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.

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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.

 

 

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.

Review: Chris Ewan – Long Time Lost

longtimelost300It’s a mark of a good writer when they produce something a bit different with each book. Chris Ewan’s latest novel, Long Time Lost, is a thrilling read that takes you from the Isle of Man to mainland Europe via Weston-super-Mare and Lake Windermere.

Nick Miller has created a team who relocates at-risk individuals across Europe. He’s an expert in this field because he himself has had to acquire a new identify after his family was killed. He’s developed a complex system where each of the protected individuals have to check-in at the same time every week. Kate Sutherland is hiding as part of a witness protection programme in order to give evidence against Connor Lane’s brother. Connor is determined to ensure the case never comes to trial but Miller’s interference in the hitman’s plans mean that the whole team are now under threat.

The action in Long Time Lost is fast-paced from the off. Kate shows herself more than capable of defending herself and it’s nice to see a female character who’s a victim but proactive in her defence. Her chemistry with Miller is perhaps inevitable but it does take unexpected turns and Ewan never veers into cliché. I enjoyed the broad sweep of the book after a raft of claustrophobic novels that I’ve been reading recently.

This is only the second book that I’ve read by Chris Ewan and I clearly need to read more. I was supposed to be working today but the whole point of books is to make it impossible to put them down. Chris Ewan certainly succeeded with this one.

Review: David Mark – Dead Pretty

dead-pretty-david-mark-L-fhpcx5A review of the new novel from David Mark by Crimepieces guest reviewer, Rachel Hall.

It seems hard to believe that Dead Pretty sees the fifth outing of DS Aector McAvoy in a series which first made an appearance in 2012. In that time, David Mark has quickly established himself as a writer with a reputation for his gritty police procedurals featuring the gentle giant DS McAvoy. Consistently strong on characterisation and with superb dialogue, Mark delivers a powerful story with the victims of some of the very darkest crimes of society right at its heart and a wry line in black humour along the way.

This is a series which I first encountered with book three, Sorrow Bound, which read well as a standalone but also left me with a need to hear more from both David Mark and his characters, in particular boss DS Trish Pharoah. Whilst it is wife Roisin with her traveller background that so many are keen to point out as what makes Aector so distinct, it is his rapport and relationship with Pharoah which really shines through and makes this series a winner.

Stubborn and relentless in his search for justice, the polite and restrained McAvoy seems the opposite of his brassy and often abrasive superior. Yet these two are both dedicated detectives, and readers learn that this is a team who have grown together over time. From his earnest years at the inception of the series, Pharoah has guided McAvoy and he, in turn, has shown her the benefit of not always storming in with all guns blazing. There is a believable chemistry between the pair and a mutual respect and affection is evident.

Dead Pretty sees the team in Hull facing numerous problems against a backdrop of scarce resources and an increasing workload. David Mark presents a picture of the despondency and disillusionment which prevail among the rank and file officers and the black humour which the characters call on to keep morale up feels natural. Aector is steadfastly searching for a missing girl and his devoted wife Roisin knows that his failure to find her is haunting him. When another girl is found brutally murdered, he looks for the connections between the two. DC Helen Bremberg, on her return from maternity leave, finds herself an unwilling secondee to the Drug Squad and back working for her nemesis, DI Shaz Archer. However, her discovery of a body in a disused property on a council estate and what looks like a victim of a vigilante attack draws her back within the domain of her former colleagues.

Whilst I found the connections between the two girls that McAvoy identifies somewhat tenuous, and whilst I retained my scepticism of the likelihood of such an occurrence, it did not spoil my enjoyment of Dead Pretty. David Mark taps into wider media debate surrounding feelings toward those who commit vigilante attacks and an individual’s right to protect themselves and their family which in turn leads some of those who work within the unit to evaluate where they stand on the issue.

Mark does a magnificent job in painting a vivid picture of Hull, a city where picturesque rural villages stand shoulder to shoulder with sink estates and he delivers an authentic picture of a busy city with a diverse population. With trendy drinking haunts side by side with the altogether more unsavoury goings on in society, Dead Pretty also makes interesting social observations. With the odd snippets of information about the people who inhabit the city, Mark speaks volumes about the people who choose to make this city their home.

Dead Pretty can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, but I doubt one encounter with McAvoy and Pharoah will be enough. There is no doubt these two work together well. If you are looking for a gritty police procedural with a strong moral compass and a splendid eye for dark humour then look no further than David Mark. Dead Pretty makes for a pleasingly complicated and satisfying novel.

 

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: Lee Child – Personal

PersonalI’m a big Lee Child fan. His books might be similar in style but I like the fact you know what to expect when you open a Jack Reacher novel. That said, some of the books are better than others which is hardly surprising in a long running series that totals nineteen novels. I picked up his latest paperback, Personal, one afternoon and read it in a day. It’s the mixture of accessible storytelling and fast pacing that makes his books so unputdownable. And I think, with this latest book, he’s back on top form.

Someone takes a long-range shot of the French president. International security services identify only four hit men in the world with the necessary skills to have carried out the attempted assassination. The US suspect is an old enemy of Jack Reacher’s and he is given the assignment of tracking the man down who is believed to have made his way to London. But protected by an Essex gang, the hit man creates a web of violent protection to prevent his whereabouts being discovered.

This isn’t the first Reacher to have been set in the UK. The Hard Way ended in the Norfolk countryside but the best Reacher books have been the ones set resolutely within the US heartlands. However, in this instance, I thought Personal’s London and Essex setting perfect for the plot. Connecting the narrative to the US is done through Reacher’s assistant, Casey, who unlike other CIA operatives has a raft of private neuroses that she keeps at bay through medication.

The plot is classic Lee Child and the execution is as professional as we have come to expect from him.  All his existing fans will, I’m sure, love it.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy.