Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Review: The Black Friar by S G MacLean

The Black Friar by S G MacLean, October 2016, 432 pages, Quercus, ISBN: 1782068457

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

This is the second book in the series featuring Captain Damian Seeker, a soldier in the army of Oliver Cromwell, newly appointed the Protector of England.

One of the spies in the employ of Oliver Cromwell's secret service has been found dressed as a Black Friar and walled up - alive - in a church. Seeker is tasked with solving his murder and also finding the sensitive information he was tracking. Seeker is well known in London for his uncompromising belief in Oliver Cromwell and he is feared for his relentless searching out of Royalists and other enemies of the new State.

There is concern that someone in the department is working against the Protectorate, so Thurlow, Seeker's superior, asks him to search out the truth quietly and discretely. One of the suspects is Lady Winter, a known Royalist, who coincidently asks Seeker's help in finding a young servant girl, Charity, who has disappeared. Seeker discovers that Charity is not the only young and attractive person who has recently disappeared. He finds that both the Royalist factions and former Cromwell supporters who believe that his reforms have not gone far enough are plotting against the Protectorate and his investigations of the murdered spy and the missing young people start to have strands in common.

I really enjoyed this book. It is an interesting period of English history and one I knew only the basics about. I found that the background given about Cromwell's followers, who felt he was too tolerant and wanted to bring him down and impose a much more fervent religious belief system on the country, seemed particularly relevant today.

For anyone who enjoys reading historical crime - particularly the C J Sansom series featuring Shardlake - I am sure they will enjoy this. There is the same depth of knowledge of period through the book which gives the right level of historical background without slowing the story down.

Susan White, December 2016

Monday, December 05, 2016

Some 1960 Titles (for Past Offences)

The latest monthly challenge over at Past Offences is to read a book in December, published in 1960. Here are some British/European crime titles to choose from, first published in English in 1960, pulled from my database. This information is correct to the best of my knowledge however please do double check dates before spending any cash!:
John and Emery Bonett - No Grave for a Lady
Gwendoline Butler - Death Lives Next Door (apa Dine and Be Dead)
Agatha Christie - The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
Ian Fleming - For Your Eyes Only
Dulcie Gray - Epitaph For a Dead Actor
Alan Hunter - Gently with the Painters
Michael Innes - The New Sonia Wayward
M M Kaye - Death in the Andamans (revised 1985) (originally published as Night on the Island)
H R F Keating - Zen There Was Murder
Austin Lee - Miss Hogg and the Covent Garden Murders
Ngaio Marsh - False Scent
Ellis Peters - The Will and the Deed (apa Where There's a Will)
H Seymour - The Bristol Affair
Georges Simenon - Teddy Bear
Georges Simenon - Maigret in Society
Georges Simenon - Maigret in Court
James Tucker - Equal Partners
Margaret Yorke - Deceiving Mirror
There are more suggestions in the comments on the Past Offences page.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

New Releases - December 2016

Here's a snapshot of what I think is published for the first time in December 2016 (and is usually a UK date but occasionally will be a US or Australian date). December and future months (and years) can be found on the Future Releases page. If I've missed anything do please leave a comment.
• Amphlett, Rachel - Scared to Death #1 Detective Kay Hunter
• Armstrong, Ross - The Watcher
• Baldwin, Jackie - Dead Man's Prayer #1 DI Frank Farrell, Dumfries
• Brett, Simon - Mrs Pargeter's Public Relations #8 Mrs Pargeter, Gangster's widow
• Carrington, Sam - Saving Sophie
• Challinor, C S - Judgment of Murder #9 Rex Graves, Scottish lawyer
• Cookman, Lesley - Murder on the Run #17 Libby Sarjeant, middle aged actress/investigator, Kent
• Dunn, Carola - Buried in the Country #4 Eleanor Trewyn, Port Mabyn, Cornwall
• Emerson, Kathy Lynn - Murder in a Cornish Alehouse #3 Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey, Spy, Elizabethan Era
• Glasby, Edmund - The Doppelganger Deaths
• Gobbell, Phyllis - Secrets and Shamrocks #2 Jordan Mayfair
• Heley, Veronica - False Fire #11 Bea Abbott, Sixty-something owner of The Abbott (Domestic) Agency
• Hurley, Graham - Finisterre #1 Wars Within
• Jameson, Hanna - Road Kill #3 London Underground Series
• Kinsey, T E - In the Market for Murder #2 Lady Emily Hardcastle, 1908
• Lawrence, Mary - Death at St. Vedast #3 Bianca Goddard, Henry VIII era
• MacRae, Molly - Plaid and Plagiarism #1 The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series
• Maxwell, Alyssa - A Pinch of Poison #2 Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery
• McCallin, Luke - The Ashes of Berlin #3 Captain Gregor Reinhardt, Military Intelligence Officer, 1943 Sarajevo
• Mitchell, Caroline - Witness
• Oldham, Nick - Bad Blood #22 DCI Christie
• Raven, Jaime - The Alibi
• Rogers, Bill - The Falcon Tattoo #2 National Crime Agency
• Taylor, Marsali - Ghosts of the Vikings #5 Shetland Sailing Mysteries
• Turnbull, Peter - A Cold Case #1 Maurice Mundy
• Tursten, Helene - Who Watcheth #9 Inspector Huss, Gothenburg

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: The Girl With No Past by Kathryn Croft

The Girl With No Past by Kathryn Croft, October 2015, 300 pages, Paperback, Bookouture, ISBN: 1910751243

Reviewed by Michelle Peckham.
(Read more of Michelle's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Leah lives sparely, in a small flat and works in the local library. She volunteers in a care home once a week, but still has too much time to fill. So, she has started talking to someone on a dating website called Julian. She clearly is trying to forget a traumatic event in her past, something perhaps she is ashamed of. Possibly something that may be to do with the short description of a car accident in the first chapter. Something nothing her work colleagues know about. And then she receives a ‘Happy Anniversary’ card. Someone somewhere knows who she is and what she’s done. Her past is catching up with her.

Slowly as the book progresses, her carefully constructed life starts to disintegrate. As well as the card, she starts to receive disturbing emails from someone called ‘reapwhatyousow’. Her colleagues at work start to mistrust her and become less friendly, but she can’t work out why. She starts to mistrust Julian, the man she met via the dating website. Could he be behind this? And it seems she only has one friend left, Ben, who appears to believe her story. Interspersed chapters go back to her teenage years, shortly after her family had moved to Derby and she started at a new school. We gradually find out who she makes new friends with, including her best friend Imogen, Corey, and Adam, a troubled lad who intensely dislikes their teacher, Miss Hollis.

This book has all the elements of a good page turner, with a slow build up of tension, a main character is someone to whom the reader is sympathetic. But there is enough doubt laid that at the same time we wonder what she really did and if she really does deserve some kind of punishment for something that happened in the past. Leah certainly seems to carry a heavy guilt about something. The slow destruction of a safe and reasonable life is believable, and there is a tense climax at the end, where she finally finds out who is behind the disintegration of her carefully constructed life. I enjoyed this book and look forward to the next one!

Michelle Peckham, November 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Review: Crash Land by Doug Johnstone

Crash Land by Doug Johnstone, November 2016, 272 pages, Faber & Faber, ISBN: 057133086X

Reviewed by Amanda Gillies.
(Read more of Amanda's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

The briefest glimpse of the rather eye-catching cover on the front of Doug Johnstone’s latest novel lets you know that you are in for another corking treat. Following what seems to have become the trademark Johnstone style, the story opens with a stressful situation and rapidly goes downhill from there. The ensuing roller-coaster journey that you are taken on leaves you feeling somewhat dishevelled when you are finally spat out the other end. At times the flow of the writing in this book has an almost lacklustre feel to it that I initially found to be rather disappointing, as it wasn’t the high-octane stuff that I was expecting. However, upon reflection, the main character’s own frustration at the situation is cleverly mirrored in the way these parts of the book are written; such that the reader feels as impatient as the protagonist at the way things are turning out.

As its title suggests, this book is about a plane crash. In fact, it starts with the plane crash and the infuriating, machismo-driven, fight that causes it is maddening. You feel helpless to stop the plane from crashing and are forced to live the experience, in a dream-like slow motion, with Finn – who just wants to get home, from Orkney, for Christmas and could really do without the hassle. Unlike nearly everyone else on the plane, he survives the impact but when the beautiful woman he has been defending grabs her bag and leaves the crash site you get the sinking feeling that this isn’t going to end well.

And you will be right about that.

Pretty soon Finn is helping the police with their enquiries but they get the distinct impression that he isn’t telling them the whole truth. Forbidden from leaving the island and potentially about to be charged with causing the crash, Finn goes back to his gran’s house to cool his heels. Then he receives a text message and sets out on a course of action that soon gets him even further into trouble…

Johnstone’s books never fail to disappoint. He has this uncanny knack of making the reader feel helpless, along with the main character, and leaves you watching in dismay as the unfolding events just make matters worse and worse. If you like a cracking good story that you know will definitely not have a warm and fuzzy “Happy Ever After” ending, then CRASH LAND is just the book for you!

Extremely Highly Recommended.

Amanda Gillies, November 2016.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

US Cozy Review: a triplet of reviewlets

Welcome to the latest entry in my irregular feature: US cozy review. My latest Cozy reads range from old to new(ish), with publication dates from 1991 to 2013!

In publication order:

1. All the Great Pretenders by Deborah Adams #1 Jesus Creek series (1991)

I bought this in 1996 from Uncle Edgars when I went to my first Bouchercon which was in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. A mere twenty years later I got round to reading it.

Set in the small town of Jesus Creek in Tennessee, this introductory novel revolves around the Inn and the temporary Innkeeper Kate Yancy. A young heiress has disappeared from the Inn and her family have hired a psychic, who comes to stay at the Inn. The press are there too and an announcement that the psychic knows where the girl is, doesn't bode well for the psychic. The mystery aspect is fine but it it is Kate's wry humour and the unusual inhabitants of Jesus Creek which are the stars. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed All the Great Pretenders. The next book, All the Great Winters, revolves around the library and a library volunteer - so right up my street.

If you can't get hold of print copies then the ebooks are currently very good value.

2. Death in Daytime by Eileen Davidson & Robert J Randisi #1 Soap Opera series (2008)

Whereas All the Great Pretenders was pre-internet and almost pre-personal computers, soap star Alexis Peterson has a mobile phone which she thinks can get the internet but she would rather rely on the teenage son of a friend for help. Alexis is one of the main stars of daytime soap opera The Yearning Tide however her new boss Marcy bears a grudge against her and is trying to down-size Alexis's role and is withholding scripts and suchlike. So when Marcy is killed, and Alexis finds the body, Alexis becomes the prime suspect. So naturally Alexis tries to find the real killer, putting herself in danger and annoying the cops enormously.

I love behind the (tv/film) scene settings so I was predisposed to like this one, which I did. I was mis-directed nicely and didn't guess whodunnit at all. Though the cover looks like a cozy there is some strong language at times. I've got the final book (#4) in my tbr and will be purchasing the other two, probably on ebook. [I only had this one 4 years before reading it...]

3. Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J Parra #1 Baker's Treat series (2013)

I bought this in August and read it in October which is probably a record for me to turn around a book that quickly after buying!

Gluten for Punishment is the first in a short series of three, set in Oiltop, Kansas. Toni Holmes has returned home to Oiltop where she has inherited her mother's large house and she opens up a gluten-free bakery in a town surrounded by wheat fields. The official opening of the store is marred by heckling from a wheat farmer and soon after the heckler's dead body is found outside the store. Toni has motive and opportunity and is soon a 'person of interest'. She does some sleuthing, assisted by her eccentric family and friends. This is a solid introduction to the series and I already own the other two books. I did get a bit lost with her extensive family of siblings and who was who. Though sworn off men, there are two gorgeous men vying for her attention, so it'll be interesting to see who she chooses, if either.

Gluten-intolerance runs in my mother's side of the family so I was particularly interested to read a cozy revolving around a gluten-free bakery and I did learn a few things. There are some recipes in the back, if you like to bake.

NB. There is one quite violent scene towards the end.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Anne Holt's Modus - book & tv news

BBC Four will begin showing Modus based on Anne Holt's Vik and Stubo series on 26 November at 9pm. The DVD is released 19 December.

From Anne Holt's website:
BBC Four have officially announced that MODUS will be shown at 9pm on Saturday nights from 26th November 2016. The chilling Scandi crime drama fills the popular THE BRIDGE spot, and comes from the same director, Lisa Siwe. MODUS was the most successful Scandinavian TV series on Sweden’s TV4 in 25 years, with an audience of 1.2 millions. Adapted from Anne Holt’s bestselling novel FEAR NOT, it follows psychologist Johanne Vik as she investigates a number of disturbing deaths during a snowy Swedish Christmas.
The fourth book in the series, Fear Not (2011) translated by Marlaine Delargy, has been reissued today as Modus. Euro Crime has previously reviewed Fear Not and here are extracts from the reviews:

Maxine's review: This is an excellent book - in a couple of the previous novels in this series, the author has left things hanging in the air a bit at the end. This is not the case here. FEAR NOT is a fully rounded novel that addresses the terrorist and fanatical elements that plague our contemporary society, but elects to do so in an intelligent and engaging manner rather than by indulging in melodramatics. Having said this, the book is certainly not a dull lecture; to the contrary it provides plenty of conundrums that do eventually turn out to have plausible solutions. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, not least for its contemporary relevance in terms of its treatment of hate-inspired crimes, and very much look forward to the author's next. The translation into a naturalistic style is very good.

Lynn's review:  FEAR NOT is my idea of classic Scandinavian crime-fiction, rooted in social observation, and I loved it. As Holt said in a Guardian interview concerning Scandinavian crime fiction: "We don't write whodunnit books, but why did it happen [books]". With a pair of investigators who live lives aside from crime-busting; a solid, well-constructed mix of plot, mystery, character and coincidence that drives the whole thing along; a dark edge and of course - blood on the snow - we have the perfect Scandinavian crime story. In FEAR NOT Holt examines a threat greater than that of individual crime - the workings of organised hate-crime based on politico-religious beliefs. Anne Holt's background gives her a prime footing for writing such crime fiction: working for the Oslo Police, founding her own law firm, and serving as Minister for Justice between 1996-97. In another interview shortly after the shocking killings committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, Holt referred to her book FEAR NOT as a book, although written two years before the Oslo bombing and the Utoya killings, in which she tried to explore "exactly the same issue as we now have to face, the line or the connection between spoken hatred and physical hatred. I really tried in that book to point to the fact that freedom of speech is also a question about responsibility for what we say and how we act".

FEAR NOT is a "what if" book that highlights the possibility of organised hate-crime, provides discussion of how such a thing can arise, and paints a picture of its effects and consequences with detail and humanity. It has an excellent English translation by experienced translator Marlaine Delargy, and if you are looking for comparisons, I would happily place it alongside books by Mankell, Marklund, Fossum, and Indridason as top Scandinavian crime-reads.