McCrery is the writer of Silent Witness and New Tricks - TV series that are undoubtedly instantly recognisable to a number of readers of this review, and there's something about the characterisations from those shows that rings bells of recognition in STILL WATERS. DCI Mark Lapslie is called back from "gardening leave" - extended sick leave - because his name has been flagged as somebody who could understand a particular mutilation of the body that was found at the scene of a fatal traffic accident. The investigation into this body proceeds slowly as, whilst the identification of the corpse isn't that hard, to all intents and purposes it looks like she never died.
STILL WATERS was an immediately engaging book, whilst simultaneously being slightly frustrating - for a whole lot of reasons. DCI Lapslie has synaesthesia - this means that he "tastes" sounds. Different sounds trigger different tastes. You can probably imagine this makes life a bit complicated - he says it's like being ambushed.
<td><em>"Ever bitten into an apple and found it had gone rotten inside? Ever taken a bite of a chocolate and found it was coffee flavour rather than strawberry? Sometimes flavours can surprise you. Sometimes, they can shock. That's why I had to take time off work - go on gardening leave. Things are home weren't going well, and my synaesthesia took a turn for the worse. I couldn't stand to be in the office, tasting everyone else's chatter, banter, lies and deceits. I was overwhelmed."</em>
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All the way through the book the taste sensations that he is experiencing are commented on - the way that individual people will trigger certain tastes, the tastes that other sounds generate. Strangely this isn't one of the frustrating elements of the book, it's built into the narrative in such a way as to give it some colour (for want of a dreadful attempt at a pun). Lapslie shares the major limelight of the book with a number of supporting characters such as his DS, Emma Bradbury, a no-nonsense sort of a copper - who makes a particularly memorable entrance as she bemoans the loss of the top of the range Porsche at the initial car crash scene, cursing drivers with more money than sense. The killer is also front and centre from the start of the book. What is slightly frustrating are the reasons Lapslie was called back from the long-term leave, given special considerations such as a Quiet Room in which to work, and a DS and then nothing else much; the reason why his name was flagged when the first body was found; the reason why his investigation is stymied and slowed and ultimately closed down, it's all a bit odd. There's some stuff in there that you're probably going to be disconcerted to find - either because it's so implausible it's unfathomable; or because it might just be plausible in which case it's still unfathomable.
All of that aside though, what's really fascinating about STILL WATERS is that this is basically a story of invisibility. It's not giving away too much of the plot to say that the person whose body is found, hasn't been noticed as missing. STILL WATERS is really exploring age, invisibility, social exclusion and how menacing is the villain that picks victims that are as invisible as they are.
NATURAL HISTORY - Neil Cross
Reading NATURAL HISTORY I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, this is not your normal family. It's mostly Jane's idea to take over Monkeyland and build it into a good animal sanctuary - saving it from undoubted bankruptcy. Patrick just sort of goes along with this. It's Jane's idea to do the television series about Monkeyland. Patrick sort of goes along with this. Jane's the one that heads off to Africa and more TV stardom. Patrick goes along with this. Patrick's the one that ends up running Monkeyland - half-heartedly you'd have to say. Patrick's the one that tries to keep hearth and home together as Jane deals with her own demons in Zaire. Secondly, their children mirror the parents, but there's the sex crossover. Jo's pretty amenable, she's got her love of Astronomy and now she's home, rather than at boarding school she's just about prepared to roll along with most things. Charlie, on the other hand, is a bit more volatile. He works actively at Monkeyland and he has a real bond with the animals. When he has to be dismissed after an altercation with a patron chucking things at some of the apes, then he gets a job at a big, seaside hotel. And he works hard at the job. He's getting on with things. Thirdly, there are all these cross-over threads. Patrick's worried that Jane's having an affair with her TV producer, Charlie is having an affair with a woman he meets one night in the hotel. Jo's busy studying with her tutor and Patrick... well Patrick's obsessed with a panther. One morning he's sure he's seen a big black panther, stalking the back lanes of leafy England. Finally, it sounds like there's a lot happening in NATURAL HISTORY, and there is, but there's also not a lot happening. In the early part of the book there's Rue, the elderly ape's murder, but in terms of other crimes, there's nothing else much. For most of the book. But there is this never-ending sense of tension. Maybe it's the reader wondering what / if anything is ever going to happen, but whatever it is, the book moves rapidly - somewhere.
It could be that the writer's background as a TV writer shows strongly here, the story is told in short sections from a number of different perspectives. It swaps, changes, wrong-foots, heads down multiple side alleys and slowly, but surely, feels like it's going somewhere but you don't know where. In the first few chapters I was honestly wondering if anything was ever going to happen and thought I was getting impatient. It was only 3/4's of the way through the book that I realised that there was still a lot of what seemed to be nothing happening, and yet, I didn't want to put it down.
Definitely not a book for lovers of the "body in the opening" pages style, NATURAL HISTORY just crept up on me.
CROW STONE - Jenni Mills
"Corax the Raven - the messenger of the gods. Just when you think life is on track, along comes a socking great bird, squawking news of a divine quest. My advice is, shoot the bloody thing....."
The quote at the start of CROW STONE hinted at something with a very dry, quirky sense of humour and it definitely delivers - on the lighter moments, with good characterisation and a tremendous, taut, tense and frequently disturbing plot.
Katie was a little girl in Bath, living with her overbearing father, her mother left them when she was only a toddler. In many ways, Katie's a normal teenager - she watches the teenage boy who lives over the road through the curtains; she's under pressure to keep up her results at school; and her friends are obsessed with clothes, boys and parties. Katie's a little different though, a bit withdrawn, obviously missing her mother - her love is archaeology - she fascinated by the fossils that are found around Bath and by the ancient stone mines that have been dug out under Bath.
20 years later and Katie has grown into Kit, now a mining engineer, back in Bath and working with the team that are trying to shore up those very same mines before there are major collapses. She's always denied her connections with Bath, but the status of the mines and her past in the area get complicated when Katie discovers something that seems significant from an archaeological point of view. She must call in her best friend, professor of Archeology Martin, and together they have to get into an off limits area of the mine to check out the discovery.
The possibility of a much sought after Roman Mithraic temple is not the only secret that the mines hold, and Kit is struggling with being back in Bath, let alone finding the teenage boy has also grown up into the foreman of the works. But what was it that happened all those years ago, where is Kit's father now, and why did her mother leave her?
CROW STONE covers Kit's life as the teenage Katie in alternating chapters with the current day. There's a slow burning, gripping, building tension that comes with this approach. This is not a book where a crime happens up front, instead, something has happened in the past, something is happening in the present and the reader rapidly learns the details of either event. What holds both of these threads together is Kit. She's a fabulous, engaging character, sometimes full of attitude and confidence, sometimes doubting and unsure of herself. There's a lot that has obviously happened in Kit's life and she's handling it in the only way she knows how.
Along with Kit there's a well drawn cast of supporting characters, Gary the young boy over the road now foreman, Kit's dearest friend Martin, the creepy site archaeologist Dickon and the miners who are horrified to have a woman underground.
CROW STONE was one of those books that you opened, read the first chapter and settled down for the ride. It is a first novel for Jenni Mills, and you can't help hoping that there's lots more to come.
DEATH OF DALZIEL - Reginald Hill
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.
NO SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES - The Mulgray Twins
When your protagonist is a member of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and her partner is a trained drug-sniffer cat (yes, I said cat), you know the book isn’t going to be heavy on the gritty realism. NO SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES is pure fluff so you do have to suspend disbelief to an extent. However, D.J. lurches from crisis to crisis, often endangering her life. Another day, another body. Yet one more attempt on her life. It all becomes extremely repetitious and predictable.
As the suspects are killed off, there is no reason given for their deaths. We have no idea if they are involved in the drug smuggling or whether they merely got in the way and discovered who was behind it all.
D.J. is working alone. She follows a suspect to an island and is pushed down a flight of stairs in an ancient castle. She dives into a pond in a tropical arboretum to avoid detection. She nearly tumbles off a cliff edge following a suspect alone at night. In between all this she is forced to change hotels, to one where the cat is welcome. It is discovered her cat is something of an artist which is encouraged by her host. Cat paintings can fetch big money in the U.S.A. you know. She also manages to accidently dye her hair bright green.
I’ll be honest here. Cozies aren’t my favourite genre of crime fiction. However, I will happily admit to enjoying some light-hearted reading from time to time. NO SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, however, was just a little too much for me. I found it to be silly in the extreme and without enough plot to sustain it.
THE 50/50 KILLER - Steve Mosby
The 50/50 killer, so tagged because of the choices he put to his victims, was almost the downfall of police homicide investigator John Mercer. The man still commands and investigates, but to new boy Mark Nelson, Mercer lacks the focus, with some part of the man having been forever broken. Mercer’s team welcome Nelson into their ranks and are candid with him about their boss, showing their loyalty at the same time while showing their concern. It turns out to be a hell of a first day on the job for the new homicide recruit.
Opening Sentence: "...BlackWidow has entered the room..."
PD Martin's second novel is simply amazing. It is so chillingly plausible it leaves you feeling very uncomfortable. Most internet users belong to some sort of online discussion group or forum. Many of these forums are for the use of its members only. THE MURDERERS&#
Now about author Steve Mosby (third novel in, more to come). It can be said with certainty, after reading THE 50/50 KILLER, that the man has a nice hand with the British police procedural and isn't too shabby at the finer points of characterization either. There is just enough of the peeking behind the parlour curtains, observing as we do here the private details of a marriage, which satisfies some voyeuristic urge to spy on the ripple effects with what might be imagined happens to the afterhours relationships of homicide detectives. The viewing and investigation of some seriously disturbed crimes - we expect that to have a kick-back into an officer's personal life. It all balances beautifully with the relentless drive forwards of the police investigation, though it can come across unexpectedly as a little prim and restrained in its execution (good and solid British reserve, even as things go to pieces). This is a finely worked novel, so the attention to order remains in keeping with how the many personal relationships are meticulously examined.
The line between gratuitous descriptions of the horrific acts man commits against fellow man, as opposed to more clinical observation is treaded with caution. Showing restraint here (considering his background in horror) Mosby includes just enough to have his reader squinting and wincing but reading on regardless. As we near the pointy end, as with all good crime/thriller novels, Mosby delivers his major plot twist beautifully.
Into British police procedurals? Can't stomach a crime novel that's all about the heinous act itself? Scratch your itch for both with THE 50/50 KILLER. This is smart and absorbing stuff that will have you flicking over to the author's website clickety-click to see what's next on Mosby's plate.
39; CLUB opens in one such forum - only this one consists of four members - and they are all established serial killers.
There's a slightly odd feeling about sitting down to read a book that if somebody asked you why you were reading it - the best explanation you could come up with was ... well ... "it sort of sounded slightly mad - and besides the central character wants to become part of a book.... ". You've got to be intrigued by that premise.
THE END OF MR Y doesn't telegraph what sort of a book it is from the cover blurb - it sounds a bit like a mystery, it could be fantasy, there's even some elements that sound a bit like traditional science fiction. It's all of those things and a lot more because at the basis of everything else in this book there is the story of somebody's life that is fascinating, there are characters that you can care about. There's a story of disaffection and alternative ways of living your life that is intriguing. THE END OF MR Y is unpredictable, brash, exciting, slightly edgy and ever so slightly odd.
At the centre of the book is Ariel. Ariel's a great character and narrator - she's very much in control (sort of), she's very focused (sometimes) and she's somebody who knows where she's going (okay now I'm stretching...) Ariel's engaging, she's fascinating, she's also slightly crazy, but what she really has is acute self-awareness. She's an impoverished PhD student from a decidedly dodgy background, she's got a very active sex life - many might say it's a very dangerous and unorthodox sex life. Some people might find a building dropping into a hole in the ground a bit unexpected but Ariel can let that roll, just as she can discover a copy of a mythical long lost book and not question where it could have come from. She can find a way to handle her odd sex life with her married lover becoming increasingly risky. She can even develop an attraction to Adam, the ex-priest forced to share her University office because of the collapse of the other building. And finally she can enter the Troposphere and find it threatening and comforting all at the same time. But Ariel is used to the unexpected. In fact she really doesn't know what is supposed to be normal - life is just what happens. There's a great quote on the back of the book which explains her attitude perfectly:
"Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead, give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book".
It's impossible to read THE END OF MR Y and not consider the possibility of the Troposphere. And compare the possible absurdity of the idea of an alternative reality with a current day obsession like Second Life. Fantasy and science fiction blurring into reality in a very intriguing way?
Along the way Ariel must try to find out about the two strange men and their two childish offsiders pursuing her. She must find her PhD supervisor - Professor Burlem - because he alone also seems to understand the ramifications of the Troposphere. She must work out what she wants with the equally troubled Adam. She must also decide how or where she wants to live her life.
Australian FBI Profiler, Sophie Anderson, is taking a break in Arizona with a colleague and friend, Detective Darren Carter. He knows her secret. That she can mentally connect with the victims through visions and dreams, she actually sees them through the eyes of their murderer.
No sooner has Sophie arrived in Arizona than a body shows up at the University - followed by a second and a third. Darren is assigned the case and Sophie joins him in the investigation . Can her visions of a woman's horrific death help solve the crime and stop any more victims?
The story is propelled through two main points of view. The investigators and the murderers. The reader soon knows what is going on - there is a group of captives that are locked away in an underground bunker. They are being watched by the four members of the murderers' club as they vie for the chance to murder their favourite captive through an auction. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you read the lighthearted discussions between the criminals - the complete lack of compassion and guilt.
Sophie and Darren have to work out the secret behind their latest serial killer and then try and catch them and stop them. There are twists and turns right up to the very end.