Sharon Bolton – A Dark and Twisted Tide

Sharon Bolton Sometimes you read a book that you wish you’d written yourself. I’ve enjoyed Sharon Bolton’s books ever since I discovered them a few years ago. The fact that I’ve not read her novels in any particular order, and the early ones are still unread, goes to show that if a series is well written, it doesn’t really matter in what order you read the books. A Dark and Twisted Tide is the latest thriller to feature to Lacey Flint. Flint is an intriguing character with an interesting back story. As a reader you get glimpses into the character’s past but never the whole picture. Every reveal make you want to discover more and yet the character never seems contrived. It’s a delicate balance for a writer and Bolton knows how to achieve it.

In this latest book, Lacey is is no longer a detective and is living on a house boat while working for the river police. She finds a body floating in the river, wrapped in a white shroud, and it seems that the corpse was placed deliberately for her to find. She manages to connect the killing to that of other missing women and places her own life in danger when it becomes clear that the murderer is trying to entice Lacey into becoming the next victim.

Setting the narrative in the heart of the Capital’s houseboat community gives the book an unreal quality as this is a London that we don’t normally see. Lacey swims every day in the river and the swell of the tide mirrors the relentlessness of the killings which are, at times, overwhelming in their frequency. As usual, the other characters are as well drawn as the main protagonist. In particular, DI Dana Tulloch, in her longing to have a baby with her partner, makes an interesting sub-plot.

I find Bolton’s books so compelling that often the last few chapters pass by in a blur. It was exactly the same with A Dark and Twisted Tide. and I’m looking forward to the next installment and more revelations about Lacey’s past.

Thanks to Transworld for the review copy.

Review: Antonio Hill – The Good Suicides

I missed out commenting on the plaudits that were heaped upon Antonio Hill’s first book The Summer of the Dead Toys. I was living Antonio Hillabroad when it came out and it was impossible to get my hands on a copy. However, I was intrigued enough to read Hill’s follow-up book, The Good Suicides, and, with some reservations, I thought it an unusual and dark read.

A man kills his family and then commits suicide. The police record it as a case of domestic tragedy until an unrelated woman kills herself by throwing herself in front of a train. The connection is a team building event that took place for senior staff at Alemany Cosmetics.  Each member of the party has received a photo from an anonymous sender showing dead dogs hanging from a tree. Something is compelling the employees to commit suicide and the race is on to find the perpetrator. The case is investigated by Inspector Hector Salgado whose wife disappeared the previous year. A fellow officer tries to unpick that mystery without alerting Salgado to the investigation.

The premise of this book is excellent. Anyone who has ever been on a team building event knows how claustrophobic and unnatural the environment is. For most, it is a relief when the event has finished and therefore a story based on the assumption that something devastating took place that can’t be forgotten carries a strong emotional charge. And the book starts out well. We get the violent and perplexing murder of a young family and the emerging links with the cosmetic company. The problem is that the narrative is very fragmented. Interspersed with the investigation are scenes with a variety of personnel at the Alemany Cosmetics. I’m not sure that the narrative needed so many points of view which served to decrease the dramatic tension of what was an interesting story. A certain amount of the narrative was given over to the relook at Ruth Salgado’s disappearance. This, I thought, worked much better and is a poignant story of a woman who has decided to take control of her direction in life, only to have it brutally snatched away from her.

The writing (and translation by Laura McGloughlin) is excellent and this is what stands out in what I found to be a patchy read. The front end of the book is clearly stronger than its conclusion. I liked the dark depiction of the corporate world with its disparate personalities and the story has plenty of tragic potential. I’m inclined to go and read The Summer of Dead Toys to see how it compares as I can see how the quality of the writers prose could win over fans.

Thanks to Transworld for my copy of the book.

Review: Liza Marklund – Lifetime

LifetimePoor Annika Bengstrom. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse (house up in flames and husband off with another woman) her estranged ex is now fighting for custody of the kids. Of course it’s Annika’s mix of vulnerability and determination that makes her such as fascinating read and I was delighted when Liza Marklund’s latest book Lifetime came through my door. And as I’ve come to expect from Marklund you get much more than simple murder plot and it’s the diversions that you take in the story that make her books such an interesting read.

David Lindholm is a nationally renowned police officer who is found murdered in his apartment. His wife, Julia, who is found splattered with blood in the bathroom is arrested as the chief suspect. However the couple’s four-year-old son, Alexander, is missing and Julia claims that he was taken by ‘the other woman’. Soon Julia is indicted for murder and even her close friend, police officer Nina Hoffman, is convinced of her guilt. However, Annika, soon scents something amiss about the case. Despite his fame, David Lindholm had a nasty streak to his character and there are some anomalies in his past investigations. His serial philandering also appears to have produced a stalker who may hold the key to the case.

In Lifetime, we move away from the broad sweep of Last Will, which had as its backdrop the Nobel Prize ceremony. This time, we get what appears to be a domestic tragedy which although opens out to involve David’s job, the extent of the human tragedy is never lost. The turbulent domestic life of the victims mirrors Annika’s own problems. She is now homeless and looks for help in finding a temporary place to stay. And of course the people who might help, in particular her friend Anna, come remarkably short of the mark. Even in the direst situations, she manages to find the strength to keep working and digging away at a story. She’s far from perfect: her treatment of a junior colleague is cruel but Annika’s prickly defensiveness is part of her makeup. And her desperation is all to real – which includes agreeing to babysit her children at the house of her husband’s mistress.

There’s a lot in this book apart from the killings. Annika’s newspaper is facing staff cuts and it’s fascinating to read about the internal machinations, including the work of the union rep. There is also an interesting link to the last book and the continuation of the story of that novel’s killer. However, ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.

Thanks to Transworld for the copy of my book. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Review: Belinda Bauer – Rubbernecker

RubberneckerThere have been a few five star reviews appearing for Belinda Bauer’s latest book, Rubbernecker, so I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve read a couple of Bauer’s earlier books, and although I enjoyed the style of writing, I felt let down by the endings. This book however, is my first five star read of the year and in my opinion deserving of every plaudit it has received. It’s an unusual and unsettling read, but like many great crime novels, stayed with me for a while afterwards.

The central character in the novel is Patrick, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. His father died when he was a child, knocked down in a hit and run accident, and ever since Patrick has been obsessed with what happens when things die. He enrols on an anatomy course at Cardiff University and tutors make it clear that he has only been accepted in order to meet their disability quota. However, Patrick becomes obsessed with the cause of death of the man he and other students are dissecting, and becomes convinced that a murder has taken place.

Although the narrative of Patrick plays an important role in the book, there are a number of scenes set on a neurological ward, where patients who are lying in deep comas are attended to with varying degrees of care. We see the world from the point of view of a patient in a coma and also two of the nurses caring for their charges. The connection between these scenes and the narrative of Patrick is at first confusing but gradually the strands are woven together. There is a strong sense of menace that pervades the ward, from the frustration and fear felt by the helpless patients to the casual neglect meted out by the self-centred nurse, Tracy.

Patrick is the star of the book. Unintentionally funny, he embarks on the journey to prove that the corpse he is studying was murdered, with a disregard for the niceties of convention. He is very well portrayed although perhaps his relationship with fellow students seems a little unreal. Aspeger’s Syndrome is a well recognised condition and I can’t see how both staff and students wouldn’t make more allowance for him as his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. However it does allow the plot to become more and more surreal as Patrick tries desperate measures to prove to his fellow students, the victim’s family and the police that there is a murderer at large.

As I’ve come to expect from Bauer this was an engrossing read but I hadn’t anticipated how poignant the book would feel and the sense of completeness you get at the end of the novel. So many crime novels are let down by their endings, so it was a real treat to feel satisfied by the conclusion.

I received a copy of the book from Transworld. For more (also very positive) reviews try Notes on Life, Eurocrime  and The Little Reader Library.