Thursday, 8 October 2020

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons


I read so many crime thrillers by American authors, it was rather refreshing to find that this was set on home soil. 

Parsons is a new-to-me author, and I'll be honest, I had a few misgivings, as I made the mistake of reading the unfavourable reviews. Yes, it's gritty, it's violent and features criminals who should never have left their mothers' wombs, but it's no worse than any of those TV programmes preceded by 'this programme contains bad language and scenes some viewers might find upsetting'. It's a policeman's world, it goes without saying.

This is the second in the DI Max Wolfe series, and he has to get to the bottom of the killing of four members of a family. The fifth member, a young child is missing. The crime and the weapon used smack of the work of The Slaughter Man…released from prison after doing his time, but now dying. Surely, he didn't do it again? And why pick on a perfect, happy family? But…was it the perfect family? 

This is a fast-paced, gripping thriller. Having not read the first Wolfe book, I didn't know why he had an ex wife and, unusually, custody of his daughter. It didn't matter. He's certainly a hard-nosed policeman, but his five-year-old princess is the centre of his world. Parsons parallels these two worlds very adeptly. Oh, and at last, someone who explains all those acronyms used in the force…how enlightening! 

I'm diving straight into #4 of the series (my Kindle is missing #3!).

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson

I'm always a bit wary of translated books, as English, more often than not, is the translator's second language and inevitably, there's a bit of clumsiness in the translation. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by this. Perhaps the translator is English, although 'banging your head against a glass ceiling' is interesting. The Icelanders are obviously ten feet tall. I think the English will stick to the brick wall for their head-banging.

I've never been to Iceland and imagine it to be quite beautiful, albeit cold. Very cold. That bleakness certainly penetrates this book. Hulda is a sixty-four-year-old detective approaching retirement. But her rather obnoxious boss decides she needs to go sooner rather than later (as in, immediately) and offers her one more case, a cold case of her choice, to solve before she goes. I can't imagine what the British unions would make of what amounts to wrongful dismissal. She chooses the apparent 'suicide' of a Russian asylum seeker. The case reeks of mishandling and cover-ups, and she is determined to get to the bottom of it. 

The reader is led to believe that Hulda is good at her job, but she comes over as a bit scatty, naïve and disorganised. Her portrayal hints at females in their sixties as being a little useless and over the hill. Hmm. 

The book is certainly atmospheric and despite my misgivings, is quite compelling. However, the ending is disappointing, incomplete, and Hulda's outcome is totally unnecessary. If you have too many questions at the end of a book, it's never a good thing.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew


A tragic and disturbing topic is a tall order for a debut novel, but Askew handles it with astonishing skill. School shootings, sadly, have happened more than once in the US, and Askew has taken the event and planted it into a UK (Scottish) college. Ryan walks into his college and kills thirteen female students. Then, himself. 

The ensuing aftermath is shared by three POVs: Ryan's mother, Moira; Ishbel, the mother of the first victim, Abigail, and lastly, DI Helen Birch, the detective in charge of the case. 

So, there is no 'whodunnit'. We know that from the get-go. It's the 'why did he do it?' and the effect on those most closely connected.

Desperation, emotion and heartbreak oozes from every pore from the start. It's a tragedy, of course, but I was starting to wonder if I could take page after page of it and, guiltily, I was rather irritated by Ishbel and her husband, Aiden, neither of whom managed to endear themselves to me. But Ishbel turns out to be a clever woman indeed.

An absolutely stunning debut by this author. Her characters are well observed and well portrayed, from the shocked and confused mother to the slimy, devious, unscrupulous and just plain odious journalist stomping into his reporting of the story with a sledgehammer. She certainly knows how to wring the pathos out of her words. 

Askew has marched into the authorial arena with flying colours, and I know I shall be reading her subsequent work.

A Killing Game by Jeff Buick

Thank heavens I've finished this. I don't think my heart could take it anymore. It stopped, missed beats, palpitated and leapt to my mouth. 

I've already got a Bobby Greco thriller and its prequel by this author in my read list, both of which left me gasping for more. Detective Curtis Westcott is another dedicated, determined…and very clever...policeman. A kidnapper (and murderer of three other women) thinks he's cleverer, though, and gambles on a cat-and-mouse game with him, confident he'll never find his kidnappee in time. 

This is an absolutely brilliant crime thriller. Well plotted, well characterised, meticulous attention to detail, gripping, fast-paced and oh goodness, where's the thesaurus for words like excellent! Buick is an author who can write a captivating and exciting thriller with a capital T. 

I shall be following Bobby G and Curtis very closely.

See Also:


Saturday, 29 August 2020

One is Evil by Jeff Buick

Have you ever read a book by a new (to you) author and then known you absolutely have to read every single word he's written? Buick is that author. Technically, I suppose, I've read two, but the first was a novella, a prequel to the Bobby Greco series. It was a real appetite whetter, and I dived straight into One is Evil. Boy, oh boy. Heart-stopping, gripping, real edge-of-your-seat stuff—with bells on. 

Extremely well crafted and written: an absolutely cracking plot, credible characters (good and bad), ones you really feel invested in. 

Bobby, now an ex-homicide detective working for an agency investigating fraud insurance, feels a bit of tingle when he's asked to check out an insurance claim by an extraordinarily wealthy widow. Ex, he may be, but, you can take a detective out of detecting, but you can't take detecting out of a detective. Something isn't right, not right at all. His investigation takes him into the deadly world of arms' dealers and to the unforgiving Russian landscape. 

This is a really classy thriller and brilliantly rounded up. No sloppy, quick tying-up of ends or far-fetched ones: sensibly and credibly brought to a conclusion, and whilst there were no loose threads, I did love that the door was left very, very slightly ajar for a sequel. 

An absolute gem.

See Also:

No End of Bad Guys by Jeff Buick

No End of Bad Guys is the prequel novella to the Bobby Greco series. It's the perfect aperitif to the series. It's a novella wearing big boy's trousers: it doesn't skimp on detail, plot or character development. You hardly notice it's not a full-length book.

It's a great introduction to Greco: a detective married to his job. His other marriage, to his wife, didn't pan out too well because of it. But his dedication…or maybe obsession…gets results. In this, he has to try and nail the perp of a kidnapping he's gut-convinced did it, and at the same time, his spidey senses wake up when he meets the mother of one of his daughters' school friends. 

Page-turning and gripping. I was hooked till the end and wasted no time at all (perhaps a nanosecond) picking up the first in the Greco series.

Stairlift to Heaven by Terry Ravenscroft

The best and most refreshing thing about this book is the delightful absence of political correctness. Ravenscroft says it like it is; he describes people, events, rules, language as he sees or perceives them. Totally brilliant. 

Ravenscroft was a scriptwriter for many eighties' favourites like Morecombe and Wise, Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, to name but a few. Classics that still make us laugh forty years on. 

After reaching pensionable age, Ravenscroft penned anecdotes and accounts of 'adventures' shared with his reprobate pensioner neighbours. By his own admission, he just may have padded these events with a little embellishment, but it doesn't matter one jot. It's sheer entertainment: laugh-out loud entertainment. Funny, witty, light-hearted, enjoyable, sometimes wise and deliciously politically incorrect.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Steel Journeys: The Road to Patagonia by Lynda Meyers

Two things annoy me about books: the present-tense narrative (thank heavens it wasn't used here) and when books end at 72%. Unfortunately, this is where the book commits that particular crime.

Whilst I didn't find the main character, Abby, particularly 'badass', which is how the blurb describes her, I was rather enjoying her story. I did wish someone would shake her out of the bitterness that has been festering inside her for fifteen years (boyfriend betrayal) and tell her to move on, but for all that, I liked her. I consider her more independent than badass, and setting up what is essentially a travel business for female bikers is commendable. Patagonia doesn't feature much, by the way, but the story and the writing are decent. However, at 72%, there are unresolved issues, but I did think, no worries, a quarter of the book to go, there's time. Alas, no, 72%, and there it was: The End. I even thought it was a mistake and frantically tapped my Kindle to see where the rest of story was. 

I'm not keen on book excerpts (especially when they take up a quarter of a book) tagged on to the end of novels. I find it rather presumptuous and a teeny bit arrogant: the author is assuming you want to read more of his/her books. I'm not sure, despite this author's competence, I'm particularly motivated to do so. Will I find the answers to Abby's dilemmas? Or will it be another three-quarter offering?  I'm not so sure I want to pay to find the answer.



Friday, 31 July 2020

The Friend by Dorothy Koomson

I haven't read anything by this author before. And I'm mightily impressed. The Friend has an excellent plot and some really meaty characters. However, my heart sank right into the heels of my shoes when I discovered it's written in the present-tense narrative. A fantastic book spoilt by this odious trend. It just doesn't work. I got over it, eventually, but my irritation ran at low ebb throughout. 

Some reviews have likened this to Big Little Lies. I have no idea why, it's nothing like it. 

Cece and her family move to Brighton with her husband's promotion, only to find that the new posh school her children are attending is in the wake of a tragedy: a prominent parent, Yvonne, is fighting for her life after being found battered in the school grounds. New town, new school and Cece has to try and find new friends in a very undesirable atmosphere. But three mums welcome her into their 'circle'. Just when she thinks the upheaval was worth it, one of detectives on the case…who also happens to be an old flame…suspect one of the trio and puts Cece into an intolerable position, asking her to 'spy' on the three. 

This is very well written and ticks all the boxes for suspense and mystery. It really is a page turner. I certainly read this through movie eyes: this has to hit the big screen. The main characters are gritty, interesting, multi-dimensional and very well portrayed. 

Will I read any more of this author's novels? I really, really want to…Koomson certainly knows how to write a captivating and absorbing book…but only if the present-tense narrative has been well and truly vamoosed.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

A LIttle Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes

A few jarring things in this book. There was a rather endearing preamble to the book by the publishers. It was quite original: in a nutshell patting themselves on their backs for finding such a gem of a debut book. That's fine. Then why couldn't you find yourselves better editors to do it justice? It's not asking much. Just someone who can use the right pronouns: 'Matthew can give Kit and I some coins.'  Really? 'Can give I'???  Someone who can tell the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Someone who knows there is no such thing as 'was sat'. And someone who doesn't pluralise surnames with an apostrophe: the Mace's and the Cadogan's. Seriously? And the rest.

Secondly, present-tense narrative ruins the book. I'm not a fan of PTN, in fact, I hate it, and I try to overlook it, but in this case, no. 

This started life as a short story. I'm not so sure it shouldn't have stayed that way. Padding it out into a full-length novel resulted in it being confusing and really stretching my staying power. Too many references to unidentified 'hims', 'hers', 'its' make it hard to keep up. 

The story is in first-person POV, Robyn, with a dual timescale: 1976 (you will only remember that particular unique summer if you are over 40) and 1988. 

The characters are bland, one-dimensional and not at all likeable…Robyn is even a bit irritating, her brother, Kit, only a little less so. There's little to identify where the story takes place: it could be anywhere in the world and there's too much telling and not enough showing. 

I must admit, however, that I was compelled to get to the oh-is-that-it ending. Mind you, that may not be saying much as I'm not a DNF person. I will finish a book notwithstanding.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Girl Who Wanted to Belong by Angela Hart

It's hard to conceive that some children who have a seemingly complete family unit end up in foster care. But this is what happens to Lucy. Her father and three siblings were abandoned by her mother when she was four. One stepmother didn't work out, the next one is your quintessential wicked stepmother. Lucy is hard work, it's true: over-exuberant, temperamental…a bit of a wild child. But an absent mother and then two unpleasant stepmothers certainly don't help. After being dumped on two aunties, then a grandmother, none of whom can cope with her, foster carers Angela and Jonathan take her in.

This is Angela's true story…a foster carer for many years…of Lucy. An eye-opening account of the life of a foster carer, how they cope (are they saints?) with children of wide-ranging distress and trauma, red tape, the constraints they face, and in Lucy's case, unpleasant people. 

There wasn't anything wrong with Lucy that a stable, loving, understanding family unit couldn't have put right. But enter Wendy, stepmum number two and with her, the inevitability of Lucy's behavioural deterioration and fallout of rejection. Wendy is a piece of work, an evil piece of work. As for Dean, Lucy's dad, I have nothing but contempt for him. He's a limp rag who dances to Wendy's tune. Instead of putting his immediate family first, he let Wendy and her sultry daughter rule the roost. The names have obviously been changed, but if either of them read this book, they will know who they are, and I hope they hang their heads in shame. The poignancy and heartbreak are Lucy's eternal and profound love for her daddy and steadfast conviction that her foster care is minimally temporary. 

I don't often read non-fiction books, but Hart has a very engaging style to relate her foster-caring experiences: it's like reading a (very compelling) novel. It's tragic to remember it's all true. 

We do get to learn where and how Lucy ends up. It's a bumpy road, for sure…I won't spoil it, but let's just say, Angela did good! 

I now know just a teensy bit more about foster caring than I did before. One thing is certain, some foster carers are amazing: their patience, tolerance and unconditional love for their wards is truly awesome.