Tag Archives: Crime

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

Orenda Books | 2019 (ebook: 14 September; Pb: 14 November) | 276p | Review copy | Buy the book

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

When nine people jumped off Chelsea Bridge in London with ropes around their necks, all in the same moment in a mass suicide, the world noticed and was shocked. What could have driven these ordinary people, strangers, each so different, each with loved ones, to commit such a desperate act? But to somebody else, scrutinising the media and the world’s reaction, these deaths represent something else entirely. For these nine men and women were members of his cult. They just didn’t know it.

Nothing Important Happened Today is an extraordinary, original crime thriller, with a most unusual killer and an equally intriguing detective. Its premise is bleak and utterly grim, and the novel itself is as dark as can be. Suicide, murder, grief, loss, guilt, isolation and evil are among the themes and it takes the reader into the deepest shadows. It’s raw and painful but there is more to it than this. It’s an utterly compelling and gripping read. It’s addictive, luring us in with its sharp, witty prose, its brief chapters, its concise snapshots into people’s lives, its delving into the mind of a killer, its scrutiny of the daily, hourly difficulty of many lives. I was engrossed from the very first unusual and dramatic page.

Will Carver presents to us The People of Choice, the cult members, but much of what we learn is told to us by an omnipresent, questioning presence. We’re addressed directly, our opinions are steered, our emotions are tested. But who does this voice belong to and what is it telling us?

This is the intriguing and wonderful puzzle at the heart of this bleak yet darkly human novel. I must admit to moments of profound sadness as I read it. There are some scenes that strike painfully close to home and I found some of the descriptions of family relationships agonisingly tender. This is not an easy read but, at the same time, it’s a fast and gripping one. It’s almost as if you don’t want to look but can’t look away.

Will Carver is clearly a clever and original writer who is able to capture an intense depth of feeling in some surprising and insightful ways. So while the book could be challenging – suicide is not an easy subject by any means – it is rewarding. Even though I read it in just a couple of days I must admit to alternating reads of this novel with dips into another, cosier book! But you may well be braver than me. It’s certainly one of the most unusual books I’ve read in quite a while, which gets equally into the head of the killer, the victim and the hunter of justice. Extraordinary.

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After Atlas by Emma Newman

Gollancz | 2018 | 384p | Bought copy | Buy the book

After Atlas by Emma NewmanAfter Atlas is the second novel in the extraordinary Planetfall universe created by Emma Newman. This series, which now stands at four novels, is astonishing, told by a powerful, original and immensely accessible voice in science fiction. Unusually for a series the first three novels – Planetfall, After Atlas and Before Mars – can be read as stand alone novels and in any order that you wish. But the latest novel Atlas Alone follows directly on from After Atlas, which goes some way towards explaining the strange order in which I’ve read them. Having said all that, although you can read After Atlas without any knowledge of what came before, I would urge you to read Planetfall first because that marvellous novel guides us into this universe, with its religions and aspirations, its loneliness and sadness, its beauty, while also introducing us to its themes. This review assumes you’ve done just that. But if you haven’t, it won’t matter.

Forty years have passed since Atlas left for the stars in search of God and a better place. Carlos’s mother was on that starship and she left him, just a baby at the time, and his father behind. This was extraordinarily difficult for Carlos’s father to deal with and the sadness and neglect affected Carlos in ways which would last him a lifetime. His father was saved by a religious community, the Circle, led by Alejandro Casales, a charismatic man who gathered around him the scientists and their families that Atlas left behind. But Carlos couldn’t settle and so, a teenager, he ran away and from that point on his life went from bad to much, much worse. Now decades on, Carlos is a detective working for Govcorp in Norope (a state combining Britain and Scandinavia). But this wasn’t a career choice made by Carlos. His life, his ‘contract’, was bought by the state. He is a slave. He works towards his freedom but it will take decades and now every little luxury, every bite of real, organically-grown food, adds more to Carlos’s time debt. And so when a high-profile figure is found dead in horrific circumstances and Carlos is assigned to the case, there is nothing he can do about it, even though the dead man is none other than Alejandro Casales.

Carlos cannot escape the past. It’s catching up with him in more ways than one. A time capsule left by Atlas is about to be opened and the excitement has gripped everyone the starship left behind. Everyone but Carlos. But Carlos is about to discover that his future is set to be every bit as bad as his past, even worse, as he loses control of events as the world looks on.

This is a magnificent series and I love how each one is so different. After Atlas is particularly different. We’re firmly back on Earth. It’s still science fiction – this is a future world in which everyone is tapped in to their own personal AI – but more than anything it’s a crime novel and the mood couldn’t be more dark.

Carlos is a fascinating man and I knew straight away that this would be a very special novel indeed. Emma Newman writes beautifully, she also skilfully creates atmosphere and she has an incredible imagination, because this is a universe with so much depth. Carlos takes us right to its heart and it’s a painful, troubled place. Carlos manages his desperate situation, he’s had time to get used to it, but there comes a time when he is reduced even further and it is absolutely gut wrenching to read. It’s easy to say that a book is impossible to put down but it is truly the case with After Atlas. I wanted to be reading it constantly and I looked forward to getting back to it.

The main characters in these novels are lonely figures, outsiders, not able to sync with those around them. The books explore the reasons for this and have such a humanity about them even though the characters exist in such extraordinary circumstances, sometimes not even on this planet. They are such compelling reads and I think that After Atlas is the most compelling of the three that I’ve read, with a cast of characters who feel so real, even when they behave so badly. Carlos’s relationship with his father is dealt with so gently, while the figure of Alejandro casts such a shadow. There is such a strong sense of mystery and foreboding. It drives the novel on but even more than that the story is shaped by Carlos.

I knew that I had to read After Atlas before Atlas Alone and it was the right decision. The ending of After Atlas is staggering, its impact is immense. The scene couldn’t be set any more effectively for Atlas Alone. But I hope that won’t be the end of the Planetfall universe. There is so much more to discover. These are wonderful, wonderful books. If you’ve not read them, I urge you to pick up Planetfall while After Atlas waits for you to finish.

Other reviews
Planetfall
Before Mars

Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

Quercus | 2019 (3 October) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Now You See Them by Elly GriffithsTen years have passed since the events presented in The Vanishing Box and much has happened to change the lives of our heroes, Brighton detective Edgar Stephens and his close friend magician Max Mephisto and so, at this vital point, I’ll come to a brief pause. Despite the lapse of time since the last novel, I really think that this wonderful series is one that should be read in order and so this review assumes you’ve read the others.

It is now 1964 and the biggest change to have affected Edgar is that he’s now married to his former sergeant, Emma, a deed which means that Emma had to give up her career and is now a full-time housewife and mother to three children. Anyone who’s read the previous novels will know how well that would sit with Emma. Edgar, by contrast, has progressed up the police ladder and is now a superintendent. As for Max, he’s now a famous film actor living in LA with his glamorous film star wife. They have young children and Max has continued to build bridges with his adult daughter Ruby, who is now a well-known actor in her own right. LA and Brighton are a long way apart but the sad death of an old mutual friend has brought everyone together to Brighton for his funeral. But as well as mourning, this is a time to catch up on old times but for Max and Edgar there’a shock in store and before long the two of them, with Emma helping them whether they like it or not, have to work together on a case that grows increasingly, horribly personal.

Young women are being snatched from the streets of Brighton. There seems little to go on but the pressure on Edgar and his team of police officers, including a young and ambitious female officer who reminds him so much of Emma, are under a great deal of pressure. Adding to the strain for Edgar is the approaching Bank Holiday. It is predicted that mods and rockers will descend on Brighton. It’s up to Edgar to keep the peace. And then Ruby goes missing and Max realises that there is nothing he won’t do to find her. He is going to need the help of Edgar and Emma, as do the distraught parents of the other missing women, one of whom is about to turn up dead.

Now You See Them is the fifth Stephens and Mephisto mystery by Elly Griffiths and I was thrilled to learn that they were to return. I love this author’s work, whether it’s the Ruth Galloway novels or a stand alone book such as The Stranger Diaries, but I have to admit to a special place in my heart for Max Mephisto. This novel represents quite a change for Max and Edgar – and for us – and it does take a bit of adjustment. The previous novels were set in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the deprived years of the early 1950s. We’re now in the early-mid 1960s, a time of the Beatles, teenage factions and fashions, a relative time of plenty, and Max in particular has scaled the heights of fame and fortune. No longer the pier-end magic shows for magician Max Mephisto. He is now a famous Hollywood actor who also happens to have inherited his title of Lord Massingham as well as his stately pile. But the biggest change is for Emma and I really felt for her. She was such a feature of the earlier novels and, while she’s just as important here, her role has changed completely. Edgar has a new WPC, Meg, who helps to fill the missing shoes, but it isn’t quite the same.

The main reason why I would recommend that you read the earlier novels first is because, like in the Ruth Galloway novels, the characters are of far more importance than the mystery. Elly Griffiths loves these people, as do the readers, and so she takes her time to bring us up to date with the changes and to refresh our affection for them. I loved this but it is possible that if you’re not familiar with what’s gone before then you might feel a little lost. Which would be a shame because this is such a beautifully written, elegant novel and it brings to life so effectively Brighton during one of its heydays in the early 1960s. There is such a sense of time and place, it’s bewitching.

The mystery is an entertaining one, it’s also rather glamorous as it has at its heart a young filmstar, Bobby Hambro, who is visiting Brighton during the early stages of a film’s production. The place is abuzz with the excitement of it all and it certainly doesn’t help with Edgar’s case of the missing girls. It’s such a good mystery. But the most interesting element of it all is, I think, Emma and her situation and how this affects her relationship with Edgar. We spend time with all of these characters and we most definitely get involved. My heart, though, belongs to Max Mephisto who is a glorious creation. I’m so delighted to see his return and I cannot wait for more of this wonderful, beautifully-written, witty and warm series.

Other reviews
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)
The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway 11)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)
The Stranger Diaries

False Prophet by James Hazel

Zaffre | 2019 (19 September) | 64p | Review copy | Buy the book

False Prophet by James HazelCharlie Priest has been appointed supervising solicitor in a most curious case. Professor Norman Owen has been ordered by the High Court to return an ancient Biblical text, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to the elusive Elisha Capindale, a collector of Christian antiquities. Priest is supposed to supervisor Owen’s surrender of the text but the Professor sits Charlie Priest down and tells him an incredible story, one that goes back beyond Christianity to the Old Testament and the origins of man. This ancient text, he argues, holds the key to a past that some people would kill to conceal. Priest decides to win more time for the Professor and takes the document into his own custody, an action that will have deadly consequences.

Meanwhile, Priest’s close friend DCI Tiff Rowlinson is investigating the gruesome murder of an award-winning photographer. By the side of the body can be found salt and symbols, painted in the dead woman’s blood. More murders follow and Tiff must work with Priest to hunt down a serial killer whose motivation seems to be nothing like those of any killer they’ve come across before. And Priest should know – or rather his brother Will should, one of the most infamous serial killers of the century.

False Prophet is the third novel in James Hazel’s excellent and very chilling Charlie Priest series but it stands alone well. These are disturbing books, often gruesome, and they’re riveting, largely because of the character of Priest himself and also for his assistant, Georgie Someday. I’m a big fan of Priest’s techie expert, Solly, but Solly plays less of a role here than he did in the first novel. He remains, though, a scene stealer. Priest is an intriguing man. He has a dissociative order, which pops up at the most inconvenient times, and keeps him emotionally separate from the world around him, and from himself, despite his conscious efforts to bridge the gap. Georgie helps. She is utterly endearing while also being vulnerable and extraordinarily brave and resilient.

The good news is that Priest’s brother plays an important role in False Prophet. He’s an extraordinary individual – half monster, half man. His relationship with Priest and with their sister is explored in the novel and I think is quite possibly what I enjoyed the most. This is so well done. James Hazel is a master at manipulating our opinions as he immerses us in a tale populated by charismatic and dangerous people.

Then there’s the mystery itself, which is bloody and horrifying. You do need to suspend your powers of disbelief but what matters here is what the killer believes, rather than what the manuscript says. Perhaps! Strangely, this is the second novel in just one week that I’ve read on the same biblical subject (the other being the action thriller The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott)! I did find the mystery more satisfying than I did the one in The Ash Doll, the previous novel, and it reminded me much more of the power and suspense of the first, The Mayfly.

In False Prophet, the characters have really come into their own. Priest and Someday are now very well established. We’ve learned a little bit more about them and, as a result, I feel very loyal to both of them. Priest is a fantastic creation, who thinks a little differently and can act completely unexpectedly. The atmosphere is dark and frightening – there is a distinct horror feel to this crime novel at times. Dark it might be but it’s certainly entertaining and I most definitely look forward to more.

Other reviews
The Mayfly
The Ash Doll

The Miford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes

Sphere | 2019 (26 September) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica FellowesIt is 1928 and Louisa Cannon, once a nursery maid to the infamous and beautiful Mitford sisters, has failed to make a living out of service. She’s a woman with a past and it will not stop getting in the way of her plans. But when Diana Mitford, just 18 years-old, marries wealthy heir Bryan Guinness, Louisa is made an offer she can’t refuse. She takes a job as Diana’s lady’s maid, accompanying the newly wed couple on their honeymoon to Paris, Venice and back to Mayfair.

And what a glamorous time they have, existing in a whirlwind of parties, glamorous friends and hedonism. Until 1930 when one of their party is found dead in Paris. When another dies, Louisa suspects there is a murderer in their midst. Once more Louisa will play sleuth and she knows just the detective to help her.

The Mitford Scandal is the third novel in Jessica Fellowes’ series of novels to feature the infamous Mitfords and their servant (and part time amateur detective) Louisa Cannon, who exists in such a strange place – almost a friend, but never quite, and only really when it suits Diana. I’m sorry to say that this is the first of the novel’s I’ve read. This didn’t matter at all. I soon caught up. But now I’ve bought the previous two books. I really want to know more about Louisa’s past and about the background to this extraordinary family. Of course, this novel reaches the early 1930s and that adds a new foreboding as Diana Mitford meets Lord Oswald Mosley for the first time, as the shadows descend over Europe once more.

The Mitford Scandal is a delicious read! It’s light but it’s also truly immersive. Jessica Fellowes, like her father (the creator of Downton Abbey), knows so well how to bring a character to life, to put them into a 1920s’ drawing room, club, restaurant or ballroom. The prose and dialogue dance along and put me straight into the heart of this glamorous, decadent and superficial world. But it’s not all lightness – there is a murderer at work. And then there are the first signs of the rise of fascism. All is not well in Diana Mitford’s world, whatever she may think, and her flaws are drawn as clearly as her beauty and charm.

Through Louisa we are given an upstairs, downstairs side to things, which is undoubtedly appealing. It also allows just a little scrutiny into the shallowness and depravity of high society, as servants scuttle around to do their bidding while also marvelling at the beautiful dresses of their mistresses as well as the frequent famous faces. Diana’s party schedule is exhausting! But the servants who have to look after her work even longer hours.

There is a police procedural of sorts going on as well, although it must be said that DS Guy Sullivan is not the sharpest tool in the box, nor the most morally sound. But the focus here is on the Mitfords, their circle of friends and Louisa.

These are not people especially easy to warm to, even Louisa. Diana is impossible to like. But this supports the feeling that life is here an act and many have secrets, for one reason or another. They are dictated to by class, connections and money (or the lack of it). But they are always fascinating. I’m familiar with the Mitford’s home in Asthall and I discovered their graves when strolling around their beautiful local church. And so I was drawn to this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am hooked! I can’t wait to find out what happens next as we travel deeper into the 1930s but I’m also looking forward to going back to the beginning. Jessica Fellowes is an excellent guide to high society and its bright young things during an irresistible period of history.

The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

Macmillan | 2019 (5 September) | 375p | Review copy | Bought copy

The Long Call by Ann CleevesOn the outskirts of Barnstable in north Devon, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn stands outside the church where his father’s funeral is taking place. When Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his parents. And now, as far as his father is concerned, it is too late to rebuild bridges burnt down so long ago. But then Matthew receives a call. A man has been found stabbed to death on the beach near Matthew’s home, which he shares with his husband, Jonathan. Matthew soon learns that the man had links with the care centre for people with learning disabilities that Jonathan runs. It’s all too close to Matthew and it’s set to become closer still as the investigation takes him back into the community he believed he had left for good.

The Long Call is the first in a new series by Ann Cleeves – set in a different part of Britain (a long way from Shetland and Northumberland) and with a new detective at its heart. And it is magnificent. The mood and sense of place is presented perfectly from the very first chapter in which we meet Matthew Venn for the first time. Ann Cleeves is a genius in laying bare character so carefully, sympathetically and lightly – and quickly. Almost immediately I could believe that Matthew is a real person, in convincing relationships with his partner, colleagues and parents, newly part of this rural community in north Devon where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge. It’s a beautiful part of the world, yet also tucked away. When crime happens here it really does shock.

And Matthew has more than one case to deal with and it is all thoroughly engrossing and involving, especially the parts involving the young women who spend their days at Jonathan’s care centre. These vulnerable women are so beautifully portrayed, as are their relationships with their families.

There are plenty of characters here to interest and intrigue the reader, including Matthew’s team, Jen (his sergeant) and Ross (the constable and the favourite of the Chief Inspector). Each is given their own story, which I can’t wait to see develop through future novels, and the three as a team are thoroughly convincing and realistic – I enjoyed the give and take, the way in which Matthew tries to be a boss while still being equal, their irritations with one another, their loyalty. I also liked the way in which they all cope, or not, with the long hours demanded by a murder investigation. Jen in particular has much to juggle, but so, too, does Matthew. I loved the portrayal of the relationship between Matthew and Jonathan. Jonathan is an intriguing character in his own right.

Matthew is the star here, though, for sure. He is lovingly drawn. He stands alone but also is a keen observer. He’s gentle but at times surprisingly fierce. He feels unloveable but we know he isn’t. I loved getting to know Matthew.

I am a huge fan of Ann Cleeve’s Vera Stanhope series but Vera has undoubtedly met her match in Matthew Venn. I am in awe of the author’s power to create yet another convincing series with characters it’s impossible not to feel drawn to. It’s a remarkable achievement. Matthew Venn is a fantastic, fully realised and immensely likeable detective and this mystery is beautifully told, populated by fascinating characters and set in such a lovely, yet remote location. It moves slowly and it’s all the better for it. The Long Call is character driven and what characters they are. It is most certainly one of the finest crime novels I’ve read in a very long time.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Black Swan | 2005 | 432p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Having recently read and adored Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, the fifth in her Jackson Brodie series, I knew I had to read the others. And so, while on holiday recently, I spent my time with the first, Case Histories, and it is wonderful.

It presents three cold case histories, each seemingly disconnected and each fascinating in their own right – a missing child who all these years later still leaves an immense hole in her troubled sisters’ lives; a young woman is brutally killed while working as a temp in the office of her father, a man who can never come to terms with his loss and her absence; a young mother who loses her temper and kills her husband with an axe. Uniting them all is Jackson Brodie, an ex-detective turned investigator who helps people, sometimes for free, should he discover a truth that nobody deserves to learn.

Jackson Brodie is a magnificent character. I fell for him in Big Sky but in Case Histories I got to know him much better as we learn about his past, which continues to haunt him in the future novels, as well as his present, including his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter.

The writing is as witty and insightful as you’d expect from Kate Atkinson, surely one of the finest authors writing today. There are themes and chapters here that are heartbreaking and often truly disturbing but Jackson Brodie still finds the humanity of it all and so there is wit and there are laughs. But it can also be grim as we find ourselves so thoroughly immersed in the lives of these missing people and their suffering families. But there is one storyline going through the novel, that of the axe-murderer, that adds something else, a macabre humour and drama that works so well.

Having read two in this series, the first and the last, and fallen completely for Jackson Brodie, who’s such a force for good and light in a world so often scarily dark, I can’t wait to read the others. One Good Turn will be next.

Other reviews
Life After Life
A God in Ruins
Transcription
Big Sky