THE PENDANT by Lawton Paul

27 02 2017

Germany, 1944; Chickasaw, Florida, present day

pendant-coverThe book opens with a chapter entitled Marlina. The chapters are not numbered, only named, and this functions as a prologue, set seventy years before the main action of the story.

Marlina is a nurse in a German military hospital which is now behind enemy lines. She saves a little boy’s life when the only remaining doctor declares him dead. But she has some help in the form of a miraculous metal cone (of extra-terrestrial origin, or so the author implies). She does not know this, but she does take the cone with her when, dressed up as a nun by a helpful priest, she abandons her post and sets out on foot with the boy, heading into the unknown.

Forward 70 years. Angela Fleetwood is a cancer survivor whose husband, Walt, originally brought her to Chickasaw to die. Instead, she recovered, and he died. She believes he was murdered, and this is confirmed in her mind when a neighbour of theirs drowns in her bath and the Sheriff declares that, too, an accident, though Angela is quite sure it was no such thing. Especially as the neighbour, known to be an old woman, proved to have the body of a fit young woman. Her hair, too, was the hair of a young woman; it had been died grey.

Angela must be one of the most original amateur sleuths ever to hit the bookshelves (or rather Kindle). I loved her. And I loved her bizarre collection of neighbours and supporters.

I shan’t forget this story or these characters, and that for me is one of the basic criteria for Five Stars





PLAYED TO DEATH by B. V. Lawson

5 02 2017

played-to-deathThe first in a new series featuring “consultant criminologist” Scott Drayco, once a child-prodigy whose hopes of a great career as a concert pianist were dashed when his right arm was crushed by a car door during a car-jacking incident.

Now he is ex-FBI and working on his own. A grateful client has left him the old Opera House in a run-down west-coast resort named Cape Unity. A white elephant, he assumes, but as he makes plans to visit the place and see about selling the Opera House he receives a request to act on behalf of a certain Oakley Keys, who lives right there in Cape Unity. They arrange to meet at the Opera House to discuss Oakley Keys’ problem. When Drayco arrives, Keys is already there, lying on the stage, dead. Murdered and mutilated.

There is a good mix of characters, all the various types you would expect to find in such a setting plus some you wouldn’t, and it is so well-plotted that I for one did not know whodunit till the very end. All right, it is a bit slow and chatty at times, but there are patches of very fine writing, and I would definitely recommend it to all who enjoy a small-town murder mystery with a visiting private eye who has to cope with the all-too-predictable small-town xenophobia.





CAUSE TO KILL by Blake Pierce

24 01 2017

cause-to-killAvery Black used to be a top-notch defence lawyer. The best. Too good. She even managed to get a serial killer acquitted when it was obvious to everyone he was as guilty as Hell.

When he killed again, she was distraught. She had convinced not only the jurors but herself that he was innocent – or at least had not been proven guilty.

She gave up her career as a lawyer and enlisted as a cop with the Boston Police Department. Where of course she was scorned and sneered at by one and all. However, her ultra-sharp mind and her conscientious approach carry her slowly but surely up through the ranks to Detective. Now she has been transferred to the Homicide Squad, given a handsome new partner – the only one who would agree to work with her, the Chief tells her – and assigned as Lead-Detective to a staged murder that bears all the marks of being the first in a series of such staged murders. Or maybe the killer has already struck elsewhere, in another State.

I like Avery, and of course identified with her from the word Go. Which meant I was put through the wringer alongside her as Blake Pierce took great pleasure in applying the Kurt Vonnegut dictum to his leading lady.

kurt-vonnegut-quote





SEARCHING FOR HOPE by Michael Joseph

23 01 2017

searching-for-hopeSam Carlisle, a private detective living and working in a fictitious town in East Anglia called Newgate, finds a homeless man dying in an alley beside a bar. The man’s last words are “Help … me … find …”. The man had obviously been murdered but the police seem uninterested, so  Sam, having no other work on hand at the moment, sets out to investigate the murder and the meaning of the dying man’s last words on his own.

He soon finds himself in deep and dangerous waters.

It is not a bad read. I finished it quite happily. But despite the predictable tragedy in his past and the equally predictable whisky addiction in his present, Sam is less than convincing. As is the East Anglian setting. I know East Anglia well, yet would never have realised the book was set there had the author not repeatedly informed me.

Let’s be honest. Sam is a cardboard character and this East Anglia is a cardboard setting.

Why am I reviewing it, then? Regular visitors to this site will know I almost never write even mildly negative reviews. (For the simple reason that if I’m not enjoying a book I don’t waste any more of my precious reading time on it. I move on to one of the many other books I have sitting in piles around my flat or desperately trying to work their way up to the front page of my Kindle Reader.)

So what was it I liked about the book? The minor characters: many of them were original and there were some I could identify with. I always need that, and I couldn’t identify with Sam at all.





THE BONE FIELD by Simon Kernick

8 01 2017

bone-field-cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

A police procedural that quickly morphs into something more like a thriller with a tough ex-special forces hero, now a Detective Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police, but very much of an outsider because of his history and suspended halfway through the story – though he of course goes on investigating unofficially and illegally.

The story is set in London, but starts with a disappearance years earlier in Thailand. Then the body of the young woman who disappeared turns up in England. Can it really be her? And why is the body of a thirteen-year-old girl who disappeared from her home in England at much the same time buried in the same suburban garden?

There is sex-slave-trafficking. There is a serial sexual predator and murderer. There is ritual magic and human sacrifice. There is perhaps the nastiest villain ever to sully the screen of my Kindle Reader – not just nasty, but smelly – yes, downright gross, as well as evil. Horrifying – and certainly the one whose hands I would least like to fall into!

It is a gripping must-read.

However, it does need some serious editing. Not only is not properly formatted for Kindle, but it is full of jarring Americanisms despite the fact that the setting is entirely British and that there are no American characters whatsoever in the story. The Metropolitan Police (the Met) are referred to repeatedly throughout the story as “the Feds”. Homeless down-and-outs are “hobos”. A black Londoner thinks of his mother as a “ho” yet at the same time thinks of “Yankee rock music”. I could go on, but I won’t. American readers might not notice this, I suppose, just as a British reader might not notice similar lapses in a book set in the US and written by a British author. But to a British reader, they end up spoiling an otherwise enthralling story.

 





RIP Richard Adams

29 12 2016

watership-down-cover

We all know, and most of us treasure, Watership Down. I want here to draw attention to three of Richard’s other books that I have particularly enjoyed

‘First then, The Plague Dogs:

plague-dogs-cover

Two dogs escape from an experimental research lab in the Lake District, where they have been horribly tortured and mistreated in the name if science. As they run for their lives on the hard fells they attempt to survive wild and free. But the hunt in on…

Next Shardik

shardik-cover

A gripping tale of war, adventure, morality and slavery, horror and romance, Shardik is a remarkable exploration of mankind’s universal desire for divine incarnation, and the corrosive influence of power. Recently ranked in the top 100 bestsellers over the past 40 years by the Sunday times, Shardik is a book for our age.

And finally, Maia, which is set in the same world as Shardik:

maia-cover

Sold into slavery to the dealer Lalloc by her mother when her stepfather seduces her, the beautiful 15-year-old Maia is almost raped by Genshed, one of Lalloc’s employees but is saved by Occula, a black slave girl. With no-one but Occula at her side, Maia must summon all her courage, strength and intelligence as she navigates the seedy side of the Beklan empire.

I am about to re-read Shardik and Maia. The other one, The Plague Dogs, is just too heart-rending: I can’t go through that again!





FRAMED by Colleen Connally

26 11 2016

framedThis is apparently the second book in a series, but it stands alone just fine. I didn’t realise it was part of a series until I had finished it.

The story opens with a prologue in which a 71-year-old woman with a ne’er-do-well son whose wife has left him and who has come home to live with her is murdered. By the son, we wonder? We already know he had gambling debts and that his mother refused to give him any more of her money.

But we soon realise there is much more to it than that.

At first glance, what we have here is a fairly straight-forward murder mystery with the usual divorced and world-weary cop, Detective John Brophy, and an equally divorced but female PI (an ex-cop) who thinks he needs a woman in his life; and then there is Josh Kincaid, an investigative journalist (our hero) who is working on this murder and simultaneously on the claim that a certain Harrison Taylor had been framed years earlier for a murder which turns out to be connected to the murder we started with; finally there is Riley Ashcroft, an orphaned heiress done out of her inheritance, who is making the waves on behalf of her childhood friend, the convicted murderer Harrison Taylor.

That might seem like a spoiler but actually I am trying to help. The first few chapters are marred by too many changes of scene and character and viewpoint. So much so that I would probably have given up on it, except that when I agreed to review this book I promised to read the whole thing. And it is certainly true that once you get it all sorted out in your mind the story flows well.

It could, however, do with some serious editing. There are misspelt words – I am becoming inured to that with the great dumbing down going on all around us – but there are vocabulary errors that leave one wondering whether English is the author’s second language. (For example: “With his obvious exhalation, Ellis had decided …” Exhilaration, perhaps?) Why is it that writers whose English is not one hundred percent believe that their books do not need the attention of a competent editor? A professional must be a master of the medium he/she works in.