Review: Harm’s Reach by Alex Barclay

 

Title: Harm’s Reach {Ren Bryce #4}

Author: Alex Barclay

Published: HarperCollins February 2015

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Status: Read from February 24 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

Harm’s Reach is the fourth book in Alex Barclay’s crime fiction series featuring FBI Agent Ren Bryce.

Despite not being familiar with the previous novels in this series I didn’t feel at all adrift. Ren, an FBI agent attached to a multi agency task force in Denver, is following up on a bank robbery when she stumbles upon the body of a young pregnant woman, shot to death in a rental car on the side of the road. No one seems to be able to explain what Laura Flynn was doing there or why any one would wish her harm.

The investigation twists in unexpected ways, with Ren’s colleague and friend, cold case investigator Janine Hooks, becoming involved when they theorise that Laura may have uncovered some sensitive information about a fifty year old crime. Even as they explore the possibility, Ren continues to delve into Laura Flynn’s life, and discovers that the wealthy employers that claim Laura as family are hiding secrets from them. I enjoyed the intricacies of the plot and was surprised by the way the threads converged to resolve not one but three very different cases.

I really liked getting to know Ren who is an intelligent and capable investigator with a wicked sense of humour. Ren is also struggling with a recent diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, an unusual trait for a lead character in this genre, and a new long distance relationship with a man who is unaware of her condition.
Ren’s colleagues and friends are appealing, I enjoyed her banter with Janine and her task force mates, and the relationship between Ren and her boss, and with her therapist, offers additional insight into her character.

Offering strong and interesting characterisation, and a well crafted story I really enjoyed Harm’s Reach and I’m eager to read more of this series.

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Diversity

Review: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

 

Title: Doctor Death {A Madeleine Karno Mystery #1}

Author: Lene Kaaberbøl

Published: Atria Books February 2015

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Status: Read from February 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Set in provincial France during the late 1800’s, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Madeleine Karno.

“My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point.”

The daughter of a widowed surgeon/coroner, Madeleine dreams of one day following in his footsteps but for now must be content with those rare times when her father allows her to assist him. Intelligent, rational and ambitious, Madeleine is an admirable character who chafes at the expectations of the era though rarely in an overt way. When her father is injured she seizes the opportunity to become more involved in his current case that begins with a dead girl, scarred with human bites, found on her snow covered doorstep.

Solving the complex mystery involves a combination of common investigation techniques led by Madeleine’s father’s colleague, the Commisioner, and the fledgling science of forensics utilised by Madeleine and her father. It is a strange case that involves an unidentified parasite, a missing boy, a pack of wolves, a murdered priest and it becomes increasingly unsettling as Madeleine gets closer to unmasking a killer. There are red herrings and twists that keep the reader guessing as Kaaberbøl explores the conflicts of human and beast, science and faith.

“Illness is not necessarily a punishment from God…. Sometimes it just comes to us. If we are lucky, it is a trial from which we can learn. Other times, we must just accept that we humans do not understand everything.”

The tone is quite dark overall and there are elements of the story which readers may find disturbing. There is a touch of unconventional romance which will be interesting to see develop in further installments. The pace is good but the narrative does feel a little dry and formal at times, perhaps a consequence of the translation as much as a reflection of the period.

I did enjoy Doctor Death, the mystery was intriguing and Madeleine is an interesting lead but I have to admit I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped to have been. I do hope to continue with the series though to see how it develops.

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Review: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

 

Title: Gun Street Girl {Sean Duffy #4}

Author: Adrian McKinty

Published: Sceptre: Allen and Unwin January 2015

Status: Read from January 28 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I’ve been curious about Adrian McKinty’s work for a while. Though born and raised in Ireland, McKinty now lives in Australia, allowing us to claim him as one of our own. Despite my dislike of starting a series in the middle, so to speak, I couldn’t resist the lure of Gun Street Girl, the fourth book in his gritty police procedural series featuring Sean Duffy, an Irish Catholic Detective Inspector in Northern Ireland during the mid 1980’s.

It’s a busy night for Detective Inspector Duffy who, after observing a multi-agency midnight raid on some gun runners which goes spectacularly wrong, is not long home when he is called out to deal first with a sensitive situation in a local whorehouse and then a double homicide just inside the border of their RUC district. A wealthy couple has been shot dead while watching the TV, and Detective Sergeant McCrabban is eager to take on the case. The scene seems straightforward, the dead couple’s missing twenty-two year old son determined to be the likely perpetrator, but it soon becomes clear that this investigation will be anything but simple and Duffy finds himself chasing missing missiles, gun dealers and a clever assassin.

Duffy is a complex guy, a cop who believes in justice but is cynical about the law. He is not above breaking the rules, enjoying the occasional snort of cocaine and regularly circumventing the chain of command, but he clearly prioritises the truth over diplomacy or procedure. His failure to play by the ‘rules’, and the fact that he is one of the few Catholics amidst an overwhelmingly Protestant police force, means he will likely never rise any higher.

Th plot is well crafted with several layers, though I didn’t really feel like it offered any surprises. I did appreciate that Duffy, with the help of McCrabban and Lawson, has to really work the case to get the answers he needs. The investigation is thorough but never tedious and enhanced by the story’s subplots.

Set against the background of ‘The Troubles’ and referencing real events, the story is particularly well grounded in time and place. I love that Duffy’s house is McKinty’s childhood home in Carrickfergus, and though I’m not really a fan, music lovers may enjoy constructing their own playlists from Duffy’s preferences.

Thankfully I felt that Gun Street Girl worked well as a stand alone novel (though I’m still eager to read the previous books in the series: The Cold Cold Ground ; I Hear the Sirens in the Street and In the Morning I’ll be Gone). Well crafted, with an appealing lead character and interesting setting, Gun Street Girl is a great read for crime fiction fans.

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Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Title: Things Half in Shadow

Author: Alan Finn

Published: Gallery Books December 2014

Status: Read from December 28 to 30, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Things Half in Shadow is an entertaining mystery thriller with a paranormal twist, set in postbellum Philadelphia, in which author Alan Finn (the pen name of Todd Ritter) introduces an unusual crime solving duo – independently wealthy crime reporter, Edward Clark and brazen confidence trickster, Lucy Collins, who become unlikely allies when they are present at the death of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded medium.

Edward tells the tale of Things Half in Shadow as an old man sharing the story with his granddaughter. The two lead characters are wonderfully drawn, interesting and believable with intriguing secrets.
Edward is a gentleman, a veteran of the civil war, independently wealthy and engaged to a young lady of society. Tasked by his editor to expose Philadelphia’s psychic fraudsters preying on the grieving families of those lost in the war, he is reluctant to do so, though he has a secret that makes him uniquely qualified for the feature.
Mrs. Lucy Collins claims to be a ‘spiritually gifted’ young widow, offering her services as a medium to the bereaved of Philadelphia and is Edward’s first target for his newspaper expose. In truth she is a ‘fallen’ woman, successfully scamming Philadelphia society with simple sleight of hand.

The plot sees Edward and Lucy forced to cooperate in the wake of Pastor’s murder to clear their names, despite their mutual antipathy. There are several suspects including the other man and women who were in attendance at the seance, Leonora’s husband and a mysterious man in black who seems to be shadowing Edward. The suspense is well crafted, and the mystery behind Leonora’s unusual death is much more complex than it seems, eventually exposing a startling conspiracy that stretches back into Edward’s past.

Historically atmospheric, with a surprise cameo from PT Barnum, Things Half in Shadow is a great mystery tale, and one of my favourite books for 2014. Finn hints that Edward and Lucy may return soon, I can’t wait.

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Review: Murder at the Book Group by Maggie King

Title: Murder at the Book Group {A Book Club Mystery #1}

Author: Maggie King

Published: Pocket Books December 2014

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Status: Read from December 25 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When Carlene Arness is found dead after drinking tea laced with cyanide while hosting the monthly meeting of the book club she co-founded with Hazel Rose, the members are horrified and puzzled by her death. Though a suicide note is found next to her body, none of them believe she was the type to take her own life and Hazel is determined to prove it.

There are a lot of suspects, maybe even too many, as Hazel discovers that Carlene, married to Hazel’s first husband, hid a dark past. The book club members too keep secrets that give almost all of them, including Hazel, the motive to want Carlene dead. Sex, blackmail, politics and vengeance are all part of the affray.

Murder at the Book Group has all the ingredients for a good mystery – a layered plot, an interesting cast with plenty of secrets and a great setting for book lovers (the murder takes place during a book club meeting whose membership includes several published and aspiring mystery writers). Unfortunately I never really connected with the main character, Hazel Rose, and since the story is told in the first person I found my attention wandering more often than it should have.

Murder at the Book Group was just barely an ‘okay’ read for me.

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Review: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

 

Title: Rage Against the Dying ( Brigid Quinn #1)

Author: Becky Masterman

Published: Minotaur Books June 2014

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Status: Read from December 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Rage Against the Dying caught my attention when it was nominated for both The Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I was further intrigued to learn the protagonist is a retired fifty something year old female FBI agent.

Brigid Quinn is a women with a secret. She lives happily with her new husband, Carlo, and their two pugs, in a nice house in Tuscon, Arizona and spends her days combing the nearby wash for interesting rocks and learning to cook. Yet just a few short years ago, Brigid hunted sexual predators killers and human traffickers as an agent with the F.B.I. In Rage Against the Dying one of her past cases comes back to haunt her when a man is arrested and claims to be the ‘Route 66′ killer, responsible for the murders of a dozen women, including Brigid’s protegee, Jessica. Floyd Lynch’s confession is compelling, he is aware of details the FBI never released and leads them to what remains of Jessica’s body, nevertheless when Agent Laura Coleman voices her doubts Brigid feels she owes it to Jessica, and her still grieving father, to investigate.

Fast paced, with plenty of tense, gritty, action, Rage Against the Dying is a complex mystery. The main plot centers around the confession of the serial killer and Brigid’s doubts about it, but is further complicated by attempts on Brigid’s life, another missing FBI agent and ‘office’ politics. The plot twists and turns, and though at times it relies on some contrivances that are a bit of a stretch, it offers an interesting story.

I love that Brigid is an older woman who remains feisty, resourceful and even sexual. She is complicated, flawed, and damaged but I found I both liked and respected her. Her cynicism is offset by her emotional vulnerability, and her confidence by her past failures. On a couple of occasions though I thought the author allowed Brigid to make mistakes an experienced agent wouldn’t for the sake of the plot, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

Rage Against the Dying is an introduction to a series I think has real potential and I am looking forward to reading Fear the Darkness

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Review: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: The Zig Zag Girl

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: Quercus November 2014

Status: Read from December 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Elly Griffiths popular Ruth Galloway series has been on my to-read list for sometime but I’ve been loathe to start a new series given my current reading commitments. I pounced then on the opportunity to read her first stand alone, The Zig Zag Girl.

When the head and legs of a young woman are discovered in two black cases at Brighton train station, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens doesn’t have to wait long to discover the whereabouts of her torso when a third box is delivered to him at work. Curiously the box is addressed using his military rank, Captain, and the state of the woman’s body reminds Edgar of a magician’s trick, known as the Zig Zag Girl, performed by an old army buddy, Max Mephisto. Assuming the coincidence is unlikely, especially when the girl is identified as Max’s pre-war stage assistant, Edgar tracks down Max, a popular theater magician and then the rest of the men he served with, a group known as the ‘Magic Men’ – recruited for a top secret special assignment during World War II. After another death, another gruesome magic trick gone awry, Edgar realises that the Magic Men are being targeted and he must race to unmask the killer before they perform their final deadly trick.

The Zig Zag Girl is set largely in Brighton, England during the 1950’s and Griffiths skilfully evokes the post war era and the shabbiness of the neglected seaside town. Griffiths is said to have drawn on her own family history – her grandfather was a music hall comedian and her mother grew up ‘backstage’ – to authentically recreate the variety theater scene of the time.

Edgar is a likeable character, a little reserved and weary but thoughtful and steadfast. Max is more flamboyant, befitting a magician, and the two make a good team. The world of the theater allows Griffiths to introduce some additional colourful characters, and the ‘Magic Men’ are a quirky lot too.

The mystery is well thought out, using several red herrings to distract the reader from identifying the murderer too quickly. A little humour and a touch of romance lighten the more gruesome criminal elements of the story, and the background of the Magic Men provides added interest.

A clever, entertaining mystery, I really enjoyed The Zig Zag Girl, I think I need to make room in my schedule for The Crossing Places sooner, rather than later.

 

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Review: A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller

 

Title: A Nip of Murder {A Moonshine Mystery #2}

Author: Carol Miller

Published: Minotaur Books December 2014

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Status: Read from December 08 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A Nip of Murder is the second book in Carol Miller’s Moonshine Mystery series. Set in rural Virginia, it features Daisy ‘Ducky’ McGovern, a former waitress at the H&P Diner, which she now part owns and has converted into a bakery. Business is good, especially with the daily patronage of a group of geocacher’s in town, but strangers also mean trouble. When three men break into Sweetie Pies, Daisy’s baker, Brenda, is forced to defend herself and one of the men ends up dead while the others flee with ninety pounds of cream cheese. The motive for the robbery is inexplicable and Daisy, who doesn’t have much faith in the local deputy’s ability to solve the mystery, decides to do some sleuthing of her own.

There is yet another strange local theft, and murder, while Daisy follows the evidence to a local ‘nip’ joint (a hidden bar selling moonshine), and then deep into the Appalachian mountains, all while planning a bridal shower and creating a red velvet wedding cake on short notice for Rick’s brother, Bobby and his bride to be, one of the geocacher organisers.

The well paced mystery is complex but not overly complicated and the motive of the thieves and the killer are not easily guessed. There are a number of red herrings to distract and a neat twist waiting at the end for the unwary.

I like the characters who offer a mix of eccentric southern charm. The storyline continues to highlight the complicated relationship between Daisy and Rick. A gun-toting moonshiner whose actions often put him on the wrong side of the law, Rick is an enigmatic character. He and Daisy, who have known each other all their lives, spar like enemies but there is a simmering attraction that Daisy tries hard to ignore.

A Nip of Murder is an enjoyable cozy mystery, it’s not essential to read Murder and Moonshine first but I would recommend it.

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Review: Eden by Candice Fox

 

Title: Eden {Hades #2}

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House December 2014

Status: Read from December 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The sequel to Candice Fox’s stunning debut, Hades, Eden is a story about monsters, not the type that hide under the bed or in your closet, but those that walk amongst us, wearing the face of humanity. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles and cannibals shrouded in the guise of well dressed gentlemen, respected police officers, and restless children.

The narrative is a bit of a surprise, I was expecting, given the novel’s title, that the story would unfold more fully from Eden’s perspective, instead it is the first person voice of Frank, and a series of flashbacks illuminating Hades’ past that dominate.

Frank is still reeling from the events that occurred in Hades and is drowning in booze, pills and sorrow, resisting Eden’s attempts to get him back to work. But Eden doesn’t take no for an answer and she forces his hand, first when she asks him to do some work for her father, Hades, and then when she accepts an undercover assignment in pursuit of a serial killer.

While Eden searches for the murderer on an isolated farm housing runaways and petty criminals, Frank divides his time between watching over Eden and searching for clues to decipher the fate of a girl Hades once knew, in order to shake the attentions of her nephew who is convinced Hades killed her.

Flashbacks of Hades early years introduce the girl, Sunday, and provide insight into the formation of the man and underworld legend. Fox has developed a dark and twisted past for Hades, stained with violence and loss which is not always easy to stomach.

As dark and gritty as its predecessor, Eden is a riveting story, rippling with tension and barely leashed savagery. This is compelling reading.

 

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****

Click the cover to learn about Hades

 

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Review: Believe No One by A.D. Garrett

Title: Believe No One { DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore #2}

Author: A.D. Garrett

Published: Corsair: Constable & Robinson UK November 2014

Status: Read from November 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Authored by A.D. Garrett, the collaborative pseudonym of award winning author Margaret Murphy and renowned forensics expert Professor Dave Barclay, Believe No One is the second gripping crime fiction installment to feature DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore.

UK Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on a six month ‘method’ exchange with the St Louis PD when her cold case team uncovers evidence of a serial killer dumping bodies along a 600 mile stretch of the I-44. For Professor Nick Fennimore, touring the Midwest promoting his latest book, it is a convenient coincidence that a case he has been invited to consult on in Oklahoma, concerning a murdered woman and her missing child, links with Kate’s investigation.
As the ad hoc task force involving Simms and the St Louis PD, Fennimore and the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and an FBI Behavioural Analyst get closer to identifying the killer, they discover a link to a crime that happened more than two decades before, and a world away. Fennimore is stunned by the possibilities given his own tragic loss, and with another body of a young mother and her child missing, he isn’t about to let this killer get away.

Part police procedural, part thriller, the third person narrative exposes the perspectives of the investigators, the killer and a young boy running scared.

I really enjoyed seeing the case come together through the hard work and persistence of the officers despite political maneuvering from a boorish local sheriff and the occasional inter-agency skirmish. I felt Kate got a little lost within the cast though I did like her colleagues, particularly the gruff Ellis. Abigail Hicks was an interesting character as well, and I was surprised to learn that deputy sheriffs receive so little training or support for their role.

The killer is suitably creepy with an interesting pathology and surprising motive. Some of the scenes involving the torture of his victims are disturbing, but thankfully are mostly light on details.

‘Red’ is the nine year old son of one of the victims who escapes the killer but is too afraid to go to the police. I felt both sad and afraid for him and I’m still not sure how I feel about the unusual situation he winds up in.

The personal lives of the feature protagonists, Kate and Nick, matter within the context of the story too, though it is Fennimore’s history that is more relevant. Five years ago Nick’s wife and daughter were abducted and while his wife’s body was recovered in a marsh, his daughter has never been found. Fennimore is convinced she is still alive and the similarities between this case and his own tragedy has him on edge. Meanwhile Simms accepted the exchange in part to escape Nick and their complicated dynamic so she isn’t thrilled when he involves himself in the investigation.

With a complex plot and interesting, well developed characters, Believe No One is an entertaining and exciting novel. Though it conceivably works as a stand alone I would recommend reading Everyone Lies first.

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