This is the second book translated from this author and it starts out with a torso in a bag being found on a beach in Sweden. The only clue to the identify of the body is a tattoo, and the body, as well as dismembered, has been horribly mutilated.
This crime is soon connected with a similar mutilation murder in Denmark, so the investigation moves between Goteborg, Sweden and Copenhagen in Denmark with Irene Huss and her colleagues working closely with Danish police. The mutilations are pretty graphic and the violence is extreme, but strangely there are suddenly a series of what seemed to be connected murders, although the mutilation is not as severe. The murderer seems to be very close to Huss and her movements.
Huss is a great character - a bit grumpy, a bit dismissive, prickly but not self-indulgent with it. The supporting cast of characters are also well drawn out and Huss's family life is interwoven into the story but not to the point where it distracts from the investigation itself.
The first book in the translation series is Detective Inspector Huss, which I've got but haven't read yet. I picked this one up because of an upcoming discussion at 4_Mystery_Addicts and now I'm really going to have to excavate the earlier book.
ICE MOON - Jan Costin Wagner
Recently finished, ICE MOON by Jan Costin Wagner was an unexpected pleasure. It seems that Wagner has a bit of a reputation in his homeland of Germany for turning the "traditional" form of crime fiction on its head and if that's the case then he's done it again with ICE MOON.
Whilst there is murder, and an obviously very disturbed serial killer, in many ways ICE MOON is more an exploration of grief. The book opens with Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa confronted with the death of his young wife from cancer. Returning to work straight away, he is left trying to understand and deal with her death, whilst a strange series of connected killings begin to occur involving a range of seemingly unconnected victims.
Whilst the crime investigation proceeds through the book, the focus of ICE MOON remains Kimmo's struggle with grief, the affect that the grief has on his decision making, his life and his work. Ultimately it's that overwhelming sense of his own grief which tempers and informs the entire book - it's significantly less about the crime and more an exploration of this one man's grief.
This was undoubtedly one of the most moving books I've read in a long long while - the crime was handled well, but what you come away from is the awfulness of loss, and Kimmo's tentative steps back into his life.
ICE TRAP - Kitty Sewell
Dafydd Woodruff was a very young surgeon when he made a nearly fatal mistake on the operating table. Shaken to the core by this event, he takes a locum position in the northern Canada wilderness to recover from his guilt and reassess. He spends a year in Moose Creek - just enough time to experience the frontier style life.
Fifteen years later, Dafydd is a consultant surgeon in Wales, trying to start a family with his wife, the marriage struggling under the pressure of infertility, when he receives a letter from Moose Creek. The letter is from a young girl who says she believes she, and her twin brother, are his children. Their mother, Sheila, is the head nurse at Moose Creek, but Dafydd is adamant that he was never involved with her, despite a blood test result that shows that one of the twins is definitely his son.
ICE TRAP moves between current day Cardiff, Moose Creek in 1992, and then Moose Creek again in current time as Dafydd goes back to see the children despite his confusion about how they could be his. Much of ICE TRAP is about watching Daffyd deal with his own life. In his early time in Moose Creek he's learning to deal with a world about as foreign to him as you could possibly get. When he returns after 15 years, he's dealing with the crumbling, remoteness of his marriage; the different reactions of the twin children that he can't remember fathering; the antagonism of their mother Sheila; the disintegration of the local doctor that had helped him so much in his earlier years; the changes in other friends and contacts and even in the town itself.
In ICE TRAP the crime element is fraud, deception and theft. The community of Moose Creek is a small, isolated, insulated community with a lot of secrets and past baggage being dragged around. This change in focus from the more traditional crime story involving murder, kidnapping or personal threat of some kind makes for a significantly different styling. One of the major impacts of this is that the story moves very very slowly, taking a considerable part of the book to fill in the back story and then the current circumstances of Dafydd's time in Moose Creek before getting to any indication of the extent of the crimes. The other impact is that the story is all about Dafydd - it's seen through his eyes and because he is ultimately a victim of those events, it's self-involved, even self-indulgent in some places.
Not having a traditional form of crime / investigation / solution is not a barrier to having a good book, in fact, if handled well it provides a difference in approach that is extremely refreshing. Whilst there were some good elements of that change in approach in ICE TRAP there are also elements that let the book down. The focus on the central character of Dafydd, in the role of victim, did get a bit tedious after a while. There were some inconsistencies in how he was reacting to the disintegration of his marriage and the amount of space in the book that the subject got - that element of the storyline could have been tightened up and given a more realistic feeling. The true story of the fathering of the children was pretty well telegraphed early on in the book and it wouldn't have hurt to bring out the truth of the goings on in Moose Creek earlier to keep the interest level higher. Throughout the book, there are a number of points where the reader's attention is allowed to wander with nothing much being revealed and the story going nowhere. Towards the end of the book when the full story of the people and the town is being revealed and Dafydd is forced into taking some positive steps towards answering his own questions about the parentage of the children and the circumstances around their mother and the local hospital personnel; the pace picks up, the story becomes more interesting and the reader's attention is more firmly held.
CROSS - Ken Bruen
Jack Taylor is changing. Shattered by the shooting of Cody, the young man who came to him for a chance, Jack feels for Cody like a man would for his natural son. Cody is comatose in hospital and even though he didn't pull the trigger, Jack feels responsible for Cody's fate. This has given him a real reason and he's given up drinking, smoking and drugs. Jack's not pretending - it's hard, and he's not found an exactly “normal” way of resisting a drink, but he's serious and he's really trying.
As usual with Jack he's pulled into strange events and strange places. A young boy was crucified in Galway City and despite everyone's shock and horror, despite the Church being scandalised and vocal, no action is ever taken by the Guards. His old friend Ridge comes to him to ask him to investigate – she can't live with the idea that nothing is being done about this boy, and when his sister is burned alive, Jack's not able to leave well enough alone as well.
There's something about Jack that makes stuff happen around him, and the main theme, the murder of this young brother and sister, is only part of what is going on in Jack's life. As he roams Galway on the case, he finds himself in his old haunts, rubbing up against old combatants and associates, glimpses of his old life and the starkness of a sober future in less than sober circumstances. The ghosts of Jack's past are never adverse to giving a good scaring or an even bigger beating.
Finding the answer to who kills so horribly isn't so hard. Deciding what to do about it isn't so easy. Choosing his own future is even harder.
CROSS continues many of the storylines that started out in PRIEST. Reading PRIEST first will give you a little context to what is happening with Jack Taylor, but if you haven't read it, then don't use that as a reason not to pick up CROSS.
Ken Bruen's books are not the easiest reading in the world – they are confrontational, Jack has a self-destructive streak which can be frustrating and the world that he comes from is bleak and violent, inhabited by some damaged and brutal people. But there is also kindness, friendship, care and concern for others. There's brutal reality.
Ken Bruen's books are, however, fantastic reading and CROSS raises that tradition just that little bit higher. I cannot recommend this series highly enough – if you like stark reality, if you can handle one man making his own decisions about his own life, contrary to what everybody else thinks he should do (including the reader), then do yourself a favour and read CROSS.
THE SAVAGE GARDEN - Mark Mills
During the German occupation of Italy in the Second World War, the Villa Docci was taken over by them as a command post. The German Officer in charge of the contingent was a lover of art and culture and he, and the Docci family were able to come to an arrangement that meant that the beautiful fresco's, artworks and antiques in the house were respected and the gardens were allowed to be maintained. As the Germans withdrew and the Allies moved forward, a couple of German soldiers left behind to destroy the unit's records unfortunately didn't honour the gentleman's agreement and in a drunken rampage started shooting up the house and destroying valuable antiques. Emilio, eldest son of the Docci's, lost his temper with the German soldiers, in turn they shot him dead on the top floor of the villa, in full view of his younger brother and a gardener from the Estate. Grief-stricken, Emilio's father shut off the top floor of the villa and it remained that way, even after the father's death.
In 1958 Adam Strickland is a student at Cambridge University in England. Basically a good and caring young man at heart, Adam's a haphazard student, unfocused and distracted by life. His professor Crispin Leonard has great faith in his student though, and he has an idea for Adam's PhD Thesis. In the grounds of the Villa Docci there is a mid-sixteenth century garden, laid out by a grieving husband to honour the memory of his dead wife. It is a fascinating and very mysterious garden, laid out in terraces with statues, grottoes, meandering rills and classical inscriptions. But there also seems to be some riddle about the meaning and message of the garden which Adam quickly becomes obsessed with solving.
THE SAVAGE GARDEN is a novel of intrigue. There are two central intrigues – firstly the garden. Is there something more to that garden than a memorial? Secondly, the death of Emilio, is that really a crime of war, or is it a crime somewhat closer to home. At the centre of the family is the frail, elderly Francesca, old friend of Professor Leonard and mother of Emilio, Maurizio and Caterina. Antonella is Caterina's daughter – she lives part of the time in an old farm-house not far from the villa. Maria has been working for the Docci's for many years – she is part housekeeper, part cook, part nurse and companion and sounding board for Francesca.
THE SAVAGE GARDEN is also a love story of sorts, although that love is often intermingled with lust and obsession – in fact it seems that the Docci family have been controlled by love and lust since the time the garden was first established.
In fact THE SAVAGE GARDEN has an overall feeling of obsession – the garden holds Adam firmly from the first moment he sees it – he knows above everything else that there is a riddle to be solved, a meaning to the layout of that garden that isn't immediately obvious and that quest becomes totally compelling. There is also a strange obsession in the Docci family with the death of Emilio. Despite her husband's death many years before, Francesca keeps the top floor of the villa closed off and she continues to resist pressure to move to the smaller farmhouse and hand control of the villa over to Maurizio.
Not a traditional crime story in that there is no immediate crime to be resolved, rather THE SAVAGE GARDEN is an extremely well executed story of detection. Adam must solve the riddle behind the meaning of the garden. Along the way he finds himself strangely compelled to answer the riddle behind the death of Emilio. Highly recommended.
TORCH - Lin Anderson
You can probably imagine the reaction - firstly the blurb "oh no, extreme dislike segueing into romantic tension AGAIN". The front of the book - Stalker. Arsonist. Killer. "deep groaning". The opening lines where a young homeless girl is dying - not caring what happens to her if her much loved German Shepherd dog is dead - and we've got another thing that I struggle with - dog's in jeopardy / animal cruelty. But on the other hand there's an intriguing comment by Stuart MacBride, and the thought that I find it really hard to justify reading all about cruelty to people but struggle when it comes to animals (goodness knows that's a very personal stance, and most definitely not a comment on how other people choose to approach their reading choices!)
But start reading and there's something much more to TORCH. Anderson covers some pretty gruesome subject matter with a deftness of touch and a compassionate viewpoint for all of her characters that is well fleshed out for a book of such a small size (particularly in this day and age where door-stoppers seem to have taken over). TORCH is one of a series of books based around Dr Rhona MacLeod and there's enough smattering of backstory in this first edition to give you some idea of who she is, without necessarily pulling the emphasis away from the investigation - and from the story of Macrae into the bargain. Mind you, I'm not sure I'd be calling him just a hot-tempered misogynist - sure he is partly that - but he's also deeply troubled and damaged in his own right.
The plot behind the death of the young girl is complicated - there are other fires - there is obviously something deeply personal and threatening going on with the investigation, and that's perhaps the only quibble I'd have with TORCH - cruelty to animals where the author uses the events to provide some insight into somebody or something happening is one thing - but using it to prove how bad the already indefensibly bad are, jarred for this reader anyway.
Aside from that, albeit brief disappointment, there's also great kindness and some uplifting characters and events in TORCH and whilst I squirmed a lot throughout the book, it's a series I'll be seeking out.
Blood Red Roses (novella)
THE CALLER - Alex Barclay
Joe Lucchesi has recently returned to his job as a detective in the New York Police Department. He, his wife and teenage son have returned from life-threatening incidents in Ireland where Lucchesi's family were threatened, his wife tortured, his son's girlfriend killed and their peace of mind destroyed by a deranged killer. That killer was never caught, and he won't leave Joe alone.
In the meantime, Joe and his partner are part of the team investigating a series of extremely violent deaths, where for some inexplicable reason, a killer is mutilating the teeth of his victims. Initially the killings were thought to possibly have some homosexual element, but as the number of victims increases and two survivors – one female, one male are identified, the reasons become even more obscure. Along with the phone calls from the killer who tortured his family, Joe is also receiving letters from somebody who knows something about this current case.
THE CALLER is the second book featuring Joe Lucchesi, the first being Darkhouse. THE CALLER covers the period of time after the family have returned to America and the immediate aftermath of their experiences. Joe's wife Anna is housebound, scared, and scarred physically and mentally from an ordeal covered by the earlier book. Joe's teenage son Shaun is rebellious, dealing with his trauma by drinking too much and causing problems for his parents at every turn. Joe is tied to his work, guilty about what happened to his family but unsure what to do other than try to recover his position as family head and protector.
THE CALLER concentrates fairly heavily on Joe and his family, and to a certain extent, the personal lives of the other member's of Joe's work team. There are a lot of references to the back-story – – none of these are overly fleshed out, but they do provide a précis of the past. Whilst the provision of some back story detail is always preferable to the assumption that the reader will have read earlier books in the series, the level of concentration here gave THE CALLER a feeling of constantly looking backwards and a real disconnection with current day events. Those current events - a serial killer with a distinctive MO, ended up as a fairly pedestrian serial killer plot. Seemingly disconnected victims, an unknown perpetrator, unidentifiable by unexplained survivors, an accumulation of clues and information from friends and family of the victims, and a sudden connection. Bit of cop-jep and a twist at the end which was obviously coming, but elegantly tied off by the author.
Whilst it seems that the back-telling of Joe's personal story; the concentration on Joe and his family; on Joe's feelings and thoughts; are designed to flesh him out as a character, the book lacked focus and direction. It maybe that reading Darkhouse first would give THE CALLER that focus, but on its own, the back fill was more distracting than illuminating. Combine that with a reasonable but predictable serial killer plot and THE CALLER didn't quite live up what it sometimes threatened to promise.
CITY OF SPIES - Simon Levack
CITY OF SPIES is the third book in the Aztec series set in Mexico in 1517. Tetzcoco is the second largest city of the Aztec realm, a bustling town full of poets, artists, merchants and commerce. It is also the centre of a fight for the Aztec throne and its streets are full of spies and assassins stalking each other and killing violently.
Yaotl is an ex-priest, now slave, who finds himself in Tetzcoco being sold for sacrifice by his master Lord Feathered-In-Black. He is rescued when bought by his old lover Tiger Lily, in town on a mission of her own. Yaotl then finds himself trying to return the favour of rescue when Lily is accused of the murder of a powerful merchant. Yaotl, his son Nimble, Lily's father Kindly and a young Mayan girl Little Hen, all combine to rescue Lily with a combination of lawyerly talking, spying and manipulating of their own.
The author uses a combination of local words and "Anglicised" versions of place and people's names which makes for some quirky outcomes, and they, and an overall tone of tongue in cheek humour make CITY OF SPIES a great fun book. Yaotl is a fabulous character, irreverent, willing to take some risks, observational and reactive - there's nothing in the idea of a slave working his way into high offices and appearing alongside all stratas of a hierarchical society that clashes, mostly because of the fabulous, fearless, even larrakin behaviour of Yaotl.
The book also gives a wonderful sense of Aztec society - from the layout of the hierarchies, to the nature of their housing, the functioning of the society and the justice system - the whole thing combines to give a really involving feeling of being in that place. In fact, I think it's that sense of being from the time that really makes CITY OF SPIES.
The first chapters of the book take a little getting used to - the elaborate names and places, as well as the rapid fire commencement of events may throw you a little until you get into the swing of understanding how the language works. Once you've got into the swing of it you're drawn into Aztec society very deftly. The only minor quibble is that it might be better to start at the first book in the series as there is obviously a lot of back story to Yaotl that is intriguing. I know I'm going back to read the first two, first chance I get.
A STAIN ON THE SILENCE - Andrew Taylor
James and Nicky are a happily married couple, no kids, new big fancy house, everything seemingly idyllic between them. Until the day that James receives a call on his mobile: “Jamie .... It's me!”. The only woman who has ever called him Jamie was Lily Murthington. When James was a young boy his father was killed in a car accident and his mother worked overseas, eventually remarrying. James was bundled off to boarding school where he met Carlo Murthington. Carlo had a younger sister, Felicity and a stepmother – Lily. James spent a lot of school holidays with the Murthington family, but he hasn't heard from any of them, including Carlo, for over 20 years. Lily is dying and she needs to see him urgently. Along with the shock of visiting the dying Lily, she tells Jamie that the affair they had when he was sixteen, had produced a daughter that she never told him about and that daughter – Kate – needs his help. Kate is pregnant and she thinks she might be suspected of murdering Sean, the baby's father.
The return of a dying Lily to his life and Kate's emergency befuddles James and he can't process this sudden upheaval and does not want to get involved. Kate follows him home however, confronting him. She needs his help to hide, she says she didn't kill Sean, but Carlo did and Carlo is now after her. James finds himself woven into more and more craziness as Nicky hears that he has been seen with a young attractive women and leaps to the conclusion that James is having an affair. Kate disappears, Nicky disappears, Lily gets more gravely ill, Carlo re-appears, Sean's body can't be found, Sean's wife appears with two small children and the past re-emerges. Whilst his current life just seems to lurch from one bizarre situation to another, James remembers that past and what got him to this point – his lonely childhood; the friendship of the Murthington's; his attraction to Lily as he grows from a small boy to a teenager; the tensions in the Murthingon family, Carlo and his sister.
A STAIN ON THE SILENCE moves rapidly, through an increasingly bewildering series of events. It seems that there are connections between everything and everybody, past and present. It's also apparent that more than one person isn't telling the truth. Really there is nobody much in the entire book that you could like much and you certainly don't feel that you can trust anybody. James is increasingly dragged back into the Murthington's lives where there is a boiling and bubbling resentment and hatred amongst them all. There's an overwhelming feeling of manipulation and sheer nastiness in a lot of these characters, in fact it's one of those books where you struggle to find anybody that you could say you like much. Interesting people sure, but not exactly likeable.
The prose and style of the book is very engaging. It's a real mark of a good author who can present you with a story that's full of the bleakness of human cruelty, nastiness and treachery and keep you reading.
THE MOON TUNNEL - Jim Kelly
Ely is a small town, deep in the Cambridgeshire Fens. It's situated near low lying marshes and the canals that formed the trading routes of old. Current day Ely is slow and quiet. It's also deeply shrouded in heavy smog – part mist / part smoke from the local dump. The dump is a huge pile that's been building up for decades, and it's burning, deep in its centre, pumping pollution out to mingle with the mist.
Philip Dryden is a reporter with the local small newspaper. Philip was a bigger fish in a bigger newspaper / reporting pond until a car accident that nearly killed his wife Laura and changed both their lives forever. Laura was trapped in the car that Dryden was driving as it went into one of the canals. Comatose she has lain in a hospital bed for many years since then. A victim of “locked-in” syndrome, she has recently been able to communicate sporadically with the outside world via a computer driven by mouth suction. Since the accident Philip has refused to return to driving, and he is now ferried around by Humph, owner driver of a beaten up Capri taxi and devotee of language lesson tapes. Humph is happy to drive Philip and then sit and wait, in fact there is very little of Humph's life that's conducted outside of the Capri.
In THE MOON TUNNEL Philip is pursuing a number of stories. Firstly the future of the town dump is causing ructions, and as the smog lingers, the local council and the dump owners escalate the arguments. Not too far away, an archaeological dig is working on a series of Anglo-Saxon burial tombs. The tombs are situated below a WWII prisoner of war camp which held Italian, then German, servicemen up until the end of the war. Many of the Italian prisoners worked on farms in the area and a lot of them stayed in England after the war. They, and their families, are a prominent group in Ely still. When a skeleton is found in a wood lined tunnel, it makes sense that this is an escape tunnel from the POW camp, and the body must be that of an Italian serviceman. Only there doesn't seem to have ever been an escape from the camp. Combine that mystery with the theft of an extremely valuable painting from one of the local “Country Houses” in the dying days of the war, and Dryden thinks the body in the tunnel is not really who they re-buried him as.
THE MOON TUNNEL is one of those engaging, stately character driven English mysteries. Stately isn't meant to imply a slowness of plot that's annoying, rather that the story progresses elegantly and smoothly. Philip is a perfectly feasible amateur sleuth as he digs away at stories that interest him, perhaps that could be saleable to bigger papers than just his local rag. His ongoing devotion to his wife is touching, but not cloying or overplayed. The nightly visits to Laura, particularly now that she can communicate, albeit stiltedly, convey an intellectual as well as loving connection between them. His ongoing reliance on her ability to perform some research tasks for him is natural as is his acceptance that she may forget. Philip's ongoing friendship with Humph is also beautifully drawn out. Humph's a character and really Philip is equally as eccentric and these two men have created a friendship out of mutual reliance which is comforting and charming. Many of the cast of supporting characters also fall into that eccentric category. Ma, the dump owner, is a women to remember, as is Vee, the elderly sole remaining member of one of the great families of the great Country Houses.
Despite the amount of back story between Philip, Laura and Humph, THE MOON TUNNEL still stands up well on it's own. There is just enough information about their past to make the reader catch on to what is happening, without rewriting earlier books. The mystery of the body in the tunnel interweaves the archaeological team, local Druids and protesters, the ex-pat Italian community and Dryden's own family. There are components of this story that come from the Second World War, there are aspects that are very much current day. THE MOON TUNNEL is a very entertaining book, the mystery is interesting, the pace of the overall book is really good and Dryden and Humph are a great combination.