It's where Police Scotland dumps the officers it can't get rid of, but wants to: the outcasts, the troublemakers, the compromised. Officers like DC Callum MacGregor, lumbered with all the boring go-nowhere cases. So when an ancient mummy turns up at the Oldcastle tip, it's his job to find out which museum it's been stolen from.
If the universe wants to be particularly nice to us, it will make sure that A DARK SO DEADLY is the start of a new series from Stuart MacBride. There are echoes here of his long running Logan McRae series, but it's delivered with a slightly straighter bat (you'd have to be dead set in front to pick it though), and lots and lots of potential for places for the Misfit Mob to go and crims for them to annoy.
A haphazard grouping of cops who have been in trouble in the force, one who is most definitely not going gently into any sort of night - good or otherwise, and a female boss who is slightly erratic but nowhere near as in your face as DI Steel from the McRae series and there's so much potential here it's hard to know where to start. There's heaps of gallows humour that had this reader somewhere between smirking and laughing loudly at points, and then there's some beautifully dodgy villains, some over the top scenarios (mummified bodies for goodness sake) and that uncomfortable awareness that a scenario quite this horrible really shouldn't be making the reader laugh this much. But then readers, like the cops they are reading about, have to get through the worst of the worst, and MacBride is a genius at making it all feel like the world's gotten seriously it's weird and sick but it's going to be okay.
The Misfit Mob might even work out a way to be okay. You'd have to hope so as there will be some serious sulking in these parts if the universe screws this up on us, and this isn't the start of a new series.
Book review - A Dark So Deadly, Stuart MacBride
Police Scotland has created a “dumping ground” for those officers who don’t quite fit; the ill, those who have faced disciplinary action, those who refuse to play by the rules. DC Callum McGregor is an expectant father with a girlfriend who desperately needs to keep her maternity benefits, so it is in covering for Elaine’s on-the-job mistake that Callum finds himself joining Mother’s team at Oldcastle. Mother takes care of her castaways but they don’t always get along - or with anyone else for that matter.
The beauty of a standalone is the tantalizing possibility of it being a series starter. A DARK SO DEADLY introduces an irresistible new cast of characters (that this reviewer absolutely wants to see again) with the ‘Misfit Mob’. This ragtag collection of police officers is pure reading gold and it is a testament to the authors skill that he is able to create (again) a fresh set of police officers who are all complex, rich with backstory, and let’s not forget, hilarious. You can’t help but feel for Callum who has the whole world either badgering him for something or actively dropping bombs on him from a great height.
This ridiculously enjoyable book hurls along at a great pace, throwing up new dodgy villains and antagonistic colleagues for Callum to deal with at every turn. MacBride injects a terrific amount of energy and fizzy enjoyment into his novels and A DARK SO DEADLY is no exception. It’s rare you find a crime novel that is truly horrifying, whilst making you laugh out loud during the reading. Another great book delivered from a modern crime master.
Book review - The Upstairs Room, Kate Murray-Browne
Is it the house itself that is making Eleanor sick or is it the disturbed vestigial imprint of those who lived it in before?
With just a hint of the woo-woo for the modern age, THE UPSTAIRS ROOM is a polished and unsettling novel that skates between being a ghost story of a kind, and a very accomplished modern relationship drama. The book has terrific flow. We’re well aware of the ever present malevolent shadow of doom hanging over all occupants of the house, and we also soon realize that all of them are in face suffering from the same malady; only it takes different forms for each of them. The sensation of hopelessness weighing down their actions inexorably creeps them towards disaster and it is a suspenseful journey towards resolution.
THE UPSTAIRS ROOM cleverly taps into common relationship concerns; the imbalance of power, the writing off of women’s real concerns as female melodrama and people’s ability to live in the same house as others and yet live separate lives. The people in this book are trapped by financial restrictions, societal expectations and then there’s the whole creepy house syndrome doing no one any favours. THE UPSTAIRS ROOM is a deliciously spooky read which includes an immersive personal narrative of three complicated adults who find themselves adrift in their lives whilst at the same time unable to distance themselves from the problems that haunt them.
Review - After I've Gone, Linda Green
The future Facebook timeline of Jess Mount is terrifying. Jess does not know why she is the only one in her present able to view her future in this way and she wants desperately for the events the posts describe to never occur. In about 18 months time, Jess's FB page will become another tribute board written by those who mourn her, by those who faux mourn her, and by those who know the truth of how she died.
You'll need to clear a little time in your schedule to read AFTER I'VE GONE as it is quite likely that you will not want to put it down once you've dived in. This novel battles between hope and hopelessness in that the stakes are so very high; Jess has seen the face of her child and she desperately wants that little life to come into the world. Thinking a little too pragmatically, it would definitely be easier for Jess to let the fantasy go and to seek out safety for herself, letting go of the possibility of a phantom future child. AFTER I'VE GONE soon becomes ridiculously compulsive reading with unexpected depth and does at novel's end send the reader down quite a few "what if?" pathways.
There is initially a little of the "ghostie in the machine" feel here. Events in your life being engineered and directed by such a shallow and vacuous device as your social media platform is a deliciously creepy possibility to consider. AFTER I'VE GONE thankfully does not delve too much into the paradoxes of this concept though and instead relates the poignant personal drama of Jess's conviction that she must do right by her child, at whatever the great personal cost.
AFTER I'VE GONE is a novel about the dangerous battleground of intimate relationships but it is also a novel of conviction. Jess is a young person in jeopardy who has little resources to draw upon but makes firm and brave decisions of what she must do in order to save her child.
Book Review - Rather be the Devil, Ian Rankin
The death of Maria Turquand had all the ingredients that would have appealed to the salacious public forty years ago; a beautiful woman, gangsters, drugs and rock stars. Not everyone from those glory days has moved on from Edinburgh and it pleases retired detective John Rebus that this is a cold case with connections to the present. Old crimes can still wound. Secrets from the past can forever alter those that are forever tasked with keeping them hidden.
It's quite possible that there will be a few moments during the reading of this novel where you will want to punch the air in pride. Our man Rebus still has the sharpest wit around and eases his way around tricky situations with the practiced air of one who expects little of others but demands much of himself. The acceptance of DI Siobhan Clarke and DI Malcolm Fox that Rebus will always a part of their investigative lives is well and truly established in RATHER BE THE DEVIL; it is both sweet and savvy of them both. The Rebus novels remain fiendishly clever and there's that continuing comfort also in knowing that John Rebus will not twilight out fighting the good fight alone. Having the serving Scotland police force continue to accept the input of an ex detective like Rebus, who always unashamedly operated within his own unique moral code, is supremely satisfying to his long time fans.
RATHER BE THE DEVIL is not quite new light through old windows but by novel's end you are quite refreshed and confident that this series will continue to go from strength to strength, even with the changing of the guard. The world of Rebus is now very insular – need a cop, use Malcolm and Siobhan, need a criminal lord, there’s always big Ger Cafferty etc – but the novels continue to be loaded to the hilt with vicious crimes and complicated agendas. RATHER BE THE DEVIL is a tighter work than a few of its series predecessors in that the series strengths are being employed all at once to produce an absorbing crime novel that would hold its own to a new reader, plus reaffirm the devotion of an existing fan of author Ian Rankin.
Book review - Six Tudor Queens - Anne Boleyn the Kings Obsession, Alison Weir
Prince Henry has been raised with the inherited expectation that he will be one day be King and also, that he will never be denied. Anne Boleyn has little affection for the young King, though she absolutely recognizes and respects his singular determination to succeed.
The charm with having also read the first "Queen" book in this series (about Katharine of Aragon) is that the timelines do cross over. Each Queen has knowledge of the next so we will be receiving their own individual viewpoints in each subsequent book; the events that lead to their downfalls are relayed via their own interactions and also via those of their supporters. It is fascinating to see what each Queen might have thought of the other, and also of the various affairs that King Henry VIII carried on with whilst married to each of them.
Of course there seems to be a cast of thousands, each with their own alliances and family entanglements so the reader will need to keep sharp on this throughout the various court intrigues. Henry VIII's flailing attempts to satisfy his own desires and ambitions are quite astonishing and the cruelty shown to almost all women of this time still sits heavy, hundreds of years later.
Author Alison Weir has delivered an accessible piece of historical fiction that both educates and entertains. This brutal time in English history relates as fresh and new as if it all had just occurred and every character is sketched in such a way that we are quick to feel sympathy or disgust. You don't need to be full bottle on the Tudors to enjoy this book as the historical facts are all story interwoven and given weight by the knowledge that real historical figures were involved. Weir's writing style is relatively economical and you do get the sense this is because of the huge amount of content needed to be inserted into the narrative whilst not causing the reader's eyes to glaze over from the factual overload.
You might be a English history buff, a fan of regency drama fiction or just into the chaotic stories of Henry VIII and his doomed queens. SIX TUDOR QUEENS; ANNE BOLEYN, A KINGS OBSESSION will comfortably satisfy all of these reader requirements and give you a fresh take on what we thought was a well known period of English royal history.
BOOK REVIEW: HUSH LITTLE BABY, JOANNA BARNARD
Married to a man who has been through it all before, Sally isn't always sure that she is doing this parenting thing right and if she's wrong... well someone will be sure to correct her. Living with her extrovert husband and his daughter from his first marriage, Sally truly wants to enjoy this time with baby Oliver but the first year is turning out to be more than she ever thought it could be. There's so much more work, much more worrying to do, and it's definitely more exhausting than anything else Sally has ever experienced.
Digging into the parental guilt that is heaped upon all new parents, HUSH LITTLE BABY is that needling little voice in your head telling you that you're not doing it right, and that someone else could probably do it better. Sally's character alternates between maternal confidence and maternal guilt; we're never quite sure if she is genuinely apathetic, guilty, or simply exhausted. The speed at which her child is taken from her is frightening, and the lack of real support she has shown to her is heartbreaking. This novel does much to illustrate that success is often just a facade, and that family members living in the same household can actually have little clue what the others are going through.
The world truly can come to a stop when a new little person enters the world and for mothers the expectations placed upon them, often by themselves as well as by others, are doomed not to be met. The poking and prodding into Sally's wellbeing is an insidious beast, eroding Sally's self confidence and ability to see clearly. We're truly invested in seeing this family come out the other side. Much to take home from this immersive book where no one trusts anyone else enough to tell the truth.
BOOK REVIEW - DR JEKYLL & MR SEEK, ANTHONY O'NEILL
Many years have passed since Dr Jekyll suddenly left London society. Lawyer Mr Utterson, seemingly steadfast in his continued assistance to the absent Dr Jekyll, has been busy making plans. Lasting plans, and they include a lady’s affection. Dr Jekyll’s vacant town house is soon to come into the possession of Mr Utterson himself, now that the required seven year period has passed. Nothing can stop Mr Utterson in his ascension now. And yet it does. The return of Dr Jekyll is a sensation.
There is something of a huge comfort in picking up a book that possesses that air of gentility which was common to works written in the latter part of the 19th century. The first pages of DR JEKYLL AND MR SEEK instantly catapult the reader into a murky world where deception and nefarious acts are committed by intelligent yet desperate men.
DR JEKYLL & MR SEEK is a delightfully immersive read that quickly draws us into a world we never knew we had been missing. A relatively short foray back to 1800’s England, this book wastes no pages in being overly descriptive and instead well spends in gloriously period dialogue and the suitably outraged inner splutterings of Mr Utterson as he investigates this most grievous of wrongs. We’re easily caught up and sympathetic towards Mr Utterson who has had the best of intentions all along and seems quite deserving to inherit from the considerable burden of his secret knowledge.
DR JEKYLL & MR SEEK is neatly crafted of course around the key events of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE. You don’t need to know much about the first book in order to respect the homage paid in this modern day follow up and this novel is successful without the need to include an onerous summary of the first. A small but respectful continuation of a very grand tale.
#review Ruby and the Blue Sky, Katherine Dewar
Grammy night, 2021. Ruby wins 'Best Song' and makes an impulsive acceptance speech that excites nature lovers across the world. While Ruby and her band celebrate, an extreme evangelical sect, funded by covert paymasters, dispatches a disciple on a ruthless mission to England.
As the band plays its sold-out tour, Ruby is pursued by eco-groupies insisting she use her new fame to fight climate change.
Coming at an eco-thriller from the point of view of the activists, RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY is part thriller, part exploration of "celebrity" culture, and part do good chick lit novel. The idea at the core is that fame can be used in positive ways - in this case a pro-environment, anti consumer-culture stance with a hefty dose of women's rights and empowerment.
To that end the central character Ruby is band leader, conscience and activist, pursued by eco-groupies, determined to ensure she uses a sold-out tour as a venue to push the messages. Needless to say message is a major part of this novel, with other elements, particularly those likely to be associated with thrillers, tending to be pushed to the background, or mostly, the later parts of the book.
Tone is important here and it's definitely designed to be on the lighter side, which doesn't always serve as a vehicle for delivery as the message often disappears into ancillaries (such as dedicated environmental warriors sitting around discussing nail polish colours).
There's also a brave undertaking being attempted for a thriller here - with the threat somehow always feeling slightly off-stage. It all does come down to the comment in the blurb - one young woman leading change in a sea of cynical old men and money-grubbing corporations. Whether or not that possibility is argued to any reasonable conclusion is going to come down to whether or not the style and structure of RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY works for individual readers.
BOOK REVIEW - LOVE LIKE BLOOD, Mark Billingham
Whenever suspicion arises in a murder inquiry that it may be the result of an honour killing, the tasked investigators have a dual mission. One, to find out the identity of the murderers, and two, to determine who it was that arranged for the killings to be carried out. The practice of honour killings might still continue, but publicly the communities deny their occurrence.
It's always a joy to visit with Tom Thorne who makes firm decisions according to his own moral code and does not sweat the consequences of his actions. Thorne's personal life, now fourteen novels in, has settled into that of (mostly) peaceful cohabitation with his partner Helen and her son. There is less of Thorne's presence here as he shares the stage with colleague DI Tanner, and Tanner’s personal back story has greater relevance to the events of LOVE LIKE BLOOD. Thorne still shows us that he has firm personal convictions and plenty to say, but it's a more muted Thorne we encounter in this series entry.
LOVE LIKE BLOOD being the first crime novel that this reviewer has read on this type of murder, it has delivered quite an education. It beggars belief that this kind of reasoning behind the killing of family members is still considered acceptable by so many, and this is the frustration that the police convey in the novel. Billingham's author note at conclusion references a real life tragedy that is replicated in this novel, a fictional work. In different hands this novel could have been a much more bitter piece but the contemporary crime with a very old motive is delivered with Billingham's usual confidence and assurance. Whilst not being the most fast paced novel in the series, it is one of the more thoughtful and deliberate works.