Category Archives: Crime

The Child by Fiona Barton

Bantam Press | 2017 (29 June) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Child by Fiona BartonWhen the remains of a young baby, long buried, are found in the demolished ruins of a London suburb street, more lives than one are thrown into turmoil. For some the skeleton brings hope, for others there’s nothing but guilt, while for journalist Kate Waters it’s a powerful human interest story that deserves to be told.

Only hours after Angela Irving gave birth to her daughter, little Alice was stolen from her hospital cot. Over forty years have passed since then but many still remember the event. Everybody wants the remains of this little baby to be Alice, Angela and Kate more than ever. At last there would be a resolution to a terrible crime and mystery – and to Angela’s constant agonising grief. Who wouldn’t want to read about that? But it isn’t going to be that simple. Another woman, Emma, is consumed by the news of the discovery at the building site. She, too, is in need of finding peace. Both Angela and Emma hope that Kate, in tandem with the police, will find the answers they desperately seek.

I loved The Widow, Fiona Barton’s 2016 debut novel, and I was delighted to learn that Kate Waters – and Bob Sparks, her police contact – would return in The Child, and it is so good to see them again. Once more, Kate finds herself at the centre of a mystery with the power to grip her readers but her ambition is here kept in check by her determination that Angela and Emma will receive the answers they need. Kate’s own investigations move the police case along and, except for some blips, she works closely with Bob and Andy – she is most definitely on first-name terms now with these dedicated police officers.

A lot has changed since the first novel. While there is less Bob Sparkes than before, Kate is now depicted much more sympathetically. For the first time I was aware of her older age and now we learn more about her home life. I liked Kate much more in this novel than in The Widow. This is largely because she’s a more rounded individual now, but it’s also because of her commitment to Angela and Emma. Kate always has her eye on the case but I sensed that here the women come first. But I also warmed to Kate for her role as mentor to young novice reporter, Joe. I love how this relationship develops. It also adds a splash of humour when it’s needed.

The stories of Angela and Emma are engrossing to say the least and Fiona Barton tells them with enormous compassion and care. I felt for these two women so much and became completely wrapped up in their lives, relationships and torment. The novel moves between Kate, Angela and Emma and this works brilliantly. Slowly the lives of these three women connect but so too do the lives of their partners, children, parents, friends.

As you’d expect from a mystery based around the discovery of a baby’s skeleton, The Child tells a tragic tale and the infant is as central to the novel as its title suggests. But it is also an enthralling read, driven on by a thoroughly satisfying story and some wonderful characters. It’s not often I shed a tear when I read a crime novel but I did with this one, and it came from an unexpected place – from Joe, the novice reporter. There are lots of little touches in Fiona Barton’s delicious writing that really add to the mood of the read. As a result, I gobbled it up. Kate has grown in my eyes with The Child and I can’t wait to meet her again.

Other review
The Widow

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Sphere | 2017 (29 June) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen DionneHelena is known to the fascinated media of the world as ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’. Her father kidnapped her mother, then a young girl aged about fourteen years old, and stole her away to a life of deprivation, slavery and rape on an unvisited island in the marshy swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, close to the border with Canada. Helena was born a couple of years later and, from then until her rescue many years later, the child had to learn the behaviour that would mean her father wouldn’t kill her. But Helena cannot change the horrific circumstances of her conception and birth – her existence – and this man is still her father just as the other person in this isolated Godforsaken trinity, a young, terrified and subdued woman, is her mother.

Helena is now a married woman with two children of her own. She’s still trying to survive, to do what’s right, conscious that she’s different, when her life is once more thrown into turmoil. Her father has escaped from prison, leaving a trail of murder behind him. Helena knows that he will head into the marsh and that once there only one person will be able to find him – the daughter he trained to be just like him. But just how similar is she?

On the surface The Marsh King’s Daughter tells of the manhunt for a criminal from the most unusual angle of the woman who pursues him – his daughter. But there is much more to this powerful and gripping novel than that. It presents an astonishing portrait of a corrupted childhood told in Helena’s own words as she reflects on her past and on her complicated relationships with her mother and father. It is absolutely engrossing. For much of the novel we don’t see beyond the limits of this small island in the swamp. We follow Helena’s train of thought as she recalls the most vivid memories of her childhood, all of which are dominated by a sadistic father and, to a much lesser extent, a cowered mother. But Helena knew no different and grows up loving her father, who teaches her to hunt and fish, much more than her mother who can’t leave the immediate area of their cabin or will have her arms broken.

Karen Dionne tells a fascinating tale of Helena’s growth from childhood to young adulthood, from ignorance to knowledge, all set within the frozen world of the marsh, which is wonderfully described. It’s a harsh environment, made even more so by Helena’s father. But we only see glimpses of his behaviour a little at a time and there are moments when we are jolted by things that we learn, as Helena’s eyes are opened. For a time, though, as the father tells his daughter stories of myth and folklore, there is something of the fairytale about this island in the marshes.

While the relationship between Helena and her father is central to the novel, both in its past and present strands, one cannot forget the destroyed presence of Helena’s mother and it is the mother who occupied my mind as I read the book. It’s a chilling study of a stolen woman.

Helena is a fascinating narrator. She can be unreliable at times but she has the perfect excuse – she grew up without any terms of normal reference. She is altered by her origins and also by the behaviour of her father and mother. She doesn’t see the world in the usual way and I found myself thoroughly immersed in her growing understanding and coping. Helena can be hard to empathise with. Her relationships with animals, her family and children aren’t conventional. But she’s doing her best.

The figure of the father hangs over the entire novel as a great force of evil and power. But his portrait is drawn with great skill. It’s complex and layered. It’s not easy for the reader to view him with anything but the most evolved repugnance and yet Karen Dionne also allows us to see him through the eyes of his child, not just through the terrified eyes of his stolen wife. This beautifully-written novel is powerful indeed, moving between just a small group of people all within the eerie hostile marsh, and it will stay with me for quite a time. Karen Dionne is to be congratulated for this astonishing novel, a standout thriller of the year for certain.

After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

Quercus | 2017 (ebook: 15 June, Pb: 27 July) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

After I've Gone by Linda GreenOne cold January day it looks as if things might be about to get interesting for Jess Mount. She has a job she loves, working alongside her best friend Sadie in her local cinema, and she has a close relationship with her father with whom she lives. But Jess just isn’t the sort of person, or so she believes, that men can fall in love with – on a whim, in an instant. And then Lee comes along. But falling in love isn’t the only strange and unfamiliar thing in her life. Suddenly, Jess’s Facebook is full of messages of condolence from her friends, colleagues and family. Her father and Sadie leave devastated posts and private messages. Because the person who is dead is Jess.

The posts give Jess a date, about eighteen months into the future, on which she can expect to meet her death. Nobody else can see the posts and she can’t save or download them. And when she tries to tell anyone about them she’s not surprised to find them looking at her as if she’s lost her mind. But as the posts continue and Jess learns more about her future life – and death – she discovers one element of her future she wouldn’t change for the world, even if it would save her life – she has a child. It’s while looking at her son’s picture that Jess learns once and for all the true meaning and power of love at first sight.

The psychological thriller market is a crowded place and, these days, to grab my attention there has to be something different about them – After I’ve Gone gave me this in buckets and is one of the most original thrillers I’ve read for a long time. Its premise is intriguing and it’s certainly original and the way in which it’s handled is brilliantly done. Although it sounds unbelievable that future posts can suddenly appear on one’s facebook, we accept it because Jess takes the dilemma into her heart and she makes us believe. The novel moves between narrators and the posts themselves, but the vast majority of the novel is told in Jess’s own words as she struggles to reconcile her need to survive this death foretold with her intense commitment to ensuring that she does nothing to prevent the birth of this child.

Jess’s character is deeply likeable. She’s not a conventional heroine, with her DM boots, quirky sense of humour and disregard for what’s normal. Her unusual job in the cinema suits her, as does her best friend Sadie. I cared for Jess so deeply but she also made me laugh. I really enjoyed the delicate way in which Linda Green portrays the effect of love on these two close friends as Lee inevitably moves them apart. Jess’s past overshadows her and this affects the way that people deal with her in the present. It makes her vulnerable. Her tender relationship with her father is a wonderful part of this novel. We believe that Jess is the sort of person that might see these strange future Facebook messages but we don’t question it – our focus is on Jess in the here and now.

But Jess’s death hangs over this novel from the very beginning and, as the days and weeks pass, the mood becomes increasingly ominous. It adds an incredible amount of tension to the book and also pace. After I’ve Gone is one of the most urgent pageturners that I’ve read. I read this book in a day and it’s not a small one. I had to know what happened. I couldn’t bear not knowing. And I was thoroughly intrigued as to how this situation would be resolved.

After I’ve Gone is an outstanding psychological thriller with a great story backed up by some of the most wonderful characters. I couldn’t get enough of it. I haven’t read any Linda Green novels before – what a mistake that’s been. I intend to put it right.

Trust Me by Angela Clarke

Avon | 2017 (15 June) | 375p | Review copy | Buy the book

Trust Me by Angela ClarkeWhen Kate catches online a live video showing the rape and probable murder of a young girl, she has a job to do persuading the police to believe her. The video has been deleted, the username removed, and Kate is known to have had issues in the past which make her an unreliable witness. But DS Nasreen Cudmore and Freddie Vinton (once a social media consultant to the police and now promoted to the role of civilian investigator) do believe Kate. They are currently investigating the disappearance of Amber, the daughter of a local gangland boss, and, from the sound of it, this murdered girl could well be her. When further people own up to having seen the video it’s harder for the police to ignore it. Nas and Freddie are put on the case and it takes them right to the heart of one of London’s large and labyrinthine estates.

Trust Me is the third novel in Angela Clarke’s hugely entertaining Social Media Murders series. I’d go so far as to say that it’s my favourite of the three, perhaps because Nas and Freddie, despite a few inevitable misunderstandings, have settled into being a team and Freddie is more comfortable in her role. While other members of the team continue to treat her as an outsider, it’s clear that Freddie has made significant progress – and not just because of the obvious reasons. She is more settled and therefore she can begin to think about some of the other areas of her life. Freddie is really beginning to shine and in Trust Me it’s a joy to spend time with her. Also, in the previous novels, the focus in each had been on a particular type of social media. This time we’re given a more general picture of the role of social media in life, crime and policing. I liked that.

The focus in Trust Me is largely on Freddie but that doesn’t mean that Nas is left in the cold. She has always been my favourite of the two as she balances her career with her friendship to the more wayward Freddie. I thoroughly enjoyed her repartee with her boss Saunders, whose personality is such a highlight of the novel. As usual with these novels, Angela Clarke brings us closer to her characters by moving the narrative between them. Most chapters focus on Nas and Freddie but, significantly for this book, other chapters give us Kate’s story (and it’s a powerful and often moving one) and also take us into the world of the killer.

The crime which opens Trust Me is particularly unpleasant and, I must admit, I did wonder if I would be able to get past it. But I was soon back in safer territory with Nas and Freddie, and the investigation into the crime is sensitively handled. As is Kate’s story. There is an emotional power to this novel which complements very well the banter we’re used to between Nas, Freddie and their colleagues. But, as we’d expect, Trust Me is every bit as exciting as its predecessors and Nas and Freddie continue to go beyond the call of duty and put themselves in the heart of danger. They care so much.

Trust Me can be read easily as a standalone novel but I’m really enjoying the ways in which this series is developing as Nas and Freddie come into their own. Roll on book four!

Other reviews
Follow Me
Watch Me

The Mayfly by James Hazel

Zaffre | 2017 (ebook: 4 May; Pb: 15 June) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Mayfly by James HazelIt’s not your typical situation and neither is Charlie Priest your usual lawyer. When Charlie is asked by wealthy entrepreneur Kenneth Ellinder and his daughter Jessica to investigate the horrifically brutal murder of Ellinder’s son Miles, Charlie can’t help thinking that the death might be his fault. The night before, Miles had violently attacked Charlie in his own home, prepared to kill him for something he believed to be in Charlie’s possession. Charlie had nothing to give him and now the man is dead and the manner of his death is a clear warning of what is to come. Shortly afterwards Charlie’s godfather, Attorney General Sir Philip Wren hangs himself, leaving a note addressed to Charlie. And then it’s discovered that Sir Philip’s daughter Hayley is missing. Suddenly the hanging looks less like suicide and Charlie is caught in something that is spiralling out of control.

And this is all at the beginning of this wonderful novel, The Mayfly. The plot that follows is brilliantly clever and complex. More than that, it is extremely tense, with a grip of iron. But what holds it all together is the fabulous and captivating character of Charlie Priest. This is a man who caught my attention from the very beginning and the more I learned about him, the more I loved him. He has a medical disorder that makes him stand out from other people but he also stands out for his extraordinary family background. I’ll say nothing about this except to say that it is brilliantly handled. Charlie is a man we want to get to know. He is deeply interesting. This is a novel that delves deeply into character and motivation.

Charlie isn’t the only draw in The Mayfly – his associate, lawyer Georgie Someday, is utterly adorable and keenly intelligent. Charlie’s other associate, ‘Solly’ Solomon is also a favourite of mine and I love how Charlie deals with him. The three make up the most marvellous and strangest of teams and, as a result, The Mayfly stands out on a crowded crime fiction shelf.

The Mayfly takes us to some dark and dreadful places. The gory horror of the deaths isn’t easy to read but it isn’t gratuitously done. This is a story and a crime with its roots in the Holocaust and that is not a subject to be treated lightly. The evil from those days might survive in elements of this novel but so too does the determined pursuit for justice of good men and women.

James Hazel writes so well. This book might be dark in places but it is also witty and full of heart, compensating to some measure for its violence and the sheer evil of its villains. It’s an exciting book, packed with intrigue, and the pace is matched by the quality of the plot. The Mayfly launches a new series and I am hooked.

The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

Penguin | 2017 (1 June) | 391p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Honeymoon by Tina SeskisIt took quite a while for Jemma to persuade her boyfriend that he should finally make a decision to commit to her – that they should tie the knot and begin a new life together, putting their past behind them. And now Jemma is in the Maldives, staying in a beautiful luxurious resort, with the sea just a few steps away, on the dream honeymoon that she has planned for years. If only the man she married just a week ago hadn’t vanished off the face of the earth a few days into their holiday, leaving her to walk alone the beaches and island trails for hour upon hour searching for him. The police are now involved and it seems like the whole island is looking for him, while, back at home, the media has already caught the scent of a story too good to miss – the honeymoon paradise that has become a hell.

And that is as much as you’re going to hear from me about the plot because The Honeymoon is one of those psychological thrillers that relies on you not knowing what to expect next to make you keep turning those pages. They certainly fly through the fingers. The Honeymoon is a very fast read. I just had to know what happened to Jemma’s husband. But what also pulled me in is its dream holiday setting. There is such a holiday mood to this novel, with its beaches, pools, swimming, bars as well as the rich and beautiful who flock to these islands for their honeymoons – possibly more than once. This luxury contrasts very well with the misery of Jemma’s situation which casts such a pall over the resort.

The novel moves between the present and the past, with a mix of present and past tense, first and third person narratives. While I did find this rather clunkily done at times, it definitely powers the mystery on as well as letting us find out more about Jemma – from her own point of view or from the perspective of others. I never warmed to her. She thrives in her role of Unreliable Narrator. I felt conditioned not to believe a word she says. And, as the story developed, she increasingly irritated me. Having said that, I didn’t like many of the other characters in this book either, although there were a couple I’d liked to have seen more of.

The Honeymoon is a book proud of its twists and one or two did catch me out, even though I was on heightened twist awareness alert. But they didn’t make me go WOW so much as groan. Overall, though, I think that The Honeymoon is a fast, light, rather pretty and, ultimately, daft psychological thriller that would do very well indeed for a quick beach read. It would certainly be an appropriate place in which to read it, just be sure to keep one eye on your holiday companion.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Harvill Secker | 2017 (15 June) | 374p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Lying Game by Ruth WareIsa is at home looking after her six-month-old baby daughter Freya when she receives a text message from Kate, a school friend that she hasn’t seen for years. ‘I need you’ it says. The message doesn’t just go to Isa but also to the two other members of their school clique – Fatima and Thea. There is a bond between these four women that lives on despite their very different lives and if Kate needs their help then the other three will rush to her. They could hardly do anything else. They share a terrible secret, a shared lie, and it looks as if it is about to be revealed.

Isa, Fatima and Thea hurry to Kate’s home in an old mill on the coast which is slowly sinking into the sea. The nearest village, Salten, as well as their old school, lie a few miles inland. It’s a beautiful and remote spot, vulnerable to the encroaching sea, shifting sands and stormy skies. It’s the sort of place where you can forget the rest of the world. But not for much longer. It’s pounding on Kate’s door.

The Lying Game focuses on the friendship between these four woman in a way that reminded me of the author’s earlier novel In a Dark, Dark Wood. As with that novel, the atmosphere of place and isolation and the danger that these things can hide is a strong force throughout. The mystery is a moody one. It rumbles on in the background and it affects the interaction of the four women with the villagers and, in Isa’s case in particular, with their families at home.

But the emphasis throughout is on our narrator, Isa, a woman who is consumed by her instinct to love and protect her baby. It drives everything about her. Isa is the only one to whom we become close, witnessing her family life and her marital grumbles. Thea, Fatima and Kate remain unknowable. But these are people who played the Lying Game at school. It makes it difficult for us to know the truth.

The mystery isn’t a big surprise when it unravels. It doesn’t have the intrigue and twists that I enjoyed so much in The Woman in Cabin 10. It feels very subservient to the focus, which is on the relationship between these four women. Yet, as mentioned, we only really get to know Isa. Apart from this, I had a couple of other issues with the novel – I couldn’t understand the reason for the great bond between these women, all these years after their one year together at school. I couldn’t feel a closeness between them and most of the characters are too skindeep. The other issue is that Isa’s complete focus on her baby dominates her character absolutely. It’s understandable but it isolates her from the dramatic movement of the novel. And, to be pernickity, there is also a continuity error involving Thea’s hair.

Yet, while I didn’t enjoy The Lying Game as much as I loved The Woman in Cabin 10, it is an extremely atmospheric and compelling read. I read most of it in one sitting. It hooked me. The setting is marvellous. I loved the descriptions of it, the walks across the marshes, the gradual decay of the mill. There is something about Ruth Ware’s writing that pulls me in – it is quite beautiful – and I’ll most definitely be there for her next novel.

Other review
The Woman in Cabin 10