Escape from the ER
Review
3.5 Stars
Faithless (Oslo Detective Series) - Kjell Ola Dahl, Don Bartlett

Detective Frank Frølich is in a bit of a spot. A few days ago he arrested a woman after finding cocaine in her purse. That night he attended a birthday party for old school chum Karl Anders where he met Karl’s new fiancée, Veronika Undset….yup, the woman he arrested. Well, that was awkward.

 

Unfortunately, the next time they meet is after her horribly beaten body is pulled from a dumpster. Frank is uneasy about having personal ties to a murder investigation & requests to be left off the case. Even though they hadn’t spoken for years before the party, he knows Karl will be front & centre as a suspect. Besides, he has another case that needs attention. Rosalind M’Taya is a beautiful, young exchange student who came to study in Oslo for the summer & promptly disappeared. When Frank finds all her belongings still in her room, he knows she didn’t leave willingly.

 

Inspector Gunnarstranda needs all hands on deck & denies Frank’s request. Another body has been found & the victim had ties to Veronika. And so they begin the process of picking apart her life, gathering an odd assortment of suspects as they dig.

 

This is a fast paced procedural that definitely qualifies as Nordic Noir. As Frank & Gunnarstranda follow separate lines of investigation, they both encounter people who are shifty, scary and/or crazy. Early on there are hints something happened between Frank & Karl when they were teenagers that led to them drifting apart. As the story progresses, Frank has to come to terms with the event & his role in how it all played out.

 

Along with the cast of suspects, we also meet other members of the police & forensic units. Personal details & glimpses of their private lives help flesh out the characters. But it’s Frank we get to know best as he works the murder case & continues his hunt for Rosalind. He’s a smart cop & complex man who is forced to confront past mistakes & fears. He may not like what he finds & although both cases are solved the results take their toll, personally & professionally.

 

Many Scandinavian thrillers are very different stylistically from their typical American cousins. There’s no spoon feeding here. Not everything is spelled out & some questions go unanswered. And just as you reach the end….well, turns out the author kept a few zingers in reserve.

 

It’s my first time reading this author & although I found 5 books listed as part of the Oslo Detectives series, I was unable to determine where this one fit in. As usual, Don Bartlett has done a stellar translation & I look forward to catching up with Frank & Gunnarstranda in the next one.

 

 

        

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new shortie from SJ Bolton's "Lacey Flint" series
new shortie from SJ Bolton's "Lacey Flint" series
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Let’s be honest here…I would read a book of recipes if it was written by Sharon Bolton. So picking up her latest is a complete no-brainer for me. But there will always be a special place for her stories featuring Lacey Flint.

 

It’s been a while since the last full length book but periodically a novella appears to help ease the pain of withdrawal. The last one was “Here Be Dragons”,  a tense little story with a final line that drew sighs of relief from fans around the world.

 

So when I saw this one I went into full on beg/barter/steal mode. At last….Lacey’s wedding. But a niggling wee voice kept reminding me of all the times my delicate little jaw has hit the floor while reading her stuff. Nah…she wouldn’t…would she?

 

I’m not saying a word about the plot. There are only 3 things you need to know: it’s 45 pages long, it features Lacey & Mark & you must get it. Do whatever it takes, you won’t be disappointed. And best of all, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end that there will be more to follow. Now if you’ll excuse me….I have to get some ice for my jaw.

 

Review
4 Stars
A Dark So Deadly - Stuart MacBride

Apparently I'm expected to show up at work on a regular basis.....huh. Weird. It's been crazy lately & I'm really behind on reviews. So my weekend project is throwing together some random thoughts for the last 3-4 books I've read, including this one. Try to contain your excitement. 

 

                                         

 

Ok, here goes....

 

You think you’re having a bad day? DC Callum McGregor is having a bad life. After being raised in care, he became a cop to help people like himself. But the trajectory of his career took a nose dive after covering for his pregnant girlfriend when she screwed up a crime scene. Now he works in the unit of last resort with a motley crew who have all been “specially selected” for various reasons.

 

They are the dogsbodies who get all the grunt work….like picking through Oldcastle’s garbage dump after receiving reports of a body. DI “Mother” Malcomson & DS McAdams are hoping for a nice juicy murder case. Instead, they find a mummy.

 

Callum gets no end of grief from his co-workers who think he purposely contaminated a crime scene on behalf of a local gangster. So when DC Franklin joins the unit, he gets the babysitting job. She’s a gorgeous black woman, 3 things that ensure she’s had to put up with more than your average cop. And she wastes no time putting Callum in his place. Great…one more person to dump on him.

 

They get called out to an abandoned vehicle only to find the trunk is inhabited. By another mummy. It’s the start of an investigation that leads to more bodies, odd evidence, missing persons & forensic fumbles.

 

Of course, WE know what’s going on. In alternate chapters we peek over the shoulder of a deranged & twisted killer trying to buy his way into heaven. As the story progresses we get the 411 on what they’re doing & why, everything except their name (I’m just going to take a moment & say “Eeewww”).

 

And that’s only one thread of the story. There are multiple side plots having to do with domestic abuse, office politics & Callum’s personal life. There’s a large cast who are well developed with distinct personalities. Incredibly, despite the number of characters & story lines, you never feel lost or confused & everything is neatly woven together by the end.

 

To be honest, it took me a bit to fully sign on with this one. I’m a huge fan of the author & wait (im)patiently for his books. One reason is a gift for black humour that makes me giggle at the most inappropriate times & I missed that here. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny bits, particularly some of Callum’s dialogue in the second half as he comes into his own. It’s of the less dark variety but that’s just a personal preference thing & no reflection on the writing. I even got used to McAdams’ tendency to speak in haikus. Then a couple of things happened that changed Callum & his circumstances & from that point I was all in.

 

The evolution of the “Misfit Mob” feels authentic & is very well done. Initially they interact like bickering school kids, all of them resenting where they’ve ended up. But as the scope of what they’re dealing with becomes clear, they start to work as a unit & learn to tolerate each others’ personal tics. Oh they still squabble but it’s more like siblings instead of sworn enemies.

 

If you noticed and/or felt intimidated by the page count, you can relax. The story lines get equal time & it all zips along at a pace that keeps you on your toes. The killer is not the only man of mystery & you’ll keep reading into the wee hours just to learn the real identity of several of the characters. And as it heads into the last quarter, don’t be surprised if you find yourself curled up in the fetal position with every light on. It becomes compulsive reading & I’m willing to bet you’ll reach the end in less time than some books that are half the size. It’s a proper big stonking read with great characters & here’s hoping we run into Callum & his crew again.

 

                                           

Free short stories til Mar. 31

For 3 more days, Instafreebie has free short stories by some very well known British authors. Great way to try out a new author.

 

   

 

https://www.agenthunter.co.uk/crime-fiction/?utm_source=Instafreebie&utm_campaign=3f32904273-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_23&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_11b20223da-3f32904273-222318825

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Six Stories - Matt Wesolowski

Scarclaw Fell is a wild area in Northumberland popular with hikers, cavers & climbers. Its beautiful but treacherous terrain is riddled with marshes, old mine tunnels & neolithic grave sites. In 1996, two adults & 5 teens arrived for a few days of R&R during school break. Sadly, one of them went missing & was never found.

 

In 1997 the land was purchased by Lord Ramsay, much to the dismay of locals & environmentalists. But for his son Harry, it was the perfect place to hang with a couple of friends & plenty of booze. Or it was until they stumbled across the body. Tom Jeffries, the missing teen, is found.

 

Twenty years on Harry is approached by the enigmatic host of the podcast “Six Stories”. Scott King’s specialty is digging into old cases & retelling the events through multiple POV’s of the people involved. And although the Ramsays have never spoken publicly, Harry decides it’s time.

 

What follows are conversations between Scott & 6 of the people who were there in 1996. And just like any story, there are definitely 6 different versions. Some of their memories are shared but each has something unique to add that puts their own slant on what happened to Tom. As the conversations progress, ugly truths begin to emerge. All the participants are 20 years older now & able to look back on some of their youthful acts with clarity & regret.

 

As the series continues, it becomes extremely popular & reignites media attention. Everyone is on edge waiting for the final instalment & Harry begins to wonder if he made a terrible mistake. In alternate chapters, we walk with him as he visits the fell for the first time in years & reexamines everything that happened the night they found Tom’s body.

 

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot as there are so many different twists & elements to the story. It’s much more fun to just “listen” to the podcasts as they unfold & see if you can guess the ending. The novel’s format is so clever & reels you in from the start. It’s a modern day version of a time when people sat around the radio listening to their favourite serials. The lack of visual distraction created an an intimacy between the faceless voices & listeners as they (and us) hang on every word.

 

There’s a tense, almost claustrophobic feel to the podcast chapters & it’s really tempting to race to the finish. Don’t. The devil is in the details & each of the people interviewed has a secret they’ve been keeping. Our walks with Harry are richly atmospheric & the fell itself becomes an ominous character that’s been looming over their lives for 20 years.

 

It’s a creepy & compelling story that also makes you think about larger issues. Some of the passages will give you goose bumps, some will have you checking the locks. There are no bells & whistles here, just great story telling that allows your imagination to run wild. What else do you need?

 

 

  

Review
3.5 Stars
Magpie Murders: A Novel - Anthony Horowitz

This is a very cleverly constructed story that uses a book-within-a-book format to pay homage to old style murder mysteries. In a brief prologue, we meet editor Susan Ryeland as she prepares to spend her weekend reading the latest manuscript from Alan Conway.

 

He’s not her favourite person but she’s a huge fan of his best sellers featuring MC Atticus Pünd. And in her hot little hands is “Magpie Murders”, the final book in the series.

 

From this point, we’re transported back to 1955 & spend the first half of the book immersed in Pünd’s world. He’s a private investigator of German extraction who assists police with their trickier cases. As Conway’s story begins, Atticus & his assistant James Fraser leave London to investigate disturbing events in the village of Saxby-on-Avon.

 

I don’t want to give away the plot but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you’re in for a treat. It’s clearly an homage to the golden age of Manor house murder mysteries & the author has ticked all the boxes. You have suspicious deaths, eccentric characters with hidden pasts, old grudges & secrets & one very nosy neighbour who seems to know them all. Oh….and that missing bottle of poison. Saxby-on-Avon is the perfect setting, a quaint english village that seems right out of an episode of Miss Marple. Completing the picture is Pünd. He’s a soft spoken, courtly man with more than his fair share of “little grey cells” & is an outsider like Christie’s other famous sleuth.

 

I got so wrapped up in Pünd’s investigation that I forgot about the prologue. Suddenly we’re back in the real world with Susan & she’s just as shocked as we are by the last page of Conway’s manuscript. Again, no spoilers, but events in the present soon find her morphing into a modern day Miss Marple & there are clever parallels to the time we spent in Saxby-on-Avon.

 

Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, the story itself flows smoothly & the many layers make for an enjoyable read. The only quibble I have is the amount of time it takes Susan to solve her own mystery. It bogged down a bit around the 3/4 mark before picking up again for an eventful finish. But it’s entirely in keeping with the style & in a nice twist, mirrors Pünd’s method of investigation.

 

It’s a book about books for those who love them & there are many literary references as well as tidbits about the world of publishing. It’s a smart read that’s meant to be savoured & will test your own powers of deduction. Just don’t be surprised if Pünd kicks your butt.

 

 

       

Review
3.5 Stars
Shadow Man - Alan Drew

When I read the publicity blurb for this book, it immediately ticked all the boxes for me. Thriller? Excellent. Set in the 1980’s? Cool. Compared to Dennis Lehane? Hand it over.

 

But….despite an eek-inducing prologue, what we have here is a book that is being marketed to appeal to thriller fans which IMHO does a disservice to the author. This is a beautifully written story about a broken man trying to come to terms with his past. He just happens to be a cop involved in the search for a serial killer.

 

Ben Wade is a former LAPD detective who moved back to his hometown of Rancho Santa Elena in an attempt to save his failing marriage. It didn’t work. He & Rachel divorced but maintain an amicable relationship for the sake of daughter Emma.

 

Santa Elena is a carefully planned bedroom community designed for those seeking to escape the crime & bustle of Los Angeles. It’s a safe place to raise your family & Ben’s biggest challenges are handling drunks & shop lifters. That’s about to change.

 

There’s been a series of murders in Orange County with a specific MO & when a woman is found dead in her home in Mission Viejo, it appears the killer has moved into the area. Body #2 confirms their fears & for the first time, Santa Elena’s shocked residents begin to seriously consider locking their doors. Ben & his colleagues are stumped. Their workload gets heavier when the body of a teenager is found in a strawberry field. Despite being an illegal immigrant, the boy was a star swimmer on the local high school team & destined for an athletic scholarship to college.

 

A handful of short chapters interspersed throughout the book put us inside the mind of the killer. It’s a scary place to be & as he describes scenes from his childhood, we begin to understand how he became a twisted man.

 

But the vast majority of the book belongs to Ben. Initially, he comes across as a sympathetic character who spends a lot of time thinking about past mistakes & mourning what he’s lost. Instead of making things better, moving back to Santa Elena seems to have had the opposite effect. The added job stress is a catalyst for his increasingly erratic behaviour but it’s not until late in the book that we realize what was always simmering below the surface. As Ben reminisces, we learn of his childhood & how the early death of his father was a turning point. These passages are poignant & atmospheric & you feel for the little boy who remains even as Ben grow into a rebellious teenager who goes on to become a cop. As the story progresses, there are definite parallels between him & the killer. Both are held hostage by their pasts & it makes you ponder how they ended up on opposite sides.

 

This is not a thriller & that’s no bad thing. It’s a slow burn type of book with a strong sense of time & place, written in fluid & descriptive prose. Maybe the publishers found it difficult to assign a label. For me, it’s more a character driven police procedural. Yes, there are mysteries & it does contain a killer but everything revolves around & serves to develop the MC. So if you’re looking for an edge-of-you-seat kind of read, you may be disappointed. But if you’re in the mood for rich, literary drama you’ll find much to enjoy here.

Review
4.5 Stars
The Marsh King's Daughter - Karen Dionne

4.5 stars

 

At first glance, Helena Pelletier seems like an average young woman juggling a busy life. Married to Stephen, mother of Iris & Mari & purveyor of homemade jellies & jams. But one look at the book blurb tells you she’s anything but.

 

Her mother was 13 years old when she was abducted by Jacob Holbrook & taken to a remote cabin in Michigan’s upper peninsula. At 16, she gave girth to Helena. Twelve years later, mother & daughter escaped & their story became an international sensation. In the years since, Helena worked hard to hide her identity & live a “normal” life. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

 

After 13 years in prison, Jacob escapes & disappears into the thick forests of a nearby national wildlife refuge. Helena’s carefully crafted world implodes & she realizes the only person capable of tracking him down is her. After all, she is the Marsh King’s daughter.

 

The book opens in the present as Helena prepares to hunt down her father. During her search, we get detailed flashbacks that give us the full story of life with Jacob from her first memories til the day she & her mother were found. In alternate passages throughout the book is a retelling of the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that gives the book its title & serves as an allegory of Helena’s journey.

 

This is a book that reels you in from page 1. Tense, layered, affecting, disturbing, honest, poignant…these are just some of the descriptors bouncing around in my head jostling for position & they all apply. It succeeds on many levels but if I had to pick one thing that ensured I kept turning the pages, it would be the main character. Unlike many books currently on the market, the author chose to go with one narrator. It’s a risky move. Her first person narrative is the lone voice in your head & if the reader doesn’t connect with or like her, it’s game over. Not only did I like her, she’s one of my favourite characters so far this year.

 

There are so many ways she could have been portrayed. The story revolves around difficult subject matter & could easily have descended into a version full of sensational, lurid detail with an emotional wreck as the MC. Thankfully, Ms. Dionne chose another route.

 

As Helena began to tell her story, I was immediately struck by her pragmatic, no-nonsense style of speech. There’s not a drop of drama queen in her veins & ironically, it’s this lack of histrionics that makes her delivery all the more believable & chilling. As she describes events from her childhood, you’re reminded that every kid thinks their life is normal because it’s all they know. By the time Helena learns the truth about her family, she’s had 12 formative years of guidance & attention from a man she idolizes. So it’s no wonder she still struggles with conflicting emotions as she tries to reconcile her 2 fathers. One taught her how to hunt & survive in the wilderness she loves. The other is a murdering rapist.

 

So by now you’re probably wondering why I left off half a star after babbling away about why this is such a great read. If I had to explain it to the author, it could be boiled down to this: it’s not you, it’s me. Right after Helena made the decision to search for Jacob, I settled in with a white knuckled grip on my kindle & waited for the chase to unfold. It’s during this section of the book that we get the history of her childhood in passages that are richly atmospheric & detailed. These have a slower pace that gives you a chance to get to know the characters & fully grasp the significance of events from those years. My problem is I’m an impatient reader & desperately wanted to know how the game of cat & mouse would play out in the present. So it’s purely a reflection of personal preference & many will find themselves caught up in the developing father/daughter relationship.

 

The style of prose makes for effortless reading & I bet you’ll find yourself chanting “just one more page” into the wee hours. In case some prospective readers are wondering, there are scenes of violence but no graphic sexual content.

 

Go on then, toss this on the TBR pile. The author is a gifted story teller & if this book doesn’t make you feel a dozen different emotions, you should immediately be checked for a heartbeat.

 

 

                      

 

 

 

 

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Review
4 Stars
Dead Woman Walking - Sharon Bolton

Jessica Lane has always depended on her big sister Bella. A childhood riddled with tragedy made them even closer until they went their separate ways. Jess was sent to live with an aunt & uncle & Bella became a nun.

 

Now Bella is turning 40 & Jess has the perfect gift….a view of the world beyond the abbey’s walls from a hot air balloon. What could go wrong? Oh man, where to begin….

 

If you’re a fan of the author, you know she is famous for sneaky knock-out punches you never saw coming. Half the fun is trying to figure it out before she drops you to your knees so I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say while Jess, Bella & 11 others are soaring over the Northumberland countryside, they see a nasty crime in progress. Jess is shocked to realize the man looks familiar. And he’s staring right at her. The last thing he needs are witnesses & by the time the dust settles, the balloon has crashed killing everyone on board. But as he picks through the bodies he only counts 12. Wait…where’s the young woman he locked eyes with?

 

Well, turns out the lone survivor is up a tree. When she comes to, all she knows for sure is she has to run. It’s the beginning of a deadly game of cat & mouse along the Scottish border that grows increasingly complicated once the police are involved.

 

The overall plot is extremely complex & there are many side stories that flesh out a large cast of characters. Two time lines run simultaneously. In alternate chapters we go back & follow Jess & Bella as they grow up. We know something terrible happened when they were young & pivotal moments are gradually revealed & woven into present day events.

 

Yeesh…could I be any more vague? It’s one of those books where the less you know going in, the better & I’m getting dangerously close to spoiler territory.

 

The story moves along at a good pace thanks to short punchy chapters told from multiple POV’s. But to be honest, I had trouble connecting with the MC’s for the first half. It’s obvious that a lot of information is being withheld & only slowly doled out as the book progresses. Because of that, I had a hard time understanding some of the characters’ actions & motivations & it prevented me from being completely invested. At about 45% a couple of big pieces fell into place, the lights went on & from that point I was all in. All of a sudden I understood some of our heroine’s dodgy decisions & it became a true page turner.

 

At the very end there is a twist that seems a little too neat but it’s a minor quibble after a couple of classic Bolton bombshells that will have your jaw heading south. The characters are very diverse & I particularly enjoyed Sister Belinda, an elderly nun who has watched waaay too much CSI.

 

The end is satisfying & evokes a range of emotions as the characters (and readers) finally get their answers. It may not be my favourite book by Ms. Bolton but she sets the bar so high, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a smart, intricate thriller that will mess with your head.

 

 

        

Review
4.5 Stars
The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel

If I’d written a review immediately after finishing this book, it would have been very different. This is a story that puts you through an emotional wringer, making you feel everything from revulsion to hope. So I took a few days to let it all percolate & see what remained.

 

The story follows 2 threads with chapters that alternate between then & now. They unfold simultaneously & the past has increasing significance as the book progresses. The MC is Lane Roanoke & we first meet her as a 15 year old living in New York with her mother Camilla. They have a cold, distant relationship & Lane knows nothing about her mother’s past or family.

 

After Camilla kills herself, Lane winds up living in rural Kansas with Yates & Lillian Roanoke, her maternal grandparents. She also meets Allegra. She’s the same age as Lane & has lived on the farm since her mother abandoned her as a baby. For the first time Lane is part of a family & although Allegra is thrilled to have a partner in crime, not everyone is happy she’s come home. It’s the beginning of a long hot summer that will change Lane’s life. Allegra is a mercurial girl who gradually fills Lane in on the history & fate of all the Roanoke girls that came before. They’ve had their share of tragedy which Allegra sums up by saying “Roanoke girls don’t last long around here. In the end we either run or die”.

 

In the present, Lane is 25 & living a quiet life in LA. We know she fled Kansas at the end of that summer but we don’t know why. Any sense of peace she’s found is shattered when Yates calls to tell her Allegra has disappeared. Lane still feels guilty about the way she left & agrees to come back to help in the search.

 

Interspersed throughout the book are single chapters narrated by each of the Roanoke women from the preceding 2 generations. The author provides a family tree to help trace their lineage & as they tell their chilling stories, it becomes clear that Allegra was right.

 

What follows is an unsettling story that encompasses secrets, betrayals, abuse, coming of age & death. There’s a definite gothic undertone to the narrative that is enhanced by an atmospheric setting. Long hot summer days on a bucolic family farm topped off by small town Saturday nights…..sounds idyllic, right?

 

As usual it comes down to personal preference & like most books, it won’t be for everyone. Some readers have found the story line too disturbing & the MC unlikeable. The best I can offer is If you’re easily offended or prefer fairy tales, walk away. And I found Lane’s character more complex than that but then my pet peeves include distressed damsels in need of a spine donor so I doubt I could have finished it if she’d been a one dimensional doormat.

 

In fact, she’s one of the reasons I stayed glued to the pages. She’s 15 when we first meet but seems older as she describes her life in a voice that is flat & unaffected. Life with her distant mother has left her with few expectations. It’s only after she moves in with her grandparents that we catch a glimpse of all the insecurities that plague your typical teen. Her relationship with Allegra forces her to deal with emotions she’s never acknowledged & reveals her inner mean girl. But even at her bitchiest (and trust me, she gifted), you recognize her words & behaviour for what they are….a suit of armour protecting a fragile girl with no clue how to give or receive love.

 

There’s a bittersweet irony that Lane only really gets to know & understand her mother in the present, long after Camilla’s death. She’s old enough now to accept her own mistakes & realizes that escaping her childhood has been difficult partly because she was raised by a parent who never escaped theirs.

 

So yes, it’s an unsettling & disturbing read. But the fact it invokes such a range of emotions is a testament to this author’s ability to get under your skin. And as a reward for surviving the journey, there’s a tiny ray of light near the end. Don’t get too excited, it’s not like it suddenly veers down a path lined with puppies singing show tunes. There’s just the very real possibility that some of these characters may have finally earned a second shot at something better. I wish them all the best.

 

 

       

Review
4 Stars
Standing Still: A Scottish police procedural (An Anderson & Costello Mystery) - Caro Ramsay

Sandra is a 30-something woman desperate to escape her life. Perpetually broke & living in a council flat, she works as a care giver at a facility for wealthy, retired artists. Her charge is the Duchess, an elegant woman slowly succumbing to old age. But Sandra has a plan. One that includes the Duchess’ jewelry & her handsome companion Paolo.

 

Paolo is an enigmatic young man who visits the Duchess daily. No one is really sure how they’re related or why he seems to have so much influence with the facility’s owners.

 

Chief Procurator Fiscal Archie Walker has finally given up trying to care for his ailing wife. To ensure her safety, he got her into an expensive facility for retired artists. Now he can sleep at night & maybe see a bit more of DI Costello.

 

Amy Niven is a young woman on a mission. You see, she was partying with friends last night when she was abducted by aliens. All she remembers is she must get a message to DCI Colin Anderson.

 

DCI Anderson is back on the job after a tumultuous few months. He’s well aware there are colleagues just waiting for him to screw up & there are rumours he’ll be “promoted” to head of cold cases. The last thing he needs is to sit down with some drug addled party girl & discuss the merits of alien abduction.

 

James Kirkton is a politician who’s always camera ready. He’s recently been given the police services portfolio & is determined to make some changes. First up is making sure Anderson never gets anywhere near the cold case unit.

 

It’s the first day of Glasgow’s annual West End Festival & the loons are out in full force. The cops of Patrickhill Sta. are ready for the usual booze fuelled shenanigans but….a body nailed inside a tea chest? That’s a first.

 

Don your deerstalker & grab your magnifying glass. You’re going to need them to untangle this twisty murder mystery. The book begins with a fatal house fire in 1989. In the present, we meet the cast in separate story lines linked by a character or location.

 

Anderson & Costello’s investigation begins with the body but soon heads off in directions neither could have foreseen. There are myriad connections waiting to be uncovered & several of the characters have their own agendas. Thanks to multiple narrators, we have a wider view of what’s going on in this little patch of Glasgow. Still, it’s not until the final pages that we know who is a hunter & who is prey.

 

This is book #8 of the series & driven by the yin & yang pairing of Anderson & Costello. Anderson has undergone huge change in his private life & is the duo’s diplomat. Costello is a smart, blunt cop who believes everyone is entitled to her inside voice. Her attitude provides a dark humour & edginess, particularly in conversations with Kirkton the Git (sorry, did I type that out loud?).

 

There are so many separate threads & you may be surprised once they’re all tied up. It’s a story that will mess with your head & that ending…..a wee beverage before hitting the last couple of chapters might be a good idea. Purely for medicinal purposes.

 

 

 

  

Review
3.5 Stars
Dead Letters - Caite Dolan-Leach

Before I get into the story, I’d like to talk about helping a book find its audience. When I read the publicity blurb & saw it listed under Mystery/Thriller I thought oh goody, this is for me. Sadly it was not but through no fault of the author. Instead, I think it’s the victim of a poor choice in marketing which may lead to it being passed over by readers who enjoy family sagas & disappointment for those looking for a good thriller.

 

The story centres around 25 year old twins Ava & Zelda. They grew up on a vineyard near Ithaca in one of the most dysfunctional families you’ll come across, fictional or otherwise. Ava escaped to Paris for grad school but now finds herself flying home to attend her sister’s funeral. She’s told Zelda died in a barn fire but from the time she receives the news, Ava has her doubts.

 

And with reason. She is soon on an alphabetical treasure hunt fed by clues Zelda left for her. It’s a clever device & ultimately, what saved the book for me. Without it, you’re left in the company of 4 alcoholics who never tire of sniping & wounding each other through booze soaked dialogue. Rest assured, none of them would be candidates for “Up with People”.

 

Each is fuelled by a bitter disappointment in how life has treated them, a situation not helped by having a wine store in their backyard. Only Ava has managed to secure a glimmer of something better but struggles to overcome the lingering affects of her childhood.

 

When a book has a large cast, having one or two unpleasant characters adds some spice & conflict to the story. If it’s set on a small stage & all are unlikable, you risk readers not caring enough about the characters to become invested in their outcome. This is not a thriller & there’s little mystery so I confess I grew tired of the constant back-biting & just found them sad.

 

Again, not the author’s fault. She possesses a formidable vocabulary & knows how to use it. There’s a definite Southern Gothic feel to the story & Ava’s hunt for clues is an original feature that adds interest to the plot. It’s more a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. We’ve all come across books whose only issue is they don’t appeal to that ethereal thing called your personal preference.

 

So don’t take my word for it. There are many glowing reviews for this book & I think if they dropped the Mystery/Thriller label & marketed it under just General Fiction or Women’s Fiction, it would find the target audience it richly deserves.

 

 

 

        

Review
5 Stars
Where Roses Never Die (Varg Veum) - Don Bartlett, Gunnar Staalesen

Varg Veum is back with a cold case that has strange ties to the present. It’s been almost 25 years since 3 year old Mette Misvaer went missing from her yard. With the statute of limitations looming, her mother Maja asks Veum to take one final crack at finding the truth.

 

It would be a welcome paycheque but before he signs on, Veum will need to make a few changes to his lifestyle. In the 3 years since his partner died, his only relationship has been with a bottle. If he can put the Aquavit back on the shelf, he might find some answers & perhaps a little self respect along the way.

 

The book opens with an armed robbery of a jewelry store In Bergen. As the masked thieves flee the scene, a pedestrian is fatally shot. Police are unable to find or identify the culprits & the case is soon sliding toward the unsolved stack.

 

What’s the connection? Well, you’ll have to sit yourself down & ride shotgun with Veum to find out how this one thread is elegantly woven into the main story.  It’s not easy tracking down those who were part of Mette’s world. Some have moved on, same have died, some have secrets they’ll do anything to protect. But Veum is a persistent guy & his relentless questions soon unveil more mysteries than he bargained for.

 

Staalesen excels at telling stories that are intricate & plausible. There are no bolts from the blue or hastily constructed endings. Every piece of the puzzle is uncovered through persistent digging & there’s almost an audible click as each slides into place on the way to a satisfying end. Violence is kept to a minimum as he chooses to employ Veum’s brains rather than brawn to find answers.

 

It’s a refreshing take on the P.I. genre & more believable given he’s now a man of “a certain age”. He’s not exactly the poster child for healthy living & doesn’t bounce back quite as easily. Instead, he relies on quick thinking & a well placed verbal jab when trouble comes knocking. Veum is a complex, fully developed character who may seem to fit the hardboiled stereotype at first glance. But as you spend time with him, it’s his introspection & compassion that will stay with you. He’s not a bad person, just a lost soul doing the best he can.

 

It’s a gritty & poignant story that flows at a steady pace until the jaw-droppers begin at the 3/4 mark. You’ll find yourself thinking about the nature of secrets, how they never really go away but just hibernate. And the longer they are hidden, the more powerful they become. It’s also a cautionary example of how easily we judge based on someone’s appearance or reputation.

 

If you get to a place where you’re putting out book #18, you’re doing something right. Probably several things, as is the case with this author. His Bergen based PI has become a benchmark in the genre who fans have been following for 40 years & this is a clever, absorbing addition to the series.

 

And hey, if you’re ever in Bergen, stop by & have your picture taken with Veum’s statue outside the Strand hotel near the fish market. He’s a looker.

 

 

   

Screamin' Deal Alert

Orenda Books out of the UK has a great deal for the next couple of days. All their books are just 99p. I bought a couple today & had no problem downloading to my Kindle but will work for all devices. Go crazy!

 

http://orendabooks.co.uk/ebookstore/

 

 

                    

Review
4 Stars
Nightblind - Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jónasson

After several years of upheaval, Ari Thór Arason has finally settled down. He & girlfriend Kristín have reunited & set up house with their baby son. The residents of Siglufjördur have accepted him & he’s content being a small town cop.

 

When his previous boss moved to Reykjavik, Ari hoped to fill his shoes. Instead the job went to Herjólfur, a seasoned cop from down south. He & Ari have forged a professional albeit cool relationship. But it’s early days & they have time to get to know each other.

 

Actually, they don’t. Late one night, Ari gets a life changing call. Officer down. He finds Herjólfur fatally shot outside an abandoned house where another mysterious death occurred decades ago.

 

All of Iceland is reeling after the news trickles south. This is a place where annual murders can be counted on one hand & the whole country is in shock (as evidenced by response to the recent real life murder of a young woman in Reykjavik). The tiny police department is hardly equipped for the case let alone the glare of national media attention. So when Tómas returns to head up the investigation, Ari is grateful to see his old friend & mentor.

 

In alternate chapters we meet an anonymous patient in a psychiatric hospital. As they scribble their thoughts in a daily diary, we slowly learn about their life & why they ended up being committed. As time passes, the entries become increasingly ominous & this is heightened by not knowing their identity or even when the events occurred.

 

The 2 main story lines run parallel until we get a glimmer of how they might intersect. There are plenty of shiny red herrings dancing around the murder investigation to make you pause & rethink what you thought you knew. Political intrigue & drug dealing complicate the search for a killer & add to the mysteries Ari & Tómas must solve before the shocking truth is revealed.

 

We also get more insight into Ari’s character. Herjólfur’s death rocks his world & makes him question his priorities. He & Kristín are going through a rough patch & for the first time, he begins to understand how his own behaviour affects those around him. It just might be time to come to terms with his past & finally share the secrets he’s been carrying since childhood.

 

If (like me) you’ve been reading these in chronological order, this is the most recent in the series. Every time I pick up one of these books, I get transported to this small piece of Iceland & the residents who have become so familiar to me. I feel like I could travel there & immediately find my way. The setting is starkly atmospheric & the persistent rain & gloom mirror the mood of the characters.

 

For Siglufjördur, like the characters, is changing. Its innocence has always been protected by isolation but the new tunnel provides access for tourists & those sniffing out new territory for criminal activity. The influx of new faces adds to the general unease in the aftermath of Herjólfur’s death. Some would call it progress but there’s great irony in people travelling to the same place to get away from it all.

 

Nightblind is another immersive & satisfying read in this great series. And now that I’m back in my own little corner of the world, it’s going to feel like a loooong wait for the next one.

 

 

  

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