Tag Archives: Crime

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

HarperCollins | 2021 (2 September) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Chateau by Catherine CooperAura and Nick have uprooted their young family – boys called Bay and Sorrel – and moved from London to a dilapidated chateau in France. There is an unbelievable amount of work to do on it but a project such as this is just what Aura needs to take her mind off why they left England in such a rush. Best not to think about that. Luckily, chateau buying is all the rage with Brits and so the local ex-pat community soon takes the new couple under their wing, offering practical help as well as glamorous parties. It helps that the project is being observed by a TV documentary film crew. They even manage to get an au pair for no more cost than food and board. It seems too good to be true. And of course it is. The alarm bells are starting to go off even before one of their neighbours is found murdered.

Hot on the heels of The Chalet comes The Chateau. I love the recipe of these novels – a remote location, a small community of strangers, a murderer in their midst, a bunch of lies. I thoroughly enjoyed The Chalet and so I was looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. What a bunch of people…. It’s difficult to know who is the most despicable. Aura is our narrator for much of the book and it’s clear that what she doesn’t say is more important than what she does. The reader is left to fill in the gaps as slowly the truth emerges about what they left behind in London. You’ve got to wonder about anyone who would name their sons Bay and Sorrel, though.

The chateau itself is a fantastic location for a psychological thriller. It’s an abomination. Aura might view it as this beautiful ruin crying out for repair but it’s clearly horrible, dangerous, creepy and malignant. It fits the mood of the novel perfectly and reflects the characters of most of the people in it, including the ghastly ex-pats. Even the film crew are shifty.

I’m not going to give anything away but what I will say is that the way in which this story plays out is thoroughly satisfying. Catherine Cooper is such a good writer, she sets the scene so well. It’s creepy but it’s also fun and a little bonkers! I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take us to next!

Other review
The Chalet

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Michael Joseph | 2021 (19 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

For Your Own Good by Samantha DowningTeddy Crutcher has been teaching English at Belmont Academy for a long time and, at last, he has won Teacher of the Year. At last. Nobody deserves it more, at least in Teddy’s eyes. He always wants the best for his students, especially those who treat him with respect and have influential parents on the School’s Board. He also likes to teach a different kind of lesson to those who deserve it, especially gifted student Zach and the popular teacher Sonia. To his chagrin, Sonia is about to be given a party to celebrate her tenth anniversary at the Academy. But when a member of the School’s Board, a pupil’s mother, is poisoned at the party, it’s not just Teddy who is shocked into action. This is a school where it seems everyone has a secret and nobody is safe.

Samantha Downing is an absolute genius at witty and wicked psychological thrillers. She did it with My Lovely Wife and she’s done it again with For Your Own Good. Usually, I need to like someone in a novel, at least a little bit, to engage with it but this novel shows that, as long as a book is written as well as this one, that’s really not the case. Pretty much everyone at Belmont Academy, including the over-reaching parents, is despicable! Sonia might be ‘nice’ but she’s living some sort of dream in her head that doesn’t seem to fit with reality. We might feel sorry for one or two of the students but not for long. And Teddy is utterly appalling.

The reader spends time in the heads of several people, although it’s Teddy who sets the mood. The more he reveals of himself the more you can hardly believe what you’re hearing. And then we move into the perspective of other students and teachers and you realise that you’re in some sort of nightmare territory and it’s all brilliantly wicked! As the story goes on, nothing seems impossible. There seems nothing these people won’t do. But do they actually do them? That’s the thing. We spend time in people’s minds – how much of what they think is true?

The plot is fabulous and it kept me reading compulsively.  The more the novel went on, the more intrigued I became. By the end, it was absolutely compelling and engrossing, so much so that I read it in one day. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in one day. This delicious book demanded it.

Other review
My Lovely Wife

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Viking | 2021 (16 September) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard OsmanWhen ex-spy Elizabeth receives a letter from a man she knows to be dead, it becomes clear that this is not going to be a normal week for the residents of the Coopers Chase retirement community. A man with whom Elizabeth has a long past needs her help – and that of the Thursday Murder Club. He’s now realised that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea after all to steal those diamonds worth many millions of dollars from the NYC Mob. It’s hard to imagine a bigger target on his back. It’s not long before the septuagenarian Thursday Murder Club and their police friends have a ruthless murderer to hunt. You could almost feel sorry for the killer…

Richard Osman’s debut novel The Thursday Murder Club was one of my top reads of 2020. I absolutely loved it, with its delicious mix of wit, cosiness and wickedness, all brought together with the most fantastic prose. Any fears that the author couldn’t do it again were instantly dispelled when I read the very first page of The Man Who Died Twice. It is absolutely fantastic!

I’m giving nothing more away about what’s going on in this fine novel but I do want to say a bit about why I love it so much. I love all of the characters but Joyce, whose journal entries are scattered throughout the book, is my favourite. A former nurse, she’s lived for others and is now having the time of her own life helping Elizabeth to dig out bad guys. The disparity between how she appears and what she reveals in the journal is just wonderful, but, while it’s funny, it’s also extremely poignant in some ways. And that poignancy is present with others, too, especially Ibrahim, the psychiatrist. The humanity of the writing is incredible. All of the characters are given their little moments for us to connect with on really quite a deep level, even DCI Chris Hudson. I was so moved by him in The Man Who Died Twice. So, actually, when I say that I love Joyce the most, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I adore them all equally.

The baddies are brilliant! The insight we’re given into the mindset of one of the villains is fantastic – evil trying not to be evil while knowing that he really is very evil but still wanting to be polite. Absolutely wonderful.

The plot is magnificent and works on so many levels. Enough said about that.

Richard Osman has done it again. Rarely have I felt so warmly attached to characters and, in these books, there’s not just one or two characters to love but several. A fabulous plot, beautifully witty and kind, clever, poignant and tragic at times, even shocking, and so completely fun to read. Please can we have more!!

Other review
The Thursday Murder Club

The Good Death by S.D. Sykes

Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 (5 August) | 304p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is 1370 and time has passed at the manor of Somershill in Kent. But the past has never been so urgent for its lord, Oswald de Lacy. Oswald’s mother, a formidable woman, is dying and in her possession is a letter that raises ghosts from that terrible time of 1349 when the Black Death crossed the land, killing so many in its path, including Oswald’s father and brothers. Oswald’s mother needs to understand what happened all those years before in order to make peace with her son before it is too late. And so Oswald sits by her bedside and recalls the time when young women disappeared from the village and he, a young novice monk, tried to find out why, when every day the world grew smaller as communities shrank into themselves, or fled, as the plague crept relentlessly nearer.

The Oswald de Lacy series is wonderful. It’s beautifully written and it moves around the years, and around Europe (Oswald has spent time in Venice), but its focus is always the plague years and always this Kentish haven. Almost ten years have gone by since The Bone Fire but this fifth novel, The Good Death, calls a halt and instead goes back into the past. We spend brief interludes in the ‘present’ of 1370 but the majority of the time is spent in the days leading up to the arrival of the Black Death when Oswald found himself with reasons to investigate the disappearance, and presumed murders, of several girls from the village. At the time, Oswald was a novice monk on the cusp of manhood, never expecting to inherit. Everything was about to change.

The story, as usual in these fabulous novels, is excellent and the further it progresses the more involved the reader becomes. It has a gentle pace but during the second half I found myself utterly engrossed and read all of that half in one sitting. The mood and atmosphere build and build as the plague creeps ever nearer. The village feels like a refuge but for how long? And where are the young women? The answers lie in the woods around the village and, in that lawless place, anything is possible. It is sinister and menacing in equal measure while Oswald, the innocent, falls into the thick of it.

The Good Death is beautifully written and immersed in its time, surely one of the most terrible periods in English history. Of course, this was written, and read, in a time of pandemic and that certainly adds to its mood and perhaps makes it easier for us to relate to these frightened communities. You don’t need to have read the other novels to enjoy this one, although you might have a greater appreciation of Oswald’s mother and sister if you have done. The focus is most definitely on the past, although that is rather pleasing as it means we have fresh light thrown on the earlier novels in the series. It’s clever, without a doubt.

I love Oswald. He feels real to me, as do his family and friends. I marvel at the way in which the author evokes this feudal age. It’s so well drawn and full of lots of historical details about life, society, law, medicine, work, obedience in a mid 14th-century manor, in which workers are compared to mute insects, and monastery. Oswald bridges society and in some ways is very alone and on its margins. There is a strong sense that he must let the past go and here we find out why.

The Good Death is a fabulous historical crime mystery and I didn’t guess it at all! The historical setting is great, as is its location in woody Kent. The story is so good but this book goes bigger than that, finding a way in to explore a time in our history when death became more horrifying than ever and when feudalism itself came under attack from an unexpected foe, plague.

Other reviews
Plague Land
The Butcher Bird
City of Masks

The Bone Fire

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2021 (19 August) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzFormer Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his biographer Anthony Horowitz are rather pleased when they are invited to a literary festival on the beautiful and quiet Channel Island of Alderney, although Anthony is a little surprised that Daniel agreed to it so readily. It’s almost as if he knew that they would soon be embroiled in a murder case that has the whole island locked down while the police (and Anthony and Daniel) seek out the killer. There is a fine selection of suspects among the festival attendees, speakers and organisers, not all of whom will leave the island alive. But who among them is the murderer?

I love this series so much and A Line to Kill, the third, is every bit as fun and engrossing as the previous novels, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. The concept is fabulous – the author as a character in his own novel, helping an enigmatic detective to solve murders, but often getting it all wrong while Daniel works it out. These books are wonderful, witty satires on all things literary, whether that’s authors, publishers, agents, reviewers or, in this case, literary festivals.

The Alderney setting is my favourite of all the locations in the novels, not least because I really want to go to the historical literary festival there one of these days (when I can conquer my terror of small planes), and I love the descriptions of the island. There is also a strong sense of history. The horrendous years of the Occupation during World War Two, when the island was prison to thousands of slave labourers and transformed into a fortress, cast a shadow over the novel and adds another fascinating element. The past cannot be forgotten.

I’m not going to give away anything about the plot, other than to say that the suspects are an incredible bunch of characters, including a blind psychic and a celebrity chef. They are a lot of fun to read about while Daniel Hawthorne is his usual aggravating self.

I love cosy, locked room whodunnits and I also like it when cosy crime is played with, as this series does so well. A Line to Kill is a thoroughly entertaining, clever and engrossing read, as are all of the novels I’ve read by this author. I really hope Anthony will assist Daniel Hawthorne in another case and very soon.

Other reviews
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death
Magpie Murders
The Moonflower Murders

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2021 (22 July) | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa JewellIn 2018, detective novelist Sophie arrives to live at Maypole House, a country boarding school. Her boyfriend is its new head and she finds it hard to settle so far away from her old life in London. When she goes out for a walk in the woods behind the school, she finds a sign nailed to a fence – ‘Dig here’. What she finds will re-open raw wounds among the members of the school and surrounding small community.

In the summer of 2017, teenage mum Tallulah left her baby son at home with her mother Kim to go out on a date night with her boyfriend. They ended up at a pool party at Dark Place, a house in the woods behind the school. Neither Tallulah or her boyfriend Zach were seen again, leaving Kim and the detective in charge of the case in limbo, endlessly searching. But now, after all these months, somebody is trying to get Sophie’s attention and the mystery intensifies.

Lisa Jewell writes such brilliant stand alone crime and psychological thrillers or twisters and with The Night She Disappeared she has done it again. The premise is appealing and the mystery intriguing. I really wanted to know the answer to what happened to Tallulah and her boyfriend Zach.

But this is more than just a crime mystery, it tells several stories in a structure that moves between the present – Kim and Sophie’s stories – and the past – Tallulah’s life as a teenage mum trying to fit in with her friends who are so entirely different from her, all leading up to the night of her disappearance. Following that disappearance, our sympathies move to Kim who now has to raise an unhappy small child. She is filled with love for him but wasn’t ready to raise another child. And, of course, he is a constant reminder of the child she has lost.

So there is the deeply involved story of Kim and then the outsider perspective of Sophie, looking on the mystery with fresh eyes and finding potential suspects all around her. The school and its woods take on a sinister and menacing air as Sophie literally digs for clues.

I did find the ending slightly rushed and a little unconvincing but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed The Night She Disappeared and found it hard to put down. Its portrait of Tallulah is particularly well done as she does battle with herself. The structure of the novel works very well. Lisa Jewell is such a wonderful storyteller.

Other reviews
Then She Was Gone
Watching You
The Family Upstairs

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Viper | 2021 (Pb: 1 July) | 447p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Appeal by Janice HallettThe small town of Lockwood boasts a close-knit community, as exhibited in the regular productions of its celebrated amateur dramatics society, The Fairway Players. The Players are dominated by Martin (director) and Helen Hayward (lead actress) who run The Grange, a local posh country club. But members also hail from their extended family and from two other leading Lockwood clans, the Dearings and the MacDonalds. And then there’s the local St Anne’s Hospital, a veritable hotbed of gossip and the source of more eager thespians. When Sam and Kel Greenwood take up jobs at the hospital, fellow nurse Isabel Beck is keen to enrol them in The Players and get them cast in their new production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller.

It might seem surprising, then, when Roderick Tanner QC assigns his law students Charlotte and Femi to investigate a murder – but whose? All we know is that someone has been murdered, another person is in prison for it, and a third person is free and a killer. So what went so disastrously wrong for The Fairway Players? The clues are here. Can you solve the case?!

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is easily one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read and one of the most enjoyable books of any genre that I’ve read for a fair old while. I love cosy crime so much but especially when it is played with and Janice Hallett does a masterly job of playing all sorts of games with it. Firstly, it’s an epistolary novel – all we get are emails, letters, posters, newspaper reports and text messages. The only commentary comes in those text messages between Femi and Charlotte as they, like the reader, try to fathom out the clues from the correspondence between The Fairway Players.

What makes it particularly clever and completely fascinating, is that we don’t hear from all of the players. Some are referred to but are silent. We have to try and work out what they are up to in the wings or backstage. Others say an awful lot. Too much?

This is a witty book. Some of the observations in the correspondence had me rolling with laughter as we see the contradictions, slurs, sucking ups and lies.

As for the plot, I’m saying nothing. It is an absolute pleasure to watch it unfold in this unusual and engrossing fashion. I guessed some of the clues but by no means all. I may well re-read. I read The Appeal in two sittings over a day. I could not gobble it up fast enough. I long for more from this author and soon. A very serious contender for my top novel of 2021.

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Trapeze | 202 (27 May) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Pact by Sharon BoltonSix young students have just finished their A Levels at Oxford’s All Souls School. Each is remarkable, clever and attractive and each is predicted to have a glittering career ahead. But their lives are too safe, they dare each other and play dangerous games. One night it all goes horrifically wrong and it is then that they make the pact. 18-year-old Megan agrees to take the blame. That way they won’t all have their lives destroyed. But it comes as a great shock when Megan is given a sentence of 20 years and she serves every one of them. When she comes out, she is not the same. That is when the five friends, each successful with a great deal to lose, start to become very afraid indeed.

Sharon Bolton is, in my opinion, one of the very best writers of psychological thrillers and we’re lucky to have her. Time after time, she comes up with the most brilliant ideas and leads her readers down such a twisty path and at a rate of knots, too. The Pact is no different. It has a fantastic premise. We’ve had thrillers about groups of old friends before but not like this one. In my opinion, these people are all morally reprehensible and the majority of them know it. Arguably, what matters most to them is being caught, not doing the crime itself. Some may wriggle, and you can’t look away while they do, it’s so compelling, but they cannot escape the judgement of what they’ve done.

I loved the character of Megan. She is genuinely intriguing and odd. She makes each of her friends promise to do a big favour for her on her release from prison. These favours are not at all what you’d expect and add such an element of shock to the novel.

But, as you’d expect from a Sharon Bolton novel, there’s far more to it than that! It’s an engrossing and surprising read. I had a few small doubts about the ending but it still had a great impact on me. One of the things that I really enjoyed is the Oxford setting! This is my town and I recognised so many places, including the snug in one of my favourite north Oxford pubs. This is an Oxford that the author actually knows, which isn’t always the case, and it really adds to the mood of the novel, helping to make the six friends feel real, privileged, sinning and around us, excelling in their jobs (often in the public eye), hiding secrets. It all seems so timely….

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

The Split

Win by Harlan Coben

Century | 2021 (18 March) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Win by Harlan CobenWindsor Horne Lockwood III is a man of privilege, a billionaire proud of his emotional stillness, his cold separation from people, except perhaps his friend Myron and maybe his biological daughter. He is the man who, when called, answers the phone with the simple command ‘Articulate’. But when a suitcase containing items stolen from his family years before is found next to the body of a murdered man, Win is mildly ruffled, or at least interested. These items had disappeared on the night twenty years ago that his uncle was murdered and his cousin, Patricia, was kidnapped, stolen away to be raped and tortured at the Hut of Horrors. And then there’s the identity of the murdered man to contend with – Ry Strauss, a hoarder and a recluse, believed to have been a member of a terrorist group in the 1970s, the Jane Street Six. The FBI believes there must be a link with the Hut of Horrors, with Win’s family. It seems only logical that Win should investigate.

Win is, I’m embarrassed to admit, the first Harlen Coben thriller I’ve read but many will know that Win is the sidekick of Coben’s popular detective Myron Bolitar and now he has a novel of his own. This makes Win a great starting point for new readers like me. Myron gets his mentions but this is most definitely Win’s book and it provides such a good entry into this world of Harlan Coben’s thrillers.

Win is quite a character and my feelings towards him are mixed. He’s undoubtedly arrogant, defying anyone to like him, and he has some extremely annoying and obnoxious habits, but the fact that others do seem drawn to him, to want to work for him quite apart from any financial gain, adds to his charisma. But what clinched it for me is Win’s increasing bewilderment surrounding his feelings for his ‘biological daughter’. I found myself liking him, perhaps not a huge amount, but certainly enough to be fascinated by him. He’s undoubtedly unusual and that made a refreshing change.

The big appeal of Win, though, is its extraordinary and fabulous plot. This is a great story with so many layers to it. It’s intricate, it’s involving, it’s terrifying and it is extremely gripping. It’s a puzzle that Win must dispassionately solve but it’s also a dark storm. I love that mix of neatness and chaos. It is brilliantly done by Harlan Coban and, on reading this, I could completely understand why so many people are hooked on his thrillers. I did find myself getting a little lost on occasion but I was happily swept away by it and loved how it all came together.

I listened to the audiobook, which is brilliantly read by Steven Weber. The novel is narrated by Win, which makes it a perfect fit for the audio format when told as well as Steven Weber tells it. He gives Win a voice that fits so well. I was engrossed. Despite the darkness of some of the content, this book is a lot of fun to listen to.

I’m really intrigued now to read earlier novels, to meet Myron for myself and to understand more about his relationship with Win and to find out more about Win himself. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like him in a book before.

Blackout by Simon Scarrow

Headline | 2021 (18 March) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Blackout by Simon ScarrowBerlin in December 1939 is beginning to feel the effects of war. Shortages are becoming noticeable in the city’s most celebrated restaurants, much to the irritation of powerful men, but, far more menacingly, the newly-imposed nightly blackout has brought monsters out to play. When Gerda Korzeny, a former actress and celebrated beauty, is raped and murdered, the establishment takes note. Gerda was married to a top Nazi lawyer, a friend of Goebbels. The Gestapo call in Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke to investigate. There’s a reason Schenke has been selected – he’s not a member of the Nazi Party and is only tolerated for his glamorous past racing cars, an illustrious career that ended in a crash. If this case should uncover demons, then Schenke will make the perfect scapegoat. Then, as the nights draw even darker, another woman is murdered and the pressure on Schenke mounts.

Berlin is one of my favourite cities and I’ve always been fascinated by its past, especially during the 1930s when its reputation as a city of culture and hedonism comes up against the brick wall of the Nazis and fascism. Blackout is set at a particularly interesting time, during the first weeks of the Second World War when society seems bemused that Britain should have declared war on it. At this time war is mostly an inconvenience with the parties and dining out continuing, with the acceptance that eventually Britain and France will succumb to German military might, just like Poland. It’s intriguing to see how these men and women view the Nazis among them. Most have joined the Nazi Party and there is an acceptance and compliance, albeit one tinged with fear and regret. That’s for some, others positively thrive.

Crime fiction set in Nazi Berlin is not straightforward. The crimes of the regime are off the scale, so the author is faced with the challenge of making the reader feel that these murders matter. There also needs to be an empathy with Schenke. That issue is partly solved by giving him his glamorous past and also his angst with his Nazi controllers. He’s getting on with life as best as he can, loyal to Germany but uneasy with its fascism. There is some success. The murders are cruel – I actually couldn’t read some of this – and we do care for the women, especially Gerda. There is a whole social side to this, which goes beyond politics, with the lot of some women as trophy wives or mistresses. But I’m not sure I have the same empathy towards Schenke but that’s not so much to do with his issues towards the Nazis as with his attitude towards women, an attitude that seems prevalent through the novel.

The serial killer investigation part of the novel is bleak (admittedly I’m not much of a reader of serial killer crime fiction, whatever the setting) and I rather think that women have a hard time of it generally. Nobody seems to like them very much, including Horst Schenke, who, like other men in the novel, is very critical of the woman he professes to love. The women here are judged by their lovers. Gerda was and so, too, is Karin, Schenke’s girlfriend. He seems more interested in her important admiral uncle than her and he regularly reflects on her faults. Gerda is hit by her lover. I found this casual dislike of women quite difficult, quite apart from the violence done to them by the killer. It does, though, help build an atmosphere that this is a place doing great wrongs, an evil place and time. It is most definitely atmospheric and immersive – there is a fog of evil hanging over Berlin in December 1939, compounded by the blackout.

So, despite my issues with the novel, it is a powerful read and, if you enjoy serial killer thrillers, then this may well be for you. Its historical setting is vividly real and is undoubtedly one of the most evocative portrayals of Nazi Berlin that I’ve read. You can feel the cold horror of it as Nazism permeates itself into society and people’s lives. The killings don’t seem out of place and that makes them even more harrowing.

I can’t finish this review without saying how much I adore Simon Scarrow’s Cato and Macro novels!

Other reviews
The Blood Crows
Brothers in Blood
Britannia
Invictus
Day of the Caesars

The Blood of Rome
Traitors of Rome
The Emperor’s Exile
With T.J. Andrews – Invader