Review: Simon Conway – Rock Creek Park

rock-creek-park-27389-pThe tag ‘bio-thriller’ on the front of this book nearly put me off. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just usually find them too complicated for my unscientific mind. What got me reading the book was the setting – the political world of Washington DC. However, as it turned out Rock Creek Park as an excellent and disturbing read.

Harriet ‘Harry’ Armstrong is a former police Metropolitan police officer who jogging one night in Rock Creek Park discovers the body of a young woman. The park adjoins the property of a Republican Senator who gathers the great and the good around him to protect his reputation while the investigation takes place. Detective Michael Freeman is a former Special Forces soldier now working for Washington MPD. Convinced he is being set up by those who want to keep the Senator out of the investigation, he discovers Harry is now working for a genetic engineering company headed by a Russian scientist who may have been involved in the killing.

This was a pacy read written from the point of view of both policeman Freeman and Harry, who is desperate not to get involved in the case. Both characters are equally interesting – Freeman because knows that he is in the middle of a conspiracy involving multiple intelligence agencies, whereas Harry’s sense of dislocation as a stranger in a new city gives her a naïvety which is a nice counterbalance to Freeman. They are both given interesting back stories and the people who are close to them, Freeman’s political aide wife and Harry’s journalist husband, are also well drawn.

The political side of Washington is excellently portrayed, full ambitious aides and other hangers-on. I also enjoyed the bio-thriller part of the narrative, despite my reservations, mainly because the central premise is so interesting. There is a very creepy feel to the experiments that are taking place and a shocking event towards the latter part of the book which made difficult reading.

Towards the end, when the action moved from Washington to Georgia in the Caucasus, the book changed style slightly although the pace quickened to an extent that it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. I’d be interested to read a review from a scientist about the experiments that take place. I read the book with the view that it depicted an interesting if slightly improbable sequence of events. I’d be horrified to think that this stuff actually goes on.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime. The author’s website is here.

Review: Deon Meyer – 7 Days

After I’d finished the excellent Trackers last month I had the choice of either reading some of Meyer’s earlier books or his latest, 7 Days. His most recent book won, mainly because of the tempting blurb and I was once more impressed by the plotting skills of this excellent writer.

The South African Police Services receive an e-mail written by a sniper who threatens to kill a policeman every day until the murder of Hanneke Sloet is brought to justice. Sloet was an ambitious young lawyer who was found murdered in her new apartment with a single stab wound to her chest. When a policeman is shot in the leg, it is clear that a sniper intends to carry out his threat and Benny Griessel is assigned to the reopened case. Greissel is a recovering alcoholic, with a girlfriend who is in the process of falling off the wagon. In seven days he has to find the killer of Hannah and keep himself away from the bottle, while his colleague Captain Mbali Kaleni tries to track down the sniper.

The idea of sniper targeting policeman is a bold premise and one that has been addressed in crime fiction before – most notably McBain’s Cop Hater. However, Meyer brings a fresh approach to the subject by linking it to an old unsolved murder investigation. As I would expect from Meyer, the book was well plotted, full of twists and turns as potential suspects were examined and then cleared. The murdered lawyer dominates the book, which shows the power of good characterisation as we only see her personality through the eyes of others.

Benny Griessel and his developing relationship with the singer, Alexa, form an interesting subplot. Like in Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing, we get a realistic portrayal of the effects of alcohol dependency, although Benny seems to be coping well with staying dry. Captain Mbali Kaleni, the woman in charge of finding the sniper I found to be less engaging, perhaps because her backstory was developed in a previous book, Thirteen Hours, which I haven’t yet read.

This book had a different feel to Trackers. It was slower paced and without the multiple narratives that made Trackers such an unusual read. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read with an interesting and surprising resolution.

I received a copy of the book from the publishers. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime,

Review: Mons Kallentoft – Autumn Killing

Autumn Killing is the third book in the Malin Fors series by Mons Kallentoft. The series so far has been distinguished by excellent characterisation and a fragmented narrative style that has suited the often disturbing plots. Kallentoft has taken a brave stance with some of the themes in his books. In thrillers we normally get a resolution of sorts, but Kallentoft has deliberately kept the assault of a young woman unresolved throughout the series. Here, the case is mentioned once more but the overriding theme of Autumn Killing is the disintegration of Malin Fors as the result of her alcohol dependency.

Malin is leading the investigation into the death of Jerry Petersson, a self-made internet billionaire who has used his wealth to acquire Skogså Castle. The family who were ousted from their former ancestral home come under suspicion when Petersson is found dead in the moat, although a teenage car accident seems to hold the key to the killing. Meanwhile Malin, who finished the previous book Summertime Death sharing a home with her daughter Tove and ex-husband Janne, is imploding under the strain of family life. Her drinking is now out of control and impacting on her colleagues, family and the investigation.

Although the effects of Malin’s disintegration dominated this book, I found the portrayal to be moving and entirely realistic. Malin’s denials, puffy face, alcohol tainted breath and skewed view of the world gave her a powerful presence in the book. Tantalisingly, Kallentoft has added another mystery to this book, with hints of an incident in Malin’s childhood which may account for her behaviour. I thought the murder investigation got slightly overshadowed by the focus on Malin’s self-destruction but it still made for a powerful read.

As usual, the book is written in the present tense which I know isn’t to everyone’s taste but adds an immediacy to the writing. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the narrative is very choppy, with short sections taking the reader around the plot through the eyes of different characters. I like this style although once more, we had the narrative voice of the dead man which I’m not keen on.

With Kallentoft’s writing we get a slightly different view of society than that presented by other crime writers. His books are set in Linkoping, a Swedish town with none of the provincial feel of, say Camilla Lackberg’s Fjällbacka. Instead there is an ever-present sense of foreboding. As Autumn Killing is the third book in a quartet I suspect the fourth book, Savage Spring, is likely to the strongest of the series, where divergent plot strands finally come together. I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks to Hodder for sending me a copy of the book.

Review: Sophie Hannah – Kind of Cruel

I was talking about this crime fiction blog to someone recently and they asked me what I though of Sophie Hannah’s books. I then shuffled my feet and admitted that I hadn’t read anything by this writer for no other reason than I’d never got around to it. This week I rectified this omission and read Hannah’s latest book Kind of Cruel.

Amber Hewerdine visits a hypnotherapist in an attempt to cure her insomnia brought on my the death of her best friend, Sharon, in a fire. Amber and her husband Luke are now looking after Sharon’s two daughters but Amber is beset by anxieties that affect her sleep. She also obsessively revisits a fateful Christmas in 2003 when she stayed with her extended family in a house called Little Orchard. On Christmas morning four members of the family disappeared for 24 hours and have refused to speak about it ever since.

Not long after her visit to the psychotherapist, Amber is questioned over the murder of a woman she has never met before. The murder appears to be motiveless and the only clue police can find is the imprint of the words ‘kind, cruel, kind of cruel’ on a notepad in the victim’s house. When Amber mutters these words in front of policewoman connected to the case she immediately falls under suspicion.

Clearly I’ve made a mistake not trying Sophie Hannah’s books before because I found this book a compelling read. The novel is written predominantly from the point of view of Amber who is presented as a slightly unreliable narrator who is keeping a secret from her husband that we as readers are also not party to. Over the course of the book we become aware that she has suspicions about the true nature of her saintly sister-in-law Jo, who seems to hold the answer to the Christmas disappearance. But no link can be found between Amber and the murder of both her friend Sharon and the primary school teacher Kat Allen.

About a third of the way through the book, there were so many strands to this narrative I couldn’t work out how Hannah could possible bring them all together. Although the story unfolds gradually the whole picture is only revealed in the last twenty pages or so. I had to go back and reread this section as I was so overloaded with information but it didn’t spoil for me what had been a fascinating story.

The book reminded me in many ways of the novels of Barbara Vine and the psychological unravelling of the characters was helped in this book by the insertions of the hypnotherapist’s observations. These sections too were very well written and gave the book a slightly eerie feel. I liked the characters of the police, especially the clearly damaged Simon Waterhouse. My only criticism would be these characters have clearly appeared in previous books and it took me a while to work out who was who.

I thought Kind of Cruel was an excellent read and I’m definitely going to be reading more of Sophie Hannah. I think she’s a good example of how a compelling story can be combined with high quality writing.

I received  copy of this book from the publisher. Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime, Petrona and Shots.

The author’s website is here.