The Best of August’s Reading

Using August as a catch-up period gave me the chance to tackle all those books that had been sitting on my bookshelf or kindle over the last couple of months. It was good to see that book pile go down slowly although a month without a single (new) book purchase was enough for me. September will be business as usual and I’ll buy, borrow and read what I fancy.

Of the eleven books I read for crimepieces, ten were new-to-me authors. The only exception was Peter Robinson which I slipped into my reading purely because I couldn’t resist it. My stand-out book of the month will be reviewed in September so that one will have to wait. However, Ashes, by Sergios Gakas was a wonderful slice of Greek Noir and is my nominated book of the month. It was a crime novel that was realistic and gritty but the cynicism was restrained enough for the writer to tell an excellent story.

The eleven books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Blood Tears by Michael J Malone

2. Bone and Cane by David Belbin

3. Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah

4. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

5. Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson

6. Out of Range by C J Box

7. Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

8. Ashes by Sergios Gakas

9. Bird of Prey by Nikitas Terzis

10. The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

11. Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

As usual, Kerrie from  Mysteries in Paradise is collating the pick of this month’s crime reads and has an eclectic mix of recommendations which I have come to expect.

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Review: David Belbin – Bone and Cane

I’m dedicating the month of August to ‘crime fiction catch-up’, in other words I intend to read all the books that I have failed to get around to since the beginning of the year. There will be no new purchases! I’m particularly keen to read the books given to me by friends and writers which I’ve blithely promised to read and then left languishing on my shelves. Bone and Cane is one such book which was given to me by Maxine at Petrona. My resolve to read this book was strengthened when I met the author, David Belbin, at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and I learnt that the second book in the series, What You Don’t Know, had been published in May. Clearly I have some catching up to do.

Bone and Cane is set in the run-up to the 1997 General Election which the Tories are predicted to lose. There is a buzz in the air at Westminster although Nottingham MP Sarah Bone expects to lose her Labour seat which she won marginally in a recent by-election. However she is celebrating her part in securing the release of Ed Clark who was convicted for the murder of policeman Terry Shanks and his wife Liv. Terry Shanks was one of the policemen who helped convict Ed Clark but there was scant forensic evidence and the conviction was overturned at appeal.

After the his ‘release’ party, Ed tries to assault Sarah Bone and boasts that he did in fact commit the two murders. Sarah is appalled by the confession, not least because the murdered man’s sister Polly resents Sarah’s interference in the case and insists that he is guilty. However it is the run-up to the General Election and Sarah has to concentrate on campaigning to retain her seat. In Nottingham, she runs into her ex lover Nick Cane, a  former teacher turned cannabis grower and supplier who has just been released from prison. Through his moonlighting job as a taxi driver he has met Ed Clarke and also feels uneasy about the man’s release. Together, Sarah and Nick try to investigate the events that led up to the double murder.

I found this book to be a well-written crime novel with an interesting take on national and regional politics. Only a small portion of the narrative is set in London but I thought the writer captured well the stresses of Westminster and the anxieties of a new MP. The parts set in Nottingham infused the book with the mechanics of regional politics – campaign headquarters set in housing estates, MPs surgeries where the angry and desperate turn up for help. Sarah Bone is a realistic character as an MP with a background in student politics and a brief stint in the police. I found her a slightly cold character which was probably deliberate as she is clearly an ambitious person. Nick Cane, her former boyfriend was also well portrayed as someone who had fallen spectacularly from position of responsibility and was now on the fringes of society. I found is reluctance or perhaps inability to completely rehabilitate to be slightly depressing but again this is probably deliberate.

The idea of a convict who may have been mistakenly released was a good idea for the book and I liked the story. In keeping with the realism of the writing there are no easy solutions at the end for any of the characters. I’m interested to see how the Bone/Cane partnership continues as the book had the rounded feel of a one-off and their future together does seem doomed. I’ll definitely be reading book two.

Other reviews of Bone and Cane can be found at Petrona and at The Cadaverine Magazine (a publication new to me).

The author’s website is here.

Review: Adrian McKinty – The Cold Cold Ground

Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground has been garnering some excellent reviews and after reading it in one sitting I can see why.

The story is set in 1981 in Northern Ireland during The Troubles with the newspapers full of the Republican hunger strikes in the Maze prison, the forthcoming royal wedding between Charles and Diana, the recent shooting of the Pope and the ongoing trial of the Yorkshire Ripper in England. It is a hugely evocative period and McKinty couldn’t have chosen a better time to highlight the political and religious disparities in Carrickfergus, the small port town where the book is set.

Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy is a Catholic RUC policeman living on a Protestant sink estate on the fringes of the town. When two homosexual men are killed, Duffy fears that a homophobic serial killer is on the loose despite his superior’s efforts to link the killings to sectarian violence. Duffy is also intrigued by the case of a missing girl, Lucy Moore. With an ex-husband on hunger strike in the Maze, when her body is found her death is ruled suicide despite unexplained marks on her neck and no satisfactory motive.

The book, I felt captured the mood of the period with the roadblocks, burning cars, and police visits to Catholic neighbourhoods in full riot gear. The book was an interesting mix of period realism and light-hearted cultural references to the early 1980s. So, for example, the reality of The Troubles with opposing paramilitary organisations carving up territory for their protection rackets was interspersed with references to popular music of the time. There were also some sly references to the future inserted into the book; the coming of the DeLorean factory designed to bring prosperity to the area and the date of armageddon prophesied by an evangelical preacher.

The character of university educated Sean Duffy had some interesting features. His sexual encounters were slightly out of the ordinary but fitted in with the tone of the book. I’m not normally keen on real people popping up in fiction but here the larger than life personalities would have been hard to ignore. The presence of Gerry Adams, for example, gave the book a solidity so that we weren’t just dealing with a fictional murder but also the realities of political life at the time.

The MI5/Special Branch characters were also interesting, more ‘Our Friends in the North‘ than George Smiley. They ranged from the man in the tweed suit to the stony faced thugs but I’m never sure if either of these types are representative of the personalities of the British Security Service. I would have preferred if the book had ended before Duffy’s trip to Italy but appreciate the final ending ultimately showed the complicity of those in authority in many of the events taking place.

Ultimately it was impossible to put the book down, as much for the crime plot as for the setting. It is the first in a trilogy and I’m looking forward to the rest in the series.

Thanks to Gemma at the Harrogate Festival for my copy of the book.

The book has been reviewed by many of the national newspapers and on-line at crimesquad.com, Petrona, Fair Dunkum Crime and Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog.

Adrian McKinty’s website is here.

Review: Eva Hudson – The Loyal Servant

April – a new month and I’m determined to try out some new authors rather than rely on old favourites. My kindle has also been shamefully neglected and usually only gets dusted down in advance of a plane trip. The trouble is, I like the feel of books and the e-reading experience is never completely going to do it for me. However, I downloaded The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson because I liked the premise of the book – a political thriller set in the Department of Education involving the death of a politician.

Civil Servant Caroline Barber discovers Martin Fox, a junior minister and her former lover, dead in his office one evening. She had been called to his rooms after he had left a cryptic message on her voicemail which subsequently disappears. Unconvinced by the official explanation of suicide, Caroline pairs up with investigative journalist Angela Tate and soon both her job and family are at risk as secrets emerge that others wish to be covered up.

The book was the winner of the 2011 Lucy Cavendish Prize for fiction and I liked the fact that the two lead protagonists are strong women. Caroline, the lowly civil service is the best realised of the two, generally happy in her dull job but trying to juggle work and family pressures. Her family were particularly well portrayed, especially her militant mother protesting against various government measures. The journalist Angela Tate was also a strong character, her job continually under threat from cost-cutting measures and desperate to get that all important scoop.

The descriptions of the Department of Education were particularly strong and the writer clearly knows the world well with its bureaucracy that can be circumvented by those in the know. As the plot reached its climax I found it a little rushed and wanted the narrative to continue to the (hinted) conclusion. But overall it was a good read and it was nice to see a political thriller written by a woman and featuring two strong female leads.