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Winter Counts – David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Simon Bewick

I was lucky enough to be given an advance copy of David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts (advance for the UK – in the US the book has been out a while and has already won a wealth of award nominations) by Simon and Schuster at Harrogate Crime Festival this year.

Weiden’s debut fiction novel concerns Virgil Wounded Horse and the community of the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Virgil is the local ‘enforcer’ – the man who carries out vengeance for wrong-doings when the authorities – either the American legal system or the tribal council aren’t interested.

Virgil is, by his own admission, far from a traditional hero. He’s got his own demons,  is barely scratching a living and takes a little too much pleasure in some of his enforcing on those who made his life a misery back in school. Virgil is a conflicted character – conflicted about his heritage, local values and beliefs, and his place in the world looking after his teenage nephew, Nathan, following the death years ago of his sister. When his young nephew takes a drug overdose, Virgil sets out to find the man responsible for bringing Heroin onto the reservation. But as Nathan recovers and Virgil’s ex-girlfriend insists on helping him with his mission, things begin to get even more personal.

Winter Counts has a lot going on – narratively and thematically. You can read it as a straightforward crime novel; it certainly does a fine job of that with an original protagonist and a modern problem. There’s a lot of social comment in there as well. The insights into life on a reservation and the changes in attitude and beliefs of the different generations living on it are fascinating.

I confess that I have difficulty understanding the supposed division between ‘literature’ and ‘crime fiction’. There are just too many examples out there that effortlessly cross the line. The idea that crime fiction has little to nothing to say about society is ridiculously naïve. The idea that crime writing cannot be ‘quality’ writing equally so. Winter Counts is a good example of a book that straddles any simple classification.

The book may have a crime plot that any fan of the genre will devour and race through, but the ‘insider’ observations pull you up (but never out) as you read. And then there’s the writing. It’s not overly fancy:  at times the style and protagonist descriptions reminded me of the works of Richard Stark or James Crumley, while always being unique to the author. And then there are lines that really stand out. Lines like:

“Sadness is like an abandoned car left out in a field for good — it changes a little over the years, but doesn’t ever disappear. You may forget about it for a while, but it’s still there, rusting away, until you notice it again.”

There’s some quality writing going on here, and it’s easy to see why the book has done so well in the US . as well as being an Amazon bestseller, it’s a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and was named one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Amazon, Sun Sentinel,  LitReactor, CrimeReads, Deadly Pleasures, Air Mail, MysteryPeople, and BOLO Books.

Full disclosure, we at Bay Tales are going to be helping the publisher with the UK live launch of the book featuring the author, David Heska Wanbli Weiden as well as some amazing guest authors including SA Crosby, James Delargy, Rob Scragg and Rod Reynolds. If you’d like to attend, it’s free and you can register at tinyurl.com/wintercounts

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The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind’ – Jackson Ford


Review by Glynis Railton

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.

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Cuddies Strip – Rob McInroy

Review by Gill Carr

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.  

You can follow Gill Carr on Twitter at @ellie99.

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Seven Graves One Winter – Christoffer Petersen

Review by Gill Car

Seven Graves One Winter – Christoffer Petersen

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.

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Watching from the Dark – Gytha Lodge

Reviewed by Keith Young

You saw it happen.

 You said nothing.

 Who would trust you now?

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

Register free here

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The Rosary Garden – Nicola White

Review by Rachel Sargeant

The Rosary Garden – Nicola White

The blurb:

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…”

The review:

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.

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‘Later’ – Stephen King

Later – by Stephen King

by Simon Bewick

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.

Image: Publicity shot from Hard Case Crime for ‘Later’

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.  

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‘Prodigal Son’ – Greg Hurwitz

Review by Simon Bewick

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…

Prodigal Son Cover
Prodigal Son – Greg Hurwitz


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.

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‘The Shadow Man’ by Helen Fields

Review by Vic Watson

The Shadow Man – Helen Fields

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.

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‘The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello’ – Chris McDonald

Review by Angie Plant.

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello – Chris McDonald

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.

Angi Plant is an avid reader who reviews for various groups. Find more of her reviews at https://booknbanter.wordpress.com or catch her on Twitter @AngiPlant