Hidden Legacy

A glowing review from Crimepieces’ guest reviewer Rachel Hall of a debut novel .

Launched in November 2015 it is hard to see what has kept this exceptionally well-written psychological thriller from gaining more critical acclaim. Subtitled ‘a dark and shocking psychological drama’, this is an intelligent, intriguing and most of all, well-constructed mystery. The accomplishment for a debut author cannot be overstated and it would seem an injustice that Graham Minett remains under the radar.

Opening with a shocking prologue from twelve year old schoolboy, John Michael Adams, as he commits a horrific attack upon two girls in a school playground in 1966, this is a story which hooks you right from the off.   Readers are presented with a glimpse into the mindset of a child driven to a despicable act whom the national press soon dub “Every Parents Nightmare”.

Fast forward to 2008 and meet harassed Ellen Sutherland, newly divorced and combining a full time job with the demands of single parenting and a mother succumbing to the frailties of dementia. The arrival of a solicitors letter asking her to make urgent contact regarding the last will and testament of Eudora Jane Nash leaves her flabbergasted. The name means nothing to her and she assumes it is simply a clerical error. When the overly sincere solicitor suggests a meeting, Ellen laughs off the idea of making a six-hour round trip. That is until it is disclosed that she has been bequeathed a picturesque cottage in a Cotswolds village of significant financial worth. Remaining unconvinced she mentions the name Eudora Nash in passing to her mother and her boss, a man who is like a father to her, and can sense she has ruffled some feathers and from then on decides to delve deeper. With the accompaniment of best friend Kate making for a brilliant contrast to the staid Ellen, the pair set out to discover just what has been hidden for so many years.

From then on the reader remains with present day Ellen and interlaced between her narrative are extracts from the deceased Eudora Nash and John Michael Adams. Despite the traversing timeline, the novel intuitively flows well and readers can sense a stylistic differing between each narrator which keeps the story moving. With Ellen uncovering all of this in the present day she adds a sense of solidity to the novel. As questions arise, Minett tackles them in a timely manner yet always remains one step ahead and as each layer of intricacy is peeled back he constantly surprises his readers. It is a considerable time since I have read such an ingenious plot construction from a psychological fiction novel.

Over the intervening years the story of the John Michael Adams is disclosed and offers an insight into a minor who remains a media target for vilification, seemingly fair game for a witch hunt to uncover his whereabouts and identity upon release. The portrayal of him as a man unable to make a fresh start paints a moving portrait of a life spent running away and the shifting ground underneath him. Minett never dictates to his readers how they should interpret the wider issues which he raises through The Hidden Legacy and it is hard not to imagine how child murderers are punished by the media which never allow these things to be forgotten.

Ellen has mixed emotions about her relationship with her mother, specifically regarding her unwillingness to talk about the past, yet she is wracked with remorse as she rushes up and down the country hunting the mystery surrounding a ninety-one year old lady who she has never met whilst her ailing mother grows weaker. My overriding thought throughout the novel related to just how much a person can jeopardise in blinkered pursuit of a long held secret and the risks that this necessitates.

Whilst unputdownable is often used ad nauseam in reviews Graham Minett does not put a foot wrong in this captivating and emotionally involving story. As each layer of intricacy is uncovered he never resorts to sensationalism in his consideration of a teenage murderer or falls back on the overly twee pull on the heart-strings. This is a moving and often profound example of the psychological fiction genre and poses numerous questions leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

The Hidden Legacy may not be one of the heralded psychological thrillers but is deserves to be one of the most widely read and establish G.J. Minett as a striking new talent in the increasingly crowded market of psychological fiction. Outstanding.

 

More Scandi Crime Fiction

My reading at the moment is oscillating between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and ghost stories that bring back memories of my teenage years. More of the supernatural in a post next week. Meanwhile, all the Scandi books that I read were by familiar authors and it was a bit of a mixed bag.

 MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte is his take on a familiar trope of crime novels, that of y450-293memory loss. David Sarac wakes up from a car crash and can only remember that he is a police officer and he needs to protect his informant, Janus. As his colleagues desperately try to elicit the identity of Janus, Sarac’s memory returns only in fragments. Natalie Aden, his carer who has also been tasked with spying on him, helps him piece his past together as his life becomes increasingly endangered. As I’d expect from De La Motte,  MemoRandom is a fast-paced thriller with an entertaining storyline. There’s always something enjoyable about a book with a race to the conclusion. The translation was by Neil Smith.

I’m a big fan of Arnaldur Indridason but Oblivion proved to be a disappointment. There51jsnkgzk9l-_sx328_bo1204203200_ were all the elements that I enjoy in Indridason’s writing – the Icelandic landscape, the descriptions of native food and, of course, his detective Erlendur. While the writing was good, I found the plot to be lacklustre which is a shame as I persevered with it until the end. It’s a decent enough read and sits alongside the other books well enough. Fingers crossed for the next one. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

9781910124048In comparison The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst is a cracker and his best book yet. There are two storylines both of which were fascinating. William Wisting is investigating a serial killer who may have made his way from the US to Norway. The presence of CIA agents adds to the pressure on his team to find the murderer. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, is doing a story on a man whose body was sitting, undiscovered, in his living room for four months. Focusing on the loneliness of some Norwegians, she soon realises that there is more to the man’s death than a sad story. Lier Horst has always excelled as a writer of police procedurals but here the story telling is second to none. I didn’t want the book to finish as I was so engrossed in the narrative. More please! The translation was by Anne Bruce.

 

 

 

Review: Tim Baker – Fever City

FEVER CITY _ BLOG TOUR GRAPHICIt’s my turn today on the blog tour for Tim Baker’s excellent debut novel, Fever City. Conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting of JFK is an area that continues to fascinate and it has been mined with considerable skill by this author.  Fever City, opens with the kidnapping of the son of one of America’s richest men. Nick Alston, an LA private detective is hired to find the boy but finds competition in Hastings, a mob hitman who is also hunting the child. Decades later, a journalist is looking at the conspiracy theories of the fifties and sixties in relation to JFK’s shooting. He soon discovers that there are links with his own family and that secrets still extend into the highest echelons of US society.

Split timelines can sometimes be problematic for a reader but not when they’re as skilfully handled as in Fever City. All three narratives are clearly defined, partly due to the different writing styles changing from first to third person and past to present tense. It works very well. The writing is excellent which, along with the pull of the plot, meant that I read the book very quickly.

Although in part a political thriller, there is also a song focus on family ties and the legacy they leave behind. Fever City is a strong debut by a writer with a confident voice.  I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more from Tim Baker.

** Giveaway** To win a hardback copy of Fever City along with a signed copy of my own novel, In Bitter Chill, also published by Faber and Faber, please fill in your name and details in the contact form below. The draw will take place at midday on Friday 29th January. Your e-mail address will only be used for this competition and to receive my monthly newsletter.

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the winner whose books are on the way to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Eva Dolan – After You Die

Crimepieces’ guest reviewer, Rachel Hall, gives her opinion on Eva Dolan’s latest book which has been garnering rave reviews everywhere.

51vpkctenml-_sx323_bo1204203200_When Eva Dolan stormed onto the crime fiction market in 2014 she struck a chord with police procedural fans everywhere. With the introduction of DI Zigic and DS Ferreira who head up the Peterborough Hate Crimes Division, here was a series set to explore and exploit the differences which polarise us all. Timely, with a keen eye on contemporary politics Dolan cast her unremitting eye on rising racial tension in an age where austerity predominates and immigration and human trafficking are rife. Authentic and punchy with an edgy feel, she explored the darker elements of a modern day society that so many other authors fear to tread.

Whilst After You Die explores a slightly different element of harassment in the form of disability hate crime, all of the key components of a Zigic and Ferreira novel remain and this third outing is undoubtedly the most emotionally charged read of the series so far. This is the first mass market crime novel with the bravery to tackle disability hate crime head on that I have come across and, with her ever sensitive eye, it could be in no safer hands. Eva Dolan deserves top marks for her treatment of the subject matter and her exploration of the prevailing attitude towards the disabled and the related hate crimes amongst society is spot on.

Moving away from their more familiar stomping ground of Peterborough to the quiet village of Elton, Ferreira was called the previous summer to the house of single mother Dawn Prentice after she made several calls logging harassment complaints. As the mother of a severely disabled sixteen year old, Holly, Dawn detailed the harassment that the family were experiencing. With little substance to prove any of these complaints and no obvious suspect, Ferreira put the incidents to bed. When a gas leak in the house next door causes damage to Dawn’s home and forced entry becomes necessary, Dawn is found with multiple stab wounds clearly having bled to death and Holly has been left to die helpless upstairs.

Was Ferreira negligent in not taking Dawn’s accusations more seriously? Ever keen for an opportunity to beat herself up she is well aware that her own prejudices and uncomfortable attitude toward the severely disabled Holly clouded her approach to this case. When the question of who was the real target of this crime becomes central to making any headway, it becomes apparent that Ferreira spent little time speaking with the daughter on her initial visit to the house and the duo are forced to delve further into the lives of the family. Setting high standards for herself regarding her career, Ferreira is niggled by the feeling that perhaps she was was too quick to brush this matter aside and goes all out in seeking justice for the victims. Crucially, if Dawn were the intended victim did the killer even know Holly was upstairs?

Touching upon wider issues such as the right to die campaign and the life of a full time carer, this novel packs a weighty punch. Also central is the role of social media in the current age with both Dawn and Holly living rather fuller lives online. In proving that this case warrants being approached as a hate crime, Zigic and Ferreira are up against a ticking clock with DCS Riggott keen to hand the matter over to the remit of CID. With a leading suspect well known to another department of the force who seem keen to prevent contact, we soon learn that plenty of local residents have something to hide.

As with Dolan’s previous novels Long Way Home and Tell No Tales, the obvious rapport of the central detectives is pivotal to the success of this series, with Zigic the calming influence on his sometime rash and mouthy sergeant. With compelling back stories and interesting home lives the fact that they are so realistic and wonderfully humane, unfettered by the common stereotypes which abound in crime fiction detectives adds to their appeal.

Retaining the snappy dialogue and the hard-hitting subject matter which made the first two novels so compelling, this is Eva Dolan at her brilliant best. With a compulsive and addictively dark storyline, After You Die treads new ground in the crime fiction genre. Delivering plenty of twists along the way, Dolan draws her readers in with her irresistibly fluid writing style and never lets up from the off. Spending a few hours in the company of Zigic and Ferreira is a thrill ride readers won’t forget in a hurry and an unadulterated pleasure. Once again, Eva Dolan nails it with an emotive plot which strikes at the very heart of your emotions. Setting a high standard for the rest of the series Zigic and Ferreira clearly have plenty more cases in them and I await future outings with bated breath. Eva Dolan is a name every crime fiction fan needs to know.

Review: Joyce Carol Oates – Jack of Spades

51dfn7qqz-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_I’m currently trying to intersperse my crime fiction reading with something a little bit different. I love mainstream crime novels but there’s so much out there it can be hard to decide what to read. Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates caught my eye because she’s more famous as a writer of award-winning literary fiction. The lines between what is literary fiction and genre novels has, of course, been blurring for years. But in Jack of Spades, Oates has written a deceptively straightforward thriller that was a delight to read.

Andrew J Rush is a well-known and commercially successful writer of mystery novels. He and his wife are well-respected in the local community and he is a generous benefactor to the arts. However, unbeknown to his family and publishers, Andrew also writes dark masochistic novels under the pseudonym, Jack of Spades. When, one day, a court order arrives accusing him of plagiarism, Andrew turns to alter-ego to plot his survival.

This is a slight book, only 224 pages, but perfectly suits the narrative. There are Jekyll and Hyde references: the urbane Andrew who professes outrage at the impending lawsuit and the dark Jack whose initial fight to maintain his reputation sparks a lust for killing. The crime element to the book isn’t particularly unusual but, perhaps with a nod to Stephen King, it’s Andrew’s descent into madness and the impact it has on his bewildered family that is so memorable.

Jack of Spades is something a bit different. Impeccably written, of course, it explores the nature of creativity and literary jealousy. There’s a splinter of ice in many writers and Oates not only recognises this but tests the extremes people will go to protect their hidden lives.

Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Much of my reading over the Christmas period was Scandinavian focused as I caught up on eligible entries for the 2016 Petrona Award that we’ll be awarding in May. There were some favourite authors in the pile and I was impressed by the way in which these three writers in particular continue to write high quality and interesting mysteries.

a-summer-with-kim-novakHåkan Nesser’s series featuring Van Veeteren is one of my favourites. A Summer with Kim Novak is a standalone novel different in tone and narrative style which is set in the early sixties. Fourteen-year-old Erik is obsessed with Ewa, a teacher who resembles Kim Novak. When a tragedy occurs it’s another twenty-five years until Erik’s memories unpick the events leading up to the ‘incident’. It’s a beautiful novel. There have been two translations by Saskia Vogel which I fear may have delayed the impact of the book in the UK market. I thought the first translation fine but I waited until the Christmas period to re-read the new translation. It’s different but still evokes the memories of a long hot summer and a period of lost innocence.

Antti Tuomainen writes beautifully written mysteries and his previous book The Healer had a haunting quality to it. Dark as my Heart has a strong 519xkpynnPL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_protagonist in Aleksi whose mother disappeared one October day when he was thirteen. Convinced that she was killed by millionaire Henrik Saarinen, the now adult Aleksi takes a job as a handyman at Saarinen’s estate to discover what happened to his mother. The book is an unsettling mystery with readers unsure which characters to trust. The darkness of the narrative is reflected in the bleakness of the landscape and it was perfect winter reading. The translation is by Lola Rogers.

Handler1.ashxI always look forward to the latest offering in the series by Mons Kallentoft featuring detective Malin Fors. She’s a grimly realistic detective and the short chapters and choppy narrative make for an usual read. Water Angels,  the sixth book in the series, has Fors investigating the murder of a couple and searching for her missing five year old daughter. It’s an interesting mystery and Malin is still a fascinating protagonist. The translation is by Neil Smith.