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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina

Published in US by Little, Brown, 23 May 2017.
HB. ISBN 978-0-316-38057-7
Published by Harper Perennial,
1 May 2018. PB.
Published in UK by Harvill Secker, 2 March 2017
HB. ISBN 978-1-9112-1523-3
Published by Vintage,
22 February 2018. PB. ISBN 978-1-7847-0485-8
Published in CA by Harper Ave
23 May 2017. HB. ISBN 978-1-4434-5251-9
Published by Harper Perennial, 1 May 2018. PB. ISBN 978-1-4434-5253-3

From the publisher: William Watt’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are dead, slaughtered in their own home in a brutal crime that scandalized Glasgow.  Despite an ironclad alibi, police zero in on Watt as the primary suspect, but he maintains his innocence.  Distraught and desperate to clear his name, Watts puts out a bounty for information that will lead him to the real killer.  Peter Manuel claims he knows the truth that will absolve Watt and has information that only the killer would know.  It won’t come cheap.  Manuel is an infamous career criminal, a degenerate liar who can’t be trusted and will say or do anything to make a buck.  But Manuel has something that Watts wants, which makes him the perfect target for Manuel’s consummate con.  Watts agrees to sit down with Manuel, and before they know it, one drink has turned into an epic, forgotten night of carousing across the city’s bars and clubs that exposes the thin line between a yarn and the truth.  The next time the unlikely pair meet is across the witness stand in court - - where Manuel is on trial for the murder of Watt’s family. Manuel calls Watt to the stand to testify about the long, shady night they shared.  And the shocking testimony that Manuel coaxes out of Watt threatens to expose the dark hearts of the guilty and the innocent.  Based on true events, The Long Drop is an explosive, unsettling novel about guilt, innocence, and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

It won’t be a spoiler to state that the eponymous “long drop” is a reference to the method of the hanging process which was still the sentence of choice in murder cases when this case occurred, although capital punishment has since been abolished.  I am probably among the majority, at least in the U.S., when I confess ignorance of this crime, trial and the outcome thereof, so this True Crime novel was my first awareness of the apparent scandal that surrounded the case in the country where it took place.  Manuel, 31 years old at the time, and his trial, become a sensation.  The killer sought here “attacks women in the dark, hides in dusty attics, waiting for people to leave their homes so he can steal their mother’s engagement ring, lies on pristine linen bedclothes with dirty boots on or drops food on precious rugs and grinds it in with the heel of his shoe, spoiling a modest home for spite; he drags women down embankments, scattering their shopping in puddles, telling their three-year-old son to shut the f*** up or he’ll kill their mum.”  A rape charge against Manuel ends in a unanimous decision of Not Proven.  But there are still 8 murder charges against him, including that of two 17-year-old girls.  The trial is recounted in very convincing form by the author, whose previous books I have found extraordinarily good.  The chapters alternate between early December of 1957, and January of 1958, when the crimes occurred and May of 1958, when the trial takes place.  The characters are very well-drawn, especially that of Manuel and his parents, as well is Laurence Dowdall, “Glasgow’s foremost criminal lawyer.   Another terrific novel from this author, and it is recommended.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Denise Mina was born in Glasgow in 1966. Because of her father's job as an engineer, the family followed the North Sea oil boom of the seventies around Europe, moving twenty one times in eighteen years from Paris to the Hague, London, Scotland and Bergen. She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs: working in a meat factory, bar maid, kitchen porter and cook. Eventually she settled in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients. At twenty-one she passed exams, got into study Law at Glasgow University and went on to research a PhD thesis at Strathclyde University on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders, teaching criminology and criminal law in the mean time. Misusing her grant, she stayed at home and wrote a novel, Garnethill when she was supposed to be researching and writing her thesis.  Garnethill won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger for the best first crime novel and was the start of a trilogy completed by Exile and Resolution. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named Sanctum in the UK and Deception in the US. In 2005 The Field of Blood was published, the first of a series of books following the career and life of journalist Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties. Still Midnight, published in 2009 introduced DS Alex Morrow. There are five books in the series. 

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.

Monday, 18 September 2017

‘The Dark Isle’ by Clare Carson

Published by Head of Zeus,
1 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-178669054-8

The Dark Isle is the third book in a series featuring Sam Coyle. In this book Sam is in her early 20s and working in the Orkney Islands on an architectural dig when she spots a face from her past. Pierce, a colleague of her father, disappeared in 1976. Sam’s father and Pierce both worked for the intelligence service as spooks. The story is really a rite of passage as Sam comes to terms with the death of her father who died five years previously, tries to uncover the truth about why he was killed and whether the rumours that he was a traitor are true.

The plot alternates between two-time zones; the hot summer of 1976, when Sam was a child, and 1989 when she is twenty-three. Sam begins to question her memories and understanding of the world as a child. Underlying themes explore the legacy a parent’s behaviour leaves on their children and how growing up as the daughter of a spook makes them suspicious of everyone, struggling with relationships and constantly on their guard.

The protagonist is a story teller who loves myths and legends so as a standalone novel the reader is never quite sure whether what she is saying is actually true or all in her head. From the comments on Amazon and Goodreads about the other books in the series I think that although this can be read as a standalone novel it probably works much better as a series as the preceding books help to establish the character so that there are levels of understanding that are missing for the standalone reader.

The Dark Isle is a book that will appeal to lovers of descriptive writing rather than fast-paced twisting plots. Lengthy descriptions create a vivid sense of place between the contrasting remote wildness of Orkney and the stifling claustrophobia of London in a heat wave. And delicate touches of detail from the periods of the 1970s and 1980s will appeal to readers who can remember the eras.

Reviewer: Chris Hammercott

Clare Carson is an anthropologist who has worked for many years in international development. She lived in rural Zimbabwe when she was doing fieldwork for her PhD and has also lived and worked in the United States. She now lives on the south coast of England with her husband and two daughters. Her first book, Orkney Twilight, is a thriller about a daughter who wants to find out about her father’s life as an undercover cop.

Christine Hammacott lives near Southampton and runs her own design consultancy. She started her career working in publishing as a book designer and now creates covers for indie-authors. She writes page-turning fiction that deals with the psychological effects of crime. Her debut novel The Taste of Ash was published in 2015.

To read a review of A Taste of Ash Click on the title
twitter: /ChrisHammacott
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‘Soot’ by Andrew Martin

Published by Corsair,
6 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-5243-5

In the city of York, a young gentleman, Fletcher Rigge, is rescued from Debtors prison by a gentleman who has offered to pay his debts if he will solve a murder.  We are in the Georgian world of 1799 in a very snowy York.  The novel is an epistolary one - the letters and depositions contain conversations and thoughts which move the story forwards very well.   The characters and their quirks of behaviour make for a lively tale.

Fletcher Rigge attempts to trace the people whose shades the murdered man had produced in the several days before his death.  The term shade describes what is more commonly referred to as a silhouette, black on white paper usually.  The victim was a talented man and he was stabbed with the scissors he used for his craft.

Rigge’s employer is the son of the artist, captain Robin Harvey, who lives in a tumbledown house with a manservant and a lady called Esther - a very irregular household.  The victim had his own house, run by his sister, Susan.  The layers of confusion, accidental or deliberate, proliferate as the book proceeds.  Who can be trusted?  Will Rigge identify the murderer or is the point of the story elsewhere?    In such a cleverly written book you don't know whose story to trust.  

The background of the debtors’ prison in wintery York is perfectly delineated as is the process of doing a shade or silhouette. 
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer

Andrew Martin grew up in Yorkshire. After qualifying as a barrister, he won The Spectator Young Writer of the Year Award, 1988. Since, he has written for The Guardian, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Independent and Granta, among many other publications. His columns have appeared in the Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman. His Jim Stringer novels – railway thrillers – have been published by Faber and Faber since 2002.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.