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Wednesday 30 January 2019

‘The Alchemist’s Illusion’ by Gigi Pandian

Published by Midnight Ink,
8 January 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5301-0  (PB)

Zoe Faust, alchemist and herbalist, lives in laid-back Portland, Oregon with her housemate, a gargoyle chef named Dorian. She has a cop boyfriend, Max Liu; their relationship is progressing slowly, at least in part because Zoe is pretty sure he can’t handle the truth about her life - which is much longer than almost anybody realizes. Zoe has long believed that her mentors, Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel, are dead. So she is totally gobsmacked to see Nicolas’s portrait in a local art gallery, a portrait which disappears before she can get a really good look at it. Who really painted it?  The purported artist, Logan Magnus, apparently swallowed his own paints to end his life. What is that all about?  And how many other painters have suicided in precisely that way. More than Detective Vega thinks is likely, although many of these deaths are years old. Detective Luciana Vega is Max Liu’s partner in the police department; she is also interested in Tobias Freeman, a recent arrival. Tobias has known Zoe for a lot of years - more than Tobias or Zoe want Vega to know about. So many questions, none of which Zoe or Tobias really want to answer, even if they have an answer.

As Zoe pursues her interest in Phillipe Hayden, the artist who may have painted the portrait of Nicolas, more connections to alchemy and painting emerge. Back in the day, artists mixed their own paints, a process which came awfully close to alchemical transformation. She also confides details of her long life to Max, who is very skeptical. His sister Mina may be more receptive, if Zoe ever gets around to trusting her enough. The longer Zoe lives in Portland, the more difficult it becomes for her to stay isolated; every revelation increases the amount of risk in her life. Zoe has no reason to believe today’s vox populi is any more receptive to alchemy than the people who drove her out of Salem all those years ago.

Pandian has created a story line in Illusion that requires a bit more effort from her, as a writer, to keep the reader involved. Previous books have a definite time frame with which she has to work: Dorian is turning, slowly and inexorably, back into stone. They have to find a cure before he is totally non-living. This goal has been met; the Flamels, if they are still alive (as Zoe thinks) have been in stasis for a very long time; what’s a little longer in the grand scheme of eternal life?  So, the pace is different. This is not necessarily a bad thing; Pandian can devote more of the story to her characters, all of whom are interesting in and of themselves. The reader learns more about some of them in this one book than in the previous three books combined.  This also sets Pandian up for at least one or two more books in the series.  I, for one, consider that a good thing.
Reviewer: P.J. Coldren

Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician). Gigi’s debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine. The follow-up, Pirate Vishnu, was awarded the Left Coast Crime Rose Award, and her short fiction has been shortlisted for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

P J Coldren has been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century. She reads broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. She was a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. She lives in Northern lower Michigan with one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.  She says, ‘I am totally chuffed to be the Fan Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic 2019.  

Monday 28 January 2019

‘Killing Time’ by Mark Roberts

Published by Head of Zeus,
1 April 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-786695109-3 (PB)

A young girl, a Czech Romany with learning difficulties called Marta Ondrej, has been reported missing by her mother. When the search for her is unsuccessful the worst is feared. But then there is a call to say that she has been found in a Liverpool park. Immediately Detective Chief Inspector Eve Clay and her colleague Detective Sergeant Gina Riley drive to the park where they find the girl, half-starved, dehydrated, dressed only in pyjamas despite the icy weather. There is no sign of the woman who had called in to report finding the girl but she had left her name – Lucy Bell, unknown to the police. Marta speaks practically no English and, despite the presence of a translator, is so traumatised that she cannot tell the police about what has happened to her or where she has been. Then another call comes in: two Polish men, the brothers Karl and Vaclav Adamczak, have been found dead in a flat which has been set on fire and there is some sort of mystical symbol drawn on the wall and the words ‘Killing time’ is here embrace it’. Because it is a double murder Eve has to give this crime priority over the abduction of Marta, but forensic investigation shows that there are evidential links between both crimes and that there is in all probability an extremist racial element. But the men’s landlord insists that they were good men and devout Catholics, and their friend and fellow-lodger Aneta Kosova confirms this very strongly as does the priest, Father Aaron Bell, at the Catholic church where they worshipped. Coincidentally Father Bell’s daughter is the Lucy Bell who had phoned in her discovery of Marta; she is autistic which explains her failure to stay with Marta until the police came. Parallel with the investigations into the murder of the Adamczak brothers and the kidnapping of Marta Ondrej are the narratives of two brothers, the seriously psychologically disturbed ill Raymond Dart and his mentally more coherent older brother Jack.

Not so much a whodunit, but a thriller, with some gruesome elements. Nonetheless, the story is deeply gripping, and I found it impossible to stop reading until I had got to the end. This is due to the author’s skilful writing and the way in which he weaves together a number of narratives from the point of view of many of the characters involved in the story while simultaneously ratcheting up the tension towards what is virtually a doomsday denouement. Recommended.
Revewer: Radmila May

Mark Roberts was born and raised in Liverpool and was educated at St. Francis Xavier's College. He was a teacher for twenty years and for the last ten years has worked as a special school teacher. He received a Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for best new play of the year. The Sixth Soul was his first novel for adults.

 Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven 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 still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Sunday 27 January 2019

‘Only the Dead Can Tell’ by Alex Gray

Published by Sphere,
18 Novenber 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6847-9 (PB)

At first it appears to be a simple case of domestic violence which ends in tragedy. But forensic pathologist Rosie Fergusson has misgivings. Disturbed by memories of another case early in her career, she is unable to shake off the suspicion that the victim may have taken her own life. But DI Alan McCauley, SIO on the case, is quite convinced it was murder, and soon has Peter Guilford, the dead woman's husband, is in custody.

Enter Detective Superintendent William Lorimer, now head of a crack major investigation squad, and on the trail of a gang of people-traffickers whose leader is proving elusive. His sharp eyes spot a link between his own case and Peter Guilford's transport company with its fleet of vehicles – but before he can pursue it, a brutal attack puts Guilford in hospital.

That's where things get really complicated. Lorimer enlists the help of his former sidekick DC Kirsty Wilson, who is part of the squad investigating the death of Guilford's wife, and psychologist Solly Brightman, who happens to be Rosie Fergusson's husband. Between them they unpick the mystery and rescue the trafficked girls, though not before an undercover officer is put in grave danger and several more people die.

Meanwhile, away from work, all the leading players are living through interesting times. Rosie is heavily pregnant and fighting to ensure her department is left in safe hands during her maternity leave. Kirsty is chasing promotion and has a life-changing decision to make. Maggie, Lorimer's loyal wife, is harbouring a secret of her own, which may also prove life-changing.

It's this domestic ordinariness, the day-to-day issues which have nothing to do with crime, that make Alex Gray's characters seem so real. Everyone, heroes and villains alike and even bit-part players, seems to breathe and bleed and feel real emotions; and there's a strong sense of life going on after the case is closed and the book has ended.

The city of Glasgow is equally vivid, portrayed here in the summer time in all its splendour and squalor.

Great background, characters you can touch and a rattling good story as well. What more could any crime fiction reader ask for?
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Alex Gray was born 27 May 1950 in Glasgow.  She was brought up in the Craigbank area of Glasgow and attended Hutchesons' Grammar School. She studied English and Philosophy at Strathclyde University and worked for a period in the Department of Health & Social Security before training as an English teacher.  In 1976 she lived in Rhodesia for three months, during which time she got married, and then she and her husband returned to Scotland. She continued teaching until the 1990s, when she gave the profession up and began to write full-time. Alex is a member of the Femmes Fatales crime writing trio, together with Alanna Knight and Lin Anderson. Her novels are all set around Glasgow and featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Lorimer and his psychological profiler Solomon Brightman.
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.