Blog Tour – The Mine – Antti Tuomainen

Product Details

The Finnish Invasion part two.

BLURB: A hitman. A journalist. A family torn apart. Can he uncover the truth before it’s too late?
In the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.
A traumatic story of family, a study in corruption, and a shocking reminder that secrets from the past can return to haunt us, with deadly results … The Mine is a gripping, beautifully written, terrifying and explosive thriller by the King of Helsinki Noir.

The Mine, the second book in the Finnish Invasion, following Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Exiled, is the story of a dedicated reporter, Janne Vuori, and his investigation into a mine owned by Finn Mining Ltd. in the depths of Northern Finland, hundreds of miles from anywhere. He’s received a tip off via an anonymous e-mail that the mine is creating what will be an environmental catastrophe, and the senders want to know if he’s “the journalist they’ve been looking for.” He probably is – he’s an obsessive investigator, always got his eye out for the next scoop. However, at this moment in time, things are bad at home – he and his partner Pauliine are barely communicating, except regarding their two-year-old daughter, Ella (to be fair, Pauliine is pretty driven career-wise, too, although she doesn’t, like Vanne, get caught up in it to the extent that nothing else ceases to exist.)

What’s more, after 30 years not knowing if he’s dead or alive, Janne’s father Emil is back in Helsinki. He tells Janne that he works in human relations, but us readers learn early on that he’s a hitman. But he’s tentatively reaching out to Janne, to see if there’s any possibility of a rapprochement. But is Emil back for good? And could he possibly have anything to do with the assassination of various board members of Finn Mining Ltd., which is obviously putting him right in the middle of Janne’s story?

I found this a really fascinating read – as well as being a fast one, with plenty of action. It’s very much a story for our times, and had me thinking there are probably parts of the globe where literally anything could be going on, and no-one would get close enough to learn the full story. As soon as Janne takes the story on, after his first trip to the mine, he’s convinced he’s being followed. Antti’s writing combines the family-at-a-crucial-point story with that of the dedicated reporter, desperate to get to the truth – and all of it is beautifully written, guaranteed to keep you reading – and keep you guessing – long into the night! Emil, the hitman father, is a particularly fascinating character. And what of those pushing Janne to investigate the story – given that they’re anonymous, how much can he trust them? Are they revealing their full agenda?

Topical. Frightening. Beautifully written, with a fast-moving story, which makes it almost impossible to put down. Plus it’s a standalone, so you haven’t missed anything up until now. This is another absolute belter from Orenda, but, really, you wouldn’t expect anything less by now, would you?!

Highly recommended.

With many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books who supplied me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Bitter Moon – Alexandra Sokoloff

Product Details

BLURB: FBI agent Matthew Roarke has been on leave, and in seclusion, since the capture of mass killer Cara Lindstrom—the victim turned avenger who preys on predators. Torn between devotion to the law and a powerful attraction to Cara and her lethal brand of justice, Roarke has retreated from both to search his soul. But Cara’s escape from custody and a police detective’s cryptic challenge soon draw him out of exile—into the California desert and deep into Cara’s past—to probe an unsolved murder that could be the key to her long and deadly career.

Following young Cara’s trail, Roarke uncovers a horrifying attack on a schoolgirl, the shocking suicide of another, and a human monster stalking Cara’s old high school. Separated by sixteen years, crossing paths in the present and past, Roarke and fourteen-year-old Cara must race to find and stop the sadistic sexual predator before more young women are brutalized.

Bitter Moon is the first of the Huntress novels I’ve read, shamefully – but I can assure you it won’t be the last. In fact, I’m lucky enough to have the previous three novels to read.

This book has two main characters, and two timelines. The first is Cara, a 14-year-old girl who, 16 years previously, has just been released from youth detention – which consisted of being locked up 23 hours a day – to a group home (basically a small children’s home.) Then there’s Roarke, in the present day, who’s taken a leave of absence from his job as an FBI profiler and agent to look into Cara’s past – she’s the one case he can’t let go off. We’re given the impression that she may now be something of a notorious figure – a vigilante, who kills sexual predators who prey on girls, and possibly all women. Other times and incidents in Cara’s life are doubtless dealt with in the first three books, but in this book we’re learning about the 14-year-old Cara, and incidents that may have set her on the path to becoming the woman she is now.

The reason Cara’s in a group home, as opposed to being released to her family, is because they were all murdered when she was only five by a serial killer called the Reaper, who also left her for dead. She survived, but always wears turtlenecks to hide her scars. Cara has a special power – she can see predatory men. Basically, the evil is like an aura to her, and she labels such evil simply, “It.”

This book only really deals with the two weeks immediately after Cara’s release from incarceration, and Roarke’s investigation of what happened during it, 16 years on. During the two weeks Cara was in Los Alamos several things happened – a girl called Laura Huell committed suicide by slashing her wrists. Cara was sure she was a victim of sexual abuse, as whenever she saw her in school, she was surrounded by blood. Also, another girl, Ivy, who’d been abducted by a man in a van, raped and set on fire, but had miraculously survived her injuries at the time, finally died. And 45 miles away, on a dangerous desert road, Pierson, a group home counsellor, had his throat slashed. However, Cara’s involvement in this is dismissed, as she didn’t have access to a car, had been locked up since she was 12, so presumably couldn’t drive, and was alibied by her 9-year-old cousin – she’d been spending a couple of nights at her aunt’s, and her cousin had slept beside her.

Roarke’s desperate to know what caused so many calamitous events to happen in the small space of time Cara was in town – it’s not just coincidence that whenever Cara is around there’s a whirlwind of violence. Visiting some of the places and people that are still around from that time, he falls in with a doctor who’s also a nun, and who was caring for Ivy before she died. Her sharp mind gives him someone to bounce ideas off – something he usually gets with his FBI team. She tells him about meeting Cara when she visited Ivy. He also meets some men who’d known Cara, and a couple of them give him a bad feeling. Did Cara see “It” in them? Who attacked Ivy? And what was troubling Laura so much she felt compelled to commit suicide?

The book uses the trick of short chapters, often ending on a cliffhanger, to keep you turning the pages, and moves between the two characters, who I found equally compelling. Alexandra Sokoloff clearly has strong feelings – about the treatment of young offenders in custody, the danger of predatory males working in group homes, and violence – particularly sexual violence – against women in general, young women in particular. She’s also an incredibly talented author. Cara gives us someone to cheer for, as she annihilates predators who would continue to seek out vulnerable young women. In fact, it would make a great action film, although I can imagine a lot of men wouldn’t really go for it – but, hey, it would make a change from watching violence against women. Me? I say, “Go Cara!”

Blog Tour – The Exiled – Kati Hiekkapelto

Product Details

The Finnish Invasion Part One

BLURB: Murder. Corruption. Dark secrets. A titanic wave of refugees. Can Anna solve a terrifying case that’s become personal?

Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

Chilling, taut and relevant, The Exiled is an electrifying, unputdownable thriller from one of Finland s most celebrated crime writers.

The Exiled is the third in the Anna Fekete series and, due to family illness when the second came out, is the first I’ve got round to reading. However, I intend to rectify that and read The Hummingbird and The Defenceless as soon as I can find space in my reading schedule. Unlike the first two books, which were set in Finland, where Anna Fekete, our main character, works as a Detective Inspector, this one is set in Serbia, to where her mother has returned after bringing Anna and her brother up in Finland. For me, Anna’s the main attraction for reading the books – she could almost be seen as one of The Exiled of the title, in that she’s torn between the country in which she was born, with it’s more traditional ways, and Finland, which is more affluent and forward-thinking. Serbia to me, however, seemed charming, still relying on an a mainly agricultural economy, although, to our eyes, the people would be regarded as poor – in cash terms, which is how the West thinks. However, you can see the old-fashioned thinking, especially when you hear Anna’s mother and friends nagging her about finding a partner and settling down, even though she’s only in her early 30s. Anna enjoys the freedom her career gives her, and she’s a natural law enforcer – for her it’s not about ticking boxes and making quotas; it’s about justice truly being done.

Of course, despite being on holiday, Anna gets involved in solving a crime – and it’s one which has far-reaching consequences both timewise, and for her family. It kicks off almost as soon as she arrives, at an evening of gathering and drinking in the village park (really just a square.) Anna’s handbag is stolen, and is found almost immediately – the next day – with her being told the thief, a man, was dead, from drowning in the river. Anna wonders where a girl with a red skirt, who she’d seen with the thief, has gone. She also insists on seeing the post mortem results, which the Chief of Police agrees to show her (Anna’s father had been a policeman in the town.) Obviously Anna continues with her own enquiries, with the help of her colleagues in Finland, who help as much as they can remotely.

Most people in the town assume it must be the Romani who’d be responsible for such a theft, but there’s another type of exiled people gathering in the area – refugees, attempting to enter the EU. They too could be who the title is referring to.

Anna’s character reminded me a little of M.R. Hall’s Jenny Cooper in his series where she’s a coroner – a woman entirely confident in her career, and relentless in fulfilling the requirements of it, but less sure of herself in her private life and the expectations that are still put on women on that side of her life. (In Jenny Cooper’s case, she feels a failure as her 17-year-old son – understandably! – prefers to live in Bristol with his father, rather than in the countryside with her.) It’s probably worse for Anna as, particularly in this book, she’s being torn between two cultures, and, to boot, is unsure to which she really belongs!

Anna Fekete is another new-to-me female detective I will definitely enjoy following – once I’ve read the books I already have, of course! Those who enjoy their dose of Scandinavian chills will have to wait until the next book, but I found the Balkan setting as intriguing and different as any Scandinavian one. And Kati Hiekkapelto is certainly a talented writer, who can spin a tale with an unexpected ending!


Blog Tour – Crash Land – Doug Johnstone

Product Details

CRASH:  An adrenaline-charged thriller from the Kindle-bestselling author of Gone Again and Hit and Run.

Sitting in the departure lounge of Kirkwall Airport, Finn Sullivan just wants to get off Orkney. But then he meets the mysterious and dangerous Maddie Pierce, stepping in to save her from some unwanted attention, and his life is changed forever.

Set against the brutal, unforgiving landscape of Orkney, CRASH LAND is a psychological thriller steeped in guilt, shame, lust, deception and murder.

So many books nowadays can’t tell a good crime fiction story – never mind one packed with action – without hitting the 400-page mark. So Crash Land was an enjoyably racy thriller, with a morally torn hero – definitely a case of “all killer, no filler”! After losing out to Chris Brookmyre in a very strong field for the McIlvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland, with his excellent The Jump, Doug Johnstone is straight back out there with this tale of a crash at Kirkwall airport.

It opens with a discussion between staff at the airport over whether the plane to Edinburgh should fly at all, due to high winds. Then, at the last minute, a beautiful, charismatic and mysterious woman rushes in, getting checked in in full view of Finn – heading home from visiting his gran – and a group of oil workers, who have all taken advantage of the delay by hitting the bar. Seeing one of the beered-up, gym-pumped oil workers is heading over to chat her up, the b, c & m woman – Maddie – heads to Finn and asks him to drink with her, to avert the oil worker’s advances, as he looks more harmless. Of course, as they sit drinking, Finn is magnetized by Maddie, completely forgetting the fact he has a perfectly nice girlfriend, Amy, at home in Dundee. As rumours that they might be grounded are heard around the terminal, Maddie gets increasingly agitated, saying she can’t go back, she has to get off the island, ad infinitum.

Luckily – or, in retrospect, perhaps not – they decide to fly, but soon after take-off Finn heads for the bathroom. On his return, oil worker has his hands on Maddie. Finn asks him to leave her alone, and a fight ensues. On the small plane, with the winds, we have a really dramatic and well-described scene. The combination of the fight, and the winds, causes the small plane to split in two, crashing to the ground. Finn, at the back, is okay, as is Maddie, who, continuing her mantra of “not going back”, runs from the plane wreckage. Charlotte, the stewardess, is okay, oil worker is badly injured but alive, but his friends are dead, as are an elderly holidaying couple at the front, and the pilots. It’s a major accident – and Finn was, albeit inadvertently, part of the cause of it. 

I’ve got to say – I can’t stand women like Maddie. There’s a line where she describes the sort of guys she dislikes: “Players…Guys who think they’re it. Pulling techniques and strategies, targeting women with low self-esteem, conquering the opposite sex.” Alter the sex and you have a perfect description of Maddie, who sees Finn as pliable for anything she needs, even if it’s as small a thing as buying a drink or carrying a bag – although it turns out to be a great deal more than that! Unfortunately for Finn, they’d swapped phone numbers at the airport, and soon she rings him, asking for help, laying it on thick, “If you don’t help me, I’ll die.” Of course, Finn’s being led by his trousers, the idiot, and helps her out – which she takes full advantage of. Meanwhile, the more he learns that getting involved with Maddie was a Very Bad Idea. She certainly had his number up at the airport – daftie who can be manipulated. And that manipulation could lead him straight to jail…

Meanwhile, Amy, the nice girlfriend, has rushed up as fast as possible, as has the media, and Finn is the man they all want the story from, with oil worker in an induced coma, and Maddie missing, Finn’s the man most likely to know her whereabouts – or at least have the best story for the vulture-like tabloids.

Orkney made a superb setting – I’ve no idea how much time Doug Johnstone has spent there over the years, but he made me want to head up for a break asap. Although perhaps not by plane… And we get even more action at the end of the book, making this a real roller coaster of a read. Doug Johnstone is turning out to be one of Scotland’s most reliable, talented and versatile writers, and this one’s definitely worth a few hours of your time. I just wouldn’t read it on a flight…!

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Faber&Faber for my copy of this book.

Blog Tour – My Sister’s Bones – Nuala Ellwood

Product Details

BLURB: Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it…and make it out alive?

I’ve had one of these flu-type things all week that make you just ache and want to sleep all the time, hence the few days behind this review is. I really did think I’d be awake and compos mentis more than enough hours to read and review My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood, which on paper looked like a straight domestic noir/psychological thriller job, the kind that takes a few hours – 2-3 if you’re a fast reader, which I’m not. But NO! this book proved to be so much more…

It’s about a disfunctional family, although it didn’t become one until the baby of the family, Timmy, drowned on a day at the beach. The father of the family blamed the mother (who was further up the beach with Sally, the middle child) and took to getting drunk, and beating her and the mouthy Kate, the older sister who was paddling with the boy that day, and he found solace in a bottle until it killed him. While their mother, Gill, and Kate were blaming themselves for Timmy’s early demise – which was really just a tragic accident – younger sister Sally was out running a bit wild, and fell pregnant at 14, just as Kate was leaving for university. At that point, a schism opened up between the sisters which never really mended.

Sally took after her father to a certain extent, and enjoyed a glass of wine, but despite that, she found a good, supportive partner in the boy-next-door, Paul, who married Sally and took on Hannah as his daughter. They seemed a happy family when Kate saw them on her occasional trips back, although Kate was aware of Sally’s growing drinking problem. But when Hannah became a teenager, she rebelled. Sally saw it as nothing to worry about, through the bottom of her (increasingly large) wine glass – after all, hadn’t she done the same? Then Hannah ran away. But she dropped in on her Aunt Kate in London, then sent a postcard to her mother and Paul, saying she was going to work abroad. So what could Sally do? On her own all day, sacked from her job in a bank, she could drink, just like her Dad. But she wouldn’t hurt anyone, like him; she was just filling up the loneliness with wine.

Meanwhile, Kate worked as a war reporter, most recently in Aleppo, Syria. It’s as though, unable to save her brother, she did her best to tell the world about others in need. However, she got too close to a family they were staying with in Aleppo, and when the young boy died, Kate couldn’t cope. Around this time she was called back to the UK to deal with her mother Gill’s affairs after she’d died, and Kate had to see her solicitor and sign papers. It was Paul who helped her out throughout her time in Herne Bay – Kate had no illusions about the state of her sister, who by now spent all her time in the conservatory, not washing or dressing much – just drinking. Kate barely saw her.

That’s part 1 of the book, which I actually found quite slow and long-winded. Later in the book is when it gets more dramatic. While she’s home she keeps seeing a young boy of 3 or 4 in her garden, and accuses her Iranian neighbour Fida – Paul’s tenant (when his parents died he’d kept the house while him and Sally moved to a nicer part of town) – of mistreating her son, and keeping him locked in the shed. After several such altercations and disturbances of the peace, the police are called, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Shaw, to ascertain whether Kate is a danger to herself or anyone else. These conversations with the psychiatrist are peppered throughout the book from the very start, revealing a lot about Kate and her past, both recent and distant. Dr. Shaw assumes these physical and vocal delusions are symptoms of Kate having PTSD, and the visions are of Nidal, the young Syrian boy who was killed.

I really can’t add any more regarding the storyline as there be spoilers ahead! But here are when things start to speed up considerably. There’s a death, which is the catalyst for lots of secrets unwinding. It’s definitely one of the best-plotted and substantial psychological thrillers I’ve read – in fact, I think lumping this book in with much of the genre would be doing it a grave disservice. If, like me, you find it a tad slow-going at the beginning, I urge you to stick with it, as there are plenty of shocks, surprises and scares in store – Ellwood’s simply setting the scene for the real action to begin…!

So if you consider psychological thrillers/domestic noir one of your favourite genres, then this is definitely one of such books not to be missed. That would be a crime in itself!

Blog Tour – Chaos – Patricia Cornwell

Product Details

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

 Product Details

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

Product Details

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

Product Details

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

Product Details

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.