Tag Archives: Crime

What Lies Buried by Margaret Kirk

Orion | 2019 (13 June) | 320p | Bought copy | Buy the book

What Lies Buried by Margaret KirkA young girl, Erin, has been abducted from a friend’s birthday party. The days are passing and the police are struggling, in full view of the family, community and media. DI Lukas Mahler knows that time is one thing he doesn’t have and so, when old human remains are found at a building site, it’s a struggle to cope. But this cold case, dating back to the 1940s, throws lights on secrets hidden for years within this small rural community on the edge of Inverness. And then another little girl is targeted. As the case develops, and spreads to the Lake District, Mahler will discover how the past and present are linked – by death, murder and the darkest secrets.

What Lies Buried is Margaret Kirk’s second novel to feature DI Lukas Mahler and I’m sorry to say that I’ve yet to read the first, Shadow Man. This did mean that I was a little in the dark about events that continue to haunt Mahler but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of What Lies Buried in the least. This is excellent storytelling and the tale it tells is complex, multi-layered and as much driven by character as it is by plot.

I’m so pleased to have discovered Mahler. He’s an interesting man who has now returned to the Highlands after years working away in London. It isn’t always easy living in the Highlands, as the wonderful character of Ella Kirkpatrick attests, but it’s clear that Mahler is now back where he belongs, even if he is haunted by ghosts and troubled by old friends. I did enjoy the interaction of Mahler with his colleagues, not all of whom are quite what they seem.

The mystery here, involving the abduction of young girls, is a dark and disturbing one. Margaret Kirk deals with it sensitively. We’re aware of what’s going on through brief glimpses into the horror but the author doesn’t dwell on it. The focus is on the stress endured by police and families as the days pass. The pressure is intense and everyone suffers from it. You can feel the fatigue and tiredness.

The 70-year-old cold case doesn’t play as large a part in the novel as I’d expected but it provides a fascinating glimpse of life here during the war years. It also enables us to meet Ella Kirkpatrick who is such a glorious creation. But Mahler’s attention is firmly fixed on the missing girls.

There is so much attention to detail in how the case is meticulously investigated. It’s hard work that gets results. There are no short cuts, as one detective must discover. Mistakes are costly but the rewards when a case such as this is solved are immense. Perhaps Mahler might then get the sleep and healing he needs. I look forward to meeting him again.


The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Harvill Secker | 2019 (8 August) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Turn of the Key by Ruth WareNursery nurse Rowan Caine is in a bit of a rut and looking for something to change her life. She finds it when she stumbles across an ad for a job working as a live-in nanny for a family with four children, living in Heatherbrae House in the Highlands. The salary is enormous and when Rowan visits the house for an interview she falls in love with it. Once a large Victorian house, parts of it have been transformed into a ‘smart house’. The owners, Bill and Sandra, are architects and so they use their house to test out these state of the art systems which result in a beautiful home that runs like clockwork. Rowan gets the job but as soon as she starts, Bill and Sandra have to go away for work, leaving Rowan alone to look after the children. The parents have literally only just left the drive when the nightmare begins.

These are troubled children. Nannies have come and gone with upsetting frequency; one not even lasting the first night. Rowan has her hands full with the three little ones and she hasn’t even met the teenager yet, who is away at boarding school but soon to return. But having initially loved this house, Rowan comes to fear it. Everything is outside her control, there are strange noises, impossible things happen, and that’s even before Rowan discovers the secrets in the garden and in the house itself. But all this is in the past because Rowan is telling this tale in a letter to her solicitor, written in her cell where she waits to be tried for murder. A child is dead. Rowan needs someone to believe she is innocent. To save her.

I was drawn to the premise of The Turn of the Key and I immediately fell for the menace of the extraordinary Heatherbrae House. It’s wonderfully described. It’s modern but still extremely creepy. This is an interesting take on the haunted house theme and Heatherbrae House is certainly the star of the novel.

I have found Ruth Ware’s books a little hit and miss in the past, with some I’ve loved, such as The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs Westaway, and others I’ve struggled with, namely In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Lying Game. Unfortunately, The Turn of the Key falls into the latter category, although there were elements that I enjoyed.

I had several issues with the novel and one is its format. The whole book is supposed to be a letter to a solicitor but this just doesn’t seem realistic in the least. I think it also spoils the book’s sense of suspense and tension. I also didn’t care particularly for Rowan but that doesn’t matter too much. More significant is my dissatisfaction with the ending and for the way in which the story is developed. I can’t say too much as I don’t want to give anything away but the way in which this story concludes seems, to me, extremely contrived. I loved the smart house and the way in which it’s described. It is genuinely frightening. But in the end none of this seemed to matter much to how things developed, which I thought was such a shame.

There is some good writing here as the scene is thoroughly set. It is possible that some readers may tire of the meticulously detailed account of what seems like every moment of the day and night but I thought this was well done. The teenager is just another rebellious, unpleasant thriller teen but the younger children have an innocence and charm that really appealed to me.

I will always read Ruth Ware’s novels because I know that they can be excellent. She certainly has some interesting ideas and always sets her novels in beautifully and atmospherically evoked places. I won’t forget Heatherbrae House in a hurry.

Other reviews
The Woman in Cabin 10
The Lying Game
The Death of Mrs Westaway

The Darker Arts by Oscar de Muriel

Orion | 2019 (8 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Darker Arts by Oscar de MurielIt is 1889 and Madame Katerina is about to hold a séance for three of Edinburgh’s most well-known and well-to-do families. They are all related to Grannie Alice, a formidable matriarch who has recently died, taking her secrets with her to the grave. Having tried everything else, these six people feel they have no alternative but to call Grannie Alice from the ‘other side’ so that she can communicate with them. But the next morning, when the room is opened, all six are found dead in their seats, only Katerina is alive. Katerina is the obvious suspect, not least because these are supposedly enlightened days in which gypsies have no place, but her friend Inspector ‘Nine Nails’ McGray does not believe she’s guilty. Somehow, somebody, something killed these people, something that has terrified Madame Katerina and for which she must face trial and punishment. McGray summons his colleague Inspector Ian Frey from England where he is dealing with the death of his uncle. Together they must try and solve an unsolvable puzzle, while journeying deep into the dark, frightening world of Madame Katerina and late Victorian mysticism and superstition.

The Darker Arts is the fifth novel by Oscar de Muriel to feature his irresistible and troublesome detectives, one English, one Scottish, one polite, one a whole lot less polite. McGray and Frey form an unlikely alliance, based in the cellar of Edinburgh’s police station where they tackle inexplicable crimes. McGray’s past is a dark place (hence the ‘nine nails’ and not ‘ten’) and he is determined to understand it. He must know what happened during this séance . Frey, on the other hand, feels far closer to the dead than he’d wish.

This is a wonderful ‘closed room’ tale of murder, with a premise that is immediately appealing, so much so that I began it the day it arrived. I’ve loved all of these books. I love Oscar de Muriel’s writing, which has such a sparkle to it even when he takes us into such dark and dangerous places and his detectives are both remarkable and completely convincing. The case they must solve now is worthy of them and I do believe that The Darker Arts is my favourite of the series so far.

We are presented with a superb cast of characters! These interconnected families are at war and it’s a pleasure getting to know the kin of those who died. It’s an outrageous crime, children have been left orphaned while mothers have lost their children. The impact on their lives is devastating but all the time we are aware that these are no straightforward lives. There is much to learn from them and they fascinate every bit as much as the extraordinary, fabulous McGray and Frey.

The setting of late Victorian Edinburgh is impeccably drawn. It’s also extremely atmospheric, moody and dark, just as you’d hope for from the title, premise and stunning cover. It’s also witty and at times melodramatic. The séance is essentially an act of theatre, Madame Katerina is hard to know, essentially an actor, but the reality is that a hangman’s noose now stalks her and so there is tragedy and pathos to be found as well as melodrama, superstition and ghostly tales.

This series goes from strength to strength. It’s one of the very best Victorian crime series there is – it is, I think, a worthy contender to take the title – and The Darker Arts is a spooky pleasure from start to finish. I hope we’ll be spending much more time with ‘Nine Nails’ and ‘Percy’.

Other reviews
A Fever of the Blood
A Mask of Shadows
The Loch of the Dead

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2019 (8 August) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Family Upstairs by Lisa JewellThe police are alerted to the sounds of a baby’s cry from a large fashionable house in Chelsea, London. They find three bodies, dead for days. Upstairs is a healthy baby. It’s an enigma. Who has been looking after the baby? Is this a suicide pact, as a note suggests, or is it something else entirely?

Years later, more than one person is drawn back to the house. The baby is now a woman, aged 25 years. She’s inherited this magnificent house. But it comes at a price. Others may look for her there as the house’s layers of mystery are slowly and shockingly peeled away.

Lisa Jewell is the master of stand alone psychological thrillers and this is proven yet again by The Family Upstairs, which I found to be utterly compelling and engrossing, in a kind of voyeur sense, perhaps, but this darkly disturbing novel is as catchy and addictive as you could desire.

We’re given a bunch of lives to follow, and we spend time with them in the present day and in the past. The narrative moves between certain characters and between the years. It’s a complex structure but this is an author who has no trouble at all controlling, manipulating, an array of plot threads, each as fascinating as the next.

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot or the people. It’s a joy to watch it all unravel before your eye. But, at the heart of this book is 16 Cheyne Walk, with its several floors, many rooms and multiple hiding places. There’s barely a room without a secret, barely a space left untouched by its extraordinary past and we explore them all.

This is a dark novel with some dark themes. For several of the people in the novel the normal rules and codes of life don’t apply and Lisa Jewell shows us exactly why in the most beautifully-written and punchy prose. I loved The Family Upstairs. It kept me company through a couple of very hot, sleepless nights, but it wasn’t just the heat that kept me reading. I could not put this marvellous book down.

Other reviews
Then She Was Gone
Watching You

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Doubleday | 2019 (18 June) | 368p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Big Sky by Kate AtkinsonJackson Brodie, once a police detective and now a private investigator, has moved to a seaside village in north Yorkshire where he shares responsibility for his son and dog with his ex-partner. It’s an arrangement that works, for now. Jackson is currently at work trying to prove the infidelity of a client’s husband but everything begins to shift when Jackson comes across a desperate man on the edge of a crumbling cliff.

Jackson isn’t the only person interested in this man and his life. Detective constables Ronnie and Reggie are investigating the background to a troubling case, which involves terrible crimes. And then there’s the murder. Patterns emerge, coincidences confuse, in a soup of lies, secrets and deceit.

Big Sky is the first of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels that I’ve read. How that came about I have no idea because I adore her recent novels. Here’s an author whom I trust and I knew it wouldn’t matter if I hadn’t have read the others. And it didn’t but I’ll definitely be reading them now. I need to meet these people again.

The story is brilliantly constructed and told. There are so many threads to it, so many seemingly unrelated characters. We see events through the eyes of more than one, including our man on the cliff. But it doesn’t confuse in the slightest due to this author’s considerable skill. It does, however, amaze. If you’ve read earlier novels you’ll enjoy seeing familiar faces, to catch up with them all these years later, but each of them is given such life and depth that new readers will have no trouble falling for them. Ugliness can be found here in a story that at times grips the heart. But there is also hope and innocence. I adore Reggie and Ronnie.

Jackson Brodie operates almost in the shadows, sometimes on the wrong side of the right way to do things. His methods are unorthodox and he can place himself away and apart from the emotion, but we know he cares, that he worries. There are people here that need to be worried about, who need Jackson’s help.

Big Sky is a magnificent novel, not just for its excellent plot and beautiful, elegant prose, but also for its insight into human behaviour and motives. People here can do bad things, even when they don’t want to and know it’s wrong. That doesn’t make their behaviour any less evil, but it does make them interesting. There’s a battle between good and evil – Reggie and Ronnie (so brilliantly named) are the angels. Jackson is there to mete out justice and the way in which this novel comes together is jawdropping and marvellous.

Kate Atkinson is one of the very finest authors at work today. Big Sky Shows yet again why. I’ll be sure not to let this series pass me by again and I urge you to read it. This is undoubtedly one of my top books of the year. And it’s a beautiful hardback, with no fewer than two ribbons! Irresistible, inside and out.

Other reviews
Life After Life
A God in Ruins

The July Girls by Phoebe Locke

Wildfire | 2019 (25 July) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The July Girls by Phoebe LockEvery year on 7 July a woman is snatched off a London street never to be seen again. The body of one has been found but the killer learned from his mistake. No more have been discovered. But that day in 2005 was the day of the London bombings, when the attention was stolen from the killer. He’s determined that this won’t be the case again. The police know him as the Magpie as he likes to keep mementos from his crimes. There’s a reason why he keeps them.

7 July is also the birthday of young Addie Knight. On 7 July 2005 her father came home covered in blood and Addie, just ten years old, believed it was because of the bombings but then she and her much older sister Jessie find the purse of one of the missing women hidden in a hole in their father’s wall. Addie’s world is torn apart but while she struggles with what to do with the suspicion that consumes her, Jessie decides to make amends in another way entirely.

The July Girls is attracting a lot of attention and deservedly so. It’s a psychological thriller that races along – I read it in just a day – but it’s also driven by some beautifully drawn characters, especially sisters Addie and Jessie, as well as the younger children in the novel. They feel real; the awful situation they find themselves in also feels real, and we care deeply for little Addie as the worry she must contend with damages her. It’s a fascinating yet emotional portrait of a young girl caught in a situation she’s not old enough to deal with. And it’s through her young innocent eyes that we see this world that Phoebe Lock has created and it’s a menacing one, in which killers steal women, terrorists blow up innocent commuters and the disaffected riot in London’s streets.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the plot as it’s full of surprises as Addie grows into a teenager and learns more about the world and people around her. The menace is particularly prevalent in the first half of the novel and so this is my favourite part but I enjoyed the whole novel. It’s impossible to put down, with the pages flying through the fingers and – and this is a rare and good thing – I was completely caught out! I suspect this will be a very popular read on the beaches this summer.

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean

Quercus | 2019 (11 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Bear Pit by SG MacLean

It is 1656, the war is long over and Oliver Cromwell’s grip on England is tight. But despite Cromwell’s new title of ‘Highness’ and even though he now lives in palaces emptied of their royal owners, his government is all too aware that their Commonwealth could crumble if anything should happen to their Lord Protector. And Charles II’s court in exile knows it. Captain Damian Seeker is back in London on a mission to protect Cromwell from assassins. And he knows that three of them at least are now in London.

But Seeker is preoccupied. He’s holding together his own network of untrustworthy spies, led by his former royalist prisoner Sir Thomas Faithly, when he and Faithly discover the remains of a man, torn apart by a bear. Cromwell has banned bear baiting and had all of the bears killed. One has clearly got away. Faithly tracks the bear, while Seeker goes after the dead man’s identity. It leads him on a perilous journey across London, from its grand houses to its Southwark stews and Lambeth marshes. At its heart lies a man who will stop at nothing to restore the monarchy.

The Bear Pit is the fourth novel in S.G. MacLean’s series featuring that most enigmatic, troubled and flawed of men, Damian Seeker. He is both hero and anti-hero. He is ruled by his code of honour but at times it is prejudiced, while his scarred face and body reminds us of his violent past, in war and in times of peace. He is a killer but he is also now a father and the two fight within him. He serves Cromwell faithfully and is prepared to die for him but we are all too aware that Cromwell may well not deserve this loyalty. We can approve, like Seeker, of some of Cromwell’s new laws, such as those banning bear baiting, and Seeker welcomes the new codes of morality and modesty, but we know, as he must too, that people don’t change. They just go underground. And it’s down there that Seeker must descend.

The plotting is fantastic. It’s a thoroughly engrossing tale of spies and murder, full of surprises and twists as people shift their position in these uncertain times. There’s a host of fascinating characters, some innocent, many not, and they live in a brilliantly described London, with its prisons, dark lanes, inns and bear pits. I love the little details – the descriptions of buildings and clothing, the moments we spend with famous historical figures. And there are people here we care for even though our own loyalties are tested by both sides. This isn’t black and white and demonstrates how divided and damaged England was by those years of royal neglect, war and then the Commonwealth.

The 1650s were such a fascinating and critical period in British history and the Seeker novels bring these years to life with such drama and colour. There’s violence and gore (how could there not be with a bear on the loose?!), there’s passion and tenderness. And there are so many lies. Although this is the fourth novel, The Bear Pit stands alone very well but I do recommend you read them all. Damian Seeker is one of my very favourite figures in historical fiction and historical crime. He lights up the page and demands our attention even when he follows a darker path.

Other reviews
The Seeker
The Black Friar
Destroying Angel