Category Archives: Crime

The Age of Exodus by Gavin Scott

Titan Books | 2018 (21 August) | 399p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Age of Exodus by Gavin ScottIt is 1947 and for many the Second World War is not yet over. Dr Duncan Forrester, an archaeological fellow at Oxford University, rather hopes it is for him. He was a Special Operations Executive during the war, risking his life behind enemy lines. Now he wants to put all of that behind him, as well as affairs of the heart, and focus on the archaeology and linguistics of ancient Minoan society.

But then a student calls in a favour. A friend of his, Templar, now working at the Foreign Office, bought a Sumerian seal when he was based in Cairo during the war. At the time Templar thought little of it but now he is receiving anonymous and bizarre threats, demanding the return of the seal. Forrester promises to do what he can but then one night Templar is found horribly murdered in the Near Eastern galleries of the British Museum. It is almost as if a supernatural power has wreaked its vengeance on him. And Templar’s death is just the beginning.

The Age of Exodus is the third and final novel in Gavin Scott’s Duncan Forrester trilogy, set during the aftermath of World War Two. I haven’t read The Age of Treason and The Age of Olympus but I’m now determined to put that right because I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent mix of archaeological mystery and diplomacy gone awry during these difficult months and years as the world tries to make peace work. The fact that I hadn’t read the others didn’t affect my enjoyment, other than that some people were mentioned that I think familiar readers might have encountered before. There were also hints of previous events and cases but nothing that spoiled the earlier books. This is a stand alone thriller.

It’s a great story and it’s cleverly done. The menacing gods of ancient Sumer loom over events and occultists flourish in the magic and esoteric bookshops of London and further afield. It all adds such a chilling, quite frightening yet fascinating atmosphere. And the hint of the supernatural hanging over the gruesome murders is very effective. That’s one side of the book. The other takes us into the halls of diplomacy at a time when countries squabbled over the creation of an independent State of Israel for those Jews who suffered unspeakable horror. This part of the novel is compelling as we meet some of the key figures of the debate, some historical and some fictional, as the arguments move across Britain, Europe and the United States. I really enjoyed the novel’s movement and journeys. What stays with the reader, though, may well be the Jewish refugees that Forrester encounters while they wait for a vessel to sail them on that hugely risky voyage to safety. These people will never be able to leave the war behind them.

I’m hard pressed to find a fault with The Age of Exodus but if I had to find one it would be that there are an awful lot of characters who come and go through these pages. I did find it a little difficult remembering who some of these people were and I would have welcomed a list of characters at the beginning or end.

The Age of Exodus tells a fascinating tale, combining a fun archaeological mystery complete with larger than life characters with a significant historical issue and making both compelling and gripping. Duncan Forrester is a fantastic detective. He has his own inner struggles. He is both a reluctant killer and a studious academic. At times his actions surprise himself. He’s led by his heart, even as he works things out. He’s a likeable man, searching for answers in a world that’s left him a little lost. I can’t wait to read the earlier two books.

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The Angel’s Mark by S.W. Perry

Corvus | 2018 (6 September) | 418p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Angel's Mark by SW PerryIt is 1590 and Elizabeth I’s rule is under threat. The Spanish Armada is only recently defeated but the threat continues, perhaps in an even more sinister way. The danger has gone underground in the form of hidden priests who preach sedition to the Catholic subjects of this excommunicated Queen. But, of course, not all Catholics are traitors and Elizabeth is content for many to pay their fines and live their lives in peace, as long as no priest is hidden within their walls. It’s the job of Robert Burleigh, son to Elizabeth’s most powerful minister, to seek them out and he’ll use any means in his power.

Physician Nicholas Shelby has fallen on the worst of times but he finds his salvation in the most unlikely of ways. A young boy has been pulled out of the river, murdered, a strange symbol carved into his leg. This little child couldn’t walk. He was especially vulnerable and Nicholas grieves for him. With the help of Southwark innkeeper Bianca, Nicholas will find justice for him. And then another body is found and it won’t be the last.

The Angel’s Mark is S.W. Perry’s debut novel and it’s a corker. It certainly helps that he’s picked such a fascinating period in English history in which to place a very strong mystery and he does it justice. Elizabethan London, especially that part of the city that lay to the south of the river, where the inns, theatres, bear-baiting pits and brothels could be found, is brought to life so vividly. And Nicholas, as a physician who chooses to treat the poor, is perfectly placed to show it to us in all of its colour and foulness. But it’s among the rich and powerful that the true danger lies.

The mystery is such a good one and this sad story is told beautifully. We get to know a fair few people very well indeed and there are some that really stand out, such as Bianca, John Lumley and his wife Lizzy. The Lumley home is nothing less than Henry VIII’s grand Nonsuch Palace and I loved the descriptions of it. What a place to live in! Our glimpses into the terrors of the Tower of London are equally memorable but for other reasons. But it’s the character of Nicholas Shelby who dominates this novel and he is such a likeable if troubled hero.

There are good themes here – the nature of Tudor medicine and surgery, the role of women in business, the place of Catholicism in Elizabethan society. It’s all done very well indeed.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

HarperCollins | 2018 (6 August) | 470p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Pieces of Her by Karin SlaughterIt is August 2018 and it’s time for 31-year-old Andrea (that’s Andy to you and me, but not to her mother) to make some decisions about her future. It’s time for her to leave the family home once again and stand on her own two feet. At least that’s what her mother Laura thinks. And it’s right in the middle of their discussion about this in a shopping mall restaurant (surely not the right time or place for this debate, Andy thinks), when a young man walks in and shoots dead another mother and daughter standing nearby. The gun is then trained on Laura and Andy. With barely time for hesitation, Laura kills the boy with his own knife. Andy cannot believe her eyes. She looks at her mother and no longer knows who she is.

And this is just the beginning. As events escalate, Andy has no choice but to go undercover, to run for her life while chasing the truth about Laura. In so doing, Andy will not only learn who her mother is, she’ll also learn lessons about herself. If she can stay alive, that is…

Pieces of Her is the latest stand alone thriller by Karin Slaughter. I absolutely loved The Good Daughter and so I have been really keen to read this, snapping up the rather lovely hardback to supplement my review ebook copy. Once more we have a novel that puts a family under scrutiny – the crime or mystery at the heart of the book secondary to its portrayal of a family divided by secrets and shocked into action by sudden violence and trauma. The premise of Pieces of Her is compelling.

The narrative is divided between the present day adventure of Andy’s cat and mouse chase across much of the United States and another story set in 1986. I’m not going to say anything about that but it is in these sections that the truth can be found. I’m not sure that there are any surprises here in what happens but it’s certainly compelling and the pages fly through the fingers. I love books divided in this way.

I really enjoy Karin Slaughter’s writing. Her depictions of these small towns in America, the great distances between them, and the people met along the way, are all done so well. My one issue with the novel was with the character of Andy. I know that she’s trying to find her own voice, to establish her independence, essentially to grow up, but you can see why she annoys one character in particular. She certainly irritated me with her unfinished sentences, her laboured thinking – sometimes it’s as if she has lightbulbs pinging above her head – and her fumbling around. Andy feels very young for her 31 years. I realise that this is all purposefully done, Andy is supposed to be like this, but it does make her a pain to be around. Laura is a much more interesting person to spend time with. She too has her agonising moments of indecision but there’s a good reason for it in her case. I did enjoy the psychology behind Laura’s personality, as opposed to Andy who was just irritating. I also had some issues with a male character who keeps popping up in Andy’s storyline.

Pieces of Her is a substantial novel at over 450 pages but it is such a fast and furious read. I found it very difficult to put down and read huge chunks in one go. I think Karin Slaughter is a fascinating writer. I love her portrayals of (most) people and places, her understanding of both. It all seems very real and it’s engrossing.

Other review
The Good Daughter

Kiss of Death by Paul Finch

Avon | 2018 (9 August) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

Kiss of Death by Paul FinchThe Serial Crimes Unit is under threat. There’s every chance that it will be disbanded and it’s unlikely that any traditional police force would welcome a maverick risk-taking detective like DS Heckenburg (that’s ‘Heck’ to you and me). Cold Crimes are feeling the heat as well and so a plan is forged to combine their efforts in such a way that will ensure their survival. For Operation Sledgehammer they are going to catch some of the country’s most high profile and feared multiple offenders, the murderers and rapists who have committed crimes so heinous that not even other criminals will have anything to do with them.

Heck and his boss (and ex-girlfriend) Detective Superintendent Gemma Piper are given one of the nastiest men to catch – armed robber Eddie Creeley. The problem is nobody seems to know where he is, even his sister is worried about him, and it would seem that he’s not the only one on the Operation Sledgehammer list of nasties to have disappeared. It’s almost as if somebody is trying to beat the police to it…

Kiss of Death is the seventh novel in Paul Finch’s excellent DS Heckenburg series. I’ve loved all of these books, including this one, and yet there’s something a little extra special about Kiss of Death. Heck has been doing some thinking about his future and what he wants. Perhaps it’s time for a change. If you’ve read the other books that you’ll appreciate the long and troubled history between Heck and Gemma. If you haven’t, then you’ll have no problem catching up. The book works well on its own. But if you’re invested in these characters, then you won’t want to miss Kiss of Death.

Kiss of Death has a great premise and it fully delivers on it, gradually revealing the true magnitude of what Heck and his colleagues are up against. It also means that Heck and the others are given something unusual to think about – the welfare of villains who have wasted no pity on their victims. How far will Heck go to protect a killer? It adds a depth to novel that is also full of interconnecting threads and lives. It’s all held together so well by Paul Finch who, as always, knows how to deliver a great plot. He also knows how to frighten – there are some disturbing, even scary, scenes here and moments of violence. But none of it’s gratuitous. We need to understand the evil that Heck and the others face.

There are shocks to be found in these pages and we know that they will have repercussions for the future. I can only wonder where Paul Finch will take Heck, and us, next. I can’t wait.

Other reviews
Hunted (Heck)
Ashes to Ashes (Heck)
Strangers (Lucy Clayburn)
Shadows (Lucy Clayburn)
‘What seven things you should know if you want to write crime fiction’ – Guest post

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Kiss of Death blog tour poster

Destroying Angel by S.G. MacLean

Quercus | 2018 (12 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Destroying Angel by SG MacLeanIt is 1655 and Captain Damian Seeker must leave London to conduct Cromwell’s business in the north of England. He is despatched to York to prepare the way for the rule of the Major-Generals with their new stringent anti-Royalist laws. Routine business takes Seeker to the small village of Faithly but he finds a village in turmoil, its priest accused of popery and its leading families united in their hatred of one another. The village is only waiting for the arrival of the trier or judge before their priest is put to trial for his supposed crimes. But while they wait, Seeker attends a dinner at the home of the village’s Commissioner Matthew Pullen, and during the meal a young girl dies an unnatural death. As if all this isn’t enough for Seeker to deal with, the trier then arrives and the ground falls away beneath his feet and it all becomes very personal indeed.

Destroying Angel is the third novel in S.G. MacLean’s fine Seeker series. I have been longing to read this book! The first novel, The Seeker, sealed this series’ place as one of my favourites, and I can’t see any sign of that changing. The Civil War and Commonwealth years are fascinating to me and S.G. MacLean has done a brilliant job of bringing the unhappy Cromwellian era of the 1650s to life. And it doesn’t hurt that Damian Seeker is one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures in historical fiction. He exerts such a dominating presence in these books. I have most certainly fallen for him.

The Yorkshire setting is brilliantly evoked. It feels distant from London and the events of recent years but those turbulent times have troubled it, just as they have everywhere else. The Parliamentarian cause that fought and won the Civil War is now divided. The Levellers are viewed with great suspicion and are persecuted. Some people are regarded as turncoats, Royalists who switched sides when the outcome seemed certain, while families are split down the middle. And then there’s the near-hysterical hunt for so-called witches. All of this unhappiness affects the small village of Faithly and Captain Seeker is thrown into the midst of it, trying to do the right thing while serving a man hated by many.

I really enjoyed this, especially the first half, with its fine historical detail and moody atmosphere, helped along here with the wonderful location. The countryside and village life form the perfect backdrop. There are so many details of 17th-century daily life and I particularly liked the domestic scenes.

Destroying Angel has a fantastic plot. It’s complex and gripping. I really enjoyed its tangled threads, especially because one is so personal to Seeker. We see a new side to the man here, a caring side, although he does his best to hide it.

Destroying Angel is a crime novel but the mystery element is placed so well within a believable and richly-created historical setting, which is all the more fascinating because it takes place away from the more familiar London. This high quality, deliciously moody series continues to deliver. I long for more.

Other reviews
The Seeker
The Black Friar

Fall Down Dead by Stephen Booth

Sphere | 2018 (16 August) | 378p | Review copy | Buy the book

Fall Down Dead by Stephen BoothKinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District, can change its character in a moment. A beautiful day can unpredictably turn bleak, transforming it into a dark, forbidding, even fearful place, where its peaty bogs and cliff drops and waterfalls can become a potential death trap. The charismatic Darius Roth is leading his group of walkers to commemorate and emulate the famous Mass Trespass of 1932. As the fog descends, the group split up. Not all of them will leave the mountain alive.

It’s DI Ben Cooper’s job to investigate the death of the woman whose body is found at the ominously named Dead Woman’s Drop at the bottom of a waterfall. It looks like a terrible accident but the autopsy reveals injuries that can only have been inflicted by another person – she was murdered. And from that moment on, everybody in Roth’s group is a suspect and the more Cooper digs into their lives and past, he discovers that more than one of them lives with a secret they might kill to protect.

Meanwhile, Cooper’s longtime colleague DS Diane Fry has come under the scrutiny of an internal investigations team. Her career is under threat and there’s a good chance that Cooper will be dragged down with her.

Fall Down Dead is the eighteenth novel in Stephen Both’s superb Cooper and Fry series. How I love these books and Fall Down Dead is one of the very best of those I’ve read, not least because of Kinder Scout itself. This mountain becomes another of the book’s main characters. Its heights, whether covered in fog or bathed in sunshine, looms over events in every sense of the word. The shadow it casts is huge as is its temperamental and dark mood. It’s the perfect place for murder. I know Kinder, having walked it several times as a youngster, and I remember its bogs and how easy it is to get lost on the top – I love the role it plays here, as well as the legacy of the Mass Trespass.

The story is just as good and I really enjoy how it all takes place with a small group of suspects, each of which has a fascinating history that is slowly revealed. Darius Roth is a dominating presence and there are others just as interesting. Cooper has quite a puzzle on his hands.

The murder chapters intermingle with the investigation faced by Fry and this section of the novel is tense and unnerving, providing a good contrast to Cooper’s murder case. In past books we’ve learned about Diane Fry’s family and history. This impacts what happens here. But you don’t need to have read the earlier books to follow it. That is always part of the appeal of these novels – they build on what’s gone before but they also do very well indeed as stand alone crime fiction.

I love Stephen Booth’s writing and I am so fond of both Cooper and also Fry, even though she’s much harder to get to know, she’s so protective of herself. The Peak District setting really sets the series apart, imparting both beauty and menace. I look forward to these books every year. Long may they continue!

Other reviews
The Murder Road
Secrets of Death
Dead in the Dark

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (9 August) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

All the Hidden Truths by Claire AskewWhen 20-year-old Ryan Summers walks into his college in Edinburgh and shoots dead thirteen female students before using the last bullet on himself, the shocked community is changed forever. All the Hidden Truths strips this horrendous crime bare, searching for the reasons behind it, its devastating repercussions, by focusing on three of the women most affected – Moira, the mother of the killer; Ishbel, the mother of Abigail, one of the victims; DI Helen Birch, the newly promoted officer in charge of the case and also one of the first on scene.

All the Hidden Truths is one of the most intense novels I’ve read in quite a while. It’s one of those books that makes you miss bus stops, makes you not hear when people speak to you (I can vouch for both of these), and its beginning is utterly gripping. We know that this horrendous mass shooting is on the way and it’s all the more powerfully presented as it’s revealed bit by bit, through the experiences of people who were there, the ones who survived. The chapters move between these women (two of them traumatised, the other troubled) and scattered throughout are newspaper reports because this is also a novel about the role of the media at a time such as this. And here they are, the vultures with one foot on the victim’s lawn, or wedged in the doorway.

Each of the women has a fascinating tale to reveal, bit by bit. Moira and Ishbel are almost destroyed by their grief and confusion. But is Moira really a victim? Did she know what Ryan intended to do? Is she to blame? It isn’t any easier for Ishbel as her dead daughter’s character is scrutinised and everything in Ishbel’s life falls apart.

This is all deeply intense and the mood is actually eased a little by the sections which focus on Helen Birch and her efforts to hold her investigation together when she is faced by difficulties from every side. I particularly found these chapters interesting for what they reveal about the role of family liaison officers in situations such as these. Some are new to the job, others have years of experience, but all of them are out of their depth here.

I found All the Hidden Truths a compelling read but I also found it a distressing one. Its mood is sustained throughout and I couldn’t read it all in one go. Instead I read it in three sittings with two other books fitted into the gaps. The novel is superbly written by Claire Askew and she has certainly done her research. So the fact that I found it too intense to read in one go is actually a compliment. It all feels horrifically real, Ryan Summers feels like a young man you can meet on the street, Abigail could so easily be a friend, child or sister. The agonising questions of Why which follow a mass shooting are so hard to answer. Claire Askew here treats those questions with insight and great feeling and care. All the Hidden Truths is an extraordinary and powerful debut.