Two mutton pasties, an almond slice and a custard tart are not the normal order that a superior officer would give to a subordinate faced with a possible armed siege. But then, Andy Dalziel's never been one for all that official mucking about and Hector's never been one that anybody really believes. Number 3 Mill Street, an Asian and Arab specialist Video store, is an address flagged for low level interest by the Combined Anti-Terrorism Unit. Inspector Ireland's not convinced that Dalziel is taking this seriously enough. Inevitably he has to ring Peter Pascoe to tell him about this latest grievance with the Fat Man's response but what Peter doesn't expect is that it is Ellie that nudges him from his Bank Holiday hammock musing that Andy may need to be discouraged from starting his own Gulf War.
Meanwhile Andy is breaking every single rule in the CAT book. No roadblocks, no observation, no holding off until the CAT group can respond, and Andy hunkered down behind his car on the other side of the street, waving a bullhorn around and inviting the people in the store to order their own pasties. Pascoe thinks he's using heavy handed irony when he suggests “all you need do is stroll over there, check everything's OK, then leave a note for the CAT man on the shop door saying you've got it sorted and would he like a cup of tea back at the Station?” Unfortunately irony is often wasted on Andy and classic insult delivered, he struggles to his feet and confidently steps across the street towards No 3.
Mill Street then blows up.
Taking the full brunt of the explosion, Dalziel is critically injured, comatose and desperately ill. Pascoe is a little luckier, shielded from the initial blast by the Fat Man himself, he's bruised battered and befuddled, but as the crash cart is called to Andy, torn between grief and anger, acceptance and incomprehension, Peter is determined to find out what happened. Seconded to the CAT Unit as damage control by them (“better on the inside pissing out”), anybody who thinks that one of Dalziel's men can be tamed by token gestures, has obviously underestimated the stretch and tenacity of the Fat Man's influence.
The plot gets more and more complex as connections emerge between the explosion, terrorism, the Yorkshire Muslim community, the CAT Unit, young Hector and even Pascoe himself. Wield is there, providing quiet and faithful backup to Pascoe, distressed by Dalziel's fate and worried about Pascoe. Ellie is supporting her husband whilst dealing with her own feelings, worried about the increasing violence as the investigation gets closer to a mysterious group called the Knights Templar. In a luscious touch of irony, the CAT Unit is headed by Sandy Glenister – Scottish, female, forthright, bawdy and unorthodox. She is a woman who truly could have jousted with Dalziel and lived to tell the tale.
Part of the joy of DEATH OF DALZIEL is as always, the style. The language is peppered with the obscure and unexpected, alongside the most wonderful broad brush Yorkshire phrasing and terminology that just leaps off the page and draws the reader in – and I suspect, leaves you with a tendency to use “owt” and “yon” in your own conversation for quite a long time after the reading has finished.
The humour is also particularly of it's place. Slightly bawdy, edgy and self-deprecating. Only Dalziel, comatose, lying in a hospital bed, and having an out of body experience could joke about his position. Only Wieldy could sit quietly in his backyard, all hell breaking out around him, sneaking a marmoset toast with butter and jam. Surely Hill is one of the few writers who could draw the fabulous Tottie (could she be the Tottie from the Mecca Ballroom?), the classic Yorkshire wife and mother, conversion to Islam or not – she's a Yorkshire-woman first.
DEATH OF DALZIEL is going to grab you from that first explosion and keep you reading, wondering and hoping right to the very end.
THE BULLET TRICK - Louise Welsh
Stage magician William Wilson lives a pretty hand to mouth type of existence as an opening act. In these way past vaudeville days, a stage magician is not really all that in demand. He also doesn't get many gigs at retirement parties for policemen, but Detective Inspector James Montgomery has the nickname of “The Magician” and somebody thought Wilson's appearance would be funny. The stage show certainly goes okay, but afterwards the reason why he's the particular magician asked to do the gig is revealed. It seems that Montgomery is carrying something in his wallet that Bill, the owner of the club hosting the party, really wants. And Wilson does a very good line in pocket dipping.
Despite Wilson not wanting to get involved, there are a lot of reasons to reconsider, not least of all a large number of bookie IOU's, now in Bill's hands, so the envelope is stolen. Wilson then has to scarper out the back of the club holding the envelope for safe-keeping when Montgomery realises it's gone and tackles Bill and his partner Sam to get it back. Sending the envelope on to his mother for safekeeping, Wilson has gone to Berlin to work in a club there, when he hears that Bill and Sam have been found dead in the club, and Montgomery starts ringing Wilson's mobile phone.
In Berlin, Wilson hooks up with Sylvie who performs in his act, despite there being something very reckless about her, and something really weird about her background and her Uncle Dix – is he or isn't he really her uncle and what is it about both of them that's just not quite right. And now, a veil really must be drawn to avoid giving away anything. Suffice to say that Wilson has found himself eventually back in the UK, avoiding Montgomery, intrigued by what was in the envelope; what happened to Bill and Sam; and tortured by events in Berlin.
The book switches viewpoint chapter by chapter, from the events that lead up to the time that Wilson spends in Berlin and where he is post Berlin – back in the UK, despondent, drifting and lost.
As with her first book, THE CUTTING ROOM, Welsh has again created a complicated character set of characters. The motivation for Wilson's investigating the contents of the envelope are a bit vague / quixotic; the reasons for him drifting lost after Berlin could be read as incomprehensible by the sensible / reasonable amongst us. Sylvie's motivations are never clear, her background left sufficiently ambiguous that you can leap to all sorts of conclusions, but the evidence might just not be there. Again, there's a strong, gloriously over the top cast of supporting characters, right down to Wilson's agent and his secretary. The secretary is but a brief pencil sketch in terms of the overall novel, but it's so powerfully written – she's a marvellous inconsequential character. One of the strength's of Welsh's is the marvellous ambiguity of many of the characters actions, the strength of the characterisation – be they “nice” or “nasty”. There's always a feeling that you'd know these people if you saw them in a pub.
And finally there's atmosphere. In The Cutting Room there was a lovely feeling of the voyeuristic, dusty, dirty clearing out of other people's houses. THE BULLET TRICK is a stagey, magical, high camp performance; but not so far behind the spotlight there's a back stage area where the tissues are used and the carpets are dirty and the cigarette smoke's stained the walls yellow. Highly recommended.
TAMBURLAINE MUST DIE - Louise Welsh
Playwright, poet, and spy Christopher Marlowe is a man who doesn't much care about the consequences of anything that he does. He's dissolute, reckless and playing a dangerous game. London is a grimy, insular, frightened place – with the plague and war threatening, strangers are treated with great suspicion and the shadowy Privy Council run by Ministers who "cared enough for high office to profit from death".
The story begins in May 1593 when Marlowe is summoned from the home of his patron to appear before the Privy Council immediately. He is accused of being an atheist and recruiting others to his cause. His play Tamburlaine is known as an atheist tract and somebody calling themselves Tamburlaine is using references to the play in posters, bills and other materials scattered around London. So called friends of Marlowe have been quick to accuse. Marlowe must find the mysterious Tamburlaine and prove himself innocent, but, alas, history records that he was dead in a house in Deptford on the evening of the 30th May – 3 days later.
TAMBURLAINE MUST DIE is a fictitious account of the events that led from the charging of Marlowe to his death by stabbing. The known facts of the death of Marlowe are that he did die, stabbed in that house, lying on a bed. What is not so clear is the real truth of the events. As the author mentions in an addendum to the book, "The coroner's jury accepted the killer's claims of self-defence ... Marlowe's killer was awarded a pardon." "The flaws in the jury's decision have been well established ... The official account rests on the unreliable testimony of three rogues and is therefore unsafe."
Christopher Marlowe's fate is the subject of much ongoing debate worldwide, as is the ongoing conversation about whether he is or is not the true author of many of Shakespeare's works – and goodness knows this book (and this reviewer) are not stating an opinion one way or the other on that. TAMBURLAINE MUST DIE is Louise Welsh's fictional tale of the days leading up to Marlowe's death. The writing is deft, lyrical and very readable. The setting feels authentic, the characters beautifully grotesque, their actions startling, their sex lives varied to say the least. The book is very descriptive, almost picturesque even though there is very little charming or picturesque about 1500's London, the Privy Council's machinations or the life of a dissolute artist surviving by the kindness of patrons and friends. .
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND - Stav Sherez
There is a serial killer in Amsterdam, killing young women in an unspeakable manner. The body of the elderly tramp, found in a rain soaked park, is covered in scarring of all types, so police assume that he is the latest victim, despite the differences in the manner of his death. All Detective Ronald van Hijn has as a clue to the victim's identity is a name and a phone number, written on the inside of the book of poetry found in the tramps pocket.
Jon Reed knew the old man – Jake Colby – because he had recently been overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility for this quiet, homeless man. Some strange impulse had made him invite Jake into his flat, where they had spent time together talking about their backgrounds and their respective fathers.
Summoned to Amsterdam to identify Jake, Jon finds himself drawn to the city; to the investigation into Jake's death; to the Jewish quarter and to Suze, an American student writing her thesis on a little known Jewish artist, killed in Auschwitz. Jake had recently discovered he wasn't who he had thought he was. Jon is aware that he is not who he really is, and that his own father had denied their Jewish history totally. Whilst he is searching for Jake's past and what it was that led to his death, Jon finds himself pulled into a strange twilight world of drugs, alcohol, Jewish History, Nazism and fetishes.
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is a thriller. The action is almost non-stop and there's lots and lots of sex and drugs; a bit of rock and roll; Nazi's; pornographers; shadowy Internet auction sites; body piercers; cruelty; secret societies and a huge dose of despair. Whilst there is a lot of action and always something new happening, there are also some short reflective moments whilst Jon tries to work out what being Jewish means to him. Van Hijn is another rumpled, slightly maverick Detective. What makes him different and interesting though is that he's actually not bullet-proof, he also sticks with this investigation, despite the powers that be wanting him anywhere else. And he's addicted to cheesecake – the seriously nice sounding variety and some really weird sounding varieties (chilli and chive or liquorice cheesecake anyone?) . Suze is not just your typical love interest or token female, she's got some very challenging behaviours of her own.
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is dark. Much of it's subject matter is revolting, many of the characters just appalling, the violence is extreme and people behave badly – frequently. The sex and the drug taking are graphic and brutal. The cruelty of the murders is reflected again and again in cruelty at all levels – to each other and animals; historical and current day. But the pace of the book is sharp and the storyline is taut and well written. THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is not a comfortable read, but it is a great thriller.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE - Toby Moore
We have seen the future, and it's a scary place. In DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, being fat in most States of America is now a crime, and Health Enforcement in New York enforce weight licences and track down humonsters for forced re-education. Brown (chocolate's street name) is only available from smugglers and illicit dealers. Illicit eateasy's are hidden all over town, serving burgers, fries and other illegal substances. The boring, day to day existence of Health Enforcement Officers Devlin and Strong is disrupted in a big way when Cupid Frish, pulled over just days before for a random weight check, is found, dead.
It doesn't take too long to find that Frish has some very questionable connections with the Head of Health Enforcement as well as Bishop Instructor Heston Gotfelt of the Fit for Christ Church, conglomerate corporation; church; fitness institution and political power-base. It seems that Frish has been strangled, coated with a bizarre brown bikini and dumped, but when her body goes missing from the morgue; her apartment is trashed and she turns out to have been a lot more than just a murder victim, Devlin and Strong get themselves into a heap of trouble overstepping the role of Health Enforcement Officials.
There's a lot of playing around with perceptions and everyday scenarios in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE. Firstly there's a society totally and utterly obsessed with food and weight - trying to control every aspect of citizens lives with a mixture of religious zeal, legal control and financial incentives. There is corporate power behind the political throne, making a lot of money from controlling people's behaviours. There is massive weather pattern shifting with cold winds and flurries of snow in summer New York. There is also a switching of traditional roles with Devlin, a man, trying to balance work and being a single parent to a rebellious teenage girl and Strong, a female, being a hard drinking, hard playing maverick.
There's some very clever switching around of some of the methods used in society to control anti-social behaviour, for example, illegal drug selling and use. The comparisons between speakeasys and eateasys is pretty obvious, and it's a illustrative part of Moore's future world. In places though, the comparisons get a bit heavy-handed and DEATH BY CHOCOLATE veers towards self-involved. The mystery of Frish and what happened to her gets somewhat lost amongst the agonising of Devlin - is his daughter really using Brown? Will she end up in rehab? Will he ever get a girlfriend? The ramblings, rantings and manipulations of Gotfelt and the Church are amusing and quite telling in places, but again, it all ends up getting a bit too carried away in its own cleverness. The way that all the components of religion, and bureaucracy can be switched to be for or against any subject, item, passion (illicit or legal) starts to get drawn out and whilst many of those comparisons are clever, it's all just a bit too much because the central story starts to suffer and lose focus.
DEATH BY CHOCOLATE is amusing, it's clever and if you can forgive it trying to hit you across the head with the comparisons, it's a good light-hearted read for somebody who is looking for a something a bit on the silly side. Two warnings though, fat is printed as f*t, cuteness can be incredibly trying sometimes, and most importantly, you couldn't possibly read DEATH BY CHOCOLATE and not have uncontrollable cravings for a large box of chocolates, a very strong full fat cappuccino and a pizza with everything.
A CERTAIN JUSTICE - P D James
Venetia Aldridge QC, distinguished barrister, is found dead in her Middle Temple Chambers, stabbed once cleanly through the heart; sat in her chair; wearing a full wig covered in blood.
She had recently successfully defended Garry Ashe, accused of killing his aunt, and has been horrified by the announcement that Ashe and her troublesome daughter Octavia plan to marry. The current Head of Middle Temple Chambers is about to retire and Venetia believed she had a right to the position, despite just a few scant weeks of seniority. She was planning big disruptive changes in Chambers, and her best friend there was also her main rival for the job. Her lover, a prominent parliamentarian wanted to end their relationship. Dalgleish and his team firstly struggle to explain why the bizarre treatment of the body, and then to narrow the vast cast of possible suspects to get to the bottom of the death, until a second brutal killing suddenly reveals a lot of things that were carefully hidden away.
The book is broken into four distinct phases, "Book One - Counsel for the Defence", "Book Two - Death in Chambers", "Book Three - A Letter from the Dead" and finally "Book Four - The Reed Beds". This breaks the story up into those 4 distinct phases - the events leading up to the death of Venetia, the discovery of her body and the commencement of the investigation through to the resolution in two parts.
The characters in the story are artfully revealed, but in particular, the main character, the victim herself, is somebody that you come to know a lot about in the lead up to her death. There's a touch of the personal story of the investigators, less of Dalgleish and a little more about Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant. The concentration, however, is mostly on how they work, and react to each other.
The location of the early parts of the book, in and around the Temple Chambers and the Old Bailey give a great sense of place - something vaguely archaic, cloistered and claustrophobic.
This is definitely a doorstopper of a book at 482 pages in the standard paperback, but there is no discernible padding in that. The only minor quibble is the same quibble that readers can sometimes get from James in that there's a vague feeling of class distinctions and people who are "quite right" and people who are "not quite right", based on where they come from. Kate Miskin, for example, came from Public Housing and she is constantly feeling that she has to compensate for that background.
A CERTAIN JUSTICE was involving from the start to the end, regardless of the size of the book. It is an old fashioned puzzle story, in the hands of an author who really knows how to crank out a good, deft, solid mystery. You really get the feeling you're in the hands of somebody who knows what they are doing.
OVER EXPOSURE - Hugo Rifkind
Macaulay Lewis has a major problem. Sure he was there the night that shadowy society cat-burglar Fingers stole the Bushman's Thimbles (diamonds that is) from Gemma Conrad's nipples, with the weathergirl not even noticing they had gone. But he kind of didn't update the copy that subsequently went out on his own newspaper's front page so there was no mention of this startling event. Bit embarrassing. Even more embarrassing because the glittering social event was that paper's own Diamond Awards night.
Mac is pretty used to stuffing up though - he spends most of his life in a slightly hung-over increasingly desperate search for a life. Fingers, though, is not the life he wants. The powers that be at the newspaper seem to think that Fingers is somehow their story and despite everything, they hope that Mac is their inner track to the cat burglar. Everybody else in the London media has other ideas. Mac, alas, finds himself more and more at events where Fingers pulls off one of his grand heists and slowly people start to wonder whether Mac and Fingers are more closely acquainted than initially thought. Whilst everyone else is madly speculating, Mac is just trying to get through the day and maybe get laid.
As Fingers increasingly pulls off more elaborate thefts, Mac finds his job security more and more threatened by his total inability to get anything right about this story, and he's no closer to getting his ex-girlfriend Elspeth to fancy him again. He also can't get sister Janie to stop dating losers and sister (christened Margaret - now Miriam) to stop playing the role of Jewish Princess. With their Scottish father and absent Jewish mother, Mac, Margaret and Janie are a close set of siblings despite everything.
OVER EXPOSURE is a bit of a romp through the grotty, silly, self-obsessed world of B-grade celebrity, heavy duty partying and the gossip columns of London. The famous names are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, but for non-UK based, not addicted to TV readers, it will require acceptance that these people were probably famous for some reason and the ability to just let that roll, because frankly, this particular reader has only heard of one in every 10 of the names.
There's also nothing terribly serious about OVER EXPOSURE, but the silliness is quite catching. Readers will have to be prepared for a bit of debauchery and some overt drug use and drinking, but Mac's a great character and there are some good, strong secondary characters orbiting around him. OVER EXPOSURE is a really fun, silly caper book, built around these elaborate celebrity thefts and a bloke who is just trying to straighten up and get the girl.
GAGGED & BOUND - Natasha Cooper
Trish Maguire is a barrister but no expert in libel law, but her head of Chambers desperately seeks help with the weeping, deeply worried Bee Bowman. Bee is being sued by Lord Tick, a new member of the House of Lords, over the use of his little known family nickname in a biography she has written about a young man caught up in the bombing of a bus load of small children. Typically, nothing ever happens in single events though, and Trish is also caught up in the problems of her dear friend Detective Inspector Caro Lyalt who, in the process of applying for a very high profile job promotion, is told that one of her fellow applicants could be in the pay of a notorious local crime family â€“ the Slabbs.
In the process of investigating both events Trish and her young half-brother David are threatened and her love life hits rocky times because of the threats. A whistle-blower dies, a young woman's body is found, Bee's libel case gets complicated and the reach and brutality of the Slabbs is revealed. GAGGED & BOUND refers not just to the consequences of libel actions but also to the Slabbs preferred method of keeping control of the family and their minions.
The investigation of the libel case is an interesting plot point, as the convicted bomber has already committed suicide and the person with the most to lose from the case is the biographer and maybe the bomber's elderly mother. As Trish delves deeper into the circumstances it seems that the circumstances of the bombing were more complicated than revealed at his own trial.
GAGGED & BOUND is not the first book in the Trish Maquire series and whilst it was possible to follow the story itself in the book, a lot of the background to Trish, brother David and partner George is hinted at, but with insufficient detail to prevent a slight feeling of confusion on the part of the reader. Perhaps it was this that lead to a slight feeling of disconnection with the story and with Trish herself. The plot in GAGGED & BOUND is multi-threaded with the libel case and Bee's story interwoven in the narrative with Trish's searching out of connections between Caro's rival and the notorious Slabb family. Trish herself didn't quite do it for me though, maybe a bit too perfect, maybe a bit too much of a stretch to believe she would be so closely involved in some of the investigation lines, maybe it was the sudden revelations out of nowhere that supposedly resolved one of the threads. It would be worth trying GAGGED & BOUND, but you may want to go back to the earlier books to establish a connection with Trish first.
SPIDER LIGHT - Sarah Rayne
Antonia Weston, former psychiatrist has to try to rebuild her life, shattered by murder and obsession. When she is released from prison after serving her own sentence for manslaughter, her former boss finds her a small cottage to rent in the quiet village of Amberwood.
The cottage is in the grounds of Quire House, now open to the public, in the past the family home of Thomasina Forrester. Over a century ago, Thomasina was a woman of money and influence, overseeing a trust that provided support for Latchkill Asylum. Latchkill is a malevolent place which has a profound affect on the local area and the people who live nearby. Maud is one of those people, her father runs the local mill Twygrist, and Maud, young, innocent and motherless is pulled into Thomasina's influence.
Antonia, in an effort to put aside the past events in her own life, forms a tentative friendship with one of the curators at Quire and finds herself increasingly drawn to finding out more about Quire House, Thomasina Forrester and Twygrist Mill. Although Latchkill has long been pulled down, Twygrist Mill still stands, derelict and menacing in the village and it still has a profound affect on people, not the least Antonia herself.
SPIDER LIGHT moves backwards and forwards between the past and the present, revealing more of Antonia's own experience and the story of Thomasina and Maud. Both threads have a central core of personal and sexual obsession which increasingly becomes more twisted and dangerous. Both stories have consequences that rapidly escalate and the results for Thomasina, Maud and Antonia are dire. All the way along, Twygrist Mill remains a focal point for so much anguish.
SPIDER LIGHT is Sarah Rayne's 4th book, a psychological thriller with a clever intertwining of the past and the present. SPIDER LIGHT is a reference to the half-light that comes at certain times of the day, the time when spider's sneak around, the light soft and eerie. It's an image that is used throughout the book to impart the sinister look and feel of Latchkill Asylum. It's also used to describe that half-world between madness and sanity, and it works. It imparts a creepy, half-light, enclosed, fuzzy world where nothing is clearly defined and nothing is quite right with that world.
SPIDER LIGHT is a great book, but don't make the mistake I did, reading it in the middle of a heavy, dull, spidery light, smoke-filled atmosphere from local bushfires. Try it in the bright sunlight, but definitely try it.
THE NO 2 GLOBAL DETECTIVE - Toby Clements
Lovers of Precious Ramotswe, Kurt Wallender, Rebus and Kay Scarpetta may wish to look away now. Toby Clements in his second book THE NO 2 GLOBAL DETECTIVE, rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in.
When Junior Tutor at Cuff College Oxford, Tom Hurst, joins the faculty of the world's most famous crime fiction college he's startled, firstly by his fellow faculty and then a body, in the library, with a spear and the price tag of an IKEA duvet.
Hurst sets off to recruit four of the college's most famous graduates to kind the killer. He journeys to Botswana to see Mma Delicious Ontoaste, then to Sweden and Inspector Burt Colander, before heading for Scotland and Inspector Scott Rhombus, finishing up in America and (well you guessed it) Doctor Faye Carpaccia. Together they must stop arguing and get to IKEA before it shuts.
NO 2 GLOBAL DETECTIVE is really a loosely connected set of parodies of each of the 4 popular crime fiction characters, wrapped up in an overall investigation around the college which has the distinct feel of a Michael Innes or like-minded cloistered academic setting.
According to the bio provided, Toby Clements reviews crime novels for a national newspaper and keeps a who's who in crime fiction on his desk. He obviously knows the nuances of the big name writers he's having a go at incredibly well. Each of the sections is written with a very similar feeling / tone to the original authors, although he's possibly the most successful with Mma Delicious Ontoaste where the lampooning seems to be at its largest and the behaviour of the central character at its most outrageous and unexpected.
Whether or not you like the idea of vicious parody will probably dictate whether or not you like this book. Whilst there are some moments of inspired hilarity - there were some periods where you just wish the author would stop trying to be too clever and get on with it.
Silly, tongue in cheek, having a go at some of the well known names in Crime Fiction, THE NO 2 GLOBAL DETECTIVE has that feel of a book that somebody will buy for a friend they think takes their crime fiction too seriously.