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Friday, 24 October 2014

‘When the Dead Awaken’ by Steffen Jacobsen

Published by Quercus,
3 October 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-78-87-629-0

An Italian crane driver in the pay of the Camorra is winching one of their ‘special’ containers onto a ship when his crane misfires and drops it on the quay below, spilling out the bodies of worn out Chinese workers and a number of black bags containing other victims of the Camorra.  Among them are a mother and son, the Forlanis.  Assistant Public Prosecutor Sabrina D’Avalos is given the investigation, and soon discovers there are links between the Forlani family and the unexplained aspects of her father’s assasination at the hands of the Camorra’s pet killer, Urs Savelli.

This book’s a winner on two counts – the feel of a Scandinavian noir with the enjoyment of a well-realised Italian background.  The book was inspired by a real-life account of the Camorra, one of Italy’s powerful secret societies. The action is constant, the sinister Camorra an ever-present adversary, and the ending satisfying, though more violent than I expected.  Sabrina is generally a likeable heroine, though more rash than is always plausible, and her alliance-shifting colleagues are well-drawn. 

A fast-moving thriller set in an interesting background.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Steffen Jacobsen is an orthopaedic surgeon and consultant. This is his third novel. He was inspired to write When The Dead Awaken by Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction book Gomorrah, about the Camorra and by his travels around Italy. When The Dead Awaken is perfect for fans of The Killing, The Wire and The Godfather. Jacobsen’s bestseller Trophy has been number one in the Danish bestseller chart. He lives in Denmark with his wife and children.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘The Murder Tree’ by Alan Veale

Published by Matador, 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-78306-111-2

New Yorker Chrissie Fersen, who only a few months previously was pregnant and in love, has now travelled to Glasgow in Scotland with her brother Edward for a break, following a traumatic time. When Edward is called into work, Chrissie continues her sightseeing alone and wonders into a neighbourhood of elegant three storey houses. Staring at the buildings she experiences a feeling of familiarity. Then in a basement window she sees what can only be a woman being murdered. Running to escape the sight and sounds that surely must be in her head she finds herself in front of a library. She starts by researching murders in Sauchiehall Street going back 50 years.

In the library she meets Billie Vane who helps her by producing back copies of the Glasgow Herald.  Eventually Chrissie tracks the murder back to 1862, and the death of a servant girl.  But what has a murder more than a hundred years ago got to do with her?  How can she recognise a house in Glasgow when she has never visited Glasgow before? These two unlikely people seek the truth to the murder. But as they investigate to find the truth they put themselves in danger. Could the events of the past have tentacles linking to the current day?

Thus intriguing and absorbing this mystery contains a fey element that captivated this reader’s attention. Well-written with good characterisation this fascinating mystery will keep you turning the pages.
Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Alan Veale says it was around twenty years ago that I first read a book by Christianna Brand entitled Heaven Knows Who. This was a contemporary account of the trial of Jessie McLachlan, and the events preceding it. I was immediately struck by the dramatic 'twists' in this factual story, and by the intriguing questions it posed about who had really committed the crime. Because it was a true story, it struck me that there would undoubtedly be descendants alive today who may even be ignorant of the involvement of their infamous ancestors - and that prompted the creative instinct within me to look at the potential to write another version of the story, but from a modern day viewpoint. But my writing experience was limited to the theatre, and I could not think of a practical way to put such a drama on the stage, so I put the project to the back of my mind for a while. Along came children, other projects and lots of new challenges, but I never lost interest in Jessie's story (as I liked to call it), and at one time I tried to write a screenplay version - even taking my research as far as a visit to the murder scene in the mid 1990's. The project never properly got off the ground though, and it was not until I took early retirement from the civil service in 2009 that I felt the time had come for a serious attempt at turning the story into a novel. It took another year before I hit the keyboard properly, and several more visits to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness (plus a holiday in New York) to complete the necessary research.
Promoting The Murder Tree began in earnest on 16 October with a launch in my adopted home town of Lytham. Independent booksellers Plackitt & Booth hosted an evening event complete with
alcohol... Talks in libraries have followed, with enthusiastic readers keen to question me about every aspect of writing and publishing. Glasgow is also getting a lot of free publicity! For more information, visit my web page:

Thursday, 23 October 2014

‘Murder on High Holborn’ by Susanna Gregory

Published by Sphere,
2 February 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-84774-433-2

March 1665.  War has been declared on the Dutch, so it’s a disaster when England’s new flagship, HMS London, is scuttled on her maiden voyage ... and what link does this have with the death of a fortune-telling courtier in a fashionable brothel?  Secret agent Thomas Chaloner has two weeks to find out...

This lively historical who-dunnit has a huge cast of characters, ranging from Prince Rupert (dashing Cavalier turned middle-aged grouch), through Temperance the brothel keeper and the wonderfully crazy 5th Monarchists, down to Grisley Pate and his enormous family, all drawn with Dickensian humour.  The atmosphere of Restoration London was evoked by numerous small touches: the ever-present mud, the darkness lit by flickering torches, the abrupt changes to country in what’s now central London.  The plot moves along at a leisurely pace, with corpses a-plenty, exciting action sequences and a satisfying ending.  Although this novel is well through the Chaloner series, that wouldn’t matter to a new reader, and Gregory’s many fans will enjoy meeting the series characters again.

An amiable period romp.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Susanna Gregory was raised in Bristol. After graduating from university, she spent three years in Leeds, as an officer in the West Yorkshire Police, before taking up an academic career. She has served as an environmental consultant, doing fieldwork with whales, seals and walruses during seventeen field seasons in the polar regions, and has taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology. She is the creator of the Thomas Chaloner series of mysteries set in Restoration London as well as the Matthew Bartholomew books, and now lives in Wales with her husband, who is also a writer.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘Among Others’ by Jo Walton

Published by Corsair,
21st March 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-47210-653-7

I’d better begin with a health warning.
This book came to the wrong review site. By no known definition could it be described as crime or mystery. You don’t even have to open it to learn this; there’s an enormous clue on the cover – it won two awards, the Hugo and the Nebula: major prizes both, but for science-fiction and fantasy. And you’re still not convinced, google the author and you’ll find she is an established and acclaimed writer of fantasy, with no track record in crime fiction.

It isn’t even cross-genre. Well, it is – but Young Adult crossed with fantasy rather than crime crossed with anything. The only nod towards crime is the psychological, or possibly psychic, damage the protagonist has suffered at her mother’s hands. And maybe the bullying she encounters at school, but that seems to be normal behaviour, however unacceptable.
On the other hand... Woman cannot live by crime fiction alone. Twenty pages in, I was hooked. I loved it. I ached to know how it would finish, but I didn’t want it to end.

It’s slightly weird, but slightly weird appeals to me, speaks to me, in fact. Mori, the fifteen-year-old narrator, doesn’t so much believe in magic and fairies as assume their existence as demonstrable and unremarkable fact. She casts spells and they work, or, if you prefer, after she casts them, the things she expects to happen actually do happen.

It’s written, quite beautifully, in the form of a diary covering ten life-changing, coming-of-age months in Mori’s life. Right from the start she hints at the tragedy in her past: a few months earlier she and her twin sister set out to stop their mother from using black magic for her own selfish and terrible ends, and the price of their success was her sister’s life and her own physical well-being. Part of the story’s charm is the slow, subtle unfolding of this backstory, which ultimately leads to her mother’s attempt at revenge, and a huge decision for Mori herself.

As has often been the case in the small amount of fantasy I’ve read, many of the characters are two-dimensional, but somehow in this context that’s how it should be. It’s as if Mori is viewing them as figures on a moving canvas, not connecting or interacting with them. When she does encounter people she can connect with – her warm and loving South Welsh relations, a lively book group she discovers, or magicks up, depending how you want to see it – they fill out and become real.

Mori herself is a glorious mix of insecurity, certainty, desperation, hope, self-doubt – the whole adolescent nine yards with added physical disability, and a passion and appetite for books which I struggle to rival. At the end, when she proved herself more powerful than the controlling mother who caused such damage, and began to see a way out of the labyrinthine tangle of being a teenager, I wanted to cheer.

Crime fiction it’s not. A wonder and a joy, as it was described by the leading critic quoted on the cover, it certainly is. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with it, a couple of lines of page 329 would have clinched it: They could take the money from building enough nukes to kill all the Russians in the world and give it to libraries. What good does an independent nuclear deterrent do, compared to the good of libraries?
Doesn’t that say it all?
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jo Walton is a Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet. Born in December 1964.  She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002 and the World Fantasy award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.     
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Sandrine’ by Thomas H Cook

Published by Head of Zeus,
9 August 2013.
ISBN: 9781781855133

Thomas H Cook is new to me, but since reading Sandrine I have read two more of his novels and am devouring a third.  It's long time since I read such literate, perfectly-pitched prose, perhaps not since Donna Tartt's The Secret History.  The narrator is Professor Sam Madison, not a likable man, who looks down on and disassociates himself from everyone around him.  He is married to the beautiful, talented, enigmatic Sandrine, also a professor at the same university where he teaches.

Coming home one evening, he finds his wife dead in bed, the victim of an apparent suicide.  But the police are not so sure, and Sam finds himself in court, on trial for murder.  This is a courtroom drama with a difference: over the course of nine days we learn just about everything there is to know about Sandrine and Sam, from the early days of their courtship to the present day.  Gradually, Sam begins to suspect that Sandrine has rigged her own suicide to look like murder – by himself.  Has she?  And if so, why? 

Did he, didn't he?  Did she, didn't she?  Cook keeps us on tenterhooks until the very end of the book.  I thoroughly recommend this book … and his others. 
Reviewer: Susan Moody

Thomas H Cook  is the author of eighteen books, including two works of true crime. His novels have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Macavity Award and the Dashiell Hammett Prize. The Chatham School Affair won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 1996. His true crime book, Blood Echoes, was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1992, and his story "Fatherhood" won the Herodotus Prize in 1998 and was included in Best Mystery Stories of 1998. His works have been translated into fifteen languages.

Susan Moody was born in Oxford is the principal nom de plume  of Susan Elizabeth Donaldson, née Horwood, a British novelist best known for her suspense novels. She is a former Chairman of the Crime Writer's Association, served as World President of the International Association of Crime Writers, and was elected to the prestigious Detection Club. Susan Moody has given numerous courses on writing crime fiction and continues to teach creative writing in England, France, Australia, the USA and Denmark.  In addition to her many stand alone books, Susan has written two series, on featuring PI Penny Wanawake (seven books) and a series of six books featuring bridge player Cassie Swan.