Recent Reads

We’re moving into festival season where much of my reading will be books of authors I’m interviewing. This is always a great opportunity to discover new writers and I’ve already read some excellent books. In the meantime, February and March was a time to tackle my TBR pile and read titles from around the world.

I’ve been reading Jonathan Kellerman since the 1980s and still love the Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis partnership. City of the Dead is, I think, the thirty-seventh book in the series. A naked man is found dead in the street and in a nearby house, a woman with an odd array of clients is discovered murdered. Alex realises he knows the dead woman. She’s a psychologist with dubious credentials which might prove to be a motive for murder. I loved the wide ranging feel of the investigation which takes the duo around LA. As usual, Kellerman gets into the heart of the city’s psyche.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is the evocative title of the new book by Riku Onda. It’s one of the few psychological thrillers I’ve read which actually does delve into the psyche of the characters. Aki and Hiro have decided to go their separate ways and spend a last night together in their Tokyo flat. A year earlier, on a trekking holiday, the guide fell to his death. Both are convinced the other is repsonsible and the night is to be a battle of wits until the truth emerges. Tense and unflinching, this a book which gets into the heart of the characters and there are plenty of surprises along the way.

The Poisonous Solicitor is the true story of a well-known Hay-on-Wye solicitor, Major Herbet Armstrong, who was hanged for killing his wife and the attempted murder of a rival solicitor with arsenic-laced food. The case was infamous at the time and is even mentioned in Dorothy Sayers’ crime novel Unnatural Death.The author, Stephen Bates, gives a modern perspective on the incident. Of the two previous biographies, one strongly argued that Armstrong was guilty of the crimes, the other that it was a miscarriage of justice. Bates treads a path between the two theories in this excellent book. Armstrong comes across as completely unpleasant but his wife was no saint either. I was left with a strong view on the man’s guilt but there’s plenty of mystery in the case to arrive at a different conclusion.

One of the best books I’ve read this year is The Distant Dead by Heather Young. Chatting to American readers, I believe it was published a few years ago there and I’m delighted the book has found a UK publisher. A maths teacher, Adam Merkel, is found burnt to death near a ranch in the hills. Sal Prentiss, a boy he befriended, might know more about the death than he is letting on and Adam’s teaching colleague, Nora, also believes the solution to the crime lies in Merkel’s past life. The story takes you into the politics of a small American town where most of its residents will never have the opportunity or inclination to leave. I found the story engrossing and loved Young’s use of language to draw you into the heart of the story.


Best of January’s Reads

I had a bit of a reading slump towards the end of last year so over the festive season, I came up with a plan. I would look at the proofs on my shelf and kindle, and read the first fifty pages. The ones that grabbed me, I’d continue with and the rest would be recycled. It’s not the authors’ fault, it’s mine, but I did need to get my mojo back. The results were a revelation and I enjoyed some really great books in January.

I’m a huge fan of Eric Rickstad’s writing and was looking forward to reading his new novel, I Am Not Who You Think I Am. In a Vermont town, Wayland witnesses his father’s suicide. Next to his body is a note with the words, I am not who you think I am. Confused by his mother’s reaction to his father’s death, the incident is never spoken of again until Wayland reaches sixteen in 1984. Plagued by nightmares, he begins to dig deeper into the suicide by seeking out his father’s friend and newspaper clippings about the death. He’s confronted by uncomfortable truths about his parents and secrets the town is trying to bury. Fast paced and written with a clear-eyed view of human frailties, this is a cracker of a book from Rickstad. What a writer.

Oxford makes a great setting for a crime novel but I suspect doing something new with the city can be quite difficult. Simon Mason, in A Killing in November, however, has written a fresh, innovative police procedural with two great protagonists. DI Ryan Wilkins is grew up in a trailer park and is not enamoured of the world of Oxford colleges. His colleague, DI Raymond Wilkins is a young Oxford educated black detective, one of the force’s high flyers. The two don’t get on. When a woman is strangled at Barnabas Hall college, the pair are forced to work together to unravel the crime. The book is great fun and the author clearly loves playing with names from the closely related monikers of the detectives to the porter, Leonard Gamp. This is the start of a new series and I can’t wait to read more.

I was recently given a proof of The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards and was drawn to its dark cover. Set in present day Milwaukee, a woman digs deeper into the disappearance of her sister nearly thirty tears earlier. Dee McBride disappeared in 1991 while the crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer were in the headlines. With the case overlooked by the police and media’s obsession with Dahmer, Dee’s sister, Peg, confronts her own memories of the time to unravel events. I’m always looking for innovative forms for the crime novel and although fiction, it reads like a true crime memoir. I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author.

Land of Snow and Ashes by Petra Rautiainen is a fascinating story set around Nazi crimes against the Sami people in Finland. In 1944, a Finnish soldier works as an interpreter at a Nazi concentration camp. After the war, journalist Inkeri travels to Lapland ostensibly to write about economic changes in the region. On the search for her missing husband, she begins to discover the truth about the camp and locals attitude towards it. This compelling story is translated by David Hackston who has written a fascinating overview of the Finnish war experience at the beginning of the novel.