Recent Reads

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last month. I’ve been reading lots of books but haven’t had time to catch up with my reviews. Every Saturday we have a discussion over on my Facebook author page on what we are reading at the moment. Do come over and take a look. My TBR pile gets bigger and bigger.

However, I’m on the train to London in unexpected sunshine as it’s the CWA Dagger Award dinner this evening and I’m looking forward to catching up with some fellow crime writers and reviewers. It’s also given me a chance to sum up a few of my favourite reads over the last couple of months.

The Conviction of Cora Burns is the debut novel by Carolyn Kirby featuring an interesting protagonist, Cora Burns who was raised in a workhouse and enters the house of scientist Thomas Sherwood as a servant. Sherwood appears to be taking part in a living experiment and Cora becomes sucked into his work. It’s an absorbing read, packed full of period detail and it’s great to read such an assured debut. The book isn’t published until Spring next year but I’m sure Kirby will garner lots of fans.

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve also has an interesting central character. Leo Stanhope works as an assistant to a London coroner but was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable middle class family. Leo suffers physical pain from the bandages he uses to hide his breasts to live as a man and from the anguish of being estranged from his family. One of the people he has trusted with his secret is Maria, a prostitute whom he loves. When she’s found dead, he comes under suspicion of her murder and must find the killer without revealing his secret. It’s an absorbing and well written debut which manages to bypass any cliches.

I picked up my copy of The Martian Girl at Goldsboro books, a great bookshop which always has something to tempt. It’s the first book I’ve read by Andrew Martin and I found it fascinating. Jean, a journalist, is writing a one-woman play about Kate, a Victorian mind-reader which she hopes to stage at a London venue. She is having an affair with a seedy ex-barrister who is known by his surname Coates who’s both impulsive and paranoid. As Jean researches further into Kate’s past, she sees echoes of her own situation. The Martian Girl is an unusual and interesting read and in Coates, Martin has created a compelling figure.

I’ve been reading Australian crime fiction for years, mainly on the recommendation of the late blogger Bernadette at Reactions to Readings. The Dry by Jane Harper has done much to increase interest in crime fiction from Oz and it’s great to see more Antipodean writers appearing in the UK. Scrublands by Chris Hammer is set in a small town which journalist Martin Scarsden visits to do a follow up story on the murder by a priest of five of the town’s inhabitants. It’s a substantial book and absolutely riveting. Hammer excels at characterisation and his depiction of small town relationships is something close to my own heart. I can’t wait to read what comes next. Scrublands is published in January.

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A Poem for National Poetry Day

It’s National Poetry Day today. I used to post a poem every year on Crimepieces but got out of the habit. This year I’m doing it again, not least because I recently bought a wonderful collection of poems, Forever, Now by Helen Cadbury. Unfortunately, despite trying, I haven’t been able to contact Helen’s publishers and can’t reproduce one of her poems here without permission. However, I do recommend you buy the book.

Another crime writer who is also an excellent poet is Michael Malone. I’ve shared one of his poems before but here’s another from his collection In The Raw. The theme of this year’s day is ‘change’ and I think this is perfect.

Jekyll And Hide

Stress, what stress? These people
need to get a grip.

Sweat streams through my pores
glueing cloth to the line of my spine

Panic attacks, anxiety attacks,
chemical imbalance in the brain – my arse!

Eyes pulled wide over my skull’s edge
and I still can’t see the beast that strolls

Lot of wasters if you ask me
just want an excuse to laze about

along the fence that rings my vision
waiting to rip into the marrow

and watch satellite TV all fucking day.
I blame these reality “Confessional” programs

of my caged ribs, straining to string
the length of my entrails through hungry claws

and their presenters with only one name,
bastards spreading their crap to improve ratings

I’m on the rim of a daymare
I never sleep, for that is the door it will enter

Stress, what stress?

and never leave.

Malone, Michael. In The Raw. Makar Press.

Books for Autumn: Mikita Brottman and Syd Moore

Autumn always brings a new crop of crime fiction that I’m keen to read and it’s always great to discover new authors. I discovered these two books through slightly different means and it’s interesting how authors come to your attention through recommendations or marketing material. 

An Unexplained Death was given to me as a proof by Richard Fortey, the Independent Alliance rep as he thought I’d like it. I don’t read huge amounts of true crime but it’s always wonderful to discover a well written, personal response to a particular incident. An Unexpected Death is a discursive account of the death of Rey Rivera. The author, Mikita Brottman, first hears of Rey when she sees posters reporting him missing. His body is discovered after a week or so in the apartment block where she lives. The Belvedere was once a famous hotel and, when Rey’s death is deemed a suicide, it prompts Brottman to consider all the deaths the building has seen in its history.

The book is a compelling read. Part memoir, part investigation it gives an insight on how a sudden death can impact on those on the periphery of a tragedy. I don’t want to give too much away about the ending but, with the best books, it’s the journey that’s as interesting as the conclusion. An Unexplained Death is out on the 8th November.

I was sent by Syd Moore’s publisher a sampler of her forthcoming book. I almost never read samplers as I find them frustratingly short. For the same reason, I never read the taster chapters at the end of a novel for the author’s next book. However, The Strange Casebook is a collection of short stories and reading the one provided in the sampler was a perfect introduction into this author’s writing.

Short stories collections are always hard to review as it’s difficult to summarise them without giving too much away. This collection consists of both ghost stories and tales verging on horror. I think it’s fair to say there’s a touch of Daphne Du Maurier’s influence and I found them absolutely fascinating. I read the stories in one sitting, late at night and they were a perfect autumnal read. The Strange Casebook is out on 31st October.

Review: Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is known as both a writer of crime novels and an expert in Golden Age detection. I’ve enjoyed both areas of his writing and I’m delighted to see a new direction for this author. Gallows Court, uses his knowledge of  classic crime but gives a 1930s setting a contemporary twist.

Rachel Severnake is a rich heiress, the daughter of a renowned hanging judge. She grew up on the desolate island of Gaunt and is renowned for solving the Chorus Girl Murder, to the embarrassment of Scotland Yard. In a smog filled London, women are being brutally killed and young newspaper reporter, Jacob Flint, is looking for a scoop which will make his career. His attempts to contact Rachel are met with rebuff and he becomes convinced she has some insight into the killer.

Historical crime can sometimes suffer from a sentimental view of the period in which it’s set. Edwards deftly avoids this cliché, depicting London as dark, grimy and cowering in the face of killings. It’s difficult throughout the book to decide if Rachel is hero or anti-hero, which greatly adds to the tension, keeping the reader perpetually unsettled. There are hints of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, both in terms of the sense of menace and scenes set on the island of Gaunt where Rachel is raised. I’m sure Edwards’ existing fans will love this change of tone but he should also garner new readers for his excellent fiction.