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Saturday, 30 November 2013

‘The Sixth Soul’ by Mark Roberts

Published by Atlantic Books,
5 February 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-85789-786-2

Typically I start my reviews with a synopsis of the narrative, trying not to reveal too much of the denouement and risk spoiling the reader's enjoyment. This time, I’d like you to indulge me while I explain that I tend to make notes as I read so that when I come to write my review at the end, I don't need to double-check the finer details such as exact chronology, characters names etc.

On this occasion, however, I suddenly realised I had got halfway through the book and not paused to make a single note as I was utterly immersed in the story.

A depraved serial killer stalks Londoners, abducting and murdering pregnant women before removing their foetuses and dumping the mothers' corpses at different locations around the capital.

Seemingly the work of a fetishist, deeper purpose has been eliminated by psychological profilers. Until Father Sebastian, an occult specialist with a murky background of his own, contacts DCI David Rosen to suggest the murderers are the work of a Satanist who is copying a serial killer from hundreds of years earlier.

Suspicious of the priest's motives, without the support of his boss and hamstrung by a lack of forensic evidence, Rosen also has personal concerns: his wife Sarah has just fallen pregnant. But what should be a joyous time is overshadowed by the memory of the child they lost.

As the murder investigation progresses, leading Rosen and his colleagues in unanticipated directions, he has to work out what's real...

This reader was thoroughly beguiled by the wily author, who revelled in the jungle of confusion.
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

Mark Roberts was born and raised in Liverpool and was educated at St. Francis Xavier's College. He was a mainstream teacher for twenty years and for the last ten years has worked as a special school teacher. He received a Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for best new play of the year. The Sixth Soul is his first novel for adults.

Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.

Friday, 29 November 2013

‘We’ll Be Watching You’ by Eileen Robertson

Published by Robert Hale Ltd,
September 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1072-5

Christine Brett has taken Neighbourhood Watch to heart - the emphasis being on the word ‘watch’.  She has even furnished her invalid mother Emily with a pair of binoculars to keep watch in her absence. Having reported her neighbours for several trivial offences, she has become, not surprisingly, unpopular with her neighbours.  Most infuriated is retired Harry Myers when he is visited by the police in connection with a robbery.  Christine defends herself saying that his car is the same colour and make as the getaway car described in the newspaper.

But matters take a dramatic turn when shopping in the local supermarket - she witnesses a robbery, and is shocked to find the face of the getaway driver  familiar. But from where?  Unfortunately Christine falls into the category of the girl who cried wolf just once too often, and no one believes her.   But if Christine recognised the driver, did her recognise her and what will he do about it?

There are some great characters,. I particularly loved Emily, whom Christine is determined to look after since her stroke. However, as soon as Christine is into the kitchen to prepare the evening meal, Emily pulls out of her cardigan the miniature vodka and takes a swift swig.  Go girl!

I enjoy this type of mystery- the quiet suburban estate where it looks serene on the surface and is all festering underneath.  Reminds me of Desperate Housewives, which I so enjoyed.

But as Christine is a sole witness to the robbery, and as she has recognised the driver she is right to be afraid. But what should she do? Who will listen to her?  Highly recommended
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Eileen Robertson was born in Yorkshire and was for many years a lecturer in German and Creative Writing at Highbury College, Cosham, and at Portsmouth University. Eileen’s first cosy crime novel, Miss McGuire is Missing, was published by Robert Hale in July 2010. It went into reprint three months later and in May 2011 was taken up by Harlequin Books of Canada. Her second book, Blackmail for Beginners, was published in February 2012. Her third book, We’ll be Watching You, was published September 2013. Eileen’s books have been described as ‘cosy crime with a hard edge.’

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

‘A Final Reckoning’ by Susan Moody

Published by Severn House,
18 July 2013.
ISBN: 978-0727882882

Chantal Frazer was thirteen and living with her parents in California when the shocking news of the murder of her much-loved sister Sabine changed all their lives.

Twenty three years later, Chantal sees an advertisement for the opening of Weston Lodge, a new hotel in the Cotswolds, which is the house where Sabine had been working as an au pair for the wealthy Pallisers when she was murdered.  Thinking only that she will see where her sister was killed and maybe find some answers, Chantal books herself in for a Special Introductory Weekend.

As the weekend progresses it would appear that Chantal is not the only person seeking answers to what happened that terrible night.  As Chantal questions some of the people who were around at the time, she discovers matters weren't quite as she'd been led to believe.  And soon she is questioning everything and everyone.  Is there anyone in whom she can place her trust?

The background unfolds through a series of letters sent from Sabine to Chantal in the period leading up to her death. Tense and creepy, this psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat as the suspense builds. And as Chantal delves deeper someone is prepared to kill to keep the truth hidden.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Susan Moody was born in Oxford is the principal nom de plume  of Susan Elizabeth Donaldson, née Horwood, a British novelist best known for her suspense novels. She is a former Chairman of the Crime Writer's Association, served as World President of the International Association of Crime Writers, and was elected to the prestigious Detection Club. Susan Moody has given numerous courses on writing crime fiction and continues to teach creative writing in England, France, Australia, the USA and Denmark.  In addition to her many stand alone books, Susan has written two series, on featuring PI Penny Wanawake (seven books) and a series of six books featuring bridge player Cassie Swan.

'Panthera: Death Spiral' by J. W. Metcalfe

Published by Pentangle Press
ISBN 978-1491068199

The initial crime concerns the unexpected and inexplicable deaths of kingcat cubs and wildlife conservationist Ren Hunter's efforts to discover the cause of the deaths while protecting a pair of healthy cubs from the same fate. The story is set in a distant future universe where space travel has become commonplace and many exotic worlds have been found and settled. The kingcats are a rare species in this universe so Ren is passionately determined to save them. She is forced into a sort of space odyssey as she fends off attacks on the cubs and searches for a safe reserve on which she can release them.

A second strand of the story concerns the Artificial Intelligence EnviroScout, Panthera body form, developed by Ren's brother, Bryn which has become sentient. Bryn has hidden the sentience of the A1 from his Company fearing that the A1 could be misused by some - particularly by the military - and when he finds that his fears are justified he steals Panthera and asks Ren to take him with her.

With the aid of a third sibling, Nic, Ren travels to various places protecting the two cubs. Meanwhile Bryn must also leave Earth in disguise after his theft. The story moves rapidly as they all journey through space and all attempt to explain the mysterious kingcub deaths and other peculiarities of
military behaviour. The A1 has amazing skills in computer investigating while the three humans combine different areas of knowledge. Eventually the information extrapolated from their discoveries can be combined into a logical picture and a conclusion can be reached. I enjoyed the creativity of this book with its new worlds and fantastic advances in science; I also enjoyed the human interaction and the growth of the A1's sentience. The science fantasy of writers like Anne McCaffery has always combined creatures and science as here; we also have a series of mysteries to be solved. J. W. Metcalfe shows great skill in manipulating her material about hard science, and animal conservation, while imagining a new worlds and characterising her prot
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer
A second book in a series of adventures for this group is previewed at the end of this book - it is entitled Panthera: Death Song.

J. W. Metcalfe (Wendy Metcalfe) trained as an English Solicitor (Attorney), and practised in the profession for a dozen years. After working as a manager in personnel and training roles, she walked out of her last 'day job' a few years ago. She has taught creative writing for many years and is now a full time writer. Wendy has a magpie mind, and like the acquisitive birds she collects knowledge on a wide range of topics. Her interests range from DNA and epigenetics to cosmology, ecology, artificial intelligence, wildlife conservation, and art. She is passionate about big cats, especially cheetahs and lions. This smorgasbord of interests finds its way into her writing. She likes to explore the big picture, and her books examine human use and misuse of technology and the natural world. Wendy likes to write the first drafts of her books in her favourite café, with a cappuccino close to hand.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

Monday, 25 November 2013

‘Walk A Narrow Mile’ by Faith Martin

Published by Robert Hale Ltd,
30 August 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1054-1

Walk A Narrow Mile finds recently retired DI Hilary Greene now back at Thames Valley Police working as a consultant to the cold-case team.

Although a complete story, the investigation in this book does relate back to the previous one, where Hilary was subjected to an attack by a man who had been stalking her. Unfortunately he was not caught and it now appears that he may be responsible for the disappearance of many other missing girls.  Also, her bosses are questioning whether she is up to the task after her ordeal.  But we long-time fans of the series have total faith in Hilary Greene.

Initially Hilary begins to doubt her own abilities as she fails to get a handle on the stalker but eventually by dogged police work she gets her breakthrough. Tightly plotted with great characterisation, as with previous books, I devoured this in one sitting, unputdownable!
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Faith Martin  was born in Oxford. She began her working life as a secretary but left to pursue her dream of being a writer.

Friday, 22 November 2013

‘Run For Home’ by Dan Latus

Published by Robert Hale Ltd,
30 September 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1071-8

British counter-intelligence officer Harry Gibson is running late. Arriving at the safe-house meeting place in Prague he finds his three colleagues shot dead.  Keen not to be the fourth, he makes a swift exit.  But where can he go? Who can he trust?  Who ordered the execution? The Russians? His own side?

So Harry heads back to the UK, but it soon becomes apparent that his every move is being monitored.  The places he though safe are compromised.  The only thing he can think of
doing is to head back to Prague, where it started, and see if he can establish who is trying to eliminate him and why.

Harry has secrets he thought were safe, but are they? It seems always the killers are there before him.  But there is one secret he must protect at all costs. Can he stay alive long enough?

Action-packed from the first page, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat as Harry struggles to stay alive and make sense of the situation.

The description of winter in Prague was spellbinding. I was reading this on a warm sunny day and I felt cold!  An exciting thriller. Put it on your Christmas list. You won’t be disappointed.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Dan Latus  grew up in Teesside which has been his inspiration for this particular novel. Run for Home  is his fourth novel published by Robert Hale, who have also published  Out of the Night, Never Look Back and Risky Mission.  He lives in Northumberland with his wife.

‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent

Published by Picador,
29 August 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-2316-9

In Iceland in 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir, Fridrik Sigurdsson and Sigridur Godmundsdottir were sentenced to death for the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson and for setting fire to the Northern Iceland farm where the murder was committed in order to hide the evidence. Natan was a farmer and also a healer, Petur was a neighbour. Agnes and Sigridur were servants bonded to Natan; Fridrik was the son of a neighbouring farmer and engaged to Sigridur. In early 1831 Agnes and Fridrik were publicly beheaded by Natan's brother. Sigridur's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Denmark where she died a few years later. (Iceland was then under the rule of Denmark.) These were the last executions actually in Iceland. There are copious contemporary records excerpts from which are included in the text.

In this novel, the author, an Australian who has lived in Iceland, puts flesh on the bones of those records and brought the characters to life. She concentrates particularly on the story of Agnes who was apparently goodlooking, clever and articulate. Agnes is sent to a farm to work as a servant and farmhand until he execution. A young priest, Thorvardur Jonsson, is detailed to preach to her so as to bring her to repentance; instead he listens while she recounts her life story, a story of such sadness and destitution that not only Thorvadur but also the farmer's wife Margriet, herself desperately ill with consumption, and her two daughters, all three initially deeply hostile to Agnes's presence in the family home, are brought to pity and even love her. Agnes recounts how she was abandoned by her mother at the age of five, fostered happily for three years, but then, when her foster mother dies, set adrift at the age of eight to scrape a living as best she may, drifting from farm to farm in a desperate search for work and the wherewithal to stay alive. Eventually she fetches up at the farm of the charming yet callous and promiscuous Natan Ketilsson. He seduces her, holding out the promise of being if not his wife at least mistress of the household, but at the same time sleeping with the much younger Sigridur. She, however, is engaged to Fridrik who decides that he will kill Natan and take the gold that Natan is rumoured to have hidden around the farmstead. From there events move inexorably to their tragic end.

The harsh Icelandic landscape and the dreadful poverty and hardship, exacerbated by the sub-Arctic climate, are as much a feature of this story as the powerfully drawn characters. It is a grim and brutal tale, beautifully written and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

‘Don’t Ever Get Old’ By Daniel Friedman

Published by Minotaur,
May, 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-250-02892-1 (Paperback)

Daniel Friedman’s debut novel introduces Baruch “Buck” Schatz, an 87-year-old Jewish ex-cop from Memphis who is told, at the bedside of a long-time acquaintance trying to clear his conscience as he lies dying, about an ex-SS officer who’d been in charge of the prison camp
where they were interred in 1944, from whom he’d accepted a bribe to allow him to escape from Germany after the camps were liberated.  Buck had nearly been killed by the Nazi during the war, and still bears the emotional and physical scars.  He vows to try to track down the man, apparently now living in the US and ostensibly carrying a fortune in stolen gold bars.

The protagonist is an unforgettable character, self-described as “grumpy more for sport than out of necessity.”  No less unforgettable is his grandson, a student at NYU Law School named William Tecumseh Schatz, whose nickname is Tequila (apparently a frat thing).  (Of his grandson, Buck says “Maybe because he was family, I disliked him less than most other people.”)  Buck and Rose, his beloved wife of 64 years, still dealing with the loss of their only son six years prior at age 52, are now dealing with matters having to do with escalating frailty, both mental and physical.

A few murders take place as Buck tries to track down the ex-Nazi and the gold, and Buck and his grandson try to find the killer as the body count rises, as various suspects, including a Mississippi loan shark, a 300-pound Russian, and the Mossad, cross their path, often engulfing them both in threatening situations.  We are frequently reminded by Buck that “nobody’s innocent.”

Interspersed from time to time are brief passages from Buck’s notebook of “Things I Don’t Want to Forget” (primary among which is a reminder that “paranoia was an early symptom of dementia in the elderly,” important for him to remember since paranoia seems to be recurring
with worrisome frequency).  These are often more like ruminations than part of any story, but they are intrinsic to knowledge of the man, as well as occasional historical details.

Having somehow let the hardcover edition of this book escape me, I was delighted to see the paperback edition hit the shelves.  I had seen the starred reviews the book had received from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews, and after it won the prestigious Macavity Award for Best First Novel, I said ‘this is a book I must read!!”  And once I started it I was hardly able to stop reading, till today, when I put the book down, still smiling.  The author does not shy away from the occasional difficult and wrenching truths. Alternately laugh-out-loud funny, often poignant, frequently touching, and with a whale of an ending, the book is highly recommended. Parenthetically, of the title, I have two comments:  (1) I agree
completely; and (2) it’s too late :-(.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Daniel Friedman is a graduate of the University of Maryland and NYU School of Law. He lives in New York City. His first novel, Don’t Ever Get Old was nominated for the Edgar, Thriller, Anthony and Macavity awards, and was optioned for film by the producers of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies. His next book, Don’t Ever Look Back will be released in 2014.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

‘Nordic Noir’ by Barry Forshaw

Published by Pocket Essentials, 2013.   
ISBN: 978-1-84243-987-6

Given that Scandinavian crime fiction seems to be taking such a large place in our fiction book charts, our DVD entertainment, and our television screens, this guide to the authors of the genre seems to me to be a must to have on our bookshelves. As a huge fan of the genre, and someone who has read, watched and enjoyed much of it, I found this book informative and entertaining and I learned a lot.

The book analyses the popularity of the Scandinavian market and gives us the history of how Scandinavian crime has developed. It introduces us to the less known, as well as the stars of this genre.  Forshaw dissects the reasons and styles that have brought Wallander, Larson and Jo Nesbo to gain cult fame, and talks about authors such as Karin Wahlerg and Anna Jansson who Forshaw tips for us to keep an eye out for. There is much inside information on the filming of The Killing and The Bridge, which I found fascinating. However, the real reason for the success of this book is partly because Forshaw is an expert on the crime genre in general, but largely because he knows the author’s personally thus giving the interviews depth and honesty. This book would make a great present for any crime-reading fan, and definitely one to have on the shelf to dip in and out of.
Reviewer: Linda Regan

Barry Forshaw's latest books are British Crime Film and Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Other work includes British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction and Guns for Hire: The Modern Adventure Thriller, along with books on Italian cinema and the first biography of Stieg Larsson. His next books are British Gothic Cinema and a study of Thomas Harris and The Silence of the Lambs. He writes for various newspapers, edits Crime Time, and broadcasts for ITV and BBC TV documentaries. He has been Vice Chair of the Crime Writers' Association.


Linda Regan is the author of six police procedural crime novels. She is also an actress. She holds a Masters degree in critical writing and journalism, and writes a regular column, including book reviews, for three magazines. She also presents the book-club spot on BBC Radio Kent. She is an avid reader, and welcomes the chance to read new writers

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Linda Stratmann

Leigh Russell in conversation with
Linda Stratmann

Linda Stratmann was born in the city of Leicester on 4 April 1948. Linda attended Medway Street Infants and Junior School, in the days of the eleven plus, and from there went to Wyggeston Girls Grammar School. Her earliest ambition was to be an astronomer, and she read and wrote a great deal of science fiction. She also read biology, zoology and medicine, and seriously considered a medical career. But by her teens, she had developed an absorbing and life-long interest in true crime.  After a period of rebellion Linda took her A levels and went to Newcastle University in 1971, graduating with first class honours in psychology three years later. She then joined the civil service, and trained to be an Inspector of Taxes.  In 1987, unable to resist the pull of London she moved there. In 2001 she left the civil service, and started a new career as a freelance writer and sub-editor, and in 2002 was commissioned to write her first published book on the history of Chloroform.

Leigh: What interests you most about writing historical crime?
Linda: I love re-creating the past. Sometimes I feel as if I have just stepped out of a time machine and I am really there. In the context of crime writing, of course, it is an enjoyable challenge to solve the puzzles using only the resources that would have been available then.

Leigh: Why did you choose to set your series in the nineteenth century?
Linda: I have been fascinated by the Victorians for many years. They are so conflicted, with a basic human nature like ours yet overlaid by the expectations and demands of a different society. I chose the 1880s because it is a decade rich in incident and also very accessible through the advances made in photography.

Leigh: I'm always amazed at the amount of research that must go into writing historical novels. Tell us how you set about researching your books.
Linda: I had written a biography of William Whiteley founder of the famous store and had a huge amount of background material on Victorian Bayswater. It felt like the ideal location for my fiction. Each book then requires further research. I read the newspapers of the day, I study Victorian ordnance survey maps, I study the census returns, look at buildings, and read masses of contemporary publications. I also have to study the medical knowledge, forensic science and the law of the period. It sounds like a lot, but I love every minute!

Leigh: How do you guard against anachronism and inaccuracy in the details of your characters' lifestyles?
Linda: Substantial research!  I have shelves-full of books on all aspects of the Victorian era, and look up anything I am not sure of. Word-searchable newspapers are a boon, as I can look for words to ensure that they were in use at the time in the sense I am using them. I am learning all the time; I never really stop. I sometimes think I spend more time in the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.

Leigh: How do you get inside the minds of your characters, and understand their values and opinions?
Linda: It was always important to me when writing true crime and biography to understand how people thought; what were their beliefs and motivations, how did they understand the world, and when they said something what did they actually mean by it? There is no substitute for lots of reading of original material, such as letters and diaries, also transcripts of trials and public meetings, which are a wonderful record taken in shorthand of how people of every walk of life actually expressed themselves. I have immersed myself in this for many years.
Leigh: Before you started writing the Frances Doughty series, you wrote true crime and historical biography. Tell us how the process of writing fiction compares to your earlier writing. Many authors struggle to cross from non-fiction to fiction. How did you make the transition?
Linda: Historical fiction and non-fiction writing have a lot of similarities. Both need research, though of course the research for non-fiction is of a different order of complexity and detail. In both, the writer has to tell a story, describe the characters and explain convincingly the reasons behind a chain of events. In non-fiction of course, one starts with facts, and these cannot be changed or invented. The writer’s task is to examine, analyse, test and
make sense of the existing facts, which can be quite a challenge where crime is involved and witnesses tell

conflicting stories. Fiction gives flexibility, and I have the pleasure of sending my characters off on adventures, but I would never knowingly put anything in my fiction that I knew to be impossible. Anything I invent has to be something that could have existed at the time. 
As to the transition, the main problem with the fiction was getting it published. Even though I was already a published author my first novel was rejected by agents more times than I can count. Fortunately the History Press snapped it up for their new imprint the Mystery Press, and has published two more with another to come next year.

Leigh Out of all the real people you have researched, whom would you most like to meet, and why?
Linda: I wrote a biography of the infamous Marquess of Queensberry for Yale University Press, and would have liked very much to meet both him and Oscar Wilde. Queensberry was a greatly misunderstood character, both simple and complex. Wilde was a genius, and it would have been wonderful to dine with him and enjoy his conversation.

Leigh: Out of all the real people you have researched, whom would you least like to meet, and why?
Linda: Colonel Francis Charteris the subject of Notorious Blasted Rascal was an evil, dangerous and unprincipled character. I visit his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard every so often just to make sure the horrible man is still there.

Leigh: Tell us about your latest book, and where we can find it.
Linda: My most recent publication A Case of Doubtful Death, is the third Frances Doughty mystery and is in bookshops and also on Amazon and available from the History Press.  I have just completed the fourth in the series An Appetite For Murder, which should be out next spring. I am currently planning book five.

Leigh: What is next in your writing life?
Linda: I have recently embarked on a two-year project, a non-fiction book for Yale University Press about the history of nineteenth century homicidal poisoning. While my Frances Doughty books keep gruesome details to a minimum, this one pulls no punches. Every page is dripping with unpleasant body fluids.

Crime Fiction Books
The Poisonous Seed
The Daughters of Gentlemen.
A Case of Doubtful Death

Leigh Russell  studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American literature. Her first novel, Cut Short, was published in 2009, followed by Road Closed in 2010, Dead End in 2011, Death Bed in 2012 Her latest book Stop Dead, was published May 2013. Cold Sacrifice the first in a new series featuring Ian Peterson was published in September 2013. In addition to her writing Leigh is a secondary school teacher, specializing in supporting pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties as well as teaching English.