A penultimate post and a thank you

Repeating today’s post from the main site:

This blog started ten years ago, back in 2005. Now, it is time to close it and move on.

Many, many thanks for reading, commenting, ‘liking’ and linking. Massive thanks to all who have contributed to these pages.

‘The last post’ will ring out on Friday, March 6, with details of ‘the new’ that comes about from moving on.

Thank you again.

Until Friday …

Red Joan – Jennie Rooney


Click on image for link to Amazon UK.

Red Joan was inspired by the case of Melita Norwood – ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Co-op’ – exposed in 1999 as the longest-serving Soviet spy in Britain when an 87-year-old great-grandmother.

Like Norwood, Joan Stanley receives a knock on the door when she is in her eighties, ‘ … loud and staccato; official-sounding …’  And then the life she has so quietly lived and so carefully guarded – ‘so close to the end’ – unravels when she opens the door to those inevitable officials.

With five days of interrogation before her name is announced in parliament and to the media, Jennie Rooney’s narrative nimbly weaves the interviews of the present with Joan’s private memories of the past.

The daughter of a headmaster, Joan leaves home for Newnham College, Cambridge in 1937 at the age of eighteen to read Natural Sciences, specialising in Physics.  At the behest of her mother, she arrives with a meticulously planned ‘University Trousseau’.  She is bright but naïve.  Soon, Joan falls under the spell of the rather glamorous and charismatic Sonya, and falls for her alluring cousin Leo.  They introduce her to their communist politics, but Joan remains uncommitted.

On leaving Cambridge with a certificate – females were not awarded degrees at the time – Joan is recruited into the ‘Tube Alloys’ project and her education can be put to good use.  This proves to be the time when her beliefs, ideals and loyalties are tested in extremis.

As the interviews progress, Joan’s son Nick, a QC, sits at her side.  Here, Jennie Rooney squeezes the tension as Nick faces the truth about his mother and Joan grapples with her answers to protect Nick as much as she can.

Red Joan is a novel that explores ambiguities, grey areas and the two sides of a coin.  In plotting the course of personal development and disclosure of changing motivation Rooney creates characters with whom we sympathise whatever the next page throws up.  It is also an unusual mix of spy thriller and love story as we track the life of Red Joan.

As an evocation of its period Red Joan offers us a novel that feels fastidiously researched for detail, embedding us with ease in time and place.  What is now perceived to be short decades back is shown as light years away in terms of culture, behaviour and the stresses of day to day living.

‘Joan’s voice is almost a whisper.  “Nobody talked about what they did during the war.  We all knew we weren’t allowed to.”’

Red Joan is a provocative novel that will get people talking; perfect for an engrossing solo read or to fire the phosphorous flame of discussion in a book club.  Was Joan right in her choices?  And did she get what she deserved?

This review appeared in last week’s print edition of the Catholic Herald.

Touchstone – Laurie R King (2013)

Click on image for link to Amazon UK.

Click on image for link to Amazon UK.

Review by ScotKris.

Good news for fans of Laurie R King – August saw the first UK paperback release of her 2008 standalone novel, Touchstone, featuring FBI Agent Harris Stuyvesant, in a beautiful new edition from Allison & Busby.

Once studied by British intelligence for his excruciating sensitivity to the world’s turmoil, Bennett Grey has withdrawn from the world – until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to assess Grey’s potential as a weapon in a new kind of warfare.  Agent Harris Stuyvesant needs Grey’s help to enter a realm where the rich and the radical exist side by side – a heady mix of power, celebrity, and sexuality that conceals the free world’s deadliest enemy.  Soon Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and – even more dangerously – falling in love with another.  As he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust anyone, even his touchstone.

Reviewed here back in 2008, this is a snapshot of what I said at the time:

“ …Laurie R King’s latest offering, Touchstone, a standalone novel set shortly after the Great War in locations as diverse as London and Cornwall.  I must confess immediately to a preference for novels which stand by themselves away from a series; as the author says on her own blog, it gives her ‘a chance to flex her literary muscles’, with the opportunity to develop a unique selection of characters and background that support the story in its entirety.  Touchstone is no exception: a rich and diverse offering which challenges the mind and demands a single-sitting reading – no easy task at 500 pages plus.  Indeed, part of the pleasure of this novel is in the savouring, with the lead character of Bennett Grey a superb vehicle from whom to provide just one of the many perspectives in this book.

“Followers of Laurie R King’s blog will know how much time, care and love go into her books.  No corporate publicity machine producing multiple titles each year: indeed, often eighteen months or more may pass between her books, and all are welcomed with open arms by an extremely loyal readership.  With Touchstone as the latest example of how this author keeps in touch with this reader, I would always welcome a more prolific output; however, I am glad Laurie R King doesn’t feel the need to compromise in any way, and continues to produce absolute gems.”

Now, five years later, with this new edition the opportunity arrives to revisit the characters and enjoy King’s fine writing and her enviable ability to weave such fascinating stories.

Link to Amazon UK.

Link to Amazon UK.

Since Touchstone was first released, King has produced four consecutive instalments in her renowned Mary Russell series.  Now too, at the end of September, we have The Bones of Paris, (review coming soon), which sees the return of Harris Stuyvesant.  So if you haven’t yet read Touchstone, catch up now, and immerse yourself in a 1920s world with more intrigue than Poirot could ever have faced.

The Stranger You Know – Jane Casey

Click on image for link to Amazon UK.

Click on image for link to Amazon UK.

Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series takes us into the heart of a London Metropolitan Police investigation through the eyes of a lower-ranking officer, Detective Constable Kerrigan.

Born of Irish parents and brought up in London, Kerrigan’s struggle to find her home – her true ‘fit’ – also plays out in the workplace where the strident and effusive sexism of her immediate boss, Detective Inspector Josh Derwent comes from another age.  (Before the razor was invented.)

By the fourth in this series, Kerrigan has experienced a stalker, moved home more than once and bedded down into a relationship with a colleague that saw him shunted off into another team.  Not an easy life.

So why has this series gained such a loyal following?  Kerrigan’s plucky, has good instincts and has a naturally sharp and witty tongue.

In The Stranger You Know, Kerrigan is hunting a killer.  Three different cases across London now appear linked.  Three women – with different backgrounds and nothing in common – have trustingly welcomed someone into their home only to be strangled and laid out in a form meaningful only to the killer.

In a tense office charged by arguments from behind closed doors, Kerrigan is pulled from her partnership with Derwent and told not to breathe a word on what is now a suspected serial killer case.  Certain facts link to an earlier, unsolved case – one in which the teenage Derwent himself was a suspect.

All this paves the way for a seismic shift in the plates that have structured the Derwent and Kerrigan relationship until now.  We also discover more of Derwent, achieving a level of understanding of what has made him the natural Neanderthal that he is.  But is Derwent also a killer?

As in the previous novel The Last Girl, Jane Casey expertly weaves her plot through the actions of various characters keeping even a seasoned crime fiction reader guessing to the end.  Gripping and hugely entertaining, The Stranger You Know is peopled with richly drawn characters and the gritty realism of contemporary London.

You don’t need to have read the previous novels in the series, but The Stranger You Know is highly likely to leave you reaching for them.

Kerrigan is to today what Jane Tennison surely was at the start of her career.  An attractive and engaging character, she could well prove to be as enduring.

This review appeared in the print edition of the Catholic Herald.

Capital Punishment – Robert Wilson


Review from It’s a crime! Or a mystery…

Oh the sense of loss on turning over the last page of the perfectly pitched The Ignorance of Blood, the final book in Robert Wilson’s Falcón quartet.  I remember it well.  To a degree, this loss was alleviated by excitement at the thought of what might come next, and a new series was promised.  This has now arrived with Capital Punishment and its new series character, Charles Boxer.  All the hallmarks of CWA Gold Dagger-winning Wilson’s writing are present: this makes for intelligent reading; with depth, emotion, strong characterisation and good plotting.

Boxer is ex-British army and ex-Metropolitan Police.  Having then moved into security in the private sector, working for the leading company in kidnap negotiation worldwide, Boxer now supplies his specialised skills in a freelance capacity.  And for those clients privileged to be in-the-know, Boxer offers a rare additional service.

In Capital Punishment, Boxer returns to London to the case of Alyshia D’Cruz, kidnapped on her way home after a drunken night out in Covent Garden with friends and work colleagues.  Approaching her mid-twenties, Alyshia is the daughter of former Bollywood actor and now self-made Indian billionaire, Frank D’Cruz and his former wife, literary agent Isabel Marks.  Where Marks may pursue a normally uneventful life, D’Cruz is considered by some to be a ‘…vastly rich ex-actor, who was well worth envying, despising and resenting.’

Quickly, Boxer identifies issues with the progression of the kidnapping, suggesting the kidnappers are more interested in tormenting Alyshia’s parents than in achieving financial gain.  With Alyshia more at risk from torture and murder, Boxer needs to quickly ascertain the motivation behind the kidnapping…

‘What about the long term stuff, for big money?’ ‘You mean the new tax on the rich?’ said Nelson, stabbing his fried egg viciously, as if it were the eye of a banker.  ‘Make them pay for all the shit they’re putting us through.  Steal their kids and give them an alternative education.’

The plotting of Capital Punishment beautifully elicits the highly topical from within our contemporary world of international crime.  Alyshia’s kidnapping is merely the sharp flame that catches the eye.  Soon, the story guides us through the funnel into the expanding hot air balloon, taking in gangs and drugs; the machinations of global finance and corruption in an era of recession; terrorism and counter-terrorism; Islamic fundamentalism; sex trafficking; personal grudges and revenge.

Boxer makes an attractive protagonist and an intriguing character.  You’d want him on your side even though he’s not perfect with his ‘rare additional service’.  Skilfully setting up the series, Capital Punishment raises the question but does not conclude on whether this may prove to be Boxer’s Achilles heel.

Mirroring the D’Cruz family relationship finding itself under the microscope because of the kidnapping, we also learn of Boxer’s own family circumstances and his relationship with his spirited teenage daughter.  All the family characters have scope for an enduring presence throughout the series.

With Capital Punishment Wilson again takes up the gauntlet as master of the intelligent thriller.  With Charles Boxer we have an explosion of character in the scene of international crime and specifically kidnap negotiation.  With all probability this will be one of your top thriller reads in 2013, so add it to your chocolates for Easter weekend.

Capital Punishment was published in January 2013 by Orion in the UK.  Find out more about the author here and Charles Boxer here.

The Collini Case – Ferdinand von Schirach

TCC1993, the Head Office of a bank in Munich: ‘Before we go any further, I have to say …’ the man paused to find the right words, ‘I was only a child in the war; I was not responsible.’

I had not expected to hear those words from a new colleague.  In reply I managed ‘I understand’ and the conversation then moved on to the business at hand.  I could understand the meaning of his words, but the emotions giving rise to them were beyond me.  That was the first time I encountered the guilt in contemporary Germany and the Germans’ relationship with it.

A book of note takes hold of the consciousness because of its content, but sometimes its provenance adds to this, embedding deeper meaning and significance.  The Collini Case is an example of the latter and rooted in its provenance is that German guilt.

Ferdinand von Schirach is a prominent defence lawyer in Germany.  His short story collections Crime and Guilt became instant bestsellers and have been translated in over thirty territories.  His novella, The Collini Case is now available in the UK courtesy of a seamless translation from Anthea Bell.

For 34 years Fabrizio Collini was a quiet, hard-working and respected toolmaker at Mercedes Benz.  But one day he walks into an upmarket hotel in Berlin and kills the 85 year old wealthy and renowned industrialist, Jean-Baptiste Meyer.  Collini stays at the scene and admits to the murder.  The case is assigned to newly qualified attorney Caspar Leinen and Collini resists any form of defence.

Leinen soon realises that he knew the victim and is urged to drop the case but is unable to do so because of the legal process.  Another attorney, established and weathered, provides the wisdom of his counsel, reminding Leinen of the nature and difficulties of acting for the defence.

What follows in a concise and tautly paced narrative is the unveiling of the ‘why’ and an examination of the impact of crime.  Ferdinand von Schirach makes intelligent and skilful use of his legal experience in weaving his plot around various laws in operation and the true meaning of justice to be derived from them.  But this is not a dry novel: at its heart The Collini Case is packed with pure, visceral emotion.  Its ending plucks a chord that remains with the reader for a long time, possibly never to be erased as von Schirach does not hide from reality.

On its 2011 publication in Germany The Collini Case prompted a debate on changes made to criminal law in the 1960s and resulted in the Justice Ministry commissioning an investigation in early 2012.

Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth, Reich Governor and Nazi party Gauleiter in Vienna, later convicted of crimes against humanity, was the author’s grandfather.  With The Collini Case the author has worked through his own sense of inherited guilt and produced a remarkable novella that takes its own place in history: for justice, for the victims.

The above review first appeared in the print edition of the Catholic Herald.

[Link to main blog.]

Origin – J T Brannan

Click on the pic for link to Amazon UK.

Click on the pic for link to Amazon UK.

Originally attracted by mention of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, J T Brannan’s debut Origin proved to be something other than expected.  This is a thriller that leaves little room to catch one’s breath.

In the Antarctic, research scientist Evelyn Edwards and her team discover a body buried under the ice which exceeds even her wildest imagination.  Tests indicate that the body is 40,000 years old.  That alone is astounding enough, but the body is also found in clothing made of fabric of rather advanced technology.   Later, when the team flies home, they are targeted by someone who wants to keep knowledge of this body and its provenance hidden.  Just managing to escape, Evelyn is on the run, alone and desperate.  She turns to ex-husband Matt Adams for help, a former member of an elite government unit.  They are in a race against time, taking them from Area 51 in the USA to the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, as they try to fathom out exactly what is going on and then to save…  [Well, that would be telling.]

Why Origin?  Well the origin of mankind is at the heart of this story, due to that body discovered in the Antarctic.   This is not a traditional crime thriller per se as it crosses over into science fiction.  Now take a deep breath – you’ll need it.   Origin has all the pace and action of Indiana Jones meets the more techno James Bond in the movies, cramming in a multitude of ingenious and bruising escapes in a chase that can be defined as “It can’t go on, can it?” – “Oh yes it can.”  Indeed the pace does not let up at all.

In joining Evelyn and Matt through their assault of escapes, certain elements require more than just a flicker of suspension of disbelief.  In essence, some things are simply just too hard to believe in the ‘grounded in reality’ section, but this is a romp of a thriller in that action movie style, so go with the flow.  If you stick with it to the end – and believe me, that’s easy to achieve – you will be rewarded with an absolutely fabulous denouement that ends on the perfect note (do not cheat here).

If you seek a romp of an action thriller that takes in conspiracy theories along the way, Origin delivers on the wave of a huge adrenaline rush.

Find out more about this debut author at his site here.  @JTBrannan_ on twitter.

Cold Grave – Craig Robertson


Link to Amazon UK.

Where Robertson’s second novel Snapshot (review link) focused on police photographer Tony Winter as the main protagonist, Cold Grave (Amazon UK link) shifts the beam of light onto DS Rachel Narey.

In November 1993, Scotland endures its coldest winter in living memory and the Lake of Menteith freezes over.  A young couple walk across its ice to the historic island of Inchmahome, but only the man returns.  When spring arrives, staff preparing the abbey ruins for summer visitors discover the unidentifiable remains of the body of a girl, her skull violently crushed.

Narey is losing her father to Alzheimer’s but there’s one memory that lingers to torment him: the Inchmahome case that he never managed to solve from 1994.  Strong-willed Narey wants to correct that with the help of her not-yet-public other half Tony Winter and his (retired copper) uncle.  And it all has to remain unofficial at the outset.  Through routine police work, Narey then discovers that the man her father had always suspected has recently died…

Cold Grave is an intriguing, absorbing and moving novel.  With its ensemble of characters it becomes a true wider-family affair pursuing resolution for a cold case.  Robertson excels at creating tension, maintaining pace and painting lively, believable characters with typical Glaswegian mouths.  Allowing humour to bleed in, the sense of reality is strong and the reader feels part of the team on the page.  Glasgow and its surrounds – all the way to Callander in this one – are certainly Robertson’s patch and he’s an observant guide.

Shortlisted for the CWA’s John Creasey Dagger in 2010 for his debut novel Random – an innovation in plotting – this author confirms he’s going from strength to strength with Cold Grave.  For good plots, depth and texture to characters and setting, and more threads in the weave than in your tartan, Robertson’s your man.

The Dark Winter – David Mark


Link to Amazon UK.

Now that the dark nights have firmly set in and the clocks will soon be put back in the UK, you might want to get in the mood with The Dark Winter, the debut from David Mark.   Set in a snowy Hull, two weeks before Christmas, Mark introduces his series copper Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy.  Now don’t groan and click off the page at the thought of yet another series copper because McAvoy is rather charming, and Mark’s writing resides in the upper echelons.

The Dark Winter’s opening prologue is one of the best I have read in a long time.

An old man is aboard a vessel in the North Sea, about the mark the anniversary of a tragedy some 40 years before from which he was the only survivor.  A journalist is interviewing him, and he is re-living the experience through his memories.  As he tells his tale, specks of doubt mingle with the sea spray for this apparently very lucky man.  He is emotional and needs a break.  And on this occasion he doesn’t make it alive back to the shore, he is later found dead in a small, wooden boat.

McAvoy is a family man, out on a Christmas shopping trip in the centre of Hull.  As they await the return of his wife, he forks chocolate cake into the mouth of his young son, Fin.  But the scene suddenly changes.  ‘What’s going on, Daddy?’  First his senses pick up blood, then he hears the screaming.  His professional instinct kicks in and he runs across the square, looks back at his four year old son for a moment, before he sees the blade coming down…

Christmas arrives unusually early for the local mortuary.  Before they can even think of victims of over-indulgence and prime time domestic tensions, they have three bodies in situ, all linked to police investigations.  And a theme develops: those killed were once lone survivors. Continue reading