Recent Reads

I always look forward to the latest Ruth Galloway novel from Elly Griffiths and in The Stone Circle, out on the 7th February, it’s great to see Ruth back in Norfolk. There’s an interesting link to Griffiths’s first book in the series,  Crossing Places. DCI  Nelson has been receiving letters similar in tone to those which tried to derail the investigation into missing children. The culprit’s son, Leif, has returned to look at a prehistoric stone circle where a twelve year old girl’s bones are discovered. The vulnerability of children and babies is explored in a sensitive manner. The bones are those of Margaret Lacey who disappeared thirty years earlier in a crime which the community has never forgotten. Griffiths is excellent at keeping up dramatic tension both in terms of the murder investigation and the Nelson/Ruth relationship.

The Boy who Lived with the Dead is the new novel by Kate Ellis featuring Scotland Yard detective, Albert Lincoln. Before the First World War, Lincoln led the investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy Rudyard, a young child in the Cheshire village of Mabley Ridge. Now, a woman has been killed, her small baby is missing and Lincoln is back to investigate the murder.  He discovers a town still reeling from war and families with plenty of secrets to hide. The book is an absorbing read and I loved the period detail.

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper is a psychological thriller set in my home county of Derbyshire. Caro inherits, along with her sister, their childhood home after the death of step-mother, Elizabeth. The villagers are unfriendly and the house brings back long forgotten memories for Caro. Cuckoo is an interesting psychological thriller, very well written, which cleverly exploits the closed confines of the story. Draper is excellent at  keeping the reader guessing until the denouement.

Thomas Mogford’s A Thousand Cuts had been on my shelf  for a while, a shameful admission given how much I love the author’s writing. The fifth book in the Spike Snguinetti series sees Spike’s fiancé about to give birth while he takes on a case that brings him into conflict with childhood friends. Spike is a fascinating character and it looks like he’s about to let his obsession with his case ruin another relationship. Mogford’s descriptions of the Gibraltar setting are wonderful but never allowed to overshadow the plot. It’s one of his best.

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.

 

My Top Ten Crime Books of 2016

Top ten books of the year have been appearing since the beginning of December but I’ve held off posting mine just in case of a last minute brilliant read. However, I’ve spent most of the festive period reading classic crime, a review of which I’ll post later.

2016 has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of reading. I have found the submissions for this year’s Petrona to be uneven. Some long running series are feeling a bit tired and Scandi tropes which once felt fresh are increasingly being recycled to the extent that I feel I’ve already read the book. Having said that, the Nordic Noir books that do make it onto the list were a joy to read.

So, here are my top ten books of 2016 in no particular order. If you want to know which one was my favourite, I’ll reveal all in my new year newsletter.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson – The Dying Detective (translated by Neil Smith)

Persson is a writer with a sure touch but in this standalone he excels in both plotting and characterisation. It’s a substantial read with plenty to think about and written with Persson’s sly humour.

27152-books-origjpgPD James – The Mistletoe Murder and other stories

There will be no more Dalgliesh novels from James but Faber have provided us fans of the erudite detective with two short stories in this collection. Although they have previously appeared in publications, every story was new to me and the sumptuous cover made the book a  delight to read.

51dWXz1LAoL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Vargas – A Climate of Fear (translated by Sian Reynolds)

Another writer who delights in wry humour, this is Vargas back on form. Adamsberg is without doubt my favourite detective at the moment and the Icelandic setting for part of the story was an added bonus.

30840877-_uy200_David Mitchell – Slade House

I appear to have neglected to review this book. I think I was saving the post for a round-up of supernatural stories that I read over the year. It’s a great mix of crime and spooky events and I greatly enjoyed the way it unsettled the reader.

9781843446408Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

This is a useful guide to British crime fiction divided by geographic region. The reviews of the merits of each writers books are perceptive and includes lesser known authors for aficionados to discover.

9781784292379Elly Griffiths – The Woman in Blue

One of my favourite crime series, I love the characters and the romantic tension between Nelson and Ruth. Here, the atmospheric setting of Walsingham provided the backdrop to a great plot.

 

9781910633359Agnes Ravatn – The Bird Tribunal (translated by Rosie Hedger)

Fans of Karin Fossum will love this story where the tension is slowly ratched up. It’s an example of how crime fiction can also be literary without the writing interfering with the story.

 

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

Violent and uncompromising, I loved how it pushes the reader to confront their prejudices in relation to perpetrators of brutality. It’s long but never dull.

 

A-Dying-Breed-lightPeter Hanington – A Dying Breed

A crime novel with a difference. The Afghanistan setting works equally as well as the world of news reporting in London. It gives an insight into the clashes between old and new style journalism. Peter Hannington is a writer to watch.

 

9781509809486chameleon-peopleHans Olav Lahlum – Chameleon People (translated by Kari Dickson)

The review for this excellent book will  be coming in my next Scandi round-up. It has all of Lahlum’s usual themes but his writing never tires. I found the character of the wheelchair-bound Patricia much more sympathetic in this book and there is clearly plenty of mileage left in the series.

So that’s my top ten. Next week I’ll be posting a list of books to watch for Spring 2017. I’ve already read some excellent novels and there’s plenty to look forward to.

Wishing all readers of Crimepieces a happy new year!

Review: Elly Griffiths – The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag GirlIt’s always a risk for a writer to start a new series. Elly Griffths is the author of the successful books set in East Anglia featuring forensic anthropologist, Ruth Galloway. Fans of the series, including me, eagerly await each new instalment but I’m sure it can be wearying for an author to keep writing around the same characters. The Zig Zag Girl is Griffiths’ first book in a new series set in 1950s Brighton and it will be interesting to see what fans make of the novel.

The head and legs of a woman are found at a train station in two cases. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens receives the body’s torso in a package addressed to him using his former military rank, ‘captain’. The body is revealed to be that of a former assistant of magician Max Mephisto. Mephisto once served in the army with Edgar Stephens and they soon discover that members of their former group, known as The Magic Men, are being hunted down and killed using gruesome re-enactments of magic tricks.

The Zig Zag Girl is an interesting read mainly for its depictions of post-war Brighton and the troubles of people who are adjusting to civilian life. We’re on Foyles War territory and it makes for an enjoyable setting. The story is slightly bizarre which I found initially difficult to engage with. Griffiths is at her best when dealing with the minutiae of domestic life and the sheer mundanity of aspects of the entertainment profession. She is, however, an excellent writer and, by the end, I was racing to the finish.

Whether the characters stand up to a long series, I’m not sure but as a one-off, I found The Zig Zag Girl to be an very good read.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Review: Elly Griffiths – The Outcast Dead

outcastdead200Elly Griffith’s books, featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, remain one of my ‘must read’ series. The books have been of a consistently good quality and, even when Griffiths changes the Norfolk setting, have retained a strong sense of place. There’s also a feeling of movement in the novels and characters lives are constantly changing. After a foray into Lancashire, in The Outcast Dead the characters are back in Norfolk and Ruth Galloway is sucked into a case of a missing child.

During an excavation, a body is found in the grounds of Norwich Castle which may be that of the infamous Victorian child killer Jemima Green, known as Mother Hook. The discovery prompts the arrival of a crew from a salacious TV series. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson is investigating the death of three children whose mother is suspected of having smothered them. When another child goes missing, the sense of urgency increases as the team look for a man or woman whose motives defy even the most experienced profiler.

The emphasis on the death of children in this book is a difficult subject for a crime novel but Griffiths does well to write about the abductions and murders with a light touch. The historical context for one set of murders helps, and the whole book is set in an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion.

The central characters, familiar to Grififths readers, are moving on with their lives: Ruth still fantasises of a future with Harry even though she knows its impossible and Judy, a detective on Harry’s team, is attempting to continue with her family life while knowing that the father of her baby is the druid, Cathbad. There is a sense of overlap with some of the stories. Judy’s concealment of her baby’s paternity has echoes of Ruth’s in earlier books. Similarly, the theft of a baby also references back to an earlier child abduction which ended disastrously. But the series retains a consistency that is remarkable considering we are now on book number six.

In spite of references in the book to earlier novels, I still think a reader new to this series could start with The Outcast Dead. For existing fans, this series will continue to delight.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Crimefest – Day 1

BloggersIt’s that CrimeFest time of year and it’s been great to say hello to old friends and meet new authors, bloggers and readers. For me, the event kicked off with the quiz on Thursday evening. We were a team of bloggers – Mrs Peabody, It’s a Crime, Raven Crime Reads and Eurocrime. Given the amount of crime fiction that we read, you’d have thought we’d do OK. Well, we came fourth. Some questions were alarmingly obscure – would any regular readers of this blog know that the Crime Writer’s Association consumed corned beef sandwiches and a pot of tea at their inaugural meeting? A picture of our quiz team is on the left. As many of the bloggers use aliases I’ll leave it to you to guess the faces to their websites.

My first panel of Friday was entitled Crime in the Country – Going Rural. Participants were Jeffrey Deaver, Elly Griffiths, Stanley Trollip (one half of Michael Stanley) and Martin Walker with the panel moderated by Len C Tyler. JD admitted that his books were largely urban in nature although, not surprising given his output, a couple did have rural settings. MW sets his books in France, EG in Norfolk and MS in Botswana. The panel discussed the nature of ‘difference’. While cities can be largely homogenised, the country has the capacity for depicting violent crimes against the landscape of a lost paradise. MW made an interesting point that while urban police might be looking for ‘connections’ in relation to a victim, in a rural area, these might be more immediately obvious – where long standing feuds are well known. I thought the discussion fascinating, not least because I live in the countryside. While crime is generally low, the capacity to be frightened – dark nights, isloated setting etc makes it rich pickings for crime writers.

The second session was presented by Barry Forshaw entitled Too much sex and violence: British Crime Films. With only 20 minutes to cover the topic, I can say that I was impressed by Barry’s knowledge of the genre and I’m now dying to watch some of the films he mentioned. For most people, the only two British crime films that they would be able to name would be Get Carter and Brighton Rock. These are both excellent films but, as we found out in the presentation, there’s a raft of movies from the 1940s, many starring Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker, that portray the underbelly of British society. A film that I’m particularly keen to try is ‘Yield to the Night’ based on the story of Ruth Ellis, last woman to be hanged in the UK, starring Diana Doors.

Another panel I attended was Native and Outside: Different Perspectives. It focused on the difference between writing as an Panel1outsider and a native of an area. On the panel were Adrian Magson and Pierre Lemaitre writing about France and Dana Stabenow and M J McGrath who set their books in Alaska. A theme that emerged from the panel was the importance of research for the writers not from the place. AM uses his brother who still lives in France for information and MJM regularly visits Alaska. For the native writers, it is a case of using the landscape that they are familiar with and attempting to portray the diversity of the setting away from stereotypes. Needless to say, after hearing the writers speak, I’m dying to read their books which are sitting in my TBR pile.

Pierre Lemaitre’s translator, Frank Wynne, was also present on the panel and I afterwards attended a fascinating talk by him on a book he had written. I Was Vermeer documents the life of forger Han van Meegeren and it was absolutely fascinating. I could have listened to the story for hours and I’m definitely going to read the book. Particularly interesting was the vested interest people who unintentionally buy and sell  forged pictures have in continuing the deception.

In the evening, the CWA Awards were announced including the International and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger. All the nominees can be found here.  A fascinating day and, deep breath, on to day two.

Review: Elly Griffiths – Dying Fall

Dying Fall‘Comfort read’ is a term much maligned in the book reviewing world. It conjurers up images of ‘cosy’ books with settings far removed from the realities of everyday life. But a recent post by Reactions to Reading discussed some of the series that have had a long-standing place in the reviewer’s affections. And we all have them. The books of the late, great Tony Hillerman were a massive comfort read for me and I still read them, even though I know there won’t be any more written. And there was nothing ‘cosy’ about his books.

A modern writer whose series is fast becoming a favourite is Elly Griffiths. Set in Norfolk, her books feature forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway who is now a single mother after her short-lived affair with DCI Harry Nelson. In Dying Fall, the setting moves to the North West of England, my old stomping ground and it was great to read the now familiar cast of characters in a new setting.

Daniel Golding, an old university friend of Ruth, burns to death in a house fire. Ruth is surprised to hear that her once ambitious and charismatic friend has been languishing in a small university near Pendle in the north of England. Days after his death, she receives a letter from him telling her of a discovery he has made involving the ancient ‘Raven King’ and urging her to get involved. Ruth decides to go north, taking her daughter Kate and accompanied by Cathbad, her druid friend. DCI Nelson has also decided to take a holiday to his home town of Blackpool where he calls on an old police colleague to see how the investigation is progressing. Police are now treating the death as suspicious and a member of a far-right white supremacist group is thought to be the most likely suspect.

The change of scenery worked well, although I think part of the enjoyment was recognising many of places including Pendle Hill, Lytham and Blackpool. For me, the attraction of the series is that the character of Ruth Galloway and I are about the same age. So the cultural references to the 80s and 90s are spot on, and I can recognise the surprise you feel at successful friends at university who have failed to live up to their promise while others have taken a different path in life.

The murder investigation was enjoyable although I wasn’t that engaged in the far-right aspect of the case. There might be people looking to hark back to the days of King Arthur but in my experience racist groups tend to be far less articulate than that. The characters though, as ever, were an absolute delight and there was a heart-stopping moment towards the end when I thought I was about to lose one of my favourites. This series just keeps getting better and better and, for me, the next book can’t come around soon enough.

I received a copy from the publisher, Quercus. The book has also been reviewed at Raven Crime Reads