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.

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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.

The Shrouded Path Publication Day

It’s publication day for The Shrouded Path, the fourth book in my DC Childs series. The origins of this crime go back to the 1950s. Six schoolgirls walk into a railway tunnel but only five emerge. In the present day, the reverberations of the act of violence begin to be felt.

BBC Radio Derby filmed me at a couple of the locations of the book, including Ladybower Reservoir where the drowned village of Derwent stands. The village plays a key role in my narrative:

 

Thanks to readers of Crimepieces for all their support. It’s publication day for a few other friends including Martin Edwards whose book, Gallows Court, I’ll be reviewing at the weekend. In the meantime, a competition.

To celebrate publication, I’m giving away a copy of The Shrouded Path to three readers of Crimepeices. To win, you simply have to tell me one thing that sums up the 1950s for you.I wasn’t born then but my husband is a big Elvis fan and this singer represents the decade for me. Jailhouse Rock was released in 1957, the same year in which part of my book is set.

To enter the competition, simply fill in the form below. I’ll draw the winners at 6pm on Sunday the 9th September and publish their names at the bottom of this post. I’ll also be running another competition on my Facebook page which ends at the same time if you’d like to enter twice! The competition is open to everyone regardless of location.

 

 

**The competition is now closed. Congratulations to winners Kathy Durkin, Jose Ignacio and Victoria Goodbody**

 

Latest Reads: Elly Griffiths and Andrew Taylor

As it’s the summer, my reading is slightly different from usual as I’m spending the time either catching up with authors’ latest reads or making headway with my TBR pile. Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite crime writers and I was conscious that I had an unread Ruth Galloway novel on my shelves. In The Dark AngelRuth travels to Italy at the request of one of her friends, archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli. Accompanied by her friend, Shona and young daughter, Kate, Ruth finds that Morelli is convinced his life is under threat.  Griffiths excels at relationships and I love the on-off tension between Ruth and Nelson. This is a series that gets better and better.

Elly Griffiths also has a standalone book, The Stranger Diaries, out in November. It’s a modern gothic thriller set around a school which was once the residence of writer RM Holland. Clare Cassidy teaches English in the school and is appalled when one of her colleagues is found murdered. The book is told from the point of views of Clare, her daughter Georgia and Harbinder, the detective in charge of the case. Ss we’ve come to expect from Griffiths, it’s a compelling read and I loved the cast of characters she’s created.

I heard Andrew Taylor speak at Alibis in the Archives in June and was inspired to read his bestselling novel, The Ashes of London, set in the aftermath of the Great Fire.  James Marwood, son of a traitor, is struggling to look after this impoverished father and earn a living. Tasked to search for Catherine Lovett, whose father was accused of regicide, he discovers a more deadly plot than the hunt for a missing girl. I loved both protagonists – it’s rare I like two points of view equally – and the period detail is wonderful.

The Anatomy of Ghosts is set in the late 1700s at a Cambridge College. Frank Oldershaw is involved in an initiation rite which goes wrong and he loses his mind, claiming to see the ghost of murdered Sylvia Whichcote. His mother calls on John Holdswoth, an author of a rationalist text on ghosts but living in impoverished circumstances, to investigate. Taylor brings to life a closed, incestuous world in this book which is again rich in period detail and compelling relationships.

 

Latest Reads: Shari Lapena, Mary Torjussen and Cass Green

Are you enjoying the blazing heat? I have to confess that it has slightly impacted on my reading. It is hard to hold a book (especially a hardback) and fan yourself at the same time so I’ve been watching a lot of films and crime dramas. However, I have immersed myself in a historical series (the subject of my next post) and three great crime novels.

Shari Lapena’s Agatha Christie style thriller, An Unwanted Guest, was published this week. A group of travellers are trapped inside a luxury lodge in the Catskills by a snow storm. When a woman is murdered, the remaining residents begin to inspect their fellow guests’ histories, looking to identify the killer, and decades old secrets begin to emerge. As more murders take place, alliances begin to fracture, until a spectacular denouement brings the killer to justice. Lapena, always a great storyteller, has written a compelling narrative. I loved the fact that we’re presented with a discrete group of suspects and there’s  a Golden Age feel the unmasking of the culprit. A perfect read to cool you off this summer.

Estate agents traditionally get a bad press but Mary Torjussen does an excellent job in The Girl I Used To Be of showing the pressures of a professional woman juggling her own business and family life. When Gemma wakes up in a hotel room after having dinner with a client, she discovers that she has no memory of how the evening ended. This is another page turner and Torjussen provides a satisfying portrait of a woman who doubts her own suspicions and is determined to protect her family.

Don’t You Cry by Cass Green opens with recently separated Nina who nearly chokes at a restaurant during a blind date. She is helped by a waitress, Angel, who then turns up at Nina’s house in the middle of the night, closely followed by a relative carrying a baby. A dark night of terror and violence follows as Nina begins to doubt those close to her. Cass Green excels at characterisation and delivers a satisfying antagonist and a cast of engaging characters. Don’t You Cry is out on the 6th September.

 

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Review- Three Simenon novels: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse, Maigret’s Doubts & Maigret and the Old People.

I’ve been reading the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon since I was a teenager and many of them I’ve read more than once. I’ve found the series divides crime writers. Some, like me, love the books and others have never got into the series. I think the structure isn’t for everyone. The culprit is often known, or easily guessed, and as much effort is put into extracting a confession as to discovering who is responsible for a crime.

The books I read as a teenager were the old style green penguins. I never thought about the translation or the translator, in fact, I tended to forget I was reading fiction originally written in another language. Times have changed, however, and Penguin are gradually reissuing all 75 Maigret novels with new translations.

519N4NqgpoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The first I read this month was Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse, translated by the excellent Roz Schwartz. A retired manufacturer is shot dead in his flat after playing chess with his son-in-law. Maigret struggles to find either a motive for the crime, or anyone prepared to speak ill of the dead man. Only the frozen nature of the dead man’s wife hints at family turmoil not immediately apparent. It’s not one of Simenon’s best but a good insight into Maigret’s tenacious and dogmatic approach to solving cases.

5198zL9wsYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_More satisfying is Maigret’s Doubts about a train-set enthusiast working in a toy shop who is convinced that his wife is about to kill him. I remember reading this book years ago and Simenon has an eye for the absurd both in terms of setting up the crime and the eventual denouement. Women don’t always come across that well in Simenon’s books and are usually seen through the eyes of male protagonists. However, there’s a nice insight into Maigret’s domestic life as he worries about his wife’s minor illness and a sense that he’s not the young man he used to be. The translation is by Shaun Whiteside.

51oil9Qu3mL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Maigret and the Old People isn’t the most catchiest of titles and, given that Penguin have changed a fair few of the original names, it’s surprising that they’ve kept this one. Again I can remember reading this years ago and it’s an unusual tale of a retired diplomat found dead in his apartment, Maigret’s investigations reveal an age-old love affair which appears strange to the modern reader but fits in with Simenon’s wry look at relationships. It reminds me why I enjoyed these books so much as a teenager. They’re occasionally racy and always appeared as something different from the British Golden Age writers I was also reading at the time. This translation is also by Shaun Whiteside.

Podcast Review: Death in Ice Valley

I’ve had a month or so of reading non-crime novels but I’m about to attack my backlog this week. However, I haven’t been neglecting crime entirely. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Death in Ice Valley which I’ve found compelling.

On the 29th November, the charred body of a woman was found at the isolated  Isdalen Valley in Bergen. Next to her body were Fenemal sleeping pills, empty bottles and various items of her clothing. There was no identification and the labels from her clothes had been removed. Although investigated by the police, the woman’s identity was never discovered and the autopsy concluded that the woman had died from Fenemal and carbon monoxide poisoning.

I first became aware of the case from crime writing friend, Gunnar Staalesen. Gunnar won the Petrona Award in 2017 for his book, Where Roses Never Die. His Varg Veum books are set in Bergen and I saw him talk about the case at an event. The woman’s death has recently been subject of a podcast by the BBC World Service and NRK, the Norwegian broadcaster. If you enjoy listening to high quality journalism, I can highly recommend it.

The series opens with Norwegian investigative journalist, Marit Higraff, and British BBC radio documentary maker, Neil McCarthy, giving the background to the case. There are some fascinating details:  the pair of rubber boots that the woman bought in Stavanger, the seller remembering that she smelt strongly of garlic, and the suitcase discovered in an Oslo locker which contained, amongst other things, a coded note which has only partially been deciphered. This is what is already known but is fascinating not least because the images are shared in a Facebook group so you can see them for yourselves.

However, the journalists extend the investigation well beyond the original and there are some great potential insights once the woman’s jawbone is located and subjected to modern testing. The predominant theories are that either the woman was a spy, or a prostitute. She carried numerous fake passports but neither scenario fits the facts. As a spy she drew too much attention to herself and her choice of Christian lodgings mean it’s unlikely she took clients back to her rooms. Even her age remains unclear – this is a woman who appears to be without a history.

I can’t give too much else away without completely spoiling the series, and you might want to avoid the Facebook group until you’ve listened to all ten podcasts. Gunnar Staalesen makes an appearance in many of the episodes and suggests a realistic scenario  toward the end of the podcasts. I’m feeling slightly bereft now the episodes have come to an end.

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