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Fire Damage by Kate Medina

The first in an exciting new crime series featuring psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn – a brilliantly complex character who struggles with a dark past of her own. A traumatized little boy

Four years old, terrified, disturbed – Sami is a child in need of help. Now it’s up to psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn to find the cause of his suffering and unlock his darkest memories, before it’s too late.

A psychologist with a secret

Meanwhile Jessie is haunted by an awful truth of her own. She works alongside former patient, Captain Ben Callan, to investigate a violent death – but the ghosts of her past refuse to leave her.

A body washed up on the beach

When a burnt corpse is found on the Sussex coast, Jessie begins to uncover a link between her two cases – and a desperate killer will do anything to keep it buried…

Dr Jessie Flynn is a psychologist who works for the army and as such she sees a great many patients who have been injured and traumatised by war. 29 years old, she has her own demons, but she is a great character; a strong, independently-minded woman who can hold her own and use her insight to help those whose minds are fractured.

4 year old Sami Scott is brought in for her assessment and treatment. He is the son of a severely disfigured senior Army officer.  It is obvious to Jessica that Sami is deeply troubled and afraid of something or someone.

Jessie’s heart goes out to Sami and she resolves to get to the bottom of why he is so frightened. In the course of speaking to his family she will uncover some heartbreaking stories from both his mother, Nooria and his father, Nick.

Meanwhile, Captain Ben Callan of the Military Police, a former patient of Jessie’s, is investigating the death of an officer in Afghanistan and when he asks Jessie to attend an interview with a soldier who suspected of being involved in that death, she reluctantly complies.

It is not long before they find that they are drawn into each other’s cases as their separate investigations start to link together and when a body is washed up on the shoreline, it is clear that their cases are inextricably linked.

I also enjoyed the character of civilian Inspector ‘Marylin’ Manson and his interaction with Ben Callan.

This is a strong book, very well plotted, with excellent research and a thorough knowledge of army life and the sometimes brutal way in which it treats its soldiers. The book is multi-layered, well-written, realistic and quite compelling. Medina manages to capture the army spirit very well and without being in any way over emotional, she can tell a story that pulls at the heart strings.

Jessie Flynn is a protagonist to be proud of – roll on the 2nd in the series.

Fire Damage is published by Harper Collins UK on March 23 2017

When It Grows Dark by Jorn Lier Horst (translated by Anne Bruce)

Stavern 1983: Christmas is approaching, snow is falling heavily, and a young ambitious policeman named William Wisting has just become the father of twins. After a brutal robbery he is edged off the investigation by more experienced officers, but soon he is on another case that is not only unsolved but has not even been recognised as murder. Forgotten in a dilapidated barn stands a bullet riddled old car, and it looks as if the driver did not get out alive. This case will shape William Wisting as a policeman and give him insight that he will carry with him for the rest of his professional career: generations form an unbroken chain.

If I am ever the victim of a crime, please send William Wisting to handle it. Joan Lier Horst’s Wisting is everything you could wish for in a policeman. Caring husband and father, enthusiastic and thorough investigator, he does have flaws, but at heart is an old fashioned, thoroughly decent, policeman.

When It Grows Dark takes us back to the beginning of Wisting’s career as an investigator. It is something of a prequel to the other stories and as such is a little bit different.

This is Wisting as a somewhat naive young policeman, not yet a detective, though anxious to join their ranks when it is achievable. Married to Ingrid, newly blessed with twins, Thomas and Line, Wisting is an enthusiastic policeman who relishes his job and craves more responsibility. Yet he is somewhat frustrated. He hates that he writes up reports of his patrols, highlighting patterns he has detected or ways in which he thinks detectives might usefully progress a lead and yet he never gets to be part of the follow up process.

When, therefore, in the course of helping a friend, he comes across an old mystery, he starts his own investigation; one that will lead to finding a long dead body – after which he is officially given the case to look into.

Through detailed research, he finds relatives of the victim and begins to piece together the story of what happened to the lost car and its driver one hot day in August 1925.

Along the way he does, of course, make mistakes. One mistake in particular haunts him throughout his career. And so, when some 33 years later, he receives a letter that offers the answers he was looking for all those years ago, he knows he has to see it through to the end.

A really good storyteller, Joan Lier Horst is a thoroughbred when it comes to police procedurals. (Must be something to do with all those years he spent as a senior police investigator).

His characters are strong and sympathetic and this is a well plotted story.

In taking us back to Wisting’s early years, Horst is reminding us of a more optimistic time in Wisting’s life, where crime was more often opportunistic and social conditions had not yet contributed to the darker world of crime he becomes used to later in his career.

It is really good to revisit Wisting’s youth and see how the police investigator’s career began.

This was a fast and easy read and I very much enjoyed it. Wisting remains one of my favourite policemen.

When It Grows Dark is published by Sandstone Press on 16th March 2017

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

In the chilling new crime novel from award-winning author Jane Casey, Detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad must navigate a web of lies to discover the truth…

A murder without a body

Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.

A girl too scared to talk

Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?

A detective with everything to prove

As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share…

 

This is the 7th Maeve Kerrigan book, (though it reads perfectly well as a stand-alone novel) and the newly promoted Detective Sergeant is still finding her feet in the new role. Added to which, D.C. Georgia Shaw, a rookie, has been assigned to her team and the two are not finding it easy to work together, not least because Kerrigan isn’t overly impressed with Shaw’s lack of skill in the job.

Adding the irrepressible and irascible D.I. Derwent to the mix creates a great set of characters to whom the reader can really relate. I love the Kerrigan/Derwent team – they sizzle and spar off each other like a pair of sausages on a barbecue , and the addition of Georgia Shaw just adds a slice of pepper to the fire.

Eighteen year old Chloe Emery has returned early from her father’s house to her home in Putney. The house is covered in blood and there’s no sign of Chloe’s mother, Kate, yet her passport, keys, handbag and other daily use items are still in the house. Her neighbour, Oliver Norris has given Chloe a lift from the station and calls the police as soon as he sees the state of the house.

For D.S. Kerrigan, this is a case that screams out to be treated as murder. Casey very much keeps the crimes in this book close to home. It is a story of love and lovers, faith and infidelity, family and the lengths they will go to in order to protect each other.

Chloe is looked after by the Norris family; she and the Norris’s daughter, Bethany are best friends. Chloe will hardly speak to Kerrigan and Bethany is very protective of Chloe.

Oliver and Eleanor Norris are Bethany’s parents and they also have Oliver’s brother, Morgan staying with them. None of these people are attractive characters and they set about pointing the finger of blame at another neighbour who lives just down the street.

So we have a murder investigation with no body and a cast of characters who are suspicious from the outset. But no-one is saying anything; these are people who have way too many secrets to hide.

And yet, the joy of this book is that it has a completely believable plot, realistically drawn characters, and a sense of ironic humour which gives the characters a great deal of depth and strength.

As the body count rises Kerrigan and Derwent seem to be no closer to the truth and Kerrigan is prepared to put herself in harm’s way to get the answers she so desperately seeks.

Casey excels at building her characterisation and her plot fairly hums with the sounds of twists and turns that are rich and ultimately very satisfying. Her writing is sharp and focussed and she plots really well.

Let the Dead Speak is not only a terrific police procedural, it is also a highly enjoyable, gripping and sometimes emotional read.

The ending is not predictable (always a plus) and I really enjoyed it.

Let the Dead Speak is published by HarperCollins UK, Harper Fiction on 9th March 2017

 

 

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary

It’s winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it’s personal.

 Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.

 

I have been a massive fan of Sarah Hilary’s D.I. Marnie Rome series since her first book, Someone Else’s Skin (which won the Theakston Crime novel of the Year in 2015). This is D.I. Marnie Rome 4.

Marnie Rome’s parents were murdered by her foster brother, Stephen Keele, in their home. He is serving a life sentence for their murder, but Marnie is haunted by the need to know what drove him to it.

Six years later, her parents’ house, let out because she cannot bear either to sell it or to live in it, has been ransacked and both the tenants have been subjected to a severe beating. It seems all too likely that Stephen Keele is behind it, but Marnie needs to know why. Though she is, of course, not investigating the case, still she needs to understand what has happened. This crime is deeply personal to her.

At the same time, Marnie’s partner, D.S. Noah Jake and his live in partner, Dan, are worried about Noah’s brother, Sol. Sol has been too closely involved with some of the teenage gang culture in London and Noah is really worried about keeping Sol on a crime free track.

Hilary creates beautifully drawn characters. You like and respect Marnie Rome and feel just how buttoned up she is. Noah Jake is such a great character, too that you will him to succeed and be happy.

Quieter Than Killing is set during a harsh London winter and we are again in run down council estate territory. As with Hilary’s first three Rome books, each book stands very well on its own, but read seriatim, they form an uncomfortable picture of our fractured society where predators are able to feed on alienated youngsters because deep down, so few of us actually care about the lives of the dispossessed and society does not have the resources to deal with them. I recently read a report from the Child Welfare Inequalities Project which showed that young people from the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods are almost 20% more likely to be on the child protection register. This, then, is Hilary’s territory.

There have been vicious attacks on three released convicts, and Finn, a child, has gone missing, all leading to a tense and thrilling plot which leads Marnie closer to a disturbing truth. Each victim has been punished in a way that reflects the crimes for which they were imprisoned, so when one of the victims dies, Marnie and Noah speculate that they may be looking for a vigilante killer.

The devilish thing about Sarah Hilary’s books is that she raises a lot of questions and sparingly supplies some answers. So, just as you think you are getting closer to understanding what Marnie’s backstory really is, you find once again that you have more questions than revelations, though what we do find out is explosive. But this is a book where Marnie’s story takes centre stage and while she reveals very little to us, when she visits her foster brother, now in Cloverton, an adult prison, he is getting colder and crueller over his need for her to face what he sees as his ‘truth’.

When Noah is attacked with a baseball bat (Sarah Hilary, how could you?!) while investigating the disappearance of someone related to the cases, he thinks he recognises his attacker.

Meanwhile, a prisoner inside Cloverton is beaten up and when Marnie goes to seek answers, she finds out a lot more than she bargained for. It seems that Keele may be connected to the vigilante attacks and then she discovers that there is a shared experience between her and Stephen Keele that she was unaware of, but which connects them intimately.

To add to Marnie’s woes, her lovely boss, Tim Welland, is on sick leave and DCS Lorna Ferguson is brought in. Ferguson is an ambitious woman and Marnie has to carefully negotiate her way round her new boss as the case takes on a deeply personal angle.

There are lots of tense and dramatic twists and turns as the novel reaches its climax, so much so that I could feel my stomach clenching at the end of the book.

Quieter Than Killing is a superbly crafted book. Beautifully written, with characters you care about, it is an exceptional crime novel and Hilary’s best yet. It is a riveting read that is almost explosive in the tension it creates.

I can’t praise these books highly enough. They are all, in my view, 5 star reads, and if I could I’d give this one 6 stars.

Quieter Than Killing is published by Headline on 9th March 2017

The Long Drop by Denise Mina

William Watt wants answers about his family’s murder. Peter Manuel has them. But Peter Manuel is a liar.

William Watt is an ordinary businessman, a fool, a social climber.

Peter Manuel is a famous liar, a rapist, a criminal. He claims he can get hold of the gun used to murder Watt’s family.

One December night in 1957, Watt meets Manuel in a Glasgow bar to find out what he knows.

Based on true events, The Long Drop is an extraordinarily unsettling, evocative and compelling novel from a writer at the height of her powers.

 

Shocking, but perfect. This is an astounding piece of work. I grew up in Glasgow hearing stories of Peter Manuel and lived for a time in Burnside where one set of his family murders took place. His name is legend amongst Glaswegians not just for the brutality of his crimes, but for the way he thought he could box clever and lie without compunction in order to mislead those who sought to capture him. There was no-one in Glasgow who had a higher opinion of Peter Manuel than Manuel himself.

William Watt was a successful businessman, the father of the first family killed, in their beds one night. Watt had been imprisoned for their murders, despite having the cast iron alibi of being eighty miles away at the time. Released from prison, he let it be known that he would pay good money to uncover who was responsible for his family’s massacre, even though the truth wasn’t quite that simple.

Denise Mina has taken the night that Watt and Manuel spent together – somewhat surprisingly, introduced by the well-known crime solicitor, Lawrence Dowdall, and has put together an altogether convincing and compelling narrative of the events on that evening.

But this book is more than the tale of a deadly sociopath, a man without empathy; a man who when on trial for his life, sacked his barrister and defended himself in court, addressing the jury for six hours.

What makes it stand out is Mina’s rich prose; the way that she accurately and chillingly depicts the criminal justice system in the 50’s. Dispassionately, but with a clear exposition, she lays bare the social mores of the time.

It is sometimes hard to believe that within my lifetime the Police and the Glasgow criminal underworld had more than a common understanding, when the Glasgow Corporation may have borne more than a passing resemblance to Tammany Hall and where influence, whichever side of the law it fell on, was everything, and respectability could be a monetary concept.

It was, as Mina points out, 1958, a time when a husband has the legal right to rape and beat his wife and it will be considered a private matter.

The book alternates between the trial of Manuel and the evening with Watt and it provides a fascinating insight into the Glasgow of the 1950’s. This was the High Court, where VIP seats were reserved away from the Hoi polloi for those wishing to stress their importance by visiting the trial.

Cigarettes, matches and ashtrays are provided for witnesses. The trial was full of observers every day, sixty seats, all filled by women who queued overnight for three weeks to get a seat. It is not clear why they come; Manuel is considered handsome. Is it that, or the power that he seems to wield? This is the trial of a man who has been accused of murder, robbery, theft and who stops in the midst of his murdering carnage to make himself a sandwich.

Only adults are allowed into the trial, such is the heinous nature of the crimes that a sixteen year old boy is turned away after queuing because the evidence will be too upsetting.

Mina’s writing is crystal sharp; her detail is exquisite – down to the meal that Manuel paid extra for during his trial – and the novel as a whole exudes authenticity. It is a brilliant exposition of what happened that night and how Manuel was was finally brought to justice.

Along the way, the book is populated with characters, some ordinary, some legendary. Manuel’s father, Samuel who is prepared to cover again and again for his son and his devoutly Catholic mother, Brigit, who will finally understand that there is no redemption for her son.

I never knew the origin of the sectarian song that Mina pins to the gangster Billy Fullerton, and which, to our eternal shame, is still sung in Glasgow.

There is so much to this book that it shines out as an outstanding read of 2017. I can’t tell you how much this book excited me and how good the writing is.

Above all, it is an acutely observed portrait of Glasgow and its people, borne from thought, excellent writing and first-rate research. It is remarkable and should undoubtedly be an award winner.

The Long Drop is published by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing on March 2nd 2017

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.

 

But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.

 

I did tell Mick that I saw the woman in the buttercup dress, hanging upside down from her seat belt deep in the forest at the back of our house. I told him I saw death crawl out of her. He said he’d give me a medal for lying.

 

I wasn’t lying. I’m a hunter for lost souls and I’m going to be with my real family. And I’m not going to let Mick stop me.

I’m not sure where exactly this book sits in the genre category, but that doesn’t really matter. It is really well written, often very sad and in its own way, quite compelling.

The Doll Funeral is the story of 13 year old Ruby’s quest to understand how she came to be part of a violent and dysfunctional family. The mother, Barbara is weak and ineffective against the angry tirades of her husband, Mick. Mick is a simmering cauldron of rage and often takes his anger out on Ruby physically as well as emotionally.

When she finds out she was adopted as a young baby, she sets out to find her real parents. Like most children, she weaves a fantasy for herself of who her parents might be and why they would have given her up.

A troubled child (and no wonder) she lives a solitary life and together with her ‘friend’ Shadow, takes solace in the nearby forest. Whether Shadow is an imaginary friend, or whether, as she comes to believe, she can see the spirits of dead people is an open question.

Wandering the forest, planning small ways to exact her revenge on Mick for his cruelty, she develops rituals to help her find the truth about her parents, looking for an escape from the harsh world she lives in.

Whilst in the forest one day, she comes across a young man called Tom. Tom and his sister live in an old and crumbling house. They are endeavouring, but failing, to be self-sufficient after their parents left ‘to find themselves, some years ago, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Their parents used to send cheques, but those have dried up some time ago and they are reduced to burning furniture and eating what they can grow or forage from the forest.

Interspersed with Ruby’s first person narration is the third person story of Anna, a young woman in the 70’s – pregnant through her liaison with a young man with aspirations to make it big in the city, he is a bit of a spiv. Anna will not marry her lover, knowing as she does that he will feel trapped into marriage by her pregnancy.

Her story and Ruby’s interlink until we finally understand how Ruby’s life and Anna’s come together and the novel slowly reveals its secrets.

This is a beautifully written book, both haunting and poignant, though in the end the darkness that it conveys is really quite disturbing. There are strong themes of mental instability, grief and hardship, leading the reader to wonder whether the fantasy is real or imagined. The darkness of the forest evocatively mirrors some of the darkness of the mind, and yet some of Anna’s story is as real as the poverty of emotion in the book.

In the end, I was not sure quite what to make of it. It’s a slow burn of a book that packs quite a mighty punch and its themes made me sad. I don’t know if I would recommend it, except insofar as it does contain some remarkable writing and some stunning imagery.

In essence, then – a beautifully written book that will not be to everyone’s taste. I think this one will stay with me for a while though.

The Doll Funeral was published by Faber and Faber on 16th February 2017

The Dark Room by Jonathan Moore

They thought they’d buried their secrets

Homicide inspector Gavin Cain is standing by a grave when he gets the call. Cain knows there’s something terrible in the coffin they’re about to exhume. He and his team have received a dying man’s confession and it has led them here.

 

But death doesn’t guarantee silence

Cain is summoned by Mayor Castelli, who has been sent sinister photographs of a woman that he claims he doesn’t know and a note threatening that worse are on their way.

 

And now light will be shone on a very dark place…

As Cain tries to identify the woman in the pictures, and looks into the mayor’s past, he finds himself being drawn towards a situation as horrifying and as full of secrets as the grave itself.

 

When I read Moore’s first book, The Poison Artist, I was in awe of his writing style and the terrific sense of noir that he imbued in that book. It was different, haunting and very eloquent.

The Dark Room is similarly beautifully written. Atmospheric, dark yet tender; in some ways his style reminds me of Raymond Chandler, without some of the brusqueness. The San Francisco backdrop adds another layer of descriptive richness and is almost another character in its own right.

Boy, can this man tell a story. I was fascinated and enthralled.  The story starts with a body being exhumed, a body that holds a surprise that only the San Francisco Police Department’s Inspector Gavin Cain was half expecting.

What follows is a dark tale of murder, privilege and unspeakable cruelty, told in rich and compelling prose. This is a dark mystery and Moore does not shy away from killing some of his most likeable characters.

A fascinating police procedural, this is a crime novel redolent with atmosphere, with beautifully rich prose and cleverly pulls together numerous strands of a very well plotted story, with some interesting twists and turns.

I didn’t want this book to end; it was so intense and so good.

The Dark Room was published by Orion on 10 January 2017

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