Review: INSIDIOUS INTENT by Val McDermid

I stopped reading this series a while back. I can’t remember which book it was now but I just found it too violent for my taste at the time. However I’ve come to really love McDermid’s writing via her standalone novels and those of the Karen Pirie series that I’ve read. So when I spotted the latest book to feature Carol Jordan and Tony Hill was available for my ears with my absolute favourite narrator at the helm I decided to give it a go. It’s been a few days since I finished listening and I’m still somewhat conflicted about it.

It might not the best place to start – or restart – the series as there are a lot of references to events from earlier books but McDermid does a good job of providing enough details for new readers to grasp the big stuff. Carol is in charge of a the newly established ReMIT (Regional Major Incident Team) which is meant to take on the area’s biggest cases or those that cross other jurisdictional boundaries. She’s not only been hand-picked for the job but, it seems, her own law-breaking has been hidden by those above her so that she can take the role. Soon she, and her carefully chosen team which includes many of the officers she has worked with previously, are called in on their first investigation. A woman’s body has been found in a burned out car but she was dead before the fire started.  The high-profile new team is under pressure from the outset as all the area police forces have to fund ReMIT’s operations from their own budgets and no one is happy when progress is slow. Especially when there is another death that follows the same pattern.

The story is, as I’ve come to expect from McDermid, superbly constructed. Even though readers know all along who the killer is and why he has committed the murders there is still a lot of suspense. Has the killer planned well enough that he might actually get away with multiple murders? What can police do when there is no evidence left behind and no witnesses to be found? We seem to expect miracles of law enforcement these days, especially now that we are all amateur investigators thanks to the plethora of true crime documentaries and podcasts, while it has surely never been easier for a criminal to learn all they need to know about forensic awareness. Have we made things too easy for the smart criminal? This is a strong theme of the book and should give us all pause for thought.

An element of the book I am less comfortable with is the blasé attitude most of the police in it seem to have developed regarding their own law breaking. I don’t know how many people were involved with the cover up of Carol’s crime but it’s at least a handful. And two of the ReMIT team break several laws because the foster son of one of them is in some trouble with cyberbullying. I appreciate that many parents would do the same given half a chance (which, of course, most wouldn’t have) but one of the officers is no relation to the boy at all. She’s just breaking the law because she can. Because it suits her to help her friend. She is the same officer who destroys the digital life of a former boyfriend (undoubtedly breaking a few more laws along the way) because he did something she disagrees with. Perhaps this says more about me and my current mindset but this almost universal willingness to throw the rules out the window when convenient really did not sit well with me at all. But does that mean the book is flawed? I don’t know. It’s probably more realistic than I would like to imagine.

It’s difficult to discuss the element of the book I liked least because I wouldn’t want to give any spoilers. I will say I thought the ending daft. Yet more law breaking by people who are supposed to be upholding it. And a bullshit justification this time around. As to whether it is ‘in character’ for either of the series protagonists I suppose I can’t really say as I haven’t read the last few books. I didn’t find the whole scenario very credible but perhaps I have missed some vital developments in the earlier books.

In the end I’m not sure what I achieved by diving back into this series, aside from the joy of having Saul Reichlin whispering in my ears for a few more hours. What violence there was in the story was not gratuitous which I was pleased to see and the main plot was an interesting, topical one to follow. But the preponderance of law enforcement people proving that they don’t trust the system they are meant to uphold and their actions being the direct cause of several deaths is, still, unsettling. I don’t know if leaving readers with that level of unease is the author’s own rather insidious intent or just me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Publisher Wholestory Audiobooks, 2017
ASIN B0741G581H
Length 13 hours 14 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #10 in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, England, Val McDermid | 5 Comments

Review: FLIPPED FOR MURDER by Maddie Day

Following the sudden death of her mother Roberta ‘Robbie’ Jordan has moved from California to South Lick in Southern Indiana. It was her mother’s home town and her only Aunt still lives there. When the book opens Robbie is launching her new business: a breakfast restaurant and ‘country’ kitchen store. Not long after the successful opening celebrations, a woman who Robbie has had some run-ins with is murdered, with one of Robbie’s unique cheese biscuits stuffed in her mouth.

This is my kind of cosy mystery. It’s light, ghost free and the story is not drowned out by a gimmick. A harder combination to find than you might expect. Although it follows the usual tropes for the genre the setup here is well within the bounds of credibility and there are enough surprises along the way to keep the average reader guessing. Of course Robbie is keen to find out who other than herself might have a motive for murder which provides the main thrust of the narrative. But during this exploration of her fellow townsfolk Robbie learns something about her own family history that she was previously unaware of and this adds genuine interest to the story as well as some avenues for future developments for the series.

There’s a good mix of interesting characters, including a couple of potential love interests for Robbie. Neither of them is a police officer, something of a rarity for the genre, though one is a lawyer. The author does a good job of introducing all these new people and giving the reader enough time to get to know them all. I particularly liked Danna, the teenage girl Robbie hires to help out in the restaurant, and her Aunt Adele who is ‘elderly’ but not old if you know what I mean. I always like it when characters of all ages are depicted intelligently. And Day gets points too for not making the police out to be a bunch of imbeciles, a theme I am not a huge fan of.

Day has drawn on her real-life skills in linguistics to highlight some local Indiana language oddities. To be honest these regional idiosyncrasies were largely lost on my Australian eyes but I appreciate the effort. I’m not sure if anything else about the setting particularly screamed Indiana to those in the know but even without that knowledge the small town sensibility was well drawn to a reader who can only vaguely place the state on a map.

I’m down to a handful of cosy series these days but I will be adding the next book to feature Robbie Jordan and friends to my reading list. FLIPPED FOR MURDER offers just the right mix of fun, old-fashioned whodunit and engaging characters.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

USAFictionChallengeButtonThis is the 19th book I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Kensington Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9781617739255
Length 317 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Country Store series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Maddie Day, USA | 6 Comments

Review: A CASE OF TWO CITIES by Qiu Xiaolong

A CASE OF TWO CITIES opens with seemingly unrelated incidents: the death in somewhat scandalous circumstances of a long serving policeman and Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau being put in charge of an investigation into high-level corruption. Chen’s tactics are, of necessity, circuitous but he and the people he chooses to seek help from prove to be in danger. Even when he is appointed at the last minute to head a delegation of Chinese writers on a tour to the USA he is not beyond the reach of those with empires to protect.

I have not read the previous three novels featuring this character and there were a couple of times when it felt like I was missing out on some crucial information, but for the most part it was possible to read this book as a standalone novel. For someone who reads crime fiction as much for they way it offers me a window into other places and cultures as for the mysteries A CASE OF TWO CITIES has a lot to offer. Of most interest for me was the small details of life in modern China where a kind of state sponsored capitalism has become the dominant economic force. As Qiu Xiaolong was born in China before moving to the US as an adult I have to assume that this depiction is as authentic as it seemed when reading it and I found this aspect of the book genuinely absorbing. When the book’s action moves to America it is equally interesting seeing a more familiar setting through the eyes of people who are not used to it.

I also enjoyed meeting Chen and seeing him in action. He faces some of the same challenges as fictional police everywhere but having to combine his policing duties with a role as a leading Party cadre adds a layer of complexity and the fact this is topped off with being a recognised poet makes him unique amongst fictional sleuths. His working and personal lives both require a very delicate balancing act between all of these priorities and and this can add both danger and sadness given that he is not always free to do what his heart might want. There are a lot of minor characters in the book and I did find this a bit overwhelming for keeping the story straight in my head plus it meant that none of the other characters was really fleshed out in any depth. His trusted offsider and his wife are probably the only two I’ll be able to remember for any length of time.

Narratively I did find myself getting lost a little at times. Apologies to all the poets out there but the liberal inclusion of poetry and a kind of long-form homage to T.S.Eliot detracted rather than added to the book for me. I’ve never really liked this kind of thing (I do rather like poetry, I just prefer it to be in a separate universe to prose) and here I found it particularly annoying as I was having trouble enough keeping track of all the unfamiliar names and places. But it was probably the style of investigation that made the story harder than normal to follow. I don’t know if was because this case involved such a politically sensitive issue or if this is how Chen’s cases always play out but nothing every really moves in a straight forward direction: every tiny bit of progression has to come via an oblique angle that, at times, isn’t even recognisable as investigative work.

Overall though I really enjoyed A CASE OF TWO CITIES, even if I might have missed a few nuances of the plot and can heartily recommend it to those who like to travel virtually via their crime fiction. The setting, engaging protagonist and understated suspense all make for a very satisfying reading experience.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Another book down from my pre 2017 TBR pile, still 16 to go though to meet my goal for the year. This one had sat on the pile for an embarrassing 7 years 4 months!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher This edition Sceptre, 2007
ISBN 9780340898543
Length 382 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #4 in the Inspector Chen series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, China, Qiu Xiaolong | 6 Comments

Topics I don’t want to read about. Evah.

I’ve been musing about this subject for a while but seeing someone else articulate their own version of it has prompted me to put my own rambling thoughts down on screen. Partly this is because I have oodles of free time to ponder first world problems like this while I am on sabbatical from paid employment. But mostly it’s because I like the idea of having this documented somewhere so that when I receive pitches (or demands) from authors to read their book (as all book bloggers do) I can just point them here when I say “thanks but no thanks“.

To be clear up front these are my personal preferences. Or prejudices. Or whatever you want to call them. They are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ they just are. I’m nearing 50 and I read for pleasure so in this aspect of life I am comfortable with having biases. I have no negative opinion about you if you write about these subjects and/or love reading about these subjects. Vive la difference as the French would say.

Gangsters, mafia, wiseguys and gangs in general

I don’t think The Godfather is the best film ever made and I’ve never gotten past episode two of The Sopranos. I would rather read a phone book.

Drug dealing, the war on drugs etc.

I would legalise all drugs (yes, even that one) and deal with drug taking as a health issue. If I, you know, ran the world or any significant part thereof. This is not a stance tied to any particular political persuasion nor any personal desire to consume large quantities of currently illicit drugs. It is a view I have developed after watching, on occasion very closely, how completely unsuccessful treating ‘the drug thing’ as a crime has worked out for everyone on the planet except the people who sell drugs in large quantities. For this reason books about ‘drug crimes’ just make me so sad or angry and I can never get into the story.

Bent coppers, with or without an associated criminal underclass surrounding them

Whatever the literary equivalent of Underbelly is I don’t want to read it. I’m not naïve enough to believe that kind of thing doesn’t happen in the real world but in my leisure hours I’m happy to pretend. I am, at heart, a character driven reader and I find it impossible to care when criminals (which for me includes corrupt cops) start murdering each other.

Paranormal goings on

This is not only about whether I believe in ghosts or vampires or whatever magic/made up/undead being is under discussion (though for the record I’m at the non-believer end of the spectrum). It’s also that just about every book I ever have read that tackles this subject takes itself way too seriously or spends far too much effort trying to convince readers of the authenticity of their particular brand of paranormality (creating whole worlds, languages, being-specific lore etc) that there is not enough story to keep me entertained. The same kind of inability to process made-up worlds and beings drives my unwillingness to read the entire fantasy genre and literature involving magical realism.

Serial killers with bizarre motivations

I’m pretty much done with serial killers as a whole though I’m open to the idea that someone could still have a new take on the trope. But anything that resembles an episode of Criminal Minds and/or a Thomas Harris wannabe is definitely not for me.

Men doing stereotypically manly things

Car chases, boxing, shoot outs, fist fights etc…I can handle a little of this but my tolerance level is pretty low.

Women doing stereotypically womanly things

Shopping, gossiping, crying, eating ice cream while mooning about over a bloke and, worst of all, women who repeatedly put themselves in stupidly dangerous situations (aka femjep). My tolerance level for this is probably lower than for the previous category.

Gratuitous sex, violence or bigotry

Yes I do get to define gratuitous and no I may not be as consistent as you think I ought to be. For me “too much” involves a combination of the extent of the language used and the intent of the author as I can discern it using my prior knowledge of the author’s work, reviews or the dreaded blurbs (when all else fails). With regards to bigotry I can be a little forgiving of older novels but only to a point.

What about you? Do you have subjects that you don’t read? Or do you judge each book on its merits? Are there topics on my list that you love? 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in musings | 16 Comments

2017 Mt TBR Challenge – Mountaineering Checkpoint #3

In an effort to get my unread book count under control I joined the My Reader’s Block Mount TBR Challenge this year. I didn’t want to be unrealistic so aimed to read at least 36 books that I owned prior to the start of this year. After an OK start I’ve faltered rather badly and have only read 5 eligible books since Checkpoint #1 (I missed checkpoint 2 entirely due to real life shenanigans). This makes for a paltry total of 19 eligible books which has me languishing about half-way up Pike’s Peak.

Host challenge Bev has offered some suggestions for how participants could check in…I’ve chosen the first

A – Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

Ignoring old favourites I can’t go past 13 year old Kulsoom who is one of several strong characters in Cath Staincliffe’s THE SILENCE BETWEEN BREATHS. Kulsoom is the sister of a man intent on creating terror; she is powerless to prevent it and unable to explain it. In a sign that the book and this character have a real ring of authenticity I thought of her immediately this week when a news broadcast aired a snippet of footage of the brother of the gunman from the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I know there are many, many people directly impacted by such events but I suspect the families of the perpetrators are at best forgotten and at worst vilified by association. Staincliffe really drew this out.

Here’s my full, paltry list of books read that I owned prior to the start of the year.

  1. Tom Keneally – Crimes Of The Father
  2. Cath Staincliffe  – The Silence Between Breaths
  3. Sheila Connolly- Red Delicious Death (no review)
  4. Josephine Pullein-Thompson – Gin And Murder
  5. Kate Dyer-Seeley  – Scene Of The Climb
  6. Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman – Winter Siege (no review)
  7. Rebecca Bradley – Shallow Waters (no review)
  8. Elizabeth Edmondson – A Man Of Some Repute 
  9. Margery Allingham – The Case Of The Late Pig
  10. J.M. Peace – The Twisted Knot
  11. Ellery Adams – Murder In The Paperback Parlor
  12. Agatha Christie – Sparkling Cyanide
  13. Sarah Ward – A Deadly Thaw
  14. Adrian McKinty – Gun Street Girl
  15. Samuel Bjork – I’m Travelling Alone
  16. Shamini Flint –  A Frightfully English Execution
  17. Gianrico Carofiglio – An Involuntary Witness
  18. Michael Connelly – The Black Ice (no review)
  19. Karin Alvtegen – Shame

 

 

Posted in memes and challenges, progress report | 7 Comments

Review: THE BARRIER by Shankari Chandran

The problem with a good dystopian novel is that it doesn’t feel all that fictional. Instead it is worryingly, frighteningly plausible. So I feel guilty about recommending Shankari Chandran’s THE BARRIER to anyone who wants to sleep at night or believe in the long term future of humankind. But if you’ve already given up on those pursuits or feel you are strong enough to withstand the desire to start carving out your own bunker you should dive in…the book is a helluva ride.

Everything about THE BARRIER is designed to be as deliberately unsettling as possible for the reader. First we’re taken to the near future – one most of us are likely to be around for – and provided with an alarming but never laughable history of what has happened between our present day and the year 2040. A combination of disease, war and commercial interests have forever altered the global political and social landscape. The world is essentially broken into two zones or alliances –  Western and Eastern – but the masses on both sides of the divide are routinely lied to and abused by their respective leaderships. All in the name of protection.

The book’s protagonist – Noah Williams – is a scientist and Agent for the Western Alliance. When we meet him he is carrying out an interrogation. Something he excels at by using whatever means are necessary, including torture. He is then tasked with the novel’s core quest: to locate and neutralise whoever is attempting to undermine the global regime of compulsory disease vaccination.

In the average thriller there is at least one character who the reader can easily identify as ‘a hero’. Even if he or she kills this is usually done within boundaries that people sitting comfortably in their lounge rooms can find acceptable. Reading THE BARRIER I couldn’t help but think that it has never been more difficult to identify good guys and bad ones. Noah’s human frailties are one thing – he has suffered a personal loss and that grief clearly impacts him. But it is capacity for ruthlessness – which is matched by just about everyone around him – that is more awkwardly jarring. In some of the scenarios depicted in the book it is possible to discern what a more equitable or ‘correct’ course of action might have been, but at other times characters are presented with Sophie’s choice kind of scenarios where the awfulness of each selection is only marginally different. Though this is, I think, the author’s point. With a background in human rights law Shankari Chandran brings a unique perspective to creating genuinely thought-provoking ‘fiction’. I imagine I will forgive her for doing so one day. When the nightmares are under better control.

Most of the novel’s action takes place in Sri Lanka and this unfamiliarity of setting just adds to the overall unsettling sensibility I assume the author was aiming for when scaring me senseless writing this novel. It is here we do meet the most traditionally heroic character of the story and Chandran does a great job of juxtaposing this character with the pragmatic brand of evil displayed by most of those around him. This includes the country’s President who is not exactly warm but who nevertheless expresses some of the most memorable sentiments of the book. However harsh they might sound it is impossible not to imagine thoughts like his are driving many world leaders and decision makers already, let alone in the wake of the war and destruction that Chandran posits for our collective, imminent future.

THE BARRIER is not a good-triumphing-over-evil thriller nor a comfortably dismissible work of science fiction. It is at heart a thought experiment in which humankind deals poorly with the challenges presented to it. Choosing rough justice, commercial interests and the wholesale eradication of civil liberties over anything that resembles human rights. There’s no getting around the fact it paints a bleak picture, not least because it highlights just how fragile our collective hold on civility really is, and I cannot honestly recommend to those looking for something light or hope-filled. But if you enjoy books that pose complex “what if…” questions and provide believable if undesirable solutions then find yourself a copy. And perhaps a blanket and a bottle of your favourite tipple.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 13th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925481174
Length 309 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy Provided by the publisher

Posted in book review, Shankari Chandran (Aus), Sri Lanka | 6 Comments

Books of the month: September 2017

Pick of the month

I admit I am a fangirl and possibly not as objective as I ought to be but I loved the 8th instalment of Sulari Gentill’s historical crime series featuring Rowland Sinclair and his chums. Not only does A DANGEROUS LANGUAGE have more of all the things I love about the series – great characters, lots of humour, fact and fiction woven together seamlessly – but it’s extra political and the historical figures are ones I have learned about myself. My only gripe is that it will be a whole year before the next instalment, though I am in the process of re-reading all the previous books which are being released in audio format. Delicious.

The rest, in reading order 

I didn’t realise it at the time but I visited lots of countries virtually last month: New Zealand, Germany, Thailand, the USA twice (California and Louisiana), England, Iceland, Sweden, Australia and a fictional island in the Caribbean (near-ish to Guadalupe). Almost as good as travelling for real 🙂

  • Simon Wyatt’s THE STUDENT BODY (a debut police procedural I featured as part of the blog tour for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards which celebrate excellence in New Zealand crime writing)
  • Elisabeth Herrmann’s THE CLEANER (a German book that depicsts how the country’s divided past is still catching up with some people)
  • David Casarett’s MURDER AT THE HOUSE OF ROOSTER HAPPINESS (a cosy mystery featuring a nurse ethicist working in a Thai hospital)
  • Michael Connelly’s THE BLACK ICE (I’ve been trying to like Connelly’s Harry Bosch series for a while now but can’t seem to get into it (I know, I know…it’s my fault), this one had sat un-listened to for 5 years on my Audible queue – I did make it all the way through but the case was about drug dealers – my least favourite topic in crime fiction)
  • Ruth Dugdall’s HUMBER BOY B (a suspense novel about a child who killed a child and how he – and others – try to come to terms with that when he is released from prison some years later)
  • Ragnar Jonasson’s SNOWBLIND (an old-fashioned style whodunit, with a bit of what-was-IT-in-the-first-place thrown in for good measure, all set in a cold and isolated part of the world)
  • Ellen Byron’s PLANTATION SHUDDERS (a cosy mystery in which guests at a Louisiana B&B are murdered at a rate that can’t be good for business)
  • Karin Alvtegen‘s SHAME (a Swedish standalone novel in which two unrelated women fail spectacularly to cope with their respective secrets)
  • Robert Thorogood‘s A MEDITATION ON MURDER (a tie-in to the TV series Death in Paradise which had almost but not quite all the elements of the fun show)

Other bits and pieces

Thanks

Progress on bookish goals

aww2017-badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Read & Review 25 books 

12 down (not counting the two DNFs), 13 to go. Unlikey to achieve this one

image borrowed and edited from http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/classic-crime-curriculum.htmlParticipate 8 times in Crimes of the Century

4 down, 4 to go. Was looking good for this one but the host of this meme is taking a break and I haven’t been motivated to read the classics on my own.

mount-tbr-2017Read 36 books owned prior to the start of the year and/or reduce the TBR to less than 100 (from 131)

Sigh.

I have only read 20 books that I owned before January 1. I’ve gotten rid of a few more via culling or deciding not to finish but my total TBR still stands at 126.

It doesn’t help that I went on a book shop binge this month – something I haven’t done for ages. Psychologically I know that retail therapy isn’t helping me in the long term but the short term high is pretty good. All but one of these authors is new to me and my haul includes a crime novel written by a female Italian author, something I’ve been keen to find for ages.

Image sourced from http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2014/01/7-ways-to-buy-australian-made/

Buy no physical or eBooks from stores outside Australia (Audio books are my exception)

So far so good. I hope my efforts are appreciated by local retailers. The above haul cost me $155.96 at a nearby bricks & mortar store whereas a comparison shopping site tells me I could have saved nearly $50 if I’d used a combination of online sellers from overseas.

USAFictionChallengeButtonRead at least 10 books eligible for my virtual tour of the US via its fiction (each one set in a different state and by a new-to-me author).

Have read three eligible books for the whole of 2017. Unlikely to read 7 more during the final quarter but I suppose stranger things have happened.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How is your reading going for the year? Anything from September that you want to shout about? 

Posted in books of the month, David Casarett, Elisabeth Herrmann, Ellen Byron, Karin Alvtegen, Michael Connelly, Ragnar Jonasson, Robert Thorogood, Ruth Dugdall, Simon Wyatt, Sulari Gentill (Aus) | 4 Comments

Review: A MEDITATION ON MURDER by Robert Thorogood

A MEDITATION ON MURDER is the first of what is so far a three instalment series that based on the TV show Death in Paradise, more specifically the first two seasons of the show. Having come to the (fictional) Caribbean island of Saint Marie to investigate the murder of the small police force’s Detective Inspector, English policeman Richard Poole has stayed on and taken over that role, despite his loathing for island life. As he says here, no one should have to beg to return to Croydon. In the TV series Richard became the subject of his own murder investigation at the end of season two but in the book he lives grumpily on in a parallel universe kind of way.

Like each episode of the TV show A MEDITATION ON MURDER presents a classic locked room whodunit. Here a man called Aslan Kennedy is murdered inside one of the meditation rooms in the spiritual retreat he runs with his wife. As is the way of this type of story there were 5 people locked inside the room with him at the time of the murder though in a variation to the norm one of them confesses immediately. Richard’s team think the case will be wrapped up almost before it starts but, based primarily on the presence of a drawing pin where he thinks drawing pins do not belong, Richard is skeptical. As the team delves into Aslan Kennedy’s past and his connection to some of the guests things do prove more complicated than they first appeared. Of course.

I have watched the show so can’t be sure, but I think Thorogood, who is the creator of the TV series, has done a decent job of providing enough details about Richard, his team and their island setting that even readers who are not fans of the show would have no trouble keeping up. Though it can’t have been that hard to do as this is ‘cosy’ territory where deep emotions and long-running, complex story arcs are not really on the menu. Richard is depicted in all his curmudgeonly Richardness: awkward at just about everything involving other humans but a crack investigator and unable or unwilling to adapt to island life in any meaningful way. As someone who hates beaches almost as much as Richard I have something of a soft spot for this particular fish out of water (pardon the pun). Alas for me the rest of the 4-member team actually seemed less fleshed out than their televisual counterparts which was surprising given a novel has more space for that kind of thing.

I found the bones of the story decent enough but can’t honestly say I thought there was enough of it to fill a book. There really wasn’t much more substance to the requisite misdirection and red herrings than you’d find in the 45 (or so) minute running time of a TV episode which meant there was a lot of repetition of salient points. So much so that I worked out just about every facet of the resolution long before the traditional denouement. It wasn’t badly constructed, in fact it was quite clever and followed all the proper rules of the sub genre, but there just wasn’t quite enough of it to really grab my attention.

Although I did really like the sequences in which Richard attempted to get Harry the lizard out of his house I don’t think the book had the level of humour I was expecting, primarily due to the reduced role of the other characters, and the pacing was a bit slow. And therein lies the problem with this kind of tie-in: the target market brings a whole set of expectations which are, I imagine, even more difficult than the usual kind to manage and meet. I listened to the audio version, narrated terrifically by Phil Fox, and it was a pleasant enough way to pass some time but I don’t foresee I’ll keep on with the series. There is, for me, some kind of x-factor missing.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Phil Fox
Publisher Harper Collins Audio, 2016
ASIN B01HOXUGKO
Length 9 hours 59 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Death in Paradise series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Robert Thorogood | 3 Comments

Review: SHAME by Karin Alvtegen

SHAME has languished unread on my shelves since I found a second hand copy in Australia’s only bookshop specialising in crime fiction 8 years ago. I can’t explain the languishing as I have loved both of the other books by Karin Alvtegen that I have so far read (MISSING and BETRAYAL)…perhaps it was my subconscious reminding me of my dislike of second hand books. Whatever the reason, I could kick myself as the book is really, really good.

Like Alvtegen’s other work SHAME only fits within the confines of crime fiction if you’re open minded about how to define the genre. I’m very comfortable with this kind of elasticity but if you’re not, consider this fair warning. It is the most aptly named novel I have come across in quite some time as it displays and dissects the shame felt by two women and the long-lasting effects these deep feelings have on their lives.

Monika is a successful doctor with a less than perfect personal life. She has never allowed herself to be properly loved but when we meet her a man called Thomas has entered her life and Monika dares to believe that things might be different this time. Just as she decides she will share her secret shame with Thomas and see if he still wants her a dramatic event occurs. An event that proves to Monika she is not worthy of love. Not deserving. And she must do whatever it takes to make amends.

About the only thing Maj-Britt is successful at is eating. She has become so good at it that she is virtually housebound by her obesity and needs all sorts of home help just to survive. She is also mean-spirited. And just plain mean. Many of the helpers who have been assigned to her case won’t return because she is so horrid to them. Maj-Britt has a dark secret too but even before her darkest day she was almost full to the brim with the shame of knowing she had displeased her parents and their god.

For three quarters of SHAME the stories of these two women do not overlap. Their individual sadnesses, anguish and despair are revealed in parallel but separate threads with Alvetegen’s usual sparse writing and incisive observational eye. She really does have an affinity for bringing the voice of the world’s outsiders to life. There’s no overt sentimentality or mawkishness yet no deliberate unkindnesses either. I often find attempts at this kind of characterisation are either too politically correct for credibility or have ramped up the cruelty in some misguided attempt at ‘grittiness’. Neither Monika or Maj-Britt is particularly likeable in the usual sense of the word, probably not the type of literary character that will end up on lists of fictional beings to invite to a dinner party, but I found them believable, compelling and increasingly sympathetic as their secrets were laid bare for us.

Even Alvtegen’s minor characters are pitch-perfect. The two women who end up tying Monika and Maj-Britt’s stories together in the novel’s final act are Ellinor, the latest and most robust of Maj-Britt’s home aides, and Vanja who reconnects with Maj-Britt nearly 30 years after they were teenagers together in the same small town. Both characters are deftly drawn. As are the women’s parents who – it must be said – have a good deal to answer for, especially in the case of Maj-Britt. I’ve read a lot of  stories in which awful things are done to children but the depiction of the way her parents ‘deal’ with Maj-Britt’s childhood ‘sin’ left me speechless at the insidiousness of their particular brand of abuse. I have to hope it was entirely from Alvtegen’s imagination.

I was a smidgen disappointed by the book’s ending. Not hugely and only when compared with the rest of this book; it’s still a cut above the vast majority of endings I encounter. But it was a little too clunkily neat for me…and for what had gone before. Though perhaps Alvtegen was concerned about leaving her readers in abject despair. It is a minor reservation only and should not prevent you from embarking on this beautifully told, sometimes challenging and never dull tale.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Steven T. Murray
Publisher This edition Text Publishing 2006, original edition 2005
ISBN 9781921145315
Length 343
Format paperback
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it second hand

Posted in book review, Karin Alvtegen, Sweden | 4 Comments

Review: SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson

I was not surprised to learn, after I’d finished reading SNOWBLIND, that its author has previously translated some of Agatha Christie’s works into his native Icelandic. Because there’s much more of a ‘Golden Age’ or classic whodunnit sensibility to the book than anything resembling the now ubiquitous (and almost always inaccurate) Nordic Noir label.

Depending on which way you look at things the central character is either rookie policeman Ari Thor or the isolated fishing village of Siglufjordur in northern Iceland in which the story takes place.

When the novel opens Ari Thor is living in Reykjavik with his girlfriend, medical student Kristin. He has ditched his own study of theology for the police academy and is offered his first police job in Siglufjordur. He says yes without consulting Kristin at all which is a decision that will come back to bite him (although he never does seem to grasp why discussing it first might have been a good idea) and is soon heading north. Ari Thor is 24 and not unreasonably has yet to work out all the intricacies of being an adult which is a nice change for crime fiction fans who are more used to crotchety, middle aged cynics. Jonasson has done a nice job in fleshing out this character over the course of the book and making him sympathetic even when he deserves a gentle bollocking for his recklessness.

The village is much less sympathetic, at least to this city girl, though no less beautifully realised. Its population is around 1300 people and is one of those places where everyone knows everyone and their secrets. Though, as it turns out, not all their secrets. It is small enough that no car is needed to get around and isolated enough that it is regularly cut off from the rest of the country during winter. Ari Thor is informed by his new boss that he won’t be handing out speeding tickets or doing much else that city police might be used to but soon there are mysterious matters to worry about. As the local dramatic society gets ready for their annual performance a local celebrity dies and Ari Thor at least is not entirely sure it was as natural a death as everyone assumes. When a young woman is found lying near death in the snow a few days later everyone starts to worry that someone with nefarious intent might be on the loose. Which is, of course, right when the Icelandic winter does shuts the town off from the outside world. The mountains are looming, the roads are impassable roads and the townsfolk might be trapped with a killer.

The story really is of the old-fashioned kind (and just to be clear I don’t mean that as a criticism). Not only is it blessedly short in this age of 500+ page tomes it is light on violence and heavy on intricate, genuinely puzzling plot full of misdirection. This is not axe-wielding psychopath territory, just ordinary people finding themselves backed into various corners. I found the resolution both satisfying and surprising which is no mean feat.

Although I’d gnaw off my own arm rather than live in somewhere quite so small or isolated  as Siglufjordur I love to visit such places vicariously, especially when there is a genuinely engaging story unfolding within the claustrophobic confines. I am keen to catch up with Ari Thor again, though I think he’ll have to move on from Siglufjordur if he is not to suffer from the Cabot Cove Effect.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Quentin Bates
Publisher Orenda Books, this translation 2015, original language edition 2010
ISBN 9781910633038
Length 259 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 Dark Iceland series
Source of review copy Borrowed (library)

Posted in book review, Iceland, Ragnar Jonasson | 8 Comments