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Friday, 23 January 2015

‘Dark Heart by Tony Park

Published by Quercus,  
25 Oct 2012.

In the aftermath of the Rwanda’s genocide, 1995, Captain Richard Dunlop was shown a photo by a dying man. He hadn’t though it important at the time, but now the investigator following it up has died, and an attempt has been made on the lives of the people who saw it ...

This novel centres on three people, all affected by what they saw in Rwanda. Carmel, a lawyer, has fought off her drink problem to become a prosecutor of those responsible for the genocide. Richard, now the doctor to a game reserve, has tried to forget with drugs, drink and women. Leisl, once a war photographer, has turned to wildlife, spurred on by her family’s wildlife reserve. Each of the three characters is distinctly drawn, and the reader becomes interested in their entwined past and their fate now. The narrative threads – the photograph, the baby gorilla stolen by poachers, and the responsibility for the genocide – are drawn together as the book progresses, and the African countryside is lovingly described. The plot was well worked out, with an exciting finish and final twist. I felt that the characters reflecting on their past slowed it down at times – at almost 500 pages, it was a long read. The full horror of events in Rwanda was made vivid, and the theme of moral responsibility – for individuals as well as nations - handled well.

An interesting novel based around real events, with a well-evoked background and characters.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Tony Park was born in 1964 and grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. He has worked as a newspaper reporter in Australia and England, a government press secretary, a public relations consultant, and a freelance writer.
He is also a major in the Australian Army Reserve and served six months in Afghanistan in 2002 as the public affairs officer for the Australian ground forces.
He and his wife, Nicola, divide their time between their home in Sydney, and southern Africa, where they own a tent and a Series III Land Rover.

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.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

‘Missing You’ by Harlan Coben

Published by Dutton,
March 18, 2014.
ISBN 978-0-525-95349-4 (USA)
By Orion Fiction,
10 April 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4460-1 (UK)
As Harlan Coben’s newest blockbuster novel opens, Kat Donovan’s best friend, Stacy, who runs a p.i. agency, tells Kat that she’s bought her a one-year subscription to an online dating service.  It’s been eighteen years sine Kat’s then-fiancé broke up with her, and she’s never allowed herself to really get involved with anyone else.  Kat, 40 years old and the third generation in her family to be a cop with the NYPD, soon finds herself checking out the site, and is stunned to discover there the face and profile of her long-lost almost-husband.  Needless to say, she’s never gotten over him, and responds to his on-line invitation.

The break-up of her engagement is not the only thing Kat is grieving over and about which she has never found ‘closure,’ the other being her detective father’s murder many years before.  The man who is serving a life sentence for the killing is now critically ill in the hospital, and Kat’s last chance to identify the man who paid for the killing, a big-time crime boss, so that the cops can finally put him away, is slipping away. 

Back at the precinct house, Kat is approached by Brandon Phelps, a young man who specifically seeks her out, asking for help in finding his mother, who apparently has vanished, with no contact in several days, something that has never happened before, and Kat agrees to investigate.

The author introduces, in the second chapter, another character, Gerard Remington by name, but any link to Kat and her personal and professional problems does not become known until about one-third of the way into the book.  And the real significance of Remington is not more fully disclosed until well after that.  The connection among all these threads is one that will have readers turning pages ever more quickly, even more so as the novel races to its conclusion.  As with every Harlan Coben novel, it is cleverly plotted, with wonderfully well-drawn characters, including “Aqua,” Kat’s yoga teacher, a “cross-dressing schizophrenic gay man.”  The surprises don’t stop, and the pulse-pounding denouement is terrific.  (And I loved the author’s tip of the hat to fellow mystery writer Parnell Hall.)

Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Harlan Coben was born  4 January 1962 in Newark, New Jersey. He was the first ever author to win all three major crime awards in the US. He is now global bestseller with his mix of powerful stand-alone thrillers and Myron Bolitar crime novels. He has appeared in the bestseller lists of The Times, the New York Times, Le Monde, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

‘The Paris Winter’ by Imogen Robertson

Published by Headline,
24 October 2013.
ISBN: 978 0 7553 9013 7 (PB)

The plot is often the least of the author’s challenges in historical crime fiction. What sorts the memorable from the also-ran is the background: atmosphere, detail, and above all whether or not it feels right. This novel falls unequivocally into the memorable category.

The Paris Winter was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Award in 2013, and deservedly so. It’s set in the art world, during the winter of 1909-10, culminating at a specific point in Parisien history which impacts heavily on the dénouement; the plot is not so much whodunnit as how do the protagonists prove it and deliver an appropriate payback.

All of Belle Epoque Paris is there: the opulent dress-fittings-and-morning-calls life of the rich, the sparse yet somehow upbeat existence of the poor and the comfortable, complacent domain of the middle class are all represented. The artistic community comes across in vivid technicolor. The well-informed salon hosts, the dilettante collectors, the girls scratching a living as models, the academy where young ladies receive tuition combine to form a rounded, detailed picture of the world inhabited by the main protagonists, of who there are three.

Tanya Koltsova is one of Maud’s fellow students, a rich Russian with a family whose plans for her do not include art. Yvette is a life model at the academy Maud and Tanya study at: a denizen of Montmartre, where lowlife apaches (not the native American kind – it’s a nickname for crook) rub shoulders with prostitutes, jobbing artists and opium addicts.

But it’s on Maud Heighton that the narrative hinges. Maud is an aspiring and talented artist, who has come to Paris to study: an act of great courage on her part, especially when money grows short and life grows very uncomfortable. (This gives rise to my one quibble with the author; Maud is apparently desperately hungry most of the time, yet almost every day she eats cakes in the morning, an omelet and bread for lunch and her landlady’s stew, albeit a thin one, in the evening. Not the most nourishing of diets, but hardly starvation rations. Fortunately the narrative soon moves on from this phase of Maud’s life.)

When Tanya’s attempt to help Maud out of extreme poverty goes catastrophically wrong, the three are plunged into a dark side to Paris’s glittering façade which only Yvette has any knowledge of, as they wreak revenge on a pair of amoral but ingenious crooks. It all comes to a climax which chills and thrills, during the floods which devastated the city in January 1910.

The plot gallops along and will keep you reading avidly – but for me, the book is mostly about the characters, both leading and supporting, all of whom are drawn with scratch-them-and-they-bleed detail and colour; and that vivid sense that this is how arty Paris in 1910 really was. 

One of the great pleasures of discovering a new author is also discovering that she has a backlist. The Paris Winter is Imogen Robertson’s first foray into the early 20th century, but it’s certainly left me itching to sample her late 18th century series.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
 Imogen Robertson grew up in Darlington in the North East of England, studied Russian and German at Cambridge and spent a year in Russia in a city called Voronezh during the early nineties. Before she started writing full-time she used to direct children's television, film and radio. She decided to try and make a career out of writing after winning the Telegraph's 'First thousand words of a novel' competition in 2007 with the opening scene of Instruments of Darkness, her first book.
She has now written six novels; five in the Georgian Westerman and Crowther series and a standalone, Paris Winter. Paris Winter, Island of Bones and  have all been shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Historical Dagger. She also plays the cello and lives in Bermondsey, South London.

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.

‘The Doll Maker’ by Richard Montanari

Published by Sphere,
21 August 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-4931-7

Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, but if Richard Montanari’s Balzano and Byrne police procedural series is an accurate representation, it appears it has its fair share of murder and mayhem.

The Doll Maker is the eighth in the series, and the characters are already well developed. Kevin Byrne has a dysfunctional personal life which includes a deaf daughter and a broken marriage; Jessica Balzano is happily married to another cop, and has two kids and ambitions beyond the squad room.

What sets this pair apart from other American cop duos is that it’s the male partner who has the highly developed intuition – the instincts which border on second sight. Balzano is a good detective who knows how to read the clues and join the dots, but it’s Byrne who has senses on high alert and hunches that pay off.

In The Doll Maker they are faced with a decidedly spooky situation: a serial killer who leaves a doll at every crime scene – but no ordinary doll. Each doll is meticulously dressed and painted to resemble the previous victim.

The path trodden by the two detectives to solve this dark and cryptic crime is a convoluted one, veering from Death Row to child psychology, and sometimes the connections they make are far from easy to follow. But somehow the reader trusts them to get there in the end, even if it’s sometimes unclear where they’re going.

The reader has the advantage of them, of course, because Montanari interleaves the progress of the investigation with chapters from the viewpoint of the murderer – or, since it’s revealed quite early and isn’t really a spoiler, the two murderers. He does it skilfully, capturing the voices of the macabre pair with a deft precision.

There’s plenty of suspense to hold the attention; by the edge-of-the-seat final showdown I had long since given up on getting an early night. Both pace and tone are sufficiently varied to make nearly 500 pages feel more like 300.

Occasionally I felt Montanari showed a tendency to over-explain in a number of places where he could have trusted the reader to make the connections. But that was a minor flaw, and a small price to pay for an absorbing read and the discovery of a pair of intriguing cops I never knew existed before I picked up this book.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Richard Montanari was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the scion of a traditional Italian-American family, which means he learned two things very early in life. One: ravioli tastes much better than baby formula. Two: if you don't get to the table on time, there is no ravioli. After an undistinguished academic career, Richard traveled Europe extensively, living in London for a time, where he sold clothing in Chelsea, and foreign language encyclopedias door-to-door in Hampstead Heath.  Needless to say, he hawked a few more ties than tomes, but neither job paid enough to keep him in beer and skittles. So, he returned to the States and joined his family's construction firm.  Five years and a hundred smashed thumbs later, he decided that writing might be a better job. After working as a freelance writer for years, during which time he was published in more than two hundred publications -- including The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Seattle Times, and many others -- Richard wrote three pages of what was to become the first chapter of  Deviant Way.  He was immediately signed to a New York agency. When he finished the book, Michael Korda signed him to a two-book deal at Simon & Schuster. In 1996 Deviant won the OLMA for Best First Mystery.

 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.