Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: Holy Ceremony by Harri Nykanen tr. Kristian London

Holy Ceremony by Harri Nykanen translated by Kristian London, March 2018, 268 pages, Bitter Lemon Press, ISBN: 1908524898

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

April 2010, Helsinki.
In a spacious apartment in the city’s Töölö district, the body of a naked woman is sprawled on a leather sofa. Her back is covered in writing, quasi religious with bible references and the symbol of a cross inside an arch. Detective Ariel Kafka of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit throws his arms in front of his face in an involuntary response to both the writing and a sense of being trapped, then he attempts to distract his surprised colleague Oksanen with a question about the owner of the flat. Scanning the bookshelves for a bible, Kafka finds one. The written reference, Matthew 10:28 has been underlined.
Kafka waits for the medical examiner and as he does so he gets a sense of the apartment as being an elderly person’s home. It reminds him of visiting his aunt’s deathbed all those years ago, a scene which fed his childhood nightmares alongside a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”. Oksanen returns from talking to the neighbours. The current resident, Reijo Laurén, had inherited the flat three years ago.
The medical examiner’s reaction to the corpse is surprising. It is one he has already examined, the previous day in fact – a suicide and not yet written on. It must have been stolen from the morgue. But the examiner is more interested in the why than the how. He suggests to Kafka that the anonymous tip off about the body is a prelude to something more. Kafka is inclined to agree. A member of Ariel’s team calls in the results of her research into Laurén: one-time musician convicted of narcotics possession, divorced with one child, a restraining order, a year in a psychiatric hospital and employed at a funeral home; Laurén is also a likely candidate for being the dead woman’s unstable boyfriend according to her sister.
The examiner moves the body, revealing an envelope addressed to Kafka. It contains a yellowed newspaper clipping dated 2008, an article about the body of a man found in a Kouvola septic tank. There is also a note written in apocalyptic language which states, amongst other things, that this is not the end of the writer’s work. It is signed “The Adorner of the Sacred Vault”.
Kafka returns to HQ for an update on the dead man in the septic tank. A detective who was on the team investigating the Kouvola case tells him that they ran into dead ends everywhere. They suspected a case of “thieves falling out” and the body had been badly beaten and burned. Kafka asks if there had been anything odd about it. Yes, the symbol of an arch and cross had been inscribed on the dead man’s back.
With this, Kafka gets the go ahead on the stolen body investigation but with absolutely no press involvement. So next day when the case is headline news, he calls the reporter responsible for the story who says he also had an anonymous tip off. Someone is keen to publicise their cause. Kafka and the medical examiner go down to the morgue where the dead woman’s body has been returned. “Here’s our little runaway,” announces the examiner as he pulls out one of the steel drawers. It’s empty again.

HOLY CEREMONY is the third of Harri Nykänen’s books featuring Detective Ariel Kafka to be translated into English (so far five books in all have been published in his native Finland). A well-known crime journalist before turning to fiction, Nykänen’s series of Kafka police procedurals always move at a brisk and steady pace and in HOLY CEREMONY the police team uncover more details of Laurén’s past which includes membership of a religious group, the Brotherhood of the Sacred Vault, at his childhood boarding school and a darker involvement with the school staff. Kafka’s life gets complicated when security records at the morgue implicate the medical examiner himself in the theft of the corpse. The detective and his team race to find Laurén before more people die. But they do.

I like Nykänen’s engaging, mildly eccentric protagonist Ariel Kafka: one of Finland’s two Jewish policemen albeit “a religiously non-observant 40-something bachelor”. I found this book slightly less satisfying than the previous NIGHTS OF AWE and BEHIND GOD’S BACK. Perhaps it is the final grand explanatory reveal (I admit to a preference for a crime novel that “shows” rather than “tells” – which his other books do). But Agatha Christie is no mean example to follow, so I bicker. A great twist of emphasis emerges and the story remains an engaging, conspiratorial mystery, reading well in Kristian London’s translation.

Lynn Harvey, March 2018

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Review: The Brides' Club Murder by P R Ellis

The Brides' Club Murder by P R Ellis, March 2017, 278 pages, ellifont, Ebook

Reviewed by Susan White.
(Read more of Susan's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

The Brides’ Club is a group of transvestites who like to dress as brides and live out their fantasy of being a bride for a day at an annual weekend retreat which culminates in the Butterfly Ball. This year the event is being held at the Ashmore Lodge and is made extra special by the inclusion of a real wedding between two of its members, with the other brides acting as bridesmaids.

However this happy event is put into jeopardy by the discovery of the body of one of the members of the club. DS Tom Shepherd is called to the scene and feels that he must close the hotel but is persuaded by the organisers to let the event carry on while the investigation is being carried out. His boss, DCI Sloane, suggests that someone should be sent in undercover and who better than their former colleague, now known as Jasmine Frame and renowned for her investigatory skills. She is now working as a private investigator and is undertaking gender re-assignment and nothing will persuade Sloane that Jasmine has no knowledge of the world of transvestites. As far as he is concerned she is the ideal candidate for the undercover work. It is left up to Tom to persuade Jasmine to help out the police.

This is the third novel to feature Jasmine Frame, a woman born into a man’s body, who has started the long process of gender reassignment. She is slowly re-building her life and forming new relationships. The books tackle the difficult subject of being transgender with sympathy and honesty.

Susan White, March 2018

Thursday, March 01, 2018

New Releases - March 2018

Here's a snapshot of what I think is published for the first time in March 2018 (and is usually a UK date but occasionally will be a US or Australian date). March and future months (and years) can be found on the Future Releases page. If I've missed anything or got the date wrong, do please leave a comment.
• Beck, Peter - Damnation
• Bell, Natasha - Exhibit Alexandra
• Bouchard, Roxanne - We Were the Salt of the Sea
• Brook, Rhidian - The Killing of Butterfly Joe
• Brown, Eric - Murder Takes a Turn #5 Donald Langham, Crime Writer, London, 1955
• Chapman, Jean - Deadly Odds #5 John Cannon, Ex-Met Officer, Fens
• Chapman, Julia - Date with Mystery #3 The Dales Detective Series
• Cole, Daniel - Hangman #2 Fawkes and Baxter
• Davies, Michelle - False Witness #3 DC Maggie Neville, Family Liaison Officer
• de Hahn, Tracee - A Well-Timed Murder #2 Swiss-American police officer Agnes Luthi
• Driscoll, Teresa - The Friend
• Dyer, Ashley - Splinter in the Blood #1 Sergeant Ruth Lake and DCI Greg Carver
• England, Caroline - My Husband's Lies
• Escobar, Melba - House of Beauty
• Fowler, Christopher - Bryant & May - Hall of Mirrors #15 Inspectors Bryant and May, London
• George, Elizabeth - The Punishment She Deserves #20 Inspector Thomas Lynley & Sergeant Barbara Havers (and colleagues)
• Goddard, Robert - Panic Room
• Gordon, Alexia - Killing in C Sharp #3 Gethsemane Brown, Ireland
• Gray, Alex - Only the Dead Can Tell #15 DCI Lorimer & psychologist Solomon Brightman, Glasgow
• Hamilton, Karen - The Perfect Girlfriend
• Hammer, Lotte and Soren - The Night Ferry #5 Detective Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen and his team from the Murder Squad in Copenhagen
• Hannah, Mari - The Lost #1 Stone and Oliver
• Harrison, Cora - Death of a Novice #5 Reverend Mother Aquinas, Cork, 1920s
• Harvey, Samantha - The Western Wind
• Hilary, Sarah - Come and Find Me #5 DI Marnie Rome
• Huber, Anna Lee - A Brush with Shadow #6 Lady Darby, Scotland, 1830s
• Indridason, Arnaldur - The Shadow Killer #2 Konrád, a former detective
• Johnson, Matt - End Game #3 Robert Finlay
• Jonasson, Ragnar - The Darkness #1 Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdotti
• Keane, Jessie - Fearless
• Knox, Joseph - The Smiling Man #2 Detective Aidan Waits, Manchester
• Kristjansson, Snorri - Kin #1 Helga Finnsdottir
• Lehtolainen, Leena - The Nightingale Murder #9 Detective Maria Kallio, Helsinki
• Mackintosh, Clare - Let Me Lie
• Marsh, Ngaio - Money in the Morgue (completed by Stella Duffy) #33 Inspector Roderick Alleyn
• McTiernan, Dervla - The Ruin
• Medina, Kate - Two Little Girls #3 Dr Jessie Flynn, Psychologist
• Merritt, Stephanie - While You Sleep
• Mitchell, Caroline - Silent Victim
• Morris, R N - The Red Hand of Fury #4 Silas Quinn, police detective
• Naughton, Sarah J - The Other Couple
• Nickson, Chris - The Tin God #6 Detective Inspector Tom Harper, Leeds Police, 1890s
• Nykanen, Harri - Holy Ceremony #4 Ariel Kafka, inspector in the Violent Crime Unit of the Helsinki police
• Paris, B A - Bring Me Back
• Parsons, Tony - Girl On Fire #5 Detective Max Wolfe of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, London
• Penrose, Andrea - Murder at Half Moon Gate #2 Wrexford & Sloane
• Quincy, D M - Murder in Bloomsbury
• Rowley, Emma - Where the Missing Go
• Russell, Leigh - Class Murder #10 DI Geraldine Steel
• Silver, Mitch - The Bookworm
• Sinclair, Rob - Sleeper 13
• Steen, Jane - Lady Helena Investigates (ebook only) #1 Scott-De Quincy Mysteries
• Stratmann, Linda - Murder at the Bayswater Bicycle Club #8 Frances Doughty, London, 1880
• Taylor, C L - The Fear
• Todd, Charles - The Gatekeeper #20 Insp Rutledge
• Trow, M J - Queen's Progress #9 Christopher Marlowe
• Unsworth, Cathi - That Old Black Magic
• Wagner, David P - Funeral in Montova #5 Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries
• Watkins, Roz - The Devil's Dice #1 DI Meg Dalton, Derbyshire
• Wilson, Andrew - A Different Kind of Evil #2 Agatha Christie
• Wilson, Edward - South Atlantic Requiem #6 Catesby
• Winspear, Jacqueline - To Die But Once #14 Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, 1930s London

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Sad Loss

I was very shocked and distressed to hear the news yesterday that the blogging community has lost established reviewer, Bernadette from Reactions to Reading who has died unexpectedly. Like many of the FriendFeed gang that we were members of we corresponded periodically and I loved reading her reviews - no flim flam with Bernadette, you knew her opinion of a book. She was a champion of women writers, Australian writers and especially Australian women crime writers, and bricks and mortar bookshops. She was a good friend of Maxine who we lost five years ago and I think they had a lot in common. Both loved trying out the newest technology and when FriendFeed closed, Bernadette helped set up the Facebook replacement group even though she loathed Facebook herself.

Margot Kinberg has written a lovely tribute to her friend which I hope you will read and do check out Reactions to Reading and perhaps discover some new to you authors to try.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: The Shout by Stephen Leather

The Shout by Stephen Leather, January 2018, 416 pages, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN: 1473671787

Reviewed by Terry Halligan.
(Read more of Terry's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Vicky Lewis is a force to be reckoned with: not yet thirty and already crew manager in the London Fire Brigade, she's destined for great things.

But when she enters a burning building to save a man's life and leaves it with catastrophic injuries, all that changes. She's shunted over to the Fire Investigation Unit, where she's forced to team up with cantankerous veteran Des Farmer, a.k.a. the Grouch.

When Vicky stumbles across the Grouch's off-the-books investigation into the fiery deaths of a series of young, blonde women, she decides to join him in his search for the truth.

The answer is close - perhaps too close. Vicky's already been burnt once, and now she's playing with fire.

THE SHOUT was a very exciting read and I can fully appreciate the claim that Stephen Leather is the single most requested author by inmates of HM Prisons who want to borrow books from the library trolley in order to better pass their time to be served.

Stephen Leather is from a journalistic background and meticulously researches the background to all his books and it is very reassuring, reading facts and background details to his stories and knowing that they must be authentic.

I thought that this was a real dynamite of a story and easily one of the best that he has ever written. His keen journalistic attention to detail kept me gripped to the edge of my seat right up to the last page. As this is a stand-alone thriller it was really exciting to read something away from his two main series ie the Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd one and the Jack Nightingale supernatural one. I found the book extremely enjoyable and would certainly recommend it.

All in all, though this is quite a long book, the author likes to write as if he was the driver of an express train and the pages just flew by; I was so gripped by the tense and exciting plot to find the killer of all these innocent blonde women. The extraordinary and completely unpredictable ending to this outstanding story was so incredibly imaginative, that I cannot wait to see what the next book by this very versatile and prolific author will be.

Incidentally, something that I found particularly interesting is the author's fascination with my name ’Halligan’. In his book ROUGH JUSTICE an alias that the protagonist Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd uses is ‘Terry Halligan’ and in this book THE SHOUT he mentions a tool that fireman use which is a “Halligan Bar” several times...

Terry Halligan, February 2018.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review: The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths, February 2018, 368 pages, Hardback, Quercus, ISBN: 1784296635

Reviewed by Mark Bailey.
(Read more of Mark's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

THE DARK ANGEL is the tenth in the Ruth Galloway Mystery series by Elly Griffiths – this time Ruth Galloway has a change of scene but even then she still finds a murder to investigate.

Dr Ruth Galloway returns home from Clough and Cassandra's wedding to find a message on her answerphone from an Italian former boyfriend and fellow archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He has discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but does not know what to make of them – they might be Roman but there are anomalies. Ruth has not had a proper holiday in years and decides that even a working holiday to Italy is welcome.

Ruth and daughter Kate, together with friend Shona and her son Louis, travel to Castello degli Angeli. Here she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the War years and the Resistance. She is soon joined by Harry Nelson - concerned about Ruth and Kate when he learns of an earthquake - and Cathbad. But by then the ancient bones have sparked a modern murder and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.

I am a big fan of the Ruth Galloway novels and though I do feel that they are best enjoyed in sequence, you can probably pick up most of the background needed to enjoy each novel as you go along - probably more so here as there is a lot of scene setting in early chapters. There is the usual excellent characterisation that one expects in Elly Griffiths’ books – believable, flawed but ultimately likeable ongoing main protagonists: Ruth Galloway, Harry Nelson and Judy amongst the adults with Kate coming to the fore. There is the usual twisty plot here that engages the reader and this particular novel benefits, I think, from the change in milieu from East Anglia to Italy.

As I have stated about previous Ruth Galloway mysteries - if you do have a liking for modern cosies with perhaps a little hint of grit then I would strongly recommend this to you.

My major niggle would be that it is a bit convenient for Nelson to turn up, but even more so with Cathbad – yes there is a reason, but them both leaping on a plane at short notice is a bit of a stretch.

Mark Bailey, February 2018

Sunday, February 18, 2018

US Cozy Review: Cat About Town by Cate Conte

Welcome to another entry in my irregular feature: US cozy review.

Cat About Town by Cate Conte, September 2017, Minotaur Books ISBN: 1250072069

Cat About Town
is the first in the 'Cat Cafe' series by Cate Conte, aka Liz Mugavero, and is set on a fictional island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Maddie James returns to Daybreak Island for her gran's funeral and her concern for her grand-dad keeps her staying longer than expected, leaving her successful San Francisco juice bar in the hands of her business partner. Maddie's new and constant companion is an adorable ginger male cat, a stray who chose Maddie and allowed himself to be put on a lead.

A head honcho in the town wants Maddie's grandad's property for redevelopment and has been threatening and slandering to get his way. When he is murdered - his body found by Maddie's cat no less - Maddie's grand-dad becomes a prime suspect despite being the retired police chief. Of course, Maddie takes it upon herself to investigate.

As well as a doting cat, Maddie has two men asking her out, one a newcomer to the island and the other a school sweetheart. Plus someone is leaving her newspaper clippings about cat cafes... How can she leave the island with all this going on?

I really enjoyed this opening book and it kept drawing me back to it. I liked that Maddie was actively investigating. And I have a ginger cat myself!

I look forward to when the cat cafe opens it doors in book two, Purrder She Wrote, which is released in July.

Karen Meek, February 2018.