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Thursday, 31 December 2015

‘Murder in Court’ by Three Ian Simpson

Published by Matador,
28 March 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-78462-213-8

DI Flick Fortune was hoping to relax during her last two weeks before the start of her maternity leave ... until a leading QC is found dead after a function at the Edinburgh Law Courts, just after having sex with the wife of a senior police officer.

This PP was great fun to read. It’s in the Christie style, but set in the present day, so that the investigating officers have full access to modern techology, but also suffer the pressures of the press (led by Inspector No, Fortune’s former boss) and finance. The opening ‘list of characters’ was dauntingly large, but in fact I didn’t find I needed it – each character was clearly introduced. Fortune was a likeable detective, with a nicely-sketched home life, married to a fellow police officer, and Inspector No was convincingly unpleasant. The plot was fast-moving, with a high body-count and a lot of twists, and the perp satisfyingly suprising, but fairly clued. I enjoyed the way the setting moved from Edinburgh and Glasgow to country Scotland.

Several crime writers must be kicking themselves at not having thought of the ‘numbers’ idea first ... this reads well as a stand-alone, but if you like the sound of a traditional PP with a twists-and-turns plot, then you might like to begin with the London-set Murder on Page One. The second in the series, Murder on the Second Tee, is set in St Andrews.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Ian Simpson says, after a career in the courts I decided that I had enough of facts and I started to write fiction. I greatly enjoy my second career. From my days as defence counsel I remember police officers who bent the rules out of shape and got away with it. They were often highly effective at putting villains behind bars and I had mixed feelings about them. I based Inspector No on these men, only I have made No a buffoon, a source of comedy. I believe that crime fiction is at its best when flavoured with humour, and my readers appear to agree with me. My second book is based in St Andrews, where I was brought up, and it provides a wonderful backdrop for any story. My third, Murder in Court Three,  is set in Edinburgh's legal world. I have been fortunate that most of those who have read my books have enjoyed them and I feel honoured when someone chooses to relax with my fiction.

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.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

‘Agatha Raisin Dishing the Dirt’ by M.C. Beaton

Published by Constable,
1 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-47211-720-5

Agatha Raisin is a successful, self-made woman, who has every reason to be proud of what she has achieved, including her flourishing detective agency. However, Agatha is still painfully insecure about many things, especially about her origins in a Birmingham slum, brought up by alcoholic parents. Therapist Jill Davent has targeted Agatha ever since Jill moved to the village of Carsely, even going so far as to employ a private detective to research Agatha's origins. To make matters worse, Jill is romancing Agatha's ex-husband, James, and counselling a woman that Agatha is convinced is a murderess, even though she escaped the consequences of her crimes. Agatha makes no secret of her opinion that the world would be a better place without Jill Davent in it, which makes her an obvious suspect when Jill is found strangled.

Fortunately, Jill's far from pure past soon gives the police many more suspects, especially as the death toll swiftly rises. Agatha calls in all the resources of her detective agency and other friends to investigate the crime, but soon it becomes clear that Agatha's determination to discover the truth has made her the killer's next target.

This is the 26th book featuring Agatha Raisin. In it, as always, Agatha is investigating murders and finding herself in danger, as well as pursuing any attractive man she encounters, in the pathetic (and dwindling) hope that she will, at last, achieve the perfect romantic relationship. The charm of the Agatha Raisin books lies in the humour and in the friendships that she has formed with the many characters that crop up book after book. Agatha can be selfish, self-indulgent and devious, but she is also clever, intuitive and determined, with many flashes of true kindness and generosity. Her warm relationship with her friends in the village and elsewhere, and her staff at the detective agency, and their reciprocal affection for her, is one of the strong points of the book. The plot has many twists and turns and clever false clues and concludes with an extremely ingenious but fair solution. Those unacquainted with the series may prefer to start with some of the earlier books, as the plot of Dishing the Dirt gives away things that happen in previous books including the solution of one earlier book.
Dishing the Dirt is an enjoyable, easy-to-read, comedy crime; a perfect book to relax with on a dark winter's evening.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

M.C. Beaton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1936 and started her first job as a bookseller in charge of the fiction department in John Smith & Sons Ltd. While bookselling, by chance, she got an offer from the Scottish Daily Mail to review variety shows and quickly rose to be their theatre critic. She left Smith’s to join Scottish Field magazine as a secretary in the advertising department, without any shorthand or typing, but quickly got the job of fashion editor instead.  She then moved to the Scottish Daily Express where she reported mostly on crime. This was followed by a move to Fleet Street to the Daily Express where she became chief woman reporter. After marrying Harry Scott Gibbons and having a son, Charles, Marion went to the United States where Harry had been offered the job of editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian. When that didn’t work out, they went to Virginia and Marion worked as a waitress in a greasy spoon on the Jefferson Davies in Alexandria while Harry washed the dishes. Both then got jobs on Rupert Murdoch’s new tabloid, The Star, and moved to New York. Anxious to spend more time at home with her small son, Marion, urged by her husband, started to write Regency romances. After she had written over 100 of them under her maiden name of Marion Chesney and getting fed up with 1811 to 1820, she began to write detectives stories. On a trip from the States to Sutherland on holiday, a course at a fishing school inspired the first Hamish Macbeth story. They returned to Britain and bought a croft house and croft in Sutherland where Harry reared a flock of black sheep. But Charles was at school, in London so when he finished and both tired of the long commute to the north of Scotland, they moved to the Cotswolds where Agatha Raisin was created.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

‘The Pale House’ by Luke McCallin

Published by No Exit Press,
27 August 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-84344-551-7.

It is 1945 and ex-policeman Captain Gregor Reinhardt is assigned to the new branch of the military police called the Feldjaegerkorps and is sent to Sarajevo to help with the German retreat from Yugoslavia. On the trail of suspected deserters he comes across a massacre seemingly of civilians, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

While Reinhardt is looking into who carried out the massacre and who they were, five mutilated bodies are discovered deepening the mystery even more.

Reinhardt's investigations lead him to realise the Ustase are deeply involved and the further he digs into finding out the truth the more his life becomes threatened. More inquiries lead him to the 999th Field Punishment Battalion but all is not as it seems and Reinhardt is sure the man Jansky in charge of the Battalion is corrupt but proving it is another matter.

Peric a top man in the Partisans asks Reinhardt to help him get rid of the Ustase who are becoming more and more brutal and dominant. How he manages to do this makes a terrific story running in tandem with his other investigations. Intriguing.

I found this book very interesting and although at times brutal, I doubt that the incidents in the story were anywhere near as bad as the actual happenings at this time in history.

It is very well written and wonderfully descriptive. At times I could almost feel the cold and the desolation of the people of Yugoslavia so well was it related.

On reading the Historical Notes at the end of the book I was very interested to learn that many of the characters in the plot actually existed and a lot of the events did occur. Even the Pale House was real but was known as “the house of terror”.

Apparently there are two more Gregor Reinhardt novels due to be published soon, I shall look out for them with anticipation.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Luke McCallin was born in Oxford, grew up in Africa, was educated around the world, and has worked with the UN as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people put under abnormal pressures, inspiring a historical mystery series built around an unlikely protagonist, Gregor Reinhardt, a German intelligence officer and a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. The Man From Berlin was published in 2013, followed by a sequel, The Pale House, in 2014.
He lives with his wife and two children in an old farmhouse in France in the Jura Mountains. He has a master’s degree in political science, speaks French, is learning Spanish, and can just get by in Russian. When he’s not working or writing or spending time with his family, he enjoys reading history, playing squash, and keeping goal for the UN football team.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

‘The Child’ by Sebastian Fitzek

Published by Sphere,
13 August 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5687-2 (PB)

This book should come with a health warning: care required; could seriously mess with your mind.

The scenario the author sets up certainly messes with the protagonist’s mind – though to be fair, it was pretty messed up in the first place. Criminal lawyer Robert Stern has never succeeded in moving on after the unexplained cot death of his two-day-old son, some ten years before this book begins, and when a strange sequence of events leads him to believe the child may still be alive, he is drawn inexorably into a dark, complex underworld of murder, revenge and danger.

It begins with another child: Simon, an engaging ten-year-old boy who is dying of terminal cancer – and is convinced that he was a serial killer in a previous life. Sceptical? So is Robert Stern, until Simon describes the body and burial place of one of his victims – and leads him right to it.

As Stern sets out to prove one way or the other whether Simon’s ‘memories’ are genuine, the police prove unhelpful at best, and he finds himself crossing and recrossing a well-evoked Berlin and its surroundings on the convoluted trail, and also in the sights, of a present-day killer whose identity and agenda remain a mystery until almost the end of the book. The tension level never falters; the sense of ‘how will he get out of this?’ kept me gripped until the final twist.

Sebastian Fitzek has a keen eye for an interesting character. Stern is the best kind of damaged hero: full of flaws, and with a history that has provided him with friends in usefully dark places, but ultimately one of the good guys. Young Simon is heartbreakingly serene about his ultimate inescapable fate, and about the rollercoaster journey he embarks on with Stern and Carina, the nurse who almost sacrifices her career to help him solve the mystery of the ‘memories’. She is intelligent and feisty when she needs to be, though occasionally a tad over-emotional. Borchert, Stern’s seedy former client, is arguably the most interesting of all, with feet in various grubby camps as well as a basic sense of decency.

I’m not normally a fan of translated fiction, so full marks not only to Fitzek but also to John Brownjohn, who has turned the original German into pacy idiomatic English which never falters. Fitzek is apparently hugely popular in his native country; The Child deserves to raise his profile in the UK as well.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Sebastian Fitzek was born 13 October 1971 in Berlin Germany. He is a writer and journalist. His first book Therapy was a bestseller in Germany in 2006, toppling
The Da Vinci Code from the No1 position.


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.