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W. J. S. Kirton
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The Death Game: A Kirsty Campbell Novel (Kirsty Campbell Novels)
The Death Game: A Kirsty Campbell Novel (Kirsty Campbell Novels)
Price: 3.09

5.0 out of 5 stars A very welcome newcomer, 10 Mar 2014
Ms Longmuir is well-known for her dark modern mysteries set in Dundee but her historical novel, A Salt-Splashed Cradle, has already shown her flexibility in terms of genres. And now, this new departure is going to add further to her reputation. She’s nailed the setting of Dundee just after WW1 in perfect detail but she’s also placed in that setting a group of characters (with specific focus on her new policewoman, Kirsty Campbell), whose interactions and back stories have created a narrative rich in potential right from the start. As well as being in the forefront of the investigation of cases of murder and disappearing children, Kirsty has unresolved issues with her family and is also faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting herself accepted as a legitimate, useful member of a police force resistant to the new-fangled notion of female officers. Longmuir reveals very sparingly the details of other threads which will no doubt be explored in subsequent books in the series, such as the troubled domestic circumstances of her new boss, Inspector Brewster, and yet still manages to sustain the page-turning pace of the central investigation of a crime involving traumatised and damaged children. Such a stunning first in a series suggests we’re going to see lots more of this new, highly original protagonist. She’s a very welcome addition to Scottish crime fiction.


Death Order
Death Order
Price: 2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Be prepared to review your perceptions, 31 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Death Order (Kindle Edition)
This is an astonishing book. It’s a carefully crafted, beautifully written novel but, as I read, I had to keep reminding myself of that fact because even its speculations seem so authentic, so well supported by evidence. In its pages we find actual historical figures, personages of the highest international stature, names sewn into European and World history, but they’re not handled as icons (ugh! I hate that word), respected statesmen, or even as the monsters their reputations made of some of them. No, they’re people, important maybe, but all with their motives, idiosyncrasies, agendas, and all part of the fabric of the story of one of the most mysterious events of World War II, the strange flight of Rudolf Hess to Scotland in 1941. Or was it perhaps Alfred Horn?

The historical fact of the flight, its potential significance and its long aftermath make it ripe for conspiracy theorists. Hess was, after all, Hitler’s deputy and yet nothing seemed to come of the flight. He was shuffled away to prison, then transferred to Spandau in 1947 where he stayed, its only inmate from 1966 onwards, until his ‘suicide’ in 1987, when he was 93 years old. Everything about the Hess story poses question upon question and the refusal of the UK authorities to release the relevant documents serves only to multiply the suspicions that the truth has never been told. Jan Needle’s book is the closest I’ve come to seeing all the events in a context which makes sense of them. It also questions other ‘facts’ which have become part of the historical record and yet don’t bear close scrutiny. Some of the great myths and heroes of those awful days begin to look not only shabby but actually sinister.

But all this stress on the ‘real’ subject matter is in danger of making it sound like a dry, historical read. It’s not. Its sweep is indeed large, but its focus is tightly held by the groups of individuals whose decisions and actions are behind the whole adventure. Central to the narrative are two main figures. Bill Wiley is distrustful of his masters in the SIS. He’s a flawed individual, something of a womaniser with a sick wife and a young son whom he loves but whose very existence makes Bill vulnerable. It’s through that vulnerability that he comes to accept a part in an operation that will end in the ‘murder of a 93 year old man’.

Then there’s Edward Carrington, a clever linguist whose skills made him a target for the SIS during WWII. He was persuaded to join the organisation as a spy and it’s through his meetings, travels and actions that we gain access to the machinations of the political (and royal) classes at the time and the elaborate structures behind the Hess peace initiative.

Add to them the killers who actually strangled the old man, the politicians engaged in their own internal and external power struggles, and the gentle but brilliant evocation of the various periods during which the action takes place, and you have a complex, layered account of the macrocosm and microcosm of war and the politics behind it.

This is writing without stylistic flourishes and yet which has its own energy and relentlessness as it uncovers layer after layer of the intrigues which combine to activate the dramas. The author moves us smoothly between time frames, making the 1940s feel as dynamic and immediate as the present, and deliberately structuring his narratives to suggest the broader continuum of which the Hess incident is simply one manifestation. The reverberations of some of the past events continue to be felt and we need to deconstruct the foundations of some of the myths into which we’ve bought so trustingly. This is about some contemporary perceptions as well as about mid 19th century history. In one of the reviews I read, the writer wondered where fiction ended and fact began. Part of Jan Needle’s point is that so many of what we accept as ‘facts’ are fictions. The ‘truth’ of this novel is very persuasive.


The Sleeping Warrior
The Sleeping Warrior
Price: 2.06

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to mix genres successfully, 4 Sep 2013
This really is an intelligent, clever book. And that's precisely the sort of sentence that could put off potential readers so let me qualify it. I don't mean that it uses long, posh words or that its characters sit around sipping absinthe and talking about Plato. No, the intelligence is that of the author, who's deliberately set out to follow a piece of advice one often hears - write what you'd like to read. In one of her author interviews, she revealed that she's always read fantasy and so wanted her first book to be `within the confines of [that] genre and all its associated subgenres'. In fact, her preferred version was epic fantasy.

It's therefore something of a surprise when you start reading to find that, right from the tense, gripping, mysterious opening, you're faced with a cast of characters and a sequence of events that seem to fit perfectly into the crime genre. Solicitor Libby Butler is called to a police station to represent a mysterious figure, Gabriel Radley. He's wearing studded leather armour and his first words to her are `There is nothing in the darkness that cannot be seen in the light'. So yes, there are early indications that this character operates in a different dimension, but he's also very much part of a familiar everyday reality. The settings are `normal', the various characters, male and female, are very `real', their conversations are sharp, witty, often very funny, and Ms Bain moves it all along at a dramatic, exciting pace. Interest never flags and we're faced with an intriguing but entirely authentic situation and sequence of events.

But, at significant points in the narrative, that familiarity with what's happening is disturbed by the actions of Gabriel. His central mystery revolves around a quest for a lost `stone' and, gradually, every other narrative thread - the search for a serial killer, a cult group, gangsters, assassins and the police - are drawn into that same quest. It's such a good `crime novel' that these mysterious, supernatural ingredients increase the reader's nervousness, add intrigue to his/her uncertainties. It's fascinating to be confronted with not only the mysteries in the book but also our own reactions to them. We're following a crime investigation, looking for clues, the characters are herded into difficult situations from which there seems no escape and, suddenly, there's a shift in the continuum and different values must be applied as Gabriel's powers adjust the interplay between darkness and light.

All in all, the novel is proof that, rather than diluting the effect of genre fiction, a sensitive, intelligent mixing of themes and characteristics can reinforce the different genres' impact. Ms Bain has been bold in defying the received wisdom of staying within prescribed boundaries and as a result has produced a highly readable, very enjoyable and distinctly original work.


The Car Bomb (The detroit im dying Trilogy, Book 1)
The Car Bomb (The detroit im dying Trilogy, Book 1)
Price: 1.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to the master, 28 Aug 2013
No writer would want to be compared with the late and very much lamented Elmore Leonard; it would be the kiss of death because he's incomparable. Having said that, there are many aspects of The Car Bomb which recall the great man's style and preoccupations.
First of all, it's set in Detroit - a Detroit not yet as low as it is today but well on the way down. LoCicero notes that `the corruption is rampant in this town' and calls it a `hapless city'.
Next, the citizens he shows us have the same confusing moral compass that sets good guys and bad guys on the same level, each with characteristics which belong to the other end of the spectrum to that which they seem to occupy.
The central character, local TV anchor Frank DeFauw, a handsome, charismatic, family man with a regular mistress and a taste for other casual, extra-marital encounters, is said by his son Bobby, many of his friends and colleagues (and by Frank himself), to be `full of bullshit'. At one point, even as he's thinking about his other son, Tommy, who was killed in a boating accident, he `glimpsed an attractive redhead pulling a ballpoint pen and a pad of yellow sticky notes from her purse'. And this is one of the (very few) `good' guys. Another character's opinion of him was that `he was not just smart, but clever and intuitive about people, dedicated, caring and, probably more than any white guy she had ever known, color blind'.
Opposite him, his school friend, Judge William O'Bryan, whose job it is to uphold the sanctity of the law and hand out judgements in court, is as corrupt as they come and totally lacking in compassion. When Frank asks him why a person he (Frank) thinks is innocent would kill his wife and kids, the reply is chilling. `Why do evil or fucked up people do any of the things they do? Because they're evil or fucked up.'
Frank's real enemy is another journalist, Wil Barnes, whose columns are almost invariably about Frank's peccadilloes. And yet this `little prick', which is how Frank usually refers to him, uses operational methods and techniques which mirror those of Frank. With these figures at the centre of the narrative, along with many others demonstrating equally ambivalent moral stances, notions of `good' and `bad' seem irrelevant. The use of children here and there in the narrative suggests that there is nonetheless a notion of innocence, but it's an innocence that gets compromised (at best) by events.
There are other narrative and stylistic factors which put this story firmly in the `Leonard school'. From the shocking hook of its opening chapter, the pace is unrelenting. It's movie-ready, cutting fast from instant to instant, keeping everything in the `now', never dwelling too long on any episode. The narrative takes us right into the middle of a pre-existing set of people and circumstances, all alive, vibrant, busy. We jump from setting to setting, seeing things which are happening simultaneously in different places to different people. It's making use of the confused, fractured nature and texture of reality.
And then there's the dialogue - sharp, witty, natural - all of it in the moment. Frequently, the end of a chapter is marked by a sharp one-liner. On one occasion, for example, Frank's wife Marci says something nasty about Judge O'Bryan. Frank says `Jesus, I always thought you liked him'. She replies `I do. But none of us is perfect. You should hear what I really think of you'.
Cliff-hangers abound and they're varied. As well as those involving specific threats or actions, there are the more subtle ones, as when Marci tells Frank that she intends to file for divorce. Frank walks out onto the deck and sees a seagull on the bow of the boat moored at their dock. He decided that `if the gull stayed in place for at least the next five seconds, everything would be okay. Starting his slow, even count, he got as far as three'.
This book satisfies the criteria for both crime (UK) and mystery (USA) novels, which aren't always the same. It has interesting characters, clear settings, great dialogue, page-turning pace and teases at the reader's own attitudes to morality. OK, it isn't by Leonard, but it may well be a sort of homage to the master.


Offshore
Offshore
Price: 1.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be ready to be chilled, 28 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Offshore (Kindle Edition)
One classic setting for the crime/horror genre used to be (maybe still is) the isolated country house/hotel/community cut off from the outside world by fog/rising tide/military activities and lots of variations on those themes. Offshore brings this up to date with its setting on a disused platform in the North Sea to which a skeleton crew is sent by helicopter to check it over so that the owners can sell it on. The author has obviously researched the nature of such structures very carefully and her account of the trip there, conditions on the rig and the James Bond-like complexity of its architecture and engineering is impeccable. This doesn't mean that she gets bogged down in details because her focus is on the personalities of the various crew members. Just being out there, with minimal facilities, lots of work to do and fewer personnel than they really needed to do it is a source of stress, but the presence of just one woman as well as personality clashes add further conflicts and resentments to the tension, interpersonal and sexual.
But all of this is nothing compared with the inhuman presence that lurks, unseen and unsuspected, deep in a sealed off part of the platform. Once it's unleashed, though, crew members begin to vanish, one by one, in horrific circumstances. The creature may belong to paranormal realms but its treatment of its victims is literally visceral. Readers are warned right at the beginning of the book that it contains `very strong language throughout, scenes of horror, peril and adult content' and, if you're of a nervous disposition, you'd do well to heed the warning. The book is well-written, the action sustained and relentless and it all adds up to a very satisfying read.


Missing Believed Dead (Dundee Crime Series)
Missing Believed Dead (Dundee Crime Series)
Price: 3.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More dark deeds in Dundee, 28 Jun 2013
If you want to know how to write an opening which draws the reader in, check out the first chapter of Missing Believed Dead. Be warned, though - you'll want to read on and on. This is the third in Chris Longmuir's Dundee series featuring D.S. Bill Murphy, whose personal life is still something of a mess but who cares a lot about the victims, potential victims and collateral damage of the crimes he investigates. The arrival of a new D.I., Kate Rawlings, who's unimpressed by his apparent sloppiness, adds to the pressures on him. Most of all, though, the focus is on the family of Jade, a 13 year old girl who disappeared five years before, the victim of an online predator. But there have been other, more recent murders and Murphy suspects they're somehow linked with the family, too.

With her usual fascination for the darker recesses of people's psyches, the author shows us the separate torments of Jade's mother, sister and brother, each of whom is scarred by her loss. And all the time, in the background, there's the mystery of another abducted teenager for whom the clock is ticking inexorably towards what threatens to be a painful, fatal outcome. Altogether, it's a dark, scary picture of an apparently ordinary world of ordinary people whose actions and motives betray the demons within them.


A Taste for Malice
A Taste for Malice
by Michael J. Malone
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.36

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the first, 28 Jun 2013
This review is from: A Taste for Malice (Paperback)
Michael J Malone's first novel in what I hope will be a long series was very good; this, the second, is even better. Its structure is more adventurous, alternating two closely connected narrative threads, one in the first, the other in the third person. There's a constant tension in both of them. They share the goal of identifying someone who targets young boys and stopping them before it's too late, but each has other tensions specific to its characters. In one, the parents live their own nightmares as they feel responsible for the harm that has been or might be done to their sons and the damage they may do to one another, but in the other, D.I. McBain is still being haunted by his own terrors which the resolution of the plot in the first book, 'Blood Tears', failed to banish.

The whole novel is saturated with guilt and, paradoxically, those pursuing the obviously `guilty' perpetrator of the crimes against wee boys, while unable to shed their own feelings of responsibility for events, are able to see that the perpetrator's motives may perhaps be explicable. The reader, too, knows right from wrong and yet is drawn into sharing the characters' feelings of moral ambiguity.

McBain himself, while relating his version of events in relatively simple, direct terms, betrays the complexity of his character and is still the wilfully perverse copper we met in book one. He's forever questioning his own notions of love, fidelity, responsibility, and his relationships with others are precarious.

So there's guilt, pain and darkness everywhere and they threaten to overwhelm innocence. And yet it's a book full of humour. McBain's one-liners are priceless (and those of his colleagues often match them). And then there's his way with metaphor and, yes, poetic turns of phrase which complement his mastery of Glasgow street talk. It all makes him the fascinating, attractive core of a book that asks lots of questions, answers the ones we need to be answered, but still leaves us with plenty to think about. It's a great, highly enjoyable read.


A Week With No Labels
A Week With No Labels
Price: 2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Real people with things to say, 12 Jun 2013
These are 5 episodes chronicling the work of a fictional drama group (called No Labels) which are based on real work done by the author in collaboration with a beguiling, attractive, varied bunch of people tagged with the label 'learning disability'. It's a great read - funny, entertaining, but also thought-provoking in the best sense of the word. With each wee adventure, it gently challenges your perceptions of people, labels, and the values on which our society SEEMS TO run. I've just finished reading it and the characters are all still vivid for me. I know they'll stay that way for a long time, too.


April Yule (The Fast and The Furies: Suspense)
April Yule (The Fast and The Furies: Suspense)
Price: 1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tight, intelligent thriller, 28 Mar 2013
After a mysterious, teasing hook, the author gets us acquainted with R.J. and Penny - young, successful, ruthless in their ambitions, as they drive through the storm to their new, custom-built dream home, Penny in her Porsche, R.J. in his Jag. It's Xmas Eve and they need to prepare for the guests who'll soon be arriving for the house-warming party. There have been quibbles over the building of the house, but they're confident they'll be resolved. Even as they make their separate ways there, however, little and not so little cracks begin to appear in their world, suggesting they may not be as invulnerable as they believe.

Still, it's Xmas, party-time, and 'Seattle's sexiest couple', as they've been designated for the past three years by voters, are on the threshold of a new beginning. He picks her up, carries her into their home...

...and immediately we're pitched into a fast-paced thriller where mysteries multiply as the story progresses and the two people are taught a hard, painful lesson. Revealing anything of the nature of the torments they experience might prove to be a spoiler so you'll have to read it to find out. There's plenty of humour, cliff-hangers abound and the nature of each of the four principal characters comes through in what they say, how they act and how others perceive those actions. In other words, in spite of the extremes being perpetrated, there's a realism and authenticity about the events that keep you turning the pages. It's well written, carefully structured, and leads to more than one twist in the tale.

Overall, an absorbing, enjoyable, intelligent thriller with a difference.


The Salt-Stained Book (Strong Winds Trilogy)
The Salt-Stained Book (Strong Winds Trilogy)
by Julia Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all ages, 3 Feb 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The references to 'Swallows and Amazons' and 'Treasure Island', as well as the fact that the protagonist, Donny, is a 13 year old boy, mark this as a book for children but its appeal is much wider. In fact, it will delight any reader who enjoys a good story, well told, a cast of characters with energy (and sometimes malice), and a central plotline that keeps you turning the pages. If, on top of that, you like sailing, this is one you mustn't miss.

It has the feel of a Ransome adventure but goes further than that. Some of the children are troubled by very modern dilemmas which are hinted at with compassion and concern, and the adults who oversee their `welfare' are conveyed with tongue-in-cheek awareness and a subtle humour. Their foster mother, for example, is the reverent Wendy whose tendency is to stand `beside the table being Understanding' and her husband talks to their charges as if he were reading from a social work pamphlet. `Why don't you go and make some social contact with Luke and Liam?' he says at one point. Then, later, his suggestion is `You could spend quality time with Luke'.

The social worker herself is even worse. She tells Donny, `Research confirms that your unsupported background will have left you seriously deficient in social integration skills', and she introduces herself by `flashing an official identity card and a synthetic smile' and giving her title as `multi-authority leader worker, S. L. A. G., School Liaison and Guidance'. (In case you didn't know, the term `slag' is a derogatory term applied - usually by men - to women.) She wears a frilly blouse, short leather skirt and pointy shoes which have `criss-cross thongs that went right up to her knees. After that there was so much bare leg that Donny had to look away'.

Asides such as this are carefully crafted and scattered through the narrative. The moods and changes of rivers, lakes and the sea envelop the whole adventure and even the boats used by the characters have their own identities and personalities. It's a richly textured story where nothing's wasted.


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