Tag Archives: Crime catch up

Crime catch up: The Killing Season by Mason Cross

The Killing Season | Mason Cross | 2014 (this pb 2015) | Orion | 359p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Killing Season by Mason CrossCarter Blake is a man who knows how to find people who don’t want to be found. Blake himself is one of those men. His real name is in the past, his home is a succession of comfortable, anonymous hotels, and those whose lives he touches feel relieved when they are free of him. Blake is for hire, a man who skirts the law in order to trap the guilty. When the Chicago Sniper, Caleb Wardell, escapes on his way to Death Row, the FBI call on Blake to work ‘with’ its team of agents to capture this monster before he does too much of what he likes best – putting a single death shot in the head, throat or chest of those he chooses to murder. The FBI isn’t aware of how good the choice of Blake actually is. It turns out Blake has met Wardell before, during a time when Wardell was paid to kill.

Blake is paired with Elaine Banner, an ambitious agent, initially hostile to the idea of an outsider intruding on the investigation, but, as the number of bodies rises, mostly victims selected for no other reason than whimsy, the two learn to work together to find this coldest of killers. It’s quite a chase. It takes them across hundreds of miles of ominously empty American countryside and alarmingly crowded city squares and gardens. But it’s cat and mouse games. Wardell is no fool. He has his pursuers within his sights. It could all come down to chance.

The Killing Season introduces Carter Blake but it takes no time at all for us to feel in safe hands. From the very first chapter, with the edge-of-seat escape of Wardell, just two weeks from a lethal injection, Mason Cross demonstrates that he, and Blake, means business. The narrative is divided in two with much of it provided by Blake himself in the first person. The rest is told in the third person, following the FBI investigation while also keeping close to Wardell himself. This split technique is used very effectively. Blake drops small hints about his past, reveals types of behaviour, all helping us to get to know Blake as much as we can, far more than the FBI agents do, while we’re also given insight into the thoughts and motives of such opposite characters as Wardell and Elaine Banner. We warm to Elaine. We do no such thing for Wardell.

The psychological drama is matched by action. The Killing Season is a very exciting novel indeed, made extra tense by the mystery surrounding both prey and hunter. We move across locations, each vividly described, meeting potential victims and suspects, tripping over red herrings, getting sidetracked by false alarms. And then there are the twists. This is a very clever novel. It’s not going to be easy for Blake.

The Killing Season intrigued me when I first heard of it. An American serial killer/FBI agent thriller written by an author who isn’t American (Scottish, in this case). But, as far as I’m concerned, Mason Cross has pulled it off and should be congratulated. I have the next of his adventures at hand, The Samaritan, and I’m looking forward to it enormously. Mason Cross has created a new, nameless, fascinating hero who has a great future ahead of him.

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Crime catch up: Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else’s Skin | Sarah Hilary | 2014| Headline | 408p | Review copy | Buy the book

Someone else's skin by Sarah HilaryA terrible crime has been committed, a man left for dead. DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake are determined to put away the culprit for good and to do that they need the support of his sister, a young woman now recovering in a women’s refuge from a violent assault. But Rome and Jake arrive at the refuge just in time to prevent an assault from becoming murder. A man has been stabbed by his wife. Violence has once again found these women and the repercussions will be shocking. However, Marnie Rome knows all about bloody crime. Five years ago an act took place that changed her entire life for good and its ramifications are still keenly felt and can’t help but affect her handling of this case, perhaps even helping her.

Recently, I had the good fortune to read No Other Darkness, the second Rome novel by Sarah Hilary which is published later this April (review to follow). I loved it and was glad of the opportunity to work backwards and read Sarah’s highly acclaimed debut Someone Else’s Skin. My initial reluctance to read this novel had been because of its subject matter – domestic violence. This is one of those themes that I prefer to avoid. But having discovered how fine a writer Sarah Hilary is and wanting to learn more about DI Marnie Rome, I was ready to put this stumbling block behind me. I’m so glad I did.

For half of Someone Else’s Skin we may well believe that we know where it is heading. We have been drawn into the stories of the women in the refuge and we care deeply for Marnie Rome as she works through her feelings for the tragedy in her own life, finally establishing some kind of relationship with those around her who care for her. But then comes the lightning bolt and from that moment on the novel changes, everything is turned on its head, the pace quickens and the book becomes unputdownable. The female characters in particular are intriguingly complex and through them the author treats an important theme with impressive sensitivity and insight.

Sarah Hilary is such a good writer, assured and strong. Her characters are complex and distinct. Marnie Rome is well matched by her DS Noah Jake, a young gay man who is trying to work out his rather unpredictable, sometimes controversial but effective DI. The plot is both disturbing and thrilling. As a whole, I found Someone Else’s Skin to be superb – twisty, heartfelt, exciting, worrying and confident. I love Sarah Hilary’s voice and having read and enjoyed No Other Darkness I now know that this is no one off, that she is a reliable, exciting author whose books I shall seek out during the years to come.

Crime catch up: Falling by Emma Kavanagh

Falling | Emma Kavanagh | 2014 | Arrow | 327p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Falling by Emma KavanaghOne cold winter’s day, a community in Wales is badly shaken by two terrible events. A plane falls from the sky with only a lucky thirteen surviving to live another day. But surviving is only part of their battle as they struggle to come to terms with living while others didn’t, especially their loved ones. Cecilia was an air hostess and by sitting in a seat she shouldn’t have been sitting in she survived while her friends and colleagues died. This guilt feeds off Cecilia’s older guilt – she was leaving her husband and child. But the crash returns her to them, pulling tight the strings that she can’t quite cut. But this isn’t all. Libby, a police support officer, is murdered, an act that tears apart her family, including the heart of Jim, Libby’s retired police officer father.

Falling tells the story of four people, switching between them chapter by chapter. Cecilia is our plane survivor, trying to come to terms with her experiences and facing her past while helping to console the few who were also pulled from the wreckage. Tom is Cecilia’s husband and father of their young son. As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, he is also a police officer tasked with trying to discover the reason for Libby’s murder. Jim is Libby’s father and he is driven to avenge his daughter. Finally, we have Freya, the daughter of the plane’s dead pilot, the one who has to face questions best not answered while grieving for her loss.

All of these stories are intertwined, the shadow of the falling plane holding them together while the murder of Libby rips them apart. It is an extremely emotional and powerful read. The stories are heartfelt, the victims of murder and plane crash never allowed to stray far from our minds.

The central figure is arguably the one who is hardest to care for – Cecilia. This is a woman intent on abandoning her young son as well as husband. But as the novel goes on we learn more about her background and at last the sympathy comes. This is aided enormously by the compassion that Cecilia feels for her fellow plane survivors and for the comfort she brings them. Much of the story, though, is a compelling murder mystery with more than enough twists and surprises to entertain the reader. Tom’s investigations provide an intriguing parallel to the story of his wife.

Falling is Emma Kavanagh’s debut novel and it is extremely well done. It completely satisfies as a psychological thriller but it has so many layers to it. It is powerful and dramatic, exciting and puzzling. It is also extremely touching in places. It is never easy to put down. Emma Kavanagh spent years as a police and military psychologist and this insight is evident throughout. Falling is very dark and traumatic in places but it is beautifully written and compelling throughout, the characters are fascinating to know, each unique and distinct, and the outcome is spot on. I cannot wait to read Hidden which is published in April this year. After Falling I expect great things. No pressure!

Crime catch up: Natural Causes by James Oswald

These days I am dabbling in the dark and murky world of crime – well, crime fiction anyway. This means that at regular intervals I’m investigating a range of authors I’ve not read before and trying to do some catching up before reading their brand new releases. I’ve been wondering whether to review these or not. I like to review whatever I read, whether the book is a review copy or a bought copy, but my reading has got a little out of hand over recent months, leaving me to chase my own tail. So what I thought I’d do would be to steer a middle course and do brief reviews of these books, just to give you an idea of the authors I’m discovering and so I can recommend some titles I’ve enjoyed. These will be my Crime Catch Ups. It’ll actually take me some time to catch up on the catch ups so without further ado here’s the first:

Natural Causes by James OswaldNatural Causes by James Oswald
In Natural Causes, James Oswald introduces us to Tony McLean, a recently promoted Detective Inspector in the Edinburgh police force. Rivalries within the force are intense and when a leading local figure is found in his home brutally gutted with his throat slashed the case is judged too high profile for such a new inspector. But then work at a building site uncovers the remains of a young girl, horrifically and ritually slaughtered. She is mummified, her murder having taken place perhaps sixty years ago or more. McLean becomes obsessed with identifying the victim and tracking down at least one of her killers while they still live. And while McLean digs, more and more men and women die, either in terrible violence or as a victim of their own hand. McLean begins to realise that however illogical and fanciful it might seem the young girl who lay forgotten for all these decades might after all hold a key to some of the mysteries that have shaken the city.

Natural Causes is the first in a series and so it’s vital that Tony McLean hooks us. He does just that. McLean is an interesting character, a single man with a past and some intriguing friends who come and go, often sleeping on his sofa after a night out in Edinburgh’s pubs. McLean’s parents were killed when he was just a child and he was raised by his grandmother who, as Natural Causes begins, is gravely ill in hospital, approaching the end of her long life. McLean doesn’t work on his own. In this book, McLean is building his team, from old colleagues (who now have to call him ‘sir’) and from new. The boss keeps an eye on him, caring and stern. The pathologist Andy Cadwaller is quite a character, which is just as well considering how many bodies he has to work on through Natural Causes. But it’s best to avoid DCI Duguid.

I thoroughly enjoyed the mysteries at the heart of Natural Causes. I did guess whodunnit a little earlier than I’d hoped but this didn’t spoil my fun. Gore and horror are liberally splattered through the book but never too much, even for my delicately squeamish nature. The plot is intricate, deliciously twisty and, to make this a little bit different, there is a hint of the supernatural. This might not be to everyone’s taste – and it wasn’t entirely to mine – but it was kept to a low level and it did fit quite well with the mood of the novel and its investigations. Edinburgh is a great backdrop, both menacing and enticing. The mood of the novel is likewise both dark and humorous, warmed by some of its key characters. I was left wanting much more.

You can tell how much I liked Natural Causes – I bought the other four books in the series that same day.

Buy the book.