Crooked Heart Lissa Evans

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The Crooked Heart     Lissa Evans

I received this book Friday and I had finished by Sunday. Usually I would sit down and write a blog as soon as I finish, but I have taken 24 hours before I start this one. Why? Because I want to do it justice.

From the very first page I was smiling. Was I supposed to smile at the musings of a woman with some kind of dementia, and the efforts of her ten year old Godson to look after her? Yes I think I was. I don’t think that Lissa Evans intended me to be sad at all reading this book, even if there are quite a few moral dilemmas throughout.

The story starts at the beginning of World War 2 and is based around Noel, a young boy living with, and looking after, his Godmother, the dementia sufferer. I won’t put any spoilers in here but I will say that Noel soon becomes evacuated to St Albans and ends up living with a woman called Vee, her grown up son, and her mother. As is right for the book none of this little family are without a story and Evans manages to weave a plot which involves all of them.

Vee is obviously on hard times and has tried numerous petty crimes to help her and her family struggle along, none of them serious and most of them failures. The trouble is Vee is not very bright. When she volunteers to take on Noel, on a whim, she inadvertently finds the ten year old has the brains that she is missing. Another dilemma, should I really be enjoying a book where an adult takes advantage of the intelligence of a young boy to make her life of crime more successful. Sorry I could not help myself I was willing the pair to get away with their little schemes.

Their adventures take them to London and eventually into trouble. The problems they get in are exasperated by the trouble Vee’s son Donald gets into. With the bombs falling and Londoners hiding in the shelters the story rattles along.

Noel is always the central character he is very clever, well read, and when he wants to be very articulate. Evans has put this brain into a scrawny strange looking boy, not for comedy value, but to make him standout. I hope that in future books we find how he has developed.

I have read Lissa Evans’s Bio online. She has written adult and children’s fiction. In this book she has used a ten year old as her main character and has written it in such a way that, as an adult, I empathised with Noel but never once thought I was reading a children’s, or young adults book. She mentions things that remind me of a young me growing up in the early 60’s. The book transported me back to when a story could be told without violence, sex and swearing. It actually made me think when the last time I had read an adult book like this. I can’t remember one but I am going to try and find more.

I am not sure Lissa Evans will welcome this but I can make one comparison. The first J.K Rowling book saw Harry Potter as a young naïve boy growing up in a strange world. For me Evans’s Noel is at least as well written as Rowling’s Potter, if not better. Harry may have grown up in a fantasy world but Noel is growing up in the very real world of WWII. Lissa Evans has managed to catch that innocent naivety and blend it with the not so innocent naivety of a desperate woman.

I know people can look at dust covers of hardbacks, and back covers of paperbacks, read a quick synopsis of a story and think that it’s not for them. If you do that with this book you’re wrong. As a 52 year old man I loved it. I know my 23 year old daughter will love it.

Please read it and enjoy it as much as I have.

No Sranger to Death Janet O’Kane

Well this book had me strangely gripped. It’s one of those where I found myself getting to the end of a chapter and having to carry on to the next, but why. There was no great cliff-hangers, no real oh-god –what-happens-next moments, it was almost nosiness.

The book is based in a Borders Town in Scotland, with the main character being the newly relocated, English, Doctor GP, Zoe Morland. The reader gradually gets to know of Zoe, and eventually her often hinted at past, all the way through the book, but her description is left to the readers imagination, I don’t think I even know her age.

The story begins when Doctor Zoe finds a body amongst the debris of a Bonfire close to the local pub. She is not treated as a suspect and at times helps the Police with issues surrounding the death. However Zoe has a good friend in the village, Kate a deaf single parent who seems to be the font of all knowledge, and general gossip, for the surrounding area. Kate convinces Zoe to look into the murder with her.

During this investigation the reader is introduced to various characters, and their problems. Janet O’Kane does a wonderful job of exploring village gossip and showing how small bits of information can lead to big misconceptions. All this adds to the plot and the mystery of the crime.

When a second person dies, and Zoe is involved in an accident, which appears anything but an accident the list of suspects grows. The more we hear about the villagers, and their intertwined relationships, the more people the reader will begin to suspect.

The ending to this book comes along quickly, not that it’s a short book at 350 pages on Kindle, more that it’s wound up quickly.

Unlike Agatha Christie who introduced characters in the last few pages so the reader found it hard to guest the murderer before the end ,Janet O’Kane gives us something we don’t know about a character until the end, and why should we.Nobody knows everything about everybody when they first meet

I want to say more about this book because it is written beautifully, but I don’t want to give away the plot. It doesn’t plod along, or sprint from scene to scene. It happily skips along at a nice pace occasionally throwing in a dead body and the odd moralistic conundrum. I challenge any reader to not make assumptions based on some of the dilemmas used in this story.

I have read a bit about Janet O’Kane, if you can believe the “About the Author” section on Amazon. It says she went straight from reading Enid Blyton to reading Crime novels. I think what she has produced here is a nice mixture of both. The grit and story of the crime novel, mixed with the innocence of two women trying to solve crimes by listening to village gossip.

And do you know what. IT WORKS!!

I will look forward to Janets next book, and may even read some of the suggested titles given by other readers of this very good book.

Mari Hannah The Kate Daniels series

Mari Hannah DCI Kate Daniels Series

The Murder Wall

Settled in Blood

Deadly Deceit

Monument to Murder

I am going to come out with it from the start, I love these books. Those of you who read my first blog will know that I rarely get into books based in England but I was hooked on these from the start.

When Deadly Deceit popped up on Amazon, as a recommended read, I read the review and liked what I saw. Several reviews later I had decided it was a book I wanted to read but, it was the latest in a series, and that meant I had to read the others in order first.

The Murder Wall introduced me to DCI Kate Daniels and her colleagues at the Northumbria Police Murder InvestigationTeam. The team is made up, as any such teams are, of a collection of individuals. Each individual has their own backstory which runs through the series of books. These sub plots add to the main story and help to keep the pages turning. The two young Detectives, who joined the team together, a woman with great computer skills and a man who is excellent at the tedious life of the observation specialist; the middle age detective with gambling problems who is trying to put his life back together; and another who loses the trust of the team; the crusty old hand Detective Sergeant who Kate relies on professionally and in her personal life; Kate’s mentor, and Boss, Detective Superintendent Bright, his own life in turmoil; and a myriad of bit part Police characters which drift in and out of the books always at the right time and in the right context.

Kate herself is struggling with the break-up of a relationship with Criminal Profiler Jo Soulsby, and throughout the series this relationship teeters on the brink of being totally destroyed whilst almost reforming. Kate suffers from what all high achieving Police Officers suffer, the “job comes first” and everything else just has to wait. We see Kate struggle with this, being torn between work and relationships with Jo, her father, and her friends. Needless to say the job usually wins.

The Murder Wall is set a year after Kate Discovered two bodies in a Church, an incident that is still playing on her mind, and a crime she did not solve. When the body of a man is found in a flat in Newcastle the crime is investigated by Jo’s team. It’s her first as Senior Investigating Officer, a chance she has been waiting for but is sullied by the fact that Jo appears to be tied into the crime. Her dedication to her friend conflicts with her professionalism and at times interferes with the relationship she has with her team and her mentor Bright. As the investigation unfolds it becomes clear that Jo, or the team, have an enemy close at hand who is hampering the investigation. The end of the book….. well it’s tense and it would be better if you read it. I hate spoilers in reviews.

Settled Blood. The team investigate the suspicious death of a young girl found dead in the middle of nowhere. The Police initially wrongly identify the girl as being the daughter of a local multi-millionaire who appears to own half the County. When he attends the hospital to identify the body he realises it’s not his daughter, but does identify the clothing she was wearing. This leads to a twisted story of kidnapping and murder. Kate retains the role of SIO and leads her team through the investigation uncovering an historic wrong doing by a senior officer which may have an effect on the case. In many other books writers look for extreme cases to convey this part of a story, but Mari Hannah has found a small indiscretion, which I am sure happened many times in the real world, which comes back to bite somebody on the bum, which I’m sure has also happened many times.  It fits the plot perfectly and aids in the mystery leading up to a suspenseful conclusion.

In this book Hannah introduces the Mountain Rescue Service, again completely in context with the story and the scene in which it is set. As with every other aspect of her books she has obviously spent time researching or working with the people she writes about. The use of the rescue team, and the interaction between them and the MIT, is just as it would be during a professional investigation. Again no spoilers so not much about the plot but believe me its good.

Deadly Deceit It’s not often I come across a completely original plot, I’ve been reading this genre of books for 40 years, but in this story Hannah nails a brilliant one. The book starts with a house fire and, in a separate incident, a multi-vehicle Road Traffic Collision. A man and child are killed in the house fire whilst several people die in the RTC. Kate is on route to the house, with her Crusty Trusty Sergeant, when they come across the RTC and have to stop to render assistance before carrying on to the house. The house fire is quickly diagnosed as being started deliberately and the MIT take over the crime, investigating the murder of a father and his son. It is soon discovered that one of the victims of the RTC was also murdered, after the crash. The investigation of the crash murder is also carried out by the team, although they are split over the two scenes stretching their resources. This one I’m definitely not going to spoil by going into the details of the story but I will say this. The characters are brilliantly portrayed well written and again perfect for the story.

Monument to Murder, so far the last in the series and every bit as good as its predecessors. This incident sees Kate’s team investigating when the skeletal remains of two girls are found in a beach dune. Again Mari Hannah intertwines a second case as the daughter of a friend goes missing in what appears to be a related incident. The friend is Emily McCann, a Prison Psychologist who is recently widowed. She and Kate share a mutual friend, Jo Soulsby who now works in the prison, and the relationship between the three forms a big part of this book.

The crime scene is close to the prison and a long way from Newcastle, forcing Kate to uproot her team and work from a remote Police Station, bringing her into close contact with Jo. A few will they-won’t they moments crop up but again they are all perfect for the story and not at all distracting.

Whilst investigating the murder Kate attempts to help Jo and Emma investigate the disappearance of Emma’s daughter. Neither the murder investigation, nor the investigation into the disappearance of Emma’s daughter can be called a subplot as they both command equal time in the book. At times it appears that the crimes are related, at others it seems obvious that they are not. It was not till the last few pages that I worked out whether they were or not. Again no spoilers you’ll have to read it for yourself.

I always have trouble with UK based Police procedural books, mainly because I have worked in that environment and always think things like; “that’s not right”, “that would never happen”, or “they would never act like that”. In none of the four books did any Mari Hannah  make any of those thoughts cross my mind, and as an ex Fire Investigation Officer in one of the biggest Fire Brigades in the country that takes some doing, especially in Deadly Deceit.

Every scene is realistic, sometimes in its simplicity; every character brings to mind people I have met; all the crimes are plausible, in short these books are the real deal.

For me, move over Colin Dexter, I have a new favourite British Crime Writer, and she’s brilliant.

The G File HÅKAN NESSER

The G File HÅKAN NESSER

I read this book knowing it was the last in a series and the big question is will I be reading the back catalogue?

The book is big, running to just over 600 pages; the first half is set in 1987, the second in 2002. I couldn’t help thinking that Nesser had two stories left to tell and put them both into the same book, although the same mystery runs throughout.

It begins with a young lady acquiring the services of Maarten Verlangen, a washed out ex-police investigator turned private detective, to keep watch on her husband. The inevitable murder soon occurs and forms the spine of the story that runs through the book.

The murder is officially investigated  by Police Officer Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. Van Veeteren has history with the main suspect, going back to when they were children. His investigation is marred by his feelings for the suspect and he proceeds on a personal campaign to prove him guilty. These feelings are based more on Van Veeterens guilt, with not having curtailed the suspect’s activities when they were in their youth, than any evidence for the current case.

The case remains unproved in 1987 but is revisited, by a now retired VanVeeteren, in 2002 when Verlangen disappears leaving a mysterious note.

I would be surprised if any crime fiction fan does not solve this murder pretty quickly, but you will have to plod your way through another 500 pages to confirm your thoughts.

The writing in this book reminds me of Colin Dexter, the backdrop and characters are beautifully described. All the way through I was reminded of the Morse series.

Some of the spoken word is a little old fashion and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was written in that way or was it as a result of a “direct translation”; or is it that actually Scandinavians use better English than the modern day British reader is used to.

I think I did suffer from not reading the other books first. This story feels like Nesser is retiring a much loved character, and many of his fans will probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

So will I read any of the back catalogue. Maybe, but it will not be top of my reading list.

The Night The Rich Men Burned Malcolm Mackay

The Night The Rich Men Burned. Malcolm Mackay

 

This book falls into a new genre for me. It’s the first time I have read a book that’s written purely from gang member perspectives.

The book starts with two young friends, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass, looking for work, any work. They live in a rundown area of Glasgow where legal work is hard to come by so they take on a money collection for a loan shark.

I won’t spoil the book by going into detail but the rest of the story revolves around their very different journeys in the gangland life. As one flourishes and moves through the ranks the other is outcast and becomes a victim.

Their lives intertwine throughout the book and it is interesting to see the way Mackay shows the scene through different eyes. The emotionally void morals of the loan sharks and the people who work for them; the fear and downward spiral of the people they prey on.

He describes the sparring leading to an inevitable war between different gangs. The way leaders manipulate situations using thugs but never get their own hands dirty. He describes the way money lenders sell their clients debts onto ruthless collectors, and shows some of the ways the debts are collected why alluding to others.

Inescapably the book leads to a tumultuous end as the gangs try to take over the city, with Peterkinney and Glass involved to the very end.

The story is fast paced, split into short chapters that had me thinking “I’ll just read one more chapter” It was never just one more I read the book in 2 nights.

This book is dark and gritty without being gruesome. It made me think about how easy it would be to become involved in the downward spiral of owing money to a loan shark.

Above all the book is very realistic. Those of us that have had to work in the aftermath of similar events that occur in this story will recognise how accurate this book is. Most people, I hope, will only visit the scenes on pages of books. If they do they will not find a more realistic account than this.

This is the first of Malcolm Mackay’s books that I have read. It won’t be the last

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Whom Evil Touches D.E. Royce

Whom Evil Touches  D.E.Royce

 

Early in this book Royce gives us the origin of the phrase “The real McCoy”, so was this book the real McCoy.

If I was browsing book shelves, or trawling through Amazon I might have missed this book. At 203 pages it’s a bit small for me, but it was recommended to me by somebody I had been talking to on Twitter so I gave it a go.

The prologue guides us through the natural history of the New England coast and neatly ties in the start of the story.

From the start it is hard to see who the main character of the book is; but that is not a problem, all the characters have equal billing and are only on the page when they are required. This gives a round balanced and refreshingly unusual angle to the narrative that lets you see the whole picture.

The Police characters are given brief introductions, to give them personality, but none are weighed down with the usual baggage; they are there to solve the crime not to give us moral dilemmas regarding their drinking, gambling, or current divorce, at last real people as Police Officers

The characters involved in the crime, are the type of people Law and Order Officers meet on a daily basis and their characters are well described without needless flamboyancy.  

The story is one of a missing woman, Judy, who it quickly becomes obvious is dead, and the mess she has been involved in.  As the story unfolds it is apparent that the Bank in which she worked is under investigation, and working out who was involved with the irregularities at the bank seems to become central to the murder investigation.

Judy is a complex character and had lived a life of lies; but to what end, and did they lead to her being killed. Everybody she is involved with seems to have a reason to be the one that killed her. Every time you think you know who the murderer is something happens to make you change your mind.

The end comes quickly and if I’m honest a little too quickly for me but it’s not a disappointment.

Comparing books to TV series, If you like programs like Luther or Whitechapel, this book might not be for you but give it a go it’s worth it. If you prefer Midsummer Murder, or Lewis then this book will be right up your street.

Was This book the “Real McCoy” for me Yes it was and I look forward to the next one, hopefully using some of the same characters.

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

Rarely do I pick up a book based on a true event that I have never heard of; this book sent me on a bit of a hike through the internet researching the facts of a series of crimes which took place in New Orleans just after the end of the First World War, The New Orleans Axe Killer Murders, for that alone the Axe Mans Jazz was worth reading, but that’s not the only reason, this book is brilliant.

Set in 1919 the story centres on the hunt an Axeman who is killing couples in the dead of the night, unsurprisingly with an axe.

Three separate inquiries are carried out by the central characters, all cleverly and logically woven together, bringing the book to an exciting end.

Detective  Michael Talbot leads the New Orleans Police investigation. Talbot is an outcast amongst his fellow officers and struggles with a personal secret.

Luca D’Andrea, an ex-detective who is released from prison at the start of the book and investigates the murders on behalf of the Mafia.

Ida Davis a young mixed race girl who works for a Detective agency, but takes on the investigation on her own, to prove to her boss she is capable. Ida has a friend who helps her, a young Jazz Musician called Lewis (Louis) Armstrong; and yes it is that one.

Ray Celestin has written an excellent book. He has taken known facts, including a letter purportedly written by the murderer and published in a local paper, and woven them into a story that held me captivated from the start. His description of New Orleans transported me to the city in the early 20th Century. At times he draws comparisons between 1919 New Orleans and Victorian London, and of course between these murders and those of Jack the Ripper.

His characters fit so well into the story, and are so right for the time it is set in; I wondered whether they were all based on real people. The Lewis Armstrong character is heavily based on the early life of the legendary Louis Armstrong and much of the book revolves around bars and boats where he played in his early career.

The book covers the uncomfortable issue of the racism of the time well. It is clever tool that Celestin uses by having white, black and mixed race characters as the spine of his story, allowing the reader to be taken to any quarter of the city.

Celestin uses a tropical storm to bring the story to an end, like the storm itself the last part of the book builds into an intense crescendo, and like a storm once it has gone a calm settles.

It’s clever, the real Axeman Murderer was never identified but the killings did stop following the storm. Celestin uses a bit of literary licence to let the storm tidy up some lose ends but nothing that distracts from the story.

This is Ray Celestin’s first novel. I’m looking forward to his next.

If you haven’t read The Axemans Jazz yet, I envy you. All I can say is pour yourself a bourbon, put Jazz FM on the radio and cancel any appointments you’ve got for a couple of days. You are going to love it