Review: The Nutters by Kate Starmer

 

Title: The Nutters

Author: Kate Starmer

Published: Austin-Macauley Jan 2015

Status: Read from April 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Nutters introduces Albert, a former policeman medically retired from the force after being stabbed by a clown, and his wife, Rose, private investigators in the small English village of Little Wobble. Albert, missing the excitement of his days on the force, hoped to catch criminals but instead spends his days looking for missing garden gnomes, cats, and neighbours who aren’t really missing at all.
So the Nutters are eager when they are asked to investigate a case in Upper Wobble where the vicar’s wife is receiving hate mail, threatening to expose her secret, sordid past, and suddenly they have almost more excitement than they can handle.

This cozy mystery offers a cast of lively characters, featuring the Nutter family which includes Albert, Rose, also an agony aunt for the village newspaper, their three almost adult children and a lazy oversize mutt.

There is more than one mystery playing out in The Nutters. The vicar’s wife is being blackmailed, the publican seems to be cheating on his wife, a young woman is assaulted and another is being stalked. The mysteries are solidly plotted, and though the culprits are fairly easily guessed, I was surprised by at least one of the revelations.

Unfortunately my experience of reading The Nutters was marred by several issues with the writing. The sentence structure is often clumsy, tenses are muddled and the grammar is inconsistent. There is far too much ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ and there are instances of repetition in the narrative.

It’s a shame, because I enjoyed the humour of The Nutters and think the story is genuinely entertaining, but the editing lets it down.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Life or Death by Michael Robotham

 

Title: Life or Death

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: Mulholland Books March 2015

Status: Read on March 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Life or Death is Michael Robotham’s tenth novel, a rare stand alone from one of Australia’s favourite crime fiction author’s, best known for his O’Loughlin/Ruiz series.

Inspired by a real life news report, Robotham has built his story around the character of Audie Palmer who, after serving ten years in prison, escapes the day before his scheduled release. No one understands why Audie would run when he risks an extended sentence if caught, but it’s assumed that it has something to do with the unrecovered $7 million dollars stolen during the robbery he was convicted of committing.

It soon becomes obvious however that Audie isn’t motivated by money, hunted by the authorities and criminals alike, he is on a mission to save a life. Despite what Audie stands accused of, he quickly becomes such a likeable character, a victim of bad luck and worse luck, he demonstrates an enviable strength of character to rise above it all. He is the ultimate underdog, battling to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.

Flashbacks provide the details of Audie’s back story, explaining his present predicament. The twists and turns of the plot are well executed, even if a touch predictable. I read Life or Death in a matter of hours, Robotham’s fluid writing, and tight pacing ensures this is a page turner.

An entertaining read with a great premise, appealing characters and a strong and satisfying ending, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Life or Death.

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Review: A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

 

Title: A Time of Secrets

Author: Deborah Burrows

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

Status: Read from March 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A Time of Secrets is Deborah Burrows’ third wonderful novel blending Australia’s wartime history with mystery and romance.

While Burrows previous novels take place in Perth, A Time of Secrets is set in Melbourne in 1943. Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is out shopping with her roommate and colleague, Dolly, when she overhears a whispered conversation in Malay between a group of Australian soldiers. Concerned with the implications she alerts her boss at the APLO, The Australian Pacific Liason Office, only to be drawn into a covert investigation headed by her superior officer, Lieutenant Nick Ross.

As Stella and her colleagues work to uncover the identity of the traitor sabotaging the Australian war effort they have to negotiate the politics of the APLO. I enjoyed the intrigue of the storyline and learning a little more about the war effort. In this, as in both of Burrows previous novels, A Stranger in My Street and Taking a Chance, Burrows’ brings to life the experiences and contribution of women during wartime in Australia.

A minor subplot focuses on Stella’s roommate Dolly, and the secrets she is keeping both from her fiance and Stella, while a second involves an axe wielding murderer stalking women in Melbourne. The theme of domestic violence is prominent in the novel. as is violence on the home front in general.

There is romance for Stella with the enigmatic soldier Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. A special operative, his life is at risk if the rumours of a traitor imbedded within the APLO are true. Stella’s attraction to Lund is complicated by his capability for violence, her first husband who was killed in action physically abused her, and she is wary. A sort of love triangle also develops as Ross, an unapologetic ladies man, makes his interest in Stella clear.

Burrow’s is a talented storyteller who brings wartime Australia to life. Offering an interesting mystery combined with strong characterisation and a well crafted plot, A Time of Secrets is an engaging historical fiction novel.

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Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

 

Title: The Shut Eye

Author: Belinda Bauer

Published: Bantam Press UK March 2015

Status: Read from March 16 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Belinda Bauer’s backlist, including Rubbernecker, has been on my ‘must read’ list for quite some time but as it happens The Shut Eye is the first of her six published books I have read.

DCI John Marvel is haunted by the case of missing schoolgirl, Edie Evans, and resents being distracted from his investigation when he is tasked by his boss to find his wife’s poodle. Marvel couldn’t care less about the fate of Mitzi but when he is approached by Anna Buck, a young mother grieving for her own missing son, with information that seems to link Mitzi, Edie and Richard Latham, a local self-proclaimed psychic, his interest in the case is assured.

The Shut Eye is solid crime fiction with unexpected flashes of dark humour, unfolding from the perspectives of Marvel, Anna, and her husband James.

DCI John Marvel is a dogged and driven detective, but not a particularly nice man. He is brutally dismissive of his colleagues, his de facto partner, and suspicious of humanity in general. He is also a skeptic, and detests Latham’s ‘psychic’ claims, so he is challenged by the inexplicable elements of the case even though he is willing to do anything to solve it.

James is shamed by the depth of his wife’s grief, and feels guilty for the role he plays in it, but is at a loss as to how to help her. A mechanic, he works in the garage next door to their flat with a motley assortment of illegal colleagues, doing little else than putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Five months after her four year old son slipped out of the front door of their home, accidentally left ajar by her husband, and vanished without a trace, Anna Buck is still crazed with grief. Bauer’s portrayal of Anna’s emotional agony is raw and affecting, she is teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown when she reaches out to Latham.

The paranormal element of the story comes into play when Anna visits Latham’s ‘church’ in search of answers. Though he refuses to help her, soon after Anna believes she is either experiencing visions, or has finally gone mad.

The Shut Eye is a good read, but I thought the characters were more convincing than the plot. I enjoyed the uncertainty Bauer created by blurring the line between proof and visions, and offering multiple suspects. The ending didn’t quite sit right for me though, feeling a little rushed and aspects of it unlikely.

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Review: Nothing Sacred by David Thorne

 

Title: Nothing Sacred {Daniel Connell #2}

Author: David Thorne

Published: Corvus : Allen & Unwin March 2015

Status: Read from March 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

A gritty crime thriller Nothing Sacred is the second book from David Thorne to feature disgraced lawyer, Daniel Connell, following East of Innocence.

In Nothing Sacred, Daniel is reluctantly drawn into the underworld of Essex by the tearful pleas of his ex girlfriend Victoria who is being tormented by an unseen force and has lost custody of her young children. Meanwhile, Daniel’s childhood best friend Gabe, a veteran whose military career was cut short when he lost his leg, is mixed up in something deadly that has followed him from the battlefield of Afghanistan.

Nothing Sacred was a little too brutal and bleak for my tastes, but the action is fast-paced and the plot is well thought out. There are several twists and Thorne brings it all together well.
The characters are convincing, if somewhat stereotypical for the genre. Daniel’s sense of justice overrides his confidence in the law and he has no problem crossing the line when he feels justified in doing so.

A quick, solid read with a noir-ish feel, Nothing Sacred should appeal to crime fiction fans with a hard edge.

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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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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

Read an Excerpt

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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