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Saturday, 23 January 2016

‘Beneath the Lake’ by Christopher Ransom



Published by Sphere,
10 September 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5522-6 (PBO)

A family has come on vacation ... but when a storm blows up, eight year old Raymond sees something horrible that he’ll only come to terms with when he returns there.

This page-turner horror novel launches straight in with the events of that summer, thirty years ago, through Raymond’s eyes, We then move to a family reunion at that same lake, and meet the members of Raymond’s family, all damaged in different ways by that long-ago experience. One of the interesting features of the novel’s construction is that, though Raymond is the main focus, we’re given the events again through the eyes of other characters involved, seeing it slightly differently each time as we move closer to what might really have happened. All the elements of a good horror novel are here: the journey to the spookily-described deserted lake, the warnings, the twists and turns as each character reveals more, and of course the horror creeping towards them. This was well done, with a sinister presence moving from hint to encounter, and a genuinely unsettling manifestation of the evil in the loch. There was a good suprise twist at the end.

A creepy horror novel with a strong narrative and a good build-up of scary moments.
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Reviewer: Marsali Taylor


Christopher Ransom is the author of internationally bestselling novels including The Birthing House and The People Next Door. He studied literature at Colorado State University and worked at Entertainment Weekly magazine in New York, and now lives near his hometown of Boulder, Colorado.

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 Abrupt Physics of Dying’ by Paul Hardisty



Published by Orenda Books,
15 December 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-91063-305-2

Be prepared for an abrupt plunge into a world of corruption, corporate greed and ruthless indifference to the fate of others, especially if they are poor, ignorant and powerless. 
A  major company is anxious to exploit the vast oil reserves beneath the Yemen desert, and doesn't give a damn about those who in the process will lose their ancestral homelands … without  compensation.
 
Claymore Straker, the flawed but likable protagonist of this  powerful novel, long ago lost his humanity, but after he and his driver – and friend – Abdulkader, are kidnapped in the desert, he recovers it.  The local leader and activist who has taken them captive gives him the option of forcing his employer, Petrotex, to investigate the strange illness affecting the poor villages of the Yemen – or abandoning Abdulkader to his death. 

Clay discovers that the water supplies which keep the villagers, their crops and their animals, alive, are systematically being poisoned in order to get rid of them and  thus facilitate the removal of oil from the ground beneath. 

Hardisty writes with energy, passion and anger about the rape of  this beleaguered area of the world  and emphasises the merciless quest for ever-increasing profits at the expense of people too poor to fight the multinational corporations which exploit them. 

It's interesting to note that in an interview, Hardisty stated that fiction offers more freedom than non-fiction to tell a true story.  I assume that most of the non-fiction he has based his novel on  is true – and because of that, his story is more chilling and terrifying than any standard crime horror book.

This is an exceptional and innovative novel.  And an important one.  Hardisty appears to know his territory intimately and describes in mind-grabbing detail its culture, its beliefs and its hopes.  I can't praise it highly enough. 
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Reviewer: Susan Moody

Paul Hardisty  was born in Canada. He is a writer, chartered environmental engineer, university professor, and triathlete. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his wife Heidi, and sons Zachary and Declan. His first novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, is his first novel. It is a story of greed, corruption, and the power of redemption.






Susan Moody was born and brought up in Oxford.  She has published over 30 crime and suspense novels, including the Penny Wanawake series and the Cassandra Swann bridge series.  She is a past Chairman of the British Crime Writers' Association, a member of the Detection Club, a past Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tasmania and a past President of the International Association of Crime Writers.  She divides her time between south-west France and south-east Kent.   Nominated for the CWA short story award.  Nominated for the RNA's award. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

‘Sorrow Lake’ by Michael J. McCann



Published by The Plaid Raccoon Press,
30 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-92788-402-7

A murdered man has been found near the quiet township of Sorrow Lake, in rural eastern Ontario: a well-liked used-car salesman who’s been shot, execution style.

Thie Canadian PP introduced us to DI Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police, and her sidekick, DC Kevin Walker. They make a good pairing: March is experienced, cynical, ignoring a chaotic homelife, while Walker is young and idealistic, and these differences help to steer the plot. They’re surrounded by a convincing number of fellow officers and experts – its not easy to keep track of names, but the job each does is distinct enough to help you follow what’s going on, and the step-by-step progress of the investigation is convincing. It was interesting seeing the different procedures and ranks, compared to Britain. There was a good feel of small-town life, with an interesting set of characters, including the victim’s house-proud wife, a helpful retired policeman, a biker, and country drug-makers.The plot moved at a good speed, and the final twist was unexpected, but fairly clued.

An enjoyable and detailed PP set in rural Canada.
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Reviewer: Marsali Taylor
Bottom of Form

Michael J. McCann lives and writes in Oxford Station, Ontario, Canada. He was born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario. He attended Trent University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English, before moving to Kingston, Ontario, where he earned a Master of Arts in English at Queen's University in 1981.
Mike worked as an editor for Carswell Legal Publications (Western) in Calgary, Alberta, where he was Production Editor of Criminal Reports (Third Series). After a stint in freelance writing, when he published several short stories in literary magazines, Mike worked for Canada Customs for fifteen years as a training specialist and a manager at their national headquarters in Ottawa. Mike is the author of Blood Passage, a Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel, and The Ghost Man, a supernatural thriller.

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 Silent Dead’ by Claire McGowan



Published by Headline,
19 November 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-0440-0

Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is back, in the most challenging case of her career. A murdered man has been found: Mickey Doyle, one of the Mayday Five bombers who walked free on a technicality. The other four are missing; but how much effort is going to be put into finding these killers?

It’s said that to learn about what really goes on in a country, crime fiction’s a good place to start. This novel brings the problems of modern Ireland vividly to life: the scars left in relatives and bystanders from many years of killing, and the determination to keep the fragile peace, even if it means accepting former killers as part of the new government. Maguire herself is still coming to terms with her mother’s disappearance, brought back to her by her advanced pregnancy, and by her father’s re-marriage. She’s a sympathetic heroine, determined to be involved in this case even though she feels like a landed whale (the book vividly described the horrors of late pregnancy throughout: size, tiredness, awkwardness, being constantly booted by a tiny foot). Maguire’s good with witnesses, particularly the damaged teenager, Kira, and her reactions express the reader’s sympathy with these survivors. The whole debate about what justice is, and how it can be achieved in so difficult a situation, is brought alive, and, in the end, resolved after a fashion: law is what we have to use to overcome our human impulses to revenge. The story is fast-moving, with Maguire’s difficulties adding extra pressure; each section follows Maguire, but ends with the story from Kira’s point-of-view, so the reader has the interest of being just a step ahead of Maguire, until the final surprise denouement. There are also extracts from one character’s book on the bombers, letting us learn more about the people who could do such a thing. The descriptions of the bomb, and the damage it caused to the people around it, are as awful as you would expect, without ever feeling gratuitious: this is the way it was.

A gripping PP which takes us into the heart of a damaged, resilient nation. This is the fourth of the Paula Maguire series. There are no spoilers from previous cases, but Paula’s turbulent personal life is on-going, so you might like to start with The Lost.
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Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Claire McGowan is the author of three crime novels with Headline Books and a former columnist for The Irish News and the Oxford Student. She has also written for The Times, the Guardian, Easy Living, the Bookseller, Stylist, the Dublin Herald, the Irish News, Candis magazine, and the Vagenda blog. She recently turned 32 but still sometimes can’t tell her left from her right in a hurry. 

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, 21 January 2016

‘I am Death’ by Chris Carter



Published by Simon & Schuster,
30 July 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-3223-0

Robert  Hunter is a specialist catching serial killers.  Leading the Ultra-Violent Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department is his unenviable task and in this, his seventh outing, there is no let up. 

A girl is abducted whilst baby sitting and so begins this harrowing story about kidnapping, torture and long term damage.  When bodies killed in bizarre and gruesome ways turn up, the killer leaves a clue, which doesn’t really help the police to find him.  It is a message “I am Death”.  Robert Hunter and his partner Carlos Garcia are called in for their specialist talents in dealing with homicides exhibiting excessive brutality and/sadistic tendencies. 

Robert Hunter’s fictional background in psychology means that uncomfortably you are taken through the thinking of the killer and his motivation.  The story oscillates between the police investigation and the experience of a young boy trapped by a killer.  As Robert and his partner unravel the clues, the stories begin to knit together.

This is a gripping but disturbing novel, with some extremely brutal descriptions, interspersed with some the police procedures and some lighter elements.    The characters, including the victims in part and the killer, are fleshed out, but avoiding some of the clich├ęs often seen in this style of book.  It is not a comfortable read and has some distressing scenes, but they are portrayed as a snapshot and most of the brutality is in the readers’ extrapolation of what might come next. 

The writer gets into the minds of the killer and this is not surprising given that Chris Carter has spent time studying the psychology of criminals in one of his past careers.  I have “enjoyed” his characters, especially Robert Hunter, and his interesting storytelling from his first novel The Crucifix Killer.  This latest instalment does not disappoint, but is not for the fainthearted.
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Reviewer: Amanda Brown

Chris Carter was born in Brazil. He received his undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Science and Psychic Phenomena and Science and the Near-Death Experience. Originally from Canada, Carter currently teaches internationally. He now lives in London.

www.chriscarterbooks.com