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.
When a publisher I know sent me a copy of a couple of his company’s recently published books to review, I was very pleased. The first novel that I read was the debut novel by Les Wood, Dark Side of the Moon. Les is a Scot who lives in Barrhead and previously won the Canongate Prize for New Writing and the McCash Prize for Poetry, so it is no surprise that Dark Side of the Moon has merit. It is a comedic crime story set in Glasgow, Scotland, in which the reader cannot help but root for the criminals. The police never come into it!
The criminals are introduced individually, one chapter at a time. This makes it very clear where they fit into the group, but it does make the setting of the story somewhat drawn out. There is also a specific, detailed story about a baby that is most unsatisafactory in its lack of detail or focus. However, this does foreshadow part of the conclusion of the novel.
The leader of the group, Boddice, is said to be losing ground among the local crimelords as foreignors move in. The reader is told about this but, the alternative forces of evil do not affect the progress of the crime. However, apparently, in order to re-establish his kudos in criminal society, Boddice puts together his hapless band of baddies to help him steal the most valuable diamond in the world, known as the Dark Side of the Moon.
The plan seems plausible and the group each has their part to play, except for Leggett who has been dispatched for trying to out-wit Boddice. Of course, no plan runs true and this one is no exception. There are more twists than in a challah and as the group reach for success, the significance of the lucky talisman Boag acquired becomes clear.
The idea of this novel is good. The story is amusing and the Glaswegian criminals convincingly portrayed. Unfortunately, there are a few loose ends in the story and the middle of the tale loses its focus a bit. Nevertheless, it is worth reading and is a worthy debut novel.