Tag Archives: Crime

The Dance of the Serpents by Oscar de Muriel

Orion | 2020 (20 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Dance of the Serpents by Oscar de MurielThe Dance of the Serpents is the sixth novel in the fabulous Frey and McGray series. Whereas others were more self-contained, this novel does rely on you having read previous books, especially the second (A Fever of the Blood), and so I would recommend you do that before reading this review. Suitably warned, I shall continue!

The Commission for the Elucidation of Unsolved Cases Presumably Related to the Odd and Ghostly, a subdivision of Edinburgh’s police force and hidden away in its basement, is in trouble. It’s run by English inspector Ian Frey and his boss, the Scottish and tartan clad ‘Nine Nails’ McGray and, quite apart from being an embarrassment to their superiors, they are now discovering that killing Queen Victoria’s favourite witch and medium (in a previous book presenting their cases) may well seal their fate. The Queen is after their blood, aided and abetted by her particularly unpleasant Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and his thugs. The two detectives are given an ultimatum – they must find Queen Victoria a new witch before Christmas Eve, the night when Victoria likes to communicate with Prince Albert, or they’ll be secretly executed. Unfortunately, this is only a few days away. With the help of a cursed young woman who is pursued by vengeful witches and the less than forthcoming assistance of McGray’s taumatised and silent sister, McGray and Frey undertake a pursuit of witches across England and Scotland, to distant islands and palaces. And all the time, the clock ticks.

I am such a huge fan of this series and have loved each of them. The Dance of the Serpents is no different but it is a little different from the previous books in that there isn’t a particular case to solve just a situation to correct, which puts our heroes in a great deal of danger. It also very much depends on the reader having enjoyed the previous novels, which is no difficulty whatsoever as these are addictive reads. But what makes these books so fantastic is every bit as evident here – the characters of Frey and McGray.

The personalities of our two detectives, so opposite to one another in absolutely every way, and the banter between them is brilliant and so many times I burst out laughing. The situations they find themselves in can be ridiculously weird and terrifyingly dangerous, not helped by the fact that even the supernatural wants to do them in, and we are engrossed. We’ve spent a few years with them now. We know them well but we are also well aware that there’s a lot more to learn from them. Maybe they don’t quite trust us yet. But on occasion they let down the barriers and there are glimpses of feeling, even, dare I say, friendship between the two men. That doesn’t stop McGray calling Frey names. Frey is our narrator and so his frustration and bewilderment at his partner in solving supernaturally-tinged crimes is extremely amusing.

I love the locations as well and they are particularly evocative in The Dance of the Serpents as we head across Scotland on the trail of the witches to the Orkneys – which isn’t great because Nine Nails gets seasick just walking the gangway on to a boat. I love the places which are so moodily and atmospherically described. And then there’s the other world of palaces when we find ourselves in Victoria’s extraordinary presence. What a fabulous chapter that is!

These books are always a delight and I loved The Dance of the Serpents. I really enjoy the late Victorian setting and then the blend of crime and supernatural possibilities and shivers. Oscar de Muriel writes so well. I love how he portrays his characters, male and female. They are larger than life in many ways and they’re all the more fun to read. His witches are terrifying…. just how I like them. Excellent!

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

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

Michael Joseph | 2020 (20 August) | 352p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Eight Detectives by Alex PavesiCrime fiction writer and professor of mathematics Grant McAllister is enjoying his quiet retirement on a Mediterranean island. He no longer writes and hasn’t done for thirty years. But then comes the day when ambitious editor Julia Hart turns up on his doorstep. Grant’s early work is being republished and with it a collection of short crime stories that have never been published before. The two of them must work together to prepare these stories. Grant can barely remember them, they were written so long ago, but within them, as Julia reads them to him, he discusses what these stories reveal about the craft – and mathematical modelling – of crime fiction. It’s all very fascinating but as Julia reads these stories she uncovers something unexpected in them, clues, perhaps, hinting of another crime, an unsolved murder. And so begins a battle of wits between Julia and Grant. Neither should underestimate the other.

I couldn’t wait to read Eight Detectives as soon as I heard about it. I love novels that play around with the themes and tropes of genre, playing games with the characters and reader alike (thinking now of Anthony Horowitz and Stuart Turton), and so the premise of Eight Detectives is irresistible. I’m delighted to say that this is a fiendishly clever novel, a deliciously twisty mind puzzle, and it is very well written. It comprises a series of short stories, each of which are brilliant in their own right, which are then used by Julia and Grant to suit their own ends. It’s such a clever, ambitious structure that could easily have defeated an author but Alex Pavesi knows just what he’s doing.

This is one of those books that must remain a mystery beyond its appealing premise. I will say no more about its plot. But I will say that there were times when I thought I had figured out where it was going and I was always proven wrong. I’m not a reader of short stories but I really enjoyed how these tales were woven together to form a purpose. There are shocking moments, there are others that make you shiver. And there are other moments when you realise that the clues are there but you just need to know how to find them.

Eight Detectives is a fabulous piece of crime fiction in itself. It’s very Agatha Christie in some ways, which is most definitely a good thing. It then takes these stories and turns them into something else. You can almost imagine Agatha Christie enjoying the conversation. We’re not allowed too far into our two main characters’ heads. This is largely an intellectual exercise. We must go in cold, have no favourites. But it is completely compelling and engrossing. And it’s fast, as the ball is repeatedly hit back over the net. Excellent stuff! And it comes highly recommended.

Survive by Tom Bale

Bloodhound Books | 2020 (8 June) | 442p | Review copy | Buy the book

This is the holiday of a lifetime for Sam Berry and Jody Lamb and their young children Grace and Dylan. They have scraped and saved for years to afford this luxury holiday on a fabulous Adriatic island. The north of the island is also the playground of billionaire Borko, related to local powerful politicians, whose private jet Sam had noticed when their own charter flight was coming in to land. Sam and Jody win a competition, much to the disgust and envy of their fellow (and much richer) holiday makers. The four of them are taken to Borko’s villa to join in a party full of VIPs. It all seems too good to be true. And of course it is. The holiday is about to become a nightmare and this gorgeous island is no longer paradise – it is hell on earth.

I loved the premise of Survive and I’m delighted to say that it fully delivers on its promise, so much so that I read the novel in two sittings. This is unheard of for me in these strange times so I can only conclude that the novel gave me just what I needed – a thoroughly exciting adventure, an intriguing mix of heroes and villains, a fabulous holiday location and a plot that is so tense and exhilarating that I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out.

We are lulled into a false sense of security by the novel’s gentle and evocative opening chapters. We are immersed in this resort and fully sympathise with Sam for buying a holiday that he can barely afford. We learn more about Sam and Jody, the extremely young parents, their difficult relationship, largely because they have been together since they were children. Equal time is give to their kids, Grace and Dylan. I loved reading about the resort, the other guests, the hotel rep and so on, and knowing that everything was about to combust raised the tension. I did find the end of this section, when the family arrive at the villa for the bash, a little slow – by this point I was so ready for the adventure to start – but then it all takes off and from that moment on I couldn’t stop reading it.

There’s something of The Hunger Games about the ordeal which the family must face and also in its set up. It works so well, especially because of its setting on an island which is an ideal holiday location. The dream becomes a nightmare and this is so effective, putting me off white sandy beached islands for some time. The action and drama is incredibly tense and thrilling but along with the thrills comes insight into the family’s characters. This nightmare becomes a catalyst for change, not least because neither Sam or Jody believes that they’ll survive. It’s time to take stock and re-evaluate their lives and relationships even if it is too late.

Our feelings towards Sam are conflicted but we do nothing but root for him once the nightmare begins. It’s so painful reading about the fear that takes hold of the children’s minds. It is Jody, though, who shines out of the pages as she comes into her own. I’ll say nothing more about what happens to the family as you need to feel the tension and terror of it for yourself.

Survive is the perfect holiday read whether you’re on a luxurious exotic island yourself or, as is more likely the case these days, at home. It’s probably safer at home, Tom Bale puts us in no doubt of that. Tom Bale writes so well, driving the action along, keeping us and the poor hapless family squirming at what befalls them while we urge them on. If you want a fast, exciting holiday thriller to immerse yourself in then look no further than Survive.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Corvus | 2020 (6 August) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan HowardWhen the serial killer known as The Nothing Man attacked the Black family, 12-year-old Eve was the only survivor. Her life was changed forever by the terrible events of that one night. There were no more murders to follow but Eve never stopped wanting to reveal the identity of the man who destroyed her family. Years later she publishes her true crime memoir, The Nothing Man, the result of her own investigations to track down the killer. Security guard Jim Doyle is reading the book. He has a vested interest in it. He is the Nothing Man and he knows that Eve is very close and she will not stop. He realises his biggest mistake was not killing her all those years ago. It’s time to put that right.

I do enjoy Catherine Ryan Howard’s psychological thrillers very much and it came as no surprise that The Nothing Man is every bit as good as its predecessors The Liar’s Girl and Distress Signals. Once again we have a stand alone thriller that is very much character driven while still maintaining pace, chills and tension.

I love the style of it. Much of the novel is Eve Black’s true crime memoir, right down to its acknowledgements. It’s extremely clever and it’s a great way for us to get inside Eve’s head and understand what’s happened to her and to the other victims. It’s also fascinating as a piece of fictional true crime. This mixes with the chapters spent with Jim Doyle, which I particularly enjoyed. Eve always remains a little aloof from us as we only know her from her memoir and what she chooses to reveal about herself, but we’re given full access to Jim Doyle’s mind and what an unpleasant place it is. It’s good to watch him squirm as he reads the book. What I also found intriguing is that this is also a portrait of a retired serial killer, raising all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of such people and why they might stop and why they might do it in the first place. It really is one of the most fascinating depictions of a serial killer that I’ve read.

As you’d expect from this excellent author, The Nothing Man is very well-written and compelling. It’s surprising, original and very entertaining. The portrayal of Jim Doyle especially stands out while Eve Black’s pursuit of a killer is engrossing. Which reminds me I must read Rewind very soon!

Other reviews
The Liar’s Girl
Distress Signals

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

Allen & Unwin | 2020 (7 May) | 352p | Review copy (ebook) and bought audiobook | Buy the audiobook | Buy the treebook

It is a weekday morning and people have places to be, except for Neil, a former teacher who now sleeps rough on the streets beside his dog Buddy. He wakes up to discover money in his begging cup and so he takes it along to Tuckbox Cafe in Balham, London. Shots are fired and the cafe’s owner Robert is gunned down, dying in Neil’s arms. Most people escape, fleeing for their lives, but a few remain and they become the hostages of the shooter, a young man called Sam. Mutesi is a nurse, who fled Rwanda, and is now trapped with her grandson whom she was taking to school, Abi is a barrister on her way to defend a young woman accused of harming her children, and then there’s Neil, who has lost everything. All of them must try and reach Sam, to save themselves. Outside the cafe is negotiator DI Eliza McClean, whose job it is to get everyone out alive.

The Secrets of Strangers is my second audiobook ‘read’ and I found it an engrossing listen. I have heard some good things about this novel and so I was looking forward to it. It has a fantastic premise and I enjoy action thrillers that take place over just a few hours, almost as if events are taking place in real time. The start is excellent. I really enjoyed meeting Neil and was gripped by witnessing the shooting through his eyes. Chapters then move between each of the characters – hostages, shooter, negotiator – giving us a fully rounded portrayal of what goes on in a siege situation, practically and in the minds of those who must survive or work for the survival of others, including the killer.

It’s all very tense and I quickly grew invested in the characters, especially Matusi, Eliza and, unexpectedly, Sam. However, towards the middle of the book I realised that I knew exactly how this was going to go and found the time spent exploring the back histories of each of the characters dissipated the tension and left little room for surprises. I would have liked far more of Eliza, a character I really enjoyed, with enormous pressures on her shoulders. As the novel progresses we spend much more time in Sam’s head. I found his story extremely painful to read, too painful, actually. Credit must be given to an author who can trigger such a strong reaction in their reader but I was relieved when we were returned to the present day in the cafe.

The Secrets of Strangers is a powerful, disturbing read, that is more character-driven than I expected. The audiobook is quickly paced, the narrator rushes through it, distancing me more from the characters than I think I would have been if I’d have read the words on a page. Nevertheless, I was so keen to find out how it all ends and the final chapters of the novel are utterly engrossing.

The Split by Sharon Bolton

Trapeze | 2020 (28 May) | 400p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Felicity is as far from her home in Cambridge as she can be, studying the glaciers of South Georgia in Antarctica. But even here isn’t far enough. Felicity is terrified, constantly looking over her shoulder for her ex-husband Freddie who has now been released from prison. And then last ship of the season arrives and on it is Freddie. Felicity must hide. But what brought about this fear and terror? To find that out we must return to Cambridge and the events of nine months before when Felicity works with her therapist Joe to discover the reason for her bouts of amnesia. She must unlock the secrets hidden within her, while evading those people she knows are watching her.

Sharon Bolton is a genius when it comes to telling the twistiest, most gripping of tales, supported by fascinating, fully-realised characters. The Split is another stand alone psychological thriller and it demonstrates yet again that Sharon Bolton is a master of the genre. This is an immersive read as we try and find our way into Felicity’s thoughts, desperate to find out what is going on, now and in the past. It’s a pleasingly complex story with Felicity and Joe at its heart. Felicity is a fascinating character but so, too, is Joe. I loved his relationship with his mother, a detective. This adds another layer of mystery as well as menace because his mother has a crime to solve.

I loved the sections set in South Georgia most of all and I did wish that book of the book were set there. It’s described so beautifully, capturing the desolate wintry beauty of the place, reminding me of the author’s earlier novel Little Black Lies, which was set in the Falkland Islands. Sharon Bolton is superb in evoking a sense of place, connecting her characters to their setting so deeply. This is also evident here, including the sections set in Cambridge, a place that comes alive at night, when the homeless and the lost begin to stir.

These novels are never as one expects, they’re always original and often jaw-dropping. The Split is no different. The novel develops in astonishing ways. I can say absolutely no more than that! But if you’ve read one of Sharon Bolton’s novels before, as I would certainly recommend, then you will know that you have a treat in store.

Other reviews
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains
Dead Woman Walking
The Craftsman

The Curator by M.W. Craven

Constable | 2020 (4 June) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Curator by MW CravenSomebody is going around chopping off the fingers of men and women and leaving them in the most inappropriate places across Cumbria. Analysis shows that each victim, none yet found, has lost two fingers, one taken off before death and the other afterwards. Some fingers show signs of anaesthesia, others don’t. It’s a disturbing case, not just because it means that there are at least three murdered people to discover, but also because the crime seems inexplicable. DI Stephanie Flynn of the National Crime Agency is called in to investigate, along with her team of DS Washington Poe and analyst Tilly Bradshaw. As they begin to unravel a complex and baffling case, they get a call from an FBI agent in the US who warns them that they are dealing with a deadly killer, the Curator.

The Curator is the third novel in the brilliant Washington Poe series (aka the Poe and Tilly series). The book stands alone very well and so you don’t need to have read the others – The Puppet Show and Black Summer – but you really should anyway! Like so many other people, I adore Poe, Tilly and Flynn. The relationship between loner Poe (and Edgar his dog) and the socially-challenged and utterly adorable Tilly is one of the most irresistible in crime fiction. I couldn’t wait to read The Curator and spend time with them again. It came as no surprise to me that it is every bit as wonderful as the previous two books.

While Poe and Tilly are undoubtedly the main draw in this series – you must meet them if you haven’t already – they’re not the only one. The Cumbrian landscape is beautifully portrayed. The Curator is set in winter. The countryside and coast are stunning, impossible to leave for most people in the book, while they are also harsh and even dangerous. M.W. Craven writes so well and not just in creating fabulous characters. You can feel the cold and isolation in these pages and also the glory of it.

The Curator tells a very clever story. The premise is macabre and fascinating and the plot is intricate and complex. Poe and Tilly are the perfect team and it takes all of their combined skills to tackle this killer. There are moments of true horror in the book. There are difficult moments for Poe and Tilly, especially Poe, and there are some dark times when I could hardly bear to look. It’s traumatic, it’s compelling and it’s immersive. It’s also warm and gently humorous at times. We’re under no illusion of how far Poe will go to protect those he cares for. That’s more apparent than ever in The Curator but, as always, there is Tilly who keeps Poe grounded by caring for him in a way that Poe is now comfortable with. I have always had a soft spot for Flynn, perhaps even more so now. This is such a fantastic series. I cannot wait for the next.

PS, I particularly love the cover of this one.

Other reviews
The Puppet Show
Black Summer

The House Share by Kate Helm

Zaffre | 2020 (14 May) | 386p | Review copy | Buy the book

The House Share by Kate HelmImmi is desperate for a new place to live. She’s fallen out with her boyfriend and is now an unwelcome guest on the sofa of her best friend. The Dye Factory in a great part of London and seems the perfect opportunity. It’s a state of the art building, offering five floors of communal living, along with a roof terrace with an honesty bar, a gym, a gaming area and library and a housekeeper, and all for a very reasonable price. There are rooms for eight residents and right now there are two free. Immi will have to compete for one of them in a series of interviews with the other residents during a house party. Immi gets one of the rooms. At last she can get her life back on track. Her fellow residents seem pleasant enough and the rules don’t seem too onerous. It all seems too good to be true. There’s a reason for that. It is.

I loved the premise of The House Share. The house itself is a big star of the book and I loved how there’s a plan of the house at the beginning. And, as things turn strange, there’s that feel of an Agatha Christie about it, where all of the suspects are gathered under one roof and the only thing uniting them is that each has at least one skeleton in the cupboard. The move from paradise to hell is an appealing one in psychological fiction and it’s done very well here.

The novel moves week by week through Immi’s probation period in the house. Our narrator changes. Most of the time we’re with Immi but we also spend time with the other new resident in the Dye Factory, Dex. The two of them are drawn together as the newcomers but they’re also suspicious of one another and it’s fun to watch their developing relationship from both sides. Neither, you won’t be surprised to learn, is quite what they seem. But, in this book, who is?

The other residents are very intriguing and more than a little odd. When strange and disturbing events begin to happen and to escalate, the residents become even more curious and unhinged. But how does this relate to the house? Immi is determined to find out and we want to know just as much as she does.

I’ve heard The House Share described as bonkers and I actually think that’s pretty accurate! That doesn’t stop it, though, from being thoroughly entertaining and a lot of fun. It’s well-written, humorous, dark and curious as well as being very hard to put down. It is implausible, there’s no doubt about that. But I was perfectly happy to go along with it. Why anyone would want to move into this house is beyond me….

The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan

HQ | 2020 (28 May) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Babysitter by Phoebe MorganCaroline Harvey is murdered in her home in Suffolk. She had been babysitting for her friend but, when her body is found, the baby is not. A frantic search for baby Eve begins, obsessing the media and the public, driving on the police. Caroline herself is almost forgotten. But a couple of days later, police arrive at a luxurious villa in France and arrest Callum Dillon for murder. He had been on holiday with his wife Siobhan and their daughter Emma, visiting Siobhan’s sister Maria. And now he is escorted back to England in handcuffs, leaving his bewildered family to scramble back home after him. Siobhan’s life is torn apart as she tries to understand her husband’s connection to Caroline. Who was Caroline? Why would anyone want to murder her? And where is Eve? The world watches.

I absolutely loved Phoebe Morgan’s The Girl Next Door and I couldn’t wait to read The Babysitter, and it was every bit as good. Once more we’re given the treat of a stand alone psychological thriller, which tells a good story involving people you want to read about.

I love the structure of The Babysitter. The novel moves between the present and the past and focuses on Siobhan Dillon and the murdered woman, Caroline, whose life we watch in its final days leading to that fateful night. There’s a poignancy in getting to know a woman while being only too aware that her hours are limited. Siobhan is especially interesting as we try and discover just how much she knows about Caroline and her husband. She has to deal with the fallout of her husband’s arrest as it tears her family apart. It’s hard not to empathise with this woman facing such a crisis.

There are two other central figures to the novel – the innocent baby, Eve, and the not so innocent, philandering and vain husband, Callum. But just because he’s unfaithful, does that make him a killer? That’s the quandary faced by the detectives on the case who also have chapters devoted to them and their investigations. There are so many questions to be answered and this, along with the really appealing structure and the fantastic writing of such a fine author, helps to make The Babysitter a stand out thriller.

I doubt there’s a psychological thriller out there that doesn’t proclaim that you won’t see the twist coming. In the case of The Babysitter the claim is true. It’s extremely hard to put down, it kept me guessing and it’s very well-written to boot!

Without a Trace by Mari Hannah

Orion | 2020 (19 March) | 400p | Gifted copy | Buy the book

Without a Trace by Mari HannahWhen flight 0113 falls from the sky over the Atlantic on its way from London to New York, DCI Kate Daniels’ world crashes around her. The love of her life, Jo Soulsby, was booked on that flight as fall out after a crisis in their relationship. Kate can’t leave her work behind her, it’s always top of her mind, and now Kate is learning the cost of that. She rushes to London with her DS, Hank Gormley, a man who is as fond of Jo as he is of Kate, and manages to talk her way into the investigation, soon working alongside the FBI to solve the mystery of what happened aboard the plane and why. Meanwhile, back in Northumberland, a gangster has been found murdered. It’s a critical case and Kate knows she should be in charge of it, as does her boss, but she has only one thing on her mind, something she has to do, and that is to discover what happened to Jo.

I am a huge fan of Mari Hannah and Kate Daniels and I’m sure I’m not alone in being thrilled that Kate has at last returned! It’s been four years since the excellent Gallows Drop but it’s as if Kate hasn’t been away. Without a Trace is part of a series but this is a stand alone story and so you could happily enjoy it without having read the others. But if you have followed these books, then you’ll know about the yo-yo relationship between Kate and Jo and about the closeness between Kate, Hank, her boss and with the rest of her team. They are tight, very tight, and this has helped to make these wonderful books so special and so emotionally charged.

Emotions can’t run higher than they do in Without a Trace. Kate Daniels can be prickly, defiant and stubborn but she also feels intensely, with so many of those guilt feelings that many of us have to deal with, I’m sure. She is a fantastic creation. She feels very real to me. Her relationships with people can be difficult but her loyalty is never in doubt and the people she works with love her. I am so fond of Hank, her second in command. He’d risk everything to see Kate through this and he never leaves her side. We also see here Kate interacting with her team’s partners. This is a family.

The story in Without a Trace is great with it really reaching its unputdownable crescendo in the second half. There is a lot of detail about planes and airports in the first half, which adds authenticity and tension (and is very impressive!) but in the second half it’s none stop action and it is exhilarating. It’s powerful stuff, very much so. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

Without a Trace was such a joy to read. It’s comforting to be back with one of my favourite detectives and my namesake. Mari Hannah is a superb storyteller as we’ve seen from this series and from the others (the Ryan books and the Stone and Oliver series). She can do no wrong and we have been given a treat with Without a Trace. I hope we see Kate again soon.

Other reviews
Gallows Drop
The Silent Room (Ryan 1)
The Death Messenger (Ryan 2)
The Lost (Stone and Oliver 1)
The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)
The Scandal (Stone and Oliver 3)