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Sunday 30 November 2014

‘The Night the Rich Men Burned’ by Malcolm Mackay

Published by Mantle, 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-6437 (hb)

In this noir stand-alone novel, the setting is Glasgow as with the author’s prize-winning trilogy, but this time it could be any big city anywhere in Britain where poverty, hopelessness and drug and alcohol dependency have driven much of the population into the clutches of loan sharks and their enforcers. Two young men, Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, are desperate to escape but with no education and no employment prospects they turn to the only avenue open to them there is and are taken on by one of the city crime lords, Marty Jones. Their first assignment is to beat up one of Marty’s enforcers who has been skimming off money that should have gone to Marty. Despite their rather amateurish approach, they accomplish the job; their reward is to be asked to one of Marty’s ‘parties’ where the main feature is girls whose function is to ‘oblige’ the male participants. Alec falls for one of them, Ella, and she moves into his flat. But for Ollie, still living with his grandfather Arnie, such relationships are a distraction and interfere with his main preoccupation which is to establish himself as a major player in the city’s crime world. So their lives begin to diverge. Glass, absorbed in his relationship with Ella and full of dreams about their future life together, goes to a loan shark to finance their lifestyle. But Oliver plans and schemes to set himself up as an independent enforcers with his own ‘muscle’, a new boy on a block where the existing crime lords are already vying for dominance. As Alec’s life spirals downwards, Oliver’s career seems to be increasingly successful. But what will the existing crime lords, already vying for dominance, make of Oliver’s arrival on the scene? Will they tolerate or even use him, or is he, in a world where no-one trusts anyone and alliances are perpetually shifting, someone to be eliminated? In the end, both lose out to that violent world.

As with the author’s Glasgow trilogy, his writing skills are clearly demonstrated. A telling incident showing his skill at characterisation is that first beating up: Alec goes in with fists flailing but Ollie neatly trips up the target so that he falls down the stairs and injures himself. None of the characters, apart from the hapless Alec and Ella and also Oliver’s grandfather, who despite his own occasional past criminality, really wants his grandson to make a  better life for himself, are remotely likeable. The author’s prose style, as in the earlier books, is a unique mixture of dialogue and interior monologue. In this book that is my only reservation: all the characters (and the story is told from many points of view) think and talk in the same way. And a list of characters who either appear or are referred to would have been helpful. Even on a second read, I wasn’t sure who they all were. Nonetheless, of its type the book it is warmly recommended.

Reviewer: Radmila May

Malcolm Mackay was born and grew up in Stornoway where he still lives. His debut, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, marked the beginning of the Glasgow Trilogy, set in the city's underworld and was longlisted for both the CWA John Creasey Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year. How a Gunman Says Goodbye is the second of the series.

Thursday 27 November 2014

‘Thicker Than Water’ by Kerry Wilkinson

Published by Pan Macmillan,
24 October 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-2342-9

Cameron Sexton and his wife Eleanor return home from an evening out to find their daughter tucked up asleep in bed, and the babysitter, Ollie, nowhere to be found. Envisioning a straightforward runaway, DS Jessica Daniel is perplexed to learn that someone posted Ollie's obituary in the local newspaper two days before his disappearance.

And then his dead body turns up in the property of someone who worked with Eleanor Sexton more than twenty years ago. Clearly reluctant to talk to the police about her younger days working as a nightclub hostess, something she has kept secret from her husband, Eleanor does nonetheless tell Jessica that Nicholas Long, the nightclub owner, is a man whose interests extend into criminal activities. When Eleanor's former colleague is also murdered, there is intense focus on Nicholas, the only link between the two cases, and his former rivalry with another local crime boss, Leviticus Bryan.

Despite niggling concerns that her partner is cheating on her, and an unexpected declaration of love from a colleague, Jessica has to push her romantic issues to one side and focus on the case.

This is a straight forward police procedural with no deep dark, psychological twists a la Scandinavian crime writers Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankell. It is as squarely, reassuringly British as fish and chips with its seedy misogyny, cocky teenagers and class division. Although it is one of a series of Jessica Daniel novels, at no time did I feel lacking by not having read the previous books; this definitely stands alone as a thumping good read.

Against this background, it is especially satisfying to see a female detective triumph. In addition, she is a ballsy, well rounded character that you end up rooting for as she puts herself in danger in order to close the case. The clever and unexpected plot twist at the end is one which, in true British Sherlock Holmes style, could have been deduced by the reader using the clues provided by the author.

This is the epitome of a great holiday read. You can relax in the skilful hands of a writer who brings you with him every step of the story. If you have room in your suitcase for one book, make it this one.
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

About the author

Kerry Wilkinson was born 4 November 1980. His debut, Locked In, the first title in the Detective Jessica Daniel series, was written as a challenge to himself but became a UK Number One Kindle bestseller within three months of release. His three initial Jessica Daniel books made him Amazon UK’s top-selling author for the final quarter of 2011. When Think of the Children followed in 2013, he became the first formerly self-published British author to have an ebook Number One and reach the top 20 of the UK paperback chart. Following Playing with Fire, Thicker than Water is the sixth title in the Jessica Daniel series.

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.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

‘Original Skin’ by David Mark

Published by Quercus,
13 February 2014.
ISBN: 978-87738-978-7

So let's get this out of the way to start with. Sex. There - I said it. Whether in a loving monogamous relationship, a cynical marketing ploy to shift the latest thingamabob or as an illicit, anonymous thrill shared by strangers, it is part of our everyday lives. In the twenty-first century, we are encouraged not to judge others for their lifestyle choices. We live in an individualistic society after all, part of the "me me me" generation. 

However, the subtext for Original Skin is that we should be careful what we wish for, for where does such egocentrism lead? The author sweeps us into a netherworld of licentiousness, where those focused on their own sexual gratification are being picked off one by one. 

A young man killed as part of a no-strings sexual liaison becomes the catalyst for a series of murders that Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy and his colleagues are investigating. So when Suzie starts text flirting with a man she found online via a classified ad reading "Dominant male seeks under-30 playmate. Must be up for anything", the reader's heart sinks a little. 

But before we can learn her fate, the landscape shifts to a drugs war involving the torture and murder of rival gangs, with the police caught in the middle. And when an officer is attacked by dogs shortly after a police van - filled with people - is set on fire, the situation becomes even more serious. 

Doing some unauthorised research on the side, McAvoy realises that one of a number of local politicians may be involved in the sex, drugs and violence that is spreading through the neighbourhood. All he has to do is work out who, and quickly, before they can kill again. 

There are many tangled threads weaved into the narrative, which features plots and sub-plots galore. The author skilfully creates a tapestry that, admittedly, does take time to reveal itself. Just when I thought I knew where the story was leading, more threads were woven in and each time that happened, it took some time to reorient myself and pick up the pace again. McAvoy's unorthodox methods make for an interesting insight into the personal life of Hull's rising police star as well. 

Ultimately, all the threads come together and matters of the heart, love and betrayal, as so often in the human experience, are revealed as the cause of great unhappiness. 
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

David Mark was a journalist for over 15 years, including seven years as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post in its Hull office. Original Skin is his second novel featuring DS Aector McAvoy and is the follow up to the best-selling Richard and Judy pick Dark Winter

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.

‘Final Catcall’ by Sofie Kelly

Published by Obsidian Mystery,
12 December 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-4514-1470-0

Kathleen Paulson is the librarian in the small town of Mayville Heights, Minnesota.  She had moved there from Boston after her boyfriend let her down badly.  She has made a happy new life which is suddenly upset when her old boyfriend, Andrew, arrives with the aim of persuading her to return to him.

Kathleen, as you will realise from reading the book cover, has 'magical cats' who have extraordinary abilities but do behave, otherwise, like normal cats and cannot speak.  The story moves along very smoothly as a theatre festival relocates to the town and Kathleen is highly involved in establishing it successfully.    The theatre director, Hugh Davis, proves to be a rather abrasive individual so he makes a suitable victim of crime.

The characters are well established with both new and old ones.  There have already been several books about Kathleen and her relationships.  The mystery that surfaces gets Kathleen involved, even though the police chief is annoyed by her lack of trust for correct non-involvement.  The interactions that develop make a good detective story, and the personal connections keep one's interest.
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer.
The earlier books featuring Kathleen and her cats, Owen and Hercules, are Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, Sleight of Paw, Copycat Killing and Cat Trick.

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of young adult writer and mixed-media artist, Darlene Ryan. Sofie/Darlene lives on the east coast with her husband and daughter. In her spare time she practices Wu style tai chi and likes to prowl around thrift stores

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.