Review: Marcus Sedgwick – Mister Memory

sedgwickm-mistermemoryukI don’t read as much historical crime fiction as I used to which is a shame. There’s nothing like being transported to another time and place with a dash of murder in it. It’s also nice to read something completely different occasionally and Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick is certainly a cut above the usual crime novel.

We’re in fin-de-siecle Paris where Marcel Després shoots dead his wife, Ondine after catching her in a compromising situation with her lover. Sent to an institution, Asile de Salpêtrière, his doctor Morel discovers that Després has a memory that forgets nothing. Along with Inspector Petit from the Sûreté who is assigned to the case, they delve into Després’s life and history to assemble the portrait of a remarkable man.

There’s a wealth of fascinating historical detail in Mister Memory. Asile de Salpêtrière was a famous Parisian institution where women diagnosed with hysteria were placed by the unscrupulous and ignorant. Predominantly, therefore, a female institution which has opened up to men, Després is portrayed as an innocent amongst the criminal and insane. It’s tempting to try to put a modern diagnosis on his condition. A memory that never forgets anything, an inability to recognise faces and an essential innocence suggests a form of autism. The book though is as much as the men around the case as Després.  We’re treated to sumptuous descriptions of Paris and the minutiae of a fascinating investigation.

Mister Memory is a beautifully written tale of the limitless of memory and the boundaries placed on love.

Review: Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train (audio)

51wta9YiwuL._AA300_I love audio books and I often listen to them in the car. I tend, however, to focus on my existing library rather than downloading new titles. My subscription to Audible lapsed as I don’t have time to listen to the books I was downloading. In April, however, I flew to Iceland and knew that I’d then have a long five hour drive ahead of me. As a crime fiction reviewer I’m often asked what I think of a particular title. I tend to shy away from what’s being heavily promoted. As regular readers of this website know, I like translated crime fiction and books that are a little bit different. No-one, however, could failed to have noticed the juggernaut which is the phenomenon of The Girl on the Train. A long car journey was the perfect way to form an opinion on the book.

Rachel is an overweight, divorced alcoholic who, despite losing her job in the city, continues to make the commute into London every day. She passes the house where she once lived and where her ex-husband now resides with his new wife and baby. The train  regularly stops outside a neighbouring house where Rachel fantasises about the life of a couple who have a seemingly perfect relationship. When the woman, Megan, goes missing, Rachel feels she has important news to tell the police about Megan and a man she was seen with. But her alcoholism and obsession with her former husband make her an unreliable witness.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this book from ‘over-hyped’ to ‘excellent’. I have to say that I’m firmly in the second camp. Partly, I think, this is due to the premise of the book. I too used to commute into central London and remember the days of the train stopping at a particular junction and staring into bedroom windows. The book also brought back the culture of long hours, drinking on an empty stomach and aspirational lifestyles. Hawkins is also excellent at keeping the tension going throughout the book. I found listening compulsive and couldn’t wait to return to the book.

There are three female narrators: Rachel, Megan in the months leading up to her disappearance and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s former husband. I have seen comments about the difficulty in distinguishing between these three voices. This certainly wasn’t the case with the audio book and all three narrators were excellent. Hawkins takes the concept of the unreliable narrator and multiplies it threefold. It was a clever device.

Inevitably a book that’s had this much attention will fall short in some areas but overall I thought it an excellent story and I can understand it’s popularity. There’s always something attractive about a protagonist that’s full of faults and character of Rachel was the element that pulled this story together.

I’d love to hear what other readers thought of the book.

 

 

Review: Chris Ewan – Long Time Lost

longtimelost300It’s a mark of a good writer when they produce something a bit different with each book. Chris Ewan’s latest novel, Long Time Lost, is a thrilling read that takes you from the Isle of Man to mainland Europe via Weston-super-Mare and Lake Windermere.

Nick Miller has created a team who relocates at-risk individuals across Europe. He’s an expert in this field because he himself has had to acquire a new identify after his family was killed. He’s developed a complex system where each of the protected individuals have to check-in at the same time every week. Kate Sutherland is hiding as part of a witness protection programme in order to give evidence against Connor Lane’s brother. Connor is determined to ensure the case never comes to trial but Miller’s interference in the hitman’s plans mean that the whole team are now under threat.

The action in Long Time Lost is fast-paced from the off. Kate shows herself more than capable of defending herself and it’s nice to see a female character who’s a victim but proactive in her defence. Her chemistry with Miller is perhaps inevitable but it does take unexpected turns and Ewan never veers into cliché. I enjoyed the broad sweep of the book after a raft of claustrophobic novels that I’ve been reading recently.

This is only the second book that I’ve read by Chris Ewan and I clearly need to read more. I was supposed to be working today but the whole point of books is to make it impossible to put them down. Chris Ewan certainly succeeded with this one.

Review: Lee Child – Personal

PersonalI’m a big Lee Child fan. His books might be similar in style but I like the fact you know what to expect when you open a Jack Reacher novel. That said, some of the books are better than others which is hardly surprising in a long running series that totals nineteen novels. I picked up his latest paperback, Personal, one afternoon and read it in a day. It’s the mixture of accessible storytelling and fast pacing that makes his books so unputdownable. And I think, with this latest book, he’s back on top form.

Someone takes a long-range shot of the French president. International security services identify only four hit men in the world with the necessary skills to have carried out the attempted assassination. The US suspect is an old enemy of Jack Reacher’s and he is given the assignment of tracking the man down who is believed to have made his way to London. But protected by an Essex gang, the hit man creates a web of violent protection to prevent his whereabouts being discovered.

This isn’t the first Reacher to have been set in the UK. The Hard Way ended in the Norfolk countryside but the best Reacher books have been the ones set resolutely within the US heartlands. However, in this instance, I thought Personal’s London and Essex setting perfect for the plot. Connecting the narrative to the US is done through Reacher’s assistant, Casey, who unlike other CIA operatives has a raft of private neuroses that she keeps at bay through medication.

The plot is classic Lee Child and the execution is as professional as we have come to expect from him.  All his existing fans will, I’m sure, love it.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy.

Review: Rebecca Bradley – Shallow Waters

shallow-watersI read Shallow Waters, the debut novel by Rebecca Bradley, over a month ago and enjoyed it. It’s taken me an age to review simply because of the amount of time I’ve been dedicating to my second book, the sequel to In Bitter Chill. It’s eaten into my reading time and has also meant I’m behind on writing reviews of books that I have read. However, as my own novel has now been sent to an early reader, I’m using the time to catch up.

Shallow Waters is set in Nottingham where a young girl is found murdered in an alleyway. When another girl is killed, detectives working on the murder investigation, led by DI Hannah Robbins, embark on a hunt for the murderer under the full glare of media scrutiny. Progress is slow and the manner of deaths horrifying. The race is on to prevent more victims of the terrifying crimes.

Bradley is an ex-murder detective and brings a wealth of her knowledge to the story. Shallow Waters is solidly in the police procedural genre. I don’t read as many of these types of crime novels these days and it was good to return to this style of writing with a book that contains such a wealth of detail. It’s a fairly harrowing read because of the subject matter and the focus on the police investigation helps to mitigate the horror of some of the story.

This is a strong debut from a writer who clearly knows the realities of working on a murder investigation and it is very well plotted. I hope it’s the first in a series as Hannah Robbins has an interesting back story and plenty more to give to a crime story.

 

 

Review: Thomas Mogford – Sleeping Dogs

sleepingdogsThomas Mogford is another of my favourite crime writers. Hollow Mountain was in my top five reads last year and he continues to write high quality crime fiction. For his latest book, Sleeping Dogs, he takes his Gibraltarian lawyer/detective to Corfu. It’s a nice change of scenery for the series and, given that I read it in Greece, a perfect holiday read.

Spike Sanguinetti is advised by a therapist to go on holiday to help eradicate some of the demons that have been tormenting him. He chooses to visit the house of his business partner on the wealthy north coast of Corfu. But his holiday is overshadowed by the death of the handsome Greek/Albanian Arben on the neighbouring estate owned by the wealthy Hoffman family. When the son of his hosts’s housekeeper is arrested for Arben’s murder, Spike reluctantly agrees to investigate the case. However lives are put at risk as domestic secrets and dynastic feuds ignite.

I’ve always been impressed by the evocation of the Gibraltar setting in Mogford’s books. It feels genuine even though I’ve never been to that part of the world. So it was interesting to read one of his narratives set somewhere I am familiar with: a Greek island. Mogford puts enough language and local flavour into descriptions of the place to bring alive the setting without it dominating the plot.

In Sleeping Dogs, as well as investigating the killing of Arben, there’s a focus on Spike’s domestic arrangements. This is first seen through his relationship with Charlie, the child he rescued in the previous book, Hollow Mountain, and then in Corfu as he attempts to resurrect his relationship with his childhood girlfriend Jessica.

The quality of Mogford’s writing once more shines through and he makes storytelling look effortless. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t the case. Once more Bloomsbury have produced a writer of quality crime fiction.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

Review: Darryl Donaghue – Journal of Sin

91VlRKwTnvL._SL1500_There are a number of crime writers who were once involved in law enforcement and its associated professions. Some of these writers are my particular favourites including Jorn Lier Horst and Mari Hannah. Darryl Donaghue is a former detective who changed career to enable him to write his first crime novel. A Journal of Sin is a solid debut set in the south of England featuring as its protagonist a happily married police detective.

A village Catholic priest is found murdered leaving behind a journal featuring his parishioners’ confessions. The village is cut off following a storm and PC Sarah Gladstone is forced to use her investigative skills with little support or experience to find the killer.

A Journal of Sin‘s greatest strength is the character of inexperienced policewoman, Sarah Galdstone. As well as investigating the case, we also get a fair amount of Sarah’s back story and the calls on her time as a police officer with a family. Donaghue doesn’t let his experience in the police force dominate the narrative. Instead we get an insight into the complexities of an investigation through the eyes of a detective still feeling her way in her profession.

I always enjoy small town settings and Donaghue uses the landscape to his advantage. The elements dominate when you’re out of the city and the use of a flood gives a sense of entrapment that adds drama to the story.

This is clearly the start of a series featuring Sarah Gladstone. Based on this first book, I think Donoghue should go from strength to strength as he draws on his wealth of experience.

Thanks to the author for my review copy.