Blog Tour – Chaos – Patricia Cornwell

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BLURB: No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Cornwell delivers the twenty-fourth engrossing thriller in her high-stakes series starring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

On a hot late summer evening in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Kay Scarpetta and her investigative partner Pete Marino respond to a call about a dead bicyclist near the Kennedy School of Government. It appears that a young woman has been attacked with almost super human force.

Even before Scarpetta’s headquarters, the Cambridge Forensic Center, has been officially notified about the case, Marino and Scarpetta’s FBI agent husband Benton Wesley receive suspicious calls, allegedly from someone at Interpol. But it makes no sense. Why would the elite international police agency know about the case or be interested? With breathtaking speed it becomes apparently that an onslaught of interference and harassment might be the work of an anonymous cyberbully named Tailend Charlie, who has been sending cryptic communications to Scarpetta for over a week.

Stunningly, even her brilliant tech savvy niece Lucy can’t trace whoever it is or how this person could have access to intimate information few outside the family would have.

When a second death hundreds of miles south, shocking Scarpetta to her core, it becomes apparent she and those close her are confronted with something far bigger and more dangerous than they’d ever imagined. Then analysis of a mysterious residue recovered from a wound is identified as a material that doesn’t exist on earth.

In this latest in the bestselling series featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell shows us once again why she is the world’s number one bestselling crime writer, mistress of the shocking turns, delicious thrills, and state-of-the-art forensic details that all fans of suspense have come to love.

Apologies for this piece being late – I woke up on Saturday morning with the most agonising sore throat and headache, which continued into today. Mr C must have had the most peaceful weekend ever (which would have suited him, with it being an F1 weekend and there being a Rangers v. Celtic semi-final – the living room was worryingly quiet, until a cheer near the end indicated he’d be in a good mood the rest of the day!)

So, the word Chaos about sums up my attempt to finish the book early yesterday and get a review up. But I come bearing good news – for all you Cornwell fans of old, like me, this appears to be much more like her first few books. This one happens pretty much in real time. It’s shockingly hot for Cambridge, Massachusetts, and people are collapsing (and dying) of heat stroke. But that’s not what’s caused the case Scarpetta’s called out to in the middle of her monthly “date night” dinner with Benton. Intriguingly, at the same time Benton Wesley’s phone rings and he’s called out on bureau business.

Marino arrives to pick her up, and when they get to the scene Scarpetta’s pretty sure she recognises the victim – a cyclist in her early 20s she’d encountered and spoken to twice that day. All the signs speak to the victim being struck by lightning – except there wasn’t any in the area. To add to the problem, their scene has been disturbed, although in fairness it was by attempted do-gooders – twins, who appear to suffer from alcohol fetal syndrome and the poor development of intelligence associated with it. They’d dragged the victim off the cycle track, out of the way of others, and taken a few souvenirs from the scene, including her iPhone, which they used to call emergency services.

Anyway, the part I like best about the Scarpetta books was next; something we’ve not had for a wee while – she and Marino, just working together, bouncing ideas off each other while they secure the victim and any evidence in the immediate area of the body. They just have so much more to say to each other than Kay and Boring Benton, who’s romantic, and loving; remembers anniversaries and buys jewellery and posh perfume you can only get in Italy, blah, blah – but who never appears to laugh or do anything spontaneous. We all know Marino has a crush on Kay, but, for all his faults – like being an unreconstructed male chauvinist! – he’s FUN and funny, as well as great with Desi, Lucy and Janet’s adopted son. However, according to Benton, he’s moved on – to someone a little bit to close to home for Kay’s liking…Another thing this book has in it’s favour is that there’s not too much of Lucy The Genius and all her extortionate “toys” in it, who drives me potty, although Janet and Desi seemed to have shaved off some of her really sharp edges – she’s not as much of a thrill-seeker now she has a family waiting on her to come home.

Tantalizingly, there are two other victims of these bizarre deaths by electrocution, and one of them most definitely appears to be a target to get at Scarpetta – and there’s only one person we all know who’s twisted enough to attack her in such a vicious way, with no concern for others – they’re just collateral damage. Also, for the past week, Scarpetta’s been getting e-mails from know someone who calls himself Tailend Charlie, but, unlike her usual dose of cranks, he appears to know details of Scarpetta’s childhood, like nicknames from school. Are these two twisted individuals linked, or even one person…?

The denouement comes very suddenly, and is played beautifully. However, there’s a final twist that absolutely made my jaw drop. Chaos indeed…

Very highly recommended.

With thanks to the publisher HarperCollins for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – Summoning The Dead – Tony Black

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BLURB: “We have a dead child, and a crime scene that has been remarkably well kept for us.”

A young child lies mummified in a barrel. His hands, cable-tied, appear to be locked in prayer. As forensic officers remove the boy they are in for an even bigger shock – he is not alone.

With his near-fatal stabbing almost a memory, DI Bob Valentine is settling back into life on the force but he knows nothing will ever be the same. Haunted by unearthly visions that appear like waking dreams, he soon understands he is being inducted into one of Scotland’s darkest secrets.

When the boy in the barrel is identified as a missing child from the 1980s, it re-opens a cold case that was previously thought unsolvable. When further remains are unearthed, the facts point to a paedophile ring and a political conspiracy that leads all the way to the most hallowed corridors of power.

Summoning the Dead is a fast-moving mystery that eerily mirrors current events, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Angela Marsons and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels.

Tony Black has been shortlisted for the 2016 Crime Writers Association Dagger in the Library Award, which covers the entire body of an author’s work.

Summoning The Dead is book three in the DI Bob Valentine series, following Artefacts Of The Dead and A Taste Of Ashes. Valentine is based in Ayr, and in this book has not long returned to work after being stabbed in the heart. His wife wants him to either transfer to a desk job in the police, or leave altogether, but Bob knows that’s not an option – his wife’s shopping addiction (and the fact that she’s a stay-at-home mum/housewife) has left them in debt, plus their eldest daughter will (hopefully) be going to university in a few years time, so they need every penny they can get. Also, Bob knows – but doesn’t mention to his wife – that he wouldn’t be happy dealing with anything but murder and serious crime. And this crime is as serious as they come…

While digging up farmland near Cumnock to create a new road, a JCB unearths a metal drum which appears to contains the body of a child. When the forensic officers prepare to move the drum to the mortuary, it appears they have not one but two dead children – boys, around 10 or 11.  Clearly there was no expectation of the drum being found for a long time, if ever.

At one point nearby there was a boys’ home called Columba House. It was shut down in 1989 after a child abuse scandal – when one of the younger policemen who hadn’t heard anything about the place asked, “Scandal, sir?”, he was met with, ” It was a boys’ home, of course there was a scandal.” Sad but true. Some of the staff were imprisoned; however, many still in the police force, and others retired, who remember it saw the investigation as a whitewash, with the staff sacrificed to ensure the protection of men of standing in the community. Strangely, the local MP, Andrew Lucas, shot himself around the time of the case, to be replaced by a Gerard Fallon.

A search through missing persons files in the basement reveals the identity of the two boys – I was surprised it took one of the officers so long to come up with the files. With a specific date of 1984, in a place the size of Cumnock, I wouldn’t have thought two missing boys would be forgotten by anyone – certainly not police officers. Still, I suppose they’re required to be thorough.

It’s clear from their clothing and the belongings concealed in the barrel that one of the boys was from a fairly well-to-do background – Rory Stevenson. The other was from the home – Donal Welsh.

I haven’t given you any spoilers, but this is a timely story, although probably not one for those upset at the death of children in stories, although there are no violent scenes. What I found particularly poignant, and what lingered with me a long time after I’d finished the book, was that Donal Welsh had no-one to remember him or mourn for him, bar the officers who’d dealt with the case. No child should be forgotten !ike that. This helped me understand Valentine’s obsession with his job – to speak for the victims who can’t speak for themselves.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Black & White Publishing for my copy of the book, in return for an honest review.

Now I’m really nosy about what people are reading – I’m the one who’s trying to see the cover of the book you’re reading on the train, just in case it’s something sensational…Anyway, Tony was kind enough to spill the beans on what he enjoys reading, as well as letting us know what’s on his bedside cabinet at the moment. Over to you, Mr.Black:

If there’s such a thing as a typical reader, I doubt it’s me. I get the impression that publishers would like to mould readers like they mould writers — get them hooked on one type of book, or genre, early and keep them there. I’m not necessarily mocking that, there’s good reasons on both sides for sticking with what you know.

If your thing’s crime or romance of sci-fi and you like to stay with that, great, but I never could. My reading, a bit like some of my writing, is all over the place.
I’m not a big contemporary fiction reader, but when I do find an author I get along with I tend to become a life-long enthusiast. I’ll pick up everything by Ken Bruen. Before I got into crime fiction I actually read Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels almost as straight fiction, filtering out the crime. I was far more interested in Jack’s self-destruction and in the chorus characters like the chain-smoking priest Father Malachy.
The crossword puzzle element of crime fiction doesn’t do much for me. McIlvanney used to describe this kind of book’s purpose as “filling a few hours on a train’’. Again, fine, if that’s what you’re after but I’m much more interested in exploring a character’s hinterland, psychology and motivations. Writers like Allan Guthrie, and McIlvanney himself, do this so well in the crime genre.
I just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for the first time, it’s been out for a good few years but I suppose that’s about as up-to-date as my fiction reading really gets.  I found it gripping, I like dystopian stories anyway, but what really hooked me was the relationship between the father and son. A very moving and thought-provoking book.
I’m a bit of a sucker for stylised writing. I’ve been dipping into George Mackay Brown’s short stories lately and he’s a great stylist. He uses a lot of simile and metaphor, which is not very fashionable today, but I just love his style. At the other end of the scale is Irvine Welsh; GMB would have spewed at Welsh’s language but I just laugh my ass off.
My reading leads me to writer biographies a lot and I tend to find the writers I like most on the page — Carson McCullers, Hemingway, The Beats — turn out to be the kind of people I’d least like to go for a pint with, interestingly enough. This rule is reversed for Mr Bruen, though, he is, of course, a great bloke to go for a pint or two with.
:: Tony Black’s TBR list currently includes: Ironweed by William Kennedy; The Short Day Dying by Peter Hobbs; Dangerous Corner by Maurice Vlaminck; and, Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution by Kevin Booth with Michael Bertin.

Beloved Poison – E.S. Thomson

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BLURB: The object I drew out was dusty and mildewed, and blotched with dark rust-coloured stains. It smelt of time and decay, sour, like old books and parchments. The light from the chapel’s stained glass window blushed red upon it, and upon my hands, as if the thing itself radiated a bloody glow.

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.

If someone had told me I’d have spent nights engrossed in a book about the history of medicine and apothecary, and the story of a hospital in 1850, I’d have been slightly sceptical. But Elaine Thomson’s Beloved Poison is an absolute gem of a historical crime novel – highly original – and I’m not at all surprised it made it to the shortlist of four books for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Novel of 2016. It didn’t win, but it’s most definitely worthy of further investigation!

Our protagonist is Jem, who more or less runs the apothecary single-handedly in St. Saviour’s hospital. Jem’s mother died in childbirth, as did one of the twins she was carrying. Sent away to be brought up in the country for eight years, few people in St. Saviour’s recall if it was the male or female twin which survived. But Jem is in fact Jemima, not Jeremiah, a secret she hides by binding her breasts and walking and behaving like a man. A woman would never be allowed to hold such a position in those days, but with Jem’s father’s ailing health she finds herself taking on more and more responsibility.

However, a stranger arrives to work at St. Saviour’s – Will, an architect who has been sent to oversee the somewhat gruesome removal of the bodies buried in the graveyard next to St. Saviour’s, this being the first stage in the movement of the entire hospital to the south of the Thames.

Will and Jem become fast friends, and whilst showing Will around the hospital, he and Jem come across six tiny coffins, with effigies of dolls inside, wrapped in blood-soaked cloth. (Shades of Ian Rankin‘s The Falls – the real mysterious coffins reside in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.) They bring the coffins to the attention of Dr. Bain, the only other person in the hospital Jem counts as a friend and trustworthy. Together they have been working on a treatise on poisons and their effects, and Dr. Bain has been known to test the poisons in small quantities on himself to see their effects. His fatal flaw, however, is that he is a notorious womanizer, even sleeping with his colleagues’ wives, and making no attempt to hide it. Little wonder that there are people out for revenge. Being no fool, he realises this, and leaves a series of clues with the most unlikely people in the hope that, should anything happen to him, Jem, with Will’s help, will figure out the meaning of the coffins, and their connection to a series of heinous crimes.

There are a wonderful variety of characters in and around St. Saviour’s – Gabriel Locke, trainee apothecary, who enjoys spending his time tormenting nurse Mrs. Speedicut (Greedigut, to him!), who carries all the hospital gossip to the apothecary; Dr. Magorian, Dr. Graves and Dr. Catchpole, who resent Dr. Bain’s “shocking, new-fangled” medicinal ideas (like keeping wounds clean, and operating in whites so any dirt can be seen); Eliza Magorian, daughter of the doctor and Jem’s childhood friend and sweetheart, who’s been persuaded by her mother to join the lady almoners, who read the Bible to patients; and Joe Silks, leader of a gang of orphan urchins who carry messages for the more agreeable members of staff for a shilling. And that’s before we get to the ghost – a Prior who walks the streets near the hospital when it’s foggy…

These are just some of the characters involved. The storyline itself is wonderful, and a warning that the poor should never try to pull one over on the rich and powerful…

I am delighted to tell you that this book is to be the first in a series featuring Jem. I particularly found the work Jem did, and the plants he nurtured in the garden, absolutely fascinating. I urge you to seek out this book, and enjoy it for yourself. I can assure you that you too will find yourself utterly immersed in the fascinating mysteries St. Saviour’s holds. Roll on the next book featuring Jem Flockhart!

Very highly recommended.

My thanks to Constable and NetGalley for my ARC of this novel in return for an honest review.

Darktown – Thomas Mullen

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BLURB: Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.
On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.

When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.

Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

Soon to be a major TV series from Jamie Foxx and Sony Pictures Television.

Now, finally, somewhat later than anticipated due to laptop issues, to Darktown. This is one of those novels you’ll find you really want to savour, rather than rush through and not enjoy to it’s full extent – because there’s a great deal to enjoy. It also made me look at Mullen‘s earlier novels and buy one, as it was a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle.

Set in 1948, it’s about the first black police officers – all eight of them – taken on by Atlanta Police Department. The idea is they police the areas where the black community live, colloquially (and somewhat derogatorily) known as Darktown. They don’t have the power to arrest white people, nor do they have squad cars, having to wait (and wait…) on white officers in a van to transport arrestees.  

Many of the white police aren’t as pleased with this lift off their workload as you’d think they would be – they see it as a besmirching of the prestigious Atlanta P.D. uniforms, and many white Atlantans are alarmed at the thought of armed black men on the street, police officers notwithstanding. More pragmatically, it keeps them out of areas where they take bribes (and probably, er, favours) from establishments such as Mama Dove’s. Also lucrative business is turning a blind eye – and perhaps more – to the bootlegging which goes on in abandoned factories in Darktown. Plus they have a host of snitches in the area. One officer in particular – Officer Dunlow – sees Darktown as his territory: he decides what goes on there, and who gets a free pass – assuming they pay him off appropriately, of course. His partner is a rookie, the more enlightened Officer Denny Rakestraw, whose just about had his fill with Dunlow beating up blacks for sport, as well as spouting utter rubbish about why blacks are inferior. (Example: ‘Their skulls are thicker, which is why they’re so hard-headed, and also explains their smaller brains.’ It would make you laugh if the guy didn’t actually believe it.)

The issue is, of course, that the black police officers genuinely want to see the community cleaned up, as they and their families and friends have to live there. This puts them on a collision course with Dunlow, beginning when he allows a white driver to go free. Officer Lucius Boggs and Officer Tommy Smith, our main characters, wanted him to be made to show his licence and registration, as he’d damaged a lamppost. Also, at that point there was a young black woman also in the car, wearing a distinctive yellow sundress, and bruised at the mouth. The two black officers see the car again, and see the driver strike her in the face, at which point she runs from the car. She was later found murdered, and dumped in a pile of garbage. The white officers have little or no interest in identifying her, never mind solving her murder, so Boggs and Smith decide, against the rules, to sniff around – only to find someone surprising is also looking into her murder. There are also bits and pieces of useful information, coming from unexpected quarters.

Mullen uses the language of the time, which is obviously essential for authenticity, but still shocking, especially when you think it was only 70 years ago. Men who served their country with pride may have expected a little more respect upon their return home, but nothing had changed. A young Reverend King makes an appearance alongside Boggs’s father, who is also a minister. When Boggs sees Smith’s home, he realises he has led a privileged and rather sheltered background due to his father’s status, receiving little verbal abuse – until now.

Mullen‘s writing is plain, yet beautiful, and you can build up an explicit mental picture of every character with ease. Many of them have fascinating, brutal, devastating back stories, which are woven into the tale with ease, and help you understand why each man is the way he is. An alarming trip to the country demonstrates that Darktown might not be the worst place for a black man to live and work. There is a great deal of talk of families heading north, to Chicago, where they hear they’re not treated with such derision.

It’s little wonder that this is being developed into a Sony TV series starring Jamie Foxx. I’m sure they’ll find plenty more stories to tell about this period, when there were still people alive who had worked as slaves. As well as the historical detail, there’s also a damn fine murder mystery woven into these pages, and, combined, they make Darktown an epic novel, not just for crime fans, and one of the best books I’ve read this year – and we’ve had a bumper crop. Thomas Mullen is most definitely a name to watch, if he’s not already on your radar.

Verdict: Not to be missed.

With thanks to Little Brown and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – Death At The Seaside – Frances Brody

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BLURB: Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Frances Brody‘s Kate Shackleton mysteries are rather like Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, or Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver books – written in the present day, but depicting a female sleuth in the “Golden Age” era; the 1920s and 30s. I haven’t actually come across Frances Brody ‘s novels before, but, as regular followers of crimeworm will know, I’m a huge admirer of Catriona McPherson, be it her standalone psychological thrillers or the Dandy Gilver series, so I was pretty sure I’d enjoy this one.

From what I could gather, Kate, who was widowed in the Great War, usually runs an investigation agency in Yorkshire with the help of Jim Sykes, an ex-policeman, and Mrs. Sugden, her housekeeper. Kate’s grown up around the police force, her father being a Superintendent in the West Riding police force. However, this book sees them all holidaying conveniently near each other on the Yorkshire coast, with Kate planning to spend time with old school friend Alma and her daughter Felicity. But not long after her arrival in town she’s moseying around the shops when, on finding the jewellers mysteriously unattended, she goes into the back room to find the proprietor, Mr. Philips, dead, apparently due to a small wound at the back of his skull. As a stranger in town, and first on the scene, Kate falls under suspicion and Sergeant Garvin even detains her in a cell for a night!

Feeling that he’s ill-equipped to investigate a murder, Kate gathers Mr. Sykes (and his wife) and Mrs. Sugden and they do their best to investigate – not easy in a town like Whitby, where smuggling has a long history – which may not all be in the past – and people are close-mouthed, particularly with strangers. Alma, Kate’s friend, also falls under suspicion, as she had taken tea several times with Mr. Philips, and there was some debate that he may have raised her expectations, only for her to see them dashed. Indeed, it seems the dashing and charming Mr. Philips was quite a popular man with the ladies, which, if true, could mean a large pool of suspects of disappointed women and angry or jealous husbands!

Up from Scotland Yard to aid Sergeant Garvin’s inexperience with murder, and his unimaginative investigation, is Chief Inspector Marcus Charles, who has a history with Kate – in fact, he’d previously proposed to her, only to be turned down. However, he hasn’t always got things right either…So it looks to be left to Kate and her unlikely team to solve the crime.

Felicity’s still missing, however, but the fact that her boyfriend Brendan and Mr. Philips’s boat have also disappeared gives some indication of how they left. But is Brendan experienced enough to keep them safe on the North Sea?

There’s lots of great local colour in this book, including Bagdale Hall, the supposedly haunted Tudor mansion Alma and Felicity share with the eccentric Mr. Cricklethorpe, who’s known locally for playing the pantomime Dame. But, then again, perhaps it’s not ghosts who are going bump in the night in this house…Also, the famous ruined Whitby Abbey, and it’s beautiful jet, made fashionable when Queen Victoria chose it for her mourning jewellery, make cameo (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun!) appearances.

Family secrets and lies and long-lost fathers play a big part in this hugely enjoyable cosy mystery, which I’d recommend to anyone looking for a lighter read – but with an intriguing mystery which won’t disappoint. Of course, the wonderful characters of Kate, Mr. Sykes, and Mrs. Sugden are the real stars, and for that reason I’ll be on the lookout for more Kate Shackleton mysteries.

Greatly recommended.

My thanks to Piatkus Books for my copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

@BloodyScotland Preview – A Fine House In Trinity – Lesley Kelly

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Joseph Staines, an unemployed chef, has left Edinburgh with the tallybook of the late debt collector, Isa Stoddart. Her son Lachie thinks Stainsie killed her, but Lachie has apparently committed suicide. To his surprise, Stainsie is the sole beneficiary of Lachie’s will and has inherited a dilapidated mansion. Isa’s debtors and the local priest who paid Stainsie to leave town want him gone. A certain young mum, Marianne (whose uncle, Wheezy, is Stainsie’s drinking buddy) does too, and his old school-friend, Detective Sergeant Jamieson, wants to interrogate him about the deaths. Why are the lawyers lying to him, and who is the bruiser asking about him down the pub?

Another review, from earlier this year this time, of a book which ended up on the McIlvanney Prize Longlist, but, sadly, didn’t make the final four – although, in mitigation, the standard of books this year is very high. But it puts Ms. Kelly’s name on the map, and, as I say at the end of the review, this one is highly recommended.

This book is quite a difficult one to review, without giving too much away, but here goes. It’s essentially the story of Stainsie, our down-on-his-luck hero who likes the odd drink; there’s also various time slips, where we learn about his past. (Note: it’s not the sort of timeslip novel which features two beautiful girls, born centuries apart, a manor house, and a secret.) Well actually that’s not true – there is a secret. Who killed scheme matriarch Isa Stoddart: money lender, runner of protection rackets, drug dealer, and goodness knows what else. The job of solving it falls to Stainsie – mainly because everyone on the scheme is firing his name in, and because the lady of his dreams, Marianne, thinks she was responsible as she had a wee rammy with Isa just before  her death. Initially given money through a collection made by the priest round the scheme to get out of town so the blame falls on him, Stainsie, for once, returns to find the real culprit. One of the reasons Stainsie seems to be a likely candidate is because he’s inherited Isa’s mansion (the house of the title), due to the subsequent death of her son, who only had one friend – Stainsie, who he’s known since primary school. Luckily, DS Jamieson – another member of that class, coincidentally – knows he didn’t do it as he was sleeping off a big session in one of Edinburgh’s finest police stations. Accompanied at times by his good friend Wheeze, who also struggles to pass a pub, but is barred from all those on Leith Walk as he keeps winning their general knowledge quizzes and emptying the machines, he sets out to investigate. Because if the police can’t find the killer, he figures it’s up to him. And it might just get him in the good books again with the delicious Marianne…who also happens to be Wheezy’s niece.

But his problems increase when a second body, from approximately 30 years previously, that of a female aged 14-25, is found. A girl appears with Marianne at the priest’s house where he’s staying and announces she knows who it is – but as one of the timeslip sections show, Stainsie already has a pretty good idea of who the girl is – and who was responsible for her premature death.

Throughout the book, Stainsie has to come to terms with what has happened because he stood by and let it, rather than standing up and doing the right thing. And now he has the opportunity to do something worthwhile, will he succeed? And how will a guy who can’t refuse a drink cope when he’s up against the laddies-with-pit bulls who see Isa Stoddart’s empire as theirs by rights – as well as the new guy in town who’s not afraid to use a blade to get his message across, that message being, the empire is mine now. Stainsie isn’t remotely interested in Isa’s crime empire, but the house certainly looks like it’s worth a few quid – enough for a fresh start.

Stainsie’s story, although told with all the wit of the best pub comedian you’ve ever heard, is a sad and all too familiar one, of a life going downhill, particularly when his wife and children leave him for a better life. His only solace is in alcohol; his only friend Wheezy, and (possibly) the ex-soldier hardcore priest.

A Fine House In Trinity is a welcome addition to the Tartan Noir scene, providing as it does a more light-hearted approach to solving a crime. Lesley Kelly is a fine writer, entertaining us throughout. The near-300 pages are deceptive, as this is a book perfect for romping through in one sitting. I look forward to seeing what this talented lady does next.

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Sandstone Press, in exchange for an honest review.

@BloodyScotland Preview – The Special Dead – Lin Anderson

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BLURB: When Mark Howitt is invited back to Leila’s flat and ordered to strip, he thinks he’s about to have the experience of his life. Waking later he finds Leila gone from his side. Keen to leave, he opens the wrong door and finds he’s entered a nightmare; behind the swaying Barbie dolls that hang from the ceiling is the body of the girl he just had sex with. Rhona Macleod’s forensic investigation of the scene reveals the red plaited silk cord used to hang Leila to be a cingulum, a Wiccan artifact used in sex magick. Sketches of sexual partners hidden in the dolls provide a link to nine powerful men, but who are they? As the investigation continues, it looks increasingly likely that other witches will be targeted too. Working the investigation is the newly demoted DS Michael McNab, who is keen to stay sober and redeem himself with Rhona, but an encounter with Leila’s colleague and fellow Wiccan Freya Devine threatens his resolve. Soon McNab realizes Freya may hold the key to identifying the men linked to the dolls, and the Nine will do anything to keep their identities a secret.

I actually reviewed this book last year, but as it was one of the ten longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – although it didn’t make the cut for the final four – I thought it was a perfect time to revisit the review!

First of all, the subject matter of this novel absolutely fascinated me – I must confess I have little truck with things that can’t be proven by science. Mr C has a current obsession with all these ghost hunter programmes, which I think are bunkum. I’m with Edith Wharton – I’ve never seen a ghost but I’m frightened of them! Add to that list astrology, fortune tellers, mediums, angels, etc. You get the picture. I’m a cynic. But Wicca isn’t used to cast any bizarre spells – unless it’s in the hands of Leila, our victim, who we don’t meet for very long as she’s been hanged with a cingulum – in a room filled with 27 Barbie dolls, arranged in a square grid according to hair colour.

This is the tenth Lin Anderson book, and in this one, after the events of the previous book (which I SO must read!), things are slightly awkward with DS Michael MacNab and Dr Rhona MacLeod, due to this secret that’s festering between them (I don’t want to spoiler any of the series as I suspect you may want to read the ones you haven’t – in order, preferably!😉 as I tell you more about this one!)

Leila was dabbling in the controversial (and allegedly powerful) branch of Wicca called “sex magick” (sounded a bit Aleister Crowley to me – simply a way of seducing beautiful women into sleeping with him, with the help of some drink and drugs.) But secreted inside each creepy, clacking doll they find a crudely drawn naked caricature, illustrated with tattoos, scars, and jewellery. They’re presumed to be pictures of men with whom Leila had slept, as each paper is marked with a smear of sperm of the man. It’s useful forensically, but only once you have a subject to test – unless of course the person is already in the system. Is it as simple as it looks – did Mark Howitt kill her in an alcoholic blackout? Or is there more to it? Was his choice as Leila’s partner for the evening as random as it appeared?

As ever, DS MacNab is the most effective investigator and undoubted star, but there are plenty of examples of teamwork and investigative detail which, combined with Rhona’s forensics, make for an exciting, detailed and compelling tale. However, he’s still nursing a bit of a broken heart over Rhona. This causes him to become far too involved with Freya, one of Leila’s friends who’s been a useful witness. Rhona, our forensic investigator, is now seeing Sean, an Irish musician who owns (and plays in) his own jazz bar in upmarket Ashton Lane (I rather liked the dynamic between them. And I do know I should really root for MacNab…) Also working alongside them, at Rhona’s initial suggestion, is Professor Magnus Pirie, who is a forensic psychologist with excellent knowledge of witchcraft.

However, Leila’s friends are now in danger from the killer, including Freya. Leila’s brother, Danny, also refuses to come in and talk to them – but is he a suspect, or a scared would-be victim? And who are these nine powerful men? Are they so well-connected they could actually persuade someone in police custody the best thing they can do is commit suicide? And if they can, will these men ever be brought to justice – or are they so well-connected a trial would be in jeopardy?

If Paths Of The Dead, the previous book, which was one of the six nominated for Deanstons Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year, as it was known in 2015, is anything like that this one, I’m: a) dying to read it (and any others I may have missed out on); and b) not in the least surprised it was nominated. I’m not surprised this one was nominated this year, either, so skilfully does Lin manipulate us through the 434 pages with nary a lull. Obviously it was helped by the fact I found all the Wicca detail fascinating – of which there is a perfect amount; she’s researched this exceptionally well, and we’re never bogged down or bored. I found it incredibly interesting, much to my surprise.

This one’s definitely worth a read, so add it to your TBR lists now. There’s a great dramatic climax, and some excellent misdirection, although the eagle-eyed among you may spot one of the nine. Lin Anderson’s come a long way since I bought Driftnet – do yourself a favour and if you haven’t already done so, you do the investigating, and seek out Dr Rhona MacLeod and DS Michael MacNab.

This copy was provided by the publisher MacMillan, in exchange for an unbiased review.

Blog Tour – Kill Me Twice – Anna Smith

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BLURB: ‘Thrilling and compelling’ – Kimberley Chambers. A gritty, breakneck thriller for fans of Jessie Keane.

A beautiful model’s death uncovers an ugly conspiracy stretching all the way to Westminster in Rosie Gilmour’s darkest case to date. When rags-to-riches Scots supermodel Bella Mason plunges to her death from the roof of a glitzy Madrid hotel, everyone assumes it was suicide. Except that one person saw exactly what happened to Bella that night, and she definitely didn’t jump. But Millie Chambers has no one she can tell – alcoholic, depressed herself and now sectioned by her bullying politician husband, who would believe her? And that’s not all Millie knows. Being close to the heart of Westminster power can lead to discovering some awful secrets…Back in Glasgow, Rosie’s research into Bella’s life leads to her brother, separated from her in care years before. Dan is now a homeless heroin addict and rent boy, but what he reveals about Bella’s early life is electrifying: organised sexual abuse in care homes across Glasgow. Bella had tracked him down so that they could tell the world their story. And now she’s dead…As Rosie’s drive to expose the truth leads her closer to Millie and the shameful secrets she has kept for so many years, it becomes clear that what she’s about to discover could prove fatal: a web of sexual abuse linking powerful figures across the nation, and the rot at the very heart of the British Establishment…

I was slightly dubious about reading this book, as some of the writers Anna Smith was compared to (Kimberley Chambers and Mandasue Heller) are not authors I’m huge fans of. However, I needn’t have worried. Perhaps it was the fact that the book was set mostly in Glasgow, and with a lot of Glaswegian characters, but it also helped that I was plunged right into an exciting and fast-moving story straight from the off.

The blurb above tells you all you need to know about the story. It’s obviously topical, not just in the abuse of power by men in powerful places, but when talking about the extent that the heroin explosion from the ’90s onwards has wreaked havoc in huge forgotten swathes of the city – the bits they didn’t want you to see when the Commonwealth Games were on TV. But it’s not just the (not) working classes, where unemployment and drug and/or alcohol abuse are into their third generation, who suffer from drug problems – Bella, a millionaire model, uses cocaine to dull the memory of her abuse at the hands of the older men, and put on the bright energetic professional persona that’s nothing but a façade. However, she’s tiring of it, and her threats to go to the police about the abuse are what’s led to the “accident” that caused her death. Dan, her brother (although that identity’s a closely guarded secret) smokes heroin to shut out his memories. Then there’s Millie, who drinks too much so she can cope with her emotionally and physically abusive husband, and the fact she can’t have children. She also is aware of some explosive secrets from her husband’s time as Home Secretary. They all use different substances to obtain the same result.

Dan’s only real mate is Mitch, who approaches Rosie Gilmour, journalist and star of the series, about the fact that Bella has a secret brother. She’s already covering the story, and knows Millie Chambers was on the roof when Bella went over. Rosie’s editor, McGuire, always warns her that she gets too involved in stories, and this is true, particularly when it comes to Mitch and Dan. I don’t think it’s possible to be so soft-hearted and be a journalist; eventually you would develop a protective shell. You just have to.

Of course, there are people who don’t want Dan or Millie’s story told, and they have the financial wherewithal to hire people to do their bidding. Rosie finds herself fighting to keep her sources from being taken away from her, or in Dan’s case, killed.

Anna Smith’s years working for the Daily Record, which has for many years been the biggest selling paper in Scotland, aiming for the working class market, means she’s probably met and interviewed everyone from politicians to drug addicts. This definitely shows in her writing, particularly her dialogue, which rings very true. This is the sort of book I think Book Addict Shaun would greatly enjoy – as would anyone who’s looking for a fast-moving, topical, but not heavy-going, read with a cast of believable characters. I intend to keep my eyes open for other “Rosie Gilmour” books – this is the seventh, but works fine as a standalone.

Highly recommended.

With many thanks to Quercus Books for the e-book from NetGalley to review.

Blog Tour – A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

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BLURB: ‘Gives the Scandi authors a run for their money.’ Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Every secret has consequences.

Autumn 2004 – In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016 – A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

A Deadly Thaw confirms Sarah Ward’s place as one of the most exciting new crime writers.

First of all, it’s an honour and a huge pleasure to kick off the Blog Tour to promote Sarah Ward’s second book. A Deadly Thaw, the follow-up to the wonderful debut In Bitter Chill, is one of the most anticipated books of 2016, for me, at least. I had little doubt that Ward would be able to follow up her first book in style, and I’m delighted to say I was right – in fact, in my humble opinion, A Deadly Thaw is actually the better book. But I’ll get to why that is in a moment.

The big mystery at the beginning of the book is why, and who – why would Lena kill this man and identify him as being her husband? And who is this man, whose remains were cremated, leaving no DNA?

Like In Bitter Chill, this book takes a trip into the past, where the beginning of the mystery lies – the ’80s, in this case. This is something I really enjoy in books, and when the author’s roughly the same age as you, as I think is the case with Sarah Ward and me, there’s plenty of memories that these trips into the past bring back. Back then, the two sisters were much closer, sharing every secret. They, and a third girl, Steph, would go out clubbing to the only place in Bampton that let them in, a meat market called Ups And Downs (there was one here – called the Mantrap!) Then, in her mid-teens, Lena withdrew from Kat, and refused to leave home for university despite her obvious talent for, and love of, art. When Lena is released from prison, she returns to the now-dilapidated family home where Kat still lives, struggling to keep it from falling down around her ears with her income as a counsellor. Things remain the same – Lena is unwilling to talk about anything that doesn’t suit her, particularly her crime. Then the real Andrew Fisher is found dead, and the police come to question Lena, as she has to be a prime suspect. When they return the next day, she’s disappeared, without a word to Kat.

That’s as much as can be said about plot, without getting into spoiler territory, but it’s a fantastically mystifying plot for the reader, and the police. It’s wonderful to see the three main police officers return – DI Francis Sadler, DS Damian Palmer, and my personal favourite, DC Connie Childs. We continue to follow their personal lives, with some intriguing developments on that front!

As the storyline unraveled I was utterly glued to the book, as I couldn’t in any way comprehend Lena’s crime. Lena is an utterly infuriating character – she keeps secrets, and makes assumptions about other people, as if she’s the only person in a position to deal with them. It’s as she had some kind of martyr complex. In the end, this would put people in danger.

This has a much more complex storyline than her debut, and there’s a topical touch to it. It shows Ward’s growing confidence and maturity as a writer. On the strength of her first two novels, I can easily see her developing into one of the big names in crime fiction. Definitely one for crime fans to buy as soon as possible!


My thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Follow the Blog Tour – at tomorrow!

Blog Tour – The Devil’s Daughters – Diana Bretherick

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BLURB: 1888. When young Scottish scientist James Murray receives a letter from Sofia Esposito, a woman he once loved and lost, he cannot refuse her cry for help. Sofia’s fifteen-year-old cousin has vanished but, because of her lower-class status, the police are unwilling to investigate.

Accompanied by his younger sister Lucy, Murray returns to the city of Turin where he was once apprenticed to the world-famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. As he embarks on his search for the missing girl, Murray uncovers a series of mysterious disappearances of young women and rumours of a haunted abbey on the outskirts of the city.

When the body of one of the girls turns up bearing evidence of a satanic ritual, Murray begins to slot together the pieces of the puzzle. But as two more bodies are discovered, fear grips the city and a desperate hunt begins to find a truly terrifying killer before he claims his next victim.

THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTERS is the gripping new novel from Diana Bretherick, author of CITY OF DEVILS. A must-read tale of murder and intrigue, perfect for fans of CJ Sansom, Antonia Hodgson and Elizabeth Fremantle.

I’m a day late posting this, as the paperback copy posted to me did not appear, so I ended up buying it on Kindle!

It’s very enjoyable – a fast-moving romp of a mystery set in Turin, as was the author’s first novel, which won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. I know it’s something of an gardening-and-baking read, but their book pages are damn good (I always read them in the doctor’s!) I’ve had Diana’s debut, City Of Devils, on my Wish List, which I check intermittently to see if anything’s been reduced – but irritatingly that book hasn’t!

Fortunately one doesn’t need to have read the first novel to gain full enjoyment from this one – there’s just enough information given to whet your appetite on it, and fill in the info on the characters in this one, and their relationships to each other. James Murray, our hero, has returned from Turin to his home in Edinburgh for his father’s funeral. He’d been working in Italy with the eccentric Professor Lombroso (who really did exist) and Ottolenghi in the nascent field of criminal anthropology. The latter had become a close friend and confidant. He’d also embarked on a love affair with a girl Lombroso had rescued from prostitution, Sofia, but she’d ended the affair as she knew it could never be a permanent match due to their class differences.

However, shortly after his return home he receives a note from Sofia begging him for help. Knowing he cannot abandon his sister Lucy again to a dull life of churchgoing and good works with their Aunt Agnes, he takes her with him, accompanied by a Miss Euphemia Trott, a chaperone chosen by their aunt. But it seems Miss Trott may have secrets in Turin, as Lucy, a keen writer and reader of detective fiction, observes.

Sofia’s problem is more serious – her cousin, Chiara, has disappeared, as have five other girls. As they are of the lower classes, the police are dismissive and claim they must have moved on in search of better work. But Sofia knew Chiara wouldn’t leave her.

As well as this investigation, James and Ottolenghi are dragged into one of Lombroso’s typically hair-brained schemes – investigating psychic phenomena, as lights and noises had been observed at night coming from an abandoned abbey, where occult rituals involving young girls had taken place a century ago, and the place closed down. Whilst there, they discover a body of a young girl in a room in a crypt which contained mummified monks. This is shortly after a young girl’s mummified remains were found nearby in a shallow grave, with her entrails removed and put in a pot, Egyptian-style. This was shown to them by Lombroso’s friend, the policeman, Inspector Tullio, to see if Lombroso had any theories. Further bodies are found, but Chiara remains missing. Another of his experiments involves measuring the bodies, skulls, etc. of prostitutes, which brings them into contact with the dangerous Signora Concetta Panetta, a dangerous woman who appears to have a fascination with James. While doing this experiment, they hear the girls talk of a couple of their colleagues going missing – but it’s made clear by the other madam this is definitely not to be talked about.

This is hugely enjoyable as a historical mystery – Lombroso is hilariously eccentric (every chapter is headed with a quote from his book), and definitely the star of the book. He is always quick to take credit for someone else’s idea – “Exactly, Murray, I wondered when you’d think of that!”, and so on. There is also a woman who works in criminal anthropology, Madame Anna Tarnovsky, who’s come to share some of her findings with Lombroso. Despite being highly competent, she’s often sidelined by Lombroso when it suits him, because he’s frightened of her intelligence, and because she’s a woman, of course, and so has inferior intellect…!

James, desperately trying to find Chiara, and in the process perhaps win Sofia back, finds himself the target of a campaign to tarnish his name – and later, worse, presumably because he’s getting too close to something someone wants kept hidden. His sister Lucy I just found irritating, but the quiet yet competent Miss Trott added to the various mysteries unfolding.

As more girls go missing – this time from higher social standing – the police are forced to investigate. And the denouement is suitably depraved and grisly, with a most surprising person saving the day.

This is a rollicking good read, with few dull moments. One thing – I didn’t feel as though I got to know Turin much – perhaps there’s more detail in the first novel? And the end sets it up nicely for a third book in the series – but only for those who survived this one, of course!

Own copy.