Review: G J Minett – The Hidden Legacy

A glowing review from Crimepieces’ guest reviewer Rachel Hall of a debut novel .

Launched in November 2015 it is hard to see what has kept this exceptionally well-written psychological thriller from gaining more critical acclaim. Subtitled ‘a dark and shocking psychological drama’, this is an intelligent, intriguing and most of all, well-constructed mystery. The accomplishment for a debut author cannot be overstated and it would seem an injustice that Graham Minett remains under the radar.

Opening with a shocking prologue from twelve year old schoolboy, John Michael Adams, as he commits a horrific attack upon two girls in a school playground in 1966, this is a story which hooks you right from the off.   Readers are presented with a glimpse into the mindset of a child driven to a despicable act whom the national press soon dub “Every Parents Nightmare”.

Fast forward to 2008 and meet harassed Ellen Sutherland, newly divorced and combining a full time job with the demands of single parenting and a mother succumbing to the frailties of dementia. The arrival of a solicitors letter asking her to make urgent contact regarding the last will and testament of Eudora Jane Nash leaves her flabbergasted. The name means nothing to her and she assumes it is simply a clerical error. When the overly sincere solicitor suggests a meeting, Ellen laughs off the idea of making a six-hour round trip. That is until it is disclosed that she has been bequeathed a picturesque cottage in a Cotswolds village of significant financial worth. Remaining unconvinced she mentions the name Eudora Nash in passing to her mother and her boss, a man who is like a father to her, and can sense she has ruffled some feathers and from then on decides to delve deeper. With the accompaniment of best friend Kate making for a brilliant contrast to the staid Ellen, the pair set out to discover just what has been hidden for so many years.

From then on the reader remains with present day Ellen and interlaced between her narrative are extracts from the deceased Eudora Nash and John Michael Adams. Despite the traversing timeline, the novel intuitively flows well and readers can sense a stylistic differing between each narrator which keeps the story moving. With Ellen uncovering all of this in the present day she adds a sense of solidity to the novel. As questions arise, Minett tackles them in a timely manner yet always remains one step ahead and as each layer of intricacy is peeled back he constantly surprises his readers. It is a considerable time since I have read such an ingenious plot construction from a psychological fiction novel.

Over the intervening years the story of the John Michael Adams is disclosed and offers an insight into a minor who remains a media target for vilification, seemingly fair game for a witch hunt to uncover his whereabouts and identity upon release. The portrayal of him as a man unable to make a fresh start paints a moving portrait of a life spent running away and the shifting ground underneath him. Minett never dictates to his readers how they should interpret the wider issues which he raises through The Hidden Legacy and it is hard not to imagine how child murderers are punished by the media which never allow these things to be forgotten.

Ellen has mixed emotions about her relationship with her mother, specifically regarding her unwillingness to talk about the past, yet she is wracked with remorse as she rushes up and down the country hunting the mystery surrounding a ninety-one year old lady who she has never met whilst her ailing mother grows weaker. My overriding thought throughout the novel related to just how much a person can jeopardise in blinkered pursuit of a long held secret and the risks that this necessitates.

Whilst unputdownable is often used ad nauseam in reviews Graham Minett does not put a foot wrong in this captivating and emotionally involving story. As each layer of intricacy is uncovered he never resorts to sensationalism in his consideration of a teenage murderer or falls back on the overly twee pull on the heart-strings. This is a moving and often profound example of the psychological fiction genre and poses numerous questions leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

The Hidden Legacy may not be one of the heralded psychological thrillers but is deserves to be one of the most widely read and establish G.J. Minett as a striking new talent in the increasingly crowded market of psychological fiction. Outstanding.

 

Review: K T Medina – White Crocodile

White-Crocodile-cover1For a debut novel to stand out, it has to offer something special to the reader. I’ve read few crime books set in Cambodia and it’s not a country that has ever tempted me to visit. However, in the tradition of the best reading, I was completely pulled into the world created by K T Medina. White Crocodile is a story of violence and revenge against the backdrop of mine clearance in a country still recovering from conflict.

The white crocodile of the title refers to the symbol of fear and death according to a Cambodian myth. Its legend is evoked by locals in response to a series of fatalities in an area which is being cleared of mines by a humanitarian charity. Tess Hardy has taken a job with the organisation in order to investigate the death of her ex-husband, Luke. Although her marriage was characterised by violence, in her last conversation with her ex she could hear fear in his voice. When she arrives in Cambodia, she discovers that teenage mothers are disappearing from local villages and are later found mutilated and killed.

White Crocodile has a compelling narrative that grabs you right from the start of the book. At the outset there is a suspicious explosion that maims one of the other mine clearers and it’s not clear if Johnny is a victim or implicated in the conspiracy that surrounds all the killings. As the plot develops, Tess’s personal history, the killing of the outcast women and a murder investigation in Manchester are interweaved into a compelling narrative.

Medina cleverly makes sure that Tess Hardy is on equal footing with the other protagonists. She is a mine clearer in her own right and saves the life of Johnny using a mix of bravery and knowledge of  land mines. This means that in a setting of vulnerable women, despite Tess’s abusive past, she seems an intrepid and determined seeker of truth.

White Crocodile is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Review: Sarah Hilary – Someone Else’s Skin

imageThe misery of domestic violence has occasionally been depicted in crime fiction but it’s a subject that’s difficult to read about. There’s enough violence, intimidation and hatred in the situation that victims find themselves in without adding a murder investigation into the mix. But Sarah Hilary has done very well to do just that; set a killing in a home for victims of domestic violence without it seeming gratuitous or exploitative.

Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is in charge of an investigation to discover why a man has been wounded in a women’s refuge. Although it initially looks like a case of lackadaisical security in a place for those looking to escape violence in the home, Marnie soon discovers more complex relationships exploiting the stresses of vulnerable people.

This is a difficult book to review as to go into the plot in any depth would give away too many spoilers. There are a number of twists and turns, one of which I saw coming, which in no way spoilt my enjoyment of the book. There narrative is multi-layered and, like the best crime novels, the lines between victim and villain are often unclear.

This is a debut novel for Sarah Hilary and the first in a series featuring Marnie Rome. She has managed to give us something new with her detective inspector. Marnie has her own secrets which she partially gives up towards the end of the novel. I suspect there are more to come.

Thanks to Headline for my review copy.

Review: Paul Doiron – The Poacher’s Son

Every now and then I pick up a book that I have absolutely no expectations of whatsoever. I’ve not read any reviews, never heardThe Poacher's Son of the writer nor the book, and I’m reading it solely because of the novel’s premise. Of course this can be a mixed blessing as reading is such a subjective experience. However you can come across some gems this way and my latest find was The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron, a writer who I will be reading more of in the future.

Mike Bowditch is a game warden in Maine who returns home one evening to find a rambling message on his answer machine from his estranged father. Hard-drinking and violent, Jack Bowditch left Mike’s mother when he was small and despite a couple of attempts  by Mike to bond with his father, he now keeps a distance from the man who makes a living from illegal game poaching. However, when he discovers that Jack is on the run from the police, accused of shooting a local cop, Mike is torn between his instinctive loyalty to his father and the demands of his job. When it becomes clear that Jack is being set-up, Mike gambles his career and his life to discover the true versions of events.

I think this is the first book I’ve read set in Maine, a US state that I know little about and whose location I had to look up. However the setting was a major attraction of the book and like the novels of CJ Box and Nevada Barr, we see the landscape through the eyes of a professional worker. However, Mike Bowditch has an off-hand attitude towards his employment and his loyalty is stretched even further when familial ties prove strong. The book gave a persuasive portrayal of the complexity of relationships and how superficial alliances can hide deeper attachments.  All the characters were well drawn particularly Mike’s mother who has escaped from her trailer park upbringing and and is enjoying suburban life with her lawyer second-husband.

For a first novel, it was paced very well and with a genuine surprise towards the conclusion. It was also well written with an engaging narrative voice. A very accomplished début by Paul Doiron who I can see  has gone on to write two further books. Hopefully these we will see these published in the UK in the near future.

I received my copy of this book from the publisher, Constable and Robinson. Other reviews can be found at Raven Crime Reads and The Lighthearted Librarian. The author’s website is here.