Lin Anderson is, without doubt, the queen of Tartan Noir. None but the Dead is the 11th crime novel she has written featuring the forensic expert, Rhona Macleod. The story is set on Sanday, one of Britain’s northerly islands in the Orkney archepelego. It is inaccessible when the wind prevents the ferry from the mainland crossing, or fog grounds the tiny island hopping plane. A place with its own customs and where everybody knows everybody else, even the incomers.
Human remains have been discovered by an incomer, during the renovation of the old school house, so forensic scientist Dr Rhona Macleod and her assistant Chrissie are brought in to evacuate the grave. They are presented with a series of unexplained incidents, apparently linked to the discovery of 13 magic flowers representing the souls of dead children who had attended the island school where the body was discovered. Of course, they call on the help of Professor Magnus Pirie.
In Glasgow McNab is investigating the suspicious death of an elderly man in his flat. It is when a link between the Glasgow death and the body on Sanday is suspected, that McNab volunteers to head North to investigate. However, he is esperately uncomfortable in such surroundings, he finds that none of the tools of detective work are there. No internet, no CCTV, and no police station.
Maclaod and McNab unearth secrets of various islanders and incomers are viewed with suspicion and anger. The plot of None But The Dead gives the reader many twists and turns. There are plently of surprising moments throughout the book and you cannot help but being drawn in by the compelling story. Lin Anderson researches her crime novels thoroughly: this ensures that they are as realistic as they possibly can be and the reader is treated to an exceptional read. I highly recommend None But The Dead.
I enjoy Quintine Jardine’s series of crime thrillers featuring his character, Bob Skinner. In Private Investigations, the 26th Skinner novel. The character has retired from the Scottish Police Force and now works as a private investigator after a thirty-year police career. Bob Skinner is on the way to answer a friend’s plea for help when a freak accident gives him an unwelcome glimpse of the dark side.
I have read most of the “Skinner” books, starting from the first one published back in the early 90s when I lived in Edinburgh. Now I have moved away, but I am always drawn to books about southern and central Scotland.
Eden Higgins is Bob Skinner’s first client. Eden, the brother of an ex-girlfriend of Skinner, wants him to look into the police investigation into the theft of his very expensive, luxury yacht. The police were unable to trace the very large yacht and the insurance company are refusing the pay out the full amount. On his way to meet Higgins, Bob’s car is bumped by another as he is reversing from a parking space. The driver of the other car leaves the vehicle and runs off immediately on foot. Chasing him is no longer an option for the aging Skinner, who finds the body of a young girl in the boot of the car. As a result of this find, Bob becomes involved in both cases.
There are many twists and turns in Private Investigations where each chapter brings new developments in one or other of the cases. There is reference to the changing Police Force set-up we have faced in Scotland over recent years and this fits with the bigger picture of Skinner’s backstory and the tension between him and some of his ex-colleagues. Quintin Jardine leads the reader through the investigations and brings each character to life with enough backstory that even if you have never read any other “Skinner” book you should be able to relate to the characters and the personal and professional relationships they share with Bob Skinner. But I was not as engaged by Private Investigations as I have been by most of the other Skinner crime novels that I have read. Nevertheless, I recommend this police procedural novel.
I am not generally a fan of the science fiction gene, so when my friend Louis K. Lowy sent me a copy of his most recent novel, To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine, in exchange for an honest review, I was concerned in case I did not like the book and lost a friend. My fears were groundless. This is a carefully constructed and original story that even this science fiction phobe enjoyed!
To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine starts far in the future and I had to acquaint myself with new words and concepts. This was slightly off-putting, but, of course, William Shakespeare was criticised for making up new words in his time. Still, assassination (Macbeth Act I, Scene VII) and manager (A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream Act V, Scene I) are now well accepted into the English language. Perhaps the same may be true of teleportathon, polyflesh and genimetrothiasine one day.
The reader returns from the dystopian exoplanet of Truatta in 2250 to Florida, USA in 2030. Here we meet the eminent scientist, Dr. Niyati Bopari. She has never recovered from the deth of her son, Jay, seventeen years earlier. She led the teams that created a Humachine (human machine) for the mega-corporation Ameri-Inc. and names her creation J-1. It is made in her son’s image. Mankind’s thirst for immortality is explored in this unnerving novel, To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine as Bopari secretly infuses the humachine with Jay’s DNA. J-1 is the most sophisticated robot ever created and is intended to replace human manual labour.
However, before the blueprints of the humachine are transported to Ameri-Inc.
headquarters a rogue agent attempts to steal them. The story spans two centuries and crosses two planets, Earth and Truatta. The novel revolves around J-1, who fights to find humanity. The reader feels for Bopari who lost her son and created the robot. The head of the corporation who owns J-1 adds excitement as does the leader of the rebel force seeking revenge for the death of her own family and the destruction of her home planet.
To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine is designated Book 1 – perhaps the author has converted me to science fiction as I am genuinely looking forward to the next instalment. I was not surprised to learn that this talented former fire-fighter received a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Louis lives in South Florida with his wife and daughter, their son lives on the West coast of the USA.
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.