Category Archives: Crime

Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain

Quercus | 2020 (16 January) | 426p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Six Wicked Reasons by Jo SpainIt is June 2018 and five Lattimer siblings are called back to Spanish Cove, to their family home on the most beautiful and remote section of Ireland’s coast. They reluctantly return from all parts of the globe for a very special reason – to greet the sixth sibling, Adam, who, ten years before, disappeared without trace, presumed dead. The shock of losing Adam destroyed his mother and she died soon afterwards. But now he is back with a story to tell. Their father arranges a party aboard a boat to celebrate the return of the prodigal son. But the following morning,when the boat returned to shore, not everyone was aboard. One of the family was swept overboard, others jumped in to rescue him. But when the body is hauled ashore, local police officer Detective Downes soon learns that the man was dead before he hit the water. Someone on the boat is a murderer. It’s up to Downes to investigate who and why before they strike again.

I loved the premise of Six Wicked Reasons, Jo Spain’s latest stand alone thriller, as soon as I heard about it and read it at once. I adored Dirty Little Secrets, which likewise has an irresistible premise involving a small group of people (aka suspects) in an evocative setting with more secrets than is good for them. It’s a winning formula and Jo Spain excels at it.

The Irish coastal setting of Spanish Cove, with the large house on the cliff, so full of memories, is gorgeous and such a contrast to the other places in which the siblings have found themselves, with the exception of Ellen who stayed behind to keep the house with her father. The others have all grown into very different people from the children they once were but the old alliances that they made are still there. The petty squabbles flare up once more. And then there’s the father. With a family this size, there is bound to be rivalry and envy. It’s fascinating watching this family try to get along, to understand why Adam left them for so long, and knowing that the answers lie in the past.

Moving between the past and the present, this novel immerses the reader in the history of this dysfunctional family. The narrative moves between the family members, while also, and this makes the books especially effective, providing the point of view of the detective who has this mess to untangle. None of the family members are particularly likeable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I didn’t like any of them. But I really liked Detective Downes and it’s he who, in a strange way, holds it all together.

The story is compelling, twisty and involving. The short chapters and the lively structure make this a very difficult book to put down and I powered through it. All the time we really want to know why Adam left his family ten years before and why he’s come back now. This central mystery is backed up by so many more, including the mystery of the identity of the murderer, but there are far more than that. Six Wicked Reasons is thoroughly entertaining, it certainly kept me guessing and it is all reinforced by such a strong and enticing sense of place. I have yet to read any of Jo Spain’s Inspector Tom Reynolds novels, a state of affairs I shall definitely correct, but I can thoroughly recommend her stand alone thrillers and I can’t wait to read the next.

Other reviews
The Confession
Dirty Little Secrets

All the Rage by Cara Hunter

Penguin | 2020 (23 January) | 442p | Review copy | Buy the book

All the Rage by Cara HunterTeenager Faith Appleford is snatched off the street on the outskirts of Oxford. A plastic bag is forced over her head and she is driven off. Thankfully she manages to escape but, when DI Adam Fawley and his team question her, she refuses to say anything about what happened to her. The police will have to find another way to solve the crime. But there is something about it which horrifies Fawley. It’s far too similar to another case he investigated many years before and it’s not too long before questions are being asked of him. And then another girl goes missing. This time she might not be as fortunate as Faith Appleford. Fawley has to find her and face the past.

All the Rage is the fourth novel by Cara Hunter to feature Oxford detective Adam Fawley and, as is no surprise considering how absolutely brilliant the previous one was (No Way Out), it is fantastic. As with all series you benefit from having followed the lives of the detectives through previous novels but All the Rage stands alone very well.

The story is so good, full of surprises, shocks and potential suspects, and particularly interesting for the way in which it shows how crime can affect those close to the victim, whether family or friends, and how the net of suspicion is widely cast. It all adds up to fear and distrust in the community. But what makes this novel, and the others so brilliant, is not just the excellent story but the way in which it is told. Cara Hunter excels at immersing the reader in the investigation and in the case as a whole by filling the narrative with different and unusual perspectives – we’re given extracts from police interviews, from transcripts of court cases, blog posts and tweets. The narrative also moves around between people. Much of the time is spent with Adam Fawley and these sections are in the first person but these are interspersed with third person narrative, showing us how Fawley is viewed by others and also taking us into the world of Faith, her family and her school friends. It’s all extremely clever and very sophisticated – and completely engrossing.

As well as being a tense and gripping read, All the Rage also considers some important themes. There is so much to this story. I can’t say anything about these as I don’t want to give anything away. You must discover these people for yourself. I warmed much more to Adam Fawley in All the Rage. I feel that we know him better in this novel and I like what I find. I also enjoyed meeting the other team members again. They have more to deal with than normal and react and interact in different ways. They’re an interesting bunch. As for Faith Applefield… I cared about her very much.

I live and work in north Oxford and so this is an area I know inside out and, once more, Cara Hunter sets her novel close to home. I suspect I may also know something of the inspiration for the novel. But this place that I love is in safe hands with this author. I’ve read books set in Oxford with glaring errors, inevitably pushing me out of the book, but there is none of that in this series. This feels like the real Oxford, albeit one that has much to frighten, these are no cosey crimes. Its authenticity makes All the Rage even more compelling for me and, I suspect, for all readers, whether they know the city or not.

All the Rage is yet another absolute corker from Cara Hunter! I love this series so much and, as an Oxfordian, it appeals even more and the Oxford that is portrayed here is spot on. This is such a clever story and I love the way in which it’s told, approaching it from every angle and from so many perspectives. It’s extremely effective. The result is that this book is so difficult to put down and is utterly engrossing. I can’t wait for more!

Other review
No Way Out

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of this marvellous book. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

All the Rage blog tour

Stasi Winter by David Young

Zaffre | 2020 (9 January) | 354p | Review copy | Buy the book

Stasi Winter by David YoungStasi Winter is the fifth novel by David Young to feature Major Karin Müller of East Germany’s People’s Police. While it isn’t vital that you’ve read the others in order to enjoy this fantastic novel, I think it would be an even better reading experience if you had, especially as this novel revisits characters from the first book Stasi Child. This review assumes that you’ve read Stasi Child at least.

It is the winter of 1978/79 and East Germany, along with much of northern and eastern Europe, is in the grip of a winter that people will talk about for years to come. It is East Germany’s ‘catastrophe winter’. Not surprisingly, it is particularly bad in the north and it is to Rostock, a port on the northern coast that Müller, her deputy Werner Tilsner and forensic investigator Jonas Schmidt are sent when the body of a woman is found in the ice, frozen to death. As usual, the Stasi will be keeping a close eye on the investigation and, not for the first time, Müller finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place as the Stasi continues to try and exert control and manipulate Müller and Tilsner. Müller had wanted to give it all up, and thought she had, but she is given little choice. Then, when the identity of the dead woman is uncovered, Müller realises how close to home this case is and with it comes memories of the past. Müller must make a choice and she must risk everything.

This is a fantastic series and I’ve loved it since the beginning. The murder mysteries they depict are compelling and clever but there are two main reason why I’ll never get enough of these books. Firstly, there is the character of Karin Müller. She is a fully-rounded, believable, living and breathing woman with an absolute sense of duty and justice, who has to juggle a family life with a post that is unheard of for a woman. She is unusual and exists in a man’s world. The Stasi has cost her greatly, she has witnessed the effects of what they do, she has glimpsed the attractions of the West, but Karin still believes in a communist state and upholds its values. Her conviction is tested time and time again but through Karin we are reminded of what the ideal of communism is. Karin doesn’t hate the West, quite the opposite, she enjoys watching its television (which she can do due to her privileged position) and she is attracted to elements of it, but she also understands its failings and believes that her own state, should it ever function as it should, is the answer. If only it weren’t for the Stasi…

The other main reason why I love this series so much is its portrayal of East Germany during the 1970s. I’ve always been fascinated by East Berlin and have enjoyed touring the sites and these novels recreate it before my eyes. The descriptions are engrossing, the details are meticulous. It all feels so convincing and extremely insightful. David Young knows his subject, he’s done the research, and we reap the benefits of this in his fantastic set of books. And in Stasi Winter we travel to the far north of the country and you can almost feel the cold for yourself. It’s a frontier town – Denmark is only a short distance across the sea – and life in it is extremely tough. We read that the Republic’s conscientious objectors are sent to the city to do hard manual work, that Hitler built a huge entertainment complex here, that life is so hard for the most vulnerable, for the children of so-called traitors, and how sometimes the only way to survive is to listen to the manipulative lies of the Stasi. It is all so thoroughly engrossing.

In Stasi Winter, we meet characters from Stasi Child and Irma in particular is a scene stealer. Her story is central to the novel and it’s just as tough and upsetting as it is compelling. It’s because of her that Karin must make some difficult choices. Müller’s life is being changed. Müller’s relationship with Tilsner is a complicated one, as anyone knows who’s read the books, and it is a highlight of this novel. I’ve always liked Tilsner. He’s complicated and almost impossible to trust but his relationship with Karin, one senses, is one of the best things in his life. Stasi colonel Jäger, on the other hand, is more devious than ever.

Stasi Winter is a tense and exciting thriller (which builds to an absolutely brilliant climax), set during one of the most fascinating periods and places of recent history. Everything about it appeals and David Young does his theme and subject justice. And added to it we have the story of the young woman Irma, who, not for the first time, makes Müller question everything about her life. I can’t wait to see what happens to Karin next.

Other reviews and posts
Stasi Child
Stasi Wolf
A Darker State (now called Stasi State)
Stasi 77Guest post on the historical background of Stasi 77

Silver by Chris Hammer

Wildfire | 2020 (9 January) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book

Silver by Chris HammerEvents have changed journalist Chris Scarsden. After believing that he’d left his home town of Port Silver, with its traumatic memories, behind for good, he now realises that if he wants to have any hope of a future he must return. His girlfriend Mandy has inherited property in the town and so he makes the choice to leave Sydney where he has been finishing a book about his most recent investigative case and pick things up with Mandy and her little boy, Liam – if they’ll have him. But this also means facing his demons and they’re hiding around almost every corner. And in a town like this, where everyone knows everybody else, Martin, now a well-known journalist, is treated with suspicion.

It all goes wrong from the moment Martin arrives – to put it mildly. He arrives at the house where Mandy is staying only to find a man, an old friend, stabbed to death just moments before and Mandy is with him covered in his blood. It seems an open and shut case for the local police but Martin is determined to prove her innocence, to save her and therefore save himself. And the more he digs into the secrets of this troubled place, Martin realises that there is more going on in Port Silver than he could have imagined and very soon he’s at the heart of it.

Silver is Chris Hammer’s second novel to feature Martin Scarsden but, although it follows on from the superb Scrublands, Silver can also be read as a stand alone novel. The two novels are different, with the latest set by the coast and the first set in the heart of Australia’s baked interior. That case altered Martin in many ways and so the man we meet here is one who is searching for answers about himself. If you haven’t read the first it won’t matter but, if you have, it’ll give you more background to Martin and Mandy and their difficult relationship.

Port Silver is a mesmerising place and it forms the heart of Silver, just as the outback was so important for ScrublandsChris Hammer is a fantastic writer and this is especially displayed in the novels’ sense of place. The map at the beginning introduces us to Port Silver, a town in decay, and we spend a fair amount of time getting to know it as Martin explores it so thoroughly in pursuit of answers.

The people are also fascinating. There’s a commune in the town which is bringing outsiders, even celebrities, to the town and therefore attracting attention, although not in a positive way, and this adds something to the tension within the community. But there is a lot more going on than this as more than one person eyes up the town’s opportunities. A murder, with all of the suspicions, fear and bewilderment that follows, stirs up secrets like nothing else and Martin must walk a fine line between being a local with inside information, the chief suspect’s lover, an investigator and a journalist.

Silver is an epic book in many ways as, over the course of almost 600 pages, it scrutinises lives in the community of Port Silver. Thanks to the sandbar blocking its harbour, Port Silver never fulfilled its promise and the decline continues but there are some who are bound to this place for reasons that become clear when you read this novel. It’s deeply engrossing. It’s also an impressive achievement, with many threads weaving their way through its pages. Martin Scarsdale is a man with troubles, who doesn’t quite know how to go about things, and so it’s every bit as much a journey of discovery for Martin as it is a tense investigation of murder.

Other review
Scrublands

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Viking | 2020 (9 January) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Three Hours by Rosamund LuptonOne winter’s day, in the middle of a snowstorm, the unthinkable happens. A school, surrounded by trees, on the rural edge of a village on the Somerset coast, is under siege. The headmaster, Matthew Marr, has been shot in his office. Brave sixth formers drag him into the library, which they barricade with books to prevent the gunman from entering. Now and again, they can hear him trying the door, biding his time, waiting for something. The other school children, some so young and tiny, are scattered around the school, with most in the theatre and many more, the youngest, in the pottery workshop deep in the woods. But not all of the children are accounted for. With no idea how many gunmen there are, with some children missing, with frantic parents desperate for news, DI Rose Polstein must deal with a situation that, as it develops live on the media, shocks the nation and beyond.

Three Hours is an extraordinarily powerful, harrowing novel. It does indeed take place over three hours and it’s that minute by minute coverage, as we move between perspectives, that makes this a tour de force read that is next to impossible to put down. This is immediate, tense writing, that still manages to fit in beautiful character portrayals, bring these people alive for us, whether they are school children, teachers, the headmaster, parents or the police. There is so much going on. There’s barely time to draw breath and so we hold it in as the drama plays out before us.

I don’t want to say much more about what happens over these three hours because this is a novel packed full of revelations and shocks. We are intensely involved with some of these characters, especially with two Syrian refugee brothers, but the stories of the children in the library and in the pottery workshop are for me the most powerful. Some moments are agonisingly tense and worrying. There is an additional fascinating edge to the drama literally played out in the theatre, as the children continue to rehearse their school production of Macbeth.

Some big themes are introduced in the novel, about the state of our world as well as about the stress of being a child in that world. Macbeth is used to bring out some of those themes, making it possible for some of the children to express themselves about what they are facing. This is so cleverly done.

Rosamund Lipton is an incredible writer. She makes us empathise with people so well, especially with children, as we saw in her last novel, The Quality of Silence, which was another excellent novel. Three Hours, though, is an absolute triumph. I cried more than once and there are moments that will be very hard to forget. Above all else, this is a novel about hate but also, more importantly, about how love can defeat that hate. It’s a fine message and this superb novel does it full justice.

Other review
The Quality of Silence

The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O’Connor

Zaffre | 2019 (16 May) | 439p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O'ConnorJessamine Gooch presents a radio programme that examines crimes, questioning whether there was something in the character of the perpetrator which made them more likely to commit such an offence and if clues should have been spotted in advance, meaning that the crime would never happen. It’s a grey area as Jessamine would herself admit. How do you punish a potential criminal that has as yet committed no crime? But Jessamine cares intensely. She spends her spare time volunteering at a helpline, taking calls from the victims of domestic abuse. She also adopted her daughter Sarah so that she could give her a happy, safe life. But everything is reaching boiling point. Her radio station want to change the show, Jessamine has also found herself caught up in a missing person case involving a young mother, and then there’s Sarah. Jessamine has yet to notice it but something is going on with Sarah.

The Dangerous Kind is an extremely intelligent thriller that asks questions of society around us, about our complacency and about the safety or otherwise of the most vulnerable members of that society. It moves between the present day, a long winter in London, and 2002 when a young girl, Rowena, finds herself caught up in a trap from which she cannot escape. Years may separate these stories, at least initially, but Jessamine knows that this behaviour defies time. There are predators out there all of the time. Spotting them is what drives Jessamine on, as well as the frustration and tragedy of sometimes not being able to do enough to prevent what feels like the inevitable.

Along with the stories of Jessamine and Rowena, we have Sarah, and this is where the novel becomes particularly frightening as we realise what serious danger she’s in. We can see the clues. Unfortunately, Jessamine doesn’t. This behaviour is hidden by design. Not even a woman like Jessamine can spot it.

I think that The Dangerous Kind is a powerful and well-written thriller but, unfortunately for me, it tackles subjects which I find just too hard to read about, mostly involving the manipulation and grooming of young children by paedophiles. The book isn’t explicit but there were sections that I passed over, unable to read. Many readers, though, are made of sterner stuff than me and rave about this book and I think it deserves the praise.

There is one thing that I absolutely loved about The Dangerous Kind and that is the character of Jessamine Gooch. She is a menopausal woman suffering all that this entails, such as hot flushes and a short temper. I could empathise entirely with this woman who is so gripped by a sudden hot flush that she has to open bus windows on freezing days, ignoring the angry glares of fellow passengers because she recognises that there are other women on the bus who are going through exactly the same thing as she is. It’s not often that you read a thriller with a main character who is a woman of this age. I really welcomed it and liked Jessamine enormously. That’s what I’ll take away from this novel.

Your Deepest Fear by David Jackson

Zaffre | 2019 (Pb: 3 October) | 416p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Your Deepest Fear by David JacksonWhen Sara Prior returns home from a break in her native Copenhagen with her parents, she finds an enigmatic message on her answer machine from her estranged husband, Matthew: ‘Sara! Remember! Victoria and Albert. All I can say. They’re here. They’re-‘ and then he breaks off with a scream. Sara rushes to his home and finds a terrible sight. Matthew is dead, nailed to the floor. She manages to decipher the strange voice message, setting her off on a trail of clues that she is determined to solve. Because Sara is no ordinary person. She is ex-forces, she’s seen action and she is a trained killer. Warned off from telling the police, she feels she has no choice but to hunt down Matthew’s killer herself. She will avenge him.

This all puts DS Nathan Cody in an impossible situation. How can he solve a murder when his chief witness will tell him nothing? But it’s not uppermost in his mind because the past has come back to haunt Cody and this time it wants to play games with him. It wants to kill him but first it will take him to the edge of collapse. Cody has met his match.

Your Deepest Fear is the fourth novel by David Jackson to feature DS Cody and it follows on from one of the best crime books I’ve read – Don’t Make A Sound. How I loved that book – super scary and with a fantastic premise and story. Just like that book, Your Deepest Fear can be read alone but I think you would get more from it if you knew the series because a storyline that has been following, terrorising Cody for some while now reaches a head and it is terrifying.

Cody is a haunted man, clearly traumatised and stressed by a past experience, His colleagues are worried and so they try and help him but Cody, as is usual, is determined to do it alone, even though it puts everything at risk, including his honour. It’s a frightening story and it’s also at times gruesome and disturbing. Cody is in a very dark place indeed and we’re taken there with him as his nemesis plays games with him.

The way that the two main stories in the novel come together is very clever indeed and, I must admit, that it was Sara’s story that I enjoyed the most. She’s a brilliant character, incredibly brave and single-minded and great in a fight. Her experiences of life well outside her comfort zone as well as her relationship with her quiet and reserved Matthew are especially interesting. What made this curious couple tick? It’s well worth reading this book to find that out.

This is a dark and at times macabre novel as Cody descends into his deepest fears but it is also clever and thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. Cody is an extraordinary figure, much liked and worried about, brave and frightened. We care for him and, like his colleagues, we can only dread where his past is leading him. I wonder if we’ll see Cody again. I hope so.

Other review
Don’t Make a Sound