Escape from the ER
Review
4.5 Stars
Turning Secrets - Brenda Chapman

Favourite thing # 9: when you’re wrapped up in a book you can’t put down but you’re afraid to read the next page. Love that. And it pretty much sums up how I spent the last quarter of the latest instalment in the Stonechild & Rouleau series.

 

It all begins with the death of Nadia Armstrong. When her body is found at a construction site, it appears to be suicide. But Kala Stonechild from the KIngston PD has one of those niggly feelings she’s learned to trust. She & colleague Paul Gundersund begin to dig into the young woman’s life, unaware they’re lifting the lid off a huge can of worms *.

 

( * my apologies to worms everywhere….you’re lovely little things compared to some of the bottom feeders in this story)

 

It seems Nadia had a few secrets. And she’s not alone. Kala’s niece Dawn has struck up a relationship with Fisher, her long absent father.  She knows how her aunt feels about the ex-con so she keeps it to herself, unaware that Fisher has secrets too.

 

But the gold medal for keeping shtum has to go to Vanessa, one of Dawn’s school mates. Her private life is truly the stuff of nightmares & unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before Dawn will be dragged into the whole mess.

 

Add in some internal strife at the police station & you’ve got a great, twisty read full of intrigue & suspense. Faithful fans in particular are in for a few surprises as there are some shifts in relationships among the returning cast. These characters have been so well developed over the course of the series that they’ve become “real” people. So it was no surprise I still cheered on my favourites while booing those I’ve come to loathe (side-eyes Fiona). But I was caught off guard by events surrounding 2 of the regular characters. Seems I may have to rethink one & say good-bye to another.

 

Some crimes have motives as old as time & shine a light on societal views & biases. Others are more topical, fueled by current issues surrounding social media. It can be a wonderful tool but sadly it can also be used to manipulate the vulnerable & one of the story lines feels all too real.

 

The author does a great job of keeping all the plot lines moving which results in a pacy read that holds your attention. Along the way there are some sly red herrings in the form of suitably creepy candidates for ”bad guy”. By the end, it’s clear there are some changes in store for Jacques, Kala & their colleagues down at that station. Can’t wait for book #7.

 

 

                

Review
4.5 Stars
City of Windows - Robert Pobi

Ok thriller lovers, listen up. There’s a lot of buzz around this book & I’m here to say you can believe it.  This is a cracking read that delivers. Tense action, intricate plot lines, a frighteningly efficient killer & suspense that builds to a hair raising finish. It may sound like a stock recipe for any thriller but the reason this one succeeds so well is down to two things…..how the author blends those ingredients then tosses in a compelling & charismatic MC.

 

Dr. Lucas Page is a brilliant man with a unique ability. Once upon a time he was an FBI agent with a partner named Doug Hartke. That was before “the event” that ended his career & resulted in him losing a leg, an arm & one eye. Now he’s a mix of man & metal who spends his days teaching at Columbia University. The rest of his time is devoted to wife Erin & the 5 kids they foster. Until NYC Special Agent Brett Kehoe comes knocking.

 

Hartke is dead. He was sitting in downtown traffic when killed by a sniper. Kehoe needs Lucas’ brain & is willing to play the guilt card to get it. No one “sees” like  Lucas. HIs gift is the ability to shut out the noise & reduce his surroundings to a series of vectors, angles & numbers to pinpoint where a shot originated. But when he visits the crime scene it becomes clear they’re not dealing with your garden variety sniper. The shot came from a distant roof top & should have been impossible.

 

As far as Lucas is concerned, it’s a one & done job. He’s well aware Erin is less than thrilled about him working with the FBI again & besides, he promised to devote the Xmas season to their herd of kids. Then another member of law enforcement is taken out in similar fashion. More will follow, each shot more unbelievable than the last. Lucas helps out but resists an official return to service until his family is targeted. Now it’s personal.

 

Holy Cats, buckle up people. This one will keep you on your toes. What follows is a riveting tale of the hunt for a highly skilled killer. Lucas & his colleagues must dig deep to discover motives & connections. There is a large & diverse cast of characters that add colour, humour & drama to the story. One standout is Whitaker, the agent assigned to Lucas. She’s a whip smart woman whose quiet demeanour masks a spine of steel. Good thing because while she may find Lucas’ abilities fascinating she’s less enamoured with his complete lack of social skills. Watching their relationship develop was one of the things I enjoyed most about this book.

 

But everything revolves around Lucas & he’s up for carrying the story. At work he’s terse, impatient & antisocial, sometimes with unintentionally humorous results. At home we get to see his softer side & through a series of childhood flashbacks we come to understand why he & Erin have created their unique family. It turns out he was once just like them, unwanted & moved around at the whim of social services. Another thing that is very well done are descriptions of his prosthetics & how they affect daily life.

 

It’s a great example of what sets this book apart from other thrillers. Yes, there’s plenty of action but it’s the personal details & characters’ histories that add the human element necessary for a reader to become truly invested. I ripped through this in a day & sincerely hope it’s not the last we’ve heard from Dr. Lucas Page. Recommended for fans of Daniel Cole or Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series.

 

 

         

Review
4.5 Stars
Joe Country - Mick Herron

Uh…good evening, officer. What? the neighbours heard screaming? Oh sorry, see I just got my hands on the latest Mick Herron. My bad.

 

C’mon, I can’t be the only one celebrating.This is one of my all time favourite series, an annual no-brainer purchase. Last year Herron gave us a shortie called The Drop & that story line plus a couple of the characters are woven into this outing.

 

It all begins with a prologue that will have fans on edge. There are bodies in a barn in Wales. And rumour has it some agents from Slough House were involved. Hold that thought. You’re about to find out how some Slow Horses ended up dashing through the snow in the Welsh countryside.

 

As usual there are multiple story lines on the go. River Cartwright is finally burying his grandfather. The old spook’s funeral is a solemn & covert affair. Right up until….well, let me just point out Jackson Lamb & his crew are in attendance. Did you really expect normal?

 

Louisa Guy is still mourning the death of fellow agent Min Harper. They had a relationship of sorts so when Min’s widow gets in touch to request they meet, Louisa’s not sure it’s a good idea. It seems their teenage son Lucas is missing & Min’s wife thinks the least Louisa can do is find him. Eventually she agrees & uses her contacts to track him to…Wales?

 

Meanwhile over in Regents Part, Diana Taverner has a problem. Hannah Weiss is a double agent who infiltrated the German intelligence service for MI6. Not so long ago, things got a little messy & Lady Di cleaned up by “promoting” Lech Wicinski, a low level agent who got stuck in the middle. Yep, he now reports to Jackson Lamb. Even worse, he shares an office with Roddy Ho. Yeesh, talk about kicking someone when they’re down. All Lech can do is find those responsible for his spectacular fall from grace.

 

As for Lamb, he’d have been happy to continue spending his days devising new ways to offend his merry band of misfits. But events at the funeral put that on hold. He’s finally got a chance for revenge on an old foe & some off-the-books digging reveals his prey is in….Wales? Huh. Must be getting a bit crowded over there.

 

Once again I tried to slowly dole out the chapters & once again I failed. For me, these books are like potato chips. It’s impossible to have a little taste then put them away. After the prologue, this one slows down as the author sets the stage for everything to come. I love the way he makes Slough House another living, breathing character that quietly observes the poor souls who trudge through its door every day. There are many strands to the plot & he keeps them running smoothly until they inevitably intersect. Along the way you’re treated to action, intrigue, twists & laughs. No one does dry black humour quite like Herron & I’ve learned my lesson about reading his books in public. But on the upside, it turns out snorting & grinning like a loon ensures you get a seat to yourself on the train.

 

Beneath the humour & zany antics are serious moments of grief & loss. This is an author who doesn’t shy away from killing off a beloved character & the tradition continues here. The ending makes it clear there’s a conspiracy in the works, one even Lamb may not survive. And so the wait for the next one begins & I swear I’ll read it slowly (sure).

 

 

                  

Review
4.5 Stars
An Accidental Death - Peter Grainger

So once again I'm asking myself....how have I missed this series?! Instead of being fashionably late to the party, apparently I've shown up after everyone ate, drank, danced, got arrested & made bail. 

This is a wonderful read, a straight up procedural full of well developed characters that grow on you with each passing page. The MC is D.C. Smith, a seasoned detective in Kings Lake, Norfolk. He's a widower who can't imagine not being on the job despite some not so subtle hints to retire. After a recent department scandal, he's handed low level cases....like signing off on the accidental drowning of a local teen. 

I won't get into the investigation. Obviously there's more there than meets the eye or we wouldn't have a story. 'Nuff to say it's well plotted with some interesting historical ties. What makes this so readable is the cast. Smith is an engaging character. He's deceptively low key, a smart mild mannered guy who misses nothing. Instead of the usual personal demons ubiquitous in the genre, his only baggage is a quiet grief following the recent loss of his beloved wife. But it's his dry sense of humour that elevates the story & makes dialogue sparkle. Other characters of note include Smith's superior officer DCI Reeve & DC Waters, a shiny new recruit with much to learn. 

This is a good example of all you need for a compelling read. No flash, no OTT drama....just well developed characters & great story telling. There's already a squillion reviews for this little gem on Goodreads so I'll end by saying if you're a fan of police procedurals, don't be a Sandy-come-lately. Read it.

 

 

     

Review
3.5 Stars
The Island (Hidden Iceland #2) - Ragnar Jónasson

This series has an interesting format in that it’s written in reverse order. Book #1 (The Darkness) gave us Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir at the end of her career with the Reykjavík police. In this outing we go back a bit to 1997 as she investigates a suspicious death on the island of Elliðaey.

 

Ten years ago, Dagur’s family was ripped apart when his sister was murdered in a rural cabin. (Thanks to a brief prologue we know what happened…sort of.) They used to hang with Benni, Alexandra & Klara, 3 other school mates who have since become estranged. So when Benni gets in touch it’s a bit of a surprise. He want to get the gang together & spend the weekend on an island to honour the anniversary of the death. Hmmm….remote island, just the four of them, no way to leave. Sure, sounds good.

 

It’s not long before Reykjavík police get a call. Seems a young woman has fallen to her death on Elliðaey. Hulda has been going through a tough spell & jumps at the chance to leave the city behind. Her subsequent interviews with the remaining friends only lead to more questions & the sneaking suspicion she’s not getting the whole story from any of them.

 

This is not a flashy fast paced thriller. It’s a quiet, reflective mystery that is almost more about the characters than the crimes. Not to say there aren’t any twists in the plot because there are. Secrets from the past & present are revealed. But it’s the background & relationships of these people that form the bulk of the story & help us understand how they ended up where they are.

 

At the centre of it all is Hulda. Her mother recently died & the death of the young woman has reminded her of the loss of her own daughter 10 years ago. She’s never known who her father was other than he was an American GI stationed in Reykjavík during the war. One side story deals with her search for him & I really enjoyed this part. You desperately want her to find some happiness in her small, colourless life.

 

I love it when a book opens with a creepy prologue. It’s always tucked in the back of my mind as I read, keeping an eye out for how/who it’s related to in the story. Here we get 2 that occur in the late 1980’s & you’ll have to pay attention as there are shifting time lines. Because of the pace & content, this one didn’t grab me as much as The Darkness. But I do enjoy spending time with Hulda. Books that feature a mature female detective are rare. Her life experience & dedication give her a different take on events & enable her to think outside the box (unlike Lýdur, her lazy pompous boss).

 

This hushed, atmospheric read perfectly mirrors the Icelandic landscape & serves as a reminder that wherever you go, your past travels with you. 

 

 

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Sins of the Dead (Rhona MacLeod #13) - Lin Anderson

So today’s post is kind of a doubleheader. First up is my review then I’ll close with a short rant which may stray close to spoilerish territory so just a heads up.

 

When forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod gets called, it’s rarely good news. This time a body has been found in one of Glasgow’s tunnels. And it’s immediately clear the killer has gone to great lengths to get their message across. The second body turns up near Rhona’s home.  Same careful display, same props, same lack of forensics……there’s no doubt it’s related to the first.

 

Rhona does her best to provide clues for the police but it’s slim pickings. And maybe that’s a clue in itself. Everything points to someone with superior forensic knowledge. When one clue is tied to Rhona they all have to wonder. Is the killer taunting her or stalking her?

 

The gang is all back including DS Michael McNab. He & Rhona have a complicated history. They fell out after their last case which also resulted in a demotion for McNab. He’s been trying to keep his head down but when this case is assigned to DS Janice Clark, he can’t resist pushing his way into the investigation.

 

Just to amp up the creep factor, in alternate chapters we listen in as the killer makes their plans. There are also side stories dealing with the personal lives of the MC’s. The author does a great job of keeping you guessing. When it comes to suspects, you’re spoiled for choice. I had it narrowed down to three & kept looking for any hint that would sway me one way or the other.

 

One little niggle was a lack of information about the killer. Even after they’re revealed, we’re no wiser as to their background, motive or why they became fixated on Rhona. But that wasn’t the issue for me. Warning: mini-rant ahead.

 

I was all in on this story. Loved the Glasgow setting & got swept up in the investigation & the characters’ personal story lines. Then I hit the 90% mark. At this point Rhona makes a decision that can only be described as monumentally boneheaded. It brought to mind those slasher movies where a frisky couple looking for privacy come across an abandoned house. It’s usually isolated, has no electricity & one pipes up with something akin to “Hey, I’m going inside to check out that noise in the cellar by myself. You wait out here all alone in the dark. No worries, I’m sure it’s nothing to do with that serial killer who recently escaped.” Yup, that.

 

I realize authors take license to create suspense. My problem is when a character who has been portrayed as smart & experienced is dumbed down in order to create that suspense. It’s a personal peeve that yanks me out of the story & leaves me shaking my head. Maybe I lack the ability to suspend my disbelief that far but surely there are other ways to create the desired tension that allow the character to remain consistent. So that’s where my rating took a hit.

 

There you have it. The bulk of the story is a well paced, twisty tale that will keep you turning the pages. As a bonus, you also get a peek at the hidden history of Glasgow. If the above doesn’t bother you, go for it as there’s a reason this popular series has reached book #13.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
Among the Shadows - Bruce Robert Coffin

Another mini-review as I attempt to help my kindle lose weight in time for bikini season....

 

Well, well, well....a hidden gem that was lurking in the depths. Being such a fan of police procedurals, I'm embarrassed to admit this is the first time I've read this author. Clearly need to crawl out from under my rock more often because this guy knows how to tell a story.

Set in Portland, Maine, we follow Detective John Byron as & his team as they face their worst nightmare...the murder of a cop. The investigation is soon compounded by further deaths that seem to link to an infamous bank robbery that took place 30 years ago. Oddly, no one involved seems particularly keen to talk. For John, the case becomes personal when he discovers ties to his long deceased father. 

In a nutshell it's a smart, pacy read with well placed twists that will have you questioning what you thought you knew. The cast is colourful & diverse with strong characterizations that ensure you become invested in their fates. 

My only complaint is that I had to have book #2 & picked it up right after I finished *sigh* My kindle may have to settle for wearing a one-piece.

 

                                        

                                     

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Dark Heart: 1 (A Cooper & Quinn Crime Thriller) - Catherine Lee

 

The assault on my overloaded kindle continues. This book has been on there for awhile & its time had come. It's a combination of police procedural & an interesting look at the concept of cellular memory in transplant patients.

 

Sooo...what if your new heart came from a serial killer? A recent murder victim is discovered to be the killer police have been hunting for 10 years. His donated organs will save a young woman's life but have enormous repercussions for her whole family.

 

I really liked the procedural aspect of the story. The 2 MC's (cops) were great characters & the plot suitably twisty. For 80% of the story I was all in. But I'm afraid I felt let down by the last bit for 2 reasons. One was the ethical dilemma faced by police at the end & how it played out. The other was the inclusion of a personal pet peeve.....instalove. You know, the old I've-known-you-for-5-minutes-and-can't-live-without-you scenario. Erk. The sad thing is the accelerated romance was unnecessary & not integral to the story line. Maybe it could have ended with the blissful couple just going on a first date?

 

Anyhoo, the rest of the book was a well written & pacy read. If you're a bigger fan of amour, ignore my rant & give this a go.

 

 

         

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Winterman - Alex Walters

This intriguing mystery offers up a new perspective on the genre for this author. I’m a big fan of his DI Alec McKay books which are contemporary police procedurals. But here, he switches things up & delivers a story reminiscent of classic golden age mysteries.

 

It’s 1947 & all across England, people are struggling to rebuild their lives. The war may be over but things like food, fuel & jobs are still scarce. DI Ivan Winterman was not a soldier. Instead he fought his battles on the home front. One of these left him persona non grata among colleagues in London & as the book opens, he’s been banished to a small police post in rural East Anglia.

 

It’s not exactly a promotion to the big time. As the 2 local cops who have been holding down the fort fill him in, he realizes the most dangerous criminal he’ll run into will probably be a shoplifter. Well…you just know that’s going to change or we wouldn’t have a story.

 

Body #1 is barely recognizable as a little girl. Years of being buried in peat on the fens has preserved the bones but not much else. Same with body #2. Then a local man is murdered in his back yard. And he won’t be the last. So much for a quiet life in the sticks.

 

The first thing you need to know is this is not a flashy thriller. It’s a quiet, atmospheric police procedural that is richly evocative of another time & place. You get drawn into the lives of people who are dealing with the fallout of WWll. Like most insular communities, everyone knows everyone & their business. Or thought they did. As Winterman’s investigation progresses, the area is cut off by snow storms & the resulting isolation lends a claustrophobic feel which is hugely effective. Because of this, the story begins to read like a classic closed room murder mystery.

 

The author does a great job of providing a slow drip of clues. It’s an intricate puzzle & as pieces from the past & present fall into place, a horrible truth emerges. It’s not just a case of finding a killer, it’s about unmasking those who have been hiding in plain sight. Tension rises as the coppers begin to realize what they’re dealing with & the pace picks up considerably as they battle weather conditions to solve the case. It will also prove cathartic for Winterman on a personal level as he begins to let go of the past & see the chance for a brighter future.

 

It’s a smart, historical read that will especially appeal to fans of Agatha Christie or Anthony Horowitz’ “Magpie Murders”.

 

 

         

 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Reckless - David  Putnam

This is the second prequel to the popular Bruno Johnson series that takes us back to his early years. Bruno is an LA County deputy sheriff who works in the violent crimes unit. He likes his boss, his colleagues & their current investigation. So he’s less than thrilled when he shows up to work one day & gets a double whammy. His old partner Ned Kiefer is back & they’re being seconded to the FBI as part of a joint task force tackling a surge in bank robberies. Oh, if only it was that simple.

 

Sure, being sworn in as a US Marshall is a kick. But it’s immediately clear their FBI counterparts view them as subordinates who must be tolerated. It’s a frosty welcome with one exception. Special Agent Chelsea Miller is part of the team and she & Bruno have a bit of history.

 

Bruno & Ned dig in & have some early success. But when they’re handed one particular case, they discover the task force’s true agenda. One of the gangs responsible for the robberies is made up of disadvantaged teens. There is little chance this will end well, making it a political hot potato the FBI would prefer to avoid. And for Bruno it will be a case that tests him personally & professionally.

 

What follows is an action packed wild ride with plenty of twists. The multiple story lines are populated by a colourful mix of cops, gang bangers, drug addicts & honest people just trying to survive in some of LA’s poorer neighbourhoods.

 

At the centre of it all is Bruno, a hard working cop who wants to make a difference. His world revolves around the little house he shares with 2 year old daughter Olivia & his father. He’s a decent guy whose good nature can sometimes be a liability. Bruno is besieged by people who want him to return a favour, keep a secret, save a friend, do a job, protect a loved one…..seriously, the guy needs to learn how to say no.

 

However, the result is a book that has to cover a lot of territory in 320 pages. There are so many story lines running concurrently, easily enough for 2 books. If a couple were dropped, perhaps those remaining (& the characters involved) could have been more developed as the author certainly has his work cut out to tie them all up by the end.

 

One thing is for sure…..there is zero chance of getting bored as the hits just keep on coming. And mixed in with the action are some great twists, lovely little shockers that will make you look at some of the cast with fresh eyes. Although this is book #6 the author provides plenty of back story so if you’re looking for a fast paced adrenaline rush don’t hesitate to jump in here.

 

 

     

 

The Labyrinth of the Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

     Hallelujah, February is almost gone.

 

                                         

 

Not only has it been a stupidly cold month where I live but I had to complete a series of recertification exams for work. I spent the entire month reading nothing but excessively boring textbooks while gazing longingly at my TBR pile. 

 

So to celebrate I picked up this 800+ page stonker, the final instalment in one of my all time favourite series. Ah, Fermín....I've missed you.

 

  

 

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Rubicon - Ian Patrick

Even before I finished, I knew I’d be recommending this book to all my lovely crime reading peeps. So to help you derive maximum enjoyment & avoid possible jail time (see #1) I’ve put together a list of items you may want to gather before cracking the cover. You’re welcome.

 

1. Go away I’m reading” sign: The book opens with a prologue that you may end up reading twice. It’s clear someone is going to die. The narrator even tells you so as they calmly identify their prey & the reason behind his impending demise. By the time you finish this part, there’s no way you’ll be putting it down. If someone were to interrupt you at this point, it’s only fair they be pre-warned you may become violent. Hence the sign.

 

2. a thinking cap: We go back in time before events in the prologue & meet DS Sam Batford. He has a military background that serves him well as an undercover agent with one of those murky agencies you hear rumours about. Now he’s been seconded to the National Crime Agency in a joint effort to bring down crime boss Vincent Guardino.

 

The NCA is led by DCI Klara Winter, an ambitious & by-the-book cop who’s not happy about being saddled with Sam. As far as she’s concerned he’s a cowboy with little regard for the rules. Or the fact she’s in charge. We get to know her mostly through daily log entries, transcribed in a blunt sardonic voice I really enjoyed.

 

I couldn’t reduce the plot of this book if I tried. Strap on that thinking cap & pay attention. What follows is a pacy, complex story with interesting characters. Hidden agendas, secrets & shifting alliances…at times even Sam isn’t sure who to trust. As things spiral out of control he begins to ponder his role. It’s not lost on the reader that at least he knows where he stands with the bad guys. As for the good guys….well, that’s a little more complicated.

 

3. neck brace: This will protect you through myriad plot twists, double crosses & jaw dropping reveals. I love reading a book that keeps me on shaky ground & this provides that feeling in spades. I genuinely had no idea how this would play out, only that not everyone was going to make it to the afterparty. 

 

4. seatbelt: Please remain seated with it fastened for the duration. After the initial set-up there’s a rising tension that becomes palpable as you reach for the finish. Clever twists & thrills are all well & good but for a reader to really feel the story they must become invested in the characters. Sam & Klara are both compelling. They want the same result (sort of) but have different ideas on how to get there. As the book progresses we get to know them better & understand how they’ve been shaped by their individual pasts.

 

This is a smart, fast paced crime thriller that will keep you on your toes. Cozy fans, beware. This is gritty noir with everything that entails. Can’t wait to read book #2.

 

 

         

Review
4.5 Stars
The Wolf and the Watchman - Niklas Natt och Dag

In chaos theory, there is something called the butterfly effect. The idea is that one small action can greatly affect the outcome of a later, seemingly unrelated event. This novel is full of little moments that show how one person’s decision can permanently alter the lives of others.

 

The year is 1793 & Stockholm is a city on edge. Rebellion by lower classes in countries such as France have made the Swedish elite a tad nervous, especially after the murder of King Gustav III. This is the backdrop for a story of 4 people living separate lives until a single event causes their paths to cross. All it takes is the discovery of a mutilated body.

 

Mickel Cardell returned from the war with shattered nerves & one less arm. Now he’s a watchman….when he can be bothered to get up off his barstool. That’s where 2 youngsters find him one night with news of a floater in the lake. But the body Mickel “rescues” is not exactly what he expected. In fact, it’s not even really a body. Just a torso….no arms, no legs.

 

Cecil Winge is a lawyer who works as a consultant with the Swedish police. He’s an intelligent & private man who has fought for progressive changes to the legal system. He’s also dying from consumption. So it’s no wonder he feels a sense of urgency about his latest case….to give a name to the unidentified torso & find a killer.

 

Kristofer Blix is a handsome farm boy who heads to Stockholm with dreams of becoming a doctor. He soon realizes how unprepared he is for life in the big city but could never have imagined where it will lead.

 

Anna-Stina’s young life has been full of poverty & struggle. And it’s about to get worse. If she wants something better she’ll have to be brave, smart & resourceful. Thankfully, she has those things in spades.

 

At its heart this is an engrossing murder investigation but as we meet & get to know the 4 MC’s, it becomes so much more. Their personal stories add depth & guarantee you become as invested in them as you are in solving the mystery surrounding the torso. The historical setting, political situation, class system & living conditions are so well rendered that sometimes it feels all too real.

 

I finished this a while ago & have been struggling to write a review that does it justice. Even the rating was a challenge. If I look at it purely as entertainment, I can’t say I enjoyed every part. There are passages that are difficult, even revolting to read. But here’s the thing. Life for many people at that time WAS difficult & revolting to our modern sensibilities. It was about survival. And the reason you feel these emotions so keenly is all down to the author’s skills as a story teller.

 

He has an extraordinary ability to write prose that completely envelops you. You feel everything as you follow these characters. Fear, anger, frustration, grief & scattered glimmers of hope. All your senses are engaged. Yes, there are scenes that made me want to look away but I couldn’t. I cared deeply for these people & carried the book with me to read every chance I got.

 

Soooo…by now you probably figured out this will not be found under “Cozies”. Sometimes when I’m asked about my last couple of reads, I struggle to remember names & plot details. This is a visceral & haunting story that has stayed with me. The ability to transport a reader to another time & place is a gift & I look forward to the author’s next book. But maybe I’ll have a wee beverage before cracking the cover.

 

 

         

Review
4 Stars
Back Door to Hell - Paul Gadsby

“Choices don’t line up for you. They fall in your lap or they slap you in the face”.

 

Ah, kids these days. It’s all fun & games ’til someone steals a whack of cash from a crazy mobster. But it seemed like such a good idea at the time….

 

Nate Stokes hasn’t had a lot of luck lately. At 22, he’s lost his crummy job & gone on the dole. And thanks to his brother, he now has to spend a month working for a local gangster. For free. Nate reports to a snooker club in south London to begin a bartending gig. And that’s where he meets Jen.

 

Jen Whittaker may be young but she already knows how things work. With few prospects, she works part time at a snooker club & dreams of something better. In fact, she already has an idea on how to make that happen but she can’t do it alone. Then she meets Nate.

 

Crawford is an old school crime boss who’s worked hard for his place at the top. He has a string of legitimate businesses that are perfect for laundering money from his illegal sidelines. He’s smart & when it comes to getting the cash together, he always chooses a quiet place to avoid unwanted attention. Like his snooker club.

 

But someone IS paying attention. Jen’s been keeping track of the routine shipments & has a plan to liberate enough of the money to buy herself a future. And it’s not too hard to sell Nate on the idea. Sure, he’s dazzled by her. But he’s also intrigued by the chance to leave his crappy life behind. What could go wrong?

 

Well, as it turns out, several things. Before they know it Nate, Jen & the money are on the run with Crawford in relentless pursuit. Getting the money back is crucial for business. But it’s also about salvaging his reputation & maintaining his position in the crime world food chain.

 

What follows is a fast paced & entertaining story of 2 young people attempting to survive long enough to begin again. It’s like an intricate game of cat-and-mouse as they try to stay one step ahead of a man with seemingly endless resources. The action & plot twists alone are enough to keep you turning the pages. But there are a couple of elements that make this stand out as more than a great gritty tale about a heist gone wrong.

 

First, the author’s style. The prose is smooth & clean with enough detail to provide atmosphere but never at the expense of pace. Second, the characters. Nate, Jen & Crawford are the MC’s & each is engaging & well developed. Their personal backgrounds add dimension & help us understand how & why they’ve ended up in the current situation. A large peripheral cast add colour & interest to the main story line.

 

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think ahead & wonder how it would end. There are several choices, at least one of which would have been disappointingly unrealistic. Thankfully, the author chose an ending that is sobering yet oddly hopeful. And now I have a new (to me) author to follow.

 

 

          

Review
4 Stars
Dead Is Better - Jo Perry

“I was a failure as a living man. And so far I’m one massive fuck up at being dead”.

 

 

If you could see Charlie Stone, the first thing you’d probably notice are the bullet holes. Six of them. That’s how he ended up dead. One minute he was getting CPR, the next he woke up in a quiet, featureless place with a dog. What the hell….

 

But no one can see Charlie or Rose (as he’s named the dog). He has no recollection of why or where he was shot which quite frankly is ticking him off. He was just your typical middle aged businessman with 4 ex-wives. Right. He decides the best way to start his investigation is to attend his own funeral & see who shows up. Rose graciously agrees to be his plus-one.

 

It’s the beginning of one of the more off-the-wall, quirky crime novels you’ll read. As we hear Charlie’s story it’s soon apparent he was not the most dependable or likeable guy. His search heads off in directions he could never have imagined as he haunts police stations, hospitals & homeless shelters looking for answers. When he stumbles across some alarming information, Charlie has to wrestle with the possibility that it might not be all about him. That maybe he’s supposed to be helping someone else find their answers. Huh…what a concept.

 

Short chapters & economical prose keep the story moving. And just a heads-up…Charlie has a bit of a potty mouth. As for Rose, no worries. She doesn’t curse once. Silent & supportive, she accompanies Charlie on his journey & periodically nudges him in a different direction. There are plenty of surprises in store especially as we get Rose’s history. The ending may be a bit out there but hey this is fiction…fiction with ghosts! And by that time, there was one character I so badly wanted to see get what he karmically deserved that I didn’t care how it happened. Just as long as he went DOWN. And I’m confident all dog lovers will agree with me.

 

This is the beginning of a trilogy (so far). Although initially published elsewhere, it’s found a home with Fahrenheit Press which makes complete sense to me. By the end Charlie gets some answers & more importantly, is a slightly better man no doubt due to Rose’s influence.

 

It’s an offbeat, different take on the genre I enjoyed & I’ll be picking up book #2 to see what Charlie & Rose get up to next.

 

 

         

 

Review
4.5 Stars
When the Music's Over - Aidan Thorn

Most people look forward to retirement but it might depend on what you did for a living. For example, if you were.…oooh, I don’t know.… a hitman, you’d probably enjoy living a quiet life where no one knows your face or reputation. Wynn McDonald is that guy. And it’s why he’s less than thrilled to get a call from Alan Castle.

 

Alan & Terry Weir are hard men who’ve ruled Birmingham for years. Wynn was their hired gun before stepping away from the game more than a decade ago. Now Alan wants him back for a special job. Terry’s son Harry has been murdered by his business partner Benny Gower who’s since disappeared. The “request” is simple: find him & make him suffer.

 

Wynn is stunned. He knew both men well. And Benny has to know Terry Weir will hunt him to the ends of the earth. What was he thinking? It makes no sense. Wynn has no choice but to return to Birmingham & begins by making the rounds of Benny’s friends & colleagues. Sure, someone might know where he’s gone but it’s more than that. Wynn was never too concerned with motive in the past but this time he needs to understand why it happened to ensure he kills the right guy.

 

In alternate chapters we follow Benny as he goes on the run & begins a new life in another city. We also get the scoop on Benny’s relationship with Harry & how it all went wrong.

 

And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, folks. At face value, it’s a well written & pacy example of a great Brit Grit novel. What elevates this above many is the quiet & dignified depth provided by Wynn’s character. There’s no doubt he fits the definition of a bad guy. But as we accompany him on his search for Benny, another man emerges.

 

A solitary retirement & advancing age have given Wynn a chance to think about his life & the things he’s done. The passage of time affects all of us, shifting priorities & changing perceptions. Wynn is no different & he finds himself pondering the meaning of loyalty, friendship & right vs. wrong. Childhood memories bubble to the surface as he tries to remember when he last felt happiness. All of this plus his interactions with the people in Benny’s life combine to give a poignant portrait of an aging criminal who is running out of time.

 

I really enjoyed this. The characters are compelling & the author keeps you guessing as to how it will all pan out. By the time the music stopped, somehow I’d developed a big old soft spot for a hitman. Who’d of thunk it.

 

 

          

 

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