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.
SHAME, Karin Alvtegen
Monica, is a successful, well regarded surgeon and physician who is ashamed of something in her past. She can't develop any meaningful relationships with anyone and pushes anyone who gets close quickly away.
Maj-Britt, hiding from the world behind an endless supply of food, requires help just to live, she is so obese. Locked in her apartment away from the world, Maj-Britt is deeply ashamed of something in her past.
Monica and Maj-Britt don't know each other, yet somehow, because of a conference, a car-accident and a care-worker, they briefly collide. The results of that collision, catastrophic for one in the short term, force both of them to confront the past and deal with their personal shame.
SHAME is not a novel for readers who like a murder right up there are the front of the book, with an investigation to resolve the crime. There really is no murder in SHAME, but there is death, sadness, despair, personal angst and profound tragedy and sorrow.
SHAME takes you carefully through the lives of Monica and Maj-Britt, revealing the events that lead to the shame that they each feel, and what has happened to each of them since. As those events are revealed, a connection between the two women slowly eventuates. The connection could save them, or it could destroy them both.
With elements of fear, oppressive religion, obsession, betrayal, sexuality, guilt, family dysfunction and emotional blackmail, SHAME is challenging and sometimes harrowing. It is also compelling, taut, intriguing and, ultimately, uplifting.
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.
THE CUTTING ROOM - Louise Welsh
THE CUTTING ROOM is Louise Welsh's debut novel, published for the first time by Text Publishing in Australia in 2006.
Rilke's not exactly the archetypal hero accidental investigator. He's in his 40's; his personal hygiene is a bit offhand; he's an auctioneer for one of Glasgow's less than salubrious auction houses and he's gay with a taste for anonymous sexual encounters anywhere, anytime.
When summoned by Miss McKindless to her recently deceased brother's home, stuffed full with antiques, the likes of which Rilke's firm have never been able to get hold of. Despite her demand that the entire house be cleared in a week, Rilke readily agrees to the windfall. When she insists that Rilke personally clear her brother's private room in the attic he goes along with that as well, although she's very particular that everything in it must be destroyed. Naturally Rilke can't resist a very good look around and in amongst the very impressive collection of exclusive erotica, he finds a cache of photographs. The photographs include some of the dead man along with many that have a snuff porn theme. Rilke is immediately drawn to finding out where these photos came from and who the girl depicted could be.
Despite the fact that the search for the origins of the photos and the girl herself is a very fruitless task - the photos are obviously old, there is no indication of where they came from or where taken or anything that could possibly provide any sort of lead, Rilke can't leave well enough alone. He says himself "Let's just say I can't leave her there" when pressed to chuck it all in. And herein lies one of the great dichotomy's of the book. Rilke is in many ways a very confrontational character. His pursuit of sexual pleasure is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit mucky. His (and those of his boss Rose's) ethics are a tad on the questionable side, and yet he continues the quest to find out something about these photos in a way that is extremely human and decent. At the same time, he's not depicted as a lone wolf, hard man who cares - typical of many crime fiction books. He is extremely cynical, he's a realist.
Along with Rilke there's a supporting cast of wonderful characters - Rose, his slightly overblown, vaguely past it, sexual predator boss, whose best friend is ultimately Rilke - the one man who just isn't vaguely interested in her sexually no matter what she does. There's Les the drug-dealing transvestite. There's a bunch of reprobate second hand dealers in everything from books to porn, furniture to junk. There's the old schoolfriend, now policeman, who does Rilke more than one favour by dragging him out of some difficult 'legal' situations. All of the supporting characters are drawn as vividly as the Rilke and again, there are some things to like and some things to loathe about many of them.
Ultimately THE CUTTING ROOM is a fascinating book - part morality tale, part crime fiction, part character study, vaguely Gothic, grotty and steeped in a sense of place and people. If you are interested in the non-black and white, if you can let the obvious flaws in somebody's character roll and look beneath to find a true nature, you should enjoy this book.
LOST SUMMER - Alex McAulay
Caitlin Ross is a typical Southern California teenager, obsessed with clothes, boys and how she looks. Her younger brother Luke is out of control, getting into trouble shooting paint guns at people and obsessed with his violent DVD's and video games. Kathryn, Caitlin and Luke's mother, is too busy popping pills to have any hope of controlling them. Their father, now living a long way away, is too busy with his own new life.
Suddenly Caitlin's mother announces that because they are so out of control, the three of them are spending the summer on the isolated North Carolina island of Outer Banks. Caitlin and Luke have no choice but to go along; their father doesn't want to get involved and Kathryn controls the purse strings. Once they all arrive on the island, the resort hotel they were heading for turns out to be a desperately rundown and understaffed old hotel, owned by an old school boyfriend of Kathryn's. They immediately start to rekindle the old romance and Bill continues to feed Kathryn's addiction to pills and alcohol, but there's something even more creepy about Bill.
I confess I had some serious problems with this book, and it's very possible I was not the right person to review it. For a start all of the characters were way too stereotypical and bland. There were also some very hard to believe goings on. Caitlin and Luke flee the hotel and go to stay in the trailer of a young girl Caitlin has met on the island. Kathryn makes no attempt to contact them / find out what is happening with the children that she cared enough about to take away to see if they would straighten out, and only in the final chapter there's an attempt to explain that away. There is a murder, finally, but the story climax occurs in a massive hurricane which overtakes the island - with lots of people rushing around outside in the middle of the storm and some very big attempted twists in the plot. Caitlin and friend are ultimately rescued and then the Coast Guard shows up to take them to medical help because they "were out looking for a small airplane"... in a hurricane! The other unsatisfactory element was the final chapter, wrapping up of all the loose ends and explaining the up until then, unexplained. I'm not a fan of those types of resolutions.
As the blurb describes the book as "Laguna Beach meets Cape Fear" this could be a book that would appeal to fans of rapidly moving, big picture thrillers.
FIELDS OF GRIEF, THE (US Title: BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS) - Giles Blunt
John Cardinal is a detective in the small police force, in Algonquin Bay, Ontario a small rural town in Canada. The local mayor keeps reporting his wife missing, when everybody else in town knows exactly what she's up to. Rather than just try to convince the poor delusional husband what's really going on, Cardinal is sitting in a car, with the mayor, outside the local motel, when there's a call over the radio about a body.
As Cardinal pulls up outside the location, a part of him is wondering about the car that looks just like his wife's and a part of him is wondering why somebody would die outside a mostly uninhabited, new building in Algonquin Bay.
Cardinal's wife, Catherine, is a photographer who has had problems most of her life with manic depression . She's been in and out of hospital, but she's been regularly taking her medication and when she was heading out earlier in the night with cameras, there'd been nothing in her manner that caused her husband any concern.
But it's her at the foot of that building, and there's a suicide note.
The opening few chapters of THE FIELDS OF GRIEF are heartbreaking. Cardinal struggles to understand why his wife has killed herself, and he just can't bring himself to believe that she has. That she'd stood in front of him only a few hours earlier and he hadn't picked up anything in her manner or her behaviour that indicated what she was about to do. The coroner thinks it was suicide, Cardinal's companions think it was suicide, John Cardinal can't agree.
A young man heads into a local laundromat, shotgun in hand and despite new CID member, Larry Burke's best efforts to talk him out of it, puts the shotgun to his head and kills himself. It's Fall in Algonquin Bay, the place is at its most beautiful. Suicide's sometimes happen there, but if they do, they happen in the dead of Winter, not in Autumn.
Detective Lise Delorme has her own confrontational problem. Graphic photos of a young girl being sexually abused have been discovered and the backgrounds of the photos show that some of the abuse occurred in Algonquin Bay. She's trying to track down the victim and the perpetrator.
Slowly a connection between the victims appears and somebody who should be trying to help vulnerable, sad and damaged people, is even more damaged. The problem is Cardinal knows that there's something a lot more to his wife's supposed suicide, but what is it? When he knows what it is, is there really anything he can do about it?
THE FIELDS OF GRIEF is a raw study in grief: Cardinal's reactions to his wife's suicide, his daughter's feelings about her mother. The mother and sister of the young man in the Laundromat, the reactions of Larry and Lise are all so different. It's also a shocking portrayal of what happens when the helper needs help. Deeply affecting and very compelling: highly recommended.
PRIME TIME - Liza Marklund
It's Midsummer and Annika Bengtzon, newspaper reporter and mother, is preparing for family celebrations at her partner's parents Island Holiday home. When she gets a call to say that Michelle Carlsson, a big name TV presenter has been murdered, and Annika has been assigned to follow the story, Thomas is furious at her for leaving him to get the children to his parents alone. Annika's just returned to work after maternity leave and her relationship with Thomas is increasingly fraught with tension and anger.
Annika is instantly torn between the fascination of a major murder investigation and the call of her family. On the one hand - a murder in a remote, isolated location during the filming of a prime-time TV series; a limited number of suspects, one of whom is her own best friend; and the victim Michelle - a controversial person, and long-time target of Annika's own paper. On the other hand, her own very young children; an increasingly difficult relationship with the disgruntled and demanding Thomas; and her parents-in-law who just do not approve of Annika and maintain an ongoing close friendship with Thomas' first wife.
The central mystery in PRIME TIME is a twist on the classic closed room scenario. There are only twelve suspects and there are all sorts of complicated personal and professional factors affecting all of the suspects and their relationships with the victim. There is a police investigation, and a police investigator, Q, who plays a very small role in the book. The investigation of the crime in this book is done by Annika as she sets out to find the story and ensure her best friend is not incriminated. There is also all of the machinations and manoeuvring of media organisations; even Annika's own paper seems to be embroiled in scandals and management power struggles.
PRIME TIME is the 4th book in a series which concentrates on Annika's own life, her career and her personal relationships. There's absolutely nothing easy about Annika. In the earlier books she's a very angry, prickly and difficult woman, always complaining, always rubbing up against everyone around her. In PRIME TIME the chip on Annika's shoulder has decreased in size a little, but there are definitely times when you'd like to take both Annika and Thomas by the hand and bang their heads together. Towards the end of PRIME TIME they are both starting to see what the real problems are and they start sorting out their personal relationship and their own careers.
As Annika searches out the story behind Michelle and ultimately her murder, there are some of the 12 suspects who become very real, whilst others remain very shadowy and under-drawn. Despite the quick dissipation of the closed room scenario, as the suspects leave the scene of the murder and return to their own environments, there is a final "drawing room" denouncement.
There's some real skill in the writing here, Annika's not a character that's easy to warm to, but you really feel inclined to stay with her to the end.