Category Archives: Crime

Blood Tide by Claire McGowan

Headline | 2017 (23 March) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

Blood Tide by Claire McGowanForensic psychologist Paula Maguire has been despatched to a small island off the coast of Ireland, ominously named Bone Island. A couple has gone missing – the island’s doctor Fiona and her partner, naturalist Matt. They lived in the lighthouse but it stands empty, curiously locked on the inside, and there are traces of blood. Foul play is considered likely. The island’s small community is struggling to survive. It’s friendly enough but suspicious of outsiders, especially those asking questions, and Paula finds herself becoming increasingly anxious. And then the storm comes in, the ferries are cancelled, and Paula is trapped.

Paula has every reason to remember Bone Island. It was one of the last places she holidayed as a child when her family was complete. That wasn’t long before Paula’s mother Margaret disappeared, one of the many who vanished during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. Paula will never stop searching for her, piecing together what little evidence she can uncover. But there are more immediate crises facing Paula at home these days. This is not a good time to be trapped on this island, away from her little daughter, and that’s even before she learns the true danger of the island that holds her.

Blood Tide is the fifth novel in Claire McGowan’s Paula Maguire series. Paula has some significant issues in her life, some of which hark back to Ireland’s recent violent past but by no means all, and these thread their way through the novels. But if Blood Tide is the first you’ve read, you’ll soon catch up – these stories develop very slowly. The Bone Island mystery is completely stand alone.

I’ve read all but two of this series and I always look forward to them. I like Paula. Undoubtedly a magnet for intrigue and suffering, she has so much to contend with. Because of her missing mother, Paula is particularly suited to missing persons’ police work. She is driven to find people. She knows better than anyone how such a case can affect loved ones. Other people might be content to dismiss Fiona and Matt as people lost at sea, but that’s not good enough for Paula. She has to know one way or the other but she needs to see for herself in order to believe it. She never gives up.

There are occasions in Blood Tide when Paula is painfully reminded that she isn’t infallible, that she can’t always help, and she finds that hard to live with. I found these moments uncomfortable to read – in a good way. There are elements of this novel that remind me of so-called cosy crime (with the small claustrophobic island, the tiny community hiding a killer in its midst, the storm battering its cliffs and lighthouse), but there are other aspects to it that most certainly aren’t cosy. The sea and the island it batters are not safe and some of the crimes committed here, or incidents that have happened, are appalling.

I enjoyed the Bone Island mystery. It’s atmospheric, moody and sinister. I must admit, though, that it was rather guessable, while the disappearance of Paula’s mother, as well as Paula’s complicated (to say the least) private life, are developing painfully slowly. They’re also throwing up some coincidences that aren’t easily believable, not least the presence of a certain Guy Brooking on the island. But Blood Tide almost has the air of horror about it and I revelled in that aspect of it. We meet some interesting characters on this island, ranging from the deeply menacing to the frightened. And scattered throughout, we have the memories, now shadowed by menace and foreboding, of our lost Fiona as she tells us about her time settling into island life and her relationship with Matt, whom she first met when he saved her life at sea. These are people we want to be found. Nobody will try harder than Paula.

Other reviews
The Silent Dead
A Savage Hunger

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

HQ | 2017 (23 March) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Sometimes I Lie by Alice FeeneyAmber Reynolds wakes in a hospital bed on Boxing Day but the world around her would never know it. Amber is locked in a coma – her eyes are closed and she can’t move even the smallest muscle but her mind is awake, inhabiting the present while also turning over in her mind memories, both recent and much older. Visitors come and go, especially her husband Paul and sister Claire. They hold her hand, read to her, try and call her back. But, although Amber is yet to remember the full details of the accident that put her in this state, she knows that her husband doesn’t love her any more. Amber also knows that sometimes she lies. But about what?

And so begins one of the most twisty and twisted psychological thrillers that I’ve read. It’s true that I find this a genre hard to warm to and each time I read one I demand a great deal from it in order to keep my attention. But Sometimes I Lie gave me just what I wanted and, as a result, I think it’s one of the most successful psychological thrillers that I’ve read. I don’t want to give you any more plot detail because nothing – nothing – is as you expect it to be.

Sometimes I Lie works for lots of reasons but chiefly because it is extraordinarily clever. There are a few little moments when I thought it might be being a little too clever for its own good but generally I was pleasantly surprised by how good this plotting is. I had more jaw dropping moments with this than in any other psychological thriller I can remember, and they don’t all come at the end either. There are shocks and surprises all the way through. And I didn’t guess them all. Fabulous!

Another big reason for this book’s success is Amber Reynolds herself. She is the epitome of the Unreliable Narrator. It’s no secret. She seems rather proud of it. But it does mean that the reader has to keep their wits about them. I did re-read bits as the novel went on, just to keep track of the games playing out around me, the poor, innocent reader! I didn’t particularly like Amber but I don’t think we’re supposed to. I was absolutely fascinated by her though. She had my attention from the opening page.

I love the style and structure of the novel. It mixes present, near-past and much longer ago, and includes journal extracts, memories, dreams and thoughts. It’s extremely catchy. Sometimes I Lie is next to impossible to put down. It demands that you hang on to Amber’s every word. You have to know! And what you learn shocks.

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

Doubleday | 2017 (23 March) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel RhysIt is the summer of 1939 and Lily Shepherd is escaping her tedious life in London for a new beginning in Australia. The new rich of Australia are desperate for servants and no-one is more sought after than a young British woman. With her fare fully paid by the government, Lily boards the ocean liner Orontes, which sets sail from England on a month-long voyage to Sydney. Lily’s eyes are to be opened as never before. Although she travels in tourist class with other young women who are travelling for similar reasons, Lily finds herself mixing with first class passengers who are also on the look out for something – excitement, an escape. Always conscious that when they arrive in Australia, these would be the people she serves, Lily is captivated by her new rich, glamorous, hedonistic friends – Max and Eliza Campbell.

But Lily has also caught the eye of others – the quiet and flirtatious Edward and the loud and fascist George. Both men compete for Lily’s attention, while watched on by the decadent Eliza and Lily’s cabin-mate Ida, a serious and earnest young woman who appears to judge Lily for every thing that she does.

At sea, with only brief stops on land along the way, the passengers of Orontes have been separated from the world outside and it is a world in which the lights are going out – war with Germany is close, Chamberlain is conducting last minute talks with Hitler for peace, people aboard hope for the best but some fear the worst. The passengers include Jewish refugees and a large group of Italians. On board ship politics are kept at bay but most, especially George, already view these people as the enemy. And when she befriends a young Jewish woman, Lily is given a glimpse of the horrors that some have already experienced in Europe. Unfortunately, the ship cannot keep all of these horrors at bay. Not everyone who embarked in England will survive the voyage.

It might be early in the year but I already know that A Dangerous Crossing will be a key read of 2017 for me. It is sensational. I was engrossed from the very first enigmatic chapter and I stayed hooked until the end. I grabbed every spare moment to read it and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

The writing is absolutely stunning. Rachel Rhys seemingly effortlessly carries us back to 1939, a world in some ways still innocent and yet poised on the edge of blackness. Life aboard the Orontes, with its galas, dinners, parties and gossiping on deck, is brilliantly portrayed, as are the descriptions of the excursions that the passengers undertake, in such inviting places as Naples, the Pyramids and Ceylon. It’s a terrific blend of claustrophobic life aboard the ship and then the excitement of experiencing new places, the heat intensifying as the ship voyages southwards.

But the appeal of A Dangerous Crossing doesn’t just lie in its locations and historical detail but also in the passengers themselves. Lily is a wonderful companion and like so many of the other people that we meet she has a past to run from. Eliza and Max are an extraordinary couple, with a depth to them that you would never have guessed at the beginning. As the voyage continues we learn more and more about all of these people as they are forced into ever closer intimacy. At times, the revelations are beautifully touching and emotional, at times tragic. We are brought so close to it all.

It feels like these are the dying days of the old world and George in particular exhibits some shocking behaviour, especially towards local people on the excursions. But there is also a sense that the behaviour of socialites such as Eliza also belong to another time and maybe the future belongs to young women such as Lily who are escaping the past to start afresh, independent. A Dangerous Crossing does contain a mystery but it actually contains lots of mysteries, all of them engrossing and intriguing. There is so much more to this novel than you might initially think.

The story is captivating, the writing enchanting – and what a spectacular cover. A Dangerous Crossing is a triumph. Rachel Rhys is the penname of Tammy Cohen, whose unusual and original thriller When She Was Bad was such a highlight of 2016. How Tammy/Rachel can write! I have no doubt that A Dangerous Crossing will feature in my top books of 2017 post – it’s that good. I’m so excited to think where Tammy/Rachel will head next – I do know it will be wonderful.

Other review
Writing as Tammy Cohen: When She Was Bad

‘My nearly debut novel’ – Guest post by G.J. Minett, author of Lie in Wait

Last week, Zaffre published the paperback of Lie in Wait, the latest crime thriller from G.J. Minett. To mark the occasion, I’m delighted to host a guest post in which the author tells us about his ‘nearly debut novel’, a novel with a really rather unusual name. But first, a little of what Lie in Wait is all about:

A man is dead. A woman is missing. And the police have already found their prime suspect…

Owen Hall drives into a petrol station to let his passenger use the facilities. She never comes back – and what’s more, it seems she never even made it inside.

When Owen raises a fuss, the police are called – and soon identify Owen himself as a possible culprit – not least because they already have him in the frame for another more sinister crime.

Owen’s always been a little different, and before long others in the community are baying for his blood. But this is a case where nothing is as it seems – least of all Owen Hall…

A dark, addictive thriller, ingeniously plotted with a twist that will make you gasp, LIE IN WAIT is perfect for readers of Angela Marsons or Rachel Abbott.

‘My nearly debut novel’

Given that I’ve been writing since I was at primary school and have harboured dreams of being a published author for more years than I’d care to admit, it would be fair to say that the words ‘overnight success’ are never going to feature in any summary of my career to date. Like most authors however I had my fair share of near misses along the way and none more frustrating than with the first novel I ever completed.

I had started it while still at university, then put it not so much on the back burner as in the freezer for a few years when I started teaching. It was initially called Lobello (don’t ask!) and was a somewhat anarchic comedy about life at university – think Tom Sharpe without the polish and you won’t go far wrong. When I came back to it a few years later, it attracted the attention of an agent who was then in the early stages of his career but who is now a household name – I shan’t say who because he may not wish to reminded of those days! He really liked the novel and asked if he could represent me, which was not the most challenging question I’ve ever been asked, I have to say. He even came to visit us at home although I suppose the fact that he was also visiting one of his established authors nearby may have had something to do with it.

Most writers will understand what I went through over the next twelve months. Every so often I would receive a letter, saying which publishers had been approached. Then the rejections started coming in, most saying positive things but all ending with a few variations on the theme of ‘in the current economic climate’ and the inevitable ‘thanks but no thanks’. My agent tried, bless him. He got me to rework the prologue and opening chapters, changed the title to One Degree Under, tried just about every publishing house around until even someone with his boundless enthusiasm had to bow to the inevitable and call it a day.

He has now gone on to establish himself as a leading figure in the literary world. Lobello/One Degree Under on the other hand has been stuck in a drawer ever since and doesn’t often see the light of day. The last time I took it out and dusted it off, I have to admit there were still passages that made me laugh but the weaknesses are so egregious I can’t imagine what possessed either of us to believe it deserved to be published.

It’s served its purpose though over the years. It proved I could sustain a novel right through to the end. It was the first indication I’d ever had that someone in the literary world felt I could write. It engendered correspondence with other prominent figures which encouraged me to believe that if I ever got my act together and had a serious run at it, I might just be able to get a novel published someday. If I’d realised then how long it would take, I might have reassessed a few priorities and gone for it in a big way much earlier.

Can’t complain though. It may have been a long time coming but it’s been more than worth it. And even if it’s only because of its sentimental value, I’ll probably take that first novel out of the drawer another five or ten years from now and read it again. The words soft spot were coined for things such as that.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

Quercus | 2017 | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy MejiaPine Valley, a small rural community in Minnesota, will not be the same without Hattie Hoffman. The 18-year-old girl, beautiful and playful, is the centre of attention both in and out of school. With ambitions of heading off to New York City to follow her dream to be an actress, Hattie has landed the role of Lady Macbeth in the school play. All eyes will be on Hattie Hoffman. But on opening night, Hattie is stabbed to death in a derelict barn on the edge of town. Close family friend Sheriff Del Goodman is given the terrible task of unravelling the tragedy, of hunting down the murderer of a girl he loved as a daughter. This is a community where everybody knows everyone. One of them, though, is keeping the biggest secret of all. Del will not rest until he uncovers it.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman might begin with Hattie’s murder but this vibrant young woman remains at the heart of the book thanks to its enticing structure. Mindy Mejia presents us with three narratives, belonging to Hattie herself, Del Goodman, and the school’s English teacher and play director, Peter Lund. We also move backwards and forwards through time, focusing on the weeks and days that led to Hattie’s death. Each of the narratives introduces us to the people of the town, often from different perspectives, building up layers of relationships, bits of which are revealed at different times. This gives extra depth to quite a few of the novel’s characters while building up the layers of Hattie’s personality. Hanging over it all is foreboding – we know just how this will end for Hattie.

Hattie’s character is key to the novel. And it most certainly isn’t straightforward. All she wants to do is be an actress, and it’s worth bearing this in mind as she plays one person off against another, time after time. She is an intriguing person, and so too are Del and Peter, but I did find her impossible to like. In fact, I think the only character in the novel that I actively did like was the sheriff, Del Goodman. I enjoyed his sections of the novel most of all.

I was engrossed by The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman but, as the novel went on, I realised that it might not give me all I expected from it. I’m used to twists and surprises in a novel such as this. This isn’t a fault of this book at all but it did mean that I was rather unexcited by the way in which the story developed, while still being caught up by its structure and mood.

The writing is of a high quality and that did keep my attention, as did its atmosphere. The rural location is very well painted indeed. I could picture Pine Valley perfectly from the descriptions. There are few places that people can meet in this town and we move between them, always being reminded that we’re seeing the same people. It makes you understand why Hattie had her dreams of escape. Pine Valley was far too small a town for Hattie Hoffman.

Quieter than Killing by Sarah Hilary

Headline | 2017 (9 March) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Quieter than Killing by Sarah HilaryA harsh winter has London in its frozen grip. Better to stay indoors, particularly during the long, dark nights. But danger is walking the streets. Men and women are being viciously attacked. The assaults seem random but the injuries and scars appear to be telling a different story. Even more worryingly, a young child has been kidnapped but is only reported missing weeks later. And then DI Marnie Rome’s tenants are violently assaulted in Marnie’s childhood home. Very little was stolen but what there was suggests that the thieves are sending Marnie a very personal message, one that goes back to another crime committed in that house, a crime that changed her life forever. Puzzlingly, it appears that the robbers may well have been children. But who told them what to steal? Not for the first time, Marnie Rome feels watched, scrutinised, judged.

Quieter than Killing is the fourth in Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome series and it demonstrates yet again why this series is among the very best being written today. The crimes at the novel’s heart are ingenious and compelling from the very first page but they are matched by the extraordinary and involving lives of Marnie Rome and her DS, Noah Jake. It is impossible not to care for these people. They always appear real – their thoughts, feelings, fears and desires are vividly portrayed. Their relationships have depth. And so much drama and suspense!

I would really recommend that you read the other three books in the series first, just so that you can properly appreciate what Marnie in particular has had to endure and still endures. But, having said that, Quieter than Killing, as with the other novels, fills the reader in very quickly and the writing is of such high quality that you’re soon left in no doubt about the significance of what has happened before.

I think that some detective fiction can tread a fine line between back history and present crimes. It isn’t always successful, especially if it intrudes too much on the mystery at hand. There are no such issues here. These novels are every bit as much about Marnie and Noah as they are about anything else and this is never hidden.

And, as usual, there are big themes to haunt the reader and drive them relentlessly through the pages. Here we have child cruelty, parenting, retribution, justice and innocence. It’s darkly done, tragic in places, and the charged atmosphere is maintained throughout. It is utterly engrossing!

Sarah Hilary is a brilliant writer – of plot, character and mood. I stopped reading crime fiction for quite a few years for one reason or other and Sarah Hilary was one of the principal reasons why I took it up again and now love it so much. This is storytelling at its finest. I can’t resist it.

Other reviews
Someone Else’s Skin
No Other Darkness
Tastes Like Fear

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

HarperCollins | 2017 (9 March) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Let the Dead Speak by Jane CaseyWhen 18-year-old Chloe comes home from a long weekend at her father’s house, she returns to a house covered in blood. Blood runs down the stairs, it pools on the floor, it smears on the walls and doors. Chloe’s mother Kate is gone but there’s no body to be seen, just the cat imprisoned in one of the rooms upstairs. DS Maeve Kerrigan has no doubt that murder has been committed and when she and her team take a look at the other residents of well-to-do Valerian Road in West London, she finds she has no shortage of suspects. Whether DI Derwent will prove a help or hindrance in Kerrigan’s investigations is another matter entirely.

So begins a thoroughly intriguing crime mystery that largely revolves around the people of Valerian Road – and what an intriguing and suspicious bunch they are, including religious zealots and a rather charismatic and appealing ex-criminal. With no victim, it’s up to Kerrigan to get inside the head of Kate Emery, tracing her relationships past and present. But above all else, she needs to discover whatever it is that has put the fear of God into young Chloe Emery.

Let the Dead Speak is the seventh Maeve Kerrigan novel by Jane Casey. Although it’s only my second, I couldn’t wait to read it after reading the previous one in the series, After the Fire. Let the Dead Speak stands alone very well, as did After the Fire, and I’ve had no trouble in getting emotionally involved in the tension and frisson between Kerrigan and the one-of-a-kind Derwent. I love the banter. I love the sparks – as well as the efforts of colleagues to understand exactly what’s going on between the two. There may be insults, Derwent might drive Kerrigan mad, but there’s a depth of care there that is apparent to all of us – except Kerrigan and Derwent. It’s just as well as these two seem to get bruised and battered in the course of their jobs on a regular basis. No wonder they worry about one another. Not that they’d admit it, of course.

As you’d expect from Jane Casey, Let the Dead Speak has an excellent plot – I love the way in which it develops thanks to the expert detective skills of Kerrigan. But the plot is backed up by some fine writing and characterisation. Kerrigan and Derwent can make errors in judgement, sometimes caused by their own relationship, and they make them here, but no one can doubt their determination to put things right, whatever the cost. Kerrigan has a new DC to deal with and that makes things a whole lot worse. This is an emotional rollercoaster of a read and I loved that, just as I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery that twists its way through the pages. Chloe is beautifully drawn and leaves an unforgettable impression on the novel.

Let the Dead Speak is one of those utterly compelling books I did not want to put down. At times the novel made me laugh but more than anything it made me care for the people in it and that is all thanks to Jane Casey’s superb writing. I can’t recommend this series enough.

Other review
After the Fire

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