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Thursday, 22 June 2017

‘The Deepest Grave’ by Harry Bingham

Published by Orion,
15 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5279-8 (PB)

The maverick cop is a staple of crime fiction, but once in a while the avid reader comes across a protagonist who takes the description to a whole new level. Detective Sergeant Fiona Griffiths of the South Wales Police goes even further; she's a loner (though growing less so as the series progresses), a disciplinary nightmare (and growing more so, ditto) and often a danger to herself, but she's so brilliant and so successful that senior officers who can't work with her get themselves transferred so she can stay with Major Crime and solve the tricky cases.

The Deepest Grave is her sixth adventure (a word Fiona also takes to a whole new level), and the case is so complex and bizarre that author Harry Bingham almost has to apologize in a note at the end. Only almost; he explains his reasoning, and I for one was completely convinced.

Whether or not you'll be convinced by Fiona depends on your view of crime fiction. If you like the gritty, down-to-earth, every-day-on-the-streets kind: the Chandleresque model, as Bingham describes it – well, there's a certain amount of that. But her real appeal is probably to the Sherlock Holmes school of fandom: unlikely plots with plenty of twists and turns and off-the-wall happenings, and an investigation which follows a path for which only Fiona has a map, and owes nothing to either convention or procedure.

In Fiona's cases, there's a body round every corner, a surprise every fifty pages or so, and half-clues dropped liked confetti for the reader to pick up and tuck away for later. Fiona herself is a one-off to beat all one-offs, and gathers around herself an unlikely crew of allies: in this case a PhD student with motor neurone disease, a gun-toting Welsh vicar and his dog, a verbose church librarian and a group of archaeologists. Oh, and her dad, possibly Wales's most notorious unconvicted master criminal. The boss who appreciates her unique qualities is away, and she falls foul of a detective inspector who plays very much by the rules; at once point I wondered if she was about to decamp to Oxford to escape his rod of iron.

And the crime? To describe it would give too much away. Suffice to say it starts with a murder involving a sword, three spears and an ancient box with a distinctive design. There's burglary, a hostage situation, forgery of a very specialized kind, and a lot of action which requires swift travel from one part of the UK to another to get there before the bad guys. Fortunately Fiona drives very fast indeed.

Immersing myself in one of Fiona's cases is like visiting another world. It's not always comfortable, but it's invariably utterly amazing. As Harry Bingham says himself, you never know quite where the story will end up. And that, surely, is the true meaning of mystery.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Harry Bingham is the author of the Fiona Griffiths series of crime novels, set in Cardiff and featuring a heroine described by the Sunday Times as 'The most startling protagonist in modern crime fiction ... brutal, freakish and totally original.' Harry - slightly less freakish than his creation - lives in Oxford with his wife and young family. He also runs The Writers' Workshop, an editorial consultancy for new writers. His books on Getting Published and How to Write are among the leading titles in their field. H enjoys rock-climbing, walking, and swimming.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

‘Western Fringes’ by Amer Anwar

Published by Edurus Books,
31 May 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-9957123-0-0

When Zaq Khan is called to his boss's offices at the builders' yard where he works on release from prison, he fears the sack. However, it is worse, under threat of being sent back to prison on trumped up charges he is instructed to search for his boss, Mr Brar's runaway daughter. It seems he has arranged a marriage for her but she had other ideas and was seen with another man, Mr. Brar is furious. Reluctantly Zaq has to agree to find her, although inside he is seething and he goes to see his friend Jags who offers to help.

They find out where Rita Brar works and slowly piece things together. However they also have her two brothers Parminder and Rajinder, both huge menacing brutes to contend with. They seem to know a lot more about Rita and the man she was seen with than they let on.

It soon becomes clear that the brothers are also mixed up in crime on a large scale. Is there really cement in the sacks they are seen loading up at a warehouse? Zaq and Jags' search is further hampered by someone intent on making Zaq's life a misery, he is attacked for no apparent reason and he has no idea who the men are. Threatening notes are also left on his van's windscreen, and the tyres are slashed. Has someone else got it in for him?

The brothers the put more pressure on Zaq by insisting he lets them know first when he finds Rita. They need to find her before things hot up even more.

Then things go from bad to worse when back at the warehouse, Zaq witnesses a brutal murder which really shakes him up. He wonders what else he is getting himself mixed up in. This is more than just finding a runaway daughter. He really starts to fear for his life.

This is a great story and the main character, Zaq is a likeable person but he does have a tendency to keep getting beaten up! I have never been to Southall but Amer Anwar's description is so good that I feel as though I have.

It is well written and has a clever plot which twists and turns right up to the exciting finish. A well-deserved winner of the C.W.A. Debut Dagger Award.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent a decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award. Western Fringes is his first novel.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

‘The Bone Ritual’ by Julian Lees

Published by Constable,
6 October 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-2309-1(HB).
4 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-2310-7 (PB)

First Inspector Ruud Pujasumarta of the Jakarta police has never seen a crime like it: a middle-aged woman who has first had one hand severed, then been choked to death with a mah-jong tile in her throat. When Ruud’s former playfellow, Imke Schneider arrives, they’re immediately attracted to each other, but Imke also has a dark secret ...

This present-day PP moves between narrators: we follow Ruud, Imke and her eccentric Aunt Erica, whose portrait commission has brought them to Indonesia, in third person, but there are also first-person sections in the voice of the brother of the perpetrator of this series of killings, and these are used to give us hints as to who the killer might be – several possibles are set up, and dismissed in turn. There are also moments of tension as it appears that key characters may have been taken by the killer. The characters are an interestingly diverse bunch: Ruud, whose wife has left him – as everybody knows, and isn’t shy of mentioning - is now haunted by his mother-in-law bringing him lunchtime curries, and dealing with his choleric boss. Imke is torn between her need to return to her childhood home and the feeling that her family left under a cloud; Aunt Erika travels with the contents of a sweet shop to fuel her chocolate habit. The sights, sounds and smells of Indonesia are vividly evoked, particularly through the country’s food. The plot moves swiftly,  the general feel is of a cosy read, but the scenes of violence are evoked in full detail. 

A police procedural with episodes of noir violence, clever plotting and an unusual setting.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Julian Lees was born and raised in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in England and currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with his wife and children.  The great-grandson of a high-ranking Cossack general who served under the last Tsar of Russia, Julian is a writer who draws from his family's rich history. His novels are set in a world where East meets West, a cross-cultural world which he captures bewitchingly and dramatically in his fiction.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

A review of her recent book Ghosts of the Vikings can be read here.