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Friday 31 October 2014

‘The Red Road’ by Denise Mina

Published by Orion,
4 July 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4071-0

Fiction, they say, hinges on crisis moments in people’s lives, and crisis is what the police  spend much of their time dealing with.
What I liked most about this book, and what I suspect I’m going to like most about Denise Mina when I get round to exploring her work further, is the way she turns crisis into an everyday occurrence without losing any of the drama and dynamic that makes good crime fiction.

Her series protagonist D I Alex Morrow is a normal, likeable human being with flaws, foibles and a life outside being a senior detective. She misses her year-old twins when she’s at work, has to battle with a reluctant attraction to a man which might threaten her marriage, has gratifyingly mixed feelings about her criminal brother. Though she climbs several flights of half-demolished stairs to view a crime scene, she hates every second of it and doesn’t pretend otherwise. And she quietly pieces the clues together to come up with the solution to several murders, and doesn’t baulk when that solution is politically unpopular, or when someone else gets the credit; she’s never going to progress beyond detective inspector and has resigned herself to it.

The Red Road is set in two time frames, and Alex Morrow finds herself looking for answers in both. As usual, Glasgow’s less savoury side is the setting for most of the action, and it comes across with sometimes sickening clarity – but in a way which makes it seem, if not exactly ordinary according to most people’s experience, then at least part of Morrow’s routine.

Another manifestation of Mina’s knack of making her fiction feel as if it really could happen is that the characters, good and bad, aren’t wholly either. One of the most sympathetic is revealed as a double murderer early in the narrative; one of the strangest is a victim; and Morrow finds herself faced with the possibility that a thoroughly unpleasant convicted criminal night not be guilty after all.
Fortunately for most of us, crime doesn’t form part of our daily routine, but for some sections of the police force it’s exactly that. Denise Mina never loses sight of this – but neither does she turn her back on the first requirement of the kind of good fiction she sets out to write: to engage, inform and entertain.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Denise Mina was born in Glasgow in 1966. Because of her father's job as an engineer, the family followed the north sea oil boom of the seventies around Europe, moving twenty one times in eighteen years from Paris to the Hague, London, Scotland and Bergen. She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs: working in a meat factory, bar maid, kitchen porter and cook. Eventually she settled in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients. At twenty one she passed exams, got into study Law at Glasgow University and went on to research a PhD thesis at Strathclyde University on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders, teaching criminology and criminal law in the mean time. Misusing her grant she stayed at home and wrote a novel, Garnethill when she was supposed to be researching and writing her thesis.  Garnethill won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger for the best first crime novel and was the start of a trilogy completed by Exile and Resolution. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named Sanctum in the UK and Deception in the US. In 2005 The Field of Blood was published, the first of a series of five books following the career and life of journalist Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties. The second in the series was published in 2006, The Dead Hour and the third, The Last Breath in the UK and Slip of the Knife in the US.  Still Midnight,  the first of the Alex Morrow books was followed by The End of the Wasp Season. 

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.

‘A Fatal Winter’ by G M Malliet

Published by Constable Robinson Crime,
7 November 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-0624-7

A fascinating story relating to mysterious events at Chedrow Castle which Max Tudor finds himself investigating. He is now the vicar of Nether Monkslip, a small village in England but previously he was an MI 5 agent. The eccentric inhabitants of the castle are worth study - the names alone show their quality - Lord Footrustle has a daughter Jocasta and an adopted great niece Lamorna with a solicitor Mr. Wintermute. When Lord Footrustle is murdered in his bed then Max feels he must aid the police investigation by staying at the castle among the Lord's potentially murderous relatives.

The characters are a dreadful collection of the selfish grasping sort of relatives most of us would hope to avoid and a few loyal retainers. One rather nice distinction is that the 14 year old twins are always called the Twyns. The unravelling of the deaths at Chedrow Castle is complicated but Max successfully achieves the solution and manages to reveal it in a Poirotesque finale with all the potential suspects present.

I enjoyed this very much since it is a clever mystery and involves memorable characters at the Castle and back in the village.
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer

G M Malliet did post-graduate work at Oxford University after earning a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, the setting for her earlier series, the St. Just mysteries. Raised in a military family, she spent her childhood in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Hawaii and has lived in places ranging from Japan to Europe, but she most enjoyed living in the U.K. She and her husband live across the river from Washington, D.C., in the colonial "village" of Old Town, Alexandria.

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.

Thursday 30 October 2014

‘The Goddess and the Thief’ by Essie Fox

Published by Orion,
5 December 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4619-3

Overcome by the rigours of the Indian climate, Alice Willoughby's mother died soon after her birth. Her father was often away from home and Alice was brought up by her adoring ayah, Mini, until the day her father decided to wrench her away from the land of her birth and take her back to live in England.

Back in Victorian England, Alice's father placed her in the care of her late mother's sister while he returned to India. Alice's Aunt Mercy is a strange, harsh woman, ruled by anger, envy and her addiction to opium. When Alice's father dies in India, Alice is left totally under Mercy's cruel domination. Mercy augments her income by working as a fake medium and is vindictively jealous when she realises that Alice truly possesses the gift of communicating with the dead that Mercy craves. Into this dangerous situation comes Lucian Tilsbury, who had known Alice's father in India. Despite a disfiguring scar on one side of his face, Tilsbury is a handsome, compelling man, who swiftly has Mercy under his control. However, although he uses and manipulates Mercy, it is Alice that he wants.

At the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars the priceless and sacred jewel, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, had been claimed by Britain and cut down to make a brooch for Queen Victoria. Tilsbury draws Mercy and Alice into a dangerous plot to steal the diamond and return it to India. Alice spends her life drugged, abused and tortured by visions of the after life and she is desperate to escape her captors and achieve safety and independence and the control of her own life.

The bulk of the story is told in the First Person narration of the central character, Alice, and, as she spends a large part of the time drugged and receiving visitations from the dead, this results in a somewhat hallucinogenic and bewildering reading experience, which, at the same time is compelling. Short narratives from other characters allow the reader to understand aspects of the story that Alice does not have access to, including a truly stunning revelation on the final page.

This is a fascinating, fast-paced, beautifully written book and well worth reading.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Essie Fox was born and raised in Herefordshire, after studying English Literature at Sheffield University, Essie moved to London, first to work for the Telegraph Sunday Magazine and then for the book publishers, George, Allen & Unwin. A change of career when a daughter was born saw Essie become an illustrator - a passion that lasted twenty years until she began to write instead. She now writes Gothic Victorian novels. The Somnambulist, Elijah's Mermaid, and her latest, The Goddess and the Thief, are published by Orion Books.
Essie now divides her time between Bow in East London and Windsor - from where she pursues her writing career.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

‘Identical’ by Scott Turow

Published by Mantle,
14 November 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-4482-0

Scott Turow’s legal thrillers always have the ring of truth about them: solid, real and based on sound background knowledge. The latest, Identical, is no exception. The author knows his legal procedure inside out, and isn’t afraid to share his extensive research with the reader. By the end of this novel, I felt I was far better informed about the American court system, DNA evidence and city politics, not to mention Greek family life – and that was as well as having read a gripping tale.

It’s a rich, weighty read, and the pace of the narrative appears to match the progress of an investigation: in the early chapters while information and evidence are being gathered, it’s steady, unhurried and full of detail; then as the pieces fall into place and the investigators chase down the wrongdoers it moves faster and with more urgency.

The story gets under way as a man convicted of murdering his girlfriend twenty-five years earlier is released at the end of his prison sentence. His victim’s brother is determined to prove that the man’s identical twin was also involved, and sets a former FBI agent and an ageing private eye on the case.
But this is Scott Turow, remember: as well as a simple investigation there’s a lot more going on. The narrative is set against a background of local government and the politics involved. It’s 2008, when the American economy, especially the housing and construction business, was about to implode. In addition there’s a whole web of complex family issues, tangled still further by the unique traditions and emotional nuances of the Greek community.

What really brings the story to life, of course, is the large cast of richly drawn characters, many of them laden with baggage and backstories which are only tenuously related to the main story, but still add depth and texture.

Turow’s technique of slotting in an occasional flashback to the scene of the original crime helps the reader to piece the clues together and feel one step ahead of the investigators much of the time – but the truth is never simple, and there’s still a surprise or two in store when it finally comes out.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Scott Frederick Turow was born April 12, 1949. He is an American author and a practicing lawyer. Turow has written nine fiction and two nonfiction books, which have been translated into over 40 languages and have sold over 30 million copies Movies have been based on several of his books.

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.