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Monday 30 May 2016

‘Speaking in Bones’ by Kathy Reichs

Published by Penguin Random House,
28 July 2016.  
ISBN: 978-0-09-955809-5 (PB)

You’d think there was a limit to the number of variations on murder mysteries based around old or well-weathered bones. Yet Kathy Reichs’s bestselling series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan now runs to nineteen titles, and still she succeeds in pulling something a little different out of the hat each time.

Speaking in Bones, the latest of Tempe’s adventures, has a lot in common with the earlier titles: a mystery which requires a lot of unravelling; interesting characters and a vivid sense of place; further developments in  Tempe’s emotional rollercoaster of a personal life; and the clipped, idiomatic style liberally laced with technical terms which has become something of a trademark for Reichs.

The first of the interesting characters is one of the factors which makes this title a little different from the others. Hazel ‘Lucky’ Strike, self-styled websleuth, is present from the outset, and her investigation is what fires up Tempe’s own sleuthing brain cells. ‘Lucky’ is as eccentric as they come and determined to follow her intuition through to the bitter end.

Websleuths, it appears, take it upon themselves to follow up cold cases of murder, missing persons and other crimes which the police have given up on, mainly by picking up leads online, but also in the real world. Lucky has been pursuing a teenage girl whose family insist has run off with a boyfriend, and enlists Tempe’s help when she unearths a vital piece of evidence the police have missed, and becomes convinced the girl’s bones are stashed in the  county medical examiner’s store.

Religious fanaticism soon enters the picture, and the case becomes a great deal more complicated than it appears. Tempe follows Lucky’s trail with the help, and sometimes hindrance, of two contrasting cops, discovers more bones and a lot of conflicting information, and eventually has a narrow escape as the denouement approaches.

Meanwhile, her personal life is in chaos. The case is taking place in North Carolina, and her former lover in Montreal is pressuring her to resume their relationship; her mother is in love; her soldier daughter is in Afghanistan; and her accountant is chasing her for information for her tax return.

The sum total is another intriguing episode in the life of one of crime fiction’s most popular protagonists. Kathy Reichs knows how to tell a good story and keep the reader enthralled.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Kathy Reichs was born July 7, 1948 She is a crime writer, forensic anthropologist and academic. She is vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists; a member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council; forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and a professor of forensic anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her first book, Déjà Dead , catapulted her to fame when it became a New York Times bestseller, a Sunday Times bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis award for best first novel. She is a producer of the chilling hit TV series Bones. She has written eighteen bestsellers featuring Dr Temperance Brennan, the most recent include Bones of the Lost and Bones Never Lie. She has also written five bestsellers featuring Tory Brennan: Virals, Seizure, Code, Exposure and Terminal. Kathy is a forensic anthropologist herself

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.

Saturday 28 May 2016

‘Nowhere Girl’ by Ruth Dugdall

Published by Legend Press,
31 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-9103946-3-2(PB)

The country of Luxembourg may be small, attractive and apparently tranquil but nonetheless it is at the heart of the European Union. In late August the Schueberfouer fair is held in Luxembourg City. Among the crowds are Bridget and Achim Scheen and their daughters, 17-year-old Ellie and much younger Gaynor. Achim is German and has a job in Luxembourg; Bridget used to be a nurse and has worked in Algeria, among other places, with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. Ellie wanders off, comes back, and has a furious argument with her mother. She goes off again and takes Gaynor on the Ferris Wheel; Gaynor comes back but Ellie does not. She has disappeared. Brigid becomes frantic as does Achim. At first the Luxembourg police assume it is simply a demonstration of teenage rebelliousness and are slow to react; they are not anxious to publicise anything that might risk the reputation of Luxembourg. But as Ellie remains missing they begin their investigation. One of the investigating detectives is Olivier Massard, the boyfriend of probation officer Cate Austin who has featured in this author’s previous novels. Cate, who has moved to Luxembourg not just to be with Olivier after the end of her previous marriage but for reasons connected with her own family, has now resigned from the probation service. Cate’s daughter Amelia and Gaynor are friends and when Cate sees how distressed Bridget is and how slowly the police investigation is progressing she herself becomes involved. Meanwhile in Algeria, a young girl, Amina, is about to start on the long people traffickers’ route to Europe; this has been arranged by her mother who is anxious for Amina to get an education and escape the growing domination of the local Islamists including Amina’s own brother as is Amina herself. Eventually Amina, along with her friend Jodie, finds herself in a run-down part of Luxembourg and they both become involved in the events arising from Ellie’s disappearance, finding themselves drawn into the dark heart of the city’s underworld which underlies the somewhat kitsch exterior, as does Cate.

This is a very impressive novel with a strong and powerful theme involving not only people trafficking but also the damage that parents can unwittingly do to their children. As herself a former probation officer, Ruth Dugdall’s writing is clearly informed by her own experience of working with troubled children and vulnerable adults. Her first novel won the Crime Writers Association Debut dagger; I have not read that nor her other earlier novels but I look forward to doing so. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Ruth Dugdall studied English at university and then took an MA is Social Work. Following this she worked in the Criminal Justice System as a social worker then as a probation officer. Part of this time was spent seconded to a prison housing serious offenders. She continues to work within the Criminal Justice System, most recently in Luxembourg. Ruth's novels are informed by her experience and are "authentic and credible".
Ruth's first novel, The James Version, is a historical fiction based on the actual murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in Suffolk. The story is re-told with a fresh light on who really killed Maria.  Her second novel, The Woman Before Me, won the Debut Dagger in 2005. It is the story of Rose Wilks, a female stalker imprisoned for killing a child, who claims to be innocent.  Her third novel, The Sacrificial Man, will be published in 2011. It is the story on an Internet suicide pact that goes wrong.  Humber Boy B, set in Ruth's birthplace Hull, was published in 2015 as was Nowhere Girl, which is set in Luxembourg. Apart from The James Version, all of Ruth's books feature probation officer Cate Austin. "Probation officers have more face-to-face contact with criminals than any other profession," she says, "they are the unsung heroes of the Criminal Justice System."

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she was one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband; the book has now been published thus giving her time to concentrate on her own writing. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

Friday 27 May 2016

‘Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster’ by Karen Lee Street

Published by Point Blank,  
21 March 2016. 
ISBN: 978-1-78074-930-3 (HB)

The fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin was the creation of the nineteenth century American writer Edgar Allan Poe. However in this remarkable novel, Poe and Dupin, the first of a proposed series, combine forces to unmask the perpetrator of a number of knife attacks on women in late eighteenth century London. In those attacks, which really happened, solitary women are stabbed in their buttocks and thighs. The perpetrator was known as the London Monster and was the subject of several ballads. A man was convicted of some of the attacks and imprisoned; there was virtually no evidence against him but the true identity of the perpetrator (or perpetrators) has never been established.

The novel begins in 1840 with Poe voyaging from his home in Philadelphia, leaving behind his beloved wife, to meet Auguste Dupin in London. Poe’s mother had died when he was a child and he was adopted into a prosperous family. When his adopted mother (‘Ma’) died, his adopted father (‘Pa’) married again but relations between him and his adopted father were not good especially after his father married again – Poe had expected to inherit some of his father’s wealth but instead only gets from his stepmother a box containing letters between his maternal grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Arnold, both actors on the London stage in the late eighteenth century who had left London for the United States. The letters not only indicate the stormy relationship between the Arnolds’ but also describe the misdeeds of the London Monster indicating that the Arnolds were in some way connected to them. Poe thinks that the letters are forgeries, designed by his stepmother to cause him pain. He asks Dupin for his opinion. Then more correspondence between the Arnolds turns up, delivered to Poe’s lodging, the splendidly named Brown’s Genteel Inn. But Poe’s stepmother does not know his London address so how can she be responsible? And if not her then who? And Poe is being followed by a mysterious stranger – who is it? He and Dupin, having begun by investigating the mystery of the authenticity or otherwise of the Arnold letters, now find they are investigating another mystery as well. But are the mysteries in some way connected? And since Poe is heavily addicted to both drink and drugs, how much of what he experiences is real and how much delusionary?

This is about the cleverest book I have ever read and I am deeply impressed, beginning with the basic concept, in which a fiction writer meets his own creation who just happens to be the first fictional detective. The prose style is amazing: although the eighteenth century letters are in the somewhat flowery style then fashionable, they pale in comparison with the feverish Gothic style of Poe’s first-person narrative reproduced by the author in a way which comes across as being entirely authentic. Then there is the way in which the real-life story of the London Monster is taken up and elaborated so as to involve the Arnolds. Another clever touch is the way in which Poe’s writing is woven into the narrative: I’m not particularly familiar with his writing but even so, out of over 30 allusions, I recognised about 5. Poe addicts will probably recognise all or most of them. But this novel should appeal across a far wider field. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Karen Lee Street was born in America, but has lived in London for a lot of her adult life. She recently moved to Australia. Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is her first novel.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she was one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband; the book has now been published thus giving her time to concentrate on her own writing. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

Thursday 26 May 2016

‘The Last Thing I Remember’ by Deborah Bee

Published by Twenty7 Books
3 March 2016. 
ISBN 978 178577 020 3

Whilst you spend the whole of The Last Thing I Remember wondering who had killed Sarah’s husband and left Sarah in a coma, a major part of this intriguing book is, to my mind, actually about the relationship between Sarah and Kelly. Over the course of an engaging dual narrative that alternates between Sarah and Kelly, the two of them take it in turns to speak, think, and dream.

Sarah was a beautiful and successful career woman before she was mugged. She cannot speak out loud, but she can hear and differentiate between voices. The speech of the doctors and nurses, and of her parents and her sister, together with their alarming future plans for her, is reported along with her comments on her situation.

Kelly is fourteen, half Sarah’s age.  She and her mother live next door to Sarah and the two of them have become friends. Kelly recounts the horrible behaviour of her schoolmates and the sometimes-embarrassing behaviour of her Irish mother who insists on behaving in what she considers to be an “appropriate manner”.

Gradually as we build up a picture of Sarah and Kelly’s backgrounds, we come to appreciate how much the two of them have in common, and how much they have come to rely on each other for comfort and mutual support.

Sarah knows who attacked her but cannot say, and Kelly knows who attacked Sarah but won’t say.  You simply have to finish the book to find out.

Reviewer Angela Crowther.

Deborah Bee studied fashion journalism at Central St martins. She has worked at various magazines and newspapers including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, the Times and the Guardian as a writer, a fashion editor and later an editor. Currently, she is a Creative Director in luxury detail.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.