When you meet Alex Gray, you meet a charming, elegant woman and it is hard to imagine the vicious crimes that emanate from her pen. Of course, she would argue that she is merely relating the actions of her characters. This she does very well.
Although I only read Riverman recently, as it was book of the month at my book group, it is one of Alex’s earlier novels.Even so, the story had so many twists and turns that I was struggling to keep up with all the possible suspects, their motives, and the reasons for killing each victim. It is the fourth crime novel featuring her DCI William Lorimer character.
Glasgow’s River Clyde gives up a dead body, a probable accidental death, but that probability is tossed out the window when forensics and an anonymous call point to something far more sinister. As he probes deeper into the life and business of the deceased accountant, Duncan Forbes, a seemingly upright member of the community, Lorimer find only yet more unanswered questions. Then the firm’s human resources manager is found dead in her riverside flat these questions become only more complex and more disturbing.
Lorimer must follow the trail of deceit, greed and personal agendas as the bodies begin to pile up while the answers remain allusive. Someone knows what is going on and they are not talking. This is a taut, thrilling, murder mystery. It is hard to believe, as The Riverman is so good, but Alex’s writing just gets better.
I was given the novel, The Turncoat by Alan Murray’s publisher for review. It is a debut novel by Murray but he has written many factual pieces previously and that is somewhat reflected in the language and layout of this book.
The Turncoat opens with a prologue detailing the death and destruction wrought on Clydebank, immediately catapulting the reader into the chaos of 1941. On night of March 13, 1941, German bombers targeted the shipyards and munitions factories in Clydebank, trying to disrupt the British war effort, it is a horror of World War II that is often overlooked in the history books.
When the story commences, there are two main protagonists. The first, Major George McLean, a former journalist at the Glasgow Herald, who an educated and well-read man and hopes to return to his old job when the war ends. The other is Sergeant Danny Inglis. He is more of a never afraid to get his hands dirty should a suspect require some persuasion. Both are veterans of World War I and together they scour the west of Scotland for spies and traitors from Room 21A, military intelligence. This gives them the freedom to investigate wherever they see fit. The men report to Brigadier Ewen Stuart, a posh old buffer. He provides some light relief but may not be quite as ineffective as he seems.They are joined in their investigations by the very proper Finola Fraser, who the Major knows from his Glasgow Herald days. She has a nose for a story and network of people happy to tip her off to anything newsworthy.
The plot is clever and revolves around a rumour that the second night of the Luftwaffe bombing was so accurate and destructive because the Germans were being fed information from someone local. The only strangers in town are two Irishmen, “Cafflicks” passing themselves off as “Proddies” to get a job on the docks. The Major suspects that the IRA might be helping the Germans out. He and Inglis organise a manhunt to find the Irishmen before they escape back to Ireland and try to find Chrysalis, the mastermind behind the spying operation.
Meanwhile, Rudolf Hess crash lands in Scotland, and military intelligence must find out why.
The Turncoat is a nice mix of fact and fiction cleverly woven to produce a gripping crime story in a historical setting. Although, Murray’s characterisation is sometimes a bit thin, The Turncoat offers a complex plot and plenty of authentic details make for an absorbing and informative read. I highly recommend The Turncoat, not only for general reading, but also as a way of immersing reluctant history student into another era.
Those of you who read my site will know that I particularly enjoy the crime and thriller genres. I also have a lot of time for Peter Robinson, whom I find to be one of the most generous and entertaining writers. So, to you it will come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his book Bad Boy. It is the nineteenth in Peter’s Inspector Banks series.
Thriller aficionados have long applauded Peter’s succession of thoroughly authoritative crime novels, in which the very human Banks has been one half of a team with Annie Cabbot. It is interesting, because for a large part of the novel, his usual main character, DCI Alan Banks, is on holiday in the USA and quite unaware of the problems and crimes affecting his patch in Yorkshire.
In Bad Boy, Banks’s impulsive daughter Tracy has fallen under the spell of her flatmate’s handsome boyfriend, who turns out to be a very dangerous individual with, ultimately, the police on his trail. The dazzled Tracy goes on the run with him, and the grim events that follow turn into a nightmare.
Neither the setting nor even the characters that make Peter’s work so satisfying, but the plotting of a Swiss-watch precision. By the time Banks returns to the UK, jet-lagged and fractious, a series of crimes have beset his colleagues. I will avoid any spoilers, but suffice to say, when Tracy takes her flatmate’s boyfriend to her father’s empty house to hide out, it transpires not to be her best idea.
The reader is treated to a masterclass in the organisation of narrative, all too rare in a field that now trades in the messiness of modern life rather than cohesion. That is not to underestimate the centre of gravity in Robinson’s books that is his doughty copper, DCI Alan Banks, whom the reader meets on the pages of Peter Robinson’s books is the thing and Bad Boy is a very good read. DCI Alan Banks has made it to the small screen in the form of Stephen Tompkinson, however, those who love books know where the master of crime may be found.
The most recent book of the month for my book group was The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell. The author, Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, who also wrote under the pseudonym, Barbara Vine was an acclaimed English crime writer, known for her many psychological thrillers and murder mysteries and above all for Inspector Wexford. Although this is a genre I enjoy, I had never read any novels by Ruth Rendell, so I was pleased to have an excuse to read The Water’s Lovely. This is a stand alone novel and not one involving Rendell’s most famous character, Inspector Wexford.
The story starts about a dozen or so years ago when Ismay’s younger sister Heather, then aged 13, drowned their stepfather in the bathtub while Ismay and her mum were out shopping. Or at least that’s what Ismay assumes: she and mum have been acting on the principle that, if you do not talk something through, then it is easier to deny it. Besides, the cops and everyone else assumed it was an accident. Now Ismay and Heather live in the downstairs of the family home; upstairs, mum, driven bonkers by the death and its aftermath, is tended by their Aunt Pat.
Back to the present day, Ismay’s boyfriend Andrew is a snobbish spoiled brat, and psychologically abusive of her; nonetheless, she’s completely infatuated with him. Heather, by contrast, has just begun a wonderful relationship with Edmund. Ironically, Edmund only ever asked her out on a date in order to dodge the ghastly Marion, whom his hypochondriac mother was trying to match make with him. Almost every character in the novel is self-serving or self-engrossed, a ninny, or is pompously self-deluding, weak, or airheads, or even downright criminal and potentially murderous. Furthermore, by the end of the novel, all of those characters, from deficient to vile, get what they wanted, or at least some part of it.The only people for whom there are no happy endings are the two we like and respect: one of whom is a murderess.
I found this book a bit depressing in its portrayal of the characters. The Water’s Lovely started out fine, lots of promising elements including a long-ago mysterious death hidden by the family and never discussed, a sociopathic blackmailer, the foreshadowing of old people to be bumped off for money, an incriminating cassette tape moving from hand to hand, as well as an emotionally abusive relationship escalating, a killer on the loose and a loving couple whose happiness might be destroyed by an explosive secret. Still, none of the strands of plot fully developed. The end twist did not surprise me either.
I am sure I will read other crime novels by Ruth Rendell in the future, but as an introduction to this author, The Water’s Lovely was a bit of a disappointment.
This book was on the list for our book group recently and, with the amusing title, we were looking forward to reading No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside. Many of our members were familiar with the columns she writes in newspapers too. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub is written in an epistolary style, as if the reader was reading the narrator’s journal. The style enveloped the reader in the narrator’s head quickly and easily.
Marie Sharp may be a little creaky in the bones as she heads toward the big 6-0, but she’s fine with it. She is not interested in parasailing or taking Italian language courses nor will she welcome comments about suggesting she join a gym. Marie has done it all: drink, drugs, sex and rock and roll. She has already led an exciting life: She came of age in the 1960s, after all. So her friends don’t tell Marie to take a gourmet cooking class, and whatever they do, they shouldn’t tell her to join a book club. Marie has a new grandchild and a new man on the horizon, all she wants to do is make the most of what she considers the most interesting stage of her life.
Nobody thinks 60 is old, but Marie thinks it is time to let go of dreams of love, forget about manners and plans. I found this attitude rather depressing and old fashioned. Parts of the book are funny and it is well-written. However, the book bored me. After my initial interest in the idea and format, the lack of plot and constant reference to sixty being old, I found that the book became tedious. I found No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub to be a collection of dated ramblings by a self-absorbed, unremarkable narrator. The title tickled me, but No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub did not tickle my fancy. I have not read any other books by Virginia Ironside, and on the basis of this, I will not be looking for others.
The Balance of Guilt is a brilliant title! This is also a well paced and clever crime novel by Simon Hall. I would expect no less! Another of Simon’s novels, The Dark Horizon is also reviewed on this site at https://bookreviewstoday.info/2016/06/03/the-dark-horizon-by-simon-hall/.
In The Balance of Guilt TV reporter, Dan Gloves becomes embroiled in a mystery, notwithstanding that he is injured and in hospital when the matter breaks. The story is set in and around Exeter, a part of the country the author knows well and the perspective of a TV reporter is interesting and original when considering a crime novel and the relationship between Glover and the police, particularly Detective Adam Breen affords different ways to set expectations for the reader.
In The Balance of Guilt a terrorist outrage in a sacred building shocks the UK. The country is transfixed by the bombing, a radical Islamic plot is suspected, a secret service double-cross is muted, and a murderous cover-up suspected. Throughout this, television reporter Dan Groves lies unconscious in a hospital bed so the reader becomes increasingly intruiged as to what part he could have in the murder. It seems incredible that he might be able to assist in solving the problem as he was unconscious when the scandal broke.
I really enjoyed the relationships that develope between Groves and his daft dog, his camera man and Adam Breen. Simon Hall has created a realistic scenario that is frighteningly topical. In The Balance of Guilt, Simon Hall has a neatly created murder mystery. Simon Hall, is best known as the BBC’s Crime Correspondent in the South West of England. He is also the author of The TV Detective novels and regularly teaches Creative Writing. Indeed, I first met Simon at The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2015. In his novels he describes some of the remarkable events he has witnessed in his time as a television reporter.
As a writer I am in awe of both the quality and quantity of Val McDermid’s novels. As a reader I revel in both. Several of her books including Torment of Others and The Skeleton Road are reviewed on this site: https://bookreviewstoday.info/2013/05/16/torment-of-others-by-val-mcdermid/ and https://bookreviewstoday.info/2016/07/09/the-skeleton-road-by-val-mcdermid/. I bought Cross and Burn the last time I met Val at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers’ Festival in Stirling, Scotland, 2016. It is the eighth book in her series about Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. Tony Hill is a forensic psychologist and Carol Jordan is a police Detective Chief Inspector who team together in order to solve particularly brutal crimes of all kinds.
Their relationship is ambivalent and hovering between close and distant. Still, they are a great pair for the reader even though they cannot seem to work out their important to each other personally. Ms. McDermid manages this personal part of their story with admirable restraint. This is the first book where Hill and Jordan are separated due to the events of McDermid’s book, The Retribution. In Cross and Burn, Jordan is trying to move on after a personal loss, she is not working and refuses to have anything to do with Tony Hill. Meanwhile, Hill is struggling to go on with his life without Carol in it. But when Tony is suspected as a serial killer it is Carol Jordan who must come to his rescue. She is still angry with him, but she knows he is innocent and out there is the real killer.
Paula McIntyre, familiar to readers of the series, takes center stage as she tries to determine who is killing women who look just like Carol Jordan. Hill and Jordan, although in this book,the story is more about the people who worked with them, their team, and the sudden disbanding of that. Everybody has to move on after that, whether they want to or not. It was interesting to have McIntyre’s character fleshed out more in this book: also to watch Tony and Carol find some new ways to proceed in the world and to deal with the glimpse into the notion that while they are valuable, the world still goes on around them and without them.
Cross and Burn, although self-contained, and can be read alone, but follows on directly from the previous book in the series, The Retribution, in which disposable supporting characters were either murdered or mutilated at the hands of another savage killer of women. I did not enjoy Cross and Burn as much as most of McDermid’s other crime novels. That does not make it a bad book, just slightly less awesome than most. Val McDermid desrves her place as a No. 1 bestseller whose crime novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.
She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She writes full time, She is married and McDermid and her wife and divide their time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.