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

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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

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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

The Sentinel – Mark Oldfield

Mark Oldfield’s Spanish-set The Sentinel is the first in a trilogy called Vengeance of Memory.  The author has credentials of credibility: Oldfield has a PhD in Criminology, has worked in criminological research for more than 20 years and is a man who is passionate about Spain and its history.  New publisher Head of Zeus, declares this an ‘ … epic, surprising and brilliantly plotted …’ story, ‘ … into the dark heart of Spain’.

The novel weaves three strands of narrative.  In 2009, on the discovery of 15 bodies at a disused mine we join forensic scientist Ana María Galindez as she starts her investigation and encounters the evil work of Comandante Guzmán for the first time.  Meeting Profesora Luisa Ordoñez at the scene, Galindez is soon drawn to Guzmán’s history, intrigued by the project Ordoñez is leading.  The second narrative strand takes us back to 1953 and enlightens on how those bodies came to be there as we hear the story of Comandante Guzmán from that year.  As Franco’s Head of the Brigada Especial – the infamous secret police – Guzmán’s role was to hunt down and silence Franco’s opponents.  Where this strand focuses on Guzmán’s legend and the events leading up to his disappearance in Madrid’s great snowstorm, the final strand of 1936 takes us further back to the Civil War period and the making of the monster that was Guzmán. Continue reading

Garment of Shadows – Laurie R King

Review by ScotKris.

In recent years I have, on occasion, been concerned when a number of writers have started consolidating their output by focusing on one series character at the expense of their other work.  Looking back over 30 years of a wide variety of crime writing in particular, no matter how much I enjoyed Ruth Rendell’s work for example, I preferred the variation of her standalone novels to the Wexfords.  I would not have sought three or four Wexfords in succession.

Laurie R King has, over almost 20 years, produced five police procedurals in the much missed Kate Martinelli series; five varied and intriguing standalone novels, and now, with Garment of Shadows, 12 novels in the Mary Russell series – the series which also features the post-retirement Sherlock Holmes.  Recently, King has concentrated on the Russell-Holmes series and Garment of Shadows is the fourth successive novel in four years.  I admit I felt a slight trepidation as to whether my attention would hold.  I had no qualms that I would enjoy the quality of the writing, more that the story would show signs of the series needing a break.  But I needn’t have worried…

After the humorous side-step of 2011’s Pirate King, King returns to a more serious subject matter, taking Russell and Holmes deep into a troubled Morocco and the war between Spain and France over control of the precarious North African country.  As with earlier Russell and Holmes novels, King appears to effortlessly interweave her characters with historical events, and a sign of her skill is to have the reader forgetting that this is fiction mingling with real events.  Decades have passed since the Rif Revolt, but King brings to life the anguish of a country fighting for its independence almost 100 years ago, without ever making this a history lesson.

The story opens with Mary Russell wakening in a strange bed in a strange room, with no memory of who she is or how she arrived in these circumstances.  There is blood on her hands; there are soldiers on her trail; and she has no awareness of Holmes.

Out in the hive-like streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks … Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north …

A fascinating trail ensues as Russell uses her wits in her attempts to find herself, as Holmes attempts to track her down.  This is King at her best, showcasing her characters in full swing as individuals before reuniting them and taking the story deep into its main theme.  Utterly believable, wildly improbable, totally plausible, Garment of Shadows is a more than worthy addition to this now long-running series, and comes highly recommended.

Garment of Shadows is now available on Amazon. With thanks to the publisher, Allison and Busby for the review copy.

Books to Die For – John Connolly and Declan Burke (editors)

Click on pic to go to Amazon UK.

Earlier in 2012, I was involved in an interesting discussion on the crime fiction blog of Mrs Peabody who had declared herself ‘all autopsied out’.  There, contributors considered developments in both the appearance of the serial killer and the autopsy scene (US terminology, ‘post-mortem’ for the UK) in crime fiction.  Later in the year, an article by Otto Penzler in Publishers Weekly caused some consternation – heating up its reply section and causing a stir on a forum I frequent.  Well, he did ask for it when he said, “It is an inarguable fact that virtually everything of interest and significance in the history of detective fiction has been written in the English language, mainly by American and English authors. This is not chauvinistic, racist, insular, or opinionated; it is merely reportage.”  Until you are sure you’ve exhausted the world’s canons of literature through understanding all native languages or reading reliable translations, how can you draw such a sweeping and ignorant conclusion?

So, when stumbling across a copy of Books to Die For  in my local library, I already had two reasons to dip in: would I find my comments and those of my online colleagues supported within its pages?  After all, the premise of Books to Die For is that a broad range of the world’s crime fiction authors offers up the one book they would recommend to readers.  It’s the book because of the nature of the book itself, or because of the impact it had on the essay-writing author him- or herself, or indeed because of both.  That broad range does include writers who write in languages other than English and it’s interesting to see which novels they champion.  The structure of the book allows us to see the charting of the development of crime fiction over time where Books to Die For starts at the point of origination of the genre today (give or take a few years and a reasonable amount of debate which is documented within its essays) and ends with novels at the contemporary end of the spectrum.

As you might expect, the knowledge base is impressive.  Again, as you might expect, the quality of the essays varies, but the vast majority of those I read are pretty superb.  (I have not read them all.  Yet.  This is a reference for dipping into after all, and it makes the best tray of crime canapés that you are likely to come across.)

Do not be fooled that is something only for the occasional dipping either.  It has a very gripping quality.  Oh those crime canapés are short and sweet, so you can have another one, can’t you?  And then another.  And another.  And so on.  In bed one night I finally put the book down at 3am.  I needed some sleep but  my mind was racing all the same, full of novels I’d read many years ago and some popping up as the building blocks in the construction of a new ‘must read’ shopping list.  For Books to Die For will do that to you: evoke treasured memories and have you running for more, more, more.

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The Last Weekend – Blake Morrison

Paperback at Amazon UK.

Rather captured by the first episode of the recent TV adaptation of The Last Weekend and having personal issues with reading a novel after seeing its screen adaptation – I just can’t do it – the race was on to read a copy before seeing the next episodes.  Originally hooked via the TV and now having completed both, it’s fair to say that the adaptation is pretty faithful to the novel.  That hook is strongly present in the novel and has simply been extracted directly into the script.

Set over a long bank holiday weekend in August, golden couple Ollie and Daisy have rented a house and invited old friends Ian and Em to join them.  From the initial invitation – clumsily delivered – and through all subsequent events, we hear this story straight from Ian’s mouth.  You’d don’t have to turn the first page to feel the heavy blanket of foreboding crush down on your shoulders.  ‘Both were my friends,’ says Ian.  ‘I did love Ollie and Daisy,’ he adds.

As The Last Weekend unfolds, we learn that Ollie and Ian have a rivalrous friendship which took root in their university days.  Almost immediately, a longstanding bet is resurrected after some years of dormancy, one in which the stakes are raised as the weekend progresses.  But it’s not only in sport that Ollie displays his capacity for rivalry.  The underlying cracks in relationships soon become open, raw wounds as statements made appear to be lies or are proved to be lies.  Or so we may think.  Damning statements slipped into banter are the result of malicious opportunism in competition or carefully planned malign intent?

Continue reading