Tag Archives: Crime

Ruin Beach by Kate Rhodes

Simon & Schuster | 2018 (15 November) | 404p | Review copy

Ruin Beach by Kate RhodesAfter years of service in the Metropolitan Police, DI Ben Kitto has now settled back into life on the Scilly Isles where he grew up and where he realises he belongs. He is the Deputy Chief of Police for the islands. It’s not always easy – the chief is no friend to Ben – but Eddie the constable is warming to him and there’s hardly a soul on the islands, barring the influx of summer visitors, that Ben doesn’t know. Surely, then, there can be no room for secrets on these islands where everybody knows everyone else’s business?

When the body of local professional diver Jude Trellon is discovered anchored to the rocks in a cave, it is initially assumed that her death was a tragic accident. That’s until a curious artefact is found wedged in her mouth and a message inside a bottle is found tied to her ankle. It’s clear to Ben that there is a killer loose on the islands and they have something to say. Jude’s murder is just the beginning.

I loved Hell Bay, the first of Kate Rhodes’ novels to feature DI Ben Kitto. He is such a fascinating detective. He has a history he’s trying to forget but he deals with it by returning to the little island of Bryher where he is confronted by his past every single day. Ben is renewing his friendships with people he abandoned years before but he also has a new companion – Shadow, a wolfhound who has chosen to adopt Ben for the time being. They spend much of their time walking across the Scilly Isles, along its rugged coast, past its smugglers’ cottages, ruined abbeys and sailing its inviting yet dangerous seas. Kate Rhodes’ richly evocative prose makes sure that we’re there with them every step of the way. It’s wonderful and feels such a distance away from the London that Ben has left behind.

Alongside the beauty there is the danger – the storms, the relentless tides, the killer. There is also the discomfort of living in such a small community. If a bad thing happens, one might never be allowed to forget it. It is possible to think you know someone too well when in reality you don’t know them at all. I love how we get to know the islanders, watching them interact, pull together when tragedy strikes. Ruin Beach has such a good plot to go along with the beautiful location, the warm sunshine and the menacing mood. It develops at the perfect pace for the setting. It takes its time, leading us a gorgeous dance around the islands, until the final chapters which are explosive.

Ruin Beach is such an engaging and engrossing read. There is an escapist feel to it which I really enjoyed. Island life is every bit as important, if not more so, than the crime under investigation. When one person is harmed, so many others suffer. Plus there’s the fact that the number of potential suspects is so limited and the majority of these may be people that an islander has known all their lives. I love Kate Rhodes’ elegant, descriptive prose and Ben Kitto, perhaps the tallest man on the islands, stands out in so many ways. It’s a very strong follow up to Hell Bay and I know that when Burnt Island is published in 2019 it will go straight to the top of my reading pile.

Other reviews
River of Souls
Hell Bay

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The Insider by Mari Hannah

Orion | 2018 (1 November) | 407p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Insider by Mari HannahWhen a young woman’s body is found carefully laid out on sleepers next to a Northumberland railway station, the local community reels. This woman is the fourth victim to have been found over recent months and there’s so little to connect them beyond their gender. Fresh detective eyes are needed. When the officer in charge retires with the suggestion of a cloud hanging over him, DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver take over the running of the team. The two of them had such success in their previous case that they have now been promoted to the Murder Investigation Team. The other team members are suspicious, a little hostile, and, when details are leaked to the press, Stone realises they may not all to be trusted. Stone and Oliver must rely on each other to crack a case that has the whole force stumbling around in the dark. And meanwhile the killer watches… biding his time, making his next selection.

The Insider is the second novel by the wonderful Mari Hannah to feature Stone and Oliver and it’s great to see them. In my review of the first novel, The Lost, I said that I expected Stone and Oliver to hit the floor running in their next case and this is most certainly true. I warmed to Frankie Oliver so much in The Lost and now David Stone is doing his best to catch her up in my estimations. David and Frankie hit it off immediately in the earlier book and now that friendship has turned almost into a brother and sister relationship. Frankie is a third-generation cop and her father is almost worshipped by Northumberland’s police. He has welcomed David into their family with open arms. I love the warmth and humour of their relationship, as well as the ways in which Frankie, so independent, needs her family still.

Both Stone and Oliver carry a lot of baggage. Life has not been kind and they’re still reeling from its cost. They need each other more than ever. This does play a central part in The Insider. I hope that in future books some of this might be left behind, that they can move on with their lives. There is a little too much back history for me but otherwise I thought The Lost a thrilling, captivating read.

The plot is fantastic and the tension builds dramatically towards a stunning finale that really did have me gripped. The killer has a voice in the novel and a presence from the very beginning but the identity eluded me – hooray! I loved the way that it all came together. Mari Writer is a fine writer but she is also an excellent plotter.

I really enjoy the Northumberland setting in Mari Hannah’s novels. It sets them apart and the landscape becomes almost a character in its own right. I’ve always enjoyed crime novels set in remote, quiet places. The crimes seem all the more shocking and incongruous outside the city. The shock felt by both the police and the community as a serial killer tears this place to pieces is so well depicted here.

Stone and Oliver have new roles in the Murder Investigation Team. They’re finding their way, making new alliances, seeking out trouble makers, but I have no doubt at all that this is where they belong and I can’t wait to see them again. This has become a series to watch. The paperback includes a preview of The Scandal, the next Stone and Oliver novel. It’s published in March 2019 so we don’t have long to wait at all!

Other reviews
Gallows Drop (Kate Daniels)
The Silent Room (Ryan 1)
The Death Messenger (Ryan 2)
The Lost (Stone and Oliver 1)

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Raven Books | 2018 (20 September) | 395p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Corset by Laura PurcellDorothea Truelove, a young and beautiful heiress, feels that she has little control over her own life, that she is in danger of just sitting around while her father arranges a marriage to a suitably grand personage she will be tied to for the rest of her life. She finds an escape in charitable work, particularly visiting women in prisons that she herself helps to fund. This also gives her the chance to practice her passion – phrenology. Dorothea believes that the disposition of a character to commit crimes can be seen in the shape of the perpetrator’s skull and that their moral improvement will be reflected in the skull’s changing shape. She now has another young woman on which to test her theories – the teenage seamstress Ruth Butterham, imprisoned and awaiting trial for murder.

Ruth couldn’t be any more different from Dorothea. Having begun her life in gentile poverty, tragic, terrible circumstances forced Ruth and her mother to the very depths of what they can survive. Ruth has much to feel bitter about but she also feels guilt – not because she murdered anyone but because she believes that she inadvertently killed with her needle and thread, that some supernatural power had turned every stitch into a weapon, driven by Ruth’s grief and fury.

The Corset tells the story of these two young women, one barely more than a child, in alternate sections as Ruth tells her life to Dorothea who then reflects on what she has learned and how this must affect her own beliefs and life. Ruth’s story challenges everything Dorothea believes, that crime can be explained rationally by the dimensions of a skull. There is little that is rational in what Ruth describes. Can she be believed? Can this murderous supernatural power really be true? But, whether it’s true or not, the brutality and cruelty that Ruth has suffered has much to teach Dorothea about the nature of evil and much of it is very much the work of real men and women.

Ruth’s tale is extraordinary and I was engrossed by it. Laura Purcell demonstrated her fine storytelling powers in The Silent Companions, a truly frightening and chilly ghost story. These are on show again although now the dark powers are much more ambiguous while the evil of man is thrown much more into the light. As a result, this isn’t so much a frightening story as a disturbing one. Ruth’s experiences are horrific and they are explored in detail from the very beginning. There is a shocking scene early on that I must admit was too much for me and it proved to be a stumbling block that I had to overcome. I’m glad that I did overcome it because the rest of the novel kept me in its grip. But this is undoubtedly a very dark tale for much of the time and Ruth’s words, as she describes what has happened, are powerfully descriptive.

Ruth forms the heart of the novel and it’s her sections which I enjoyed the most. Dorothea did little to win me over at the beginning, not least because of her dubious preoccupation with phrenology. She is also privileged and aware that she is. Money is important to her, as is her status. And, although she fancies herself in love with a lowly policeman, one can’t help wondering if that is all a childlike romantic dream. But as her story progresses and she becomes more self-aware, as well as more aware of the horror that society is inflicting on its poorest members, I warmed to her a little more. And Dorothea’s story does develop in a quite surprising if possibly not entirely unexpected way. But the Ruth sections are superb.

The mood of the novel, its menace and evil force, loom so large over the novel, making it such an appropriate read during these long dark evenings. This is the perfect time of year for a Gothic novel and The Corset hits the spot so well. I love Laura Purcell’s writing as well as her eye for historical detail. The Corset isn’t fixed to a particular time, it’s set in a past in which evil flourishes. There’s a kind of dark fairy tale feel to it, an unreal world in which the relationship between mothers and daughters, between fathers and daughters can take on a frightening, shadowy quality. Dorothea’s surname of Truelove contributes to the symbolism as she worries before the looming possibility of an evil stepmother. There are demons and angels in this novel, whether or not the supernatural haunts Ruth’s stitches.

Other review
The Silent Companions

Fatal Promise by Angela Marsons

Bookouture | 2018 (16 October) | 370p | Review copy | Buy the book

Fatal Promise by Angela MarsonsFatal Promise, the ninth in Angela Marsons’ brilliant DI Kim Stone series, follows on directly from its predecessor Dying Truth, and, although much of its story stands alone, I really think you need to read Dying Truth first. For things have happened which mean that nothing will ever be the same for Kim Stone and her team and the impact of this will be all the greater for the reader who was left shocked by the ending of the previous novel. Having said all that, Fatal Promise does make it clear what has happened.

Kim Stone is almost recovered from her injuries and is returning to work. Not that she’s really ready. She has so much pain in her leg. But the pain in her heart is greater. She needs to be back with her team, now so much smaller than it was, and each of them feels as she does. But criminals carry on as normal committing their crimes, and it’s no time at all before Kim must find another killer. Gordon Cordell, a doctor involved in Kim’s last case, is found murdered in a local wood. Shortly afterwards, Cordell’s son is injured in a terrible car crash. Then the body of a woman is found. All of them have links to the local hospital. Stone doesn’t believe in coincidences. She knows that there must be a pattern and, now that the killer is getting a taste for it, there seems to be no end in sight. The pressure builds and it doesn’t make it any easier that a new team member is forced on Stone. There are some shoes that can never be filled.

I love the Kim Stone series so much, Angela Marsons is an extraordinary plotter. Her stories are deliciously complex and entangled and the way in which they come together is always never less than brilliant. The stories are peppered with twists that genuinely surprise and always work. They don’t feel forced and they’re all the more shocking for it. But the books also excel because of their characters. Kim Stone is a marvellous creation. She has a rage in her, she will catch the bad guys at almost any cost, she plays around with the rules, she can be immensely difficult, particularly to those who work with her or who are her superior officers, but she is loved and respected by so many. The loyalties that she has built up over the years continue to thrive and she can always find that useful favour to call in.

But alongside stubborn, determined Kim Stone we have her team – Stacey and Bryant – and they’re every bit as good to know. Bryant’s relationship with Stone is dealt with particularly well here, as is Stacey’s relationship with the new member of the team. Stacey, such a strong element of the series, is given time on her own here as she follows the clues to her own case involving a missing teenager. This is such a good story and complements the rest of the novel perfectly. Kim Stone is the mother hen who realises that she must allow Stacey some time to shine on her own. Everything is driven by very real emotions and motives. It all feels psychologically true.

Although grief is the dominant emotion of Fatal Promise, it is not a particularly gloomy book. There’s the usual wit and repartee. Angela Marsons writes so well. The dialogue feels genuine and believable, and it’s all the funnier for it. It’s also a corking story! There are so many red herrings. It’s such a satisfying puzzle. And I didn’t guess any of it. This isn’t a read to dally over. I read the book so quickly the pages almost turned themselves. Fatal Promise is another thoroughly satisfying novel from Angela Marsons. I don’t know how she does it! Time after time, she excels. We are so lucky to have this series.

Other reviews
Dead Souls
Dying Truth

Under the Ice by Rachael Blok

Head of Zeus | 2018 (1 November) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

Under the Ice by Rachael BlokOne very cold December, just a few days before Christmas, the body of a young girl is pulled from an ice-bound lake in St Albans. Leigh Hoarde had been reported missing and this is the outcome that everybody dreaded. DCI Maarten Jansen and DI Imogen Deacon are at a loss. Their best lead comes from the dead girl’s neighbours, Jenny and Will Brennan. Will saw a suspicious car, which interests the police, but Jenny feels such a closeness to Leigh. She can sense her presence. She is drawn to the lake, she sleepwalks there at night, she can hear a voice calling for help, to save her. And when another girl goes missing, one even closer to Jenny, DCI Jansen begins to wonder if Jenny knows more than she’s saying and that perhaps she is not just an innocent witness.

I was immediately drawn to Under the Ice. I love mysteries set at the heart of winter, when there’s snow on the ground and the nights are long and nothing feels safe. In fact, I love wintry mysteries for the very reasons that I dislike winter! Just as appealing as the ice-cold setting is the location in St Albans – the first time I’ve read a novel set in this fascinating and ancient city.

Everything starts so gently. There’s a dreamlike mood which captures perfectly Jenny’s state of mind. She is a new mother, sleep-deprived and focused entirely on her little baby son. She’s extraordinarily sensitive to the grief the community is suffering as one girl is found dead and another is stolen. But, as the novel moves on, it becomes increasingly tense, disturbing, melancholic and intensely spellbinding. There’s much about the story that feels other worldly and that’s all thanks to the author’s genius in creating mood, intensifying it with the icey, dark weather and the approach of Christmas.

Rachael Blok is equally adept at creating character. We get to know Jenny so well and we feel such empathy for her. This is a fine portrait of a new mother, almost permanently physically attached to her helpless baby. The theme of mothers and daughters has such a powerful presence in these pages. But my favourite character in Under the Ice is Detective Chief Inspector Maarten Jansen, who has settled in England with his English family but he is being tempted back to Rotterdam. But he knows that his future depends on his success with this case. Maarten is a fascinating man. He has a past, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t overshadow him. Instead, Maarten’s focus is on his family, his colleagues and to the girls and their parents. He is warm, popular but there is no doubt that he’s struggling with this case. I really hope we see him again.

The plot is great! It’s full of twists and turns and surprises and it did indeed keep me guessing – quite a rarity, these days. I love how it all comes together. Richly atmospheric and moody with an intriguing, unusual detective and a haunted main character, it works itself under your skin and is beautifully written from start to finish. Rachael Blok is most definitely an author to watch.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Orion | 2016, Pb 2017 | 560p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Magpie Murders by Anthony HorowitzOne wet August evening, Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Ryeland Books, picked up the manuscript of the latest Atticus Pünd detective mystery by Reyland Books’ most successful author, Alan Conway. And so we begin to read Magpie Murders, the last case, set in the 1950s, for Atticus Pünd, a man half-Greek and half-German who survived a concentration camp only now to be defeated by a tumour. But, while one part of him wishes to withdraw, to sit and reflect on the meaning of his life, another part of him welcomes the distraction of a new and final case.

The housekeeper of Pye Hall, a grand house in a small village near Bath, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs. It looks as if she tripped over the vacuum cleaner lead but Mary Blakiston knew everything that went on in the village, its deepest secrets, and that meant that she was a woman with enemies, surrounded by people with motive and opportunity. But this will not be the only death in the village. Atticus Pünd will have a final investigation worthy of his famous powers of detection.

But, of course, that is not at all what Magpie Murders is about. And to discover its true mystery and enigma, I urge you to read the novel for yourself. Anthony Horowitz is the master of playing with the novel format, as seen in The Word is Murder and the very recent The Sentence is Death, and here he turns the whodunnit inside out and upside down. The result is a murder mystery the like of which I haven’t read before.

Magpie Murders is a substantial book and yet not a page is wasted or surplus. This is plotting at its very best. It is enormously intricate and elaborate, full of games and puzzles, layers within layers, all playing on the idea of author as character and the blurring of fiction and reality. It’s an immensely enjoyable and rewarding read that manages to be both clever and welcoming. I am in awe of Anthony Horowitz’s skill as well as of his talent in writing such thoroughly entertaining crime fiction which works in so many unexpected ways, but not least for providing the page-turning pleasure we expect from a whodunnit.

Other reviews
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2018 (1 November) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Sentence is Death by Anthony HorowitzWhen divorce barrister Richard Pryce is bludgeoned to death with a £2000 bottle of wine, it appears to be an open and shut case. The ex-wife of one of Richard’s clients had threatened to do exactly the same thing to him just a few days before, in a restaurant where she poured a glass of wine over his head. But something about the case doesn’t feel right, not least because of the strange message written on the wall by Pryce’s body, and the more that the police delve, the more suspects they uncover. The list will not stop growing. Even though Richard was a generous benefactor to friends, a stickler for the rules when it comes to the law, a seeker for justice, he’s somehow given a fair few people the motive to do him in. The police are losing patience and so they call in ex-police detective and now Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne. And that means that Anthony Horowitz, Hawthorne’s long-suffering biographer, must come along too. Who knows, he may even solve the crime before Hawthorne? Solving the enigma that is Hawthorne might be far more difficult…

The Sentence is Death is the second novel in the Hawthorne series but you can easily read it on its own, although there is the serious risk that you’ll then have to seek out instantly the first, The Word is Murder. The Word is Murder is such a fantastic book and I’m delighted to say that The Sentence is Death is every bit as good, if not even better!

As before, The Sentence is Death is such a clever novel, written with impeccable skill and wit. It is also extremely entertaining and accessible. The premise is irresistible. Our author becomes one of his own main characters. The novel is part of his three-part biography of Hawthorne. Horowitz must fit this work in around his busy schedule, principally writing episodes of Foyle’s War for television and being on hand as the production team film around London. Anthony Horowitz gives us plenty of real-life details – we encounter familiar actors, real publishing people, well-known bookshops, members of Horowitz’s family – and then intermingling with all of that is the story of Hawthorne’s investigation into the murder of Richard Pryce. There is plenty of time, though, for Horowitz to wonder what secrets Hawthorne is keeping from him and to throw his hands up in the air in frustration at the infuriating nature of his subject. Hawthorne and Horowitz do not get along. Although the fact that Horowitz has now been made a member of Hawthorne’s book club suggests that maybe, deep, deep, deep down, they might have something in common.

And so while we can enjoy the fun conceit of the novel as biography, we can also revel in its murder mystery. It is fantastic! There are so many clues and red herrings – which pleases Horowitz who is well known for his Sherlock Holmes novels – and so many characters, all colourfully depicted, with secrets to hide. This is a wonderfully engaging story and I found it next to impossible to put down.

The figure of Hawthorne is also a big draw. He’s hard to dislike, however irritating he can be, and he’s as much an enigma to us as he is to our author. Horowitz might try to outguess him, to very funny results, but he doesn’t get very far. Hawthorne is such an intriguing character. I wonder what we’ll discover about him in book three – everything or nothing, I suspect.

The Sentence is Death is extremely entertaining, fun and engaging. Anthony Horowitz is greatly to be admired for what he’s achieved with these books, referencing all sorts of famous fictional detectives, resisting the ‘reality’ that he’s only good enough to be the Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes, getting into all sorts of trouble with the extraordinary police officer in charge of the case, trailing behind Hawthorne in more ways than one… There is so much going on, so much to enjoy, all written with such flair and humour, often at the author’s own expense. There’s something rather appealing in an author maintaining that he’s not able to solve the case when, of course, it’s in his own book! I cannot wait for book three and I cannot wait to read more Anthony Horowitz – I’ve ordered Magpie Murders to collect this week. I suspect I’m going to love it.

Other review
The Word is Murder