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col2910 (Bedfordshire,UK)

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Blood Torment (DCI Andy Gilchrist)
Blood Torment (DCI Andy Gilchrist)
by T.F. Muir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Top Scottish crime!, 29 July 2016
Read a couple of months ago in May and albeit against limited competition numbers-wise was May’s pick of the month.

This was my first time with Scottish author Frank Muir and his series character Detective Andy Gilchrist.

Gilchrist is pitched into a difficult case with the disappearance of a two year old girl. Things are further complicated by the fact she is the granddaughter of a former Scottish MSP. A quick resolution appears close at hand when it comes to light that a convicted paedophile has recently moved back to the area. This line of enquiry draws a blank – more so when the suspect is himself found dead.

An interesting police procedural – my first in a while – enhanced by some of the dynamics. Tensions almost leading to violence between Gilchrist and a fellow officer, an on-off relationship with one of the forensic officers, pressure from the hierarchy for a quick close on the case and the recovery of the missing girl, the high profile nature of the case – the press all over it like a rash, with our disgraced ex-MSP fuelling the fire.

Gilchrist has other issues to contend with, in conjunction with the case, namely his love life and the impact it has on his grown-up children, especially his son Jack. Things aren’t too great between the pair of them, his son has used drugs in the past and now appears flush with money. Gilchrist suspects dealing as opposed to a run of luck and some success in his career as an artist. Mistrust and suspicion is mutual, especially when Jack is suspected of sex with a minor.

Back on the job, the difficulties thrust in his way by the fractured factions of the dysfunctional Davis family and the secrets they closely guard make life and the safe recovery of the young child further away than ever. Gilchrist needs to penetrate and unravel …. allegations of abuse, broken marriages, estrangements, mysterious Eastern European connections, smarmy well-heeled lawyers, mental illness, a dead husband and more.

5 from 5

This is the 6th book in the DI Andy Gilchrist series that T.F. Muir (T. Frank in the US) has penned.
If money and time were limitless I'd happily read the earlier 5!

Thanks to publishers Little Brown for the review copy.

Brilliant Death
Brilliant Death
by Robin Yocum
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book!, 28 July 2016
This review is from: Brilliant Death (Paperback)
Last month’s best read and another US-set small town mystery as two friends Travis and Mitch seek answers to the disappearance of Travis’ mother in an unexplained river accident nearly 20 years previously.

There’s a clever construction to the narrative. The friends’ enquiries occur in the late 60s early 70s, trying to find answers to a happening in the 50s with the outcome and aftermath revealed to us in the 90s – after the death of a main player. An 80s twist also occurs. I really bought in to the author’s style of presenting the story.

The boy’s enquiries hit a wall of silence almost immediately. No-one in Brilliant wants to discuss Amanda Baron, no-one wants to get on the wrong side of town bully Frank Baron. Everyone sympathises with Travis, no mother and an abusive and neglectful father. He’s almost been adopted by Mitch’s mother who feeds him daily.

“That boy eats like he just got out of a concentration camp.” Mitch’s father observes.

Travis appreciated normality – “You guys are like normal people,” he often said. “You eat meals at the table and talk to each other without screaming.”

Against a background of fear; fear of Frank Baron discovering what Travis and Mitch are up to, the boys slowly uncover Amanda Baron’s life and secrets. With the assistance of the library, old police reports, a risky bladder-releasing search of Frank’s attic and garage hidey-hole, a one-time town hero now damaged Vietnam veteran and a disgraced ex-cop who ran the case back in the day, the pair find answers to the puzzle and for Travis something a bit more meaningful.

Ticks in every box – pace, plot, setting, characters and resolution.

I liked the easy friendship of the boys, the relationship they both had with Mitch’s parents, the progression through school towards graduation and the rivalries within their own school and those of Mitch’s cousins, the football games, the home-coming parades for the Vietnam returnees - Yocum just sucks you into his Brilliant environment. A brilliant Brilliant book!

5 from 5

Highly recommended – it’s a lot better than this inadequate review makes it sound!

Robin Yocum is the author of a couple of other novels – The Essay and Favorite Sons.

Thanks again to Seventh Street Books for this one.
Read in June, 2016

See Also Deception: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery (Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries)
See Also Deception: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery (Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries)
by Larry D. Sweazy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Great 60s set US small town murder mystery, 27 July 2016
Following on from Sweazy’s See Also Murder which introduced indexer Marjorie Truman, See Also Deception brings another case and more heartache for Marjorie. Her best friend, librarian Calla Eltmore has inexplicably committed suicide – or has she?

Another enjoyable and satisfying read. I did like the first with slight reservations, second time around I had no such qualms.

Marjorie has it tough. It’s the mid-60s in rural North Dakota and after her husband’s paralysis following a hunting accident Marjorie is trying to care for him, keep the family farm afloat, as well as contend with the pressures from her New York editor for her to meet her indexing deadlines.

There’s still time to comfort Calla’s friend, Herbert – the war-damaged library janitor and rumour has it – Calla’s secret beau. Time to take an instant dislike to the temporary replacement at the library – Delia Finch. Time to fret over her deceased neighbours’ son, Jaeger Knudson and his romance with Betty Walsh – she of the twenty five cent perfume!

Time to start asking a few awkward questions herself, after the police won’t take action on the anomaly she’s noticed when viewing Calla at the funeral home. Time to wonder who was it she bumped into, fleeing the library in a panic when she arrived there. Time to become jealous of Betty when she finds her joking with her bed-stricken husband conspiratorially, whilst she minds him.

Time to put herself and Hank in danger when the police eventually take notice and reluctantly start an investigation. Time to worry when she discovers all four of her truck tyres have been slashed and her phone line’s been cut!

Great sense of time and place. Sweazy brings to life the isolation of Marjorie’s out-of-town farm as well as the struggle to maintain it and endure the vagaries of the seasons and the fears of crop failure and economic reality.

Great sense of small community – the gossiping, the listening in on the party phone lines, the town rumour factory, the neighbourliness, the frowning at the lady entering the bar or smoking in public.

Great main character – Marjorie – a 60s Superwoman – headstrong, determined, loyal, brave and admirable.

Not everyone’s a fan of the amateur sleuth, but I enjoyed it and think it’s well worth a read.

4 from 5

Thanks to the publisher Seventh Street Books for the copy of this one.

Read in May, 2016.

Four Days
Four Days
by Iain Ryan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Aussie Crime!, 22 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Four Days (Paperback)
My second time around with Australian author Iain Ryan, after enjoying his short opener TWO DAYS late last year. Four Days more than lives up to the promise of that sampler.

Brisbane in the 80s, police corruption in spades, crime families in cahoots with plenty of pimping and prostitution, drink, drugs, murders, missing persons and a cop belatedly acquiring a conscience, whilst harbouring some dark and depressing family secrets. Plenty of sex - not all of it healthy – adding to a heady brew.

I doubt very much if there’s a totally likeable character populating the pages of this book, but if you like dark, broody and damaged and a peek at life on the wrong side of the street, you could do a lot worse than giving this one a spin.

Jim Harris, our main protagonist may have his faults, but he's aiming to secure some form of belated justice for the victims and put pay to some of the Brisbane brotherhood. An interesting flawed hero.

Another notch on the Aussie/NZ Down Under reading challenge.

4.5 from 5

His next offering is Drainland. One to look forward to!

Read in June, 2016. Bought last year at Amazon for Kindle.

Lou Malloy: The Run Begins (A Lou Malloy Crime Series)
Lou Malloy: The Run Begins (A Lou Malloy Crime Series)
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining short series introduction, 20 July 2016
A quick read here with a 50-odd page long introduction to the author’s series character Lou Malloy. Best read ever? No, but an entertaining hour spent in the company of a young man starting out.

Lou Malloy is 18 and has itchy feet. He’s living in a small Kansas town, somewhere he’s outgrown.

Beating up on the sheriff’s son, after he was perving on Lou’s sister after she went swimming in the river in her undies probably wasn’t his best idea. Dissatisfied with life at home, conflict with his police officer father and his older brother departing for California; sees Lou jumping on the back of a goods train heading away from Kentville.

Another fistfight ensues with a gang of three fellow railroad riders, Lou backing up his smart mouth with his fists rather effectively. Stealing his main victim’s bankroll and weapon before evicting them from the box car has Lou contemplating a life lived outside the law.

Falling in with Henry Lowe, a career criminal and a man we encountered earlier in our story - sees the pair of them headed to Atlanta and a hook-up with Lowe’s partner. A plan to relieve some $15 million from some mob-backed, casino running Timucuan Indians is underfoot……

Short, fast-paced, funny, fisticuffs and an interesting main character hurtling along a slippery slope towards a life of crime what’s not to like?

4 from 5

I’m looking forward to Dead Money Run when Lou’s story continues.

Review copy received from Book Publicity Services.

The Hotel of the Three Roses (Pushkin Vertigo)
The Hotel of the Three Roses (Pushkin Vertigo)
by Augusto de Angelis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting mid-1930s Italian mystery, 20 July 2016
Read and enjoyed back in June, but looking back a month or so on, I can’t actually recall from memory who the murderer was. All of which kind of leads me to conclude that it wasn’t especially memorable or striking. Nothing wrong with that of course – I don’t expect every book I read to blow me away.

We have a mid-1930s Italian murder mystery. Inspector De Vincenzi is summoned to the Hotel of the Three Roses by virtue of an unsigned letter warning of despicable events about to occur. On arrival at the hotel, our first body has been discovered – hanging by a rope in a top floor stairwell, but definitely not a suicide.

De Vincenzi attempts to put the hotel under lockdown as he interviews all the guests and staff. Further new arrivals complicate things, as does another couple of murders as the investigation is in progress.

Our inspector’s enquiries discover that several of the guests have been summoned to the hotel for the reading of Major Harry Alton’s will. Alton had been involved in the Boer Conflict in South Africa during the 1880s and subsequent business in Australia – supplying the Germans with submarines during the First World War.

Secrets, blackmail, dark deeds on the Dark Continent, diamonds, porcelain dolls, greed, a will reading, a boozy lawyer, a disinherited wife, a son born out of wedlock, a love-struck hunchback employee, a few feckless gamblers, revenge, a disturbed mind, another anonymous letter, a daughter of a deceased business partner, a sleeping policeman, a red herring or two and a competent inspector – though he didn’t manage to prevent a couple of murders whilst on the scene!

So overall and after re-reading the last couple of chapters…… an interesting enough mystery with a decent plot, satisfactorily resolved. I think I read it more as an impartial observer, as opposed to a reader with an emotional investment in the characters and therefore the outcome.

3.5 from 5

I have another Inspector De Vincenzi book to read – The Murdered Banker – also courtesy of the publisher, Pushkin Vertigo. I’ll be interested in seeing if the author can generate some enthusiasm for the characters and outcome as opposed to merely providing a puzzle which needs solving.

The Jaded Kiwi: a novel
The Jaded Kiwi: a novel
by Nick Spill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.54

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting tale of dope and crime in NZ during the 70s, 22 Jun. 2016
Great setting…New Zealand in the 70s and a bit of a social history lesson, particularly in police attitudes towards the Maoris – break heads first and worry about asking questions later. I don’t think they were too big on civil rights and liberties back then. (Some notes at the back of the book are helpful in explaining some facets of NZ as it was in the 70s and providing context with details on Maori history, language and culture.)

Plot - a tale of dope growing; two crops, one from the Maoris and one from the Chinese and a white criminal gang lord in the city happy to sacrifice one crop so he can engineer the hijack of the other; always assuming he can concentrate on the task in hand and not get side-tracked by the kidnapping of an old flame. This old flame of his is related to one of our dope growers and a former employee at one of his massage parlours in the city. Opportunity strikes when she rocks back up in the city from the US. (Not just from a business perspective but also regarding pleasures of the flesh!)

Action aplenty - beatings, shootings, a bar fight-cum-riot, petrol bombs, sexual violence, and a bloody stakeout culminating in a more explosive climax. This would probably make a decent film.

A little bit of romance thrown into the mix as well, adding to the plot rather than detracting from it.

Overall – fairly entertaining without being the best book ever.

Fast-paced and violent – as well as interesting and not least a bit educational. I know more about New Zealand now than before I cracked the spine on the book.

4 from 5
(I received my copy from the author)

Cleaning Up Finn
Cleaning Up Finn
by Sarah M. Chen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Short, smart, funny, fast - crime fiction at its best!, 22 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Cleaning Up Finn (Paperback)
Finn Roose is a restaurant manager and player; a man with his brains firmly housed south of his trouser belt. If you’re female and under forty and you land in Finn’s place, you’re getting appraised and rated and if you pass muster hit upon.

Ronnie with her fake I.D. passes the test and a date follows the following night. Best friend, Porter – still in hock to Finn for an event that happened when both were young and impulsive, for which Finn took the rap – reluctantly provides his car and boat for Finn’s latest assignation.

The inevitable almost happens – blame the booze (or with hindsight thank it) – but Finn and Ronnie pass out. Finn comes to, panics and flees the scene. Ronnie’s on her own.

A day or two later and the cops show up and the missing and underage Ronnie’s face is plastered on TV. A dogged PI soon starts asking some awkward questions. Finn’s starting to sweat, Porter’s got the hump and a blackmailer starts putting the squeeze on.

You feel like your sympathies shouldn’t really rest with our main man, but somehow in the hands of Sarah Chen, they do. Can Finn clean up his act, get out from under and find some measure of redemption? Or is he doomed to repeat the mistakes of his past?

Short, smart, funny, fast, great plot, great characters, a breath of fresh air! My kind of book. I’m looking forward to what she does next.

4.5 from 5
(copy received from publisher)

Jammed Up: a Debt Goes Bad novella
Jammed Up: a Debt Goes Bad novella
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced Brit grit crime!, 17 Jun. 2016
An enjoyable violent slice of Brit grit crime down Sarf’ London way.

Two competing gangs of criminals with odd-job man Jam, his mate Jabba and a kind-hearted waitress Siobhan caught up in the middle of it.

Counterfeit goods, a bent copper, a couple of competing criminal overlords – one, Herbert Long, a lot more likeable than the other Riggs – a sadist, just as happy abusing his wife as he is at getting one over on rival Long.

A tale of friendship, loyalty and perhaps love with Jam and childhood friend Jabba watching each other’s backs – unsuccessfully as it happens in this instance. But hey, if you can’t protect, you can avenge.

Chuck a kind-hearted waitress into the mix, someone with a past full of disappointment and loss, but still not embittered and all the ingredients are present for a fast-paced, entertaining read.

Plenty of local dialect and patois on display, (I’m sure I only managed to interpret 80% of it) which adds to the flavour.

Satisfying from start to finish.

4 from 5

He has another book - Mickey Take also featuring Herb Long available. One for the TBR pile - maybe when it's been reduced a bit!

He was looking for early readers to get reviews out to help spread the word, for this recent release. I’m somewhat late to the party, but was grateful for the copy nevertheless.

Read in June, 2016

Comedy in a Minor Key
Comedy in a Minor Key
by Hans Keilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking, 17 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Comedy in a Minor Key (Paperback)
Secrecy and a sense of claustrophia prevails as Wim and Marie hide Nico upstairs in their house. No telling Wim’s sister, the cleaning lady, the fishmonger who cleans the fish every week in the kitchen, no telling the neighbours. “Good people” or not someone will gossip. Jop had been caught three days ago – he was careless, he had been betrayed. Who knew which?

Nico stays in the room. A trip to the bathroom every hour and a half. No looking out the window, no turning on the light. No sneaking down the stairs in the afternoon when the paper is delivered. We’ll have to wait for Marie to bring it to us when she returns.

Marie gives Nico the news regarding Jop……..

She had seen fear: the terrible helpless fear that rises up out of sadness and despair and is no longer attached to anything – the helpless fear that is tied only to nothingness. Not fear or anxiety or despair about a person or a situation, nothing, nothing, only the exposure, the vulnerability, being cast loose from all certainties, from all dignity and all love. The man offered it up to her so shamelessly that it felt to Marie like she was seeing him physically naked. No cry out loud, no contortion of his face or his hands, he was simply uncovered, he stood in the middle of the room, the focal point and the bull’s-eye for all the poisoned arrows shot at him from beyond life.

On cleaning day…….

He heard the women’s footsteps stomping heavily through the house, heard how she carried the laundry into the bedroom, how she moved around with the vacuum cleaner and carried out her other duties. The nearness of another human being, even one who he knew harboured no suspicions, stirred up the tense quiet and solitude of his room.

A few months later……..

Once in mid-October…..when the cleaning lady was in the house, Nico heard someone slowly coming up the stairs at around four o’clock.

Marie with the tea, he thought, and stood up. Why is she taking such deliberate steps? Maybe she’s carrying her tea, or some laundry?... He crept to the door and waited. The steps came closer………right up to his door. There was something tense inside him. It’s Marie, I’ll take the tray from her. He carefully opened the door.

Before him stood the cleaning lady…breathing heavily…….Her pains were back………..She held the laundry bag pressed tight against her chest and looked with astonished eyes, at the man who suddenly stood there in the doorframe turning dead white.

It’s all over, Nico thought. He understood that he had done something stupid that could never be made right again. He staggered and shut his eyes……… When he opened his eyes again, the woman still stood two steps away from him in the hallway. Her suffering face now wore an understanding smile, which also made it possible to see the gaps in her teeth. Nico put the index finger of his right hand to his mouth, nodded slowly and sadly at her with his contorted face, and gently shut the door……

Nico lay with sweat on his bed, as though paralysed, his face covered with both hands. He no longer knew if the encounter had been real or just a dream. His head ached.

Life (but not as we know it) continues…….. until Nico falls ill and dies and his Dutch hosts have the problem of disposing of his body in the German-occupied city.

Enjoyable, interesting, educational and a reminder of both man’s humanity and inhumanity at the same time.

4 from 5

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