Review: Marcus Sedgwick – Mister Memory

sedgwickm-mistermemoryukI don’t read as much historical crime fiction as I used to which is a shame. There’s nothing like being transported to another time and place with a dash of murder in it. It’s also nice to read something completely different occasionally and Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick is certainly a cut above the usual crime novel.

We’re in fin-de-siecle Paris where Marcel Després shoots dead his wife, Ondine after catching her in a compromising situation with her lover. Sent to an institution, Asile de Salpêtrière, his doctor Morel discovers that Després has a memory that forgets nothing. Along with Inspector Petit from the Sûreté who is assigned to the case, they delve into Després’s life and history to assemble the portrait of a remarkable man.

There’s a wealth of fascinating historical detail in Mister Memory. Asile de Salpêtrière was a famous Parisian institution where women diagnosed with hysteria were placed by the unscrupulous and ignorant. Predominantly, therefore, a female institution which has opened up to men, Després is portrayed as an innocent amongst the criminal and insane. It’s tempting to try to put a modern diagnosis on his condition. A memory that never forgets anything, an inability to recognise faces and an essential innocence suggests a form of autism. The book though is as much as the men around the case as Després.  We’re treated to sumptuous descriptions of Paris and the minutiae of a fascinating investigation.

Mister Memory is a beautifully written tale of the limitless of memory and the boundaries placed on love.

Review: Laura Lippman – Wilde Lake

Blog tour graphicI’m a big fan of Laura Lippman’s writing and have enjoyed her standalone books as much as her Tess Monaghan series. The  Power of Three is one of the best books I’ve read on how a missing person can impact on a community. Her latest book, Wilde Lake, is the story of the newly elected state attorney of Howard County, Lu Brant. Lu comes from a prestigious legal family, her father also once holding the state attorney job. The only blight on this seemingly perfect life is that her brother was once involved in an incident which led to a man’s death. Although he was exonerated from blame, the past comes back to haunt Lu’s new job and a current investigation. She is forced to reconsider her family dynamics and ‘truths’ that have been peddled in the past.

The story is told in chapters alternating between Lu’s investigation into a woman beaten to death by a homeless man and the story between 1970 and 1980 of her childhood with her father and brother. Both facets of the narrative are interesting and I particularly enjoyed reading of a Maryland childhood that is less innocent than it appears. There’s sense of how far privilege can take you and what people are prepared to do to protect their status. The tension is gradually rolled out although much of the reveal is stacked towards the end of the book.

Lipman can always be relied upon to provide an excellent mystery combined with strong writing and Wilde Lake is no exception. It’s interesting to learn that she grew up in Maryland and attended Wilde Lake High School. There’s certainly a sense of nostalgia in the book and a sense of how the past and present sit uneasily together. I’m sure fans of Lippman will love it and if you haven’t tried this author before, Wilde Lake is a great place to start.

 

 

 

Competition time: A Deadly Thaw and Cake

13563676_10153618998626625_612631096_nA year ago today I was in London getting ready for the launch of In Bitter Chill on what was a scorching day. It’s been quite a year!

To celebrate, I’m giving away a signed proof of my new book A Deadly Thaw which is out in September along with a Bakewell tart from the original shop in Derbyshire. I’ll post to anywhere in the world so you can enjoy it with your cup of tea or coffee

All you have to do to enter is fill out your name, e-mail address and the name of your favourite crime writer. Your e-mail will only be used for my newsletter and adding the name of your favourite author helps me filter out spam. The competition ends at 8pm on Sunday 3rd July.

Thank you! The countdown to A Deadly Thaw’s publication has begun. Don’t forget you can pre-order it now on Amazon UK and Amazon US as well as in your local bookshop.

**This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, Lynda Hewett who has been send the book and tart**

Review: Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train (audio)

51wta9YiwuL._AA300_I love audio books and I often listen to them in the car. I tend, however, to focus on my existing library rather than downloading new titles. My subscription to Audible lapsed as I don’t have time to listen to the books I was downloading. In April, however, I flew to Iceland and knew that I’d then have a long five hour drive ahead of me. As a crime fiction reviewer I’m often asked what I think of a particular title. I tend to shy away from what’s being heavily promoted. As regular readers of this website know, I like translated crime fiction and books that are a little bit different. No-one, however, could failed to have noticed the juggernaut which is the phenomenon of The Girl on the Train. A long car journey was the perfect way to form an opinion on the book.

Rachel is an overweight, divorced alcoholic who, despite losing her job in the city, continues to make the commute into London every day. She passes the house where she once lived and where her ex-husband now resides with his new wife and baby. The train  regularly stops outside a neighbouring house where Rachel fantasises about the life of a couple who have a seemingly perfect relationship. When the woman, Megan, goes missing, Rachel feels she has important news to tell the police about Megan and a man she was seen with. But her alcoholism and obsession with her former husband make her an unreliable witness.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this book from ‘over-hyped’ to ‘excellent’. I have to say that I’m firmly in the second camp. Partly, I think, this is due to the premise of the book. I too used to commute into central London and remember the days of the train stopping at a particular junction and staring into bedroom windows. The book also brought back the culture of long hours, drinking on an empty stomach and aspirational lifestyles. Hawkins is also excellent at keeping the tension going throughout the book. I found listening compulsive and couldn’t wait to return to the book.

There are three female narrators: Rachel, Megan in the months leading up to her disappearance and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s former husband. I have seen comments about the difficulty in distinguishing between these three voices. This certainly wasn’t the case with the audio book and all three narrators were excellent. Hawkins takes the concept of the unreliable narrator and multiplies it threefold. It was a clever device.

Inevitably a book that’s had this much attention will fall short in some areas but overall I thought it an excellent story and I can understand it’s popularity. There’s always something attractive about a protagonist that’s full of faults and character of Rachel was the element that pulled this story together.

I’d love to hear what other readers thought of the book.

 

 

Five Books for the Summer

Summer did arrive in the Peak District for around a week. It’s now beaten a hasty retreat and I’m left with long dandelion-infested grass and a soggy vegetable patch. All is not lost if you like reading, however. I’ve read some great books recently, a mixture of crime and other genres and they’d be perfect books for your summer holidays wherever you’re lucky enough to go away or if, like me, you’re staying put.

Here are my summer reading recommendations.

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes is a selection of newspaper articles, blog posts and previously unpublished material that contain the essence of Keyes’s effervesce. She has a joyful outlook on life and whether she’s talking about Strictly Come Dancing, boots that make her look like Bono or therapies she has tried, it’s all done with a lightness of touch and very good writing. It’s a book both to dip into and to read from cover to cover.

9781910124970Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher is set in late Twenties Berlin and we see the city in all its seedy splendour. We’re immersed in drug dealing, prostitution and gun-running through the work of the Vice Squad and, in particular, DI Gereon Rath. It’s soon to be made into a TV series and it’s the evocation of a fascinating period that stands out in this novel translated by Niall Sellar.

29292832._UY200_The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is a modern take on a locked room mystery.  Lo Blackwood is on cruise ship as part of a trip arranged for travel journalists. She witnesses a body being thrown overboard but records show the room was unoccupied. Lo is trapped at sea with a murderer responsible for a crime no-one believes has been committed. The book is satisfyingly claustrophobic and moves and a cracking pace.

Tastes-like-fear-jacketTastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary is the third book in her excellent series featuring DI Marnie Rome. The novel opens with a teenage girl causing a fatal car crash and then disappearing.  Rome and her partner, Noah, investigate a complex case with a frightening nemesis. As we’ve come to expect from Hilary, the book is very well written with a strong cast of supporting characters.

28001923The Saddest Sound by Deborah Delano is that rare beast, a genuinely original crime novel. The presence of a misogynist serial killer in a northern town is seen through the eyes of radfem characters including a feminist academic and lesbian prostitutes. Never stereotypes, Delano uses her characters to highlight violence against woman and feminist reactions to it,

Review: Anya Lipska – A Devil Under the Skin

25124652A review of Anya Lipska’s latest book by guest reviewer, Rachel Hall

A Devil Under the Skin reunites the pairing of Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ to the Polish community in East London and young and headstrong female cop Natalie Kershaw. In the first book Kershaw started out as Kiszka’s nemesis  but, over time, the pair have gradually acquired a begrudging respect and more recently an admiration for each other.

One of the attributes which has made the exploits of Kiszka and Kershaw such a gripping series is Lipska’s focus on character development. Lipska’s characters drive the plot forward and once again A Devil Under the Skin ensures the protagonists are taken outside of their comfort zones. This brings a realism to the series which is so often lacking once a successful formula is chanced upon and Lipska’s willingness to tamper with the status quo and test her characters delivers a dose of fresh energy to each instalment.

In A Devil Under the Skin, Kiszka is on the verge of welcoming his girlfriend of three years, Kasia, to share his home as she finally decides to leave her work-shy husband of twenty years. When Kasia vanishes on the eve of the move, a new side to Kiszka is revealed and his fragility is evident. Despite having worked in tandem with Kershaw before, albeit in an unofficial capacity, Kiszka still retains his reluctance to turn to the police, a lingering legacy of his bitter experiences from his earlier days lived under a communist regime.   Against every instinct he succumbs to contacting ‘the girl detekyw’ and as the bodies pile up he concedes that this is one case he cannot solve alone.

Just about to turn thirty, PC Natalie Kershaw is facing big dilemmas. With the second book concluding with Natalie’s stabbing, this fresh episode rejoins her as she prepares to return to her new role, as a Armed Response Officer. After a lengthy inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the shooting of a suspect, Natalie is awaiting her clearance to return to duty. Drinking too much and spoiling for a fight, Kershaw is loathing her psychology sessions as she finds herself justifying her actions all over again. Kiszka recognises her problems and is reminded of the miseries of his life under a communist regime when he himself sought solace through alcohol.

Kiszka and Kershaw may appear to have little in common but they both like to challenge expectations and in a similar way that Kiskza is always quietly amused to see his fellow mansion blocks residents confused by having a Polish builder as a neighbour,  Kershaw is equally happy conquering the inherent prejudices surrounding female firearms officers. These two love proving people wrong hence why the sparks often fly and a well drawn chemistry between the pair has evolved into a mutual attraction.

The cross-cultural differences are highlighted and subtly placed and it is the smallest details which add so much, one such an example is in seeing Kiszka’s bafflement at the extravagance of the funerals of East End gangsters, an occasion that only bear comparison to those of the leading lights of the communist movement in his equivalent homeland.  One of the pleasures with having read the two earlier books in the series is in witnessing just how brilliantly the characters have developed. Secondary characters most notably DS ‘Streaky’ Bacon and Kiszka’s lifelong pal Oskar make welcome returns. Socially and culturally aware, yet replete with distinctive characters and black humour Lipska brings a fresh take to a changing London.

Whilst each of the three novels in this series can be read as a standalone, an appreciation of the journey Kiszka and Kershaw have made probably serves this to best effect. Vibrant, fresh and the most well constructed of the three novels, Lipska remained one step ahead of me all the way. Whilst some may question the likelihood of such an alliance between private investigator and a relatively junior cop, I simply went with the entertainment value and Lipska left her mark with sharp dialogue and infectious characters. The knowledge of police procedures is second to none and despite its social and cultural emphasis there is no doubting Lipska’s knowledge of forensics. Gritty and gripping, the Kiszka and Kershaw series has gone from strength to strength and comes very highly recommended.

Forgotten crime: Desmond Bagley – Running Blind

Running Blind2I read a lot more books than I manage to review here and I think it’s time that I did a series of posts on the more obscure or ‘forgotten’ books that I read. Of course, I run the risk of readers pointing out that a particular author most certainly hasn’t been forgotten by them. I take this completely on board as I know after nearly five years of blogging that readers of Crimepieces are an eclectic bunch.

This week’s writer, Desmond Bagley, is a name I remember from my childhood along with Alistair McLean and Len Deighton. Unlike the latter two authors, I’ve neglected to read any of Bagley’s books but a friendly Tweeter (@dbrunningblind) pointed out that Running Blind, published in 1970, is set in Iceland, a country I know well. I tracked down a copy in one of my favourite second hand bookshops, Tim Smith Books in Horncastle, Lincolnshire.

In many respects it a run-of-the-mill spy novel. Alan Stewart has been delivered of a package that assailants are trying to steal from him. He’s not sure if it’s Russian spies, the CIA or his own British secret service who are his enemies. What elevates the book is that the majority of it is set in Iceland before the ring road which encircles the country was built. Keflavik and Reykjavik are easily accessible but to escape his attackers Stewart, partly helped by his able Iceland girlfriend, Elin, traverses the country by jeep and boat.

I found myself reading in-between the fast-paced plot for the incredible descriptions of Iceland before the tourist invasion. The river crossings and deserted lagoons portray a country where a body can be disposed of easily. It’s not a great book but I do appreciate its significance and it was worth a read. Whether I read any more of this writer is debatable unless anyone can suggest one of his better books. Still, Running Blind is a book for Icelandophiles and those with nostalgia for fiction that can be read in a couple of hours.