Last September when lockdown was lifted and travel was allowed I visited Harrogate (always one of my favourite places) and popped into indie bookshop ‘Imagined Things’, where purely on the recommendation of shop owner Georgia I picked up a copy of Jackson Ford’s ’The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind’. After finally getting around to reading it what can I say except ‘thank you Georgia you were absolutely right’!
I’m a sucker for series like Heroes (and X- Men), indeed anything with a superhero coming to terms with their powers and trying to fit into society knowing their ability if used will make them stick out like a sore thumb. Then throw in a ‘24’ scenario with events happening within a short period, and crikey Moses, you’ve got a cracking well paced story with twists, cliffhangers and edge of your seat storylines!
‘Let me tell you a little something about psychokinesis. Everyone has these ideas about what you can actually do with it..Plenty of people online claim they have psychokinesis…[but] if they could really move things with their minds, they’d either be dead or in the same government program I’m in. It’s just me.’
That’s Teagan Frost, living in LA, working for a removals company, which is really a cover for a small group tasked with gathering information and getting in and out of places without being observed. But when a body is discovered on the site of their last job and cameras have captured the team in action, Teagan is given 24 hours to clear her name which turns out not so be so easy when you’re also fighting a villain who can cause hurricanes and move organic objects.
Having now read (and loved) books 2 and 3 in the series: ‘Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air’ and ‘Eye of the Sh*t Storm’, where Teagan deals with children who have the ability to cause earthquakes and control electricity I can confirm that the author matches the suspense and action delivered in the first book.
Woven into the storylines are the realities of homelessness and drug addictions; white privilege is brilliantly addressed in book 3 and disability is a recurring theme throughout the books.
A novel based on a true crime which happened in 1935 is, to be perfectly honest, not a book I would normally go for. Yet, after a recent online talk by the author about the events which inspired it, I was intrigued enough to buy a copy and I’m really pleased I did.
It’s no spoiler to say that the life of Marjory Fenwick is irrevocably changed one August evening when her sweetheart Danny Kerrigan is shot and she is attacked as they stroll along Cuddies Strip, a local Lovers Lane in Perth, Scotland. What follows is not just attempts by Police to bring the culprit to justice but also a look into the world of early forensic science techniques along with insights into the truly horrifying and inhumane way Marjory – the victim of a serious sexual assault – is viewed and treated by many of the police officers, members of the medical profession, the courts and the public she encounters following the crime. Her perceived morals, previous relationship history, honesty and most importantly whether her virginity was intact prior to the assault, all prove to be great talking points for those concerned in the investigation and subsequent trial. As I read on I felt outraged at attitudes directed toward Marjory, then tried to comfort myself thinking how much we have moved on in society, then remembering……perhaps not.
Something else which hasn’t changed much is the desire by some members of the public to hoover up each and every salacious detail and make clear their own views on all aspects of a crime, the victims and the perpetrator. Those who so choose may be able to hide behind their keyboards and social media accounts nowadays, back then the public picnicked at crime scenes or gravesites, they carried out their own searches looking for clues, they made comment in person directly to the families involved and of course they queued in their droves to attend the trial and pored over every detail in the newspapers.
Cuddies Strip is a fascinating read on so many levels. It is packed with historical detail and interest yet wears its research lightly. I highly recommend it.
I’ve always enjoyed my choice of holiday destination at the same temperature as my favourite crime novel locations: Cold. And it doesn’t come much colder than Greenland, the setting for Christoffer Petersen’s “Seven Graves, One Winter” the first in a series featuring Constable David Maratse. I discovered this author right at the beginning of Lockdown#1 and was immediately immersed in a world of not just a crime to be solved but also Greenlandic politics, language, traditions, fishing, hunting and sled dog wrangling along with all the other delights and hardships of living and working on a huge rock covered in ice and snow.
In Greenland graves are dug in summer in readiness for those who will die in the frozen winter months when the ground is unforgiving. Retired Constable Maratse is out fishing one day when he hooks the body of a teenage girl. Her mother is a prominent figure who hires the former police officer to investigate the circumstances of her daughter’s death. One of the seven prepared graves has now been filled. Will the case lead to more being used?
Maratse is taciturn by nature but I really enjoyed slowly getting to know about him and his previous history, and he contrasts well with his former police partner and friend Petra Jensen, who later gets her own “Greenland Missing Person” series. Petersen is a prolific author who has several series on the go at any one time. Characters cross between them and he enjoys messing with timelines. The author lived and worked in Greenland for several years and his voice and personal experience concerning daily life on the island feels lived and authentic. If you like your crime cold, laced with intrigue and political shenanigans then I hope, like me, you will be drawn into the world of Maratse and Jensen.
My first book by Gytha Lodge and I was certainly not disappointed. Without giving any spoilers away…
The novel starts with a man; Aidan Poole, logging onto his laptop for a late night video call with his girlfriend, Zoe. We’re all getting used to online video calls during the last year (and no, this isn’t a Covid-set tale, don’t worry!) but this is a nightmare scenario: seeing that the person you’re calling is not alone; that there’s a stranger in their house and they’re not aware of it. All Aidan can do is watch…and, more specifically, listen to the sounds of a struggle and then…nothing.
What’s happened to Zoe?
And why doesn’t he call the police immediately?
Questions that DCI Jonah Sheens and his team must consider when they finally get involved in the case.
I saw Gytha reading from the opening of this book at an episode of Virtual Noir at the Bar last year and the book lived up to the intriguing open.
From the impressive DC Hanson who takes a leading role in the Investigations (and who deserves to be promoted!) to the range of featured characters in the story – making up a collective mix of clever, devious, pushy and quiet, it all adds up to a good, exciting story.
The plot is intriguing: is it a murder, or is it suicide?
If it is a murder, there are probably 8 or 10 potential candidates to be the murderer and from starting to read until very nearly the end we’re given a whole range of possibilities.
Some great writing and sub plots to keep the reader intrigued, this was a very hard down book down before it finishes.
I will certainly be reading more of her books.
Note: You can register for free at Gytha’s virtual launch party for her new novel Lie Beside Me
“It was Ali who found the body of a murdered newborn baby, hidden in the garden of her convent school. In an Ireland riven by battles of religion and reproduction, the case becomes a media sensation, even as the church tries to suppress it. But this is not the first dead baby Ali has found. “For Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine, the pressure to discover the identity of the dead child is little help against a community with secrets to protect. Gina knows all too well how many of Ireland’s girls are forced to make difficult decisions in terrible circumstances, silenced by shame. Is Ali one of those girls? Because what evidence there is, points to Ali herself…”
On the surface this is a police procedural. Detective Inspector Swan and Detective Sergeant Considine investigate the murder of the three-day-old baby found in a garden shed at a private convent school in Dublin. However, like A Famished Heart, the first book in this excellent series, this novel is also a piece of quality literary fiction.
As well as chapters from Swan’s point of view, we hear from Ali, one of the two girls who find the child. This is a coming-of-age story for her as she strives to find her way as a young woman in a world that frowns on her wish for independence. She also revisits a secret from her family’s past that leads to a tragedy in the present.
The story is a reminder that 1950s attitudes to women, contraception and childbirth were alive and well in 1984, when this novel is set. (And, let’s face it, they’ve still not gone away in some quarters…) Even our trusty detectives are products of their times, and they subject Ali to obscene scrutiny.
It was first published as In a Rosary Garden by Cargo Publishing in 2013, when it won the Dundee International Book Prize, but was relaunched by Viper Books this January as the second in a new series featuring Swan and Considine. A Famished Heart was one of my Top Reads of 2020, and The Rosary Garden looks set to be high on my list this year.
Before the review a quick word about Hard Case Crime – publishers of this new Stephen King release (their third after The Colorado Kid and Joyland)
I love Hard Case Crime and so should any crime/ mystery reader.
For the most part they publish hard boiled crime – from lost masterpieces from the likes of Donald E Westlake, Gregory McDonald, Ed McBain and many, many more, to writings from those very much still with us including Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins and, indeed, Stephen King (You can see a full list of their authors here). As well as golden age stories the books are packaged with incredible, full pulp style covers that take you to a different time when we weren’t just looking at photo shopped shadow figures in half lit streets (and with about as much to do with the stories as the modern efforts have).
To be clear – I’ve got no relation with the publisher and any books I’ve read from them (and I’ve read a lot) have been bought by my own fair hand, but I wanted to give a shout out because as well as the occasional big hitter like Mr King they really do have a ton of great stuff in their back catalogue.
Ok, onto Later and Stephen King…
As I said at the top of this review this is the third book King has had published through HCC. The first – The Colorado Kid resulted in a five season TV show “Haven” loosely based on it. (The novel itself was loosely based on a real-life murder). The book was fine, even if, as the author himself admitted not feeling like a complete piece and lacking some resolution.
Joyland, the second book, came somewhere between 11/22/63 and The Shining sequel Dr Sleep in King’s ‘mainstream’ bibliography and was, for me, one of the most enjoyable books he’d written in a long time. The story of a teenager taking on a summer job at an amusement park and discovering some of the darker secrets behind the titular ‘Joyland’ it was a murder mystery with tinges of the supernatural creeping at the edges.
Now, HCC have released Later. It’s different from the vast majority of their catalogue in that it’s an out-and-out unabashed ghost story – albeit with crime involved.
The basic plot concerns Jamie Conklin, a young boy living with his single mother in New York who sees dead people. If that has a ring of The Sixth Sense about it don’t worry – King addresses it directly, from the now-adult Jamie’s narrator point of view right up front. Urged to keep this ability a secret by his mother, Jamie gets sucked into a crime investigation where his powers might help save lives…but at what cost to him?
There’s a fair bit more to it than that, but I’ll leave plot description there.
What I will say is it’s both immediately recognisable as King and, at the same time, different from his ‘main publisher’ stuff. For a start, it’s shortish- at 272 pages I read it in one sitting. Secondly, it’s set in New York…not the first book of King’s to be set outside of Maine, but a little indication where not in the regular King universe here…Although… there’s also plenty that will be familiar. King’s unique writing from a child’s point of view – both inner and vocalised dialogue. The descriptions of the dead may bring back a few memories of Pet Semetary for some. The cultural references – this time a child of the late ‘90s/ early ‘00s (which made me feel old…) and a few familiar terms for long term readers. There are deadlights here, folks.
It’s clearly something of a coup to have a writer of King’s popularity release something for you as publisher of the small-but-perfectly formed nature of HCC (certainly the print version is already out of stock on Amazon UK, but available in Kindle). And it’s clear King enjoys writing this style and whatever freedom it brings him as a writer.
I thought the story itself was great, and, if it’s a doorway for even a few of the millions of King fans who may not be familiar with some of the other authors published by Hard Case Crime who have influenced and thrilled him so much over the years, that can only be a very good thing.
It’s one thing to come up with a compelling character and series, it’s another to keep it going in. There’s the risk that every book has to be ‘bigger’. Bigger danger, bigger risk, bigger challenge…and when your protagonist is a seemingly unstoppable force? That can make it difficult to maintain a sense of jeopardy…
Evan Smoak is, without doubt, a compelling character.
Taken from a foster home as a boy, Smoak was trained to be part of a top-secret government programme. Years later, Smoak has left and slipped into a reclusive life – emerging only to help those who need him. Ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary danger. Oh, and occasionally, to exact justice on those who think they, and their nefarious deeds, are above accountability. Storywise, the question is – once you’ve taken down the most powerful man in the world, where do you go next? Hurwitz answered that in the last instalment by an early story injury on Smoak that debilitated his skills.
The sixth in the Orphan X series, Prodigal Son takes a different path – this time, as they say, it’s personal. Evan has retired: given up his one-man A-Team underdog help on threat of termination by those in power. But retirement is put on hold when someone calls him claiming to be his mother. Someone who needs him to put his extraordinary skills back to work one more time.
Prodigal Son reintroduces characters Hurwitz has introduced and developed over the previous five novels. Joey, the teenage girl, expert hacker and Orphan programme drop out Smoak has, reluctantly, taken under his wing. Mia, his neighbour and possible love interest, and her young son Peter. To talk of the cameos from other series characters would be spoilers – suffice to say they’ll please longtime readers.
Of course, there is an antagonist. Several, in fact…a brother and sister team capable of deploying the most sadistic of methods to find out what they need. A shadowy figure known only as ‘the doctor’. There’s also a wide range of ‘minor obstacles. Like most action series, there are multiple set pieces to demonstrate just how ruthlessly efficient the central character is. So we get ‘gym muscled’ pseudo tough guys, ex-army mercenaries and rich douche bags, all begging (and receiving) a beat down along the way.
The story is more ‘tech heavy’ than previous instalments. These days the line between science fiction and science fact is thinner than ever. There are story elements that, if the book had come out ten years ago would be Michael Crichtonesque. Today? I’d prefer not to know exactly how close to truth it is. What is clear, is the level of hacker detail Hurwitz goes into. There’s a lot of data detail in here but it doesn’t slow the novel down. You don’t need to understand it – just go along with it and assume yes, that could be done.
The most interesting parts of the book for me were the relationship and character-building elements. The action is most definitely fast, furious, and frequent. There are minor touches of telepathy I wasn’t sure were needed and the ‘menace’ of some of the villains never felt a match for the protagonist, but Hurwitz knows well enough how to elevate a threat – to introduce something into the story that not even the world’s best assassin can fight back against.
In fact, threat-wise Smoak encounters more in this book than he ever has before. Mental and Physical. To say more about what that means would be to give away too many spoilers.
All in all, Prodigal Son is a welcome addition to one of the most dependable action series around today and has a Saturday morning serial ending that suggests things could get even more interesting in the next instalment.
Looking for an original, compulsive thriller to terrify you during the winter nights? Look no further!“The Shadow Man” is a sinister, multi-viewpoint narrative that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until its nail-biting conclusion.
Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier are locked in a flat. They don’t know where they are, and they don’t know why they’re there. They only know that the shadow man has taken them, and he won’t let them go.
Desperate to escape, the three of them must find a way out of their living hell, even if it means uncovering a very dark truth.
Because the shadow man isn’t a nightmare. He’s all too real.
Helen Fields manages to make a complex psychological complaint accessible to the reader as well as demonstrating the effect it has on innocent victims.
I loved Connie, a brash American sent over to profile the shadow man but my favourite character has to be twelve year old Meggy. She’s fierce, she’s strong and she’s streetwise and I would want her one my side during any confrontation but Helen Fields combines Meggy’s steel core with a vulnerability that made me want to look after her. She’s absolutely pitch perfect as a character.
Although Fields writes shadow man Fergus as utterly deranged and completely terrifying, I did find that there were moments during this story that I felt sorry for him – and that, in itself, is credit to Helen and the nuances she manages to capture in her characters.
As with any Helen Fields novel, there are some beautiful turns of phrase and she juxtaposes this with the horror of the shadow man and his crimes.
I really hope we’ll get to see Connie and Baarda working together again.
For extra creep factor, I recommend listening to the audiobook. Robin Laing’s Fergus is more menacing than anything I could’ve imagined.
My thanks to Avon Books and Helen Fields for the advanced reading copy of this book.
Vic Watson is a writer, Creative Writing tutor and one half of Bay Tales. She reviews books on her blog and can be found on Twitter.
What can I say? Yet another smash hit from the pen of Chris McDonald. It’s a quick read, and the start of , thankfully, a whole new series. A short read, a novella, so if you’re time short it’s absolutely perfect. I love the amateur sleuthing of two friends who remain convinced that their friends death is more than it first appears. As ever, Chris McDonald has character perception like very few other authors. He looks at the minute details and seems to build around them. His characters are so believable you feel like you are actually in the room with them. Holding your breath and knowing that he’s going to hold your attention and keep you totally entertained until the very end. As with every other of his books, I was sad it was finished because the writing is so addictive you’re drawn along the path that you’re led to and you just keep following. Compulsive, addictive and as a writer the man is a legal drug I’m happy to claim I’m addicted to! I can’t wait to read the next one in the series! Many thanks to Red Dog Press and Chris McDonald for the advanced reading copy of this book.
For me, one of the greatest joys of settling down with a book is how the author’s words transport you to a different time and place and, for a while, leave you in the company of the fictional characters they have created. A little over a week ago, I decided to try a book by Craig Johnson and to explore the world of Sheriff Walt Longmire and his investigations in and around Absaroka County in Wyoming.
I’m glad I did.
“The Cold Dish” is the first tale in the series and was published in 2004. The series now numbers thirteen novels with the next installment, “Depth of Winter”, due in early September 2018. There has also been a half dozen shorter stories and ebooks which slot in and among the chronology of the series.
Walt Longmire is a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps and served as a Military Police officer in Vietnam during that war. After his service, Walt finds himself as deputy to Sheriff Lucian Connally before, eventually, being elected as Absaroka County Sheriff.
Johnson writes terrific characters; Walt is a joy to be with and his longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear, is the type of reliable and solid guy we would all want standing beside us when the chips are down. The larger cast includes Vic Moretti, Walt’s wonderfully foul-mouthed and cynical lead deputy, Ruby, his PA/secretary and a host of townsfolk, both good and bad. Oh, and there’s his dog, too. He’s called Dog. The name suits him perfectly.
However wonderful these characters are, though – and, believe me, they are wonderful – Johnson has two others that almost steal the show. They are both majestic, inspiring and beautiful in the extreme; welcome to the landscape of Wyoming and the weather that shapes it. I have been lucky to have visited America on several occasions but I have never been to the state of Wyoming. Oddly though, I do have a Rand McNally map of Wyoming and Montanna. It’s proved handy while reading these books.
With Johnson’s prose, I feel that I am getting to know the state. He breathes life and colour and vitality into the pages and the mountains, valleys, and plains rise up and loom large and dominant in his tales. For an Englishman like myself and, I suspect, for other men of my age, the pull of the Wild West, admittedly gleaned only from films and TV, is romantic, powerful and ever so evocative. Which little boy didn’t yearn to be a cowboy? To be tough, resilient, resourceful, silent and strong with a fierce sense of justice. To ride the plains and help people on the way by righting wrongs.
This is what Walt Longmire is and what he does.
In this first tale, the body of Cody Pritchard is found shot to death. Several years earlier, Cody and three of his friends were found guilty of raping and torturing a local Cheyenne teenager. It appears that someone is bent on revenge. Longmire is tasked with finding the murderer while keeping the remaining three assailants alive. His investigation is hampered by the weather and complicated by the fact that the victim is the niece of his friend, Henry Standing Bear.
In addition to the taut plotting, the stunning landscape, and the incredible weather, Johnson delivers terrific dialogue between his characters. The warmth and affection they have for one another – other than those they are pointing a gun at – is evident in their conversations and, often, by what is not said. You feel as if you have stepped into a community that lives and breathes and where the relationships between the characters are real and tangible.
There is also an awful lot of humour in the tale. Both Vic and Henry Standing Bear possess a fabulous sense of comic timing and they are able to deliver perfectly executed one-liners and put-downs, mostly at the expense of Walt. This light, comedic touch lifts the tale and really helps to establish the relationships between the central characters.
I found the story to be exciting – it is a thrilling murder investigation at heart – and the plot develops easily and quickly. Johnson has a real knack of propelling the story along and for achieving this without detriment to the development of the characters, major or minor. In fact, even the most minor of characters is well delivered and believable.
I may not yet understand all the references to specific items and one or two terms are a little off my radar (in book two, I had to Google what “Wayfarers” are) but this has not diminished my enjoyment in any way.
The covers of the books are also very striking and help to set the tone for the novels. My favourites are the covers featuring the simple, stylised artwork with its restricted colour palette and prominent, bold typography. The more recent covers are equally fine and the use of striking and atmospheric imagery is very appealing to the eye.
Would I read another Walt Longmire book? Well, put it this way, I finished book two late last night and am already well on with the third.
Additionally, though I was considering getting one before I picked up the books, Walt and Mr Johnson have nudged me into placing an order for my very own coat from the respected and long-established workwear manufacturer, Carhartt, that features so prominently in these Longmire books. Hopefully the coat will arrive in time for the latest adventure to hit the shelves.
Gavin Dimmock is a ‘New Voices’ Award Nominee Capital Crime 2019, Northern Noir Winner, Bradford Lit Festival 2018 and we will be featuring his work very soon…in the meantime you can find more at www.GavinDimmock.com