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Wednesday 31 December 2014

‘Extraordinary People’ by Peter May

Published by Quercus,
8 May 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-78206-208-0

Enzo Macleod, former forensic biologist with the Strathclyde Police, and now professor of biology at the University of Toulouse, has accepted a wager to re-open a cold case, the ten years old disappearance of government adviser and high-flying intellectual Jacques Galliard.  He soon finds that there are still  powerful people who want the case to stay unsolved ...

I loved Peter May’s Lewis-set trilogy, so I came to this book with high expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The plot is fast-moving, with a classic treasure-hunt puzzle at its heart and a satisfyingly least-likely perp.  The narrative is centred on Enzo Macleod, a strongly-realised character, and we soon got a sense of his troubled past without too many side-track flashbacks.  He worries about two daughters: Kirsty, his Scottish daughter now living in Paris, who wants nothing to do with him, and Sophie, the child he brought up alone after his French wife died, who’s now deeply involved with the nose-studded gym-owner Bertrand.  During the book Enzo has to re-assess his judgements of others, including enigmatic Charlotte, the highly attractive ex-girlfriend of his helper, journalist Raffin who also wants to know what happened to Galliard.  France is a real presence in the books: the Parisian cafes, Enzo’s flat in Cahors, Charlotte’s secluded rural cottage, and most of all the Paris catacombs which are vividly evoked in the gripping finale.  Best of all, when Enzo wins this wager – as you know he’s going to, this is fiction – there are another six cold cases to go.

A real treat of an outsider-detective novel, with interesting characters and a vividly-realised French setting.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Peter May is one of Scotland's most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels. The first book in the Lewis Trilogy, The Blackhouse, set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.was the winner of France's Cezam Prix Litteraire. The follow-up, The Lewis Man, was winner of the French Newspaper Le Telegramme's 10,000 euro readers' prize for the best book of 2011 as well as Les Ancres Noires 2012.  The trilogy concludes with the publication of The Chessmen.

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.

‘The Good Girl’ by Mary Kubica

Published by Mira,
1 August 2014.
ISBNB: 978-1-848-45311-1

Stockholm Syndrome is something which rears its head occasionally in real life news stories, when a kidnapping or abduction is particularly high profile; perhaps the most famous example is the heiress Patty Hearst, who joined forces with her captors.

The Good Girl picks up this concept, and views it from several sides; the kidnapper gets a voice, as do the abductee’s distraught mother, and the detective investigating the crime.

The narrative is structured in an interesting way, flipping back and forth between the aftermath of the kidnapping and its progress, so that the reader thinks s/he knows how things turn out. But the abductee’s safe return raises more questions, and Kubica saves a few surprises to slip in along the way; and there’s a twist at the end which blew me away. The cover blurb asks readers not to give it away, so I won’t; but I confess I didn’t see it coming for a moment, even though the clues were there throughout. The story would probably work quite well without it, but when it came, it lifted a competent, well-crafted debut novel into the realm of something a bit special.

All three narrators use the first person, so it’s to Kubica’s great credit that the three voices are distinct. So too are the backgrounds each side of the story is set against. Eve, the mother, takes for granted her elegant upper-middle class home, while Gabe, the detective, sees things she doesn’t think to mention. Colin, the kidnapper, describes the squalid woodland cabin in which he and Mia, the abductee, hide out in tactile detail; I winced along with them, and shivered through the brutal Minnesota winter.
The book’s greatest strength lies in the development of the various relationships between the characters: the way Eve has slowly seen through her bullying husband and elder daughter over the years, and now, with the kidnapping of her younger one as a catalyst, begins to grow as a person; and the affection which tentatively grows between her and Gabe. Mia’s shift from horror and fear to dependence and intimacy is classic Stockholm Syndrome – but Colin, the kidnapper, appears to develop genuine feelings for her.

It’s all skilfully achieved, and it’s hard to believe The Good Girl is Kubica’s first novel.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.  She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

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.

'Inside Enemy' by Alan Judd

Published by Simon & Schuster,
12 June 2014.
ISBN 978-1-47110-250-9

Charles Thoroughgood is appointed Head of MI5.  Things are in a chaotic state inside Whitehall and elsewhere, with interruptions to power causing lights and kettles not to work but, of course, having other more serious effects on electronic systems.  The problems need to be dealt with without the general public becoming aware of the parlous state of affairs.  Charles has been the subject of previous books by Alan Judd tracing his initial entry to M16 in the early 1980s and his training then his involvement in serious spying events.  It is not necessary to have read the previous books to appreciate this one though the surprise element of the earlier books could be blunted.

Charles soon realises that the past can explain what is happening but others are reluctant to accept his theory.  His new wife, Sarah, becomes embroiled in what is going on through her career as a high powered lawyer.  As Charles starts to find the threads of the conspiracy Sarah is carried to the centre of events.  Charles has to act quickly and decisively outside the official parameters if he is to save Sarah's life and his own.

Despite the focus on Charles and Sarah many other memorable characters participate in the story. In fact the interaction of the Westminster politicians and administrators adds considerably to the depth of the tale.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
Alan Judd has published 3 previous books on Charles beginning with A Breed of Heroes.  He has also produced several stand alone books with diplomatic settings and nonfiction such as Quest for C on the life of Mansfield Cumming founder of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

Alan Judd was born in 1946. He trained as a teacher but instead became a soldier and diplomat. He is now a full-time writer, contributing regular current affairs articles to various newspapers, most frequently the Daily Telegraph, as well as writing regular book reviews and acting as the Spectator's motoring correspondent. He is the author of several novels drawing on his military and diplomatic experience, the first of which, A Breed Of Heroes, won the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby award and was later filmed by the BBC. The Devil's Own Work, a literary ghost story inspired by Judd's meeting with Graham Greene, won the Guardian Fiction Award. His most recent work of fiction, Legacy, a Cold War spy novel, the first of an intended trilogy, was published in 2001.
He is also the author of two accomplished biographies: Ford Madox Ford, which won the Heinemann Award, and The Quest For C, the authorised biography of Mansfield Cumming, founder of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

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.

'Come, Sweet Death' by Wolf Haas

Translated by Annie Janusch
Published by Melville House,
10 July 2014.
ISBN 978-1-61219-339-7

This book has two hurdles to overcome.  It is humorous crime and it is translated into English.  Both hurdles are triumphantly vanquished - the humour comes out clearly and the language is rich and full of imagery.

Simon Brenner is an ex- cop now working as an ambulance driver in downtown Vienna.  The job mixes excruciating boredom when waiting for calls with frightening episodes as the EMTs try to drive illegally through as many red lights as possible!  This is in pursuit of winning bets on red light running rather than the need to reach hospital in an emergency.  The boss of the agency, known as Junior, asks Brenner, as an ex-cop, to investigate the ability of his major competitor to reach calls first.  The boss believes that the opposition is tapping into the radio communications to enable them to beat Junior's ambulances to the pickups.  As a side investigation Brenner tries to discover who murdered one of his colleagues by strangulation.

This is the third of Brenner's adventures to have been translated into English but the story certainly stands on its own feet so the reader does not need to have read the previous books.  The tale swings along quickly with funny events, language and musings from Brenner, the humour is largely black as befits the semi-medical topic.  It is a good detective story too.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
Wolf Haas is an Austrian writer with 3 out if his 7 books about Brenner translated so far.

Wolf Haas was born December 14, 1960. in Maria Alm am Steinernen Meer, which is part of the Austrian province of Salzburg.  After university he worked as an advertising copywriter. Between 1996 and 2003 he wrote seven detective stories, of which six featured detective Simon Brenner. Three were made into films: Komn, suber Tod (Come Sweet Death), Silentium! and Der Knochenmann (The Boneman). He has won several prizes for his works.

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.